Facts About The Violin

In January I wrote about the different families of musical instruments, or ways of categorising musical instruments. You can read my post by clicking here:

Facts about Families of Musical Instruments

So for the first part of this year I want to focus on the string family, as we learned more about the woodwind and brass families last year. And I will start with the violin.

What is the violin and how do you play it?

  • The violin is, as I mentioned above, part of the string family of instruments, and this family of instruments is so called because they are all played by plucking or strumming, or running a bow along strings – or even hitting strings in the case of the piano.
  • Someone who plays the violin is called a violinist, or violin player.
  • The violin is the smallest of the string instruments, and it is, therefore, the highest pitched.
  • Music is made using sound waves, by making something like a string vibrate in air. Generally the longer or thicker a string is, it will produce low notes, and the thinner or shorter a string is, the higher the pitch will be that it produces.
  • You play a violin by either plucking the strings, or using a bow that is run over the strings. To change the note played, you put your fingers down on the neck of the violin trapping the string in a specific place and so shortening the amount of that string that can vibrate when it is plucked or bowed.
  • Plucking or bowing the strings this makes the strings vibrate, and that vibration is transmitted onto the plates (the front and back wooden pieces) of the violin by a wooden bridge that the strings sit on towards the bottom of the instrument, and a small peg inside the violin.
  • The main body of the violin is typically made out of wood. Generally spruce for the front of the instrument, and maple for the back, neck and scroll of the violin.
  • Violinists will rub something called rosin onto the violin bow before playing, which helps the hair on the bow to “grip” the string.
  • Violin bows contain between 160 and 180 hairs. There are some bows that are made from synthetic fibres, most commonly (and traditionally) they are made from horsehair.
  • Violin strings used to be made out of sheep intestines, known as catgut. These days they are usually made out more palatable materials such as nylon or steel, sometimes they can even be silver plated.
  • Violin strings are tuned to the notes (from low to high) G, D, A and E.
  • The violin’s range, or the range of pitches a violin can play goes from as low as the G below middle C (the lowest open string) to E7, a note that is a whole 2 octaves higher than the highest pitched open string.
  • Violins come in various sizes to match the size of the people playing them. The smallest size for very young players is a 1/64 violin, although this is far less common than a 1/32 or 1/16 size. Violins go up in size through 1/4 or 1/2 size to full size for older children and adults.
  • A violin maker is called a luthier. A luthier is a highly skilled craftsman, who spends many hours making each violin. In fact, a luthier may make only 5 or 6 violins in a year.
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

History of the violin

  • The modern violin was invented in the 16th century in Cremona, Italy by Andrea Amati. One of Amati’s violins dating from around 1565 is still in existence today.
  • Before the modern violin was developed, there were very similar instruments originally from the Middle East, but also played in mainland Europe, in Spain and France, the Arabian rabab and the rebec.
  • A Western predecessor of the violin was the viol, an instrument that many composers used in writing for string ensembles.
  • The word violin comes from the Latin word ‘vitula’ or ‘vitulare’ meaning to sing or rejoice.
  • The earliest violins were used to make music to dance to, and it was not until the 17th century that violins started to replace the viol in chamber music compositions. The violin was used more and more, and nowadays you cannot imagine any orchestra that does not have violins in. The first violinist is the orchestra’s leader, and violins have a very prominent role in most orchestral music.
  • The first violinist in an orchestra used to act as the orchestra’s conductor until the 1900s when the conductor became a separate role in itself.

Famous violinists

  • The violin is one of the most common instruments that parents want their children to play when considering a musical instrument. It is not surprising, then that the list of famous violinists is quite a long list, certainly compared the the list of famous people who play, say, brass instruments.
  • Starting with people who are famous for playing the violin, we have (in no particular order) Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Nicola Benedetti, Nigel Kennedy, Sarah Chang, Vanessa Mae and Ezinma to name but a few.
  • Composers who were also talented violin players include Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Chevalier de Saint Georges and Leroy Jenkins to name but a few.
  • Finally people who are famous for other things, but also happen to play violin include post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau; scientist Albert Einstein; actors Charlie Chaplin, Meryl Streep, Dakota Fanning and Robin Givens; US Presidents Richard Nixon and Thomas Jefferson.

Violin world records

  • The smallest violin in the world is a mere 3 inches long!
  • The largest violin in the world is 4.27 metres (14ft) long and 1.4 metres (4.5ft) wide, with a 5.2 metre (17ft) bow!
  • The world’s most expensive violin was made by renowned luthier Antonio Stradivari in 1716. It is known as the Messiah Stradivarius and is valued at $20million! The Messiah Stradivarius is housed in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.
  • Viswanath M S from Kochi, India, hold the world record for the longest violin playing marathon, playing for an amazing 36 hours and 20 seconds,
  • The world record for the largest ensemble of violin players was set in September 2011 at Changhua Stadium, Taiwan when 4,645 violinists all played together.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

If you have enjoyed reading my blog post, thank you. I am always looking for ideas for the blog, so would love to hear from you with suggestions for topics you would like me to cover in the future. Also, if you would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, buying the books to review here, and supplies to make the DIY instruments, for example, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!


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