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the treble instrument of the modern four-stringed instruments


History of the Violin

historic violins

Musicians have used many kinds of stringed instruments for thousands of years, but no one knows when they began using bows to make the music rather than plucking the strings. In the 1400's, players started using bows to play instruments of the guitar family. These bowed guitars developed into instruments called viols.

The first violins date from the 1500's, but they were developed from the early bowed instruments rather than from the viols. By the the late 1600's, most musicians favored the violin family, and the viols dropped out of use.

In the 1600's, Antonio Stradivari, a violin-maker in Cremona, Italy, perfected the design of the violin and produced some of the finest instruments ever known. A Frenchman named François Tourte perfected the bow in the late 1700's.

Parts of the Violin

parts of a violin

The violin-maker uses soft pine or spruce for the belly of the violin, and maple or sycamore for the back and the ribs. The scroll and pegbox are made of maple. The shapes of the back and belly are typically carved out of solid pieces of wood.

The two f-holes allow the sound to escape.

The violin has four strings, which are tuned in fifths. The first (E string) is generally made of steel. The second (A) string and the third (D) are often made of plain catgut, a material made from the intestines of sheep, but some players prefer to use A or D strings made of a thinner gut over-wound with fine aluminum wire. The fourth (G) string is generally made of gut covered with silver or copper wire. The strings are attached to pegs set in the head of the violin. The player tightens the strings with these pegs to tune them to the correct notes.

The bridge stands on the belly, midway between the two f-holes. It supports the strings, and is not permanently attached to the belly. A pattern of holes is cut into the bridge to give it greater flexibility. The sound-post, a thin rod of pine, is wedged between the back and the belly underneath the bridge, inside the violin. The sound-post conducts the sound from the front to the back of the violin. It also supports the belly against the pressure of the strings. The bass-bar, a bar of pine that is glued on the underside of the belly, gives further support for the belly.

The bow is a curved, springy stick about 27 inches long that has a flat ribbon of hair attached to it. The ribbon on a traditional violin consists of more than 150 horsehairs attached to the point of the bow and to a sliding wood block called a frog or nut at the other end. By turning a screw set into the end of the bow, the player can move the frog back and forth to tighten the hair against the spring of the bow.


World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, 1979

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The Robinson Library >> Bowed String Instruments

This page was last updated on 10/01/2018.