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The quality of violin strings.

Robert T. Schumacher, a physicist at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, has been playing the violin for 50 years. "I've always been troubled by the hit-or-miss way one goes about buying violin strings," he says. "What are the properties of a string that are essential for producing over the widest possible range of bowing parameters a useful, musical-sounding note?" Musicians rarely have access to such quantitative information.

Schumacher's studies complement recent experiments using a computer to simulate the frictional froce between a violin string and bow's hairs (SN:3/9/85, p. 153). "What is missing is high-quality experimental data that accurately describe what a string actually does when bowed," he says.

To do this, Schumacher uses some robotic technology in the form of a "bowing machine." The violin is mounted on a moving platform. A computer-controlled motor attached to the stationary bow applies the necessary bow pressure, which varies during a stroke. The computer also logs data from various sensors that measure bow forces, string velocity and other parameters.

"Although the bowing machine does not approach the remarkable control of an expert player," says Schumacher, "within its capability, it can bow reproducibly and untiringly." The machine's long memory allows identical strokes to be applied to many types of strings to measure their different responses.
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Title Annotation:robotic technology used to test violin strings
Author:Peterson, Ivars
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 16, 1985
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