Connecting Science and the Musical Arts in Teaching Tone Quality: Integrating Helmholtz Motion and Master Violin Teachers’ Pedagogies




Collins, Cheri D.

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Is it possible for students to achieve better tone quality from even their factory-made violins? All violins, regardless of cost, have a common capacity for good tone in certain frequencies. These signature modes outline the first position range of a violin (196-600 hertz). To activate this basic capacity of all violins, the string must fully vibrate. To accomplish this the bow must be pulled across the string with enough pressure (relative to its speed and contact point) for the horsehairs to catch. This friction permits the string to vibrate in Helmholtz Motion, which produces a corner that travels along the edge of the string between the bridge and the nut. Creating this corner is the most fundamental technique for achieving good tone. The findings of celebrated scientists Ernest Chladni, Hermann von Helmholtz, and John Schelleng will be discussed and the tone-production pedagogy of master teachers Carl Flesch, Ivan Galamian, Robert Gerle, and Simon Fischer will be investigated. Important connections between the insights of these scientists and master teachers are evident. Integrating science and art can provide teachers with a better understanding of the characteristics of good tone. This can help their students achieve the best possible sound from their instruments. In the private studio the master teacher may not use the words “Helmholtz Motion.” Yet through modeling and listening students are able to understand and create a quality tone. Music teachers without experience in string performance may be assigned to teach strings in classroom and ensembles settings. As a result modeling good tone is not always possible. However, all teachers and conductors can understand the fundamental behavior of string vibration and adapt their instruction strategies towards student success. Better tonal quality for any string instrument is ultimately achieved. Mastery and use of the Helmholtz Motion benefits teachers and students alike. Simple practice exercises for teaching and conducting, based on student discovery rather than modeling, are presented in Appendix A: Application. This approach to teaching good tone can be applied successfully in all string settings and levels.



Bowing, Strings, Timbre, Pedagogy, Conductor, Acoustics