Stradivari Violins Exhibit Formant Frequencies Resembling Vowels Produced by Females

Hwan-Ching Tai, Dai-Ting Chung


Over the past two centuries, violins made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) have been more favorably received by concert violinists and instrument collectors than instruments by any other maker. Some suggest that Stradivari's success can be attributed to unique tonal characteristics, generally described as brilliance, and this opinion is still widely expressed by leading violinists today. Others believe that the perceived tonal distinction of Stradivari violins may be attributed to psychological bias instead of physical differences, influenced by historical reputation and market evaluation. Furthermore, modern research has yet to clearly identify acoustic differences between Stradivari violins and other professional quality instruments. Since both violin tones and spoken vowels are perceived through steady-state spectral features, we hypothesized that voice analysis techniques may help elucidate the tonal properties of violins. Using linear predictive coding (LPC), a common speech analysis technique, we examined the recorded scales of four Stradivari violins and ten other professional quality instruments, both old and new. On most violin notes, there are typically four or five resonance peaks (formants) below 5.5 kHz. Generally, professional quality violins exhibit formant frequencies (F1-F4) which are equidistant from the formants of male and female voices. But Stradivari violins tend to produce higher formants which are closer to female voices. Stradivari violins also show greater probabilities to emulate the formants of bright-sounding front vowels spoken by females, a tendency shared by other violins judged by concert violinists as having Strad-like tonal characteristics. Our results suggest that, within the sample group being studied, there are measurable and statistically significant differences between Stradivari violins and other professional quality violins in terms of formant features. Having higher formants or having formants that resemble female vowels may be acoustic correlates of the tonal qualities which concert violinists frequently associate with Stradivari violins.

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Savart Journal

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  • Article published Jun 14, 2012.
  • This article has been accessed 8292 times since publication.