How does a violin work? The brilliant Violinist Jamie Hutchinson will tell you all about it.
Jamie covers all the basic mechanics of the Violin, including:
- What strings are made of (and what they used to be made of…)
- How to pluck strings
- How to use a bow
- How the strings vibrate to make the sound
- How wood can change the sound quality
Jamie shows how a violin works by demonstrating on her 300-year-old Italian violin.
So How Does a Violin Work?
A violin produces sound by the vibration of the strings. Violinists need two techniques using the player’s two hands to make a sound:
- The left hand is used for producing specific pitches by pressing down the strings at different points along the fingerboard.
- The right hand is used to vibrate the strings by either plucking them (known as pizzicato) or by bowing them (known as arco).
- The bow is made from horsehair and has a wooden back to keep the hair tight in place.
- The player tucks the instrument between their chin and shoulder. Use your right hand to bow or pluck, and the left hand on the fingerboard.
- When you bow or pluck a string, it makes that string vibrate very fast in a circular motion (look at our video to see slow-motion footage of the string).
How sound is produced through vibration
The vibration from the strings is transferred to the hollow body of the violin through the Bridge. The Bridge is a piece of maple wood that balances underneath the strings and transmits vibrations from the strings into the body of the instrument to create sound. The Bridge of the violin is held in place by tension. The force that the strings exert on the Bridge is equal to about 90 pounds (40Kg).
Scroll and Tuning Pegs | The neck of the violin is carved out from a single piece of wood. At the end, the wood curves around – we call this the scroll. The strings are attached to the tuning pegs, which are inserted into the scroll incredibly tightly, and held in place only by friction.
Nut | A small piece of wood between the pegbox and fingerboard. It has four notches, one for each string to emerge over the fingerboard.
Fingerboard | The surface where the fingers press down on the strings.
Ribs | The thin strips of wood that wind around the sides of the violin, connecting the top and the back to form the soundbox of the violin.
Strings | The length of the string affects the frequency. The violin has four strings; E, A, D and G. They are made from steel, although in the ‘old days’, they were made from dried out sheep intestine! Yuk!
Purfling | A thin strip of three-ply wood in a channel around the edge of the violin, protecting the instrument from damage.
F-holes | The two holes from which sound emerges are called the F-holes. They are shaped like curved f’s.
Fine tuners | Small tuners located on the tailpiece. They tune the violin but in smaller increments than the pegs do. Smaller violins have fine tuners for all strings, but full-size violins tend to have them only for the E string.
Chin rest | A shaped piece of wood or plastic on which you rest your chin and jawbone. It’s attached near the tailpiece.
Bass bar | The bass bar is a part that runs the length of the body, from the bass side of the Bridge to the neck. The bass bar allows the energy from the Bridge to transfer to a large area of the top plate.
Other parts of the violin
A violin bow is a wooden stick that is strung with horsehair. There are five parts of the bow that a string player needs to know:
- The bow stick | The wooden backbone that runs down the length of the entire bow.
- The bow hair | Horsehair string parallel to the bow stick; creates the vibration against the string.
- The tip | The uppermost portion of the bow.
- The frog | A small piece of wood attached to the handle of the bow; this is the other place where the hair is attached to the actual wood of the bow.
- The grip | A rubber and metal part near the base of the bow stick.
P.S. Did you know that there is a special effect called 'col legno'.
This is where the violin music tells the player to use the wood of the bow, rather than the hair, across the string!
You can never say the violin family is boring!
The violin is an incredibly complex instrument that is massively versatile. Understanding how the instrument works and what the individual components are will help you become a better violinist overtime…
Let us know in the comments below if you liked the video.