The violin is one of the most popular and played instruments in the whole world. It isn’t for less, since this beautiful and melodic instrument is capable of performing a hypnotic and magnetic sound for anyone who listens.
It’s not a secret that the violin is one of the most popular and recognized instruments in the whole world; it also gains its fame due to being the highest one of all the string instruments. Most of the violin’s fame worldwide comes from its versatility to perform such varied musical styles. Although it is most commonly associated with the classical music, the violin can be as well used for playing country and rock music. There are almost no limits to what the violin can do.
What’s the violin?
The violin, from the Italian “violin”, is an instrument of rubbed strings that possesses 4 strings. It’s the smallest one of the rubbed string instruments family, formed by itself, the viola, violoncello and the double bass. All of these, except for the double bass, are derived from the feudal violas, especially from the fidula, an antique instrument similar to the violin, but with a larger and more profound body, apart that it had from 3 to 5 strings instead of the specific 4 of the violin.
History of the violin
The first clear record of a violin-like instrument comes from paintings by Gaudenzio Ferrari. In his Madonna of the Orange Tree, painted 1530, a cherub is seen playing a bowed instrument which clearly has the hallmarks of violins. A few years later, on a fresco inside the cupola of the church of Madonna dei Miracoli in Saronno, angels play three instruments of the violin family, corresponding to violin, viola and cello. The instruments Ferrari depicts have bulging front and back plates, strings which feed into peg-boxes with side pegs, and f-holes. They do not have frets. The only real difference between these instruments and the modern violin is that Ferrari’s have three strings, and a rather more extravagant curved shape. It is not clear exactly who made these first violins, but there is good evidence that they originate from northern Italy, in the vicinity (and at the time the political orbit) of Milan. Not only are Ferrari’s paintings in this area, but at the time towns like Brescia and Cremona had a great reputation for the craftsmanship of stringed instruments.
The earliest documentary evidence for a violin is in the records of the treasury of Savoy, which paid for “trompettes et vyollons de Verceil”, that is to say, “trumpets and violins from Vercelli”, the town where Ferrari painted his Madonna of the Orange Tree. The first extant written use of the Italian term violino occurs in 1538, when “violini Milanese” (Milanese violinists) were brought to Nice when negotiating the conclusion of a war.
The violin quickly became very popular, both among street-musicians and the nobility, which is illustrated by the fact that Charles IX of France commissioned an extensive range of string instruments in the second half of the 16th century.
The oldest confirmed surviving violin, dated inside, is the “Charles IX” by Andrea Amati, made in Cremona in 1564, but the label is very doubtful. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an Amati violin that may be even older, possibly dating to 1558 but just like the Charles IX the date is unconfirmed. One of the most famous and certainly the most pristine is the Messiah Stradivarius (also known as the ‘Salabue’) made by Antonio Stradivari in 1716 and very little played, perhaps almost never and in an as new state. It is now located in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford.
Who invented the violin?
Even though it was previously rumored that the violin was invented by Leonardo da Vince, the truth is that it wasn’t invented by one specific person, instead it was developed in Europe with the course of time.
- One of the characteristics of the violin are its strings, which are made of metal or from animal stomach surrounded with aluminum, silver or steel. This last one is the most popular among them all since, in most violins, the E string is a steel strand itself, that’s why it make the highest sound of them all.
- The strings are tuned by intervals of fifth.
- The string with the lowest sound is G, and it’s followed in the ascendant order by D, A, and E.
- The first string to be tuned is A.
- The body of the violin possess a domed form, with a silhouette determined by a superior and inferior curviness with an opening in its C-shaped waist. The covers of the violin are molded with soft curve that provided that vaulted characteristic. The rings that go around the violin giving it its silhouette are of short length, the mast has certain inclination angle backwards with respect to the vertical and longitudinal axis and it’s topped by a spiral called colocho or volute. The violin’s internal structure is constituted by two fundamental elements in the sonic production of the instrument: the harmonic bar and the soul. The harmonic bar runs through the cover’s length, just beneath the lower strings, and the soul is placed right under that right foot of the bridge where the higher strings are.
- The violin has been incorporated to a great quantity of musical styles, this versatility allows it to be considered one of the most valued instruments in the current times, since it possesses harmonic characteristics required for a great number of musical styles, as they are the classic and the country music.
- The violin’s bow is a narrow stick, with a soft curve and ideally constructed with the hard wood of the “Brazil’s stick” or also called “Pernambuco’s”. It lengths about 77 cm and it has a band of 70 cm made by between 100 and 120 manes of horse tail. Said brand goes from one end of the bow to the other.
- The highest quality horse hair for the bow strand is Mongolia’s ones, due to their finer and more resistant hair.
- For the strings to vibrate and sound in an efficient way, the bow’s brand of horse hair most be regularly rubbed with a resin called “perrubia”, from “pez-rubia”.
Parts of the violin
- Body: The largest part of the violin is the hollow body. Its main function is to amplify the sound of the strings. The body is made up of the back, belly (top) and ribs (sides), and it’s shaped like an hourglass.
- Neck and fingerboard: The neck is the long piece of wood that sticks out from the body. Glued on top of the neck is the fingerboard, a smooth flat piece of wood where the musician presses down on the strings to make notes. Unlike a guitar, the fingerboard on a violin is smooth and has no frets.
- Pegbox: Located above the neck, the pegbox is where the pegs are inserted and the strings are attached. The tightness and tuning of the strings are adjusted by the pegs in the pegbox.
- Scroll: At the top of the violin is the scroll. It’s often carved and is there mostly for decoration.
- F-holes: On top of the body and on each side near the middle of the violin are the f-holes. These holes are where the sound of the violin comes out of the body. They are called f-holes because they resemble an f in italics. Changing the size, shape, and length of these holes can change the sounds of the violin.
- Bridge: The Bridge is a hard piece of wood that the strings lay on top of. It’s at the bridge that the strings stop vibrating and sound travels from the strings down into the body of the violin.
- Tailpiece: After passing over the bridge the ends of the strings connect to the tailpiece.
- Chin rest: At the bottom of the body is a chin rest which helps the musician to support the violin with their chin while playing.
- Strings: The violin has 4 strings all tuned to a fifth apart. They represent the notes G, D, A, and E.
- The Bow: The bow of the violin is made up of the stick and the horse hair. The stick gives the bow strength and is where the violinist holds the bow. The horse hair is what is rubbed against the strings to make vibrations and sound. The horse hair connects to the stick at the frog on one end and the point on the other.
How to play the violin?
At the moment of playing the instrument, apart from the accomplished effect made by the bow, you can get other types of sound such as:
- The pizzicato: Pinching the strings as if they were guitar ones, but maintaining the regular position.
- The tremolo: Moving the bow up and down really fast.
- The vibrato: Making the fingers vibe while they’re on the strings.
- The glissando: Moving the left hand up and down over the strings.
- The col legno: Touching part of the wood with the bow.
- The sul ponticello: Practically playing over the bridge.
- The sul tasto: Playing over the fretboard.
The music sheets destined for the violin always used the treble clef, in other past times referred to as “the violin’s clef”.
What’s the violin made of?
The violin is an instrument made of wood in its entireness, but this comes from different sources depending on each part of the instrument:
- Body: The superior part of the instrument is generally cut out from spruce, while the back and the ribs are made of maple, for giving the wood that striped patron.
- Mast and fretboard: The volute and the pegbox are carved in the same piece of maple of the neck, while the plugs are cut out of ebony, rosewood or boj.
- Bridge and cordal: The bridge is made of maple, while the cordal, where the strings are united to the inferior part of the instrument, is generally made of the same wood as the plugs, let it be ebony or other light woods.
The violin strings, on the other hand, are usually made of metal or of sheep’s gut rounded with aluminum, silver, steel or some other synthetic material. On occasions, the E string can be made of gold, for giving it the highest sound that it requires.
Types of violin
The violins are mostly classified by size, the better known ones being 4/4 (four quartets), ¾ (three quartets), 2/4 (two quartets) and ¼ (one quartet). For picking up one, you must have in mind the lengths of the instrument with respect to the musician’s size and, above all, the length of the hand.
The 4/4 has an approximate size of 35.5 cm, with a maximum width of 20 cm, and height of 4.5 cm, which makes it the biggest one and the most used by the adults. The smaller violins are destined to the young and the children.
Through all history there has been plenty of famous violinists, between the most outstanding ones are:
- Nicolo Paganini
- Pablo Sarasate
- Jascha Heifetz
- Yehudi Menuhin
- Eugene Ysave
- Samvel Yervinyan
- André Rieu
- Itzhak Perlman
- Syaka Katsuki
You want to learn more about music I recommend you to see some of the following articles:
- All about the piano features and types
- The characteristics of baroque music
- Baroque art detailed information
- The music of the renaissance
- The main artists of the baroque
- Antonio Vivaldi biography
The violin is an absolutely beautiful instrument, for its appearance as well as its sound. Through the past of the years it has become a synonym of elegance, class and beauty, as well as recognized and amazingly versatile instrument used for playing almost any kind of music that you can think about. The violin can be used for playing from classic music to rock music, there are no limits for its capacities, and in capable hands it can perform some of the most famous and beautiful music pieces from the entire history of music. It’s because of this and many other reasons that it has become one of the favorite instruments among musicians and listeners around the entire world.