What is a violin?

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A violin is a four-stringed instrument that is played with a bow. The highest pitched and smallest instrument in its family, the violin has proven versatility in a wide range of musical styles. Musicians have used the violin throughout history, resulting in many styles of play. The fashion in which a violin is played has contributed to its popularity. With no need to remain seated, the violinist is able to move among the observing crowd and become much more interactive with the audience. At the same time, the sweet and subtle sound it is able to create, it’s a favorite among concert halls and orchestras alike.

The History of the Violin

The history of the violin is a storied one. It seems to have roots dating back to the Byzantine Empire where a combination of several other instruments came together to form what we now recognize as the violin. With its deep involvement in our cultural evolution, there have been craftsmen able to create a style of instrument that stands out from others, earning places in museums and private collections. These rare and valuable instruments have also found their place in private collections, often fetching prices over one million dollars.

Parts of a Violin

The construction of a violin is a bit complex. The largest and most eye-catching part of the violin is termed as the body. The body acts to resonate the sound in the relatively small instrument, making the vibrations from the strings, effectively louder. The top of the body is termed as the belly, and the underside is termed as the back. The long slender neck is what connects the strings to the body of the violin.

The violin has four strings, that have varied in composition over time. In the early days of the instrument, they were often composed of gut, but are now commonly made from nylon and sometimes steel.

The violin is accompanied by an accessory called a bow. The bow, made with horsehair, produces the violin’s sound when dragged across its strings. Bow hair is covered in rosin which causes friction between the bow and violin strings.

Playing the Violin

The violin seems to be one of the more difficult instruments to master. Many of spent a lifetime learning and becoming proficient playing it. From a seated or standing position, the violinist puts the violin under their chin, manipulating the strings with one hand, and bringing the bow across in the other. Hand positioning is crucial and one of the most difficult skills to perfect. It’s recommended that starting violinists take on simple music to begin. Once a higher skill level is reached, other techniques can be used such as vibrato, shifting and double stopping, where two notes can be played at once.

Violin Music

The violin has its place in an orchestra and as a solo instrument. The great composers of the 17th and 18th century would often make the violin the center of their work. Many compositions by some very well known composers are made to be played on the violin. Aside from classical music, the violin has earned its place within other genres. In today’s pop culture, we’ve seen a resurgence of southern and country style music where the violin has earned its keep. The violin can make sounds striking the emotions of its listeners. From creating a feeling of loneliness and isolation, to making you want to get out on the dance floor and dance along. The versatility of the violin is matched by few instruments.


The look and sound of a violin is a unique one. Violinists throughout history have taken advantage of the unique properties and made it a mainstay in music throughout time. As a solo instrument or as part of an orchestra, we see very few instruments match its ability to appeal to the masses. It’s an instrument of unending learning. Many have spent a lifetime playing the violin. With the evolution of music, we’ve seen some innovation in style of play and how to make the unique sound even more appealing. I hope that keeps happening. I hope we keep pushing this timeless instrument into sounding different and adapting to new and modern styles of music that arise.

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Bobby is a viola player who currently lives in Seattle. He has been playing viola for over 20 years in various orchestras.


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