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family of stringed musical instruments having wooden bodies whose backs and fronts are slightly convex, the fronts pierced by two f-hole-shaped resonance holes. The instruments of the violin family have been the dominant bowed instruments because of their versatility, brilliance, and balance of tone, and their wide dynamic range. A variety of sounds may be produced, e.g., by different types of bowing or by plucking the string (see pizzicatopizzicato
, in music, the technique of plucking the strings of an instrument that is usually bowed. Directions for playing pizzicato are found in early 17th-century music.
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). The violin has always been the most important member of the family, from the beginning being the principal orchestral instrument and holding an equivalent position in chamber music and as a solo instrument. The technique of the violin was developed much earlier than that of the viola or cello. The double bassdouble bass,
bowed stringed musical instrument, the contrabass of the modern orchestral string section. It originated as a double-bass viol, an instrument described as early as 1566. A true double-bass violin appeared during the 18th cent.
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 is not a violin but a violviol,
family of bowed stringed instruments, the most important ensemble instruments from the 15th to the 17th cent. The viol's early history is indefinite, but it is recognizable in depictions from as early as the 11th cent. During the second half of the 17th cent.
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The smallest of this group of instruments is also called violin, and its four strings, tuned in fifths, run from the tailpiece at the base of the body over a bridge in the lower center, along the fingerboard, and into the pegbox. The violin is played by drawing a horsehair bowbow
, implement used in playing stringed instruments. Its name originated from the fact that in its early form it resembled an archer's bow, but by the 17th cent. the European bow had gradually become flat.
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, held in the right hand, across the strings; the body is supported by the shoulder and held firm by the chin. The fingers of the left hand are used to stop the strings against the fingerboard, thus changing the pitch by shortening the vibrating length of the strings. Within certain limitations more than one note can be played at once, and the instrument is capable of producing harmonic effects and, with a mute clamped to the bridge, hushed, ethereal tones. It is the most agile of the family, and it has the greatest variety of tone color.

The instrument first appeared about 1510 as the viola da bracchio (arm viol) and soon spread through Europe. During the 16th cent. three sizes were known, a soprano (corresponding to the modern viola), a tenor (a fifth lower), and a bass (a tone lower than the present cello). The present-day violin appeared only near the end of the 16th cent. The earliest-known makers of the new instrument worked in Lombardy in the mid-16th cent. They were followed by Andrea AmatiAmati
, Italian family of violinmakers of Cremona. The founder of the Cremona school was Andrea Amati (c.1520–c.1578), whose earliest violins date from c.1564. His labels bore the name Amadus, and he is credited with the basic design of the modern violin.
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, founder of the Cremona school of violinmaking made famous by the GuarneriGuarneri
or Guarnerius
, family of violinmakers of Cremona, Italy. The first craftsman of the family was Andrea Guarneri, c.1626–1698, a pupil of Niccolò Amati. He designed and built his instruments in the Amati fashion.
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 family and by Antonio StradivariStradivari, Antonio
, or Antonius Stradivarius
, 1644–1737, Italian violin maker of Cremona; pupil of Niccolò Amati. He was apprenticed to Amati c.1658 and may have remained with him until Amati's death in 1684.
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. In Stradivari's work the peak of violinmaking seems to have been reached barely a century after the emergence of the instrument itself.


The viola is about one seventh larger than the violin and tuned a fifth lower. It is the only original member of the violin family to exist continuously in the same size. Its tone is deeper and less brilliant than that of the violin. In the 17th and early 18th cent. it was used mainly as an accompanying instrument in the orchestra, but the classical period made it much more independent. It is used mainly in the orchestra and chamber music, but recently has become increasingly popular as a solo instrument.

Cello or Violoncello

The cello, originally called the violoncello, is about twice as large as the violin and has four strings tuned an octave lower than those of the viola. As the bass viola da bracchio it was originally tuned a tone lower than it now is, but the present tuning had become standard by 1700. Because of its size, it is played between the knees like members of the violviol,
family of bowed stringed instruments, the most important ensemble instruments from the 15th to the 17th cent. The viol's early history is indefinite, but it is recognizable in depictions from as early as the 11th cent. During the second half of the 17th cent.
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 family. The bass viol was favored for solo playing in the 17th and early 18th cent., and the cello became an important solo instrument only after the disappearance of the viols and the subsequent refinement of cello technique by Jean Louis Duport (1749–1819). The cello was, from its beginning, an important member of the orchestra and is also indispensable in chamber music. It now has an extensive solo literature of its own.



a stringed musical instrument played with a bow. The violin has the highest register of any instrument in the violin family, which also includes the viola, cello, and double bass. The violin’s four strings are tuned in intervals of a fifth. When played, the instrument is supported against the shoulder (da braccio). The range is from G below middle C to C three octaves above middle C. The overall length is 600 mm, although violins of smaller size are used for instruction. The basic method of producing sound is to draw the bow over the strings. Harmonics may also be played, and sometimes the sound is produced by plucking (pizzicato). Along with the piano, the violin is the most widely played solo concert instrument.

There are various theories regarding the origin of the violin. Some hold that it evolved from bowed instruments introduced into Western Europe by the Arabs in the eighth century. Others maintain it evolved from the medieval crwth and vielle, although these instruments, unlike the violin, were not held against the shoulder. Numerous facts, however, establish a connection between the violin and a Slavic folk instrument. In the 15th century, when viols tuned in intervals of thirds and fourths predominated in Western Europe, a three-stringed bowed instrument, similar to the violin and with strings tuned in fifths, existed in Poland. The proportions of this folk violin had not yet been strictly established at the time, and the instrument was not covered with varnish. It had a sharp, shrill sound (hence the Polish name skrzypce, “scraper”) and a high register. The German musicologist M. Agricola wrote about this Polish violin in 1528.

The classical type of violin was developed during the 15th and 16th centuries simultaneously in Poland, Italy and France. It was a refinement of the folk violin, and its design reflected experience gleaned by experts in the construction of bowed instruments. The classical violin combined a high register with melodiousness and technical mobility. The most important schools of master violin makers were formed in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in Northern Italy. They included those of Gasparo da Salo and G. Maggini im Brescia and A. Amati and N. Amati, G. Guarnieri, and A. Stradivari in Cremona. The design of the violin was definitely established by the masters of the Cremona school, who developed the unique timbre of the instrument. Italian violins are still used in modern performing, and many are considered matchless. The establishment of the violin as the leading solo concert instrument was an important development in the history of music. The new genres of instrumental music of the 17th and 18th centuries—the solo sonata and concerto—appeared originally as genres of violin music. The instruments of the violin family, led by the violin, formed the basis of the classical complement of the symphony orchestra and the string quartet, which had developed by the mid-18th century.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the art of solo violin playing developed rapidly. Many composers wrote music for the violin, including A. Vivaldi and G. Tartini in Italy, J. Benda and J. Stamitz in Bohemia, and J. M. Leclair and P. Gaviniès in France. In the 19th century, the Italian violinist and composer N. Paganini played a major role in the development of violin music. Prominent 19th- and 20th-century violinists and composers for the violin included G. B. Viotti, P. Rode, and R. Kreutzer (France), H. Vieuxtemps and E. Ysaye (Belgium), K. Lipiński and H. Wieniawski (Poland), J. Kubelik (Bohemia), J. Joachim and J. Hubay (Hungary), F. Kreisler (Austria), and G. Enesco (Rumania). The Russian violin school produced such prominent violinists as I. E. Khandoshkin (second half of the 18th century) and A. F. L’vov and N. Ia. Afanas’ev (19th century). In the early 20th century, the violin department of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, headed by L. S. Auer, became the world center of violin art. Auer’s students have included J. Heifetz, E. Zimbalist, M. Elman, and M. Poliakin. Outstanding violinists of later years include D. F. Oistrakh and L. B. Kogan (USSR), Y. Menuhin and I. Stern (USA), and H. Szeryng (Mexico).


Vitachek, E. Ocherki po istorii izgotovleniia smychkovykh instrumentov, 2nd ed. Edited by B. V. Dobrokhotov. Moscow, 1964.
Iampol’skii, I. Russkoe skripichnoe iskusstvo, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951. Chapters 1–2.



(37–68) emperor said to have fiddled while Rome burned (64). [Rom. Hist.: Misc.]
renowned hand-crafted instruments, rare and highly prized. [Western Music: NCE, 2631]


a bowed stringed instrument, the highest member of the violin family, consisting of a fingerboard, a hollow wooden body with waisted sides, and a sounding board connected to the back by means of a soundpost that also supports the bridge. It has two f-shaped sound holes cut in the belly. The instrument, noted for its fine and flexible tone, is the most important of the stringed instruments. It is held under the chin when played. Range: roughly three and a half octaves upwards from G below middle C
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