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Stringed Instruments “In the Air”
Vibrato
Wolf Tones: What they are and what you can do about them
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Stringed Instruments “In the air”

Violin and viola players should always carry their instrument on board and stow it in the overhead luggage bin. There is adequate space for it there. Do not under any circumstances allow airline personnel to persuade you that your instrument can survive being checked only in its regular case. This is asking for disaster! As with anything of value carried on an airplane, your biggest problem then becomes remembering that it is there once you arrive at your destination. Don't forget to check the overheads, especially if you must change planes and are in a hurry.

Taking a cello on an airplane is much more problematic. The safest - and of course, most expensive - way to transport a cello is to purchase an extra seat for the instrument and carry it on with you (some airlines will give you a break on the ticket price). Otherwise, you will be forced to check the instrument along with the rest of your luggage. If you must check the cello, your only safeguard lies in the care with which it is packed. There are heavy-duty shipping cases available; however, these are quite expensive. A cello packed in a box will stand a much greater chance of arriving intact if it is enclosed in a hardshell rather than soft case, and stuffed with a great deal of packing material both within and without so that it will not shift. Be sure to inquire about the availability of extra insurance.

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Vibrato

As any string student will tell you, learning vibrato is not easy. Vibrato is a complex and personal tool of musical expression, and it takes practice and experimentation to master the technique and its use. Students often have questions about when, how much and at what amplitude vibrato can or should be used. Although there is no single or correct kind of vibrato, and what you do depends upon the type of music you are playing, there are a couple of simple guidelines to keep in mind when employing vibrato as an expressive sound. First, initiate vibrato below the intended pitch. Given that the highest tone draws the most attention, vibrating up to the note will support that tone. Conversely, if you vibrate down to the intended pitch—or above the note—you will sound sharp. Also, remember that some musical sections are expressed best with no vibrato (the so-called "white tone").

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Wolf Tones: What they are and what you can do about them

You’ve heard it on all types of cellos, from a basic student model to a beautifully crafted Forester: the booming and “woo-wooing” vibration of a wolf tone. What causes this sound and what can be done to eliminate it? Although its exact cause has been debated for decades, it is known that the wolf is a product of the natural resonance of your instrument and therefore a necessary part of the cello’s design. Every bass, cello, violin or viola has a fundamental pitch: the pitch at which the air cavity resonates. When you reach the resonant pitch, the instrument will respond noticeably, resonating with that note. It is often an F on many cellos, but it will be lower on a larger instrument that has a correspondingly larger air cavity, and higher on a smaller model.

Unfortunately, the fundamental pitch on the cello is usually very close to the fundamental pitch of the top and the back. What this means is that when that note is played, a synergy is created—the top, back, and air cavity produce an excess of vibration that cannot be sustained, leading to the characteristic fluttering or wailing of the wolf tone. What can be done to eliminate the problem? Because the tone is a product of the resonating chamber, nothing can completely get rid of the offending vibration. However, the wolf can be moved around from note to note by screwing a small brass slug known as a “wolf eliminator” to the G or C string. Unfortunately, it has the additional effect of dampening the vibration of the string over its entire spectrum. There is another device called a Lupus Ex that works well, although some cellists complain that it alters the timbre (tonal characteristics) of the instrument. The Lupus Ex is tuned to the wolf tone, and glued inside the instrument near the left f-hole at the nodal point of the vibration. It then absorbs most of the excess vibration that produces the unpleasant wail. See the available wolf eliminators for Violin, Viola, Cello, and Bass.

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