Violin For Dummies book cover

Violin For Dummies

By: Katharine Rapoport Published: 10-20-2020

Take a (violin) bow and let your inner musician shine! 

You don’t have to be a genius to start fiddling around! Violin For Dummies helps budding violinists of all ages begin to play. If you’ve never read a note of music, this book will show you how to turn those little black dots into beautiful notes. Start slow as you learn how to hold the instrument, use the bow, finger notes, and play in tune. Watch yourself blossom into a musician with tips on technique and style. When you’re ready to go further, this book will help you find the people and resources that can help you get just a little closer to virtuoso! 

Your own private lessons are right inside this book, with the included online video and audio instruction, plus recordings that will help you develop your “ear.” This book takes the guesswork out of learning an instrument, so you’ll be ready to join the band when the time comes! 

  • Choose a violin and learn the basics of holding the instrument and playing notes 
  • Start reading music with this fast-and-easy introduction to musical notation 
  • Improve your musicianship and start to play in groups 
  • Explore different music styles and legendary violin composers 

The violin is a beautiful thing—adding melody everywhere from orchestras to folk and pop tunes. With Violin For Dummies, you can make the music your own, even if you’re a total music beginner.  

Articles From Violin For Dummies

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44 results
44 results
Violin For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-16-2022

With all of its different parts and its beautiful, delicate-looking body, the violin can feel a bit intimidating at first. This Cheat Sheet helps you get to know your instrument by introducing the most important parts of your violin, provides some easy steps to keep it in tip-top condition, and takes you through the process of taking the violin out of its case for the very first time.

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Protecting Your Violin from Damage

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Violins are made of natural materials that are sensitive to temperature and humidity changes. Follow these tips to help your violin have a long and happy life: Keep your violin at about room temperature. Store the case away from high-traffic areas so that it doesn’t get knocked around. Always close and latch the case when you finish playing, to protect your violin from falls. Keep your violin away from radiators, air ducts, and direct sunlight, and avoid leaving it for long stays (or almost any stays!) in car trunks, especially in very hot or very cold weather. Most important of all, keep your violin in a humidity of 40 to 60 percent whenever possible, and if you’re traveling to a different climate, take care to preserve the humidity in the violin’s case at a similar level.

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Examining the Parts of Your Violin

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

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.

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How to Take Your Violin Out of Its Case

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Taking the violin out of its case (and putting it away again safely) is a skill; mastering the art ensures that your instrument will have a long and happy life. To open the case, follow these steps: Place the violin case on a stable, flat surface, such as a table or a sofa, with the lid facing the ceiling, and then turn the latch-and-handle side to face you. You may have to unzip the case’s cover first, which usually has two zips that pull away to either side of the case’s handle. Pull the zippers all the way around to the back of the case so that the lid is able to open fully. Open the latches first, then release the lock and lift the lid. Because the cases are very snugly built, the top can be a bit sticky to lift, in which case (no pun intended!), you hold firmly on the handle while you lift the lid. After you open the case, lift off the covering blanket (if you have one) and undo the strap or the ribbon that safely holds your violin around its neck in the case, before you lift out the violin. Hold the violin around its neck to lift it from the case — don’t grab the body, because that’s not good for the varnish. It’s a good idea to place the velvet cloth that covers the violin onto the table and next to the case; this way, you can place the instrument on the cloth. Release the bow from the case by turning the toggle from a vertical to a horizontal position, taking the bow by the frog end (the name for the piece of ebony wood below the stick at the right end of the bow) with your right hand, and then sliding it gently to the right until the tip (the pointy end) of the bow is out of its loophole. Never twist the stick while doing this — bows are strong, but they can’t always resist sideways twists.

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Bringing In Your Violin for a Checkup

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The most satisfaction you can have when playing the violin is when you know you’re getting the best-possible sound from your instrument. Now is a great time to take the violin you inherited from Uncle George’s attic to the string shop and make sure of the following elements: The sound post is safely wedged in the proper spot inside the violin. Any open seams on the violin are safely glued. You put on a good set of new strings. The bridge is upright for best contact with the table of the violin. The pegs and fine-tuners are turning as smoothly as possible, for ease of tuning. It makes sense to leave the violin at the shop for a few hours or even overnight so that the new strings have a chance to stretch and settle down (rather like a nice friendly dog) before you take the instrument home. Some good-sounding and reliable brands of strings for your instrument are by Thomastik (Dominant) and D’Addario. Because these particular strings are made to be resistant to temperature changes, they sound warm and clear and remain stable in tune from early on in their visit to your violin whether you live in the cold, dry climate of Winnipeg, Manitoba, or the hot, humid climate of Savannah, Georgia!

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Getting to Know Two Popular Violin Playing Styles: Klezmer and Baroque

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Two violin playing styles to explore are Klezmer and Baroque. The name klezmer is taken from a Yiddish word meaning musician or musical instrument, and most of the klezmer music is intended for dancing. Klezmer music originates from long ago in the Jewish schtetls of Eastern Europe, where musicians played a big part in daily life. It’s not religious music, but it can be very intense and spiritual nevertheless, with the violin often imitating a human voice wailing, laughing, crying, or representing any number of other strong emotions. A typical klezmer group includes the violin at the heart of the group, together with a clarinet, perhaps also a flute, a hammered dulcimer or an accordion, and other instruments. Klezmer music arrived in America around the end of the 19th century, along with the wave of Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe who were seeking political freedom and a viable economy in the U.S. From its Eastern European origins, where you could hear the influence of Russian folk songs and gypsy music, the klezmer musicians soon began incorporating elements from the New World, especially popular American jazz genres, making for an energetic and catchy melange of styles. For a quick, delightful introduction to klezmer sounds, you should listen to the famous and popular musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” There is a big renaissance in Baroque music these days, with scholars researching old texts about playing and original manuscripts of music from around 1700. Orchestras have formed to play this music in a style that is suited to what’s known about those times. You will enjoy listening to Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra or Musica Antiqua Köln to hear the best of these sounds. One of the biggest differences between the instruments of then and now can be seen in the shape of the bow, which was curved into a shape more like a bow-and-arrow kind of bow and was quite a lot shorter than the bows in use today. You can also hear a difference in the musical pitch, which was not standardized until the 19th century, and which generally sounded about a half-step lower than today’s pitches, giving the music a warm and old-world sound. Violinists played on strings made out of sheep’s gut, and they didn’t use a chinrest or shoulder rest, letting the violin sit lightly on their collar bones. Vibrato was used very sparingly, as a special effect, in part due to the fact that it was more labor-intensive to move the left hand without the extra support of chin and shoulder rests.

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Keeping the Beat on the Violin with Different Meters

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Meter is the rhythm and beats of a song, and it’s indicated by the time signature: those numbers written on the music staff at the start of a piece of music. The top number tells you how many beats are in a measure, and the bottom number tells you which kind of note equals a beat. If you can feel the beat, you can get a good grip on the musical flow of a song. Just like humans and animals, music has a pulse. It’s a regular unit of time. One way for you to start feeling the pulse of the music is to just tap your foot or lightly clap your hands with the main beats you hear in a favorite song. Usually the words will give you a clue about the main beats: “GOD save our GRA-cious Queen. . . . .” Don’t worry about being mechanically perfect — even getting an overall sense of the beat is a great start, because this is a skill that definitely becomes more developed and confident the more you clap and tap your way through songs you are listening to and playing. Eventually you’ll be able to pick up on the beat very quickly, so that you can make sense of your music. Following is a listening recommendation for recognizing the pattern of some of the most common meters in violin music. Getting a sense of different meters really helps you to play the violin with the right groove, the confident feeling you get when you know which notes to emphasize and which ones to just bounce on through. 3/4 meter: One of the most famous pieces with 3/4 meter is “The Blue Danube” waltz. You probably also know another example, the British National Anthem, “God Save the Queen.” 4/4 meter: For examples of 4/4 meter, think about marches that you’ve heard, such as the Wedding march by Mendelssohn (“Here Comes the Bride”), or the march from Verdi’s famous opera Aida. 2/4 meter: To hear 2/4 meter, check out the cheerful polka, a dance that originated in Bohemia long ago and which has developed a number of offshoots in American music genres. You may already know the “Pizzicato Polka” by Johann Strauss II, and if not, you can easily find it online.

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Getting an Ear (or Two!) for Harmony on the Violin

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Just as works of art, literature, and architecture have style features that tell us a lot about when and where they were created, so does the harmony we hear in music. People can often tell their Beethoven from their Bartok, but may not know why they sound so different. Here are four main historical styles you’ll want to recognize and a quick primer on how to listen for the tell-tale signs in the sounds: Classical: Although people often refer to “Classical” music as a general term, to contrast it with pop and rock, in fact Classical is a term that musicians use to refer to music composed around 1750–1830. This era is characterized by the development of the sonata and the symphony, and we hear crystal-clear sounds in the harmonies, with easygoing melodies. Pieces and movements are generally short and sweet. The most famous composers of this time are Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and following are some of their best-known pieces: Haydn’s Emperor Quartet with its glorious slow movement incorporating the theme of the anthem he wrote for the Austrian Emperor, Francis II Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony Romantic: This era includes music written between about 1820 and 1900. The music of the Romantic era is characterized by long drawn-out melodies, rich harmonies in a thicker texture, and very expressive and emotional elements often reflecting longing, unrequited love, or fervent patriotism. This is the era of grand opera and massive symphonies! Three of the most famous composers of the time are Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Chopin. You’ll likely recognize these pieces and gain a sense of the style: Verdi’s March from the opera Aida Chopin’s Funeral March for piano Tchaikovsky’s ballet suite, The Nutcracker Impressionist: Although many people consider this style to be just another offshoot of the developments taking place in the early part of the 20th century, it does have some distinct harmonic features that make it unique. All the voices of the music tend to move up or down together at the same time, conveying a sense of emerging from nowhere and then returning to nowhere in a floaty, trancelike way. The most famous composers who wrote in the Impressionst style are Ravel and Debussy. These favorite pieces illustrate the harmonies perfectly: Ravel’s orchestral piece Bolero Debussy’s Clair de lune for piano 20th century: You probably recognize the names of Stravinsky, Bartok, and Shostakovich, but you may not have heard much of their music. While it certainly doesn’t qualify as easy listening, music of the 20th century can be exciting and surprising. Some features of this music are a lot of clashes in the sounds and many extreme contrasts in dynamics. Often there is no sense of the music being in a particular key. Listen to these works to hear some of the new sounds that emerged around 1900 and kept on developing through the century as the world was torn apart by two epic wars and the Russian revolution: Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra Stravinsky’s ballet Petruschka Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7 “Leningrad” To give you an idea of the turbulent times, Shostakovich completed this symphony during the 900-day Nazi siege and bombardment of Leningrad, during which half a million residents died. The symphony received its first performance on March 5, 1942. The microfilmed musical score was then somehow flown out to Tehran and from there travelled to other centers in the West in April 1942. The symphony received its première in Europe with Sir Henry Wood conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in June 1942.

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Tips for Upgrading Your Violin Bow

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

One piece of gear that you can change up with relative ease is your violin bow. Upgrading a bow is much more reasonable in cost than buying a fancier violin, and it can make a significant difference to your sound quality and your playing experience. When you try out a few bows, you immediately realize that there’s a considerable difference between one stick and another in terms of weight, balance, and the feel of the frog in your hand. Human hands are so sensitive that they can notice even a subtle difference in the diameter of the stick or the shape of the frog. And your ears and hands have preferences! Ask the assistant in the violin store to play the different bows for you on your own violin so you can hear the interaction as you sit at the other end of the room. There’s no science (yet!) to matching a violin and bow for best sound, but luckily you have lots of choice and can find the best combination — if you’re prepared to keep an open mind and some alert ears. Here’s some advice for trying out bows: Make sure the bows you’re trying have a full, evenly distributed ribbon of horsehair running all the way across the frog and that they have enough rosin on to draw a clear sound from your violin. Try several bows in your price range by playing long, smooth strokes on each string of your violin. And if you don't like the sound of a particular bow, set it aside and try another. After you’ve narrowed down your choices based on sound to three or four favorite bows, move on to the second round of trying them, again taking some long calm strokes on each bow, to have a closer look and listen. If the bow has any weak or wobbly spots in the stick, or some unevenness, you’ll often find that you can feel this problem at the same spot on each stroke, and you should put the bow aside. Try some strong martele strokes and then some off-the-string strokes; you may have to search a bit for the spot, usually just below the midpoint of the stick, where the bow bounces best — the exact spot varies from bow to bow. Does the weight of the bow feel right to you? Don't worry too much about the bow’s numerical weight in grams, because balance can greatly affect the overall feel of each bow. When you’ve found a couple of bows that seem to work for you, it’s then important to play them at home, show them to your teacher, and try them when playing with friends. Give yourself time to get used to a bow and to learn what it can and can't do. Most stores will let you take a couple of selected bows home for a week on approval before you choose The One! There’s not a definitive ideal bow type or make that suits every player and every instrument. A bow that makes one violin sing with a beautiful full sound, for example, may sound very dull on another. Likewise, a bow that is supple and light may be perfect for some players but probably won’t work for someone who plays with a lot of weight on the bow. It’s not a matter of which is better; it’s just that they’re different. Look at the following elements when considering bows: Materials: Fine bows are traditionally made from pernambuco, a very strong, dense wood from Brazil. Its strength and resonant qualities are what make it the best material for bows. But it’s getting rare and it’s expensive, so many bow makers are trying to find an acceptable substitute for pernambuco. At this time, carbon-fiber bows have been the most successful alternative, so a good-quality carbon-fiber bow is worth considering. Grain: The grain of the wood should run fairly straight along the length of the bow-stick, especially in the upper part of the bow near the tip. Straight-grained wood lessens the possibility of a broken stick or tip. Frog: The frog should fit well on the stick, without too much side-to-side movement, and should slide freely back and forth when you tighten and loosen the bow. The end-button should turn freely. Curve: When you tighten up the bow, the camber (curve of the stick) should be smooth and even with no kinks or flat spots. Weight: The weight of a violin bow is usually in the range of 58–65 grams. The balance of the bow is also an important factor and can affect the feel of a bow at least as much as, if not more than, the weight. How it feels in your hand is what’s most important. Strength or stiffness: When a bow is tightened for playing, the stick should not hit the strings when normal playing pressure is applied. What’s normal bow pressure can vary a lot from player to player, and good bows can range from quite flexible to very resistant.

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10 Ways to Practice Your Violin for Enjoyment and Progress

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

After getting down the basics on playing the violin, focus on making your moves as effortless and clear-sounding as possible so that you gain a sense that they really belong to you. Get to this next level of playing with productive practice sessions. Here are some ideas for making your practice time as engaging as possible. Tune in Make sure your violin is really in tune at the start of each practice session. This alone makes for the best-possible results! ’Nuff said. Pick a spot Have a special spot in a low-traffic area of your home dedicated for practicing, and keep everything there that you need. If you’re organized, everything happens with good flow. Have your music stand set up and your instrument, books, and accessories nearby. Watch or listen before you play Listen to recordings of your songs, or watch them online in videos to have an idea of how the music should sound — and look. Using one (or two) of your senses that aren’t directly involved in the physical actions of playing can really help to create an idea of the whole of what you’re aiming for before you begin fitting the individual pieces of the intricate jigsaw of violin-playing together. Build up speed Start playing the music quite slowly and steadily, then build up gradually towards the speed you want. Each action and idea may be quite clear to your mind, but you need to allow time for your body to have a chance to line up all the simultaneous and sequential actions without them tumbling over one another! Practice right-hand and left-hand moves separately If you just hold your violin in guitar position or regular playing position, no bow at all, and practice landing and lifting the fingers you want to play in a song, you can get these moves nicely lined up. You can do the fingering moves silently or pluck each note to hear the tune. Similarly with the bow, you can practice the bowing you’re aiming for on the open strings to gain a sense of the to-and-fro gestures, rhythms, and articulations before you put the hands together. Go for quality, not quantity The focus in practice should be on quality, not quantity of time. When you begin playing the violin, you don’t yet have many areas of playing to work on, so 10 to 15 minutes are plenty of time for one practice session At all stages, you learn better and maintain progress if you practice for a regular amount of time each day rather than in one big guilty glob the night before your lesson! Practice until you see progress, make sure the progress is as secure as possible, and then pack up the session and have another try later, or the next day. Keep a goal in mind Have a particular goal in mind. For example, you can prioritize rhythm and work towards that goal, with everything else taking a back seat to your main goal. Other aspects of your playing will gain too, as you focus intently! Find your best practice time My best time to practice is first thing in the morning, before the busy day creates too many distractions. You may be more of a night-owl. Where possible, organize life to accommodate your best practice time. Take notes During lessons, take notes in a small notebook you keep with your music. You can remind yourself of useful advice when you’re alone working on your violin. Later, you can use the book for practice ideas — as well as to see how far you’ve progressed in the year. Film yourself playing When you watch the video later, you can see if the bow is travelling on track, or if your violin hold is well-balanced, for example.

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