September 25, 2022

Violin Basics – Instrument Care – The Strings, the Bow and Other Basics of Violin

3 min read

Congratulations on acquiring a violin! Maybe you’re a youngster who has dreamed of playing in the youth orchestra or a grownup who wants to sound like a Dixie Chick. Taking lessons on your own, going at your own pace and choosing the music you love is fun and easier than you think. But you’ve got to learn violin basics-otherwise, you’ll sound more like a Dixie Dingaling!

* Always use the case! Your violin is a delicate instrument. Whenever you’re done with it, put it away.

* Don’t put it behind a door where it’s likely to get jarred or banged up.

* If you’re driving somewhere, don’t put it in the trunk. Place it on the back seat.

* Don’t leave it in your car when you’re not there. The heat that builds up in the car can melt the glue used in the violin construction or warp the wood.

* The same violin basics should teach you not to leave it in a garage or attic during cold weather, either!

* And you most certainly shouldn’t store it in a damp basement.

Violins are available in so many brands and for a very wide variety of prices! It’s sad but true that you get what you pay for, and if you don’t spend several hundred dollars you are just getting a pretty box with strings on it. You can, however, convince most retailers to give you a deep discount from the retail prices displayed in the store. Expect to pay a minimum of $350 for a beginner’s antique cello at the discounted price.

Violin basics start with your strings. You can choose from gut, synthetic, or steel strings. The steel-core and gut-core strings were used for years; nylon strings were not developed until the Seventies. No matter type you prefer, they all come in price ranges from $25 to over $100.

Over a century ago, just about all violin strings were made from sheep or lamb intestines. Today, thankfully for the squeamish among us, most gut-type strings are actually gut-core, with the string of gut wrapped in aluminum or silver-plated copper. They are suppler, but they also tend to go out of tune faster in warm weather. There are still musicians who use pure gut strings, but they are performers of neoclassic music striving to recreate the sounds of yesteryear.

In the late 1800s, steel strings were developed. Today’s versions have a core of steel wrapped by some finer metal, usually chrome, titanium, tungsten, silver, or a plated metal. They do not render the complex sounds of the gut-core strings, but they do hold their tune better.

By the 1970s, manufacturers came up with strings made from perlon, a type of nylon. These strings supposedly sounded more like gut-core but maintained pitch as well as steel-core. Many brands of synthetic strings can be broken in faster than the other types, and they hold their tune as well as the steel strings.

What about your bow? Is horsehair really used? The answer in most cases is yes. There are synthetic-hair bows, but most bows are strung with 150 hairs, generally from Mongolian horses. As you get to know more musicians, you’ll hear them talking about using black horsehair to get a better jazz sound, or white hair for symphonic use, using more or less rosin, and so forth.

The screw on the end of the bow will tighten the hair. To play, the hair should have a light bounce to it. You can loosen the screw slightly when you replace the bow in its case. Don’t forget the rosin when you’re ready to play; if the violin emits a squeaky or scratchy sound, put down the rosin and just play. If you notice a broken hair on your bow, use a nail clipper to clip it off as neatly as possible without affecting the other hairs. You should never touch the hair because it’s really fragile, and you also don’t want the natural oils on your fingertips to rub off.

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