Anatomy of the Violin
With a powerful, emotionally evocative tone that ranges from deep throaty sound to singing high notes and harmonics, the violin is an instrument that rewards practice and dedication.
To be the best you can be at playing the violin, you should know all the common names of the parts of the violin and what function they perform. You should also know how individual violin parts can be removed and replaced, how violin parts should be serviced and maintained and what to do if you think a part of your violin is damaged or broken.
Let's learn about the anatomy of a typical violin from end to end. If you'd like to jump ahead, use the anatomy chart above to click a part you'd like to read about first.
WHAT IS THE BASS BAR?
This strip of seasoned spruce is hidden inside the violin but has a large effect on the instrument's bass tone and lower register in general.
The bass bar is a thin strip of seasoned spruce, mounted in a standing up position under the left side of the top. It is mounted in line with the strings and reaches almost from one end of the violin body to the other.
The bass bar shapes the waves of vibration inside the violin to produce deeper, more resonant bass tones.
WHAT ARE THE LOWER BOUTS?
The lower part of the violin's body expands out in the lower bouts to maximize sound production.
Below the waist emerge the two lower bouts. The hourglass shape made by the bouts makes the violin recognizable instantly by the player and non-player alike.
WHAT ARE THE UPPER BOUTS?
The upper part of the violin's body expands out in the upper bouts to maximize sound production.
Above the waist emerge two upper bouts. The hourglass shape made by the bouts makes the violin recognizable instantly by the player and non-player alike.
WHAT IS THE BRIDGE?
The bridge is a small, decoratively carved piece of maple that holds the strings away from the top of the instrument and transfers vibration to the body.
The bridge is a small, decoratively carved piece of maple that is positioned on the top between f-hole notches and holds the strings away from the violin's top surface. This allows the strings to vibrate freely while transferring that vibration to the resonant cavity of the body. It also provides a spacer between the strings so they rest evenly above the fingerboard. The bridge is not permanently attached to the violin but holds it's position firmly under the tension of the strings.
The height of the bridge can be adjusted within the standard specifications to suit the playing style of the player.
WHAT IS THE CHINREST?
The chinrest allows the violin to be balanced comfortably between the chin and shoulder with reduced tension on the player's neck and shoulder muscles.
The chinrest is an accessory usually made from a variety of hardwoods, plastic or composite materials and it is attached to the lower lefthand side of the violin by brackets that clamp on to the ribs. The chin rest generally allows the player to rest the violin comfortably between the jaw's left side and the shoulder. However, there are many playing styles and cultural differences when it comes to chinrests.
Catering to the widely varying tastes of violin players and their needs, there are dozens of types of chinrests available today. In fact, there is even a passionate group of players who insist that the violin sounds better without a chinrest at all, but most players find that the comfort and convenience makes the chinrest a necessity.
The end button holds the tail gut and tailpiece firmly in place.
The end button is found at the end or bottom of the violin body and is usually made from a hardwood like ebony or rosewood. The tail gut of the modern violin attaches at the end of the tailpiece and loops around the end button so it has a secure anchor point to hold the tailpiece in place.
WHAT ARE THE F-HOLES?
F-holes help shape and direct the sound of the violin.
F-holes are openings carved into the top of the violin that act to increase the power of the tone emitted by the instrument. They allow some sound from the resonant interior of the violin to escape to the listener, but that is not their primary purpose. In fact, most of the tone provided by the violin comes from the vibration of the top and the back transferred directly to the air.
There has been a lot of study about the placement, size and effect of sound holes on stringed instruments. These features have in fact changed quite a bit in the course of centuries worth of violin design experimentation. Scholarship suggests that they allow more freedom of movement between the top and back and help focus the production of sound, affecting the tone quality in a way that is much more than just allowing sound waves to escape.
WHAT ARE THE FINE TUNERS?
Fine tuners allow for more precise tuning of each string.
Fine tuners are found on the tailpiece of the violin, most commonly on the E string. However, some instruments have fine tuners installed for all four strings. The fine tuning is done by a small lever that is adjusted by a small thumb screw. Fine tuners can either be individual pieces that are affixed to the tailpiece at the end of each string or they are built-in to the actually tailpiece.
WHAT IS THE FINGERBOARD?
The fingerboard provides a hard surface for the string to be pressed down onto so notes can be played.
Violin fingerboards are mostly made of ebony, a very hard black wood. Other hardwoods are sometimes used on lower quality instruments and are artificially blackened to look like ebony.
The violin fingerboard does not have frets like a guitar to delineate one pitch from another, so the player must have a strong ear and sense of pitch to play confidently in tune. A violin fingerboard must be planed professionally with the proper curve and "scoop" in order for the strings to vibrate freely without buzzing against the surface.
WHAT IS THE NECK?
The neck extends from the body to hold the strings and fingerboard.
The neck is an extension of the body of the violin that holds the strings and fingerboard and ends at the pegbox & scroll. It is typically carved from sturdy maple.
WHAT IS THE NUT?
The nut (or string nut) holds and directs the strings down the fingerboard to the tailpiece.
The nut is found at the top end of the fingerboard, holding the strings in perfect alignment and exact height from the fingerboard to maximize the violin's tone and playability. Four small grooves or notches are carved into the top of the nut, into which the strings are placed before winding around the pegs.
WHAT ARE THE PEGBOX AND TUNING PEGS?
The pegbox holds strong tuning pegs for the strings to wrap around so they can be tuned.
The pegbox houses four strong tuning pegs for the strings to wrap around so they can be tuned. The other end of the strings is anchored at the tailpiece. Each peg is slightly tapered in shape, allowing the player to adjust the hold of the peg by applying more or less pressure and turning. Often, the pegbox and the scroll of the violin are carved out of a single piece of wood.
To make the pitch of the string higher, the pegs are twisted to tighten the tension of the string. A looser tension results in a lower pitch. An inexperienced player should be very careful when using the pegs to tune because it is very easy to over-tighten the string, causing it to break.
WHAT IS THE PURFLING?
The decorative edge looks good and keeps the violin from developing cracks.
Around the edge of the top and back are seen a decorative edging known as "purfling." This inlay has decorative appeal and also helps reduce the chance of cracks developing in the violin's top and back.
WHAT ARE THE RIBS?
The ribs (or sides) are carefully crafted to hold the violin's top and back apart, creating the space for the sound to develop.
The violin's ribs (or sides) are the wood pieces that run around the entire outer edge if the violin body, between the top and back. The ribs hold the two pieces apart, creating the resonant cavity that produces the violin's sound.
WHAT IS THE SADDLE?
The saddle helps spread the force of string tension away from the violin's center toward the chin rest.
A violin saddle is a small rectangular block of wood, often crafted of ebony, which helps relieve pressure exerted on the violin's body by the force of the string tension.
It is found at the end of the violin under or next to the chin rest and supports the tailgut.
WHAT IS THE SCROLL?
The scroll is a decorative carved wood piece at the end of the violin.
The scroll is a decorative carved wood piece at the end of the violin, usually carved out of the same piece of wood forming the pegbox. The most common carving is a delicate scroll shape knows as a "volute" that dates back to the Baroque period.
WHAT IS THE SOUND POST?
The sound post bridges the top and back of the violin on the inside, allowing them to vibrate together more harmoniously.
The sound post of a violin is a small dowel-shaped piece of wood (usually spruce) that is positioned inside the violin with the tip touching just below the right foot of the bridge. It runs between the top and back of the violin, transferring vibration from one surface to the other to maximize the tone of the violin. This simple invention greatly increased the resonance of the violin when it was discovered.
WHAT ARE THE STRINGS?
The strings vibrate and transfer that vibration to the body for amplification and resonance.
There are four strings on the standard violin, typically tuned to G, D, A and E with the G being the lowest in pitch. The player draws a horsehair bow across the strings or plucks them while fingering notes on the fingerboard to produce single notes, chords and other sound effects.
The classic string was made of sheep's gut, though few strings are made of this material today.
Every player has differing opinions on how often the strings should be changed, but when the string snaps or loses the ability to stay in tune or produce a pleasing tone, it should be replaced.
WHAT IS THE TAIL GUT?
The tail gut holds the violin's tailpiece to the end button.
The tail gut of a modern violin is threaded at either end and attached to the tailpiece with a small adjustment screw. These vital pieces are made of both metal and nylon materials today, though traditionally they were crafted from twisted strips of animal intestine.
The precise adjustment of the tail gut has a major effect on the sound quality and tone of the violin, and it may require occassional adjustment when it is new. Over time, the violin's tail gut will settle and not need as much attention.
WHAT IS THE TAILPIECE?
The tailpiece anchors the strings to the body of the violin on its lower end.
The tailpiece is the anchor holding the strings to the body of the violin on its lower end. Many instruments have an individual fine tuner on the tailpiece for at least the E string, if not for all the strings. Some tailpieces have built-in fine tuners on the tailpiece for all the strings. The tailpiece can be made of several types of wood or composite material and is seen in other wood colors besides the typical black.
WHAT ARE THE TOP AND BACK?
The top and back of the violin resonate to provide much of its tone and volume.
The violin body is constructed of two large, arched pieces of single wood that are held apart by the ribs. When the violin is resting on its back, the soundboard or "top" is seen on top with two distinctive "f-holes" cut through. The back is one large expanse of resonant wood without any hole.
The quality and age of the wood in the top and back of the violin have a large impact on its sound. Violins are very subject to their environment, including heat and humidity, but a well-made, well-cared-for, frequently played violin will improve markedly with age. The age, type and condition of the varnish used on these pieces also affect the sound.
The typical wood used for tops is spruce, while the back & ribs are generally made of maple.
Around the edge of the top and back are seen a decorative edging known as "purfling." This inlay has decorative appeal and also helps reduce the chance of cracks developing in the top and back.
WHAT IS THE WAIST?
The violin has cutouts in the middle on both sides, known as the waist, to make room for the bow.
The terms "bouts" and "waist" or "c-bouts" describe various parts of the violin body's distinctive shape. When the instrument is held standing on end, the waist or c-bouts are the cinched-in area in the middle, cut out of the curve of the wood of the top along its edge. This allows the bow to pass over the strings at a variety of extreme angles without hitting the side of the body.