Since someone said we needed new blog posts, here are answers to all the questions I could think of that people have asked over the years:
What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?
They are the same instrument! Whether you call it a fiddle or a violin usually depends on where you come from and/or what kind of music you play.
What is that stick thing called?
That is a bow. The stick part is made from either wood or fiberglass. The part of the bow that you hold is called the frog – I have no idea why it is called the frog, but I’ve never heard it called anything else.The white stuff strung from end to end is horse hair, and you should avoid touching it at all costs – the oils from your skin make it get all grimy and then it’s no good for playing.
What happens if the horse hair breaks?
Every once in a while a hair will break. When this happens, you just rip the ends out of your bow (gently) and throw it away. Horsehair doesn’t last forever – you have to re-hair your bow periodically.
What’s that stuff you put on your bow? And how often do you put it on?
That stuff is called rosin, and it’s solid tree resin. We put it on our bow hair to help it grip the strings better, thus producing a more solid sound. I rosin my bow every time I use it.
Does it matter which side your violin is on?
The violin is traditionally held on ones left side, and the right arm is your bow arm. There are violinists who play with it reversed, but they are extremely few and far between.
How much do violins cost?
The violin has one of the largest price ranges for an instrument. You can get a crappy violin for the price of a guitar (not dissing guitars, just giving a ballpark figure that people are familiar with). The best violins are worth millions of dollars. Those are usually owned by private collectors, who loan or give them to soloists as gifts.
The worth of a violin is, like any instrument, usually proportional to the playing level of its owner. Once you get to an advanced level it will probably be your most expensive possession. Mine is worth as much as a nice motorcycle, but less than a car. I’ve had it since I was 13 and I’ll probably keep it for the rest of my life. I bought it directly from the maker in Chicago. That’s the one I use for teaching and playing classical music. The violin I play in the band I inherited from my grandpa. It was made in 1933 in Germany. I don’t know how much it’s worth but it’d be a lot less than my good violin.
Does the age of a violin make a difference?
Sometimes older violins have a mellower, more mature sound, but there are lots of young violins that are also very good. A violin’s worth is largely dependant on its sound, and who made it.
How are violins tuned? And what is a violin’s range of notes?
A violin typically has 4 strings that are tuned in perfect 5ths to the notes G D A E (lowest to highest, left to right). There are certain kinds of folk music which require the violin to be tuned differently, but that is the standard western tuning. When tuning a violin, you always tune the A first, and then you tune the other 3 strings to the A.
There are two ways to tune a violin; you can either use the pegs (the black knobs that stick out from the scroll) or by using “fine tuners” down below the bridge. Many advanced violinists don’t have fine tuners, and only use their pegs to tune. The notes on a violin range from G3 (G below middle C) to C8 (the highest note on a piano).
Do they come in different sizes?
Yes. The most common sizes are called ¼, ½, ¾, and 4/4 (full size). (Those terms don’t reflect the actual dimensions, i.e. a ¼ violin is not really ¼ the size of a full size violin). They also come in teeny tiny sizes (1/8, 1/16, 1/32….) for really small children, and custom-made in between sizes (5/6, 7/8) do exist. The sizes aren’t standardized, so they can vary a little from maker to maker.
What’s that wiggly thing you do with your left hand?
That’s called vibrato, and it’s similar to the vibrato in a singer’s voice – variations in vibrato width and speed can distinguish your sound from others’.
Why don’t you have frets? How do you know where to put your fingers?
Because violin strings are strung so tightly, the notes are very close together; the space your finger needs to touch the string for a note to be perfectly in tune is as big as the tip of a ball point pen, so you have to be much more precise than on a guitar. When you’re a beginner, you’ll usually have stickers or colored tapes on your violin to show you where to put your fingers. The tapes might seem like frets, but they function differently; you put your fingers directly on the tapes, not in between them. As you get more advanced, you will (hopefully) acquire an ear for intonation and muscle memory in your left hand, and eventually won’t need tapes anymore. I started playing without tapes when I was 8.
I read on a bulletin board somewhere online that fretted violins do exist. I have never seen one before and I don‘t really see the point in the idea.
Can you put a capo on a violin?
How long does it take to learn to play?
As with any instrument, this depends on the natural musical abilities of the learner, how much time you dedicate to practicing, and the style you are learning. If you’re learning classical violin, it is VERY slow in the beginning – you can spend months learning how to hold your instrument correctly and it requires a lot of patience. That’s the beauty of teaching stringed instruments to small children. They don’t complain when you make them do something 20 times in a row.
Can you play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”?
Can you sing and play at the same time?
Not very well.
What do you call it when you pluck the strings with your finger?
Do your hands ever get tired or cramp up? What about your arms?
I don’t really have a problem with it, but it does happen occasionally if I play a lot in one day. I am very lucky in that I’ve never had any violin injuries, but a lot of people get them. My right arm has always been a little stronger than my left, because it moves so much more when playing.
My arms only get tired when I play on the G (the lowest string) a lot.
Do you get calluses?
I don’t have any, but some string players do. A lot of violin and viola players get a “violin hickey” on the left side of their necks. By some miracle I don’t have one.
What’s your favorite kind of music to play?
I have always really enjoyed playing chamber music, music written for a small group (trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, septet (very rare), or octet) to be played in an intimate setting. Everyone has different parts which fit together like a puzzle, and you have to be very alert and make a lot of eye contact for it to fit together well. I enjoy playing in orchestras when I’m either playing really fun music or playing with good people. I like playing musicals, even when the quality of what’s happening on stage isn’t that good (*cough* community theater). Playing solo is my least favorite, but I’m ok with it if I’ve got good piecse. Chamber music is probably my favorite of all, and I think I play better as part of a team than as a soloist.
Please ask anything else you would like to know.