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The violin is a bowed stringed musical instrument that has four strings tuned a perfect fifth apart, the lowest being the G just below middle C. It is the smallest and highest-tuned member of the violin family of string instruments, which also includes the viola and cello. Music written for the violin almost always uses the G clef (treble clef). (A related bowed string instrument, the double bass, technically belongs to the similar but distinct viol family.)
A colloquial name for the violin is the fiddle, and a violin is typically called a fiddle when used to play traditional music (see below). Cross-tunings, or scordatura, are more commonly found in some varieties of traditional fiddling.
A person who plays violin is called a violinist or fiddler, and a person who makes or repairs them is called a luthier, or simply a violinmaker.
Playing the violin
The violin is usually held under the chin and supported by the left shoulder, often assisted by a shoulder rest. The strings may be sounded either by plucking them "(pizzicato)" or by drawing the hair of the bow "(arco)" across them. The left hand regulates the sounding length of the string by stopping it against the fingerboard with the fingertips, producing different pitches.
Making and maintenance
The traditional approach starts with a set of plans, which include a drawing of the outer shape of the instrument. The outer contour is designed by the violin maker, and today the outlines of the old masters' violins are usually used. From these plans a template is constructed, which can be made from thin metal or other materials, and is a flat "half-violin" shape. The template is used to construct a mould, which is a thick violin-shaped piece of wood with notches to hold the blocks temporarily glued in place.
The ribs, flat pieces of wood curved by means of careful heating, are built around the mould, being glued to the blocks. The front and back are carved sections which fit the garland of ribs after it is separated from the mould. When the body is complete, the neck, carved out of a separate piece of wood (usually maple), is set in its mortise to complete the basic structure of the instrument, after which it is varnished.
Vital to the sound and playability of the instrument is "setup," which includes adjusting the neck angle if needed, fitting the pegs so they turn smoothly and hold firmly, dressing the fingerboard to the proper scooped shape, fitting the soundpost and bridge, adjusting the tailgut and installing the tailpiece, and stringing up. A chinrest may be put on at this time.
Then the instrument begins the "playing-in" process, as its parts adjust to the string tension. The sound of a violin may be said to "open up" in the first weeks and months of use, a process which continues more gradually over the years.
A violin requires care and maintenance to preserve its playing qualities. Some of this care is simply common sense, like keeping the instrument clean. While some maintenance procedures can be done by the owner, others are best left to a qualified repair person.
Violinists often wipe the top and fingerboard with a soft cloth to remove accumulated rosin dust. If left for long enough, the rosin will fuse with the varnish. The bow stick is also wiped off for the same reason. A careful violin owner does this cleaning every time the instrument is played.
Cleaning the rosin off strings can also make a striking difference to the sound, and is also done regularly. A common wine cork serves admirably, quietly scrubbing off the crust of rosin without damaging the winding of the string. A cloth with a little rubbing alcohol is also effective, though care must be taken not to get any on the top. (The alcohol can soften and mar the the instrument's finish if it is done with spirit varnish).
The violin can be occasionally checked by a technician, who will know if repairs need to be made. The tuning pegs may occasionally be treated with "peg dope" when they either slip too freely, causing the string to go flat or slack, or when they stick, making tuning difficult.
For the bow, care consists of regular cleaning of the stick with a cloth. Bow hairs sometimes break when the instrument is played; this is perfectly normal. However, if it seems there are more bits of broken hair at the end of the bow than can be accounted for, the bow might have "bow bugs." They are eliminated by vacuuming both the bow and its case. When so many hairs have been lost that the bow no longer plays well, the bow is "rehaired", and the old horsehair replaced with new hair. When the bow is not being used, the hair is loosened in order to prevent the bow from becoming "sprung" and the hair stretched.
Some folk players do not clean rosin from the body of their instrument, believing that an accumulation over time improves the tone of their instrument. Others playing in the same traditions do keep theirs cleaned. The practice of allowing the rosin to accumulate may have originated in times and places when rosin was hard to obtain. The bow could be recharged by passing it over the collected rosin on the fiddle's belly.
The violin first emerged in northern Italy in the early 16th century. Most likely the first makers of violins borrowed from three different types of current instruments: the rebec, in use since the 10th century (itself derived from the Arab "rebab"), the Renaissance fiddle, and the "lira da braccio". The earliest explicit description of the instrument, including its tuning, was in the "Epitome musical" by Jambe de Fer, published in Lyons in 1556. By this time the violin had already begun to spread throughout Europe.
It is said that the first real violin was built by Andrea Amati in the first half of the 16th century by order of the Medici family, who had asked for an instrument that could be used by street-musicians, but with the quality of a lute, which was a very popular instrument among the noble in that time. Needless to say, the violin immediately became very popular, both among street-musicians and the nobility, illustrated by the fact that the French king Charles IX ordered Amati to build a whole orchestra in the second half of the 16th century.
The oldest surviving violin, dated inside, is the "Charles IX" by Andrea Amati, made in Cremona in 1564. "The Messiah" or ""Le Messie"" (also known as the 'Salabue') made by Antonio Stradivari in 1716 remains pristine, never having been used. It is now located in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford.
It is still believed, perhaps erroneously, that at the beginning of the 18th century, the violin was built in a way that can be expressed as "perfect." It is commonly asserted that "Never since that time has a major improvement been made to the instrument", but changes "have" occurred, particularly to do with the length and angle of the neck, as well as a heavier bass bar. The majority of old instruments have undergone these modifications, and hence are in a significantly different state than when they left the hands of their makers, doubtless with differences in sound and response.
Nevertheless, instruments of approximately 300 years of age, especially those made by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, are the most sought after instruments (for both collectors and performers). In addition to the skill and reputation of the maker, an instrument's age can also influence both price and quality.
Since the Baroque era the violin has been one of the most important of all instruments in classical music, for several reasons. The tone of the violin stands out above other instruments, making it appropriate for playing a melody line. In the hands of a good player, the violin is extremely agile, and can execute rapid and difficult sequences of notes.
The violin is also considered a very expressive instrument, which is often felt to approximate the human voice. This may be due to the possibility of vibrato and of slight expressive adjustments in pitch and timbre. Many leading composers have contributed to the violin concerto and violin sonata repertories.
Violins make up a large part of an orchestra, and are usually divided into two sections, known as the first and second violins. Composers often assign the melody to the first violins, while second violins play harmony, accompaniment patterns or the melody an octave lower than the first violins. A string quartet similarly has parts for first and second violins, as well as a viola part, and a bass instrument, such as the cello or, rarely, the bass.
The violin is used as a solo instrument in jazz, though it is a relative rarity in this genre; compared to other instruments, like saxophone, trumpet, piano and guitar, the violin appears fairly infrequently. It is, however, very well suited to jazz playing, and many players have exploited its qualities well.
The earliest references to jazz performance using the violin as a solo instrument are documented during the first decades of the 20th century. The first great jazz violinist was Joe Venuti who is best known for his work with guitarist Eddie Lang during the 1920s. Since that time there have been many superb improvising violinists including Stéphane Grappelli, Stuff Smith, Ray Perry, Ray Nance, Claude "Fiddler" Williams, Leroy Jenkins, Billy Bang, Mat Maneri, Malcolm Goldstein. Other notable jazz violinists are Regina Carter and Jean-Luc Ponty.
Violins also appear in ensembles supplying orchestral backgrounds to many jazz recordings.
While the violin has had very little usage in rock music compared to its brethren the guitar and bass guitar, it is increasingly being absorbed into mainstream pop wiith artists like Vanessa Mae, Bond, Linda Brava, Miri Ben-Ari, Nigel Kennedy, Yellowcard, Dave Matthews Band with Boyd Tinsley, Arcade Fire, Jean-Luc Ponty and Camper Van Beethoven also independent artists such as Final Fantasy and Andrew Bird have recently increased interest in the instrument.
The hugely popular Motown recordings of the 60's and 70's relied heavily on strings as part of the trademark texture. Earlier genres of pop music, at least those separate from the Rock 'n' Roll movement, tended to make use of fairly traditional Orchestras, sometimes large ones; examples include the American "Crooners" such as Bing Crosby.
Up to the 1970s, most types of popular music used bowed strings, but the rise of electronically created music in the 1980s saw a decline in their use, as synthesized string sections took their place. Since the end of the 20th century, strings have began making a comeback in pop music.
Indian and Arabic pop music is filled with the sound of violins, both soloists and ensembles.
Indian Classical Music
The violin is a very important part of South Indian Classical Music(Carnatic Music). The violin is primarily used as a support for the main vocalist as the sound generated by a violin matches that of the vocalist best and adds to the quality of the music. It is also used in solo concerts where the violinist is accompanied by percussion instruments, usually the Mridangam and the Ghatam.
The violin has also been a principal instrument used in South Indian Film music. Ilayaraja and A. R. Rahman have used the violin very effectively.
Folk music and fiddling
Like many other instruments of classical music, the violin descends from remote ancestors that were used for folk music. Following a stage of intensive development in the late Renaissance, largely in Italy, the violin had improved (in volume, tone, and agility), to the point that it not only became a very important instrument in art music, but proved highly appealing to folk musicians as well, ultimately spreading very widely, sometimes displacing earlier bowed instruments. Ethnomusicologists have observed its widespread use in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
In many traditions of folk music, the tunes are not written but are memorized by successive generations of musicians and passed on in both informal and formal contexts.
When played as a folk instrument, the violin is ordinarily referred to in English as a fiddle.
One very slight difference between "fiddles" and ordinary violins may be seen in American (e.g., bluegrass and old-time music) fiddling: in these styles, the top of the bridge may be cut so that it is very slightly less curved. This reduces the range of right-arm motion required for the rapid string-crossings found in some styles, and is said to make it easier to play double stops, or to make triple stops possible, allowing one to play chords.
Various clichés describe the difference: "The violin sings, the fiddle dances." or "A fiddle is a violin with attitude." In reality, there is usually only one fiddle playing in any given venue. Twin fiddling is represented in some North American and Scandinavian styles, but it is said that two traditional Irish fiddlers in the same room makes about as much sense as having two storytellers going at the same time. By contrast, violins often play in sections, since sound reinforcement (before electronic amplification) was only possible by adding instruments.
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