Everything You Need to Know About Playing the Violin

The violin has been one of the most popular musical instruments used throughout the centuries, and it still is popular today. Used predominantly in Western and Classical music, violins are made up of different parts, all contributing to the unique sound associated with this beautiful instrument.

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about playing, tuning, and cleaning a violin.

Key Components of a Violin

Violins have been designed to produce sounds when there’s a vibration of the four strings. Unlike any other musical instrument, the violin is played using two distinct techniques:

  • Ordinarily, the left hand is ideal for the production of specific pitches.
  • The right hand, on the other hand, is used mainly to vibrate the strings.

In addition to the two distinct playing techniques, there are other key components of violins that people often overlook. They include:

  1. Pegs – This refers to the four wooden pegs on the violin where the strings are wound. Pegs are mainly used to tune the strings of this beautiful instrument. When you tighten a string, you raise its pitch. When you loosen it, you lower its pitch.
  2. Nut – This is the small piece of wood that is located between the fingerboard and the pegbox. This component usually comes with 4 notches, one for each of the violin strings.
  3. Pegbox – This is simply the enclosure where the strings are being wound into the pegs.
  4. Scroll – Otherwise referred to as the decorative part of the violin, the scroll most of the time is shaped like a scroll.
  5. Fingerboard – This is the surface where the fingers are made to press down on the strings. Fingerboards are generally made out of ebony.
  6. Strings – This is arguably one of the most commonly known components of a violin. Each violin, regardless of type and brand, comes with four strings that are tuned at intervals of fifths. The strings are G, D, E, and A (if you’re reading from right to left). Strings are made from various materials ranging from synthetic materials, animal gut, and steel.
  7. Ribs – This is the thin strip of wood that is wound around the various sides of the violin. The duty of the rib is to connect the back and the top of the violin to form the soundbox of this instrument.

Though there are other components of a violin, the above components are the most important for a violinist to know their way around.

How to Tune a Violin

It goes without saying that the idea behind tuning a violin is to get the best sound. To get the best out of your violin, you’ll need to be sure that you tune it properly.

This section of our article will discuss how to tune a violin correctly. In addition to instructing users how to tune their violin, we’ll also be sharing some of the best accessories that can be used for adequate tuning.

Currently, there are two violin types — classical and electric violins. While tuning either of these violin types achieves the same goal, which is offering you better sound, the process of reaching that goal differs.

Tuning a Classical Violin

  • The first step to tuning any violin at all is choosing the right tuning tool to make use of.
  • For beginners, it is ideal that you tune your violin while sitting down. Once you have found a place to sit down, place the instrument on your lap.
  • The next step is to immediately loosen the tuning peg from any of the strings you are about to tune. To adjust the sound of the string, you’ll simply have to rotate the peg until it reaches the desired note.
  • You have to continuously test the sound that is emanating from the strings by using your fingers to pluck it. It is advised that you pay careful attention to the direction of the pegs so that you understand which position makes a certain sound.
  • After you’ve found the target note, you’ll need to push the tuning peg back into its original position so that it is capable of holding and locking the strings.
  • Most classical violins come with fine tuners. If your violin came with a fine tuner, you’ll need to use it to adjust the pitch of your instrument. These fine tuners have been incorporated to offer a higher accuracy level when reaching the target note.

Repeat the above process on any of the other strings that need tuning.

Tuning an Electric Violin

Unlike classical violins, electric violins do not come with the traditional tuning pegs. This would mean that you have to use tuning pegs from guitars to tune this instrument. This process makes it easier and convenient for everyone.

  • Like always, the first step to tuning an electric violin is to choose the best tuning tool to make use of. There are tons of these tools to choose from.
  • Instead of placing the electric violin on your lap, place the violin on a table or in a playing position. If you’re a beginner, you should lay this instrument on a table.
  • With the violin placed flat on a table, you would have to identify the desired or target note by turning the guitar tuner while your hands pluck on the strings.

You would have to repeat this process on all strings until they are all properly tuned.

Tools to Tune Your Instrument With

While we have discussed how to tune a violin, it is equally important that we mention some of the many tools that can be used to conveniently tune your violin.

These instruments include:

  1. Tuners – Already identified as one of the foremost tools musicians must own, tuners serve several purposes. They can be used to tune instruments like ukuleles, violins, guitars, etc. In addition to their versatile nature, tuners can also offer different tuning types — simultaneous and chromatic tuning.
  2. Phone Apps – With the advancement of technology we have experienced in the last couple of years, various mobile applications have been designed to enable you to conveniently tune violins. All you have to do is download an application and refer to its A tune.
  3. Another Musical Instrument – To tune a violin by ear, you can simply adjust it to sound the same as another violin. While you can use another musical instrument to tune your violin, the violin used to help tune yours would need to be tuned based on the target or desired note.

How to Play a Violin

Learning how to play a violin is a long and strenuous process. In order to learn how to play the violin, you’ll have to maintain discipline, patience, and enthusiasm as these will make the learning process easier. Let’s take a look at the steps involved in learning how to play violin below:

Step 1: Setting Up Your Equipment

Purchase or Rent a Violin

As a beginner, there are two options for acquiring a violin – you either buy or rent one. People often wonder how much a violin costs to own, and the truth is, it can be pretty pricey.

If you are not willing to spend a huge amount of money, you can opt for renting, which is the most cost-effective option for those who are still unsure if they want to pursue long-term violin playing.

If you’re interested in knowing the full cost of owning and renting a violin, check out this informative article.

Ensure that all of the Accessories are Intact

When learning how to play the violin, you should check the accessories first, as they have a huge role to play in aiding the process. A standard violin outfit should come with a bow, four strings, a chin rest, rosin, and a carrying case.

If your violin doesn’t have a chin rest, you can make a separate purchase of it. Other items that you can purchase include the music stand and a songbook for beginners.

Step 2: Knowing the Basic Techniques of Playing the Violin

Posture

The most important part of the violin learning journey is your posture. You should master how to hold a violin because it goes a long way to determine if one is a good violin player or not. Here’s how to maintain a good posture while playing the violin:

  • Allow your head to be tilted slightly to your left shoulder
  • For the bow hand (right hand), your right thumb should be curved, your pinkie on the bow, then keep the rest of your fingers relaxed
Pizzicato and Arco

Doing a few exercises on pizzicato is necessary when you’re practicing how to hold the violin. This exercise requires that you pluck the string using the index finger on your right hand. This is done to get familiar with the four open strings of the violin. Learning the four strings is part of the most basic things about violin playing.

As mentioned earlier, the four open strings on a violin are G D A E. It goes from left to right. If you’re confused with memorizing them, you can use a mnemonic.

Fingerings

After going through some lessons on the four open strings, the next thing you should learn is how to use your fingers on the fingerboard. Your teacher is to help you identify the spots to place your fingers by marking them. Please note that misplacing your fingers may cause you to play wrongly, so you should be careful.

Step 3: Regular Practice

It’s usually not enough to know how to hold a violin and the fingerings. You should also develop the habit of practicing regularly and correctly. Instead of limiting your practice to once a week, you should devote at least 20-30 mins of your time every day to learning. With some focus, consistency, and a patient guide or teacher, you will scale through the learning process successfully.

How to String a Violin

Before stringing your violin, you should buy strings that are at your playing level. No matter your skill level, you should never think of going for poorly built, cheap strings. This is because they tend to produce low-quality sounds, and they are prone to breaking and unravelling faster than higher quality strings.

When looking to string your violin, you should take it one at a time. Following this step will ensure that you don’t get confused when pegging them. That said, here’s a three-step guide to stringing your violin faster:

  • Wind the peg
  • Check the length of the strings
  • Tune the strings

How to Know When to Change Your Violin Strings

Once you notice the strings are getting old or wearing off, then you should make arrangements to restring the violin. Most times, an unraveled string signifies that it’s time to make a replacement.

Also, if you are always making use of the violin let’s say, 1 to 2 hours daily, restringing should be done in 3 to 5 months. If you’re a frequent performer, the ideal way to maintain your violin is to always restring it a few days before a performance.

The Difference Between a Violin and a Fiddle

A lot of people have struggled to create a distinction between a violin and a fiddle. The truth is, there aren’t many physical differences as the two instruments tend to come with identical features. That said, let’s take a look at three subtle differences that occurs when they are used for performances:

Style of Music

When it comes to the style of music, the fiddle is majorly used for folk music. Something in the direction of Cajun, country, and bluegrass music goes well with the fiddle.

On the other hand, the violin is known to blend perfectly with Jazz and Western classical music. If you’ve been able to witness a concert that had both instruments in use, you’d be able to get a clear distinction.

Method of Performance

Classical musicians who use violins tend to strictly follow written song compositions. That’s to say that they perform songs exactly the way they were written, no additions whatsoever.

This, however, can’t be said for a fiddler as most of the songs they perform are crafted from their memories. They love to improvise and don’t follow any book or guidelines while playing songs.

Bowing Practices

The fingering techniques used by a fiddler and a violinist are different from each other. While a fiddler may play very fast, he never removes his hand from the first position. On the other hand, a violinist may use his fingers to produce sounds from the instrument’s sound range.

How to Clean a Violin

How often do you clean your violin? What procedures do you implement while cleaning? Do you clean it at all?

Just like every other musical instrument, the violin needs to be regularly cleaned and maintained in order to improve its performance and extend its quality of life. If you want to enhance the joy you get from playing your violin, you should increase the number of times that you offer it some TLC.

The violin is one musical instrument that tends to accumulate a lot of rosin dust and perspiration when used frequently. Sometimes, regardless of how careful the violinist may be, you still get to see some finger marks on the varnish. It may interest you to know that when these marks don’t get cleaned right away, your violin tends to lose its shine and that gives way to dullness.

The above reasons are why you should consider making it a habit to wipe off rosin dust from the body and strings of your violin after usage.This is a form of maintenance that should be done daily with the use of a soft cloth. After thoroughly and carefully cleaning, your violin will have you to thank.

Now that you know how to dust your violin, how do you perform a thorough cleaning of your instrument? In order to properly clean your violin, take care to intently follow the guide below:

Step 1: Cleaning Agents

While cleaning your instrument, you should employ the use of two cleaning cloths. If you’re knowledgeable about the delicate construction and make of a violin, you will be able to understand that using a soft cloth is an ideal way to wipe off the specks of dirt from a violin.

One of the clothes should be used as a cleaning agent while the other should be used for polishing the violin. Also, you will need to gather a few grains of rice, cleaning alcohol, almond oil, and a varnish cleaner for the rest of the cleaning process.

Step 2: Cleaning the Inside of the Violin

Put grains of rice inside your instrument. Put the rice through the f-holes and ensure to shake it thoroughly. The shake will enable the rice to evenly distribute to other parts of the violin which includes the belly, back, and inside. If there’s any dust inside the violin, they will form a ball-like fluff.

After that, turn the violin upside down and gently shake off the rice (it will come out through the f-holes). You can now carefully remove the fluff through the f-holes using tweezers. This process should make your violin look fresh and less dull.

Step 3: Cleaning the Strings

The strings are often considered the most delicate part of the violin. This means that you should be as careful as you can be while cleaning. The best way to clean the strings is by using a recommended string cleaner. The string cleaner can be purchased from violin makers, online, or from a music store.

Alcohol Ketonatus 70% is a good option for wiping the violin strings. However, you should ensure that the other parts of the violin, such as the varnish, are properly protected to avoid liquid spills.

Step 4: Cleaning the Varnish

The varnish should be cleaned using a varnish cleaner or almond oil. Apply either of them on a soft cloth and gently use it to wipe the belly and back of your violin. This is often done to dissolve any form of rosin dust that may have gathered there.

Cleaning the varnish is always time-consuming. So, sectioning and cleaning are usually the best ways to go as rosins can form in layers and this is often difficult to clean off. Use the second cloth to buff and polish your violin. The cotton bud should be used on the f-holes, as well as the bridge. Also, be careful of the wood while doing this because it’s soft/delicate.

Step 5: Cleaning the Bow

When cleaning the violin bow, you may want to follow the same steps used in cleaning the violin itself. In most cases, merely dusting off the bow immediately after usage is enough to maintain and keep it in an ideal condition.

Some violinists have been known to dip the bow in soapy water and rinse it, however, this method is not recommended. Also, you can re-hair the bow once every year to maintain its sound and appearance.

If you’re new to the world of violins and aren’t sure if you can trust yourself with properly cleaning the violin, you can also take your violin to a shop to be professionally cleaned.

Conclusion

Learning how to play the violin can be a daunting task, as it takes dedication, hard work, and many hours of practice. If you ever set out to learn how to play one, you should be ready to face the ups and downs that come with it. But, like we mentioned, you need to place a lot of focus, and employ the services of a qualified guide for you to excel at being a violinist.

In this article, we provided a step-by-step guide to violin playing, cleaning, and tuning, especially as a beginner. We hope you found our guide interesting and helpful.