Often referred to as the King of string instruments, everything about the violin - from its manufacture to its mastery – reflects the artistry that music is all about. The experts say that it is a demanding instrument to learn so in these pages, we bring you a brief look at the world of the violin.
- The violin is said to have evolved from a number of instruments - The ravanastron (India), rabab (Persia), the rebec and the lira da braccio. It is believed that the violin emerged in its ultimate form in Italy in the early 1500's. Andrea Amati is one of the most famous developers of the violin.
- The best violins were meticulously hand-made by master craftsmen (called luthiers). Antonio Stradivari, one of the most eminent violin makers in history, apprenticed with Andrea Amati's grandson Nicolo in the early 1700’s. Other famous violin makers include the Guarneri family and Jacob Stainer.
- The violin plays an important part in Carnatic music as well. Musicians Balaswami Dikshitar, Varahappa Iyer, Krishnaswamy Bhagavathar and Vadivelu, it is said, were the first to adapt the violin to the Carnatic music tradition. They made several changes to the methods of playing this western instrument. The most obvious distinction is the way the violin was held – Carnatic music requires the violinist to sit cross-legged on a platform, while Western musicians usually play standing up.
- Some well-known composers for the violin include Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, Niccolo Paganini, Béla Bartók, Fritz Kreisler and Claudio Monteverdi.
PARTS OF A VIOLIN
Violins are usually created one at a time by luthiers with each part precisely crafted and carved out. Before you begin to play, you need to know the parts of the violin.
Scroll – This decorative part is usually hand-carved and located at the top of the violin.
Pegbox – Pegs that are used to tune the violin are found in the pegbox. Strings enter the pegbox, are wound around tuning pegs, and then adjusted to tune the instrument.
Strings – The violin has four strings that are tuned a fifth (musical interval) apart.
• Musical interval - distance in pitch between two notes.
• Fifth - The musical interval of a perfect fifth is the relationship between the first note (the root or tonic) and the fifth note in a major scale. It can be produced by starting on a high note and playing the fifth below or by starting on a low note and playing the fifth above.]
Bridge – The bridge supports the strings of the violin and transmits the vibrations of the strings to the belly, from which they are transmitted to the back by the sound post. It directly relates to the quality of sound and tone produced by the violin. The bridge is high and curved ensuring that you are able to play the strings one at a time.
Fingerboard – This is a strip of wood on the neck of the violin that runs from the scroll down toward the bridge. The violinist presses down on the strings over the fingerboard to create the notes that he/she plays.
Sound Post - Located under the bridge. It conducts sound vibrations from the front of the violin to the back.
Ribs – This refers to the sides of the violin.
F Hole - Located in the middle of the violin, this allows sound to come out of the violin. Called F-Hole because it is shaped like a cursive F.
Tailpiece – This anchors the strings at the opposite end of the scroll.
Chin Rest – Is a piece of wood attached to the body of the violin on which the violinist places his jaw or chin to hold the instrument in place.
Bow – This is what a violin is played with. A bow consists of a stick with a ribbon of horsehair strung across it.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO LEARN THE VIOLIN?
There’s good news and not-so-good news – all teachers admit that the violin is a difficult and demanding instrument to learn. However, they also add that with dedicated practice you can learn how to play well and it proves to be an enormously satisfying and enriching experience.
What You Will Learn
It is not possible to describe any violin techniques in the limited space we have. Here violin teacher Cynthia Hargunani highlights three important aspects for beginners to pay attention to:
- Having the correct bow hold is very important and a beginner can often feel that it is an impossible task, but he/she must keep trying. The correct bow hold should feel very loose as if the student is about to drop the bow. This will allow for more flexibility in bow technique later on.
- One other aspect is pitch. Unless the student is one of the fortunate few, it takes months to years of playing music to tune your instrument. Luckily, there are electronic tuners to help. I highly recommend one to any beginner.
Music instructor at Mumbai’s well-known Manoranjan Music Academy
TR: What is your advice for aspiring violin players?
SD: “It is good to see so many people wanting to learn how to play violin. We especially see interest from a lot of girls which is very heartening. Aspiring students must remember that learning the violin is based on practice and riyaz so you have to be dedicated. We recommend that they play for atleast one hour a day.
Also, patience is very important while learning. Kids do get frustrated and want to learn quickly but you have to realise that if you don’t feel the music in you, you can’t play it. You have to be tough and you have to go through the pain of learning to be able to master the instrument. Willpower is as important as practice.”
Prominent Mumbai-based violin teacher/founder-trustee-director of the Bombay Chamber Orchestra
TR: Do you recall any interesting incidents from your days as a student of violin?
JD: “I actually didn’t start learning till I was 18. I studied violin in London and I had to make up for my age. Every time I played, I was competing with musicians of the same age as me who had already been playing for nearly 12 years or more and at the time I was a beginner. But I put in nearly 6-7 hours of practice a day and that’s how I learned.”
TR: You have taught so many students over the years – what is the biggest mistake that beginners make?
JD: “It’s difficult to generalise because it depends on each individual - some are very quick in grasping, some are not. One of the things to pay attention to is that the violin is not like, say, the piano where the notes are already there – here you have to create every note. So you have to be able to hear the pitch accurately.
As far as practising goes, our children are so overburdened these days with school and other work that a teacher cannot say ‘You have to do four hours or six hours of practice each day’. It is not realistic. But you should try and at least devote two sessions of half an hour each in the day to playing your instrument.”
You can read the rest of our special feature Getting Started in the June 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.
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