Fairview High School > Orchestra > About the Instruments

About the Instruments

Violin, violin, bigger violin, and huge violin? NO!

Violin!


First known in 16th-century Italy, the violin is an incredibly old instrument. This is the highest pitched instrument in the string orchestra, tuned from lowest to highest as GDAE. In our orchestras, we typically have two violin parts: the Violin I and Violin II parts. Both complement each other, but can also have their own outstanding moments. Violins typically sit or stand on the left side (as you are looking at a string orchestra from an audience). Interesting fact: A modern day violin contains over 75 separate pieces of wood all carefully pieced together. While they are the smallest string orchestra instrument, they can be equally as expensive and complex as larger instruments.

Viola!


While many find it hard to tell the difference between a violin and a viola, the two are dramatically different. The viola is slightly larger and has a lower tuning, tuned as CGDA. The development of the viola is closely linked to that of a violin, evolving in 16th-century Italy. Violas typically sit or stand in the middle of a string orchestra or slightly to the right if you are looking at the orchestra from the audience. Interesting fact: The term "viola" was initially used to reference any Western-world stringed instrument often played with a bow, but gradually was used more specifically to denote the modern day viola.

Cello!


A few years after the violin and viola were invented, the cello was created. The cello is tuned an octave lower than a viola's CGDA. The cello is often used in orchestral music but also is typically the lowest voice in the average string quartet. The plural of "cello" is "celli", and celli often sit on the right side of the orchestra if you are looking at the orchestra from the audience. Interesting fact: The word "cello" is just an abbreviation for the word violoncello, which means "small large viol" in Italian. The cello has changed sizes many times throughout history, so this is a reference to the complex history.

Double Bass!


The largest and lowest pitched instrument in the string family is the double bass. It isn't known exactly when the first double basses were introduced, but there are records of similar instruments (tuned differently) around the same time period that the other three instruments were introduced. The double bass is tuned as the lowest note being an E and going up to A, D, and G. Interesting fact: Basses have two different main types of bows, the French and German style bows. Many players just play with what they started out with, as the grip is different on both and there isn't necessarily one that is "better" than another.

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