Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

On the sensations of tone as a physiological basis for the study of music. Translated with the author's sanction from the third German edition, with additional notes and an additional appendix by Alexander J. Ellis
Helmholtz, Hermann von
changes in the vibrational figure. If the scratching continues, 
the eye has no longer time to perceive a regular figure. The 
scratching noises of a violin bow must therefore be regarded as 
irregular interruptions of the normal vibrations of the string, 
making them to recommence from a new starting point. Sudden 
jumps in the vibrational figure betray every little stumble of the 
bow which the ear alone would scarcely observe. Inferior bowed 
instruments seem to be distinguished from good ones by the 
frequency of such greater or smaller irregularities of vibration. 
On the string of a monochord, which was only used for the occasion 
as a bowed instrument, great neatness of bowing was required to 
preserve a steady vibrational figure for sufficient time for the eye 
to apprehend it ; and the tone was rough in quality, accompanied 
by much scratching. With a very good modern violin made by 
Bausch it was easier to maintain the steadiness of the vibrational 
figure for some time ; but I succeeded much better with an old 
Italian violin of Gruadanini, which was the first one on which I 
could keep the vibrational figure steady enough to count the 
crumples. This great uniformity of vibration is evidently the 
reason of the purer tone of these old instruments, since every little 
irregularity is immediately felt by the ear as a roughness or 
scratchiness in the quality of tone. 
An appropriate structure of the instrument, and wood of the 
most perfect elasticity procurable, are probably the important 
conditions for regular vibrations of the string, and when these are 
present, the bow can be easily made to work uniformly. This 
allows of a pure flow of tone, undisfigured by any roughness. On 
the other hand, when the vibrations are so uniform the string can 
be more vigorously attacked with the bow. Grood instruments 
consequently allow of a much more powerful motion of the string, 
and the whole intensity of their tone can be communicated to the 
air without diminution, whereas the friction caused by any imper¬ 
fection in the elasticity of the wood destroys part of the motion. 
Much of the advantages of old violins may, however, also depend 
upon their age, and especially their long use, both of which can¬ 
not but act favourably on the elasticity of the wood. But the art 
of bowing is evidently the most important condition of all. How 
delicately this must be cultivated to obtain certainty in producing 
a very perfect quality of tone and its different varieties, cannot be 
more clearly demonstrated than by the observation of vibrational


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