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Orchestral Strings. Allison Wegner and Ashley Lear. Viol family. Violin Viola Cello Bass. * The harp is considered a part of the orchestral strings. Violin. History of theViolin.

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Orchestral Strings

Allison Wegner and Ashley Lear

viol family
Viol family





* The harp is considered a part of the orchestral strings.

history of theviolin
History of theViolin
  • European origins date back to the “musical bow” of the 9th century; ancient predecessor called the Rabab possibly from Arabia.
  • Practice of using a bow to rub the strings was adopted in the 11th century
  • The rote and later the five-string vielle slowly integrated ribs into the design
  • Before 1500, the viola da gamba was widely used in many settings.
  • Modern violin emerged during the early 16th century.
violin construction
Violin Construction


  • Body is traditionally made from maple or sycamore. (Full size is 14 inches)
  • Tuning pegs, located on the scroll at the top of the neck are usually ebony or rosewood. Fine tuning pegs are located at the bass of the strings.
  • Originally strings were made from dried sheep intestines or catgut, modern strings are made from synthetic core (metals) either solid or stranded.
  • Bow sticks made from Brazilian wood Pernambuco; bow frog made from ebony; ribbon made from horse hair.
  • Maker uses ribs to create an exact arching of the body for the sake of acoustics.
  • The f sound holes are located on the surface of the body.
  • Friction between bow and string vibrates through the bridge and the sound post to the body of the violin where it resonates.
violin tuning and range
Violin Tuning and Range
  • Non-fretted instrument
  • Open strings from left to right; G, D, A, E. (occasionally extra doubling strings)
  • Pitch range from G3 (below middle C) to the highest note on the modern piano C8.
  • Usually non-transposing instrument. (exception = scordatura)
  • Violinists read treble clef.
violin in the orchestra
Violin in the orchestra
  • Typically 16- 30 violins
  • Violin section divided into first and second violin parts.
  • Violin often called the “King of the Orchestra”
  • First violinist is the concert master
  • Violins can be warm and soothing or bright and shrill depending upon what is needed and the skill of the violinist.
other uses for violin
Other Uses for Violin
  • Violins in folk music referred to as fiddles (not usually memorized but passed on by ear)
  • Italian classical violin (Niccolo Paganini)
  • Jazz violin used as lead melody line
  • Electric violins used in progressive rock
  • Part of string quartet (typically 2 violins)

  • Emerged with violin during the early 16th century.
  • Slightly larger than the violin (16 inch body)
  • Richer, darker, more full-bodied timbre
  • Reads alto clef (sometimes treble)
  • Four strings left to right C, G, D, A
  • It is a perfect 5th lower than the violin (still a non-transposing instrument)
  • Typically carries an inner voice part.
viola continued
Viola continued…
  • Part of a stringed quartet
  • 10- 12 violas in typical orchestra.
  • Important role in chamber music (Mozart’s six-stringed ensembles)
  • Used in some newer folk music
  • John Cale is a notable violist who has helped in its popularity.
important differences
Important Differences
  • Requires wider fingering so ideally larger hands.
  • Requires more intense vibrato
  • Violists often use the pad rather than the tip the finger much like a cellist.
  • More weight must be applied by the bow due to thickness of strings.
  • When entering in unison with violinists, violists have to begin the bowing a bit early.
tips for beginners
Tips for beginners
  • Children should begin with a 1/2 or 3/4 violin or viola
  • Requires a good ear
  • Keep bow perpendicular to strings
  • Should be able to fit a pencil between the hair of the bow and the wood when tightened.
  • Draw bow closer to the fingerboard than the bridge.
  • Invest in a shoulder rest.
  • Developed from the bass viol (violin) around the same time as the violin and viola.
  • Body of a full size cello is 30 inches long (recommended for children to start on 1/2 size)
  • Four open strings C, G, D, A sound one octave lower than the viola.
  • Cellists read bass cleff.
  • Although it varies according to the cellists skill, the range is from C2 up to C6.
  • Celli have a mellow warm timbre.
cello continued
Cello continued…
  • Part of the stringed quartet or quintet.
  • There are typically 8-12 celli in an orchestra.
  • Cellist tend to carry inner-voice harmony in orchestras and there are often cello solos.
  • Celli are used in jazz but not quite as much as the double bass.
  • Notable cellist Yo Yo Ma
tips for beginners17
Tips for beginners
  • Students should sit on the edge of a chair/thighs parallel to the ground.
  • Should be able to stand up quickly without moving the tail pin from its position.
  • The neck should come right past your ear.
  • Should have relatively nimble fingers (also large enough)
  • Elbows should always be high.
  • Use knees to stabilize the body between them.
  • From the viola da gamba family
  • Bowed, fretted, stringed instruments appeared in 1400’s in Europe
  • Germans shaped the bass like a viol - with sloped shoulders and a flat back
  • Italians built basses with violin corners and a curved back
  • 1800’s - fretless bass
  • Early Baroque period - low profile
  • Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846)
  • First great bass virtuoso
  • Revolutionary composer and player
  • Bass players had their own music to play!
  • Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889)
  • Italian composer, conductor, and virtuoso performer
  • Used the French bowing style
  • Usually 1.8 meters long
  • Top is made of spruce
  • Sides, back and neck made of maple
  • Fingerboard and Tailpiece made of ebony
  • 4 or 5 strings made of steel (used to be made of gut)
  • Tuning pegs are made of brass
  • All parts are glued together except for the soundpost
  • *Sizes and materials of the bass vary.
sound production
Sound Production
  • Strings vibrate when bowed or plucked
  • Vibrations travel through the bridge, through the soundpost and then to the back of the bass
  • Vibrations ring through the pores in the wood and out through the F-holes
tuning transposition
  • Four strings (E A D G)
  • Bass is the only transposing string instrument - they sound an octave lower than what is written
  • Solo Tuning (F-sharp B E A)
  • Most solo bass repertoire is written in solo tuning, so bassists don’t have to transpose
  • Read a minor 7th below concert pitch in solo tuning
clef range
Clef & Range
  • Bassists play in Bass, Tenor and Treble Clef, but usually in bass clef
  • As solo music became more difficult (notes in higher octaves), composers began to write bass parts in higher clefs
  • C Extension
  • Most popular way to extend the low range of the double bass
  • Extends the E string chromatically down to a low C (lowest C on a piano)
  • Depends largely on the make of the bass
  • Rounder back - darker sound
  • Flat back - brighter sound
  • Most basses have a darker sound in the normal octaves
  • Sound gets brighter outside of the normal range
role in the orchestra
Role in the Orchestra
  • Root of all chords
  • Difficult to hear, but absence would be noticed
  • The lowest sound in the orchestra
  • Doubles parts with tuba and contra bassoon

tips for beginners28
Tips for Beginners
  • Anyone can play the bass - lots of PATIENCE
  • First: Bowing technique
  • Then add left hand
  • Most kids start on a 1/8 bass
  • Full size is 3/4
  • 7/8 is used by professional orchestral bassists (more wood and BIG sound)
left hand technique
Left Hand Technique
  • Vibrato: stylistic oscillation of the pitch caused by rotating the upper arm at shoulder joint.
  • Glissando: sliding of the finger up or down the neck to create runs.
  • Harmonics: touching or depressing of the strings to create specific tones or overtones (natural or artificial)
right hand technique
Right hand technique
  • Double Stop: playing of two notes at the same time.
  • Pizzicato: plucking the string with finger of thumb directly.
  • Col legno: use of the wood rather than the the hair of the bow. (usually percussive)
  • Spiccato: striking strings with the hair of bow.
bowing styles
Bowing Styles
  • German: more power and more sound, easier to start on (hand is underneath the bow), Dragonetti bow
  • French: used by cellists, have more control, more bowing style options, more difficult because gravity works against it
  • Both are equally common
  • Professional symphonies
  • Made from resin (obtained from pines and other plants)
  • Bass rosin is softer and stickier than violin rosin (in order to grab the thicker strings)
  • Increases friction between the bow hair and the strings
other string accessories
Other String Accessories
  • Wolf tone eliminators
  • Mutes
  • Humidifiers
  • Endpin stops of straps
  • Tuners
  • Metronomes
  • Shoulder pad
  • About 80 lbs. / 6 ft. high
  • 6.5 octaves (46-47 strings)
  • Lowest strings made of copper or steel-wound nylon
  • Middle strings made of gut
  • Highest strings made of nylon
  • Walnut, maple, cherry, and ash wood can be used to make the body of the harp
  • Soundboard is usually spruce
3 types of harps
3 Types of Harps
  • Arched Harp: soundbox and neck forming a curve
  • Angular Harp: soundbox and neck form a right angle
  • Frame Harp: neck and soundbox are joined by a column to create a triangular shape
  • 7 pedals (one for each note)
  • Discs at the top rotate when pedal is pushed
  • Pegs pinch off the string
  • 3 pedal positions (flat, natural, sharp)
  • Sebastian Erard (1810) - double-action pedal system
  • Strings tuned to C-flat Major scale
sound production39
Sound Production
  • Taut strings are plucked, vibrate down into soundboard
  • Sound projects out from the wood and from the sound holes in the back of the soundbox
  • Tuned to a C-flat Major scale
  • It is possible to play in almost any key
  • Tune when string is open (no pedals!)
  • String is at full length when pedal is up (in flat position)
  • Can use a tuning key to adjust the pitch slightly
transposition clef range
Transposition, Clef & Range
  • Non transposing instrument
  • Harpists set the pedals to the key at the start of a piece (accidentals signal pedal changing!)
  • Play off of the Grand Staff (Right hand plays treble clef, left hand plays bass clef)
  • Two schools of technique
  • Salzedo: elbows up and forearms parallel to the ground, many gestures while playing (visual), never rest arms on soundboard, louder sound
  • French: wrists are fluid, right arm rests on soundboard, not as much gesturing, can play faster, more quiet
role in the orchestra43
Role in the Orchestra
  • Add color to the orchestra
  • Usually one or two harpists in a symphony orchestra
  • Sometimes the harps are covered by other instruments, unless the composer knew how to write for harps
tips for beginners44
Tips for Beginners
  • Children and beginning adults start on a lever harp
  • Dexterity of the fingers and previous piano skills would be an advantage
  • Teachers: Be aware of your young harpist’s needs - literature is limited for middle school orchestras
  • Beginners are also limited in the number of keys they can play (using a lever harp)
  • Teachers: Might need to arrange a harp part to make it easier for student to read.
helpful sites
Helpful Sites
  • (viola, cello)
  • (guide to the orchestra)
works cited
Works Cited
  • Elgar, Raymond. Introduction to the Double Bass. London, Lowe and Brydone (Printers) LTD, 1960.
  • Brun, Paul. A History of the Double Bass. Published in France, translated in 1989.
works cited continued
Works Cited continued…
  • Stowell, Robin. The Early Violin and Viola:A practice Guide. Cambridge University Press. 2001.
  • Cowling, Elizabeth. The Cello. Chalres Scribner’s Sons New York. 1983.