We hear lots of discussion of how to make better digital instruments. But to fully understand instrument design, it’s often best to look at instruments from around the world that have evolved over centuries. (Hey, these synthesizers and such, by comparison, are mere infants.)

Here’s a fantastically virtuostic performance from 11 year-old Sirena Huang, via June Cohen on the TEDtalks blog. Following the music, she discusses in frank terms why the instrument is such a timeless design. She’s got a smart audience for such thoughts: the performance comes from the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference, a legendary gathering of “thinkers and doers”. And while Sirena feigns surprise that her violin would be included with “real” technology like an iPod, I think she recognizes the violin is the better design by far.

Embedding their videos doesn’t seem to work, so I suggest checking out the story directly:

Sirena Huang on TEDTalks [Video links and comments, TEDblog]

Thanks to our friend Matrix of Matrixsynth fame for this. The TEDblog has plenty of other music coverage, including a similarly virtuostic video of pianist Jennifer Lin, not to mention lots of other general cool tech and non-tech topics.

Notably, on the topic of violins, the blog has a mini review of the book Stradivari’s Genius by Tony Faber, exploring the history of the most famous of violins.

Will digital instruments ever match an instrument like the violin? I tend to look at it the other way: watching a great performance is as much about the player as it is the design of the instrument. Practice your favorite digital instrument for a lifetime, and see what happens. And keep in mind that “easier” isn’t always better. A violin is anything but intuitive, and sounds awful when you first play it.