This article will tell you all you need to know about the violin before you decide to learn including:
when and where the violin was invented, the evolution of the violin over the years, its’ modern forms, and settings in which it is commonly played.
Parts of the Violin
From the frog to the scroll, knowing the parts of the violin will make learning far easier. (includes string names)
when playing the violin, you will often come across terms for your fingers you may not be familiar with.
Practicalities of Playing
Wondering how to get the scratch out of your playing? These tips will help to start you playing like a pro.
The guide to the violin
The violin is the primary member of the orchestral string family, which includes the violin, viola, cello and double bass. In orchestras, each section has a leader, but it is the leader of the first violins who is the concertmaster. The concertmaster is second-in-command only to the conductor, and are responsible for “passing around the A” to the sections at the beginning of a concert to make sure everyone is in tune. It is thought that the first stringed, bowed instruments originated in Asia, and traveled via trade routes to other parts of the world where instrument crafters in Europe created their own take on the bowed instruments. The first 4-stringed European violin is vaguely associated with the year 1555, although no one can be sure whether this is an accurate date of the violin’s creation. The violin became a popular instrument in Europe with both low and high class instrumentalists. This created a demand to produce high-quality instruments, and some of the earliest instruments are nearing their 450th birthday. However, many of these instruments have had some modifications, including an elongating of the neck. This elongation of the neck occurred in the 18th century when crafting techniques became more advanced. Old violins are sought after because of their superior craftsmanship and tone which develops over the lifetime of the instrument. The most famous violin maker is Antonio Stradivari, who’s violins now sell for millions of dollars. The latest sale of a Stradivarius violin was in October this year. (2010) The Molitor was sold for $3,600,000 USD. All of the known Stradivarius instruments (including the violas, cellos and guitars) have individual names and an amazing history. However, if you do not have 3.5 million dollars on hand upon the rare chance a Stradivarius comes up for auction, you may still have a chance to play one yet. Many Stradivarius owners lend their violins out to prestigious players, and some are even loaned to concertmasters of leading world orchestras. Good quality violins, however, do not need to be several hundred years old. There are still many master craftsmen who craft instruments by hand, or using lasers to create the perfect sculpted back, essential for producing a good tone. Modern instruments can also be electrified using amplifiers and microphones, and fully electric violins can be distorted to create different tonal qualities altogether. Many violin soloists now play a variety of popular music with electric or semi-acoustic violin set ups and distortion pedals as well as traditional classical music with classically-built violins. The violin has evolved to be a very versatile instrument in this sense, and a violinist now has numerous career options including orchestral playing, playing as a soloist with an orchestra or in a more pop culture setting, as a backing artist for various bands/as an album artist, or a “concert pit” performer (performing accompaniments to theatrical productions) or using their skills to teach others. With the violin, and enough experience, – if you can dream it, you can do it!
Parts of the Violin
Knowing the names of the different parts of the violin is essential for any beginner, so you have a clear understanding of any written instruction you may follow. Use the following Diagram to memorize the names of the different parts of the violin to make your learning journey that much easier.
Finger names are as important to know as violin parts. The right hand is known as the bow hand, and the left the violin hand (corresponding to the hands which control the violin and bow.) The fingers on both hands also have different names to differentiate them from one another. On the violin, the fingers are known as the violin thumb, and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers. (from thumb to pinky.) You will often see numbers 1,2,3 or 4 above notes when reading music, these correspond to the names of the fingers you should use to play these notes. The right hand however are named to correspond to the position those fingers are on on the bow. The thumb is known as the bow thumb, then the index finger,(1st finger) huggers, (2nd and 3rd finger) and pinky (4th finger.) See the below annotated diagrams – these show how the fingers should be positioned on both the bow and violin.
Practicalities of Playing the Violin
As with learning any instrument, there are tips and tricks to make learning easier, as well as things you need to know in order to be a successful player. Take a few minutes to read through these bullet points, and they will save you lots of time in the long run.
- The number one thing you need to know: It is possible to play a double sharp/flat on a violin. Unlike guitars, violins do not have fret markings which means instead of only being able to play in semitones, you can play a double sharp or double flat. (the note in between one semitone and another) this also means, however, that intonation is extremely important to become familiar with. A violinist must know to the millimeter where to place their finger in order to produce the right sound.
- Use the fingers you have put down to guide you to the next note. (Eg, if you play a C# on the A string, followed by a G on the D string, use your 2nd finger to guide your 3rd finger into position.) This makes it easier to play in-tune, and fast.
- Play close to the bridge (about 2 bow width’s from the bridge) this will produce the strongest, clearest sound possible with your instrument. Always play with your bow moving parallel to the bridge.
- Visualize! Make up stories or relate the song to a memory in order to bring expression into your playing. Also – always listen to other violinists play the piece you are learning so you can pick up on different subtleties master violinists add to make the piece flow.
- Try to use your tummy to hold you up as you play. If you focus on your core, (just above or below your belly button) you will produce a more intense sound.
- Don’t press down too hard on the strings. Be firm, but remember the more relaxed you are, the more this will come through in the sound.
- Be prepared to get frustrated. Learning the violin has its ups and downs, but don’t give up! Ride through the hard parts and break down your challenges into smaller, easier to manage pieces.
- To get the scratch out of your playing, instead of focusing on pressing the bow into the string, focus on gliding the bow across the string, like a dragonfly skimming across water. Focus intensely on this and your sound should become less scratchy.
- Make sure you practice good posture at the beginning as bad habits are hard to break!