Computer Study of Violin Tones

M. V. Mathews, Joan E. Miller, J. R. Pierce, and James Tenney

J. Acoust. Soc. Am. Volume 38, Issue 5, pp. 912-913 (1965).

Acoustical Society of America


Recordings were made of tones played by a professional violinist in an anechoic chamber. The sounds were digitized at 10 000 samples/sec and a frequency analysis made by computer. The amplitude of each harmonic was plotted at each pitch period. Two features of the spectrum were noted. The spectral envelope is essentially constant throughout the tone. The spectrum possesses zeros at regular spacing—typically every third harmonic. To explain the zeros, a theory was developed that involves the nature of the excitation by the bow. A computer program was written to synthesize tones with zeros. Tones with zeros characteristic of the violin were judged to have a very stringlike sound. It is hypothesized that these zeros, produced by the bow excitation, may be as important in determining string timbre as resonances introduced by the violin body.