A Guide to the Structure and Mechanics of the Violin and Fiddle
Before you buy a violin, or start learning to play, it’s important to know the ins and outs of the instrument.
All the best musicians have a deep knowledge of their instrument, including how it’s built and how it functions. This information can help a player to get the best out of their instrument. It also informs them how best to care for and maintain the instrument.
I’ve put together this handy glossary of terms to help you identify and learn about the most important parts of the violin’s anatomy. So keep reading and you’ll be a violin expert in no time…
The Anatomy of the Violin
The body of the violin not only gives the instrument its characteristic appearance, it also determines the sound quality. As the largest section of the violin, it contains many parts of the violin you will need to know about including the F shaped sound holes, bridge, soundboard, finetuners, tailpiece and chinrest.
The F holes are sound holes cut into the body of the instrument to help it vibrate near the bridge. This improves the projection of the sound from within the body. In other words, they let the sound out.
The bridge sits between the two F holes. It transmits the vibrations of the strings to the body via two small feet. Therefore, it plays an important role in the creation of the sound.
Inside the body you will find the bass bar. This is a long piece of wood glued lengthwise under the left foot of the bridge. It transmits the vibrations of the bridge’s left foot (the low strings).
The soundpost is a small rod placed next to the bridge’s right foot inside the body of the violin. It is vitally important to the instrument’s sound! Like the bass bar, it is responsible for transferring the vibrations from the right foot of the bridge (the high strings).
The violin strings thread through the tailpiece at the bottom of the violin. They are usually attached to fine tuners which can make more precise changes to the tuning of each string than the tuning pegs.
The chin rest allows the player to support the violin in a way that allows the left hand greater freedom of movement. You can also add a violin shoulder rest for greater support. Shoulder rests also prevent the violinist’s shoulder from damping the vibrations or sound.
The neck plays an important role in playing technique. It’s angled slightly back from the body and its circumference is the same along its entire length. This makes it easier for the left hand to slide up and down to different positions.
The fingerboard is the flat piece of ebony that connects the neck and body. The player places their fingers here, pressing them against the strings to create different pitches. The length of the fingerboard determines how high the range of the instrument extends.
The violin strings stretch along the fingerboard, raised upward by the bridge. A violin has four strings – G, D, A, and E. There are three main types of strings – gut, steel and synthetic.
At the top of the fingerboard sits the nut. The nut is a small piece of ebony which sits at the at the base of the pegbox. It has small grooves carved in it which allow the strings to pass over it with minimal friction, thus ensuring that they don’t break too easily
The head of the violin houses the pegbox and scroll.
The scroll is the carved spiral that sits at the very top of the violin. Its purpose is merely decorative.
The pegbox houses the tuning pegs. The pegs adjust the tension of the strings, highering or lowering the sound they create.
The Anatomy of the Violin Bow
The violin bow is the wooden (or carbon fibre) stick used to play the violin.
The stick itself is slightly curved, with the bow hair stretched between the two ends. Most importantly, the hair is the part of the violin bow that comes into contact with the violin strings. It’s usually made of either horse hair or a synthetic material.
The repeated bowing movement of the hair on the strings produces vibrations which then resonate within the body of the instrument. In order for the strings to produce a sound when bowed, the player must coat the bow hair with rosin. (Yes, the stuff that comes from trees!)
Why? Violin rosin helps the hair to grip the strings which increases the friction. As a result, this improves the sound produced when the bow meets the strings.
The frog sits at the heel of the violin bow. (Not the live animal, don’t worry.) This is where the player holds the bow. The thumb and relevant fingers usually rest on the grip pad, but this can vary depending on the style of bow holding method used by the violinist.
The winding, which appears just next to the pad, is a silver wire, wrapped around the bow to add weight and help with balance.
At the base of the frog you’ll find the screw. The screw can tighten or loosen the bow hair as necessary.
The Next Step
If you’re looking to buy a violin, why not visit our violin and fiddle store:
But before you buy, make sure you read my handy guide on the warning signs to look out for when buying a violin.