The Haunting of the Violin

The violin is an instrument of deep emotion, and a haunting melody heard on a violin stays with you forever. There has been much research done on how music affects our emotions, and violins, able to “sing” in the same range as humans, can lift us up and make us dance, or help us purge our grief. Truly, as Shakespeare said, a good instrument well played can “hale souls out of men’s bodies.”

Most violins are made of maple, with a spruce top. End blocks hold the violin together, and a thin bridge holds up the four strings. Essential, but invisible, is the sound post, the secret of a violin’s resonance. Most players will use a chin rest, and other accessories will vary from player to player. A typical violin body has an hourglass shape with a gently arched top and bottom. The shape is divided into bouts, with an upper bout and lower bout at the ends, and two concave C-bouts making up the waist and providing a space for bowing. Several factors control the violin’s voice. The types of wood and varnish have the most effect. The shape and thickness of the wood of the body and top can also affect the sound. Many violins, if cared for and stored properly, improve with age. For this reason, there is a good market for high quality older violins.

The type of string also affects the sound. Older strings were made of stretched gut, usually from sheep – not cats! These are difficult to tune, but have a distinctive sound. Now, strings are available made of solid steel, braided steel, and a variety of synthetics that are far easier to handle. Strings need to be changed regularly on a schedule depending on how much the violin is used, and most players carry a complete set of spare strings in case of an emergency break.

There are many different sizes.

The largest is referred to as a “full” and the body is about 14 inches long. For children, there are three-quarter, half, one-quarter, one-eighth and even one-sixteenth size instruments available. A good teacher will ensure a proper fitting instrument for the student.

There are two sets of tuners on most violins. All violins have tuning pegs, which allow for tightening or loosening the strings to raise or lower the pitch. Most violins have one or more fine tuners as well, which allow for minute adjustments which is especially useful for the higher strings.

Playing a violin is the true challenge. Most violins are played with a bow, made up of a wooden stick with horsehair held tightly between the tip and the base, called the frog. Full sized bows are just under 30 inches long, and smaller bows are available for smaller sized violins. Some less expensive synthetic bows are available, but often produce an inferior sound. Rosin is applied to the hair of the bow to improve grip on the strings. There is a thumb rest and hand grip at one end, once made of whalebone but now commonly fiberglass or another synthetic.

A melody, once heard on the violin, is always memorable. Many violin teachers will tell their students to make their instruments sing. Truly, the violin is an instrument to give voice to the heart.

Justin Robins has been writing for many years. Justin Robins currently writes for the How To Play Violin blog. If you are interested in learning how to play violin, then consider visiting this blog.

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