Are you a Beethoven or a classic Mozart fan? Maybe you have heard of the Violin Concerto 1: Allegro Moderato, or Bach – Partita No. 2. Whatever it is, I am pretty sure that you have heard of the violin, one of the most enjoyable, fun, and equally challenging instruments. Let’s dive into how the violin developed into a modern classical instrument, and along the way, explore the history of the violin!
The Origin of the Violin
Instruments such as the violin are referred to as “bowed stringed instruments.” The Arabian rebab and rebec are ancestors of the violin. At the end of the middle ages, a fiddle appeared in Europe. In the East, people evolved the rabab to the Ehru and the Morin Khur. Unlike tech industries that keep improving their latest phones or laptops, the violin isn’t getting improved rapidly. In fact, it hasn’t changed at all since the last century! None of the old forms of the violin exist today. The earliest violin makers are from Italy. Andre Amati and Gasparo di Salon are known to be the inventors of this instrument at the time. The coolest thing is that the violins made by them still exist today! Of course, they will cost an arm and a leg, but aspiring fans and experts in the violin use them up to this day! The oldest one in existence today is from Andre Amati from 1565.
How the Violin is Made
The wood which is eventually used in a violin is stored in a temperature and humidity-controlled room for almost a year to preserve the moisture in the wood. Materials to make the violin comes from a spruce tree, a type of pine tree in the fir family. As you cut the material, the outer portion is thicker and forms into a trapezoid. As you put both sides of the material together, the hardest part is where the bridge is placed. This makes the grain of the wood symmetrical. To shape the ideal tone, the thickness of the wood should not be the same, as the body of the violin is rounded. It is important for the scroll to be at the top most edge of the violin intending to look “up,” and has to be symmetrical to the body and fingerboard of the violin.
The Composition of the Violin
Every violin has the following parts:
- Tuning Pegs
- Fine Tuners
- Tail piece
Image credit: Unsplash
The Functions of the Violin
As you saw in the picture, in the fingerboard, there are four strings. Each string has its own sound and tune.
- The highest string is E
- After that is A
- Below that is D
- Lastly, the lowest is G
Image credit: Unsplash
Now that we have covered everything about the strings, let’s look at the tuning pegs. Say that your violin and your violin case come in contact as you are carrying it, and these pegs (located above the strings) turn as your case moves. Imagine, the next day you practice and hear weird notes and sounds coming from them! These tuning pegs can be moved kind of easily, and you should be careful with them. But if you notice that the strings are out of tune—by a lot, then you can use these tuning pegs. Just like turning something clockwise and counter-clockwise, to make a string higher, turn it to the right, or counter-clockwise to make a string lower! It’s that simple.
There is another way to tune strings, and that is where the adjusters, or fine tuners, come into play. If you notice that the notes are off by a smidge (and this is what happens in most cases), then you can turn these pegs to the right and left if you want the note to be higher or lower. They don’t change the note by a big amount, but very slightly. That little change just might be all you need. As people say, a little goes a long way, even for tuning the violin.
The Development of the Violin
What are the differences between the old and the new violin you ask? Well, as I previously mentioned, as the time goes, there hasn’t been much room for improvisation and improvement in regards to the composition and structure of the violin. But, during the 19th century, people tried to extend the fingerboard (look at picture above) to have a string higher than E, the highest string so far of the violin. It had 5 strings, but you can clearly guess that it wasn’t a big hit. There was also another change where they tried to raise the bridge in order to increase the sound and brightness of each note.
There were also slight differences and changes made to the bow as well. The stick of the bow is made of Pernambuco wood (Pernambuco is a state in Brazil). This wood was exported to Germany where they could make dyes, because these dyes made the bow very sturdy and hard. Recently, natural material is used to make bows such as a carbon bow. They are bows which are made of carbon instead of wood. They are also long lasting and sturdier with good gripping, which is crucial for violin players!
What about the Bow?
After playing, you must loosen the bow so none of the hairs break away or get tangled with anything. To prevent any of that, you have to turn the lowest part of the bow to the left side to loosen it. Once you take it out of the case again, you have to tighten it by turning it to the right side.
Image credit: Pixabay
For the bow to play very nicely and the sound to be produced properly, there is something called a ‘rosin’ which is a substance from tree sap. You must apply it on the entire bow in order for the sound to come out in high resolution. This is done to sharpen the bow, because as time goes by, the hairs might become kind of scratchy, and you will hear it when you practice. But you shouldn’t apply it every day because the bow can get ruined, so make sure to apply it once or twice a week, or when it is needed!
Image credit: Unsplash
Ways to Play the Violin
Violin is not only played by the bow, but can also be played using your fingers! Yes, that style of playing is called pizzicato. It is commonly found when you go to orchestras and live performances, because some pieces require you to play specific parts quietly to add a feeling of suspense or to emphasize a part! You also learn how to play the violin using your fingers and soon advance to the bow.
There are many types of styles you can play your violin based on your expertise, the type of music, the difficulty level, and your audience. Some pieces would want you to play at a forte, or at a piano, and maybe even do a crescendo and decrescendo. These are the dynamics of the violin, or how the sound should be played in order to amuse the audience and to enhance the piece. A forte is an Italian word which means strong or loud. Usually, there will be a mark below the notes in a line or measure which tells you to play like that, or it can be played in that style if the person playing it wishes so! Piano is also an Italian word for quiet, or soft. Crescendo and Decrescendo are the opposite of eachother. Crescendo means to start quiet and get louder, and decrescendo means to start loud and get quieter.
Obviously, there are so many more dynamics apart from the ones that I have listed above, but these four are the basic dynamics. Once you get the hang of it, this will become second-nature!
Benefits of the Violin
There are a lot of mental, social, and physical benefits of playing the violin. How, you might ask? Well, I will break it down into each category.
Mental Health Benefits
- Helps reduce stress and anxiety
- Improved memory and attention span
- Sensory Development
- Developed Mental Function
- Increased IQ
Social Health Benefits
- Can make more friends
- Learning how to collaborate and engage with others
- Learn skills of citizenship
- Help others
- Start appreciating the little things in life
Physical Health Benefits
- An hour of practice burns around 175 calories
- Better posture
- Strong Arms
- Good upper-body
- Encourages Exercise
As we took a little adventure going through the parts of the violin, the science behind it, the origin and history of it, and lastly little tips on how to play it, the main point is that, like all instruments, the violin is a beautiful and special one. But also, practice is crucial! To develop skills such as vibrato, practicing daily and spending time on your hobby is important if you want to become good at it. Make sure to make each session a fun and enjoyable time, and playing the violin will be rewarding, fun, and beneficial! As Joshua Bell said, “When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller, and you’re telling a story.”
⮞ Youth Orchestras of Fresno. February 17th 2014. October 3rd 2021. Youth Orchestras Fresno
⮞ Children’s Music Workshop. October 3rd 2021. Children’s Music Workshop
⮞ Yamaha. October 3rd 2021. Yamaha: Violin- Musical Instrument Guide
⮞ Pictures found from Royalty-free website. Unsplash
⮞ A Brief History of the Violin. YouTube, uploaded by Bring_The_Music, November 17th, 2012