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A brief History of the Violin

Learning how to play the violin can be a very rewarding experience from the fledgling musician to the seasoned professional. When considering picking this instrument, first examine the history of the violin.


The history of the violin starts in northern Italy in the early 16th century, from a stringed bowed instrument design that had developed during the 9th century. Instruments in the same family of the violin include the cello and viola. The widely accepted design of the violin was and still is with four strings. Although 5 and even 6 string violins are available

Early Makers

Violins were first made by hand, by craftsmen called luthiers. The oldest confirmed surviving violin made with four strings, was constructed in 1564 by Andrea Amati, the ”Charles IX”. Other violin-like instruments created in that time had more strings or structural differences in the design. Through the history of the violin, one of the most famous violins is called ”The Messiah” crafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1716. It rests in near pristine condition at the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford. In addition to the violins made by Stradivari and the Amati family, other important early makers include the Guarneri family and Jacob Stainer.

Modern Violins

Contemporary violins are often made to look like the older instruments but there are some differences, many that affect how the instrument sounds and responds to the musician (in good and bad ways). In the history of the violin, early violins had strings made of gut while modern strings are typically made of steel or other metals. Most contemporary violins are mass-produced, called trade violins.
While your first thought may be ”Wow, I want to get one of the older master violins to learn on so I can create the right sound”  the cost of obtaining one of the older instruments is often prohibitive. (Lady Blunt 11,5m€) Many antique instruments are available, and with a good set-up, can produce excellent sound.


Over the years through the history of the violin, music has been written specifically for it or to feature it with an ensemble. Those pieces showcase the expressiveness of violin, the musicality, and the beauty of the sound.
Such examples are:

•         Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons
•         Haydn’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in C Major
•         Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64
•         Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1

For those that want to hear more contemporary examples:
•         Berg’s Violin Concerto
•         Schoenberg’s Concerto for Violin & Orchestra
•         Ure’s The Garden Tower
•         Corigliano’s Red Violin Caprices

Playing the Violin

Throughout the history of the violin, how it is played has not changed significantly, even if the structure has been modified. The violin strings are tuned in fifths and is played under the jaw. The left hand is in charge of pitch while the right side responsible for tone quality and the bow. The violin is fret-less so you learn over time where to place your left-hand fingers on the strings to obtain the proper sound. Your right hand uses many different methods with the bow to create music and emphasis.
Learning to play the violin can be a very rewarding experience, no matter if you are a fledgling musician learning your first instrument or a seasoned artist looking to pick up a new instrument.


photo credit: Emily’s mind via photopin cc

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