As a professional violininist in Boston with a passion for teaching, I felt that it would be appropriate to write a blog post about what I know best – how to play the violin!
This article comes with a disclaimer. To play the violin properly, it is not enough to just read about it. You will need to hire a local qualified violin teacher and meet him or her weekly for lessons. Daily practice is also necessary in order to make real progress. My purpose in writing this article is to set you on the right path so that you have a general working idea of the instrument when you first pick it up!
So let’s begin…
The first thing we’ll have to cover is terminology; that is, parts of the violin and bow. Please refer to the photo below:
The violin above is on its back. From the very top going down, we start with the scroll. It looks a bit like a scroll of parchment.
The four black pieces of wood that stick out of the top of the violin are called pegs. These pegs hold the strings, which are wound in a very special way (At the beginning, ask your teacher to do this so you don’t accidentally break a string!). These pegs are housed in a rectangular area called the peg-box.
This brings us to the topic of strings. Going from left to right, the names of the four strings are as follows:
G D A E. The best way to memorize the names is with a cute mnemonic that goes like this: “Greedy Dogs Always Eat.
If you look immediately below the peg box, you’ll find a tiny little raised horizontal bar. You can see it if you squint. This is called the nut.
Below the nut, we have an entire black part that looks like a miniature diving board. This is called the fingerboard. To the right and left of the fingerboard, we have what look like shoulders of the violin. These are called bouts.
Below the fingerboard, you’ll find stylized holes called f-holes. This is where the sound comes out of the instrument. Incidentally, if you look inside the violin, you might see a thin column of wood standing up straight. This called the sound post. The sound post is the “soul” of the instrument. If it falls from its position or gets moved, the violin won’t sound right.
To the right and left of the f-holes, we have ribs. These are the inward curves on the side of the instrument.
You might notice that there is something holding up the strings right in the middle of the f-holes. This is called the bridge. The height of the bridge causes the strings to exert an enormous amount of tension on the instrument.
At the bottom of the instrument, the strings are attached to another black part called the tail-piece. This tail-piece has 4 screws that are really called fine-tuners. Turning those fine-tuners, you can change the pitch (that is, sound) of the strings. At the beginning, your teacher will do this for you. More advaned students often only have one fine tuner on the E string and they tune the instrument by turning the pegs. Since the E string is so thin, many performers worry that turning the E peg excessively could break it. This is why even the most advanced violinists almost always tune it with a fine-tuner.
At the very bottom and left-of-center, we find the chin-rest. The chin-rest is a misnomer. The most common error and misconception among beginners is that one’s chin goes on the chin-rest. While this CAN be the case, it is often not. Rather, most of the time, the player’s jaw makes contact with the chin-rest (why not call it a jaw-rest?!). Comfort is one of the most important elements in playing and it is of utmost importance that your teacher helps you to find the right chin-rest for your unique jaw shape.
While not yet covered in this article, it is also imperative that your teacher also fit you for the right shoulder rest. A shoulder rest is a separate piece of equipment that goes between the violin and your collarbone. It is not the same as the chin rest. Please know that not all teachers are experienced in fitting students. You might wish to ask the store to fit you as soon as you purchase the instrument. In any case, it will save you a trip later if your teacher does not like the chin rest or shoulder rest that is included with the violin.
In the next blog post….Parts of the bow. Stay tuned!
Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.