Newest Review: ... quality also affects the sweetness of tone of a violin. There are many different grades and price ranges, some strings are better for sol... more
Hold a violin and behold its beauty.
Member Name: goosey
Date: 17/07/12, updated on 08/10/13 (71 review reads)
Advantages: Inexpensive beginners instrument. Not difficult to pick up the basics, Transporatable.
Disadvantages: Can sound pretty dire at first.
The sound of a violin will evoke one of three emotions, joy, embarrassment or amusement. One played well is a joy to behold; one played badly, is at best excruciatingly embarrassing, at worst, painfully irritating to sensitive ears. Then there is the innocently humorous player who amuse with their apparent inability to hit the right notes without slurring, Jack Benny style.... Does anybody remember him? For anyone interested, he can be heard on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfy_i0fi2gU&fea ture=player_detailpage . He was in fact an excellent violinist, but also brilliant at taking the starch out of classics and replacing it with humour; he donated his Stradivarius to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
My old school orchestra master, with a huge grin on his face, played a bit like that when demonstrating the way he wanted a section played. I am sure he did it on purpose; we did not dare copy his technique.
As all players with reasonable abilities know, the violin sings to their souls, especially when harmonised with other instruments in groups of two or more, and especially in orchestras when all the instruments connect as one with the soul. Anyone who has sat in or close to an orchestra will know exactly what I mean.
If you enjoy classical, orchestral music then the following link to Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor will demonstrate how beautiful a violin can sound when expertly played.
The violin family
This beautiful, instrument is one of a family of four, stringed instruments, commonly found in orchestras; the largest being the double bass, going down in size to the cello, viola and violin, of the four only two, the viola and violin are held under the chin to be played. The smaller the instrument, the higher the pitch.
The shape of the acoustic instrument has not changed since the 16th century, before that, I believe they were larger and possibly played like lutes, plucked and not bowed. Some may have had six strings, others three. I believe it was Stradivarius who modified the violin to its present unique and instantly recognisable shape, which until the 20th century, when the electric skeletal violins were produced, had remained unchanged.
Although, electric violins have been in existence since the early part of the 20th century, they looked the same as acoustic violins...although the tones were somewhat different, more suited to Jazz genre of music. In the late 20th century, the strange looking skeletal bodied, electrical violins were introduced.
Skeletal violins come in all shapes and sizes, some look as if they have been chewed by large dog or attacked by giant, mythical moths.. I'm not sure what materials are used to construct the solid bodies, but the tones are lovely, rich and mellow. To date, I have not seen any in orchestras, but often played by groups of three or more accompanying vocalists.
Special seasoned tone woods are used in the construction of the traditional violins.. The body is normally hand carved by highly skilled violinmakers called luthiers, Stradivarius being the most well known. I have had the good fortune to meet some luthiers and view their work, and having seen the incredible amount of intricate work that goes into the making of this family of stringed instruments, I wonder anyone but the wealthy could afford to buy one.
There are over 70 components used in the construction of a violin, most of which are visible. When I saw the large stack of well-seasoned woods in the workshop, I wondered how such drab looking timber could be made to form such beautiful instruments and sound so wonderful.
The most sought after violin is the Stradivarius, I am not sure how many are still in existence, probably in the region about 500 or so, and each one has been named and catalogued. Several have been stolen and still missing. There is one in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, named Messiah - Salabue, worth about 9.8 million GBP, yet to see it you would wonder why, but if you could hear it played, you would understand why.
Interestingly, scientists have studied the wood structure of Stradivarius violins to see if they could discover the secret behind the exquisite tonal qualities of his instruments. Recently they discovered that the woods were all evenly, close grained, which occurs when the trees grew slowly and at the same rate all year round and that only happens when the winters and summer temperatures are similar, which was apparently so in Stradivarius's time.
Some of the visible components of a violin
The parts of the violin that are visible are back, front, sound post, neck, pegs, strings, tail piece, fingerboard, ribs, nut, bridge, chin rest, saddle, button, bow, although the bow is not part of the violin body, it is an important addition. The good bow is strung with real horsehair, and so that it will produce a clear note when pulled across the strings, it needs to be coated with Rosin, which is a sticky-like substance in solid form.
The most important consideration in the selection of woods for the violin table, back and ribs is tone. Tonal woods, such as maples and spruce, which have superior acoustic properties, are commonly used.
Other woods used are ebony, rosewood, boxwood, and willow.
Ebony is used in the construction of fingerboards, pegs and tailpieces, in the more expensive models.
Rosewood, which is also a hard wood but not as hardwearing as ebony, is also used for fingerboards, pegs and tailpieces, and often stained black to emulate ebony.
Boxwood is often used for pegs
Solid maple for neck and scroll
Flared and figured maple and spruce for table and backs.
It is thought that the table influences the eventual tone of the instrument, more so than the back.
The first parts of the violin to be carved are the backs, which can be in two halves or one piece, and the single piece fronts, called tables or bellies. Both front and backs are slightly convex, not flat like guitars. The table will have two f-sound holes and on the underside, a bar stretching the length of the treble side of the bridge to strengthen.
Inlaid around the perimeter of both back and front of the instrument is a decorative, double strand of ebony, this is known as purfling which helps strengthen the woods, but not thought to have any influence on the tone.
The back and table are glued to the ribs, using natural glues, which allow easier dismantling for any repair work that might need doing, without damaging the delicate framework. A sound post, which to all appearances looks like a dowel, is inserted under the table, on the treble side, near the bridge, (the treble side is the side where the higher pitch strings A and E are strung) its position does influence the tonal qualities of the instrument.
A beautiful neck ending in a scroll is usually carved from spruce, the pegs can be of ebony, rosewood or boxwood. The slightly convex shaped fingerboard, is carved from rosewood or in the more expensive models, a very hardwearing ebony wood is used. The instrument is finished off with a fine coating of specialist varnish.
The bridge, where the strings rest is usually made from spruce, the tailpiece, again from ebony or rosewood.
The finished product can then be accessorised; most players will require a chin rest and often a shoulder rest. Players with long necks will find it more comfortable with a shoulder rest, which fits under the violin and rests across the player's collarbone. The chin rest is fixed onto the tail end of the table.
It takes about three months for a luthier to make a violin from start to finish.
The finished violin
Most violins will come with a chin rest in place, but a player will need to ensure it is the most comfortable design, for there are many designs to choose from, but only one will suit. The most popular is the Strad style or Teka, or you can buy bespoke chinrests, these however, are much more expensive.
The shoulder rest, coupled with the chin rest enables the player to hold the violin firmly and comfortably, in the playing position sandwiched between the chin and shoulder, leaving the left hand free to move up and down the fingerboard smoothly and easily, making vibrato much easier to accomplish.
When I was first introduced to the delights of violin playing, two of the strings were metal and two were catgut, in reality it was sheep-gut. Nowadays violins are mainly strung with metal strings, for they do keep in tune for a great deal longer than gut strings; and with the aid of Fine Tuners, which are little metal adjusters inserted in the tailpiece, where the strings are attached to allow very small adjustments in pitch.
There are many brands of strings and prices vary enormously, and it is true that the more costly the string, the better is the quality of tone produced. For a good set of strings expect to pay around £40 to £70, but for beginners there are sets for around £20.
Factors influencing the tone and tonal qualities of a violin.
First and foremost, as mentioned earlier, the wood from which the instrument is constructed is one of the most important factors coupled with the thickness of the carved back and table.
No two, handmade instruments, are ever the same even when made by the same luthiers. However, to an untrained eye and ear, it would be difficult, if not impossible to see or hear any differences.
Instruments made specifically for soloists, where the tone is needed to be springier, for want of a better word, the wood thickness, I believe, is thinner than that of an instrument made for orchestral players, where the tones need to be softer or mellower.
The position of the sound post will also affect the mellowness or springiness of tone. When the post is positioned further from the tailpiece and nearer the fingerboard, the tone becomes less mellow and louder, ideal for soloists.
String quality also affects the sweetness of tone of a violin. There are many different grades and price ranges, some strings are better for soloist instruments, others for orchestral violins, and lower grades for students.
Violins are made in various sizes, Full size, (4/4) which measures 14 inches from the tailpiece to the top of the instrument where the neck block is attached to the main body.. A three quarter (3/4) size measures 13-inches from tailpiece to top, so the fractional notation is not strictly correct. They decrease in size down to 1/16.
A player's arm length is the determining factor when choosing the size of violin. An arm measuring 23-inches or more from shoulder to tip of fingers will suit a full size violin. My arm is about that length so I am just as comfortable with a 3/4 or 4/4 size violin.
I mention the size in this section because size does matter when it comes to tonal quality. The smaller the instrument, the less mellow the tone, the higher the pitch. If you compare the tone/pitch of a cello to that of a violin, you will hear a vast difference in both tone and pitch.
The age of and amount of usage also contributes to the overall quality of the instrument, and as a general rule, the older the instrument, the better the quality of tone, providing it is well looked after and strung with good quality strings, not to mention played by a reasonably good musician.
Learning to play the violin.
Learning the basics and playing the violin is not difficult, learning to play well, on the other hand, takes a lot of often tedious, repetitious practise, not to mention patience from family and perhaps neighbours.
Loudness of the violin is determined by the bowing action. If the bow is pulled across the strings nearer the fingerboard, the music will be louder than if the bow is pulled across the strings near the tailpiece. Of course the pressure exerted on the bow also influences the volume.
When I started learning I used a mute, which when fitted across the bridge, reduced the sound when playing to a tolerable level for involuntary listeners. Let us face it, scales and arpeggios played repeatedly, can be very wearing to the most tolerant of listeners. I still use a mute today when at home, even though it also reduces the quality of tone a little; my poor dogs have very sensitive ears.
With practice, the fingers learn the correct positions on the strings to produce the appropriate notes in tune and automatically find the correct place without the player having to measure each time or think about it. It is a wonderful instrument.
It is much easier to learn to play any instrument when young and enthusiastic, the perfect combination for success. When flexibility of mind and fingers combine with great enthusiasm, great things can be achieved.
All beginners taking up playing the violin for the first time, will sound pretty dire for a short while, even the greatest of violinists had to start somewhere.
Summary: Even Yehudi Menhin's playing must have insulted his parent's eardrums at first