Violin For Dummies
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More than 70 parts go into making a complete violin. This hourglass-shaped string instrument consists of several basic parts, including the 21 important elements explained here.

  • Back: One of the most important parts of the violin, for both aesthetic and acoustic properties. The back of the violin can be made of one or two pieces, and it’s arched for strength and tone power.

  • Bass bar: A slim strip of wood glued under the table of the violin on the side of, and running more or less parallel to, the lower strings. The bass bar reinforces the strength of the violin’s top and enriches the tone of the lower notes.

  • Body: The sounding box of the violin has evolved to produce the best sound and use the most convenient playing shape. The “waist” of the violin is actually a necessary indentation, so that the bow can move freely across the strings without bumping into the body.

  • Bridge: The only piece of unvarnished wood on the violin, it sits on top, about halfway down the body, placed exactly between the little crossbars of the violin’s f-holes. The strings run over the top of the bridge, which transfers their vibrations to the main body of the violin for amplification. The bridge is slightly rounded to match the shape of the fingerboard and to enable the player to bow on one string at a time.

  • Chinrest: The spot on which your jaw rests when you’re playing (come to think of it, it should be called a “jaw rest”). Chinrests are usually made of ebony that has been carved into a cupped shape to fit the left side of your jaw. Your chinrest is attached just to the left of the tailpiece by a special metal bracket. You can choose from a variety of models to fit your chin shape and neck length most comfortably.

  • End button: A small circular knob made of ebony, to which the tailpiece is attached by a loop.

  • F-holes: The openings on either side of the bridge. They’re called f-holes because they’re shaped like the italic letter f.

  • Fine tuners: Small metal screws fitted into the tailpiece and used for minor tuning adjustments.

  • Fingerboard: A slightly curved, smooth piece of ebony that’s glued on top of the neck of the violin, under most of the length of the strings.

  • Neck: The long piece of wood to which the fingerboard is glued. The neck connects the body of the violin to the pegbox and scroll.

  • Nut: A raised ridge at the pegbox end of the fingerboard that stops the strings from vibrating beyond that point.

  • Pegbox: The rectangular part of the scroll immediately adjoining the nut end of the fingerboard, before all the fancy carving begins, where each of the four pegs fits snugly sideways into its individual hole.

  • Pegs: Four pieces of wood, usually ebony, shaped for ease of turning and fitted into round holes in the pegbox. The player turns the peg to tighten or loosen each string when tuning the violin.

  • Purfling: An inlay running around the edge of the top and back of the violin’s body. The purfling is both decorative and functional because it protects the main body of the violin from cracks that can occur through accidental bumps. Of all the parts of the violin, “purfling” is the most fun to say.

  • Ribs: The sides of the violin. The luthier (a fancy word for violin maker) bends the wood, curving it to fit the outline of the top and back of each instrument.

  • Saddle: An ebony ridge over which the tailpiece loop passes. The saddle protects the body of the violin from becoming damaged and prevents rattling sounds, which would occur if the tailpiece was to contact the top of the violin when it’s vibrating with sound.

  • Scroll: Named after the rolled-up paper scrolls that were sent instead of envelopes in the old days, the scroll forms the very end of the pegbox. Carving a scroll requires artistic vision and great expertise, so creative violin makers see the scroll as an opportunity to display their best work. Occasionally, you meet a violin with a lion’s head scroll, or some other fanciful shape, the result of a maker’s whimsy.

  • Sound post: Enhances the volume and tone of the violin by transferring the sound vibrations to the back of the instrument after the bow makes a string sound near the bridge. If you peek into the f-hole near the E string (your thinnest string), you see a small round column of unvarnished wood, about the circumference of a pencil, which fits vertically from the top to the back of the violin.

  • Strings: The four metal-wrapped wires (often made with silver or aluminum ribbon spiraling smoothly around a gut or synthetic core material) that you bow on (or pluck) to produce the notes of the violin.

  • Tailpiece: A flared-shaped piece of wood into which the top end of each string is attached. The tailpiece itself is attached to the end button by a gut or synthetic loop.

  • Top (or Table): The “face” of the violin. The top is very important to the character and quality of the violin’s sound as well as to its general appearance.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Katharine Rapoport is an accomplished violinist and violist who taught violin, viola, and chamber music at the University of Toronto for over 25 years. In addition to authoring teaching manuals and syllabi—as well as articles for Strad Magazine —she has performed live in Canada, the USA, and across Europe.

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