Brief description

  • Name: Violin
  • Spelling
    • German: Violine
    • French: violon
    • Italian: violino
  • Classification: Chordophone, necked lute, stringed instrument
  • Head: Scroll, pegbox, 4 side-mounted pegs
  • Neck: Length: approx. 13 cm, top nut, fretless fingerboard
  • Body: Length: approx. 35.5 cm, box form; Belly with F-shaped sound holes, back, ribs.
  • Strings: Length of the vibrating strings: 32.8 cm, 4 strings, tuned to intervals of a fifth: G3, D4, A4, E5. Material: gut, silver, copper, aluminum, steel, nylon.
  • Bow: Length: 74 cm; rod, point, adjustable frog
  • Mute: Comb-shaped device made of metal or maple which damps the vibration of the bridge.

The violin is the soprano instrument of the violin family (violin, viola, cello).

It consists of three main parts, the body, the neck and the head, which are composed of a total of 80 separate components.

The body not only gives the violin its characteristic appearance but also determines the sound quality as it is the instrument's resonator. The neck plays an important role in playing technique and is about 13 cm long and angled slightly back from the body. The circumference is the same along its entire length which makes it easier for the left hand to slide up and down to different positions). The head, with the pegbox and scroll, is a continuation of the neck. The pegs, which are used to adjust the tension of the strings, are found in the four peg holes in the pegbox: the instrument is tuned by turning the pegs. The head is rounded off by the scroll.

The fingerboard extends beyond the neck over the body and is important for intonation. The length of the fingerboard determines how far the range extends upward. The strings are stretched above and parallel to the fingerboard.


  1. scroll
  2. peg box
  3. peg holes
  4. pegs
  5. neck
  6. nut
  7. fingergoard
  8. bridge
  9. tailpiece
  10. saddle
  11. end button
  12. top plate
  13. sound hole (f-hole)
  14. purfling
  15. bass bar
  16. ribs
    16a. lower bout
    16b. middle bout
    16c. upper bout
  17. corner block
  18. back plate
  19. sound post

The body

The body is made of slow-growing wood of even density, since this type of wood offers the best resonance. Spruce is used for the belly, maple for the back and ribs.

To make the belly a wedge is cut out of a piece of spruce and split down the middle to form two symmetrical parts. These are then glued together so that the older wood - where the rings are closer together - are in the middle. This flat piece of wood is planed to a thickness of about 3 mm in the middle and progessively thinner toward the edges to form a vault. The F-holes that are cut into the belly help it to vibrate near the bridge and improve the projection of sound from the body's interior. The back is made in a similar way, either from one or two pieces of maple. The curved ribs join the belly to the back and consist of the upper bout, middle bout and lower bout. The body is given added stability by the top block, lower block and four corner blocks inside. The edges of the belly and back are inlaid with pearwood or ebony to strengthen the joins; this inlay is called purfling. There has been a lot of discussion regarding the effect that varnishing the body has on the sound; what is certain is that it offers the body protection against changes in temperature and humidity.

Head, neck and fingerboard

The head and neck are carved from a single piece of maple. The neck is firmly dovetailed with the top block and is about 13 cm long. The fingerboard is solid ebony, joined to the neck and projecting over the belly. Older fingerboards, from around 1700, were only about 20 cm long and therefore rather shorter than today's 27 cm. The strings are parallel to the fingerboard.


The lowest string is the G string which is usually made of gut and wound with silver or copper wire. The D and A strings are made either of gut or plastic and are aluminum-wound, the E string is normally made of steel. So that the tension of the four strings is more or less equal, which is very important for the projection of the sound, strings with different diameters or gauges are used. The E string is pulled a little tighter than the others in order to achieve the brilliance required of it.

Bridge, bass bar and soundpost

The bridge is positioned between the F-holes and is made of maple, 30 mm high and 40 mm wide. The pressure of the strings presses it against the belly. The bridge transmits the vibrations of the strings to the belly via two small feet. Even the smallest changes to height, thickness, shape or position on the belly influence the sound. Earlier models were much more robust than today's.

The bass bar is a 28 cm long and 5 mm wide piece of wood (maple or fir) glued lengthwise on the inside of the belly under the left foot of the bridge (G string) and transmits the vibrations of the bridge's left foot, the low notes, to the belly.

The soundpost, a 6 mm thick rod made of spruce, is placed next to the bridge's right foot and wedged between the back and the belly. Because of its vital importance to the instrument's sound it is often called the “soul” of the violin. Its task is to transfer the top string's vibrations to the back. Even the smallest changes to its position influence the sound.

Additional parts

The mute (sordino) can be made of a wide variety of materials: wood, rubber, plastic, leather or brass. It is placed on the bridge and has the effect of reducing the projection of the higher partials with a frequency of over 2000 hertz. As a result, the brightness and loudness of the sound is reduced.

The chin rest, which is made of wood or plastic, and the shoulder rest, made of fabric, support the instrument in such a way as to allow the violinist's left hand greater freedom of movement and prevent the shoulder from damping the vibrations.


Scaling refers to the violin's proportions, i.e. the ratio of the distance between the nut and the neck bracket to the distance between neck bracket and bridge on the one hand and the vibrating string on the other.

Today a ratio of 2:3 between neck and belly is regarded as the ideal. The term, however, also refers to the overall size of the instrument: standard-sized violins are referred to as 4/4 violins, smaller models with scaling of 7/8 are made for players with smaller hands; for children, the scaling can be reduced to 1/16. This has the advantage of reducing the distances on the fingerboard while maintaining the tuning, making it easier for smaller hands to play.

The bow

The bow is an inwardly curved wooden rod with horsehair (approx. 150-250 hairs) stretched between the two ends, the point and the frog. The tension of the hairs can be adjusted with a screw on the frog. The center of gravity is about 25 cm above the frog. The bow is 74 cm long, the length of the bowstroke somewhat shorter.

Vibrations are produced by the bowing movement of the bow's horsehair on the strings. This friction increases the temperature of the rosin applied to the horsehair, which ensures that the bow remains in contact with the string until the string's elasticity causes it to spring back, whereupon the bow intercepts the motion and exerts new force on the string. The repeated back-and-forth movement of the bow provides the energy necessary for the vibration of the string.

The ideal bow pressure depends on the speed of bowing; too little pressure results in a weak fundamental note with whistling partials, too much causes rasping partials. Greater bow pressure naturally results in a louder volume. The point at which the bow makes contact with the string varies between the bridge and the fingerboard: the sound is loudest at the bridge and decreases in volume the further away from the bridge the bow moves.


Stringed instruments in the Middle Ages

The playing of stringed instruments (on which the strings are vibrated by a bow) probably originated in Central Asia in the 9th century AD, although it may well have developed independently on several continents. What is certain is that the plucking of strings is the older technique. In Europe the first bowed stringed instruments took two forms, reliable evidence for which exists from the 10th century.

One of these early instruments, the rebec (rubebe, lira, gigue), originated in Spain and was descended from the Arabian rabab. It was a pear-shaped instrument with one, two or three strings. Its body and neck were carved from a single piece of wood and it had neither ribs nor frets. The neck was on a level with the body and had side pegs. A flat table was glued to the upper side and above this was the fingerboard. Instruments with three strings were tuned to fifths (G3, D4, A4). The rebec was related to the lyre, a popular instrument that originated in Byzantium. Both instruments are basically of the same type and were played in the standing position, supported either by the chest or the shoulder.

The second early form of stringed instrument is the fiddle (Latin fidicula, French vielle), which was popular throughout Europe and existed in a wide variety of forms and types. The fiddle had between one and six strings, a flat, oval soundbox which was made of several pieces of wood joined by interlocking, i.e. with ribs, small concavities in the sides and a raised neck. The table was slightly vaulted, frets were rare. A characteristic of the fiddle was the round hole in the middle which later evolved into two crescent-shaped slits. Its great popularity in the Middle Ages was due chiefly to its wide range and agility. The instrument was usually supported on the left shoulder and played in accompaniment to the musician's singing. Drone strings were fairly common. Mirroring certain aspects of the violin's development, which began later, the fiddle retained its popularity until the 16th century, and indeed is still found in various forms in popular cultures today.

Renaissance instrument families

Before the end of the 15th century the combining of the characteristics of medieval stringed instruments led to the emergence of two distinct instrument families, which exhibited markedly differing construction, playing technique, function and sound: the viola da gamba (Ital. gamba = foot), which was held between the knees, and the viola da braccio (Ital. braccio = arm), which was held at shoulder height by the left arm.

The viola da gamba or viol featured unusually high ribs, a vaulted table, a flat back and C- or f-shaped sound holes. The neck extended out of the body, the fingerboard had seven frets and the five to seven strings lay across a rather flat bridge which meant that the bow could play more than two adjacent strings at once. The instrument's dark and mellow timbre made it ideal for chordal playing.

The body of the viola da braccio, on the other hand, had lower ribs, a rounded back, f-holes, a fretless fingerboard, a neck raised from the body with a scroll and four strings across a curved bridge, which meant that they could be bowed individually. A deep indentation in the middle of the body made bowing of the outer strings easier. The timbre of viola da braccio instruments was brighter and more powerful and was especially suited to the carrying of melody lines.

The seven-stringed lira da braccio was used to accompany vocal performances in the 16th century. It had a flat body and a flat bridge.

The emergence of the violin in Upper Italy

The violin evolved from the viola da braccio family between 1520-1550, the Upper Italian towns of Milan, Brescia, Cremona and Venice being the most important centers. The term “violin” (from the Italian word violino) is derived from the word viola and had the general meaning “small stringed instrument” rather than “small viola”. The earliest surviving violins are those made by the Cremonese violin maker Andrea Amati (1500-1576) in the year 1542. They still have only three strings: G3, D4 and A4. It was probably not until after 1550 that Amati made the first violins with four strings. Andrea Amati was therefore in all likelihood the first instrument maker to produce instruments with those characteristics that justified the appellation “violin”.

The violin proved an enormous success in Italy, very quickly supplanting all the other “small stringed instruments” in the soprano register which were played in the da braccio position (arm position). No other instrument which had undergone the major part of its development before 1650 was accepted so readily as an essential part of musical practice; this was due to the limitless range of means of expression that it offered. The subsequent development of Western music history is linked closely to the further development of the violin's playing techniques and possibilities for expression. Whereas violins - and later, other members of the violin family - have always been played exclusively by professional musicians, the viol remained an instrument also adopted by educated lay musicians such as noblemen and merchants and as such was endowed with a certain social standing. Italian players introduced the new instrument to a wider audience at European courts.

The golden age: 1600-1750

The violin's popularity led to the emergence of the most famous schools of violin-making: The Cremonese School was led by Amati's sons until Nicola Amati (1596-1684). The Brescian School produced master craftsmen such as Gasparo da Salò (1540-1609) and his pupil Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1580-1632). The Cremonese School continued with Nicola Amati's pupil Andrea Guarnieri (1626-1698) and later Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), who was presumably a pupil of Guarnieri's. Antonio Stradivari, who made around one thousand instruments during his career of which 600 are said to be still in existence, is still regarded as the apogee of the art of violin-making. Despite repeated attempts, which continue today and make use of the most modern technology, it has proved impossible to reproduce the sheer brilliance of timbre of a Stradivarius. The dimensions of Stradivari's model were accepted as definitive by later generations.

Giuseppe Guarnieri, known as “del Gesù” (1698-1744), made instruments that were appreciated chiefly on account of their sustaining tone. Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), the greatest violin virtuoso of all time, played a Guarnieri.

North of the Alps the violin-making school led by Jacob Stainer (1621-1683) in Absam in the Tyrol gained great renown; Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), for instance, played a Stainer violin. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played an instrument made by Ă„gidius Klotz, a violin maker from Mittenwald.

France's premier violin maker was Nicholas MĂ©dart (1628-1672), in England it was Barak Norman (1678-1740). In Vienna, Daniel and Joseph Stadlmann (1720-1781) were the most important.

Toward the end of the 18th century the art of violin-making disappeared in Italy when production was changed to a “production line” with a more specialized division of labor. New materials, such as varnish that dried faster, favored the new way of working and violin factories emerged. The leading violin makers of the following era were to be found in France, for example Nicolas Lupot (1758-1824).

Modernization around 1800

The upheavals that followed the French Revolution also had far-reaching repercussions in the world of music. The responsibility for organizing and financing musical events shifted from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie and concerts became a regular feature of society life. Since these were held in ever larger halls, louder instruments with thicker bows were required. Violin makers were therefore forced to make those alterations to the instrument which resulted in the development of the modern violin at the turn of the 19th century; old instruments were “modernized” to meet the new requirements: the bridge was raised to increase string tension and thereby the volume. This also altered the angle of the strings to the fingerboard, so that the musician would have had to apply more pressure to play the high notes. This difficulty was counteracted by placing the neck at a backward angle, thus maintaining equal distance between strings and fingerboard along its length. At the same time both the neck and the fingerboard were lengthened. To cope with the increased pressure of the strings on the table the bass bar and sound post were also reinforced.

The strings were made stronger too, so that they could withstand the increased tension. It had long been customary to cover the G strings, which had a gut core, with metal. Nowadays the G string is often silver-wound. It is not completely clear whether the D and A strings were also covered in the 19th century; today aluminum-wound gut strings are generally used. The E string was also made of gut in the 19th century and was not replaced by a steel one until the 20th century. Nylon and steel strings are currently in use.

The modern bow was developed within the space of a few decades, the French bow maker François Tourte (1747-1835) playing a leading role: the bow became longer and stronger; its weight was changed, the center of gravity moved and the tension increased, which made more powerful strokes possible, such as martelé (hammered, short powerful strokes).

In around 1820 the German composer and violin virtuoso Louis Spohr (1784-1859) invented the chin-rest, which facilitated the sliding movement of the left hand.


The violin is a non-transposing instrument notated in treble clef.

The variety of playing techniques used on stringed instruments means there are a number of features peculiar to violin notation.

Bowing notation (right hand)

As a rule many bowstrokes which come under staccato are not notated but played in the appropriate manner by the violinist. If the composer desires a particular kind of bowstroke he writes it into the score.

Melodic phrases which are to be played with a single stroke are linked by a phrasing slur. The change of bowing can occur on a single note.

Détaché / Detached
Non-legato technique, strokes alternately up and down without the bow being lifted from the string.

  1. Détaché or detached is often written explicitly into the score.
  2. Strong détaché is indicated by a dot above the note.
  3. The strongest détaché consists solely of downstrokes. The bow is lifted from the string after every stroke.

Hammered stroke (in Italian martellato = hammered).
Every stroke, whether up or down, is ended abruptly, the bow remaining on the string.

Sul tasto and sul ponticello
Because of the effect it has on timbre the place where the bow should make contact with the string is often written into the score. Sulla tastiera (or sul tasto, sur la touche meaning on the fingerboard, sul ponticello on the bridge.
Most playing techniques are possible both sul ponticello and sulla tastiera.

Col legno (with the wood, French: avec le bois)
Hitting or bowing the string with the wood of the bow. The first technique produces a hammer effect and is used for repeated figures. The latter sounds cracked, rough and dry and is of indeterminate pitch.


Changing from pizzicato to arco
The change from bowed (arco) to plucked (pizzicato) and back is always written in full. (The part is to played pizzicato until arco is written).

“Bartók pizzicato” (“snap” pizzicato) The string is lifted with two fingers of the right hand so that it snaps back onto the fingerboard when let go. This produces a very resounding sound which is used for percussive effects. Notation: a circle with a tail pointing either upward or downward above each note.

Measured bowed tremolo
The repetition of a note with no accent or rhythm by means of very fast up and downstrokes at the point. The impression given is of a “trembling” sound, which is used especially for dramatic effect and tonal intensification. Double stops can also be played tremolo. The bow tremolo is usually measured, i.e. the number of strokes corresponds exactly to the notated division of the whole note value which determines the length of the tremolo. This kind of tremolo must be played in absolute synchronization by all the violinists. Freely playable tremolo also exists.
Tremolos have been part of the strings' standard repertoire of effects since the beginning of the 19th century.

Unmeasured bowed tremolo

Behind the bridge
The string is bowed between the bridge and the string tuner.
An X is written on the staff at the pitch levels corresponding to the open strings which are to be played. The pitch heard is indeterminate, the different strings produce various pitches.

Notation for fingering (left hand)

Natural harmonic
There are three types of notation:

  • Pitch notation:
    A note with a small circle above it indicates where the string were to be fingered if the “normal” note were being played. It is in this way that the fingering is notated that corresponds to the actual harmonic sounded. It is left to the musician's discretion which node he or she chooses. (Harmonics can be fingered at any one of their nodes.) The string is often indicated under the note too (e.g., sul G).

  • Finger notation:
    One of the possible fingerings (vibration nodes) is represented by a note in the form of a diamond. The fingering given is always the one that is easiest to perform (i.e. is nearest the nut). The sounding pitch of the harmonic cannot be ascertained from this notation.

  • Fingering and pitch
    Some composers add the sounding pitch in brackets above the finger notation.

Artificial harmonics
The finger that firmly presses the string is notated as a pitch with the desired note value. The finger that lies lightly on the string - generally a fourth above the stopping finger - is notated as an empty, “white” diamond, that is, they always look like whole notes, regardless of the real note value.

An audible slide of the finger along the string with accompanying change of position. The effect is of two notes being joined together in a suggestion of a glissando.

Con sordino
Con sordino (with mute) calls for the use of the mute, which is not to be removed until instructed to do so by the term senza sordino.

Triple and quadruple stops
Triple stops (three-part chords) and quadruple stops (four-part chords) are notated as chords and played as arpeggiated chords (each note in quick succession, from the lowest to the highest note). When playing four-part chords, the two lowest notes are played first, then the two highest.

Pizzicato with the left hand is indicated by a + above the note. Alban Berg: Violin Concerto.

Finger tremolo
Two notes are played as a tremolo on the same string as follows: the finger in the lower position fingers the string and keeps it pressed down while the other finger quickly and repeatedly stops and releases a higher note. In contrast to the bow tremolo, when rapid up and downstrokes produce the tremolo effect, bowing here is smooth and even over the string. The result is a kind of trill.

Su una corda
The instruction to play a cantilena on a particular string (e.g., sul G). Su una corda means “on one string”.


Range of the violin: G3 - A7 (harmonic D8)

  • G string (G3 - C5, G5)
  • D string (D4 - G5, D6)
  • A string (A4 - D6, A6)
  • E string (E5 - A7, D8)

Sound production

Sound is produced by moving the bow over the string or by plucking it with the right hand. Pitch alterations are achieved by pressing down the string with the fingertips of the left hand on the fingerboard. This shortens the vibrating portion of the string and raises the pitch.


Change of string and change of position

Four strings with an interval of a fifth are available: C3 (4th string), G3 (3rd string), D4 (2nd string), A4 (1st string).

During playing the left hand plays in various positions.
In 1st position the hand is at the uppermost end of the fingerboard in front of the top nut. No strings are fingered, since 1st position includes open strings.
In the 2nd position the forefinger is a diatonic degree nearer the bridge, i.e. a whole tone higher. By climbing one diatonic degree at a time toward the bridge the musician reaches the next position. 8th position is an octave higher than 1st.
Lower positions are much easier to play than higher ones. In each position each finger (the forefinger is the 1st, the middle finger the 2nd, the ring finger the 3rd and the little finger the 4th) covers one diatonic degree, that means that a partial scale of a fourth is playable on each string. Chromatic notes (raising or lowering the diatonic degree concerned) are played by the finger responsible for the corresponding diatonic degree.

Positions 1-7 are regarded as the low positions, the positions 8-11 as the high ones. Playing in high positions is required particularly in virtuoso solo performance (up to 14th position). In the very highest registers the term position is no longer used.

The distance (spread) between adjacent notes steadily decreases upwards. The further from the bridge the bow makes contact with the string the quieter the sound is (and the fewer overtones it contains).

An example of the same note played on two strings. The effect is one of reinforcing the sound.

A few examples for double stops:

Playing position: the “Geminiani grip”
To put the left hand in the right position the so-called “Geminiani grip” is used. The hand takes hold of the fingerboard in first position so that each of the four fingers is touching a different string: forefinger (1st finger) = E string; middle finger (2nd finger) = A string, ring finger (3rd finger) = D string; little finger (4th finger) = G string.


The bow is held at the frog by all four fingers of the right hand. The thumb and middle finger are opposite each other. The pressure of the bow is regulated mainly by the forefinger. The wrist is the most active joint, the elbow and shoulder remain as still as possible. The bow touches the strings one centimeter above the bridge and is thicker at the frog than at the point. Short, rapid notes are generally played at the point. The speed of bowing must be altered to correspond to the pressure of the bow; a faster speed of bowing with higher bow pressure produces a louder sound.


All string players distinguish between two basic forms of bowstroke:

The upstroke, the stroke from the point to the frog. As a rule it is found on unaccented beats and has a crescendo tendency.
The downstroke, the stroke from the frog to the point. It is found on accented beats (the beginning of a measure, accent) and has a decrescendo tendency.

The types of bowing are the result of the music's meaning (phrasing). The natural accents of a piece of music are emphasized by means of the strokes, especially in dance music. Sometimes they are explicitly called for by the composer at particular places.

In orchestral playing the strings' bowing is synchronized.

Playing Techniques (left hand)

Double stops

Two-part fingering on adjacent strings. The easiest double stops are those with an open string (all intervals are possible, including very wide ones). If both strings are fingered the most common intervals range from unison to a tenth. Intervals from a third to an octave are relatively easy if playing remains within one position. The fingering of larger intervals such as fifths and sixths is easier than that of thirds and fourths.

Triple stops

Three-part fingering. The easiest triple stops are those with three or two open strings. Triple stops containing one open string are relatively easy; in terms of intervals the same criteria apply as to double stops. Triple stops with three fingered strings are difficult to play.

The curvature of the bridge and the tension of modern bows mean that it is not possible to sound more than two strings at the same time. For this reason triple and quadruple stops, which are notated as three of four-part chords, are played as arpeggiated chords.

Quadruple stops

Four-part fingering. The more open strings and the fewer different positions are involved, the easier it is to play quadruple stops. They are played as arpeggiated chords.


Technically the same as a finger tremolo and ranges between a half note and a whole note. Musically speaking the trill is an embellishment rather than an effect. There are many different trills which are defined according to the beginning and conclusion of the trill movement.

Double trill
Two-part trill

Finger tremolo

Two notes are played as a tremolo on the same string as follows: the finger in the lower position fingers the string and keeps it pressed down while the other finger quickly and repeatedly stops and releases a higher note. In contrast to the bow tremolo, when rapid up and downstrokes produce the tremolo effect, bowing here is smooth and even over the string. The result is a kind of trill, which is usually played freely, i.e. the number of notes is not governed by the notated metric division of the note value; the notes should simply be played as quickly as possible. The most common interval is a third, although tremolos up to a diminished fifth can be played. Finger tremolos with two notes on different strings are possible but rare.

Natural harmonics

(sons harmoniques, voci armoniche)

A harmonic played on an open string. A finger touches the string very lightly at one of its nodes. Nodes are those places on the string at which its partial vibrations develop. As a result the entire string, and not just the fingered part, vibrates along several equal lengths. A partial sounds instead of the fundamental. Natural harmonics up to the fifth partial are generally called for. Higher harmonics are required only in exceptional circumstances.

Artificial harmonics

Harmonic on a fingered string.

The string is fingered by the forefinger while the little finger rests lightly on it a fourth higher. As with the natural harmonic this causes the vibrating part of the string to vibrate in four parts. The pitch that sounds is two octaves above the fingered note. This is the most common artificial harmonic. Every note from a particular pitch upward can therefore be produced as an artificial harmonic.

An artificial harmonic played as a fifth is rare (pitch = one octave + a fifth higher than the fingered note). A harmonic played as a third is very difficult to sound (pitch = two octaves + a major third higher than the fingered note).


The violinist transfers the vibrations of the left hand onto the string. The result is fluctuating pitch and loudness. The vibrato depends on the extent of these fluctuations and the speed. There are three types of vibrato: finger, hand and arm vibrato. Vibrato playing helps to achieve greater expression.

It was not until the 19th century that vibrato playing became widespread; early music was played for the most part without vibrato. The technique only found its way into orchestral playing in the 20th century.


An audible slide of the finger along the string with accompanying change of position. The effect is of two notes being joined together in a suggestion of a glissando. Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) made frequent use of this means of expression in his symphonies.


Can be played without effort on all bowed string instruments.

Finger pizzicato

The left hand touches a string and plucks it. The plucked note is usually accompanied by bowed notes on strings which are not being played pizzicato. “Normal” pizzicato is performed by the right hand.

Con sordino

(with mute)

The mute reduces the number of higher partials - over 2000 hertz -, making the sound considerably quieter, darker and thinner.


Changing the strings' tuning is done to increase the range in the low register, to make certain keys easier to play and to alter the timbre (e.g., Gustav Mahler, 4th symphony, 2nd movement, where a solo violin is tuned a whole note higher: A3, E4, B4, F#5).

Playing Techniques (right hand)


Non-legato technique, bowstrokes alternately up and down without the bow leaving the string. Articulation of individual notes, clearly separated from neighboring notes. The bow changes direction on each note.


Accentuated détaché. Hammered bowing (in Italian martellato = hammered).

Every stroke, whether up or down, is ended abruptly, the bow remaining on the string. The result is a hard sound, like a hammer-on, with brief pauses between. Short, individual strokes are usually performed at the point.


(at the bridge)
The bow makes contact with the string near the bridge. The nearer the bridge the string is bowed the greater the volume. The timbre becomes brighter but at the same time glassy, shrill, eerie, pale and thin. The number of partials increases. The technique is used as a tremolo to produce eerie effects.

Sul tasto

(on the fingerboard)
The bow makes contact with the string near the fingerboard. The nearer the fingerboard the string is bowed the weaker and softer the sound. The number of partials decreases. The effect is a muffled and flute-like sound (the technique is often also called flautando ).

Most playing techniques are possible both sul ponticello and sulla tastiera.

Legato stroke by stroke

Each note is played by one stroke. The direction of the bow is changed quickly and imperceptibly, the bow remaining on the string. The technique is not indicated by a slur.

Legato on a single stroke

A group of notes is played with a single stroke so that one note flows into the next without a break. This technique is always indicated by a slur.


(heavy legato)
Several notes are played with one stroke. Although there are slight breaks between the notes the impression of legato remains. Applies to repeated notes or notes with the same value.


(related to louré)
Several notes on the same stroke, each one being slightly accented and sustained to its full value. The impression created is one of non legato. This technique applies mainly to repeated notes or notes with the same value such as scales.


Plucking of the strings with the right hand. This technique originated on the lute in the 16th century and is applied to chords as well as single notes.

“Bartók" pizzicato (“snap” pizzicato)
The string is lifted with two fingers of the right hand so that it snaps back onto the fingerboard when let go. This produces a very resounding and percussive sound.


A series of short strokes in the course of one whole stroke, usually an upstroke.

Strong staccato: As with martelé playing the bowstroke is in one direction only, the bow coming to rest on the string between each partial stroke.
Flying staccato: The bow is lifted from the string between the notes.


Leaping staccato, produced by beginning a new bowstroke for every note (as with détaché playing one up and downstroke per note). The leaping effect results from the elasticity of the bow, which swings to and fro and is controlled by the right hand. Spiccato is indicated by a staccato dot over each note. No slur.


A rapid and light spiccato, which is uncontrolled. The bow can bounce two to three times, resulting in short groups of repeated notes (typical in chords as an accompaniment figure). The technique consists of two to three short up and downstrokes in virtually the same place and can only be performed piano or mezzopiano. Notation: a tie with dots above the note or staccato dots only. The bow is at its most elastic in the middle. Many piano or pianissimo staccato effects are in fact performed sautillé in the orchestra.


Thrown, several saltato leaps on one stroke. The bow does not fall on the string with the force of its own weight but is thrown onto it so that the leaping effect continues in the same direction. Following its first impact on the strings the bow performs a precise number of leaps, usually three or four. Groups of three or four notes can therefore be played before the bow has to be thrown again. As far as p and mf. Possible on both the upstroke and the downstroke.

Bow tremolo

(bow vibrato)
The repetition of a note with no accent or rhythm by means of very fast up and downstrokes at the point. The impression given is of a “trembling” sound, which is used especially for dramatic effect and tonal intensification. Double stops can also be played tremolo. The bow tremolo is usually measured, i.e. the number of strokes corresponds exactly to the notated division of the whole note value which determines the length of the tremolo. This kind of tremolo must be played in absolute synchronization by all the violinists. Freely playable tremolo also exists.
Tremolos have been part of the strings' standard repertoire of effects since the beginning of the 19th century.


Sustaining of a note given its full value.

Sound characteristics

Full, lively, singing, eloquent, introspective, supernatural, sensuous, lustrous, bright, metallic, vibrant, clear, glassy, flute-like, shrill, brilliant, sparkling, calm, thin, whistling, round, pure, muffled, solemn, austere, dark, muted, open, sustaining, rough, wafting, soft, sweet, merry, dancing, veiled.

The differences in the violin's sound - and those of stringed instruments in general - result from a combination of the following factors: string thickness (diameter or gauge), choice of string, point of contact of the bow, bowing speed and bow pressure. These factors determine the level of oscillation of certain partial vibrations, i.e. the timbre. Which of these tonal options he or she uses is up to the violinist. The sound characteristics of the violin are therefore not predetermined; no single timbre predominates in any register. It is the musician who gives the instrument the timbre he or she desires.

Open strings sound brighter than fingered ones. Sometimes this extra brightness is exploited, sometimes it is avoided to maintain the homogeneity of a line. Frequent changes between strings reduce the need for changes of position (timbre is altered); conversely, frequent changes of position mean fewer changes between strings (timbre is more homogeneous).

Because of the lack of partials, harmonics have a flute-like sound which is thinner than the normal note. Natural harmonics sound louder than artificial ones. Harmonics can not only be played pp and p but also ff.

Sound characteristics of the individual strings

  • G string (G3-C5, G5)
    Dark and sonorous in the low register with a tendency toward roughness. Highly expressive and soulful cantilenas can be expected in the high register. The sound becomes more intense.

  • D string (D4-G5, D6)
    Very full sounding and mellow. The string's pitch corresponds to the human voice and is used for melodious cantilenas.

  • A string (A4-D6, A6)
    More mellow than the D string.

  • E string (E5-A7, D8)
    Lustrous and metallic, dominates lower-pitched middle voices. Very bright in the upper register though less full sounding. Its brightness makes it more audible.

The division of an instrument's entire range into registers conveniently describes those areas of the human voice and of wind instruments that have the same timbre. However, for the violin in particular and for stringed instruments in general the concept of different registers as a description of areas of varying timbre with a definite lower and upper boundary and which are bound to a particular register is less appropriate. This does not mean that the violin only has one timbre on offer; on the contrary, it possesses a quite extraordinary range of different timbres. The many different timbres and sound characteristics cannot be categorically ascribed to a particular register, however, but are the result of the choice of string on the one hand and the playing technique employed on the other, i.e. the various sound characteristics are found over the instrument's entire range. The underlying sound of the violin is homogeneous in all registers.

Sound Combinations

All stringed instruments form a group with a homogeneous overall sound and perform tasks ranging from the subtlest tonal effects to the most eloquent reinforcements of sound and from the greatest possible tonal compactness to the greatest possible diversity. The stringed instruments are the most homogeneous of all groups in the symphony orchestra. Since Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) the strings have been the heart of the orchestra.

String sections
String sections in large orchestras are composed as follows:

  • 1st violins: 16
  • 2nd violins: 14
  • Violas: 12
  • Cellos: 10
  • Double-basses: 8.

In late romantic works - R. Wagner, G. Mahler, R. Strauss - and 20th century pieces the strings are divided into a large number of parts (divisi).

Violin + string orchestra

Violin + Violin

In the orchestra violins are always used in chorus and divided into 1st and 2nd violins. Each group is treated as a separate “part”: the 1st violins generally play the higher part, which is usually the main melody. The 2nd violins often play the part of “lower sisters”: they play an octave below, darkening the overall timbre, and complement the 1st violins in the middle register, often in unison. It is only in recent times that composers have begun liberating the 2nd violins from the shadow of their dominant sisters, in some cases even giving them higher parts to play.

Violin + viola

Produces a mellow and full sound which is dominated by the violins. Octave combinations of the 1st and 2nd violins or double octave playing by both violin groups with violas and cellos produces a broad, expansive and carrying effect. This combination is most effective when the orchestra reaches melodic high points.

Violin + violoncello

The full sound is dominated by the cellos. In octaves an expansive effect is produced for cantilenas in the tenor register.

Violin + double-bass

The violins can sound like a partial of the double-basses. It is particularly important to balance the respective dynamic levels.

Violin + harp

The violins' pizzicato blends well with the harp.

Violin + woodwinds

There is a great affinity between the strings and the woodwinds; on the one hand they have a very good tonal blend, in which either group can predominate depending on the dynamic level. On the other hand they complement each other to produce new sound mixtures. Strings and woodwinds can also play interesting harmonic successions when the two groups play in contrast.

Generally speaking woodwinds provide the strings with more volume and power, while the strings make the woodwinds more mellow, especially when playing in unison. If the strings are playing with a single woodwind instrument in different registers the latter can assert itself.

Violin + brass wind instruments

The tonal blend with brass instruments is not so good as with the woodwinds and depends on which register the brass instruments are playing in and on which playing technique the strings are using (pizzicato, col legno). The use of the mute on brass instruments makes them sound similar to the strings and improves the blend. If the two groups are joined by the woodwinds, particularly the clarinets, the blend between strings and brass instruments is improved.

Violin + trumpet

Two distinct sounds develop, poor blend.

Violin + horn

The horn achieves the best blend of the brass section with the violins, especially in combination with the cellos.

Violin + trombone, tuba

Poor blend.

Repertoire (selection)

Solo violin

  • Johann Sebastian Bach

    • 6 sonatas and partitas for solo violin (BWV 1001-1006), 1720
  • Pietro A. Locatelli

    • 12 sonatas for solo violin (op. 6), 1737
    • L´arte di violino, 1733
  • Niccolò Paganini

    • 24 Capricci per violino solo (op. 1), 1818
  • Ferdinand David

    • suite for solo violin (op. 43), 1855
  • Max Reger

    • 4 sonatas for solo violin (op.42), 1899
    • 7 sonatas (op. 91), 1905
  • Paul Hindemith

    • 2 sonatas (op. 31), 1924
  • BĂ©la BartĂłk

    • violin sonata, 1944
  • Sergei Prokofiev

    • violin sonata (op. 115), 1946
  • Egon Wellesz

    • Sonata (op. 72), 1953
  • Iannis Xenakis

    • Mikka, 1972
  • Hans Werner Henze

    • sonata for solo violin, 1977

Chamber music

  • Joseph Haydn

    • 83 string quartets, among them the "Russian quartets" (op. 33 Hob.III: 37 - 42), 1781
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    • 2 duets for violin and viola (K. 423, 424), 1783
    • sonata for violin and piano A-major (K. 526) 1787
    • Dissonance quartet (K. 465) 1785
  • Ludwig van Beethoven

    • 10 sonatas for violin and piano, among them:
    • Kreutzer sonata A-major (op. 47), 1803
  • Franz Schubert

    • Der Tod und das Mädchen, string quartet d-minor (D 810), 1824
    • string quintet C-major, 1826
    • 4 sonatas for violin and piano
  • Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

    • string octet Eb-major (op. 20), 1825
  • Johannes Brahms

    • 3 sonatas for violin and piano, 3 string quartets, 2 quintets and sextets
  • AntonĂ­n Dvořák

    • sonata for violin and piano F-major (op. 57)
  • Arnold Schönberg

    • 5 string quartets
    • Verklärte Nacht, 1899
  • Zoltán Kodály

    • 2 string quartets, string octet, 1900
  • Charles Ives

    • 5 sonatas for violin and piano, string quartet, 1896
  • Claude Debussy

    • sonata for violin and piano g-minor, 1917
  • BĂ©la BartĂłk

    • 6 string quartets, 44 duets for 2 violins
  • Paul Hindemith

    • 4 sonatas for violin and piano
  • Aaron Copland

    • sonata for violin and piano, 1943
  • Hans Werner Henze

    • 5 string quartets
  • Luigi Nono

    • Fragmente-Stille. An Diotima for string quartet, 1980

Violin concertos

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    • 5 violin concertos
    • concerto A-major (K. 219), 1775
  • Ludwig van Beethoven

    • concerto D-major (op.61), 1806
  • Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

    • concerto e-minor (op. 64), 1845
  • Max Bruch

    • concerto g-minor (op. 26), 1868
  • Johannes Brahms

    • concerto D-major (op. 77), 1878
  • Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky

    • concerto D-major (op. 35), 1878
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

    • Fantasy (op.24), 1886
    • Double concerto a-minor for violin and cello(op.102), 1887
  • Jean Sibelius

    • concerto d-minor (op.47), 1905
  • BĂ©la BartĂłk

    • 1st violin concerto, 1908
    • 2nd violin concerto, 1938
  • Ottorino Respighi

    • Concerto gregoriano, 1921
  • Sergei Prokofiev

    • 1st concerto (op.19), 1923
    • 2nd concerto (op. 63), 1935
  • Alfredo Casella

    • concerto a-minor (op. 48), 1928
  • Igor Stravinsky

    • concerto in D, 1931
  • Alban Berg

    • concerto Dem Andenken eines Engels, 1935
  • Samuel Barber

    • concerto (op.14), 1939
  • Benjamin Britten

    • concerto, 1939
  • Dmitri Shostakovich

    • concerto (op.99), 1948
  • Leonard Bernstein

    • serenade for violin, strings and percussion, 1954
  • Thomas Christian David

    • concerto in D, 1962
  • Alfred Schnittke

    • 1st concerto (1957), 2nd concerto (1966), 3rd concerto (1978), 4th concerto (1984)
  • Witold LutosĹ‚awski

    • Chain no.2 for violin and orchestra, 1985
  • György Ligeti

    • violin concerto, 1990/1992

String orchestra

  • Antonio Vivaldi

    • concertos, Le quattro stagioni (The four Seasons) (op.8)
  • Johann Sebastian Bach

    • suites for strings
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    • Eine kleine Nachtmusik for strings
  • Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky

    • string serenade
  • Samuel Barber

    • Adagio for strings
  • BĂ©la BartĂłk

    • Divertimento for string orchestra (Sz 113 / BB 118), 1940
    • Music for stringed instruments, percussion, and celesta (Sz 106 / BB 114), 1937
  • Witold LutosĹ‚awski

    • Musique funèbre (funeral music for BartĂłk) for strings, 1958
  • Alfred Schnittke

    • Concerto grosso no.1, 1977
  • György Ligeti

    • Ramifications for 2 string orchestras