What is a Violin?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

The violin is the soprano member of the string family, which also includes, from highest to lowest, viola, violoncello, and double bass. It is abbreviated Vln. in scores, distinguishing it from the viola, which is Vla. There are two violins, along with a viola and a cello, in a string quartet, and sections of both first and second violins in orchestras, possibly 30 in all in large orchestras.

Violins are played in orchestras.
Violins are played in orchestras.

The violin, like the viola, is held under the chin and rests on the player’s left shoulder., The neck is held by the left hand, which is used for fingering, while the right hand holds the bow. The violin is a non-transposing instrument and has four strings tuned in fifths at G3, D4, A4, and E5. The highest pitched string, the E-string, is called the first string.

Beethoven wrote violin concertos.
Beethoven wrote violin concertos.

When playing the violin, the fingers of the left hand press the strings in order to control the vibrato and pitch, and to create effects such as artificial and natural harmonics, finger tremolo, glissando, multiple stops, portamento and trills. In finger pizzicato, the left hand plucks a string, but usually, plucking and bowing are left to the right hand to perform.

Russian Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky composed famous violin concertos.
Russian Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky composed famous violin concertos.

In performing with the violin, the right hand draws, strikes, or bounces the bow across the strings, shaping the movement to the required effect — including bow tremolo, détaché, louré, martelé, portato, spiccato, staccato and sul ponticello — or, to create pizzicato, plucks the strings. The wood of the violin bow is used in certain cases, drawn against the string in col legno tratto playing, or tapped on the strings in col legno battuto playing — col legno means “with the wood.”

The violin is used as part of the core ensemble in orchestras of all types and sizes, where it also functions as one of the premier solo instruments. Solo violin can also be found in jazz, blues, klezmer, Hungarian gypsy music, and other settings. Famous violin concertos include those by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Paganini. Some noted violinists include Midori, Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Yehudi Menuhin, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Niccolo Paganini, Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern, and Pinchas Zuckerman.

Unlike cellos, violins are held between the performer's left hand and chin.
Unlike cellos, violins are held between the performer's left hand and chin.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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