Violin is a bowed, stringed musical instrument of the family chordophones - instruments that produce sound by vibration of chords, or strings. This main group is further divided into four subgroups - lutes, zithers, lyres, and harps – based on positioning of strings in relation to the body of the instrument. Violin belongs to the subgroup - Lute.
Violin evolved during the Renaissance from the medieval fiddle. In 19th century, the violin underwent its last changes in design - The bridge was heightened, the sound post and bass bar were thickened, and the body became flatter. The neck was angled back, giving greater pressure of the strings on the bridge. The result was a stronger, more brilliant tone. The scroll surmounting the peg box reminisces the horse's-head carving on fiddle of Central Asia. The present violin family comprises violin, viola, violoncello, and double bass. The term violin is a diminutive of viola - an abbreviation of viola da braccio.
The characteristic structure of violin consists of an enclosed sound chamber, or resonator, with strings passing over all or part of it, and a neck along which the strings are stretched. The player moves his fingers up and down the neck, thus shortening the strings and producing various pitches.
The use of horsehair bow can be traced to the Islamic civilization of the 10th century. The violin bow consists of a strong, light, flexible wooden stick, sprung so that a ribbon of horsehairs can be stretched between its ends. Before playing, the hair is drawn across a solid cake of resin to give necessary frictional element to make the string vibrate. The hank of hair is stretched between the head and frog, and a screw adjusts its tension. The hair is retained as a flat ribbon by passing through a specially shaped ferrule.
Other features of the violin are the tuning of the strings in fifths and their numerical limitation to four. Reducing the number of string-crossing the bow to free the bridge from too many strings giving better clearance on each string for bowing. The second additional feature is the unfretted fingerboard. The direct stopping of the strings by the fleshy fingertips produces a tone quality that, though slightly damped, is more assertive and flexible than the tone obtained from the use of frets..
The bridge transmits the string vibrations to the violin belly, or soundboard, which amplifies the sound. Inside the instrument, beneath the treble foot of the bridge and wedged between the violin belly and back, is the sound post, a thin stick that transmits the string vibrations to the instrument's back, contributing to the characteristic violin tone. The belly is supported from beneath by the bass bar, a narrow wood bar running lengthwise and tapering into the belly. It also contributes to the resonance of the instrument.
The violin is the most common secondary melody instrument in South Indian Carnatic music. It is played in unison where the passage is composed but imitates the voice or main melody instrument in the improvised passages. Violin though not a native of the Indian subcontinent, was introduced to Carnatic music by Baluswamy Dikshithar the younger brother of the great composer Muthuswamy Dikshitar and has become very popular. There are no major differences in construction between the Indian violin and its Western counterpart, In Carnatic Music instead of holding the instrument under the chin, the musician while sitting on the floor, props it between the shoulder and the foot giving stability which cannot be achieved by any north Indian or occidental techniques.
Baluswamy became an accomplished violinist. It was his genius that adopted the western instrument Violin to Karnataka Sangita. He soon started accompanying, on violin, his elder brother Mutthuswamy who played Veena. Thus, what started as a jest or an experiment, in due time, became a regular feature of the Karnataka Sangita. Now, it is hard to imagine a Karnataka Music concert without its most visible and audible element, the violin , accompanying the main singer.
• T. N. Krishnan
• M. S. Gopalakrishnan
• A. Kanyakumari