A Moment of Science

Stradivarius? Cool!

Why do Stradivarius violins sound so good? Find out on this Moment of Science.

Why do Stradivarius violins sound so good?

That’s something that musicians and scientists have been trying to figure out for centuries. Scientists at the University of Tennessee and Columbia University think that the violins’ unique sound has to do with climate change.

Between 1645 and 1715 Western Europe experienced what’s known as the “Maunder Minimum,” a period of unusually cold weather due to the sun’s reduced activity during the time. Temperatures may have dropped by two degrees Celsius, which was enough to make trees grow more slowly. Slower tree growth produces stronger, denser wood.

The scientists think that a violin maker like Stradivarius used wood from these slowly growing, denser trees to make violins. If the scientists are correct, the special quality of the wood is one factor that allows a Stradivarius violin to produce such brilliant tones.

Some musicians think that recently made violins sound just as good if not better. In fact, nearly all Stradivarius violins have been modified over the centuries so that they don’t sound much like they did originally. If Stradivarius were alive today, he might not even recognize the sound.

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