View Full Version : Tell me all you know about violins.

12-01-2008, 06:59 PM
What woods they're made of, what kind of violin a middle-class family would own, how high school bands work, what a "first violinst" does, the best schools for talented violin players, how much strings cost to replace if they break... ANYTHING would be great, even the tiniest detail. Thanks!

12-01-2008, 07:03 PM
I'll chime in on what I know because my daughter played.

Violins are not used in bands, but orchestras. We bought her one of the least expensive available at around $600. There was an option to rent-to-own, which we took advantage of to make paying for it easier. In high schools, your student would take orchestra daily (or every other day if they're on block scheduling). She never broke a string - can't answer that. You could google the wood question. Bows are made of horse hair and need rosen. Violins come in different sizes. Hers is a 3/4 size, not full. And she's left handed but all violinists play right handed.

Not much, but a little something for you. I'll add if I think of something else.

Oh, and as a parent, plan on suffering through a few concerts a year. :D

12-01-2008, 08:16 PM
What woods they're made of, what kind of violin a middle-class family would own, how high school bands work, what a "first violinst" does, the best schools for talented violin players, how much strings cost to replace if they break... ANYTHING would be great, even the tiniest detail. Thanks!

My violin is made of maple and spruce. A middle class family would probably do as vixey mentioned and rent-to-own. I can't remember what kind I had in high school, but I still have it. I'll check and see what it is for you as soon as I can get it from storage.

Again, as vixey said, in high school a violinist would be in orchestra, not band (at least that's the way it was done in southern Ohio school districts). We had class every day. As far as the best schools, I'd think any performing arts high school would have violin classes.

Violinists in the first section ("first violins") play the generally more complicated melody section of a composition, while second violins play the harmony section. The first chair, first violin is the person who sits at the front of the first violin section, on the outside right chair (the second chair sits to the first chair's left). They're sometimes called the concertmaster.

Violin strings are pretty resilient. They're difficult to break unless they're old, or you overtune them until they pop. I used Dominant brand strings in high school. They're widely available and common. I'm not sure how much they go for now, but you could probably find that out by googling.

12-01-2008, 08:20 PM
In the hands of a dozen five-year olds, they are instruments of torture and should be banned under the Geneva Convention.

12-01-2008, 08:28 PM
Another thought...

For students who want to excel, they may take private lessons. The Suzuki method is the most popular teaching tool in string instruments. Again, if you're interested in that info, google is your friend.

A. Hamilton
12-01-2008, 09:10 PM
to add to the 'chair' info: like stated, the string section is divided into first and second violins (as well as violas, cellos and stand up bass). first violins play mostly melody and seconds the harmonies. in these sections are 'chairs' and first chair in either section is considered a section leader.(other instrument sections also have this) it is common for the first chair to lead their section during practice exercises. first chair first violin is also often known as Concert Master or Mistress and takes on conducting responsibilities when the conductor is unavailable. (sometimes a Concert Master may be chosen from a different instrument section, but First Violin is most common). first chairs are usually the most talented but also must show leadership abilities, so sometimes that ability is the tie breaker when their are two musicians with similar talent.
a soloist will perform excerpts during a piece and will stand up during the performance.
In addition to orchestra performances, a violinist is offered other opportunities for play, including smaller ensembles like quartets and individual performances during special events performed in front of a panel of judges. they receive colored ribbons according to their performance.

the most famous and prestigious performing arts school in the United States is Juilliard and the requirements for acceptance there are quite rigorous.

12-01-2008, 09:14 PM
I played violin and am teaching my daughter violin, so here's so more info for you:

I would say a middle-class family would actually purchase a violin assuming their child was very interested. A used violin can be purchased for $250-700 and a new one can also be found within that range. There are student-quality violins and professional-quality violins. The professional quality run from anywhere in the high hundreds to more than most people make in a year. Strings are very affordable, in the $3-10 range, depending on brand. They're tough, but an eager student can break one by overtuning. The most likely to break is the E string, the thinnest of the four. Unless the string is decades (maybe centuries?) old or the player is beyond vigorous and is beating up the instrument, it will NOT break during play.

Rosin is hardened sap. It looks like amber and breaks into a white powder. It comes in a little rectangular block (about 1.5" by 3") or a circular block. The hairs of the bow are drawn across the rosin to gain an application of the powder. The powder helps the bow "stick" to the strings as the bow is drawn across them. Most people use the frog of the bow (the little metal piece on the end you hold) to scratch up the block of rosin before using. The bow hairs are tightened by twisting the frog before playing - until they are "taut" but not "tight" and are loosened again before storing. The bow is stored in the top of the violin case, under the lid.

The violin sits under the left side of the chin and the player should be able to hold the violin there without any other help - just by using the chin and shoulder. For many this is difficult due to thinness of violin and length of neck, so there are contraptions called "shoulder rests" available. The shoulder rests are a padded sort of stand that attaches to the underside of the violin and rests on the shoulder. Google it for a picture. Some bypass the shoulder rest and instead use a piece of thick foam under the violin, securing it onto the violin with a rubber band.

The left wrist of the hand holding the violin must always be dropped. It is one of the first and perhaps one of the most difficult things to learn.

There are four strings on the violin - G, D, A and E with G being the lowest and E being the highest. It takes time to learn how to properly tune the strings, so a teacher would likely do it for the first year or so (sometimes more). There are two ways to tune a string. At the tip of the violin are four tuners that look like pegs. They are turned to do "major" tuning. Closer to the bridge (the little wooden piece by where the bow in played) are the fine tuners. They look like little screws and perform a finer pitch tuning.

Posture is very important when playing. The musician sits with a straight back on the edge of the chair. Feet are on the floor, shoulders are back, and the right elbow is high.

A band is wood, brass, wind, percussion instruments. An orchestra is all string instruments. That is the division in school, however, if a band and an orchestra are combined it is called an orchestra. In high school we did occasionally combine.

Sadly, many schools are cutting music budgets and the orchestra tends to be the first to go. In my area of the Puget Sound, WA, we started in 5th grade. Some kids had private lessons, as well. There are two kinds: Suzuki and Classical. Google them for more info. In my opinion, the best education is a blend of the two. It is possible, with small violins, for children as young as 3 to begin learning to play. During a concert, musicians are expected to wear all black or black and white. A first-violin is the most talented member of the orchestra and has auditioned to gain that spot. It can be lost. There is sometimes competition and/or jealousy about who gets chosen ("They weren't THAT good . . ." etc). The first violin often gets chances to play solos in orchestral pieces.

As for schools, I would say that violinists tend to go vie for great music schools once they get to looking at college. Julliard, of course, is one of the best. Even so, there are lots of opportunity to be a part of an elite organization in high school. There are audition-only youth orchestras sponsored by major city orchestras, high profile audition-only music camps, festivals, institutes and chamber groups in the U.S. and international. The best players spend their summers at these.

Hope this helps!

12-01-2008, 09:31 PM
Okay, wow, everyone has filled in a lot so I don't have a lot to add. I'm no expert but I started at age 4 on the Suzuki method, so I can tell you how that starts at a young age if you need it.

Someone already said that there are different sizes of violins; most families would rent until the kid reached full size. I always noticed that the cheapest, newest violins had that bright red-orange finish. When it comes to violins, the best ones are those which have already been used for years, because the sound becomes fuller and richer, so it is better and somewhat more expensive to buy an old one, depending on how old it is and what the quality is. And in general the older violins have more of a brown finish. (I don't know if this is the color just fading and getting dull or if they started like this.)

One problem you can often have with a violin is mites getting in and eating the horsehairs on the bow. This can be solved by putting a mothball or two in the case, which smells yucky.

As far as strings go, I think I've probably only broken one e-string before - if you are young/inexperienced it's easy to overtighten it. But you should replace the strings from time to time as they do lose... something. I don't know if it's elasticity or what, but the sound just goes a little off.

Kitty Pryde
12-01-2008, 09:55 PM
All the high schools in my area had two orchestras--one for the freshman and/or not-so-great players, and one for the more advanced/older players. Ditto for the school bands. Sometimes students can rent instruments from the school district. They tend to be more battered and beat up than instruments owned by individuals, obviously, but they get the job done.

At my high school, the band and orchestra shared a room, but there was quite a divide between the two. Before band class, the band kids would walk around, chat, tune up loudly, throw things, and generally misbehave. Before orchestra class, every kid would be sitting in his/her seat, looking solemn, studying the music or tuning up softly. Interactions between the two groups were mostly limited to disdainful glaring.

There is sometimes a divide between the different sections--for example the violins think the cellos are dorks, the cellos think the violins are uptight, everyone thinks the two viola players are weird, and no one respects the bass players cause their parts are the easiest and yet they can't keep up with everyone else. Kids are clique-y!

If a kid is really talented in music, they will probably be involved in a citywide youth orchestra--meaning extra rehearsals after school with the best kids from other schools, and performances with them as well. There are also local competitions for individual kids, and there are regional and national competitions for bands and orchestras. A kid who is good at the violin almost certainly takes private lessons with a local musician--lots of middle class families can fit this into their budgets.

12-01-2008, 11:45 PM
For me in the UK, a violin was given to me and to each of the other violin students by the school to use until we left (this is from the age of 11 until 16). There was no payment involved. When I bought my own, it was 75 for a second-hand one. We had lessons once a week (paid for upfront at the start of term) and we played in the school orchestra once a week after school. I also played in the local regional orchestra in the next town on weekends. There would be performances for the parents around once a term, with what I thought was great music, but looking back was some nice classical pieces followed by some extremely cringe-inducing versions of TV theme tunes and the like. :D

The bridge of the violin can be damaged easily in transit. :( Strings are inexpensive - you can buy either a single string or a set of all four. They come in little paper envelopes. Violin cases are gorgeous. They are lined with velvet or velour, and have a little compartment at one end for the rosin. They smell absolutely amazing.

Barb D
12-02-2008, 03:11 AM
My 15yo plays the viola, which is slightly larger and lower pitched than a violin. The advantage of being a violist is that fewer people play it, so they have more opportunities. She was able to get into the better school orchestra even though she doesn't play as well as some violinists and cellists, simply because they needed more violists.

My 9yo is at this very moment practicing the string bass. Again, bass players are in demand. She'll be able to play in the orchestra and the jazz band when she gets to high school.

I play the cello, and switched to viola in high school because they were so short of violists.

A good place to buy stuff (strings, bows, etc.) is http://southweststrings.com

Deb Kinnard
12-02-2008, 04:19 AM
My now-14 year old has played violin since age 9. We did rent at first, though we owned a violin, since she couldn't handle a full sized instrument. She started on a half-size violin because it and the bow were smaller and easier for her. She then progressed through a 3/4 size. Now she plays my dad's 80+ year old instrument. I'm told that because of its age, and having mellowed a bit, it's one of the best instruments at the junior high school. Dad would laugh if he heard this--he paid $25 for it in the late 1920s.

12-03-2008, 02:43 AM
Do you know the difference between a violin and a viola?

A viola burns longer.

Barb D
12-03-2008, 04:02 AM
Do you know the difference between a violin and a viola?

A viola burns longer.

But violins never solved anything.

Deb Kinnard
12-03-2008, 05:45 AM
I wish to go on record as stating I am against violence in all its forms...oh, NEVER MIND!

12-03-2008, 06:27 AM
what a "first violinst" does, the best schools for talented violin players, ...ANYTHING would be great, even the tiniest detail. Thanks!

One thing the concertmaster does is come out on stage before
the conductor, and tune up the orchestra. Typically the first
oboe plays "A", and everyone else tunes using that pitch
as a standard.

Two good schools in the U.S. are the Eastman school
in Rochester, NY, and the Curtis Institute in Pennsylvania.

Violin students often practice with books of musical exercises,
sometimes called etudes (acute accent over the e).
When I studied violin, I the etude books I used were -
in increasing order of difficulty - Wolfhart, Schradiek,
and Kreutzer.

12-03-2008, 06:47 AM
There are audition-only youth orchestras sponsored by major city orchestras, high profile audition-only music camps, festivals, institutes and chamber groups in the U.S. and international. The best players spend their summers at these.

Three highly-respected summer programs in the U.S.: Aspen, Tanglewood, and Interlochen.

12-03-2008, 11:28 PM
Do you know the difference between a violin and a viola?

For anyone who wants a serious answer, a viola's four strings are C, G, D, and A, putting it five notes lower than a violin. They are also larger. How much larger is variable; full-sized violins are standardized, but violas aren't. I play a fifteen-inch viola, which is almost too big for me but I love the richness that the extra size produces.

Violas are the only modern instrument which uses the alto clef, or C clef. Violin music is always written in treble clef. I think cello music is always written in bass, but a good cellist can shift up really high, so I'm not one hundred percent sure on that.

Let's see, people have already covered a lot of what I was going to say. Several people have mentioned Suzuki training. The most important thing to know about the Suzuki method is that you don't learn to read music right off the bat. Instead, you listen to it---a lot---and learn to reproduce what you hear. So if someone is taking Suzuki lessons they have the CDs (or tapes or whatever) and probably listen to them incessantly.

A violin is actually a fairly uncomfortable instrument to play until you get used to it. It's not a particularly natural position to be in, and as MissKris mentioned, you hold it with your chin.


C.M. Daniels
12-04-2008, 12:32 AM
Violins do best in constant temperatures. I learned the hard way, when the joints on mine cracked from being taken in and out of the bitter cold Montana winters when I was in high school. It had to be re-glued.

12-04-2008, 09:37 PM
On a tangent...

A mandolin is essentially a fretted violin, despite there being twice as many strings and a different scale length (length of the string). The mandolin is tuned to the same notes as a violin, although pairs of strings are doubled up, so you get a tuning the looks like EEAADDGG.

In fact, there are mando-variants of all the common stringed instruments in an orchestra: Mandola, Mandocello, and even the rarely-seen Mandobass.

I played cello years ago in the high school orchestra, and play mandolin (badly) today. The most difficult adjustment was in the right hand, where I moved from bowing techniques to picking techniques.

12-05-2008, 07:49 PM
i have played for years and seen all sort of things happen with them.

what makes a violin play is its glaze. their are two types of glaze, a hard and an oil. oil tends to be more expensive, and has a dull luster. hard looks like the glaze on a car, hard and shiny.

any damage to the glaze will slowly change your sound. one morning i had a guy playing with my case on the bus, and when i got off it opened and spilled my violin on the ground. the glaze cracked on the side and it changed my tone.

another part that helps and gives it sound is the sound post. it is a wooden peg that stands in the middle, right under the bridge. if it falls the violin will only make an airy sound, and will rattle when moved. the strings have to be lossened and the instrument has to be taken to a repair shop to have the peg stood. the position of the peg affects it too.

bell just rang, and i have to go. ill post more latter.

12-05-2008, 10:55 PM
okay, I'm back.

its been a long time since I've been over violin parts, but from the top, it is the scroll, the peg box, the neck and finger board, the body, the ribs, the f holes the bridge, and thats where i forget the parts.

your strings from oh no, this is what i changed, i told you the wrong way, the g is the lowest oh darn, you have probably stopped coming back due to the thoroughness so far lowest to highest are GDAE the voilin has seven postions, and three harmonic points. the half harmonic doubles the pitch of the string it is on. the first and

the harmonics are found at the nodes, or the spots where the string doesn't seem to move while being played. you play the harmonic by just barely touching the node, like trying to touch the hair of your arm without touching your arm.

a slide down the string is called a glisando. a ritardo is a slowing of the music, a acellerando is a speeding up.

and the darned bell just rang.

12-06-2008, 01:55 AM
I started playing the violin when I was eight. It was subsidised by the local council due to doing well in a basic music ability test. Otherwise, I don't think my family could have afforded it. We borrowed a violin till I was using a full sized one (the family happened to own an old one).

The names given to the smaller sizes were quarter, half and three quarters.

I started out plucking the strings and had little stickers under the strings to show where the first three fingers went. I got to choose which colour sticker I wanted for each position.

Bow work came later. An early task was to hold a toilet roll tube under the chin/shoulder, and run the bow back and forth through it (it helps teach the violinist not to waggle the bow either way).

Music reading was taught alongside the violin from day one. Which suited me, because I couldn't follow lettered instructions (e.g., telling me to play A, B, D, G meant nothing).

I had to keep a chart of how often I practised during the week.

Has anyone mentioned resin? You rub it on the horsehair of the bow. Also, you don't leave the bow tightened up all the time. After playing, the horsehair needs to be loosened (there's a knob on the end you turn to do this). The bow warps out of shape if you forget to do this.

And you've got to keep your nails short. If you can cut them below the end of the finger, that's great. Those who chewed their nails were well-suited in the finger department. I couldn't cut my nails that short, so my violin had notches where my nails dug in slightly.

12-06-2008, 01:57 AM
I've avoided hijacking this for days, but I just can't stand it anymore.

Does anyone besides me keep hearing Rosanne Rosanadana here?

12-07-2008, 07:39 AM
It looks like everything has been covered. I thought I'd mention that Curtis (Institute of Music) provides scholarships to everyone they accept, and they accept students regardless of age if they meet the (ultra-high) admissions standards--meaning they have some pretty young students. And it's in Philadelphia.

12-10-2008, 06:22 PM
I've played 'Fiddle' for five years. My violin, that I play jigs and reels and two-steps on, was a starter model from a craftsman who specialized in everything violin, from the little 1/2 size kid's violin to the big bass.

My violin is a full sized one, or a 4/4. I've had strings break just because they were worn out, and a couple of times from intense temperature changes such as when I had to go to lessons when it was -20. It usually costs between $10 and $20 to replace a string when you break it. Violin strings are much more expensive than guitar strings (I can buy a whole set of them for like $6!)

Violins go out of tune very easily if they get cold, and you can't tune them again until they've warmed up or the strings and the bridge can break. By the way, my bridge broke once too.

You can tell if a string is wearing out by examining it and seeing if there are any worn patches on it. If you don't keep your fingernails cut nice a short, you'll wear the strings out faster.

Sometimes you have to get a dry rag and wipe the rosin off the strings because it will start to interfere with the fullness of your sound. This always makes a terrible noise and should not be done near dogs because they hate it!

Actually, dogs just tend to hate the higher strings on a violin period. Especially if you're a newbie and don't play very well.

You don't necessarily have to learn from a fancy school. There's lots of private teachers around, and a lot of them have groups of students who play together at various functions. When I took lessons, my teacher used to take a dozen or so of us to play Old Tyme Music at a dance hall every month.

12-10-2008, 06:35 PM
Google violin wood or violin construction

12-10-2008, 08:13 PM
I've been a musician for 25 years and used to work for a Luthier (violin maker).

Some things you may not know:
Violins come in many sizes: full, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32. Full size violins have a body length of 14". Generally, the top is made of spruce; the ribs, scroll and back of maple. The top is general made of one piece of wood. The back can be one piece or two pieces. One piece backs tend to have a more mellow sound, two piece backs are stronger. The top has the grain running length-wise. The back is generally made from a split piece, allowing the wood to show "flames".

Parts of the violin:
From the top there's the head, which consists of the scroll, pegbox and pegs. Next comes the neck. The fingerboard is attached to the top of the neck. At the end of the fingerboard by the pegbox is the nut, which raises the strings slightly above the fingerboard. Still traveling down the violin, there are the shoulders and waist and hips, also known as the upper, middle and lower bouts (curves). The bridge is held to the top of the violin by the tension of the strings (tension is 32 lbs. for a full size violin). The strinngs then attach to the tailpiece, which attaches to the violin with the sacconi adjuster hooking around the button on the ribs. There's also the chinrest. On the top of the violin there are two f-holes, so called because they are shaped like "fancy f's." Around the edge of the top and back there are two black lines that follow the edge. This is called purfling. Inside the violin is a soundpost. If the violin is dropped, the soundpost may need to be adjusted. The post is not glued in place, it can be moved to change the quality of the tone. There is also a soundboard attached to the inside of the violin top.
There are two types of varnish: spirit and oil. The type of varnish does not change the tone of the instrument, nor does a scratch in it. The varnish is to protect the wood.

The bow:
The bow consists of the stick, which leads to the head (the pointy end of the bow). There is a white tip that is placed at the head, generally made of ivory or plastic, on more expensive bows it can be silver or gold. The other end of the bow has the frog--the squarish black part, made of ebony. In the center of the frog, there is a dot, called the eye. It's made of mother of pearl, as is the slide along the bottom of the frog. There's a silver piece by where the hair attaches to the frog called the farrell. The screw is on the very end. It is used to tighten and loosen the hair. The hair should be loosened every time the bow is not in use. If left tightened it will warp the stick.

Rosin comes in cakes, and should be rubbed on the hair of the bow before each use. After use, the rosin should be wiped off the violin strings, fingerboard and violin top. The bow hair should never be touched, since the oils from skin will prevent the rosin from sticking and will result in the need to rehair the bow (depending on where you have this done, it costs about $40).

For a full-size violin, anything under $1200 would be factory-made (probably starting around $500-anything less than that would be total junk). If it's only going to be used for school orchestra, this is fine. If your character is taking private lessons, I would recommend a factory assembled (assembly line--generally runs $1400-$2000. Price does not include bow or case. Most of these will be made in China and "set-up" when they get where they're going. Most music shops will give these a name that sounds Italian and will not admit that they were made in China). If your character is serious about music, they'll want a hand-made instrument, as the others can be very hard to get decent tone from. A handmade would probably start around $2400--again, bow and case would be sold individually.

Most people use Dominant brand strings. You can get a set for maybe $35-40, depending on where you are. You can also buy them individually. E, would be the cheapest, G the most expensive. Most musicians keep a spare set of strings in their case.

Soulder rests:
Some musicians use shoulder rests to make it more comfortable to hold the violin. This would attach to the back of the violin and would need to be placed each time the violin is used, and removed afterwards.

Violinists get calluses on the four fingers of their left hand. Some also get them on their right thumb and by the middle knuckle on the right pointer finger. Also by the left side of their jaw where they hold the instrument. That one is generally referred to as a "violin hickey."

This may sound strange, but people with certain personalities tend to be drawn to different instruments. Violinists tend to be more dominant personalities. In the extreme, they can be very uptight or "prima donnas." Violists and cellists tend to have more mellow, laid-back personalities.

Orchestras consist of first violins, second violins, violas, cellos and bass. First violins generally play the higher part, seconds play the slightly lower part. Each deck (or stand) has two people, they both read off the same piece of music. If there is a split part, the "outer" chair (closest to the audience) takes the high part. The "inside chair" is responsible for marking the music with fingerings and bowings (they get this from the principal chair--the violinist who leads the group. The first violin principal is also known as the concert master and is responsible for getting the orchestra tuned, etc.). The "inside chair" also turns the pages.
The violinists generally sit on the conductor's left, with the first violins closest to the audience. The violists and cellists are on the conductor's right, with the cellists usually closest to the audience, although this can be swapped, depending on the conductor. The basses stand or sit on stools behind the cellos.

If you need any more information, I'd be happy to help. And if I don't know the answer, I know several luthiers and could get their professional answers for you.
Good luck!

12-10-2008, 08:54 PM
As I've looked back over the other comments, just a quick addition:

The top music schools--Julliard, Curtis, etc. are only for highly advanced students, and, while scholarships are available, they are not cheap. Even if your character is advanced,I would recommend using a private teacher. If your character is very advanced, most of the professors at universities are willing to take on private students, also, symphony members teach, too, but they don't generally work with beginners. Most music stores have lists of music teachers the are willing to refer to, or allow teachers to post fliers on their bulletin boards.

If your character is serious about music, I would recommend lessons rather than just learning through the school. It takes individual attention to learn the proper way to hold the instrument and the technics involved in playing it. In fact, many private teachers will not accept students who have started through public schools because they know they'll spend at least a year trying to correct the problems the students have learned.

Any decent-sized city would have several teachers to choose from, although the best generally have waiting lists, and many also require the student to audition for them. Some teachers only work with adults, some only work with children. A handful will take both.

If you have any questions about how lessons might proceed, feel free to ask. I have over fifteen years experience as a private teacher.

12-13-2008, 04:01 AM
i noticed one thing that has been over looked. i remembered it because my violin just reminded me of it. when tuning a string with the pegs, you have to turn them down a half notch before turning them up. if you don't they pop.