Savart Journal

science and technology of stringed musical instruments

Analysis of violin combination tones and their contribution to Tartini's third tone

Gabriele Caselli, Giovanni Cecchi, Mirko Malacarne, Giulio Masetti


It is widely accepted that the famous Tartini's third tone, i.e., the appearance of an additional third tone of lower frequency when playing a dyad on the violin, is a subjective phenomenon generated by the listener's cochlear nonlinearity. However, the recent demonstration that additional tones of audible amplitude can also be generated by the violin itself during playing of a dyad (violin combination tones), raises the question if these tones might have influenced Tartini's third sound perception. The experiments reported here were made to ascertain this possibility. To this end, following Tartini experiments, several dyads played by either one violin or two violins playing one note of the dyad each, were recorded. The analysis of the spectra shows that violin combination tones are present in all the dyads investigated, but exclusively when the dyad is played by a single violin and not when the same dyad is played by two violins. Tartini found the third tones to be the same in both conditions, which means that violin combination tones in his experiments were either absent or too small to affect the perception of the subjective third tones arising from cochlear distortion.

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Article published Oct 10, 2020.
This article has been accessed 618 times since publication.


The Savart Journal is published in collaboration with the Guild of American Luthiers.

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About the Author(s)

Gabriele Caselli
Musical Accademy, Pontedera

Gabriele Caselli is an Italian composer of classical and movie music. His compositions have been played around Italy and abroad and have received many awards. At present he is very interested in Tartini's third tone and combination tones, in particular on the violin, and their possible relationship with music harmony.

Giovanni Cecchi
University of Florence

Giovanni Cecchi is Emeritus Professor of Physiology at University of Florence (Italy). His former research activity regarded Skeletal Muscle physiology, at the present his is interested in violin acoustics and, in particular, in the generation process of violin combination tones.

Mirko Malacarne
Musical Accademy, Pontedera

Mirko Malacarne is a pianist, arranger and sound technician. He has been working for many years in the field of musical production with many important Italian artists. He is interested in the acoustics of musical instruments.

Giulio Masetti
Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologia dell'Informazione, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche

Giulio Masetti is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie dell'Informazione, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Pisa (Italy). His research activity regards the quantitative evaluation of Dependability related properties of complex systems, in particular critical infrastructures. His interest in investigating violin combination tones has been triggered by the nonlinear nature of the phenomenon.