60-Second Science

Expert Violinists Bad at Picking Strads

Ten violin soloists who played different instruments blindfolded then picked a Stradivarius over a modern instrument as being the superior violin at rates no better than chance. Karen Hopkin reports

[Violin plays] The Stradivarius is arguably the finest violin ever made. But could you tell one from a modern instrument? Was that a Strad? [Another violin plays] How about that?
Well, if you can’t tell the difference, don’t feel bad. Neither could a group of accomplished violinists. That surprising result appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Claudia Fritz et al, Soloist evaluations of six Old Italian and six new violins]
Old Italian violins have a reputation for being superior in sound to newer models. But is their reputation deserved? To find out, researchers blindfolded 10 renowned violin soloists and had them play a dozen violins, six new and six old.
When asked to guess the age of the instruments, the musicians failed to distinguish classic from modern at levels better than chance. And the new violins received higher overall marks than the antiques. When asked which violin they would choose to take on tour, six out of the 10 went with a modern instrument. The others grabbed Strads.
The results suggest that modern violins perform as well as the classics. And that modern violinists are better at performing than at picking violins.
—Karen Hopkin
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Take the Telegraph's Strad test.]

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