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Play the violin? Try something easier

Everybody knows it’s a tough instrument, but read the maths – it’s almost impossible to play. Be warned: this essay requires more concentrated attention than most things you’ll read online.

Read here.

Hat-tip: Sasha Mäkilä

Now with added video:


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  1. Peter - a different one from the other Peter says:

    Very interesting article. When I was an undergrad, the author (Jim Woodhouse) was one of my tutors. He gave an extra-curricular lecture on the engineering aspects of violins. Not many people went, but he was clearly unthusiastic and brought to topic to life. His main theme was that every feature of the violin shape – from the arch of the front and back and the pointed edges of the bouts, to the curve of the sound holes and the inlaid purling, had a significant engineering purpose. (force distribution, expansion joints, minimise stress concentration and block crack propagation… respectively, if I remember rightly). the only bit he was unsure about was the scroll, and he thought it might be some sort of tuned resonator to stabilise vibrations in the neck – but was just guessing. I still remember it nearly 30 years later – long after the lectures on fluid mechanics and thermodynamics have melted away.

    The Helmholz waves and diagram certainly match practical experience. While at school, I did a small project putting bowed cello strings under a stroboscope, and noted that the strings also twist longitudinally, as part of the slip-stick motion he describes. No idea if this is correct, or relevant, but it fits with what he explains.

  2. Very well written article. This should prove very useful for teaching the physics of sound. And thanks for including the video.

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