What’s in a name?
When it comes to the violin and our learning, it’s important to know how to identify it. Enter our discussion on the parts of the violin. One of the first things I tell my students to do is memorize these different parts and be able to identify them.
This article is on the violin itself, there will be two others to discuss the bow and violin accessories you will encounter. We won’t spend an exorbitant amount of time here because many of these things are covered in other articles and videos, but it’s important to recognize what we’re working with. For organization sake, we will go from top to bottom. Let’s discuss!
The first thing we come to is the “Scroll”. It sits atop the violin and is carved on top of the neck. It’s called a scroll because if you turn the violin sideways, you see what resembles a rolled up piece of paper or parchment and hence, the “scroll” moniker.
This piece is decorative in the sense that it doesn’t actually contribute to sound making on the violin. In fact, as history tells us, the first carvings on this part of the forerunner to violins were actually the heads of horses.
Violin Peg Box
The Peg Box is where the pegs thread into and through what we could call the headstock of the violin(though violinists don’t often use that term). The peg box is the open space below the scroll but above the nut and it sinks back creating a small cavern. The pegs use each side of the peg box to wedge themselves into place and because the strings are attached to them, wedging the strings in tune.
The pegs are the ebony pointed pins in the peg box just below the scroll that the strings thread into. The pegs are what hold the strings and therefore what ultimately tune the strings. Though the pegs tune the strings, they mainly make large tuning adjustments.
The strings are the wound metal strands that run the length of the violin and make the noise that the violin produces. They can be made of wound metal, gut, or synthetic material. The strings produce sound one of two ways, either by plucking or bowing. Both ways make the string vibrate back and forth and the vibrations are what produce the actual sound.
The nut is a small piece of ebony(wood) just below the peg box and directly next to(above) the fingerboard. It serves to allow the strings to “break”(not ACTUALLY break) over this point on the violin and have a point that stops the string. This allows the strings to run unobstructed to the bridge. Therefore, the strings vibrate between the nut and the bridge and produce the sound and the scale of the violin.
The fingerboard is a piece of ebony wood placed atop the neck wood. These two pieces are seamless(when constructed correctly). The fingerboard, as it’s name suggests, is the actual surface upon which we place our fingers on the strings and stop the string from vibrating. That’s how we change the pitch on the violin. On lower quality instruments, the fingerboard isn’t always ebony.
Neck of the Violin
I separate the neck and the fingerboard for definition and instruction purposes when teaching because it allows me to be more precise. The neck is usually a piece of maple. You can see it distinctly on the bottom of the fingerboard because it’s usually much lighter in color(unless it’s painted). The neck is often the location for the thumb when shifting.
Upper Bout of the Violin
The upper bout of the violin is the upper part of the body. It is where the neck connects to the violin. Often times, rest position finds one of our hands(left hand if you’re playing right handed, right hand if you’re playing left handed) holding the upper bout. It naturally serves as part of the resonating chamber of the instrument.
Center Bout of the Violin
If you’re looking straight at the violin from the top, the center bouts are where the violin curves inward towards itself. The center bouts are also called “the waist”, though not as often for the violin. This name is more often used for larger stringed instruments. This part of the violin is said to have been developed specifically for making it easier to bow the outside strings on the violin, namely, the “E” and “G” strings.
The F-Holes of the Violin
The F-Holes are found atop the the violin, if we’re looking down at it. Though these don’t look like modern day “F”s in the english language, they are indeed “F”s from the time of the late 1400’s and mid 1500’s for a number of European languages. The F-Holes are very important, much more than we often think.
There’s a lot of science that goes into this, but to simplify it, the F-Holes serve to aid frequency production(mainly lower end) and circulate air from the interior of the violin and exterior of the violin and vice versa. This allows the lower frequencies to resonate better. Im going to keep this simple because the science is in-depth.
The bridge is a relatively simple yet mysterious piece on the violin. Basically, it holds up the strings and serves as a stopping point for the vibrations of the strings. This is part of what gives the strings their relative pitches. However, the bridge does much more than that. It manipulates vibrations, resonance, and therefore frequency production of the violin.
The violin bridge can be very simple or very ornate. It is located roughly horizontally in line with the little notches that can be found on the F-Holes and it sits between the end of the fingerboard and the start of the tailpiece. The bridge is usually made of maple.
The tailpiece is usually made of ebony, boxwood, or rosewood. It is located just below the bridge on the violin and on it’s far end sits next to or underneath the chin rest and the edge of the lower bout of the violin. The strings are attached to the tailpiece and the tailpiece is essentially what holds everything together on the top of the violin.
Again, there is a LOT of science that goes into the tailpiece. The strings are either attached directly to the tailpiece or to fine tuners. The tailpiece is attached to the button which is on the bottom of the lower bout of the violin. Always remember that the tailpiece can affect sound and playability.
Fine Tuners on the Violin
The Fine Tuners are either additions to or built into the tailpiece. It is my personal preference that they are additions and not built into the tailpiece as they can therefore be removed if one is defective or breaks. These pieces are essentially machined and are used to make small tuning adjustments to the strings.
Violin fine tuners serve us when the large tuning pegs can’t quite get the pitch where it needs to be. You will generally see violinists remove the G, D, and A fine tuners as they become more skilled, but that’s not a rubric for one’s prowess on the instrument. Generally speaking, the E string fine tuner always stays unless you’re using a new type of mechanical peg that serves as both fine tuner and tuning peg.
Lower bout of the violin
The lower bout is the opposite end of the upper bout of the violin. It is where the chin rest sits and the tailpiece resides.
The button is a small conical piece of ebony that sits in a hole on the very bottom of the violin. It is called an endpin by some. It serves as a point on which to hold the loop that is attached to the tailpiece. Therefore, the button affects tuning and the integrity of the whole sonic system of the violin.
Violin chin rest
The chin rest, as the name implies, is a piece of wood constructed to seat your chin. It is the point at which we place a small amount of pressure in order to hold up the violin so that we don’t have to support it with our hands. The chin rest and the shoulder rest serve as opposite points of contact in this process.
Back of the violin
The back of the violin is generally just that. It can be made of one or two pieces. The lower bout of the back is where we place our shoulder rest.
Violin sound post
The sound post is in the interior of the violin. It is usually made of spruce which is both strong and light. The sound post serves to support the E string, but also to balance out the frequencies produced by the violin and also make the sound louder.
Violin bass board
The bass board is in the interior of the violin underneath the G string. It serves to even out the low frequencies of the violin, make the sound produced louder, and to further clarify the low frequencies. The bass board is also usually made of spruce.
That’s the extent of our discussion on the parts of the violin, but we still need to talk about the bow, it’s parts, and then some violin accessories to consider. I hope this helped everyone!