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About the Violin

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The violin is a stringed musical instrument comprising four strings tuned a fifth apart. It is the smallest and highest-tuned member of the violin family of string instruments, which also includes the viola, cello and double bass. The lowest string (and hence the lowest note) is the G just below middle C, then in ascending order D, A and E. Sheet music for a violin almost always uses the G clef (treble clef).

Parts of the Violin

The violin is a carefully made hollow wooden box, with a neck protruding from the top, and a internal sound post connecting the front (belly) and the back. The sides of the violin, curiously, are called ribs. The belly is reinforced by an internal bass bar, which runs vertically through the instrument underneath the lowest string.

violinThe four violin strings run from a tailpiece attached to the base of the violin, across an intricately carved wooden bridge, then upward just above the fingerboard. At the top end of the fingerboard, the strings cross the nut, a very small second bridge, mounted just slightly above the fingerboard. They then enter the pegbox, where they are wound around their tuning pegs, which are mounted sideways through tightly fitting holes in the pegbox. The tip of the pegbox is ornamented with a carved wooden scroll.

The bridge of a violin has two purposes. First, it holds the strings in an arched configuration, permitting each to be touched separately by the bow. The bridge also transmits the sound vibrations of the strings to the belly, from which they are transmitted to the back by the sound post.

>> See how a violin is made

Materials of the Violin

Generally the belly, the sound post, and the bass bar are made of spruce, a light but strong softwood. The back, ribs, neck, pegbox, scroll, and bridge are of maple, a hardwood. The choice of woods is basically the same as in the piano, where a hardwoodtuning pegs bridge is attached to a spruce soundboard, mounted on a hardwood frame.

The fingerboard of a violin is of ebony. Some old violins have ivory fingerboards.
Strings were originally made of gut. Such strings are still often used in historically accurate performances of music from the 18th century and earlier. However, they have a tendency to go out of tune and snap more easily than modern strings, which are made from metal. Modern A, D and G strings are usually metal-cored and wound with metal for greater mass in order to vibrate at a lower pitch, with the E (top) string being a metal mono-filament of steel. Synthetic cored strings (wound with metal) are also employed today; they combine some of the benefits of gut strings with greater longevity and tuning stability.

The hair of the bow is traditionally horse hair, although many cheaper bows use synthetic material. The hair must be frequently rubbed with rosin in order to grip the strings and cause them to vibrate.

Playing the Violin

The violin is played by using the right hand to draw the bow at right angles across one of the strings, near the bridge, causing the string to vibrate. Pitch is controlled by selecting the string that the bow contacts (by altering the vertical angle of the bow), and by regulating the sounding length of that string by pressing it down onto the fingerboard with one of the fingers of the left hand.

Fingering and Positions

The placement of the fingers on the strings invokes no physical aid like frets; the player must achieve the correct position from skill alone, or else the instrument will sound out of tune. Violin players practice long hours partly to train their fingers to land in the right places, and partly to cultivate the ability to correct the pitch very rapidly as it is played.
The fingers are conventionally numbered "first" (index) through "fourth" (little finger). The digits 1-4 sometimes appear over the notes in violin music, especially in instructional editions, to indicate the finger to be used.

For the beginning player, the highest note available on a violin is made by pressing the fourth finger down on the E-string, sounding a B. However this is only the highest note in so-called first position, which is taught to beginners first. A higher note can be achieved by sliding the hand up the neck of the violin (towards the player's face) and pressing the fingers down at this new position. Thus, for example, in first position, the first finger placed on the E string gives an F#. Pressing the first finger instead on a G is called second position. Third position is achieved when the first finger presses down on an A, and so on. The upper limit of the violin's range is largely determined by the skill of the player. A good player can easily play more than two octaves on a single string, and four octaves on the instrument as a whole.

Violinists often change positions on the lower strings even though this seems unnecessary. Often, this is done to handle a musical passage which would otherwise require fast switching of strings. It is also done to produce a particular timbre: a violin note will sound different depending on what string is used to play it.

Open Strings

A special timbre results from playing a note without touching its string with a finger, thus sounding the lowest note on that string. Such a note is said to played on an open string. Open string notes (G, D, A, E) have a very distinct sound resulting from absence of the damping action of a finger, and from the fact that vibrato (see below) is impossible. Other than low G (which can be played in no other way), open strings are usually selected for special effects.

One striking effect that employs open strings is barriolage. Here, the player fingers the same note of an open string (necessarily D, A, or E) on the immediately lower string, then moves the bow with a rapid snake-like motion that causes it to touch the fingered string and the open string alternatingly. The same pitch is thus sounded, but the different timbres of an open string vs. a fingered string produce an audible rhythmic pulsation. Barriolage was a favorite device of Joseph Haydn, who used it for example in his string quartet Opus 50 no. 6, and in the "Farewell" Symphony.

Playing two open strings simultaneously (that is, double stopped; see below) produces a bagpipe-like drone, often used by composers in imitation of folk music.


Double stopping is playing two strings simultaneously, producing a chord. This is much harder than normal single-string playing as more than one finger has to be accurately placed on two different strings simultaneously. Sometimes moving to a higher position is necessary in order for it to be physically possible for the fingers to be placed in the correct places. Double stopping is also used to mean playing on three or all four strings at once, although such practices are more properly called triple or quadruple stopping. Collectively, double, triple and quadruple stopping is called multiple stopping.
See Double stop for general information about the techniques of double stopping and bowing.

>> Learn about Pizzicato
>> Learn about Vibrato


Pressing the finger very lightly on the string can create harmonics. This means that instead of the normal solid tone a wispy-sounding note of a higher pitch is heard. This is caused by the light finger blocking the string's fundamental; the position of the finger determines the first note of that string's harmonic series which is allowed to sound.

Bowing Techniques

The violin produces louder notes when the player either moves the bow faster or pushes down harder on the string. The two methods are not equivalent, because they produce different timbres; pressing down on the string tends to produce a harsher, more intense sound.
The location where the bow intersects the string also influences timbre. Playing close to the bridge (sul ponticello) gives a more intense sound than usual, emphasizing the higher harmonics; and playing with the bow over the end of the fingerboard (sul tasto) makes for a delicate, ethereal sound, emphasizing the fundamental frequency.

Occasionally the strings are struck with the back of the bow (col legno). This gives a much more percussive sound, and is most effective when employed by a full orchestral violin section, since it produces little volume.
A second, more modern percussive technique is called the "chop," in which the hair near the bottom of the bow is struck against the strings.

>> Watch videos of bowing techniques

Tuning the Violin

Violins are tuned by twisting the pegs in the scroll, around which the strings are wrapped. The A string is tuned first, typically to 440 Hz (see Pitch (music)). The other strings are then tuned to it in intervals of perfect fifths using double-stopping. Some violins also have adjustors (also called fine tuners). These permit the tension of the string to be adjusted by rotating a small knob. Such tuning is generally easier than using the pegs, and adjustors are usually recommended for younger players. Adjustors work best, and are most useful, with higher tension metal strings. It is very common to use one on the E-string even if the others are not equipped with them.

Small tuning adjustments can also be made by stretching a string with the hand.

The tuning G-D-A-E is used for the great majority of all violin music. However, other tunings are occasionally employed (for example, tuning the G string up to A), both in classical music (where the technique is known as scordatura) and in some folk styles.

>> More informatino on tuning


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