4

I'm 17 years old and I play the violin for my local church. A lot of people expect the violin to be loud, by loud they expect the sound to carry out to distant places without the aid of an amplifier. I am often told to play louder, which is not easy since my playing is muddled by the singers and other noise. Of course, this issue was resolved with an amplifier/mic. But it irks me when people show me how it's done. They take my violin and press the bow harder to make a stronger sound. They'll say things like 'It's pretty loud. Why can't you do it?" Of course, it's loud, the instruments close to your face. And often, I am compared to the flautist. Which brings us to the question, how many violins should play alongside a single flute? There are times when during service, I'm not able to use my amplifier or use a microphone since it's limited. My playing is barely audible amongst 20 singers and a flute that's pointed to a mic, I might as well not be there.

Sorry, I wound up ranting... It's just frustrating being constantly compared and dictated by people who haven't played the instrument themselves.

8
  • What doesn't particularly help is that the ensembles I've seen typically have many violins and many flutes (e.g. an orchestra - I like to believe that an orchestra has more violins than flutes because the violin is more popular) or one violin and one flute.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 26 at 13:15
  • 1
    Just smile sweetly and say 'Carry on, then, you play the whole service, thanks'.
    – Tim
    Jan 26 at 13:57
  • 1
    Keep in mind that two violinists playing the same thing isn't that much louder than a single violinist. Jan 28 at 8:14
  • Flute is one of the most quiet instruments out there. And amplification, unlike in the case of violin, doesn't do it justice. It's not like the air escapes from 1 hole at the end only.
    – Pyromonk
    Jan 28 at 12:15
  • @Pyromonk flute can be amplified perfectly well, by miking the mouthpiece. It won't sound the same as a flute in the room / with far mic of course, but with good reverb it usually comes out pretty well – rather better than close-miked violin does. Jan 28 at 12:29
5

While it's true that a violin can play loud, a flute is technically louder due to its nature.

Not only: trying to play very loud on a violin while keeping a good sound is hard, and there are limits over which you just can't (those limits also depend on the quality of the instrument and the bow, not only the technique); on the contrary, having a good sound while playing very quietly is much more easier than on a flute, which has physical limits over which it just doesn't play at all.

Consider this: the "standard" orchestra includes just two flutes (as well as pairs of other wind instruments) that play along with a full string ensamble that normally counts at least 20-25 musicians.

While a violin and a flute can play well together without volume issues (the flute player usually plays quieter instinctively), things change a lot with a bigger ensamble.

A normal church choir is usually made of amateurs, which have absolutely no control over their dynamics and usually sing on 2 or 3 levels at most: somehow soft (rarely), loud and louder (usually). Having to fight against 20 of them and a flute, is almost a lost cause.
You only can play that much, and the only thing you can do is to improve your technique in order to achieve a better and "bigger" sound, but that's just up to you and your teacher.

That said, if whoever takes your own instrument to "show how it's done", if they are real violinists or they do have skills and real experience with stringed instruments, then it is possible that they might be right.
If they are not, they shouldn't even dare to touch it. It's your instrument, they should mind their own business, and you shouldn't allow them to do that.

2

A single violin should be able to balance just fine with a flute.

A good start might be to turn off ALL amplification.

1
  • Agree. Especially in a church, amplification tends to create more problems than it solves. Jan 28 at 11:12
2

You have already got answers, but none mentioned which technique to use.

If someone played on your violin and demonstrated that it can be loud, then ask them what tecnique they apply.

If you want a strong sound there are some things you can do:

Play with stronger bow pressure (you already know that).

Play longer bow strokes, which means the bow moves faster.

Play closer to the bridge with strong bow pressure.

Play the melodic line on the upper strings, often that would mean an octave above the melodic line in the song.

Place the bow with an angle so all the bow hair touch the string (professional violinists sometimes play with all the hair, other times they tilt the bow so not all hair touch the string).

BUT. It is not fun to always play like the above suggestions. Sometimes you can play softer and blend with the overall ensemble and choir. Sometimes you can play in the lower register and you will blend in fine.

When you blend in people might not hear the violin seperately, they will rather hear the overall blend, and that blend would be different if you did not play. It is like a painting with different nuances, colours can blend and give new nuances where you can not see the individual colours but see the resulting nuance.

EDIT: An additional advice: Make sure your bowing is straight with the angle between the bow and the strings being close to 90 degrees There can certainly be many exceptions to that, but as a general rule of thumb the bowing should be straight close to a 90 degrees angle . If your bow is far away from 90 degrees it can actually weaken the sound quite a lot.

Also make sure that you hold the violin up, approximately parallel to the floor. If the violin is "hanging" down it can actually make a difference regarding the sound, it is easier to play with a strong volume when you hold the violin up. It is amazing that it can make a difference regarding the volume, but it can.

1

An alternative approach available to you would be to say ‘well if you can do it, damn well do it yourself’, attend your church as a congregation member rather than as a musician, and find somewhere to play where you’re appreciated and don’t get that sort of unhelpful ‘advice’.

Unless you are being handsomely paid for your church gigs there is no compulsion for you to put up with that, and if you are being handsomely paid for them I’d start looking for another equally well-paid gig elsewhere.

1

How many violins should play alongside a single flute?

Anywhere between 0 and 40. What's most appropriate depends not so much on loudness but on the musical context and what sort of sound you want.

Violin is a very versatile instrument, but it not only can be different but needs to be used differently to be effective in different context.

It can be used in the obvious classical and folk contexts as well as in jazz, pop, even rock and metal, but it's no use playing in a gospel band as the only violinist in the same manner as you might play in a classical orchestra. 10 violins playing unison in an orchestra don't sound much louder than a single one, but they sound much, much smoother and thus can easily form a pleasing background texture even at very low volume. A single violin playing the same part will unfortunately jump right from “there's some weird scratching noise in the background” to “somebody please turn down that piercing violin” as you amplify it. I suspect this is exactly what you're fearing yourself, and therefore you don't manage to play as loudly as you in principle could.

The solution is to play differently. Don't bother doubling the main melody, adding a second voice to vocals or flute or something like that – in my experience, if a single violin does that it usually just makes the other instruments sound raspy and possibly out of tune (whereas a whole violin section doing the same might add an awesome lush breadth).

Instead, find parts that really contrast the rest of the ensemble and sound well on the single violin. There are many possibilities here – the simplest is to add drone notes or slow-moving chord tones. This can work well in the low register of the violin or with high flageolett notes. Select as appropriate for each song / segment. If you have a good sense of rhythm, you can try playing parts that are more percussion than melody, with chords, perhaps pizzicato and/or chop strokes. Or you can add fast arpeggios, or countermelodies filling in the gaps where the singers don't do anything.

There's also nothing wrong with just pausing in places where violin can't add anything fitting to the song.

Finally, to really get a chance to shine, the band might want to give you the opportunity to play a proper solo once in a while. Of course, for this it's really necessary that the violin stands out – could be accomplished either with amplification, or by making the accompaniment very quiet (perhaps reduce it do only bass and gentle piano chords, or something like that).

0

According to this comparison of musical instruments, the flute sounds in the interval 92-103 dB, while the violin sounds in the interval 82-92 dB. A difference of 10 dB between two sounds corresponds to one being 10 times louder than the other, and because of maths¹ 11 dB louder means 13 times louder, so if the chart I'm using is correct² that would mean that you need about 10 or 13 violins.

Edit: Of course, it's not just about the numbers. As was pointed out in the comments, in many cases it's reasonable not to require the two instrument so sound equally loud. On the contrary, in many arrangements you want one instrument, e.g. the violin, to sit in the background and play with a lower volume. My answer is thus not to the question "How many violins will sound good together with a flute?" but rather "How many violins do I need for them to sound at least as loud as a flute playing loudly?". If your only concern is being loud enough to play along with the flute, things are simpler, both because the flute can play softer and because there is no 20 singers to compete with. In the situation you describe, where you struggle to be heard at all, this latter question becomes more important. If the question is interpreted as "How many violins do I need for them to be heard at all in a noisy environment where a flute is strong enough to break through the noise?", my answer then reads "Possibly up to 13, if the table I cite is correct".

¹: The unit dB, for decibel, is one tenth of a bel, which in turn stands for a tenfold increase. The scale is logarithmic with base 10, so making something X times louder will mean you increase the volume by log(X) bels = 10×log(X) decibels, where log denotes the base 10 logarithm. A hundredfold increase is +20 dB, as 10×log(100) = 20, and corresponds to making the sound 10 times louder and then 10 times louder again, each time adding 10 dB. Playing with my calculator, I find that

X log(X) 10*log(X)
10 1 10
11 1.0414 ~10.4
12 1.0792 ~10.8
13 1.1139 ~11.1

which means an 11.1 dB increase is the same as 13 times louder.

²: I'm not sure how these levels were measured, so take my numbers with a grain of salt. They should give a rough idea, but the correct answer could just as well be 7 or 16 violins, especially taking the individual players and instruments into account. You very likely need more than 3 violins, and you very likely need less than 30 violins.

3
  • 2
    While I'm always happy about numbers, I'd say take this with a big grain of salt. The dynamic range of flute can't be broken down to a single number; low notes aren't anywhere as loud as high ones. Also, it's not necessarily desirable to make the instruments equally loud in the first place – it depends on the arrangement. Violins tend to work very well as background instruments, with on paper much less power than the other instruments but still coming through just fine. (Unfortunately, in case of a single violin it may be mostly the off-intonation notes that come through “fine”!) Jan 28 at 11:10
  • @leftaroundabout: just my thoughts; the maximum power in the given reference is not of much use. Piano and flute work quite well in duos, but have the same difference according to the table.
    – guidot
    Jan 28 at 11:22
  • @leftaroundabout Thanks! I've addressed your comment in my answer.
    – EdvinW
    Jan 28 at 12:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.