It’s National Violin Day!
The violin is an extremely popular instrument because it is so versatile. There are dozens of musical styles that suit the violin well. Folk music and orchestral music can encompass a huge range of repertoire. But perhaps it is the solo music performed by today’s leading greats, like Nicola Benedetti and Joshua Bell, that make so many of us fall in love with this beautiful little instrument.
The shape and structure of the violin are elegant and ornate. This has changed very little from its early days in sixteenth century Italy. While technology allows a good quality instrument to be produced by a machine these days, it is the hand-crafted instruments of yesteryear that are most highly sought. Perhaps the greatest of all violin makers was Antonio Stradivari back in the late seventeenth century. It is thought one of his instruments might fetch over $1m at auction today.
Of course, you don’t need such a pricey instrument to get started on the violin. But it can be handy to know a thing or two about the instrument first. Did you know that the word ‘fiddle’ can be used to describe a violin? Many fans of the instrument prefer this term. Historically, the fiddle came in varying shapes and sizes. It tended to be used in ethnic and folk styles popular within the local region. Some people consider viols to be a closer relative to the old fiddles. Viols and fiddles can often be played with a different technique to the modern violin today. The handling of the bow and the instrument are often altered.
You don’t need to go out and find an historical instrument to enjoy fiddling, though. A regular violin produces all the sound quality you need. You might prefer to install a flatter bridge to more accurately attack two or more strings together. And you might prefer metal strings to increase the longevity and volume of your instrument. Perhaps you’ll prefer to hold the instrument against your body rather than under your chin? And chances are you’ll prefer learning and improvising your music by ear rather than by a realised score.
So should you avoid the classical training associated with learning the violin? No. A good teacher will help you learn to play all the styles of music that the instrument is suited to. And they’ll be able to help you develop a good ear for ornamentation, improvisation, and even composing your own ditties. But most importantly, they’ll be able to support your technique while safely monitoring your posture. The violin can be unforgiving on the body, particularly the fingers, wrists, neck, and back. Make sure you know how to hold yourself as well as the instrument while you play.
There is no limit to the repertoire available for this little, stringed instrument. You might be interested in joining an orchestra. Or perhaps you’d like something more intimate like a string quartet. Many violinists like to dabble with the other string instruments in the family. The viola, in particular, can be easy to move onto. The cello, however, requires a different technique and is often taught in isolation.
While all music can be arranged to suit the violin, there are certainly some composers you should look out for. Vivaldi, Corelli, and Sibelius each wrote an extensive number of works for the violin. A violin concerto remains one of the most popular forms of music in the classical world. One of the greatest and most moving is perhaps Beethoven’s only work for the genre.
Children are often encouraged to take up the violin as their first instrument because it comes in many sizes. Scaled down to suit small hands, the violin can indeed be the perfect introduction to music for a child. Very young children may learn by ear, while those of reading age may work well with simple scores and easy compositions. Check with your local teacher to see what age they are happy to work with.
Whether you’re keen to try out the folk music of Ireland, Scotland or Wales, or you’re thinking about Scandinavian, Hungarian or North American styles, the violin can open up a world of repertoire. Bluegrass, Appalachian, and Mexican fiddling continue to stretch supposed boundaries of the style and instrument. You can even buy electric violins and create a wealth of new effects and sounds. What will you play today?