Musical Terms Glossary - Strings | Normans Blog

String instruments are some of the most traditional instruments and a vital part of the classical orchestra. Like with any other instrument, it is important to know your strings well in order to be able to play well and communicate with other players. In this article, we have compiled the most common terms and performance techniques linked to the string family.

Violins, Violas, Cellos and Double basses are all part of the string family. These instruments differ in the pitch, sound and the way they are played, but the anatomy of them is really quite similar.

Scroll and Pegs – pegs are located in the pegbox just underneath the scroll. Violins, violas and cellos are built with tension pegs, whereas double basses use machine pegs. In machine pegs, strings are inserted in small holes drilled in the pegs before they wrap around them.

Nut and Fingerboard – these are located below the pegbox and are usually made of ebony. Neck and Body – the neck is the section behind the fingerboard that connects to the body of the instrument.

F-holes – there are two f-holes located on top of the body, one on each side.

Upper and Lower Bouts the sides of violin are known as bouts and are usually made of maple. These are divided into upper bout (shoulder), middle or C bout and the lower bout.

Bridge – this is held by the tension of strings and is not in any way glued or attached to the top. Overtime, you will need to adjust the bridge as part of normal care and maintenance.

Fine Tuners – these are used to make smaller changes in the pitch and are located close to the chin rest.

Tailpiece – this anchors the strings and is built very strong to withstand the tension of the strings. Tailpieces are attached by a tailgut looped around the end pin (end button).

Chin Rest – this is where the musician rests their chin while playing. Chin rests are only found on violins and violas as they are played standing up as oppose to cellos and double basses.

Rosin – a small piece of resin often made from a pine tree that is being rubbed onto the hair of the bow to make it sticky in order to create a sound.

The Bow – a flexible wooden, carbon fiber or fibreglass stick with horse hair attached to it used to slide over the violin strings to create a sound.

The Stick - The stick of the bow can be made of hardwood, carbon fibre or fibreglass.

The screw – this is used for tightening and loosening the hair and is found at the end of the bow.

Hair – this is the part that the instrument is struck with and is made of real horsehair taken from the tail. You will commonly find white horsehair attached to your bow, however, some prefer black horse hair although it is more coarse.

Frog is where the bow is held and this is the heaviest part of the bow

Performance techniques

Pizzicato – a technique for playing stringed instruments where the strings are picked/plucked rather than bowed.

Flautando – a bowing technique that creates a flute- like sound.

Franco-Belgian bow hold – holding the bow with rounded fingers, including a rounded pinkie. This technique takes some weight off the bow.

Galamian bow hold – this is slightly different to Franco-Belgian bow hold. The musician’s wrist is flatter and fingers are slightly closer together.

Glissando – gliding or sliding fingers across the string. Glissandos are used to create a unique effect.

Jeté – French for ‘thrown’, this is a bowing technique that involves a bouncing bow stroke with two to six ricochets in a row.

Mute – a mute fits over the bridge to muffle the sound of the violin so that the violinist can practice quietly.

Nut – this has two meanings. On the bow it is the frog and on the violin it’s the ridge of wood near the scroll.

Ponticello – stands for bridge of the violin. Sul Ponticello is an indicator to play very near the bridge. This results in a nasal sound.

Portato – in a portato bowing technique, each note is rearticulated very gently a oppose to up-bow or down-bow staccato.

Ricochet – a bouncing bow stroke which involved the bow being dropped or thrown on to the string.

Spiccato – bouncing bow stroke.

Tremolo – rapid alternation between two tones that are a whole or half tone apart.