|1564||Andrea Amati (d.1577), Italian violin maker, made one of the first of his famous violins in Cremona. Stradivari was one of his students.|
Links: Italy, Violin
|1715||Daniel Parker (~1700-1775), English violin maker, visited Stradivari’s workshop about this time in Cremona, Italy, and acquired an abundance of the master’s secrets in making violins.|
Links: Italy, Britain, Violin
|1737 Dec 18||Antonio Stradivari, the most renowned violin maker in history, died in Cremona, Italy. He made about 1200 violins of great quality of which half still survive. In 2006 Joseph Nagyvary, a Texas biochemist and violin maker, put forward evidence that the quality of sound in a Stradivari violin was due to chemicals used to protect the wood from wood-eating worms.|
Links: Italy, USA, Chemistry, Texas, Violin
|1741||The Vieuxtemps Guarneri is a violin built about this time in Cremona by the renowned Italian instrument maker Giuseppe Guarneri. In 2012 it was auctioned for an estimated $16 million. The buyer later made the violin available for life to American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.|
Links: Italy, Violin
|1747||Carlo Bergonzi, the last of the great Cremonese violin makers, died.|
Links: Italy, Violin
|1829 May||In Poland Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), Italian violinist, performed in concert in Warsaw. Frederic Chopin (19) was so impressed that he proceeded to compose a series of piano studies a la Paganini. Chopin’s 27 Etudes later became a cornerstone of every gifted pianist’s repertoire.|
Links: Poland, Piano, Violin, Classical Music
|1860 Feb 29||George Bridgetower (b.1778), African-Polish violinist, died in Peckham, south London. He was born in Biała, Poland, where his father worked for Hieronimus Wincenty Radziwill. Bridgetower lived in England for much of his life.|
Links: Britain, Poland, Black History, Violin
|1907 Aug 15||Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (b.1831), widely regarded as one of the most significant violinists of the 19th century, died in Berlin.|
Links: Germany, Hungary, Violin
|1967 Sep 25||Stuff Smith (b.1909), jazz violinist, died in Munich, Germany.|
Links: Germany, Jazz, Violin
|1971 Oct 25||Midori Goto, Japanese violinist, was born in Osaka.|
Links: Japan, Violin
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|1972 Oct 23||Jascha Haifetz (b.1901), virtuoso violinist, performed his farewell concert in Los Angeles at the age of 72.|
Links: USA, Violin
|1973 Feb 19||Joseph Szigeti (b.1892), Hungarian-born US violinist, died.|
Links: USA, Hungary, Violin
|1973 Mar 5||Paul Kletzki (b.1900), Polish violinist, composer, conductor, died.|
Links: Poland, Composer, Violin
|1974 Oct 24||David Oistrach (b.1908), virtuoso Russian violinist, died of a heart attack in Amsterdam.|
Links: Russia, Netherlands, Violin
|1979||Itzhak Perlman and the New York Philharmonic premiered the Violin Concerto of Earl Kim (d.1998 at 78) at Avery Fisher Hall.|
Links: USA, NYC, Violin, Classical Music
|1983 Oct 16||George Liberace (b.1911), American violinist, died. He was the older brother of Liberace (1919-1987), the famed pianist.|
Links: USA, Violin
|1983||David Schneider (1918-2005), violinist with the SF Symphony, authored “Music, Maestros, and Musicians.”|
Links: SF, Violin, Classical Music
|1986 Oct 16||Arthur Grumiaux (b.1921), Belgian violinist, died at 65.|
Links: Belgium, Violin
|1987 Dec 10||Jascha Heifetz (b.1901), Lithuania-born Jewish violinist, died in Los Angeles.|
Links: USA, California, Jews, Violin, Classical Music
|1987||Philip Glass composed his Violin Concerto.|
Links: Violin, Classical Music
|1993 Jul 19||Szymon Goldberg (84), Polish-born violinist, conductor, died in Japan. He became a US citizen in 1953 and two years later founded the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra.|
Links: Japan, Poland, Netherlands, Violin, Classical Music
|1995||The Violin Concerto No. 2 by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki was written for the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and premiered in Leipzig with the Central German Radio orchestra.|
Links: Germany, Poland, Violin, Classical Music
|1997 Jun 9||Danish violinist Nikolai Znaider won the Queen Elizabeth int’l. music prize.|
Links: Denmark, Violin
|1997 Dec 1||Stephane Grappelli, jazz violinist, died in Paris. In the mid-30s the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, with Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, recorded "Tiger Rag," "Dinah," and "Lady Be Good." His albums included "Live at Carnegie Hall, "Jazz Round Midnight," "Plays Jerome Kern," "Tivoli Gardens" (1979), "Satin Doll," ‘’Stardust," ‘For Django," and "Plays Gershwin."|
Links: Jazz, Violin
|1997||Charles Wolfe published "The Devil’s Box," a definitive work about old time fiddling.|
Links: Books, Violin
|1998 Jan 26||Shinichi Suzuki (99), pioneer of the 1950s Suzuki method for teaching music to young children, died in Japan.|
Links: Japan, Violin
|1999 Mar 12||Yehudi Menuhin, violinist, died at age 82 in Berlin.|
|2001 Sep 22||Isaac Stern (b.1920), Ukraine born Jewish immigrant to the US and legendary violinist, died. In 1960 he saved Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball.|
Links: USA, NYC, Violin, Migrant
|2005 Sep 27||Andre Rieu introduced violinist, Akim Camara (b.10/27/2001), during his 'Flying Dutchman Concert' at Parkstad Stadium in the Netherlands. Akim played Concerto G Major op.11 with the Johan Strauss Orchestra.|
Links: Netherlands, Violin, Kids
|2006||A Stradivarius violin fetched a record $3.5 million at auction.|
Links: USA, Violin
|2007 Nov 28||Joseph Hokai Tang (28), musician and violin dealer, was arrested for fraud following a performance in Eugene, Oregon. In 2008 he pleaded guilty to 10 fraud counts and admitted to bilking at least 120 people out of $400,000 worth of instruments. In 2008 he was sentenced in SF District Court to 37 months in prison.|
Links: USA, SF, Oregon, Violin, Fraud
|2012 Aug 12||Ruggiero Ricci (b.1918), SF-born violin virtuoso, died at his home in Palm Springs.|
Links: USA, Violin, Classical Music
|2013 Oct 19||The violin played by the Titanic's bandmaster as the ship sank beneath the waves sold at a London auction for £900,000 ($1.45 million, 1.06 million euros), a world record for memorabilia from the doomed liner.|
Links: Britain, Violin
|2015 Dec 14||Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman was awarded this year's Genesis Prize, the "Jewish Nobel," for his accomplishments as a musician, teacher and advocate for the disabled, organizers of the $1 million prize.|
Links: USA, Israel, Violin
|2017 Aug 15||Venezuelan violinist Wuilly Arteaga (23) was released after spending 19 days in police custody. He has became a beloved fixture at anti-government protests.|
Links: Venezuela, Violin
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This article is about the standard violin. For other uses, see Violin (disambiguation).
The violin, also known informally as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in the family in regular use. Smaller violin-type instruments are known, including the violino piccolo and the kit violin, but these are virtually unused. The violin typically has four strings tuned in perfect fifths, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings, though it can also be played by plucking the strings with the fingers (pizzicato) and by striking the strings with the wooden side of the bow (col legno).
Violins are important instruments in a wide variety of musical genres. They are most prominent in the Western classical tradition, both in ensembles (from chamber music to orchestras) and as solo instruments and in many varieties of folk music, including country music, bluegrass music and in jazz. Electric violins with solid bodies and piezoelectric pickups are used in some forms of rock music and jazz fusion, with the pickups plugged into instrument amplifiers and speakers to produce sound. Further, the violin has come to be played in many non-Western music cultures, including Indian music and Iranian music. The name fiddle is often used regardless of the type of music played on it.
The violin was first known in 16th-century Italy, with some further modifications occurring in the 18th and 19th centuries to give the instrument a more powerful sound and projection. In Europe, it served as the basis for the development of other stringed instruments used in Western classical music, such as the viola.
Violinists and collectors particularly prize the fine historical instruments made by the Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati families from the 16th to the 18th century in Brescia and Cremona (Italy) and by Jacob Stainer in Austria. According to their reputation, the quality of their sound has defied attempts to explain or equal it, though this belief is disputed. Great numbers of instruments have come from the hands of less famous makers, as well as still greater numbers of mass-produced commercial "trade violins" coming from cottage industries in places such as Saxony, Bohemia, and Mirecourt. Many of these trade instruments were formerly sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other mass merchandisers.
The parts of a violin are usually made from different types of wood (although electric violins may not be made of wood at all, since their sound may not be dependent on specific acoustic characteristics of the instrument's construction, but rather an electronic pickup, amplifier and speaker). Violins can be strung with gut, Perlon or other synthetic, or steel strings. A person who makes or repairs violins is called a luthier or violinmaker. One who makes or repairs bows is called an archetier or bowmaker.
The word "violin" was first used in English in 1570s. The word "violin" comes "from Italian violino, [a] diminutive of viola". The term "viola" comes from the expression for "tenor violin," 1797, from Italian viola, from Old Provençal viola, [which came from] Medieval Latin vitula", a term which means "stringed instrument," perhaps [coming] from Vitula, Roman goddess of joy..., or from related Latin verb vitulari "to exult, be joyful."" The related term Viola da gamba means "bass viol" (1724) is from Italian, literally "a viola for the leg" (i.e. to hold between the legs)." A violin is the "modern form of the smaller, medieval viola da braccio."
The violin is often called a fiddle, either when used in a folk music context, or even in Classical music scenes, as an informal nickname for the instrument. The word "fiddle" means "stringed musical instrument, violin". The word "fiddle" was first used in English in the late 14th century. The word "fiddle" comes from "fedele, fydyll, fidel, earlier fithele, from Old English fiðele "fiddle," which is related to Old Norse fiðla, Middle Dutch vedele, Dutch vedel, Old High German fidula, German Fiedel "a fiddle;" all of uncertain origin." As to the origin of the word "fiddle", the "...usual suggestion, based on resemblance in sound and sense, is that it is from Medieval Latin vitula." The Online Etymology Dictionary states that the term "fiddle" has "...been relegated to colloquial usage by its more proper cousin, violin, a process encouraged by phraseology such as fiddlesticks (1620s), [the] contemptuous nonsense word fiddle-de-dee (1784), and [expressions like] fiddle-faddle."
Main article: History of the violin
The earliest stringed instruments were mostly plucked (for example, the Greek lyre). Two-stringed, bowed instruments, played upright and strung and bowed with horsehair, may have originated in the nomadic equestrian cultures of Central Asia, in forms closely resembling the modern-day MongolianMorin huur and the KazakhKobyz. Similar and variant types were probably disseminated along East-West trading routes from Asia into the Middle East, and the Byzantine Empire.
The first makers of violins probably borrowed from various developments of the Byzantine lira. These included the rebec; the Arabicrebab; the vielle (also known as the fidel or viuola); and the lira da braccio The violin in its present form emerged in early 16th-century northern Italy. The earliest pictures of violins, albeit with three strings, are seen in northern Italy around 1530, at around the same time as the words "violino" and "vyollon" are seen in Italian and French documents. One of the earliest explicit descriptions of the instrument, including its tuning, is from the Epitome musical by Jambe de Fer, published in Lyon in 1556. By this time, the violin had already begun to spread throughout Europe.
The violin proved very popular, both among street musicians and the nobility; the French king Charles IX ordered Andrea Amati to construct 24 violins for him in 1560. One of these "noble" instruments, the Charles IX, is the oldest surviving violin. The finest Renaissance carved and decorated violin in the world is the Gasparo da Salò (c.1574) owned by Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria and later, from 1841, by the Norwegian virtuoso Ole Bull, who used it for forty years and thousands of concerts, for its very powerful and beautiful tone, similar to that of a Guarneri."The Messiah" or "Le Messie" (also known as the "Salabue") made by Antonio Stradivari in 1716 remains pristine. It is now located in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford.
The most famous violin makers (luthiers) between the 16th century and the 18th century include:
- The school of Brescia, beginning in the late 14th century with liras, violettas, violas and active in the field of the violin in the first half of the 16th century
- The school of Cremona, beginning in the half of the 16th century with violas and violone and in the field of violin in the second half of the 16th century
- The Amati family, active 1550–1740 in Cremona
- The Guarneri family, active 1626–1744 in Cremona and Venice
- The Stradivari family, active 1644–1737 in Cremona
- The school of Venice, with the presence of several makers of bowed instruments from the early 16th century out of more than 140 makers of string instruments registered between 1490–1630.
Significant changes occurred in the construction of the violin in the 18th century, particularly in the length and angle of the neck, as well as a heavier bass bar. The majority of old instruments have undergone these modifications, and hence are in a significantly different state than when they left the hands of their makers, doubtless with differences in sound and response. But these instruments in their present condition set the standard for perfection in violin craftsmanship and sound, and violin makers all over the world try to come as close to this ideal as possible.
To this day, instruments from the so-called Golden Age of violin making, especially those made by Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesù and Montagnana are the most sought-after instruments by both collectors and performers. The current record amount paid for a Stradivari violin is £9.8 million (US$15.9 million), when the instrument known as the Lady Blunt was sold by Tarisio Auctions in an online auction on June 20, 2011.
Construction and mechanics
Main article: Violin construction and mechanics
A violin generally consists of a spruce top (the soundboard, also known as the top plate, table, or belly), maple ribs and back, two endblocks, a neck, a bridge, a soundpost, four strings, and various fittings, optionally including a chinrest, which may attach directly over, or to the left of, the tailpiece. A distinctive feature of a violin body is its hourglass-like shape and the arching of its top and back. The hourglass shape comprises two upper bouts, two lower bouts, and two concave C-bouts at the waist, providing clearance for the bow. The "voice" or sound of a violin depends on its shape, the wood it is made from, the graduation (the thickness profile) of both the top and back, the varnish that coats its outside surface and the skill of the luthier in doing all of these steps. The varnish and especially the wood continue to improve with age, making the fixed supply of old well-made violins built by famous luthiers much sought-after.
The majority of glued joints in the instrument use animal hide glue rather than common white glue for a number of reasons. Hide glue is capable of making a thinner joint than most other glues, it is reversible (brittle enough to crack with carefully applied force, and removable with very warm water) when disassembly is needed, and since fresh hide glue sticks to old hide glue, more original wood can be preserved when repairing a joint. (More modern glues must be cleaned off entirely for the new joint to be sound, which generally involves scraping off some wood along with the old glue.) Weaker, diluted glue is usually used to fasten the top to the ribs, and the nut to the fingerboard, since common repairs involve removing these parts. The purfling running around the edge of the spruce top provides some protection against cracks originating at the edge. It also allows the top to flex more independently of the rib structure. Painted-on faux purfling on the top is usually a sign of an inferior instrument. The back and ribs are typically made of maple, most often with a matching striped figure, referred to as flame, fiddleback, or tiger stripe.
The neck is usually maple with a flamed figure compatible with that of the ribs and back. It carries the fingerboard, typically made of ebony, but often some other wood stained or painted black on cheaper instruments. Ebony is the preferred material because of its hardness, beauty, and superior resistance to wear. Fingerboards are dressed to a particular transverse curve, and have a small lengthwise "scoop," or concavity, slightly more pronounced on the lower strings, especially when meant for gut or synthetic strings. Some old violins (and some made to appear old) have a grafted scroll, evidenced by a glue joint between the pegbox and neck. Many authentic old instruments have had their necks reset to a slightly increased angle, and lengthened by about a centimeter. The neck graft allows the original scroll to be kept with a Baroque violin when bringing its neck into conformance with modern standards.
The bridge is a precisely cut piece of maple that forms the lower anchor point of the vibrating length of the strings and transmits the vibration of the strings to the body of the instrument. Its top curve holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard in an arc, allowing each to be sounded separately by the bow. The sound post, or soul post, fits precisely inside the instrument between the back and top, below the treble foot of the bridge, which it helps support. It also transmits vibrations between the top and the back of the instrument.
The tailpiece anchors the strings to the lower bout of the violin by means of the tailgut, which loops around an ebony button called the tailpin (sometimes confusingly called the endpin, like the cello's spike), which fits into a tapered hole in the bottom block. Very often the E string will have a fine tuning lever worked by a small screw turned by the fingers. Fine tuners may also be applied to the other strings, especially on a student instrument, and are sometimes built into the tailpiece. The fine tuners enable the performer to make small changes in the pitch of a string. At the scroll end, the strings wind around the wooden tuning pegs in the pegbox. The tuning pegs are tapered and fit into holes in the peg box. The tuning pegs are held in place by the friction of wood on wood. Strings may be made of metal or less commonly gut or gut wrapped in metal. Strings usually have a colored silk wrapping at both ends, for identification of the string (e.g., G string, D string, A string or E string) and to provide friction against the pegs. The tapered pegs allow friction to be increased or decreased by the player applying appropriate pressure along the axis of the peg while turning it.
Main article: strings section of Violin construction
Strings were first made of sheep gut (commonly known as catgut, which despite the name, did not come from cats), or simply gut, which was stretched, dried, and twisted. In the early years of the 20th century, strings were made of either gut or steel. Modern strings may be gut, solid steel, stranded steel, or various synthetic materials such as perlon, wound with various metals, and sometimes plated with silver. Most E strings are unwound, either plain or plated steel. Gut strings are not as common as they once were, but many performers use them to achieve a specific sound especially in historically informed performance of Baroque music. Strings have a limited lifetime. Eventually, when oil, dirt, corrosion, and rosin accumulate, the mass of the string can become uneven along its length. Apart from obvious things, such as the winding of a string coming undone from wear, players generally change a string when it no longer plays "true" (with good intonation on the harmonics), losing the desired tone, brilliance and intonation. String longevity depends on string quality and playing intensity.
A violin is tuned in fifths, in the notes G3, D4, A4, E5. The lowest note of a violin, tuned normally, is G3, or G below middle C. (On rare occasions, the lowest string may be tuned down by as much as a fourth, to D3.) The highest note is less well defined: E7, the E two octaves above the open string (which is tuned to E5) may be considered a practical limit for orchestral violin parts, but it is often possible to play higher, depending on the length of the fingerboard and the skill of the violinist. Yet higher notes (up to C8) can be sounded using artificial harmonics.
Main article: Sound production (string instruments)
The arched shape, the thickness of the wood, and its physical qualities govern the sound of a violin. Patterns of the node made by sand or glitter sprinkled on the plates with the plate vibrated at certain frequencies, called Chladni patterns, are occasionally used by luthiers to verify their work before assembling the instrument.
Apart from the standard, full (4⁄4) size, violins are also made in so-called fractional sizes of 7⁄8, 3⁄4, 1⁄2, 1⁄4, 1⁄8, 1⁄10, 1⁄16, 1⁄32 and even 1⁄64.These smaller instruments are commonly used by young players, whose fingers are not long enough to reach the correct positions on full-sized instruments.
While related in some sense to the dimensions of the instruments, the fractional sizes are not intended to be literal descriptions of relative proportions. For example, a 3⁄4-sized instrument is not three-quarters the length of a full size instrument. The body length (not including the neck) of a full-size, or 4⁄4, violin is 356 mm (14.0 in), smaller in some 17th-century models. A 3⁄4 violin's body length is 335 mm (13.2 in), and a 1⁄2 size is 310 mm (12.2 in). With the violin's closest family member, the viola, size is specified as body length in inches or centimeters rather than fractional sizes. A full-size viola averages 40 cm (16 in).
Occasionally, an adult with a small frame may use a so-called 7⁄8 size violin instead of a full-size instrument. Sometimes called a lady's violin, these instruments are slightly shorter than a full size violin, but tend to be high-quality instruments capable of producing a sound that is comparable to that of fine full size violins. 5 String violin sizes may differ from the normal 4 string.
The instrument which corresponds to the violin in the violin octet is the mezzo violin, tuned the same as a violin but with a slightly longer body. The strings of the mezzo violin are the same length as those of the standard violin.
Violins are tuned by turning the pegs in the pegbox under the scroll, or by adjusting the fine tuner screws at the tailpiece. All violins have pegs; fine tuners (also called fine adjusters) are optional. Most fine tuners consist of a metal screw that moves a lever attached to the string end. They permit very small pitch adjustments much more easily than the pegs. By turning one clockwise, the pitch becomes sharper (as the string is under more tension) and turning one counterclockwise, the pitch becomes flatter (as the string is under less tension). Fine tuners on all four of the strings are very helpful when using those that have a steel-core, and some players use them with synthetic strings as well. Since modern E strings are steel, a fine tuner is nearly always fitted for that string. Fine tuners are not used with gut strings, which are more elastic than steel or synthetic-core strings and do not respond adequately to the very small movements of fine tuners.
To tune a violin, the A string is first tuned to a standardpitch (usually 440 Hz). (When accompanying or playing with a fixed-pitch instrument such as a piano or accordion, the violin tunes to it.) The other strings are then tuned against each other in intervals of perfect fifths by bowing them in pairs. A minutely higher tuning is sometimes employed for solo playing to give the instrument a brighter sound; conversely, Baroque music is sometimes played using lower tunings to make the violin's sound more gentle. After tuning, the instrument's bridge may be examined to ensure that it is standing straight and centered between the inner nicks of the f-holes; a crooked bridge may significantly affect the sound of an otherwise well-made violin. After extensive playing, the holes into which the tuning pegs are inserted can become worn, which can lead the peg to slip under tension. This can lead to the pitch of the string dropping, or if the peg becomes completely loose, to the string completely losing tension. A violin in which the tuning pegs are slipping needs to be repaired by a luthier or violin repairperson. Peg dope or peg compound, used regularly, can delay the onset of such wear, while allowing the pegs to turn smoothly.
The tuning G–D–A–E is used for most violin music, both in Classical music, jazz and folk music. Other tunings are occasionally employed; the G string, for example, can be tuned up to A. The use of nonstandard tunings in classical music is known as scordatura; in some folk styles, it is called cross tuning. One famous example of scordatura in classical music is Camille Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre, where the solo violin's E string is tuned down to E♭ to impart an eerie dissonance to the composition. Other examples are the third movement of Contrasts, by Béla Bartók, where the E string is tuned down to E♭ and the G tuned to a G♯, and the Mystery Sonatas by Biber, in which each movement has different scordatura tuning.
In Indian classical music and Indian light music, the violin is likely to be tuned to D♯–A♯–D♯–A♯ in the South Indian style. As there is no concept of absolute pitch in Indian classical music, any convenient tuning maintaining these relative pitch intervals between the strings can be used. Another prevalent tuning with these intervals is B♭–F–B♭–F, which corresponds to Sa–Pa–Sa–Pa in the Indian carnatic classical music style. In the North Indian Hindustani style, the tuning is usually Pa-Sa-Pa-Sa instead of Sa–Pa–Sa–Pa. This could correspond to F–B♭–F–B♭, for instance. In Iranian classical music and Iranian light music, the violin ls different tunings in any Dastgah, the violin is likely to be tuned (E–A–E–A) in Dastgah-h Esfahan or in Dastgāh-e Šur is (E–A–D–E) and (E–A–E–E), in Dastgāh-e Māhur is (E–A–D–A). In Arabic classical music, the A and E strings are lowered by a whole step i.e. G–D–G–D. This is to ease playing Arabic maqams, especially those containing quarter tones.
While most violins have four strings, there are violins with additional strings. Some have as many as seven strings. Seven strings is generally thought to be the maximum number of strings that can be put on a bowed string instrument, because with more than seven strings, it would be impossible to play a particular inner string individually with the bow. Instruments with seven strings are very rare. The extra strings on such violins typically are lower in pitch than the G-string; these strings are usually tuned to C, F, and B♭. If the instrument's playing length, or string length from nut to bridge, is equal to that of an ordinary full-scale violin; i.e., a bit less than 13 inches (33 cm), then it may be properly termed a violin. Some such instruments are somewhat longer and should be regarded as violas. Violins with five strings or more are typically used in jazz or folk music. Some custom-made instruments have extra strings which are not bowed, but which sound sympathetically, due to the vibrations of the bowed strings.
Main articles: Bow (music) and Violin construction (bow)
A violin is usually played using a bow consisting of a stick with a ribbon of horsehair strung between the tip and frog (or nut, or heel) at opposite ends. A typical violin bow may be 75 cm (30 in) overall, and weigh about 60 g (2.1 oz). Viola bows may be about 5 mm (0.20 in) shorter and 10 g (0.35 oz) heavier. At the frog end, a screw adjuster tightens or loosens the hair. Just forward of the frog, a leather thumb cushion, called the grip, and winding protect the stick and provide a strong grip for the player's hand. The winding may be wire (often silver or plated silver), silk, or whalebone (now imitated by alternating strips of tan and black plastic.) Some student bows (particularly the ones made of solid fiberglass) substitute a plastic sleeve for grip and winding.
The hair of the bow traditionally comes from the tail of a grey male horse (which has predominantly white hair), though some cheaper bows use synthetic fiber. Occasional rubbing with rosin makes the hair grip the strings intermittently, causing them to vibrate. Originally the stick was made out of snakewood, but modern day bows are now traditionally made of brazilwood, although a stick made from a more select quality (and more expensive) brazilwood is called pernambuco. Both types come from the same tree species. Some student bows are made of fiberglass or various inexpensive woods. Some recent bow design innovations use carbon fiber (CodaBows) for the stick, at all levels of craftsmanship. Inexpensive bows for students are made of fiberglass (Glasser).
Main article: Playing the violin
The violin is played either seated or standing up. Solo players (whether playing alone, with a piano or with an orchestra) play mostly standing up (unless prevented by a physical disability such as in the case of Itzhak Perlman), while in the orchestra and in chamber music it is usually played seated. In the 2000s and 2010s, some orchestras performing Baroque music (such as the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra) have had all of their violins and violas, solo and ensemble, perform standing up.
The standard way of holding the violin is with the left side of the jaw resting on the chinrest of the violin, and supported by the left shoulder, often assisted by a shoulder rest (or a sponge and an elastic band for younger players who struggle with shoulder rests). The jaw and the shoulder must hold the violin firmly enough to allow it to remain stable when the left hand goes from a high position (a high pitched note far up on the fingerboard) to a low one (nearer to the pegbox). (In the Indian posture the stability of the violin is guaranteed by its scroll resting on the side of the foot).
While teachers point out the vital importance of good posture both for the sake of the quality of the playing and to reduce the chance of repetitive strain injury, advice as to what good posture is and how to achieve it differs in details. However all insist on the importance of a natural relaxed position without tension or rigidity. Things which are almost universally recommended is keeping the left wrist straight (or very nearly so) to allow the fingers of the left hand to move freely and to reduce the chance of injury and keeping either shoulder in a natural relaxed position and avoiding raising either of them in an exaggerated manner. This, like any other unwarranted tension, would limit freedom of motion, and increase the risk of injury.
Left hand and pitch production
The left hand determines the sounding length of the string, and thus the pitch of the string, by "stopping" it (pressing it) against the fingerboard with the fingertips, producing different pitches. As the violin has no frets to stop the strings, as is usual with the guitar, the player must know exactly where to place the fingers on the strings to play with good intonation (tuning). Beginning violinists play open strings and the lowest position, nearest to the nut. Students often start with relatively easy keys, such as A Major and G major. Students are taught scales and simple melodies. Through practice of scales and arpeggios and ear training, the violinist's left hand eventually "finds" the notes intuitively by muscle memory.
Beginners sometimes rely on tapes placed on the fingerboard for proper left hand finger placement, but usually abandon the tapes quickly as they advance. Another commonly used marking technique uses dots of white-out on the fingerboard, which wear off in a few weeks of regular practice. This practice, unfortunately, is used sometimes in lieu of adequate ear-training, guiding the placement of fingers by eye and not by ear. Especially in the early stages of learning to play, the so-called "ringing tones" are useful. There are nine such notes in first position, where a stopped note sounds a unison or octave with another (open) string, causing it to resonate sympathetically. Students often use these ringing tones to check the intonation of the stopped note by seeing if it is harmonious with the open string. For example, when playing the stopped pitch "A" on the G string, the violinist could play the open D string at the same time, to check the intonation of the stopped "A". If the "A" is in tune, the "A" and the open D string should produce a harmonious perfect fourth.
Violins are tuned in perfect fifths, like all the orchestral strings (violin, viola, cello) except the double bass, which is tuned in perfect fourths. Each subsequent note is stopped at a pitch the player perceives as the most harmonious, "when unaccompanied, [a violinist] does not play consistently in either the tempered or the natural [just] scale, but tends on the whole to conform with the Pythagorean scale." When violinists are playing in a string quartet or a string orchestra, the strings typically "sweeten" their tuning to suit the key they are playing in. When playing with an instrument tuned to equal temperament, such as a piano, skilled violinists adjust their tuning to match the equal temperament of the piano to avoid discordant notes.
The fingers are conventionally numbered 1 (index) through 4 (little finger) in music notation, such as sheet music and etude books. Especially in instructional editions of violin music, numbers over the notes may indicate which finger to use, with 0 or O indicating an open string. The chart to the right shows the arrangement of notes reachable in first position. Not shown on this chart is the way the spacing between note positions becomes closer as the fingers move up (in pitch) from the nut. The bars at the sides of the chart represent the usual possibilities for beginners' tape placements, at 1st, high 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers.
The placement of the left hand on the fingerboard is characterized by "positions". First position, where most beginners start (although some methods start in third position), is the most commonly used position in string music. Music composed for beginning youth orchestras is often mostly in first position. The lowest note available in this position in standard tuning is an open G; the highest note in first position is played with the fourth finger on the E-string, sounding a B. Moving the hand up the neck, so the first finger takes the place of the second finger, brings the player into second position. Letting the first finger take the first-position place of the third finger brings the player to third position, and so on. A change of positions, with its associated movement of the hand, is referred to as a shift, and effective shifting maintaining accurate intonation and a smooth legato (connected) sound is a key element of technique at all levels. Often a "guide finger" is used; the last finger to play a note in the old position continuously lightly touches the string during the course of the shift to end up on its correct place in the new position. In elementary shifting exercises the "guide finger" is often voiced while it glides up and down the string, so the player can establish by ear whether they are landing in the correct place, however outside of these exercises it should rarely be audible (unless the performer is consciously applying a portamento effect for expressive reasons).
In the course of a shift in low positions, the thumb of the left hand moves up or down the neck of the instrument so as to remain in the same position relative to the fingers (though the movement of the thumb may occur slightly before, or slightly after, the movement of the fingers). In such positions, the thumb is often thought of as an 'anchor' whose location defines what position the player is in. In very high positions, the thumb is unable to move with the fingers as the body of the instrument gets in the way. Instead, the thumb works around the neck of the instrument to sit at the point at which the neck meets the right bout of the body, and remains there while the fingers move between the high positions.
A note played outside of the normal compass of a position, without any shift, is referred to as an extension. For instance, in third position on the A string, the hand naturally sits with the first finger on D♮ and the fourth on either G♮ or G♯. Stretching the first finger back down to a C♯, or the fourth finger up to an A♮, forms an extension. Extensions are commonly used where one or two notes are slightly out of an otherwise solid position, and give the benefit of being less intrusive than a shift or string crossing. The lowest position on the violin is referred to as "half position". In this position the first finger is on a "low first position" note, e.g. B♭ on the A string, and the fourth finger is in a downward extension from its regular position, e.g. D♮ on the A string, with the other two fingers placed in between as required. As the position of the thumb is typically the same in "half position" as in first position, it is better thought of as a backwards extension of the whole hand than as a genuine position.
The upper limit of the violin's range is largely determined by the skill of the player, who may easily play more than two octaves on a single string, and four octaves on the instrument as a whole. Position names are mostly used for the lower positions and in method books and etudes; for this reason, it is uncommon to hear references to anything higher than seventh position. The highest position, practically speaking, is 13th position. Very high positions are a particular technical challenge, for two reasons. Firstly, the difference in location of different notes becomes much narrower in high positions, making the notes more challenging to locate and in some cases to distinguish by ear. Secondly, the much shorter sounding length of the string in very high positions is a challenge for the right arm and bow in sounding the instrument effectively. The finer (and more expensive) an instrument, the better able it is to sustain good tone right to the top of the fingerboard, at the highest pitches on the E string.
All notes (except those below the open D) can be played on more than one string. This is a standard design feature of stringed instruments; however, it differs from the piano, which has only one location for each of its 88 notes. For instance, the note of open A on the violin can be played as the open A, or on the D string (in first to fourth positions) or even on the G string (very high up in sixth to ninth positions). Each string has a different tone quality, because of the different weights (thicknesses) of the strings and because of the resonances of other open strings. For instance, the G string is often regarded as having a very full, sonorous sound which is particularly appropriate to late Romantic music. This is often indicated in the music by the marking, for example, sul G or IV (a Roman numeral indicating to play on the fourth string; by convention, the strings are numbered from thinnest, highest pitch (I) to the lowest pitch (IV). Even without an explicit instructions in the score, an advanced violinist will use her/his discretion and artistic sensibility to select which string to play specific notes or passages.
If a string is bowed or plucked without any finger stopping it, it is said to be an open string. This gives a different sound from a stopped string, since the string vibrates more freely at the nut than under a finger. Further, it is impossible to use vibrato fully on an open string (though a partial effect can be achieved by stopping a note an octave up on an adjacent string and vibrating that, which introduces an element of vibrato into the overtones). In the classical tradition, violinists will often use a string crossing or shift of position to allow them to avoid the change of timbre introduced by an open string. This is particularly true for the open E which is often regarded as having a harsh sound. However, there are also situations where an open string may be specifically chosen for artistic effect (particularly in modern music), in classical music which is imitating fiddling (e.g., Hoedown) or where taking steps to avoid the open string is musically inappropriate (for instance in Baroque music where shifting position was less common). In quick passages of scales or arpeggios an open E string may simply be used for convenience if the note does not have time to ring and develop a harsh timbre. In folk music, fiddling and other traditional music genres, open strings are commonly used for their resonant timbre.
Playing an open string simultaneously with a stopped note on an adjacent string produces a bagpipe-like drone, often used by composers in imitation of folk music. Sometimes the two notes are identical (for instance, playing a fingered A on the D string against the open A string), giving a ringing sort of "fiddling" sound. Playing an open string simultaneously with an identical stopped note can also be called for when more volume is required, especially in orchestral playing. Some classical violin parts have notes for which the composer requests the violinist to play an open string, because of the specific sonority created by an open string.
Double stops, triple stops, chords and drones
Double stopping is when two separate strings are stopped by the fingers, and bowed simultaneously, producing a sixth, third, fifth, etc. harmony. Double-stops can be indicated in any position, though the widest interval that can be double-stopped naturally in one position is an octave (with the first finger on the lower string and the fourth finger on the higher string). Nonetheless, intervals of tenths or even more are sometimes required to be double-stopped in advanced playing, resulting in a very stretched left-hand position with both fingers extended. The term "double stop" is often used to encompass sounding an open string alongside a fingered note.
Where three or four more simultaneous notes are written, the violinist will typically "split" the chord, choosing the lower one or two notes to play first before promptly continuing onto the upper one or two notes. A "triple stop" with three simultaneous notes is possible in some circumstances. The bow will not naturally strike three strings at once, but if there is sufficient pressure in the bowstroke the middle string can be bent down temporarily so all three can sound. This is accomplished with a heavy stroke, typically quite near the heel, and quite loud. Double, triple and quadruple stops in orchestra are often played divisi, with half of the musicians playing the lower note(s) and the other half playing the higher notes. Sometimes, to create a musical effect, the composer will write "non divisi" on a multiple stop. This will require, at least for triple and quadruple stops, that the performers "roll" the chord in an arpeggiated fashion.
In some Baroque music neither split-chord nor triple-stop is appropriate and violinists will arpeggiate all chords (and even what appear to be regular double stops), playing all notes individually as if they had been written as a slurred figure. In some musical styles, a sustained open string drone can be played during a passage mainly written on an adjacent string, to provide a basic accompaniment. This is more often seen in folk traditions than in classical music.
Vibrato is a technique of the left hand and arm in which the pitch of a note varies subtly in a pulsating rhythm. While various parts of the hand or arm may be involved in the motion, the end result is a movement of the fingertip bringing about a slight change in vibrating string length, which causes an undulation in pitch. Some violinists oscillate backwards, or lower in pitch from the actual note when using vibrato, since it is believed that perception favors the highest pitch in a varying sound. Vibrato does little, if anything, to disguise an out-of-tune note; in other words, misapplied vibrato is a poor substitute for good intonation. Scales and other exercises meant to work on intonation are typically played without vibrato to make the work easier and more effective. Music students are often taught that unless otherwise marked in music, vibrato is assumed. However, it has to be noted that this is only a trend; there is nothing on the sheet music that compels violinists to add vibrato. This can be an obstacle to a classically trained violinist wishing to play in a style that uses little or no vibrato at all, such as baroque music played in period style and many traditional fiddling styles.
Vibrato can be produced by a proper combination of finger, wrist and arm motions. One method, called hand vibrato, involves rocking the hand back at the wrist to achieve oscillation, while another method, arm vibrato, modulates the pitch by rocking at the elbow. A combination of these techniques allows a player to produce a large variety of tonal effects. The "when" and "what for" and "how much" of violin vibrato are artistic matters of style and taste. Different teachers, music schools and styles of music favour different vibrato styles. For example, if you overdo the variation of the note's tone it may become very distracting and overwhelm the piece. In acoustic terms, the interest that vibrato adds to the sound has to do with the way that the overtone mix (or tone color, or timbre) and the directional pattern of sound projection change with changes in pitch. By "pointing" the sound at different parts of the room in a rhythmic way, vibrato adds a "shimmer" or "liveliness" to the sound of a well-made violin. Vibrato is, in a large part, left to the discretion of the violinist. Different types of vibrato will bring different moods to the piece, and the varying degrees and styles of vibrato are often characteristics that stand out in well-known violinists.
Vibrato can also be used for a fast trill. A trill initiated from just hammering the finger up and down on the fingerboard will create a harsher quality than with a vibrato trill. For example, if trilling on the first finger, the second finger is placed very slightly off the string and vibrato is implemented. The second finger will lightly touch the string above the first finger causing the pitch to change. This has a softer quality and many think it is nicer-sounding than a hammered trill. Note: this trill technique only works well for semi-tonal trills, it is far more difficult to vibrato trill for an interval of a tone or more.