The Violin is a small wooden string instrument. It is also called a fiddle. Despite its size, there are a lot of terms that you need to know to understand how violin and playing it works. In this article, we will talk about the different violin terms and their meanings.
Indeed, these violin terms can mean differently due to different stylistic practices and the different eras for different violin players. Different composers also have their own violin terms. Still, we will try to make this a neutral glossary for all violin terms that you need to know.
List of Violin Terms
In Italian, this term means now. It means you have to play with the bow again. It is written after plucked notes or pizzicato.
This is a note added before or after an important note. This added note can be a step lower or higher than the principal note. This note is leaned on then it gets mixed with the principal note.
This is making the sound of a note of a chord in succession and not along with other notes.
This is the note made by shortening a string or holding it down with one finger then adding another finger lightly. For violin players, this uses the first finger and fourth finger (the lighter touch). One example of artificial harmonics is “Czardas” by Monti. This piece plays artificial harmonics in its different sections. Another example is Bartok’s Rumanian Folk Dances and its “Pe loc” movement.
This is the shape of a phrase or a note. It consists of three marks, followed by a combination. It comes with a dot (.), which means staccato (short), then a line (-), which is a legato (smooth), and lastly, an accent (.), which means a punch at the beginning of a note. An accent is represented by a chevron mark pointing to the right.
In a piece with more or less staccato, you might notice how the articulation line (-) gives the note a full length like a tenuto. When combined with a slur, the notes are played as detached notes without a change in bow direction.
The line can also mean that you should put the same weight on a given note. A composer can define the meaning of a line and how it should be played.
With the violin, you have the top and back plates. The back plate means that you have joined one or two pieces in the middle. This can give emphasize on the strength of the sound. All violins and most violas use maple. The use of back can improve the richness and response of a violin when played.
This is a popular passage in Brahms and Bach though you can also find it elsewhere. It means your fingers should hold over a few strings as the bow wavers in between strings. You can easily spot Bariolage in a Bach E Major Partita. This trick is easy to learn and, once mastered, can make you produce a great sound.
This is the stick-like thing used in playing the violin. It is made of carbon fiber or wood. It comes with horsehair stretched from the tip towards a removable nut. It is used to make the strings vibrate when hit.
An example of a bow is the Baroque bow. It comes with more arched or curve. Newer and more modern bows like the one made by Francois Tourte in the 18th century introduces more curve and tension to the hair.
This is the wood that holds the strings of your fiddle. It is located in the middle of the instrument. This ornate is not glued, but rather, it stays in place with the pressure from the strings.
This looks like an off-on string technique or a spiccato, yet a closer look would show that it is different. It means a small movement of up and down coming from the wrist with more distinct movements. In order to understand bouncing bow, getting familiar with saltato, saltellato, saltando, saltante, saltellando, and sautellé might also help.
This is the wooden device at the bottom-front of the violin. It keeps the chin away from the surface of the violin when playing. There are different kinds of chin rest.
This technique in playing means that you have to strike a string (the strings) with the wood of the bow. It might damage your bow, so don’t use an expensive bow unless you are adept in doing this technique.
It means ‘with mute’. This passage is always followed by an ‘unmute’ note or “senza sordino” to remove the mute phrase. Violin mute comes in different styles, such as the “Sihon” or slide-on mute. It is done by sliding on the bridge of the tailpiece once the end of the tailpiece is near. It is often practiced by students. This costs around 2-3 US dollars.
Another type is the Tourte mute or hanging behind the bridge while on it. Some players also do the Heifetz mute or clipping the string or strings with the hand.
If you want to practice your violin but you hate to disturb your roommates, you can practice silver or gold mute. It means playing the instrument without producing any sound, just moving your fingers on the strings.
Teachers often ask their students to do this exercise as a way to keep their fingers’ flexible and increase flexibility. It is also called ‘pinched’ wherein the fingers are used to bow at the frog while keeping the weight of the bow in balance.
It refers to the person in the middle of a concert – the guy who used to be a concertmaster. He directs the concert and works on resolving problems with pitch, articulation, pulse, and balance among the musicians. A conductor keeps each performance steady and with a clear beat through constant rehearsals.
Contacting point is also known as the sounding point. It is the part where the bow hair and the string touches. You can see it in Kreisler Highway that is related to Suzuki parlance. It means playing both parallel ends between the bridge and fingerboard at a particular spot. This is done in order to produce the best sound.
The concertmaster is the orchestra’s first-chair first violinist. The concertmaster often charges and lead each section, decide all bowings and act as a middleman between the conductor and the orchestra or vice versa. The concertmaster chooses the member of the orchestra through auditions and represents the orchestra in the community or music scene.
A concerto is a composition for a specific or sole instrument. It comes with orchestral accompaniment. This comes in a three-sonata form with cadenzas in both ends (first and last) movements. There are some violin concerts that use different movements though. In 1650, this was known as continuo, and it works with voices with organ. In short, it’s a solo concert or a way to show off a particular talent.
This is a type of composition or concerto where a group of small instruments alternately play with a larger group of instruments. One famous example is Christmas Concerto by Corelli, a renowned writer of Concerto Grosso.
There are different definitions when it comes to Detache. The basic principle is the up and down movement of the bowing or changing its direction with articulation. It is often mistaken as staccato but with less or more accent to it.
It refers to the sound made from the middle of the bow. Basically, you are pulling down toward the right to make this sound. Moving towards the left is making an Up Bow sound.
A double stop is about playing with two strings simultaneously. Don’t confuse it with ‘stopping’ or ‘mute’ where you put your fingers down on the string and a note is produced with an open string. So, if you use two fingers simultaneously, it is double stops, and using three fingers means ‘Tripe Stops’. Playing on four strings is called ‘Quadruple Stops’.
It is sustaining a single tone while a different melody is being played. For example, you will be asked to play a scale while your teacher is playing on the tonic. This is drone, and teachers use it to keep students on the pitch. Built-in drones are available in bagpipes.
This is about producing a flute-like sound. it is produced by playing deliberately over the fingerboard. A flute-like sound is produced by doing a ‘sultasto’ or over-the-fingerboard bow stroke.
It is not what you are thinking! This pertains to the opening in your violin surface on either side of the strings. It is shaped like a cursive ‘F’ that looks like an ‘S’.
It is another term for the violin, and you can check it on Violinist.com as well.
In a double stop octave, you can make fingered octaves by alternating your fingers 1-3 and 2-4. This is different from doing full fingers of 1-4 or 1-3. For guitar players, it is called two-string plucking.
Franco-Belgian Bow Hold
This hold means holding the bow with flexible and rounded fingers. This means holding it with rounded pinkie and ensuring to carry some of the bow’s weight.
You can find this device at the lower end of a bow. It is removable and it secures the hair and controls the tension. Some refer to it as heel or nut.
Galamian Bow Hold
This hold means your wrist is flatter with your fingers closed together. This is like a Franco-Belgian bow hold but has been revised and improved.
This movement is about producing a special effect or sound by gliding or sliding your fingers along the string. Ricci on Glissando is a book that talks about the different violin technique used for producing glissando for shifting. This book was written by Ruggiero Ricci.
It is the production of a bell-like sound that is produced by lightly touching the string. Use your left finger and just lightly flatten it towards the string. This technique breaks the string into partials.
For students, the first harmonics they often learn is putting the finger in the mid-way, at least an inch above or towards the bridge – this is basically between the nut and the bridge – where the body of the violin starts. This comes with the 4 and 0 fingering and most composers use it for added effect.
This is a natural hair from a horse’s tail. It is on any violin’s bow. To make it sticky, it is treated with rosin.
Hooked bowing means hooking two notes into one bow but with a stop in between. A slur is used in between each note. A stopped bow stroke is used at each note’s beginning. Notice that in this technique, the bow goes in one direction even if the notes are not part of the same bow movement or impulse.
Even if the bow stopped, the string might still be vibrating, and the sound has not stopped.
This is a series of notes ‘thrown’ together or individually at the same part of the bow. It is also known as ‘ricochet’ bowing. It means throwing the bow or making a down bow at the upper third string. It then bounces and produces rapid notes or series of notes.
Beginners can produce and play up to six notes when doing this while advanced players can do up to 11 notes. Paganini and the 19th century virtuosi players love this technique.
If you want to know who made your violin, you can check the label. It is found on the inside of your instrument, through the label that says ‘f’-hole. It also provides the year when it was made. Be aware of your violin and check for authenticity by checking the label before buying it.
Left Hand Pizzicato
This sound is produced by doing a sharp plucking of the string with your left hand. You can notice this playing with Paganini.
This is the Italian word for ‘tied together’. It means tied together smoothly. It is indicated by a slur mark. Legato means playing different notes smoothly; hence when you transition to one note, it is unnoticeable.
Legato means playing and changing notes with no accent, distinction, or sound. It can be slurs or ties; hence multiple notes are played with one bow direction.
A famous maker of stringed instruments such as guitar, cello, bass, viola, and violin. The name was coined from the word ‘lute’ which means basic stringed instrument.
This means ‘hammered’ in English and was taken from the Italian word ‘martellato’. It refers to a strongly accented and detached stroke of the bow.
This is a device attached to the bridge of the violin to make it produce a different tone or sound. t is made of small rubber, wood, or metal.
A mute works by adding weight to the bridge and preventing it to vibrate or make more vibrating sounds. This also helps produce a mellower tone, making the violin sounds more solemn with fewer audible overtones.
You can find violinists that use mute in orchestras. The device is used to produce a hushed sound. Con sord is the mark given to parts that needed to be played in mute. In Italian, it is called sordino or mit Dämpfer in German.
In your bow, the nut is your frog. For a violin, the nut is the grooved ridge of wood near the scroll. It is where the strings pass into the pegbox from the fingerboard.
This is where most bows are made. It is a popular South American wood that is very rare and hard to find.
This is a technique where you have to pluck the string with your right finger and not with the bow. In written music, it is marked as pizz (the short term for pizzicato).
If you are doing virtuosi effect and your right hand is occupied, you can use your left hand to do the plucking. In written music, it is marked with the plus (+) sign. It means you have to play bowed notes and plucking at the same time on different strings.
Advanced players can do and play fast pizzicato with their two fingers alternately plucking with their right hand. Pizzicato is continuously played until it reaches the part of the arco or the need to play with the bow.
This technique requires the player to play on the bridge, also known as sul ponticello. Playing behind the bridge is called “Dietro il ponticello’. These are considered as an unorthodox technique of playing and you can find it in Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.” The end of ponticello is reached when you see an ord in written music. It means ‘ordinario’.
In this technique, you have to gently re-articulate your bow as you continue to move between notes using your bow. This is different from up-bow or down-bow playing because the notes are not marked with a bow stop. Portato is about playing continuously – no stops and yes, it comes with an ‘r’ so it doesn’t read ‘potato’.
This talks about the place of your hand while holding a violin. The first to learn is the ‘first position’. It is called the first position for some reason folks!
The first position means placing your hand near the end of the fingerboard. It should be in a resting position and is pointed towards the scroll.
The third position is another position that students must learn. In this position, the hand moves forward. Your first finger must be placed to where your third finger was during the first position.
Overall, there are 10 positions that involve moving higher on the fingerboard. There is half-position as well. It means a half-step-lower than the first position. In this position, the first finger is on the right, by the nut.
This technique is the same with spiccato but in the upper half of the bow (U.H). it means the bow ricochets naturally as it hits a series of notes. The bow rebounds and hits again, hence throwing or dropping of the bow setting in general.
This is used to make a bow hair sticky, allowing it to produce the string sound. it looks like a small cake of solid resin from a pine tree. It is rubbed onto the bow hair. A bow that doesn’t use rosin can’t produce a sound or the violin, so all violin players need this.
There are different types of rosin and light rosin can produce smoother sound while dark rosin can produce a grittier or bigger sound. Dark rosin is used on cello or viola.
Rule of Down-Bow
As a rule, the first beat in playing the violin must start with a down bow. This is true yet there are circumstances when the first beat begins with an up-bow. This could be an exception. It really depends on the phrase of the written music. According to Geminiani, this is the “the wretched Rule.”
Russian Bow Hold
This hold means that your right hand must lean towards the index finger. The pinkie finger must be in a straight position. Your right wrist is also higher as compared to doing a normal hold. You can see this hold with Jascha Heifetz.
This is when all notes are smoothly articulated together while in a curved line. There can be a phrase break, but it is done after the slur. When compared to a tie, a slur is different because it combines notes of different pitch. A tie combines or unites different notes of the same pitch.
Straight bow refers to the stroke of the bow that is straight or perpendicular with the string. It doesn’t matter which type of bow stroke is used as long as the bow runs perpendicularly with the string.
Straight bow stroke ensures that the strings will produce consistent sound quality. It is also to ensure that the desired sounding point is reached. If you are doing a down bow technique, focus on your upper arm, lower arm, hand, or wrist as you strike your bow towards your string.
This sound is known as sustained legato. In English, it is known as the ‘filimented sound’. You can try to produce this sound by starting at the tip while keeping your bow parallel between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard.
Now you should move your bow gently to the frog and back. Play it for a time. This will help you practice and develop muscle control so you can play with more sensitivity.
This refers to the spaces between notes. It is produced by developing control of the bow from the second joint of the bow hand and the stick. This is an important articulation and you can learn more about it by checking the following: flying staccato, martelé, jeté, slurred staccato.
This refers to a technique that allows the player to produce a softer sound by playing over the fingerboard. Some players who are members of orchestra do it as a part of the arrangement, but some do it as a bad habit.
Some players end up doing a Sul tasto due to their lack of control of their bow or incorrect position of their violin. Some hold it unparalleled to the ground.
When played, it is ended with a passage written as ord or ‘ordinario’.
This is the fast version of spicatto with the use of the hand. It relies on the friction produced by the bow hair and the string plus the resistance of the bow stick. This combination ends up producing friction. It is different from a spiccato because it is not a ‘thrown’ stroke in general.
This refers to the decorative head of the fiddle or violin. It looks like a rolled parchment and is carved. There are makers that make creative scrolls and make it appear like a head of an animal.
This is the signature of every sound; it distinguishes one sound from another. It lets you know whether you are listening to a violin or a viola.
it is a technique that violin players do in an orchestral concert. It consists of measured or unmeasured up and down bows. It can be accented or unaccented as well or with different dynamics, depending on how the composer writes the notes. This is used to create tension or excitement during a ‘concierto’.
It refers to the vacillating of a sound that makes a note stand out. There are three types of vibrato. These are finger, hand, and arm vibrato. Most string players use these different types of vibrato with their instrument and some use up to two vibratos at the same time.
There was a time during the Baroque period when the use of vibrato was considered as an ornament. Today, musicians see a need to control vibrato especially, when playing scales (unless directed to do so).
To some, vibrato can be a sign of stress and nervousness hence it should be calmed. Still, a well-crafted vibrato can make a performance more emotionally appealing.