Violin For Dummies®

Table of Contents


Why This Book Is for You

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: So You Want to Play the Violin

Part II: Getting Started: The Basics

Part III: Reading Music for the Violin

Part IV: Musicianship and Harmony

Part V: Taking It Up a Notch: Techniques and Styles

Part VI: Getting into Gear, Staying in Gear

Part VII: The Part of Tens


Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: So You Want to Play the Violin

Chapter 1: Introducing the Violin

Bring On the Violin!

Tuning up

Holding on

Bowing Out Some Sounds

Taking a close look at the bow

Getting both your hands in on the action

Reading between the Lines

Knowing the notes

Getting rhythm

Digging Deeper into Music

Scales and key signatures


Getting Stylish

Dazzling technique

Multicultural music

A Violin of Your Own

Chapter 2: Getting Started with the Violin

Examining the Violin

How Violins Work

String vibration and string length

Using both hands to make a sound

How the bow helps

Taking the Violin Out of Its Case

Tuning the Violin

Working the pegs and fine tuners

Tuning with the piano

Using an electronic tuner

Using a pitch pipe

Using a tuning fork

Troubleshooting Guide to Dealing with Pegs and Fine Tuners

Peg problems

Fine tuner problems

Chapter 3: Holding Up Well

Understanding the Importance of a Good Violin Hold

When standing

When sitting

Reading from a Music Stand

Finding a Good Fit: Chinrests and Shoulder Rests


Shoulder rests

Fixing Common Problems withthe Violin Hold

Keeping the scroll afloat

Watching the horizontal angle

Keeping your elbow under

Gripping too much with the shoulder

Part II: Getting Started: The Basics

Chapter 4: Taking a Bow

Looking at the Bow

Preparing the Bow

Tightening and loosening the horsehair

Using rosin on the bow

Getting a Grip on Your Bow Hold

The famous diva method

The hidden treasures method

Conquering common problems withthe bow hold

Setting the Bow on the Strings

Bowing on different strings

Understanding bowing signs

Playing Your First Concert!

Theme from Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony

Jingle Bells

I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad

Mr. Smooth and Mr. Clean: Two Bowing Styles

Chapter 5: Getting the Left Hand Right

Shaping Up Your Arm and Fingers

Getting your arm in shape

Taking your fingers to tap dancing class

Making a hand frame that works

Keeping your thumb loose onthe violin’s neck

Putting Your Fingers on the Strings

Getting groovy fingertips

Counting your fingers

Knowing which finger to use for what note

Lifting and placing your fingers

Getting It Taped

Preparing Your Pizzicato

Exploring the fingerboard guidesthrough pizzicato

Asian Mood

Octave Ping-Pong

Three’s Company: Putting Finger 2to Work

Jingle Bells

Shortenin’ Bread

Chapter 6: All Together Now

Using Your Hands Together

Starting to use both hands

Developing fitness for hands together

Crossing Over to a Different String

Crossing strings with the bow

Crossing strings with the fingers

Playing Music with Both Hands

Warming up to the task

Topping the charts: Three simple songs

Hot Cross Buns

Frère Jacques

Expanding Your Bow Strokes

Using more bow, gradually

Preparing to play Pachelbel

Pachelbel Canon

Part III: Reading Music for the Violin

Chapter 7: Translating Five Lines onto Four Strings

Lining Up the Music

Don’t jump off the clef

Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (and so do girls!)

Climbing on the ledger lines

Naming Your Notes, String by String

17 notes to know

A string

E string

D string

G string

Meeting the Sharps, Flats, and Naturals

Looking at sharps, flats, and naturals

Playing sharps and flats

Charting Your Way with the Fingers On

Boil the Cabbage Down

Playing Loud and Soft — Dynamite Dynamics!

Making loud sounds

Making soft sounds

Adding crescendo and diminuendo

Ode to Joy

Chapter 8: Here’s Counting on You:A Guide to Rhythm

Anatomy of a Musical Note

Adding Up the Value of Notes

Whole notes

Half notes

Quarter notes

Eighth notes

Sixteenth notes


Adding Dots (No Need to Cross the Ts)

Dotted half notes

Dotted quarter notes

Taking a Rest

You’ve Got Rhythm: Pieces to Play!

Little Brown Jug

Boiling the Cabbage Further Down

Nutcracker Sweet

Chapter 9: Getting Ticked Off: A Guide to Meter

Measure for Measure

Keeping Time: Time Signatures

Tapping into the beat

Counting rests

Emphasizing the right beat

Using Metronomes

Mechanical metronomes

Electronic metronomes

Making friends with your metronome

Making Music in 4//4 Meter

Old MacDonald

Pachelbel Canon

Counting and Playing in Threes

Pussycat Pussycat, Where Have You Been?

Doing (Just About) Everything Else from Fours and Threes

2//4 time

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

6//8 time

Getting Up to Speed: What Those Tempo Markings Mean

Time for Some Songs

Theme from Symphony No. 1 by Brahms

Old French Folk Song

Simple Gifts

Oranges and Lemons

Part IV: Musicianship and Harmony

Chapter 10: Weighing In on Scales

Climbing Up and Down

Marching through the Major Scales

Building major scales

Major scales you need to know

A major scale

G major scale, upper octave

G major scale, two octaves

E major scale

A major scale, two octaves

F major scale

Casting Light on Those Minors

Building a minor scale

Playing A melodic minor scale

Playing A harmonic minor scale

Meeting Other Scales in Brief

Natural minor scales

Pentatonic scales

Chromatic scales

Harping on about Arpeggios

A major arpeggio

A minor arpeggio

Major (And Minor) Achievements

Mozart Clarinet Quintet

Aunt Rhody Becomes “A Minor”

Chapter 11: Signing Off on Key Signatures

Unlocking Keys

Getting the key to key signatures

Reading the key signatures for major keys

Keeping order

Locking In to the Right Key

Figuring Out Minor Keys

Forming the relative minor

Recognizing minor keys whenreading music

Having the Last Dance

Bach’s G Minor Gavotte

Chapter 12: Better Together: Harmony

Making Sense of Chords and Harmony

In the Big Leagues: Major Chords

Finding the principal triads

Breaking out in chords

Digging for Minor Chords

Making the Most of Majorand Minor Chords

Meet the Bossy Chords:Dominant 7ths

Harmonizing in Thirds and Sixths

Part V: Taking It Up a Notch: Techniques and Styles

Chapter 13: The Language of Bowing

Two Notes (Or More) with One Stroke: Legato

Changing bow direction smoothly

Starting to slur two notes

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Slurring across strings

Asian Mood

Playing three notes in a bow stroke

Old French Folk Song

Fitting four notes in a bow stroke

Getting Up to Speed and Figuring Out Bow Division

Deciding how much bow to use on a note or bar

Doing the math: Dividing the bow by note values

Dividing the bow strokes in anticipation of the next note

Adjusting the amounts of bow for dynamics

Mais Oui, Maestro: Taking On Ze Accents

Accenting the positive

Haydn: “Surprise” Symphony

Hammering it out: Martelé

Grand Old Duke of York

Meeting the Fanciest Bowings

Slurred staccato

Drink to Me Only

Meet the off-the-string family

Magic Flute Overture

Chapter 14: Putting Your Finger on It

Two Notes Are Better Than One:Easy Double Stops

Preparing your bow for double stops

Going from one string to two and back again

Ballet dancing with your fingers on the lower string

Playing double stops where both notes are stopped

Playing double stops galore

Hunting Horn Song

Pulling Out All the Stops: Three- and Four-Note Chords

Three-note chords

Four-note chords

A grand finale with chords

Grand Finale

Getting into the First Four Positions

Finding first position

Smoothing out the second position

Putting second position to work

Playing in third position

Venturing forth in fourth position

Knowing what position you’re in

Changing Position

Easing into shifting positions

Getting to know the four kinds of shifts

Changing position to go to a different string

Playing a shifty song

Speed, Bonnie Boat

All Aquiver: Vibrato

Getting started with vibrato

Good vibrations: Using your vibrato in a real song

Pachelbel Canon

Tapping into Trills

Building speed of repetition

Speeding from finger to finger

Trilling techniques

A Trill a Minuet

Chapter 15: Styles of Music

Fiddling Around with Country Music

Familiarizing yourself with fiddle music

Fiddling in different styles

Sounding like a fiddler

Fiddling your way to songs

Cripple Creek

Chicken Reel

Grooving to Jazz

Listening to some jazz violin

Getting the jazz sound

Jazzing up your violin

Country Club

Sweet Georgia Brown

Enchanting with Gypsy Violin

Listening to some great gypsy violin

Romancing the violin

Playing in the gypsy style


Hungarian Dance No. 1

Part VI: Getting into Gear, Staying in Gear

Chapter 16: Finding the Right Violinand Bow for You

Picking a Violin That’s Right for You

The price is right

Tip-top condition

Old news

Sound advice

All about appearance

Sizing Up the Violin

Buying the Best Bow

What bows are made of

How the bow feels

Deciding Whether to Rent or BuyYour Violin



Renting to buy

Finding Your Violin

Getting Plugged into Electric Violins

Acoustic pickups

Electric violins

Chapter 17: Polishing your Assets: Violin Care and Maintenance

Cleaning Up

Daily dusting

Cleaning the strings

Polishing the wood

Changing Strings

Taking off the old strings

Prepping the pegs and string

Putting on strings attached at the tailpiece

Putting on strings attached to fine tuners

Tightening the strings

Protecting Your Violin

Upgrading Your Case

Changing Chinrests

Rehairing the Bow

Finding Useful Accessories



Part VII: The Part of Tens

Chapter 18: Ten Performers — and Their Recordings

Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840)

Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962)

Jascha Heifetz (1899–1987)

Stéphane Grappelli (1908–1997)

Yehudi Menuhin (1916–1999)

Itzhak Perlman (1945)

Nigel Kennedy (1956)

Mark O’Connor (1961)

Natalie MacMaster (1973)

Vanessa-Mae (1978)

Chapter 19: Ten Ways to Go beyond This Book

Subscribing to a Magazine

Attending Concerts

Joining a Community Orchestra

Going to Summer Camps

Playing in Small Groups

Participating in Festivals

Local music festivals (competitive and noncompetitive)

International music festivals

Building a CD Collection

Collecting Videos and DVDs

Visiting Competitions

Performing at Hospitals and Seniors’ Homes

Chapter 20: Ten Tips on Finding a Teacher


Calling the Local Orchestra

Inquiring at Music Schools

Checking Out Community Colleges

Asking at the University

Hearing Students Play

Asking at the Music Store

Mentioning Your Quest Everywhere

Looking for a Good Gut Feelingbefore You Start

Meeting a Teacher for the First Time


Planning lessons

Making business arrangements

Appendix: How to Use the CD-ROM

Hearing the audio tracks

Watching the video clips

MP3 audio tracks

Video clips

Violin For Canadians For Dummies®

by Katharine Rapoport


About the Author

Katharine Rapoport enjoys an eclectic career as a freelance violinist and violist in Toronto. After graduating from Cambridge University and the Guildhall School of Music, London, she spread her musical wings and spent seven more years performing and studying in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Austria before moving across the pond.

She has performed in just about every situation, from elegant Baroque opera on original instruments to cutting edge new music, from La Boheme to Les Miz, from educational recordings to Viagra jingles. Her solo work includes concerto appearances with orchestras and sonata partnerships with pianists, and she also performs with a variety of chamber ensembles.

Her teaching has ranged from showing a two year-old how to unpack his violin case for the very first time to preparing outstanding young professionals for recitals, auditions, and competitions. She currently teaches at the University of Toronto, working with students who plan to make music their career, teaching violin and viola performance, and coaching chamber music ensembles. Many of her former students are now enjoying full-time careers in music, playing with major orchestras and chamber ensembles in Canada, the United States and England, teaching and involving themselves in all aspects of music.

In her “spare” time, she takes on an assortment of projects for the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto: conducting the RCM Chamber Orchestra, compiling and editing violin publications for the Conservatory’s examination system, devising their string syllabi, and going across Canada to examine and adjudicate young string players. She is frequently on faculty at summer chamber music and orchestral programs.


Dedicated to my husband Alexander, my son Leo, and all my family; and to my students, who taught me how to teach.

Author’s Acknowledgments

Special thanks to:

Robert Hickey, my patient and perspicacious editor, who envisioned and carried through this huge project; Heather Ball (developmental editor) and Andrea Douglas (copy editor) of the eagle eyes, well-organized brains and good humor; Ian Koo, for the amazing photographic work, and to the rest of the wonderful team at Wiley.

Dan and Carol Kushner, without whom VFD wouldn’t have arrived at my door in the first place.

Joanne Martin, Patricia Shand and Marena Smith for ideas and feedback on pedagogical practicalities.

My teachers Yfrah Neaman, Bruno Giuranna, Hatto Beyerle, Arrigo Pelliccia, Franco Rossi, Alain Meunier, Burton Kaplan, Jennifer Glass and Nicola LeFanu, from whom I learned so much, and to the late greats whose legacy gives us all a precious violin inheritance, including Leopold Mozart, Leopold Auer, and some people not called Leopold, such as Carl Flesch, Joseph Szigeti, Ivan Galamian, Paul Rolland, and Shinichi Suzuki, whose ideas continue to inspire new generations of players.

My friends, colleagues and students Maxine Byam, Ron Hay, Anne Lindsay, George Meanwell, Mary McGeer, Barbara Morris, Elizabeth Morris, Michal and Pasia Schonberg, and James Tinsley, who read, advised, brainstormed.

Alistair Grieve and David Tamblyn at the Soundpost, Toronto; Jaak Liivoja-Lorius; Darragh McGee at Long and McQuade, Toronto; Quentin Playfair; Michael and Rosa Remenyi and Derrick Rathwell at Remenyi House of Music for their valuable expertise on violin and bow-making, repairing and accessories. Long and McQuade and the Soundpost kindly provided the items for the photoshoot.

The helpful staff at Atelier Grigorian in Toronto and at HMV shops in Vancouver and London, whose knowledge and willingness to help me find some great recordings made my task much easier and more fun.

And finally, my “in house” team, Alexander Rapoport, my husband, for advice on harmony (I’m lucky to have a composer around the place!), and Leo Rapoport, my son, for the idea of providing readers with video clips of the main actions.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Editor: Robert Hickey

Developmental Editor: Heather Ball

Copy Editor: Andrea Douglas

Media Development Specialist: Laura Atkinson

Cover and interior photos: Ian Koo

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Vice-President Publishing Services: Karen Bryan

Project Manager: Elizabeth McCurdy

Project Coordinator: Lynsey Stanford

Layout and Graphics: Barbara Moore, Rachell Smith

Proofreader: Laura L. Bowman

Indexer: Belle Wong

Special Help: Zoë Wykes, Q Music

John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.

Bill Zerter, Chief Operating Officer

Jennifer Smith, Vice-President and Publisher, Professional and Trade Division

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


Violins have fascinated humans ever since they began their existence in primitive forms. The violin’s shape is so stunningly beautiful, and its tone so evocative — like a human voice, but with a magical take on the sound. Watching violinists play allows us a peek into a secret world where physical ability and artistic expression meet to make beautiful music.

I first fell in love with the violin when I was in grade school in London, England. One day, my music teacher, Miss Simpson, brought to class a fascinating-looking case. She opened it up to show us the most exquisite item I had ever seen — a violin. She played a few notes on this beautiful instrument, and I was hooked for life. After listening to my persistent requests for a violin of my own, my parents figured it was more than a passing fancy, so they set me up for some violin lessons with my neighbors’ daughter. I even used her old 3//4-size violin, which cost the shocking sum of £10! The musical bug kept me busy through high school and university, and it has never worn off, even after many years of pursuing a full-time career in music.

Why This Book Is for You

I talk to so many people — audience members after I play a concert, friends, colleagues, people who see me carrying my violin case on the subway — who all tell me the same thing: “I wish I knew how to play the violin.” Violin For Dummies is for all of you (and for all the people I don’t know personally, but who I know are out there) who have the same desire.

Even if you’ve never picked up a violin, let alone tried to play one, this book tells you what you need to know to make some music. I take you from the first moment you look at your instrument right on through the stages of an exciting journey to playing the violin. And the journey is fun — I guarantee it.

No matter how skilled you are with the violin (or even if you have no skills yet), this book has something for you. If you’re new to the instrument and want to play, you can follow the chapters in order. If you have some violin background and are looking for some tips on sharpening your skills, you can zone in on areas where you want some advice and skip over the places where you know how to manage.

If you’re a more advanced musician, or even a music teacher, you may want to use Violin For Dummies for reference. I give you extra teaching ideas, and you can find some new tricks and approaches to playing that really work.

Foolish Assumptions

Because you’re reading this book, I can make quite a few assumptions about you already:

You have a violin.

If you don’t have a violin, you’re preparing to buy, rent, or borrow one, along with a few necessary bits of equipment. I tell you about all the equipment you need, plus some violin accessories that are just really cool.

You love all kinds of music, and you want to play music yourself.

You want to study the violin seriously and quite thoroughly, but you don’t want to be bored out of your mind in the process — that’s why I sprinkle so many fun songs for you to play throughout the book.

You’re not necessarily familiar with reading music, but you want to give it a try. That curiosity is just what you need, because I ease you into reading musical notation until you can read it as well as you’re reading this right now.

You’re eager to add words like pizzicato and purfling to your vocabulary. I give you all the basic violin and music terminology you need to sound very knowledgeable.

You have access to a CD player to listen to and play along with the songs I provide. And likely, you even have access to a computer so that you can watch the moves in action on the CD-ROM.

How This Book Is Organized

No matter how you choose to read Violin For Dummies (jumping between chapters or reading systematically from cover to cover), the book is organized into handy sections so that you always know where you are on your musical journey. This book takes you through the first steps all the way to more-advanced playing techniques, and it even covers some essentials of music theory. Or, if you’re looking for a particular topic, the book’s organization helps you find it faster than you can say “Paganini.”

Part I: So You Want to Play the Violin

Part I introduces you to the world of the violin by telling you the names of the parts of the violin and bow. (Say “Pleased to meet you!”) After you’ve said hello, I show you how to tune your violin and hold it comfortably (and properly) so that you can begin to play.

Part II: Getting Started: The Basics

In this part, I tell you how to hold and manage the bow with your right hand to draw a sound out of the violin. After the bowing’s going (and flowing!), you put both hands to work together by using the left-hand fingers to make many different notes.

Part III: Reading Music for the Violin

You can manage quite a bit of playing by ear and with the handy charts I show you in Part II, but eventually you’ll want to read music on your own, which is exactly what this part is about. After you’re able to read music, you can figure out any new pieces you meet. I show you the main aspects of musical notation: notes, rhythms, meters (not the parking kind!), and other musical signs.

Part IV: Musicianship and Harmony

All kinds of elements go into even the simplest-sounding piece of music. Read this part to understand how music works when all the parts sound together. I talk about scales, key signatures, and harmony so that you know what’s going on around you as you play.

Part V: Taking It Up a Notch: Techniques and Styles

The violin is hardly a one-note wonder. This instrument has lots of character, and I want to show it off. The music that you play becomes quite a lot fancier in Part V, where you find out about some very slick moves with the bowing and the fingering. You also enjoy a brief visit to the worlds of fiddling, jazz music, and gypsy violin, and I give you a few tips about how to sound authentic when you play in these characteristic styles.

Part VI: Getting into Gear, Staying in Gear

Read this part to find out about renting or buying a good violin, and taking proper care of your instrument and bow. I also talk about neat accessories, some of which may look rather strange to you at first. I explain what the accessories do and let you know which ones are must-haves and which are ones to lust after unrequitedly at the music store.

Part VII: The Part of Tens

Your family probably tells you that you’re the world’s greatest violinist. But you know you can always find ways to discover more about the violin. This part lists famous violinists of yesterday and today, and mentions some of their recordings for you to enjoy. For even more fun with your violin, I tell you ways to join in on musical activities with other players and how to find a good teacher to take you on the next step of your violin journey.


The CD-ROM that comes with Violin For Dummies contains audio recordings of every song and exercise in the book in MP3 format, so you can put this disk in your computer or upload the files to your MP3 player and play along. It also includes short video clips of many of the key movements you need to know to play the violin, enabling you to see just what I’m writing about. I fill you in on how to use the CD-ROM at the back of the book, in the appendix.

Icons Used in This Book

Flipping through the book, you’ll no doubt notice some little pictures in the margins. I hope they grab your attention, because that’s their job. Whenever you see one of these icons, look for the following kinds of information:

Tip.eps A Tip icon tells you stuff that makes life a whole lot easier, and that may even make playing the violin a whole lot easier. So my tip to you is to watch for the Tip icon.

Remember.eps A Remember icon tells you to keep in mind something you probably already know.

Warning(bomb).eps When you see the Warning icon, take special notice of the information. This icon tells you that you need to watch out for a possible problem or difficulty.

TechnicalStuff.eps Technical Stuff icons give you useful information and even some impressive jargon about the theory behind a particular section. But this information isn’t crucial, and it doesn’t affect what you’re actually doing. So if you’re not in a technical frame of mind, you can come back to this icon later, or skip hastily to the next bit.

OnTheCD.eps This icon reminds you that Violin For Dummies is more than just a book: It’s also an audio-visual experience. The book’s companion CD-ROM contains MP3 files of the songs and even provides video clips of the moves I describe, so you can know if you’re doing them right. Whenever you see this icon, check out the CD-ROM to hear and see things in action.

Where to Go from Here

Well, in most books, page 1 is a good place to start. But this book is different. You don’t have to read Violin For Dummies in strict order, from the first page to the last page. You won’t miss the punch line if you turn to check out some question about violin playing that’s been bugging you for 37 years and then flip back to the previous section afterwards.

Of course, you’re also very welcome to start with the basics in Chapter 1 and then move gradually through the book to the more advanced material, because the book does build up systematically, skill by skill, chapter by chapter.

Whatever your musical background, you can use this book as your guide to the world of violins. So sit back (or rather, sit up straight, in case you want to pick up your violin) and get ready to make some music.

Part I: So You Want to Play the Violin

838389 fgCN01.eps

In this part . . .

You don’t have to be a professional violinist to play well and enjoy the violin. You don’t have to be a child prodigy, and you don’t have to buy a million-dollar violin to sound good. But you do have to take it step by step. In Chapter 1, I give you an overview of just about everything you can expect to discover as a violinist, every step of the way. Then it’s time to pick up your instrument. Check out Chapter 2 to familiarize yourself with the names and functions of all the parts of the violin. That chapter also shows you how to tune your instrument so it sounds like it should. Chapter 3 is all about how to hold the violin comfortably.

Chapter 1: Introducing the Violin

In This Chapter

Getting to know the instrument

Making sounds with the violin

Reading and playing music

Putting music theory into practice

Trying different playing styles

Choosing and caring for your instrument

You don’t have to be a professional musician to enjoy playing the violin. Learning to play for your own enjoyment — for the joy of making music —can be really satisfying. If you’ve always wanted to play but have never had the chance, or if you’ve taken some lessons or played a bit at school, this book is for you: It starts right from the first time you open your case and takes you step-by-step to playing real music on your violin.

Bring On the Violin!

The violin is a member of the string family, which also claims the illustrious viola, the magnificent cello, and the imposing double bass as its own, actually totaling 16 strings among them –– or even 17, as some basses actually have five strings! People also often include such instruments as the guitar and the harp in the string family, but these relatives lack an essential accoutrement: Players don’t need a bow to make sounds. So the string family (just like so many human families nowadays) has become known by another name too: bowed strings. All of the bowed strings’ family members bear a distinct resemblance. The overall shape of the instruments is similar, and their sound is instantly recognizable.

The smallest member of the string family, the violin, is an instrument that’s familiar to people all over the world. Just because the violin’s the smallest in size, however, doesn’t mean it’s the least important or least powerful — quite the contrary. The violin’s special soprano voice can express a whole gamut of emotions, even those beyond the power of mere words. The violin can produce tone colors and intensities like the greatest of painters, and it has fascinated and moved players and listeners alike for generations.

Making a violin requires great skill, honed through a long apprenticeship, to get more than 70 component parts put together into one beautiful instrument. But most violinists wouldn’t know their scroll (the beautifully carved whorl of wood at the end of the violin farthest from the player) from their saddle (the small ebony ridge that supports the whole course of the strings). This unawareness isn’t surprising; although most people are pretty familiar with cars, they can’t name auto parts either.

Plenty of very experienced violinists aren’t able to name all the component parts of a violin, mainly because many parts are completely hidden inside the violin after it’s put together. They are able to name the key ones, though. I discuss the key parts of the violin in Chapter 2 as I take you on a tour of your violin. I also discuss in Chapter 2 some different violin-making processes, and I walk you through the steps for getting your violin safely out of its case when you begin your playing session, and for putting it away again when you’re done.

Tuning up

After being properly introduced to the violin, you need to tune your instrument before you begin to play. Each string has its own set note that you tune to, so that when you put down your fingers, you get the sound you expect.

Tuning the violin can be potentially quite intimidating: Those four strings need a checkup tuning every time you start your daily playing session, and they occasionally slip out of tune even during a practice session. This frequent tuning seems a bit unfair. After all, pianists don’t have to tune for themselves; they just have to call in the tuner a couple of times a year. And flautists use a fairly simple process to adjust the tuning of their flutes. On the violin, some aspects of tuning can be pretty tricky, so I offer tips on how to tune — and how to deal with managing the tricky stuff too (see Chapter 2).

Eventually, the process becomes second nature, and violinists don’t mind tuning their instruments, because they sound good when the strings are in tune. And think of those pianos with several notes slipping out of tune, and the tuner not due for months — pianists have to grit their teeth and wait! Violinists can fix out-of-tune strings right away.

Holding on

In addition to your violin being undoubtedly the most elegant of instruments, another part of its appeal is how debonair violinists look when they’re actually playing. Great violinists often look like their instrument is an extension of themselves — but this seemingly effortless posture actually involves a lot of practice.

Apart from looking great, taking time to get the instrument comfortably lodged and balanced prevents your playing from becoming a literal pain in the neck. Your arm and finger functions also work optimally when all their muscles are free to move as needed, with no excess tension or creaky joints. Chapter 3 shows you how to hold the violin really well, along with providing a few tips on finding useful accessories to help you in your quest for balance and comfort.

Bowing Out Some Sounds

The violin may get most of the glory, but its renown wouldn’t be possible without its slender companion, the bow. The bow’s job is to activate the vibrations of the strings so that your violin can sing out. When you look at the narrow bow stick, which is only about 29 inches long, and its ribbon of powdery-white horsehair, it seems quite amazing how much sound a bow can draw out of the strings, and in how many different ways.

Taking a close look at the bow

The bow doesn’t have as many components as does its more celebrated case-mate, but it has its own quirks and nuances. How can you not appreciate something with a part named “frog”? I introduce you to the frog and more prosaically named parts of the bow (no toads or princesses) in Chapter 4, which also tells you how to care for your bow so that it stays in tip-top condition.

Although your bow doesn’t require tuning, it does need its own type of attention before and after every use — and just like the violin, it needs special attention paid to how it’s held. You get an introduction to holding the bow properly and you actually bow out a few tunes at the end of Chapter 4.

Getting both your hands in on the action

Remember trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time (or is it the other way around?). Playing the violin is a good exercise for your brain and hand coordination because your two hands move very differently to make sounds happen. If you’re an adult taking up the violin for the first time, you can earn extra points for all that new brain activity.

Your left hand has a lot of responsibilities on the violin, making notes both by landing and by lifting fingers on and off the four strings. Fingers also have to move horizontally and laterally to reach various notes on different strings. Eventually, the left hand also moves to different locations farther up the strings to find those impressive high notes. Chapter 5 gets your left hand actions off on the right track, showing you the finger-numbering system for the violin and the way to successfully land your fingers on the strings without getting a pilot’s license.

But all that left-hand work can’t make an impact if the bow doesn’t stroke the strings — and that’s where your right hand gets to work on its important job: to hold your bow just right. When you assemble all your bowing skills, the bow can make a whole range of sounds, from singing sweetly in lyrical music to hammering out sounds in passionate passages. Chapter 6 sets you on the right path by bringing your hands together to bow and finger the notes simultaneously. You make music by using some simple charts, and you finish up with songs that pull all your skills into action.

Reading between the Lines

The first songs you meet in this book don’t require the ability to read music, because they’re written out in handy charts. The charts allow you to play simple songs right away as you begin to play your violin. However, when you find out how to read actual musical notation, you can play more advanced music and enjoy a wealth of songs and pieces.

Printed musical notation is a shorthand system that communicates a whole world of playing instructions to musicians. These instructions include information about which notes to play, and at what speed and rhythm; how loud or soft the music needs to be; and a wealth of other visual information that helps you to make the sounds right. As an added advantage, the ability to read music allows you to understand music that’s been written for any instrument or singer, not just for the violin.

Knowing the notes

Reading music is a bit like reading a language written with a different alphabet than the one you’re used to: Printed music has similarities to what you already know; you just need to get to know the new system. The notes belong on those famous five lines, with the lines functioning much like a ladder: the higher the notes climb the ladder, the higher the sound you get. Notes have slightly different appearances according to their time values. Various symbols give musicians information about the volume, how to “attack” the notes (just with a bow, no arrow necessary), and so on.

To crack the secret code, see Chapter “007” (or Chapter 7, if you’re not the espionage type), which takes you through the symbols and signs and shows you how to make them into actual sounds.

Getting rhythm

All the melodies in the world would be a lot less listenable if it weren’t for rhythm. Dancers would trip over one another, soldiers would fall over like dominoes, and toe-tappers would be toe-tally frustrated. Rhythm gives life and energy to music and lets you dance to the tunes of many different drummers (or violinists).

Chapter 8 introduces you to the most important elements of rhythm and shows you how to count your way through the different values. In Chapter 9, you put those rhythms together into different measures so you know when to waltz and when to polka.

Digging Deeper into Music

Reading notes on the page and knowing the time values of the notes is just the start of playing music. After you learn those basics, doors open to the big leagues.

Scales and key signatures

I know that scales often inspire dread because they used to be drilled and repeated endlessly in the bad ol’ days. But scales are really the building blocks to music, enabling musicians to find their way around just about any piece. Knowing your scales well gives you fluency and confidence, and there’s nothing wrong with those attributes. Chapter 10 covers some of the most essential scales for a violinist.

After you know some scales, you have the picks to unlock key signatures. These little signs, containing up to seven sharps or flats, occur at the very start of each piece of music and are repeated as reminders at the start of every line throughout the piece. A key signature is a way of telling musicians exactly which notes to play in a particular piece. Chapter 11 shows you how to read and recognize the different key signatures.


Although violins usually play the melody one note at a time, one of the advantages of a string instrument is that its four strings enable players to play up to four notes at once, when needed. But just as pickles and ice cream don’t mix, not all notes work well together. Chapter 12 combines some of these notes into sweet harmonies, so you don’t marry dill and vanilla.

Getting Stylish

The violin is well loved for its versatility and for the panoply of sounds it can make, from the gentle singing of a slow, peaceful lullaby to the dazzling cascade of brilliance in a virtuoso showpiece. You probably already have a great desire to tackle some fancy tricks and to coax all kinds of exotic sounds out of your violin. The good news is that you can begin to do some pretty neat things as you look into the chapters that deal with the development of fancier techniques and styles.

Dazzling technique

After you master some different ways of playing with the bow, you can add new dash and panache to your sounds. Even the names of the different bowings sound very fancy. When you bump into your friends, you can casually let drop that you’re playing spiccato, and then after a suitable pause for effect, you can let them know that this is a bow stroke where the bow bounces off the strings of the violin.

Seeing the words brush stroke may make you wonder what a violinist is doing with a brush, but you don’t have to transform into Chagall to play your violin — you just add an artistic brushing movement to your bow strokes, bringing a whole new palette of sounds to your fingertips. Chapter 13 introduces you to a choice menu of bowings, some in the meat-and-potato department, and some definitely in the sinful dessert category!

In Chapter 14, you go through a similar journey of discovery with your left hand, getting your fingers to dance across the strings (almost doing a violin version of the Highland fling) and do other neat moves. Not only do your fingertips lift and land on one string, but they also slide and hop to different spots on that same string, ready to leap across to another string at any time. Sometimes two different fingers play on two different strings at once. Just when you have those fingers in line, you find out how to move your left hand to high positions (and back again) so that you can play high notes or make slinky-sounding slides.

Multicultural music

The violin is like a chameleon — it’s at home just about anywhere. In addition to the more classical styles of playing, many other cultures all over the world have their own unique styles featuring the violin and its relatives — from the Chinese two-string erhu, which has a ravishing and magical vocal sound, to the Indian sarangi, a very expressive and exotic instrument with three gut strings to play on and a whole array of metal strings that vibrate sympathetically.

But you don’t need to get hold of an erhu or a sarangi to play in different styles. Chapter 15 takes you on a visit to some different musical styles that you can play with your very own violin. You can fit right in, whether you’re at a ceilidh, at a smoky jazz club, or in a gypsy caravan.

A Violin of Your Own

As you embark on your important and exciting violin project, you may be quite sure you’re going to love the violin, so you may want to buy one right away. However, you may feel cautious about jumping in, so you may be considering renting an instrument for a while. Either option can be a very successful way to get started.

Finding the right instrument with the right price tag for you, whether it’s through buying or renting a violin, is a personal decision that affects your enjoyment and progress. You want to feel satisfied with the instrument you play, so your violin needs to sound good enough. Chapter 16 discusses some of the issues to consider before you make a decision about what’s best.

After you’re equipped with all the gear, you can find out how to take good care of it and do the necessary maintenance. Keeping your violin and bow in tip-top condition takes only a few simple steps. Chapter 17 covers these in detail (even talking about what to do if an accident occurs to your violin), discussing daily care, changing strings, and traveling safely with your violin in hand.