9

I'm looking at learning a string instrument (either violin, viola or cello), and I see that there's a few "silent violins" etc. on the market. Obviously this would have some perks, as my initial performance is going to be far from captivating for those in my home!

Though I'm concerned that as it's not the real thing, my learning may be askew. Specifically, there may be certain nuances of a truly acoustic violin that a "silent violin" won't represent. Is there any merit to these concerns?

7

I have a Yamaha silent (nylon string) guitar. Although not a bowed instrument, the issues will largely be the same. It is great fun to play and I am happy to own it.

The most noticeable difference when compared to an acoustic instrument is in its treatment of dynamics. When wearing headphones, the range of dynamics is much narrower than one who realise with a natural acoustic instrument. I find myself having to greatly exaggerate the velocity with which I pluck a string in order to obtain the same range of dynamics. These issues are the result of the electronics and effects included with the instrument and the result can be rather grating on the ear, especially when playing more sensitive phrases with intended pianissimo. When one is a learner, it is tempting to use the built in effects to compensate for inadequacies elsewhere.

This problem is further compounded if one plays the instrument without the headphones. Playing without the headphones produces volumes similar to an unamplified electric guitar and the dynamics are almost non-existent. It's easy to get lazy and simply pick up the instrument without the headphones. In fact, this is the most frequent way I play it. If I learn a piece in this manner, when I pick up an acoustic instrument I routinely pluck the string with far to much velocity.

So I would say that it is probably not the best way to learn an instrument, even if it is great fun to play with when you have a bit of experience. Also, the tone is obviously much different.

4

The majority of the technical feedback when starting to learn a string instrument is acoustic garbage. Not even a silencer of comparatively benign effect will leave you with a representative noise spectrum. Contributing factors are the contact point of the bow going all over the map instead of staying with the same point between bridge and fingerboard and non-constant bow pressure (pressure very much varies with bow position and thus needs compensation by the player).

Then the ongoing pitch control works via sympathetic vibration of neighbouring strings. You hear when you are fingering correctly. An acoustically dead instrument will not likely provide the same amount of acoustic coupling.

It's better to see whether there is some basement or shed where you can practice without fear.

  • 1
    You clearly haven't tried a Yamaha hollowbody (I have). Thru headphones, you get plenty of pitch and tonality response for any beginner. – Carl Witthoft Sep 20 '15 at 12:01
4

When I first tried a real acoustic piano after digital one, the first immediate problem was how loud the acoustic piano is. The sound feedback was completely different. I has been using the sound level that looked comfortable for me with my headphones, and it was well below that a pianist usually hears.

This is of course not a problem as long as you are aware of it. However it may be good idea at least to try the acoustic version and then adjust the headphone sound setting to be comparable.

0

The two things I try to do are (1) sound good, and (2) play in tune. You might be able to learn to play in tune, but you could never learn to make good tone unless you actually play the instrument.

I wouldn't do it. I'd buy earphones for your family and your neighbors.

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