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The violin (or fiddle when used in the context of folk music) is a stringed musical instrument comprising 4 strings, each tuned a fifth apart from each other. It is the smallest and highest-tuned member of the violin family of string instruments which also includes the viola, cello and double bass. The lowest string is a G just below middle C, then D, A and E (in that order). Occasionally other tunings are employed (for example, tuning the G string up to A) both in classical music (where the technique is known as scordatura) and in some folk styles.

Sheet music for a violin almost always uses a G clef (or treble clef). The lowest attainable note using normal tuning is the G just below middle C.

The violin has some similarities to the earlier viol family of instruments.

A person who plays violin is called a violinist.

Table of contents
1 Positions
2 Double-stopping
3 Emotional devices
4 Maintenance
5 History
6 Virtuosi


The highest note apparently available on a violin is the little finger pressed down on the E-string (sounding a B). However this is only the highest note in first position. A higher note can be achieved by sliding the hand up the neck of the violin and presssing the fingers down at this new position. In 1st position, the first finger on the E string gives an F or F#. Pressing the first finger on a G is called going in to second position. Third position is achieved when the first finger presses down on an A, and so on. The upper limit of the violin's range is largely determined by the skill of the player, and a good player could easily get more than 2 octaves out of each string. Violinists often change positions on the lower strings even though this seems unnecessary. This is done to produce a particular timbre or to handle a piece which would otherwise require fast switching of strings.


Double stopping is playing two strings simultaneously, producing a chord. This is much harder than normal single-string playing as more than one finger has to be coordinated on to different strings simultaneously. Sometimes going in to higher positions is necessary in order for it to be physically possible for the fingers to be placed in the correct places. Double stopping is also used to mean playing on three or all four strings at once, although such practices are more properly called triple or quadruple stopping. Collectively, double, triple and quadruple stopping is called multiple stopping.

The style of bow used until around the end of the 18th century, particularly in Germany, had the wood curved outwards, which made it somewhat easier to play three notes at the same time. However, most treatises written around the time make it clear that composers did not expect three notes to be played at once, even though the notes may be written in a way as to suggest this, and playing four notes at once is almost impossible even with older bows. The normal way of playing three or four note chords is to briefly sound the lower notes and allow them to ring while the bow plays the upper notes. This gives the illusion of a true triple or quadruple stop.

A twentieth century invention by Emil Telmányi called the Bach bow makes use of a system of levers to temporarily slacken the bow hair and allow sustained three or four note chords; this design has no historical precedent and is less authentic than an ordinary modern bow for playing baroque (or any other) music.

As well as the style of bow, the curvature of the bridge (over which the violin strings are stretched) is an important factor in the ease of multiple stopping. On most classical instruments, the bridge is curved enough to make it difficult to play three strings at once, but on some fiddles the bridge is shaved down until almost flat, making it far easier to triple stop, as well as to alternate double stopping on different pairs of strings (D-A to A-E for example).

Emotional devices

Vibrato is a very common device used by violinists, which causes the pitch of a note to vary up and down quickly. This is achieved by moving the finger pressing on the string slightly forwards and backwards. Vibrato is often perceived to add much emotion to a piece. A useful side effect is that it can disguise an out of tune note. There are, in fact, several different styles of vibrato ranging from the use of just the fingers, to the use of the wrist or even the whole forearm. These produce different effects and are favoured by different players for different styles of music. Some styles of music use little or no vibrato at all.

Pressing the finger very lightly on the string can create harmonics. This means that instead of the normal solid tone a wispy-sounding note of a higher pitch is heard. This is caused by the light finger blocking the string's fundamental; the position of the finger determines the first note of that string's harmonic series which is allowed to sound.

The tone of the violin can also be altered by attaching a small device called a mute to the bridge of the instrument. This stops the bridge itself from vibrating so much, and causes a more mellow tone, with fewer audible harmonics above the note being played.

Another way to vary the tone of the instrument is to move the bow nearer to or further away from the bridge. Playing up close to the bridge (sul ponticello) gives a thinner, harsher sound than usual, and playing with the bow over the end of the fingerboard (sul tasto) makes for a delicate, ethereal sound.

Occasionally the strings are struck with the back of the bow (col legno). This gives a much more percussive sound, and is most effective when a whole violin section is playing that way, since it is difficult to get much volume with this technique.

A second, more modern percussive technique is called the "chop," in which the hair near the bottom of the bow is struck against the strings. It is used by some jazz musicians, including the Turtle Island String Quartet.


Violins are tuned by twisting the pegs present in the head of a violin. The A-string is tuned first, typically to 440 Hz (see Pitch (music)). The other strings are then tuned in comparison to it in intervals of perfect fifths using double-stopping. Some violins also have adjustors (or fine tuners). These can adjust the tension of the string and are positioned behind the bridge. These are more convenient when a not a lot of adjustment is necessary. They are also much easier to use, as the pegs in the head have the nasty habit of slipping, and need to be set in a turning and pushing method. Adjustors are recommended for younger players. Small tuning adjustments can also be made by stretching a string. Adjustors work best, and are most useful, with higher tension metal strings. It is very common to use one on the E-string even if the others are not equipped with them.

Strings are usually replaced after about a year or when they break. The cost of strings can vary very widely, and the quality of strings can have a big impact on the timbre of the sound produced. Strings made of gut, which are often used in historically accurate performances of music from the 18th century and earlier, have a tendency to go out of tune and snap more easily than modern strings made from metal. Synthetic cored strings (wound with metal) are a convenient modern alternative, which combine some of the benefits of gut strings with greater longevity and tuning stability.

It is said that Paganini purposefully weakened some of his strings so that in performance they would snap. He would then play the rest of the piece on the remaining strings, sometimes going into remarkably high positions in order to impress the audience.

The hair of the bow is traditionally made out of horse-hair, although many cheaper instruments are made from synthetic material. It has to be frequently rubbed with rosin so it can gain enough grip on the metal strings of the violin. In the course of playing the violin, hairs are often lost from the bow, making it necessary to have it rehaired periodically.

Violins typically make up the bulk of an orchestra, and are usually divided into two sections, known as the first and second violins. First violin parts tend towards the melody, while second violins tend to play harmony.

Some other string instruments are the viola, cello, double bass, guitar, lute and harp.

See also: How to play the violin