Flat Key Violins are amplified instruments tuned a whole step down from a traditional violin or a whole step down from a viola. Scordatura (alternate tuning) is an age-old practice with examples found in Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Flat Key Violins allow the violinist to take advantage of open strings when playing typical band arrangements. When improvising the violinist can contribute some fiddle physicality—a new dimension for all sorts of bands.
The Bb Violin is tuned FCGD (sometimes referred to as a “Cajun tuning”). On a Bb Violin you can sight read Bb parts (clarinet, trumpet etc.); for example, when you see a note in the top space of the staff, you play your top string open and out comes a D.
The Eb Alto Violin is tuned BbFCG, and allows you to sight read Eb parts (alto saxophone). When you have a violinist playing an Eb Alto Violin in the sax section of a 17-piece jazz band, you can often see by the bow strokes when the arranger is intending the saxes to function like a string section.
David Mills collaborated with Fan Tao, the bowed string engineer from D’Addario, to determine what kind of strings work best for both the Bb and Eb Violins. In addition, David discovered that using a D’Addario Fingerboard Appliqué is almost essential when playing in a loud horn section. The Appliqué was originally designed as a teaching aid similar to tape used on the fingerboard to signify pitch. However, the Appliqué has micro nylon ridges in it that can be used to anchor your shifting positions while still sliding above the “frets” for an unfettered glissando. (The Appliqué can be removed without harming the instrument.) With the Appliqué there are all kinds of new possibilities for rhythmic playing with double stops.