The History of the Violin

Have you ever wonder where is the violin coming from or when it was created? If your answer is yes, then keep reading and today you will learn a bit more about the history of that so popular string instrument!


The violin’s birth still remains shrouded in mystery. It would take several centuries before it would start looking like the violin as we know it today. Stringed instruments or anything resembling a violin bow wouldn’t appear until the 10th century. Before that, these types of musical instruments, like the lyre, were played by plucking the strings. Bowed string instruments appeared later in the Chinese Empire, Byzantine Empire, and the Arab-Muslim world.

These instruments were played with a bow made from horsehair. The rebab is often considered one of the violin’s oldest ancestors. It was the first bowed string instrument in the Arab-Muslim world and would arrive in Europe through Spain. It would later be called the “Vihuela” in Spain and the “Viola” in Italian.

Rebab (top) Vihuela (bottom)    

Then a new evolution came along, the viol: The viola da gamba and viola da braccio which were used before the violin existed. The viol was a modified chordophone whose performer would use bowing to vibrate the strings and create the sound. Lyres, which are similar to early violins, were only ever plucked, though the left hand manipulated the strings on the neck to change notes.

Viola Da Gamba
Viola Da Braccio

The first mention of the violin came in 1520. The Italian term “violino” means little viol. 

The final version of the instrument was made by the Andrea Amati’s lutherie workshop in Cremona. The look and the sound of the instrument wouldn’t change for another century. It would take a while before there’d be concert music for violins and they’d become part of many orchestra, quartet, symphony, and ensemble pieces.

The Prestigious Rise of the Violin in Italy

The first real violin dates back to 1564. Catherine de’ Medici ordered one for her son Charles IX, King of France. The instrument then became a part of the royal court where it has remained ever since. This helped the Amati workshop become famous. Their children and grandchildren continued the family business and would be luthiers.

First Amati’s Violins look like this

The quality of violins crafted in the town helped make Cremona the home of the violin. In fact, Cremona was the home to the workshop of the famous Guarneri family (Andrea, Giovanni, Giuseppe, Pietro, and Bartolomeo most famously) of instrument makers. Subsequently, Italy became home to many luthiers during this time and is still the home of the violin.

Aspiring luthiers still travel there to learn the techniques which have been used by Italian workshops for centuries. These handmade violins are, unsurprisingly, of the highest quality.

A luthier chooses their wood (often spruce, ebony, maple, boxwood, willow, and rosewood) depending on its tonal quality, then sculpts it using traditional tools as the first luthiers would have when making violins in the 16th century.

At the time, king Henry of France was one of the first to establish a programme for learning to make violins, a profession the king acknowledged. The training lasted 6 years and was provided by a guild master.

Before this training existed, musicians had to build their own instrument themselves.

The Best Composers of the 17th Century

It would take another century after the royal order for Antonio Stradivari to change the violin’s appearance.

This is one of the Violins made by Antonio Stradivari known as The Hammer

The manufacturing methods are still a secret. Out of over a thousand instruments made by the Italian, there are still around 650 in good condition because of the high levels of craftsmanship. The Stradivarius violins remain a veritable legend in the world of music. In fact, these are considered to be the finest sounding instruments of all time.

In the 17th century, the violin became an essential instrument in many orchestras since composers like Monteverdi and Lully were using them in their compositions. Monteverdi was himself a violin player and was the first to use the violin in his compositions. The musician regularly collaborated with Andrea Amati’s children Antonio and Girolamo as well as his grandson Nicolo. The first two were luthiers for Henry IV of France’s orchestra.

The arrival of the sonata would make the violin an essential part of composition in the 17th century. Lully became the royal violinist.

Not only did the composer create musical versions of Molière’s work for Louis the 14th but he also enthusiastically performed them including George Dandin ou Le Malade Imaginaire, in particular.

The two artists basically invented a new genre in doing so.

The violin became an essential instrument for musical composition during this time. It would continue to evolve during the following century.

The Violin During The 18th Century

Violin techniques continued to develop during the 18th century, too. Musicians like Vivaldi, Locatelli, and Tartini kept pushing the envelope. Mozart wrote many sonatas for violin during this time.

During this period, the violin was already established as part of the orchestra. A lot of important conductors were violinists themselves. The city of Paris became the meeting place for Europe’s greatest violinists. Mozart spent a lot of time composing there.

Vivaldi also composed his famous violin concerti in France’s capital. His most famous concerti, Le Quattro Stagioni, composed in 1723 represent each of the main parts in a year. These tunes are some of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world.

The violin continued to establish itself as a serious instrument during the 18th century. During this century, the violin’s shape and manufacturing methods changed. In fact, the increased usage of the instrument led to more and more composers and musicians looking for better violin. To meet their growing needs, luthiers lengthened the neck, bass bar, and the diameter of the sound post.

Thus, the luthiers of the time took the designs of the violins made by Amati and Stradivarius and modified them. The violin has remained relatively unchanged since then.

The Modern History of the Violin

While modern music doesn’t tend use older instruments like the violin, the violin is still an instrument people are learning to play nowadays. The new ways of buying things have changed things up. Rather than calling a luthier to build you a violin, you can now get an acoustic or electric violin for a reasonable price from stores.

An instrument that was once used for royal courts can now be used in rock, pop, or folk music. The electric violin comes in a whole variety of shapes, some more outrageous than others since they don’t need to be carved and can do away with traditional manufacturing techniques. Some do away with the sound box and the wood commonly used in making violins and look very unlike the violins of old.

To conclude let’s listen to John Williams: Schindler’s List Movie Theme interpreted by the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. Perlman plays the Soil Stradivarius violin of 1714, formerly owned by Yehudi Menuhin and considered one of the finest violins made during Stradivari‘s “golden period.”

 This is one of my favourite pieces. Let me know if you liked it? 

Interesting Facts about Mozart

#1 His birth was a consolation to his parents

He was the 7th and last born child of Leopold Mozart and Anna Maria. He was born on 27th January 1756 as a great consolation to his parents, as five of their children had died while still infants.

#2 He was a Roman Catholic

His parents took him to get baptized at St. Rupert’s Cathedral a day after his birth. The cathedral stands in Salzburg, the capital city of the Archbishopric of Salzburg in the Holy Roman Empire (today’s Austria). He grew up as a devoted Roman Catholic and did not deviate from this faith all his life.

#3 He was a fast learner

He loved his sister and watched as their father taught her to play the keyboard, also known as a clavier. After showing interest in it, his father began to teach him how to play, keeping to time and striking the chords so that it sounds good. He learned to play the clavier in no time and could play it faultlessly.

#4 He was five years old when he made his first musical compositions

His talent evolved rapidly after learning how to play the clavier. His father, who was his teacher, listened as he played the compositions to him and recorded them in the Nannerl Nontenbuch.

#5 He traveled a lot

At a young age, he traveled widely for concert tours and met many established musicians. One of them, Johann Christian Bach, praised Mozart for his taste and great skill. Even with the challenging and primitive travel conditions, Mozart embraced other composers’ work and acquainted himself with their writing styles.

#6 Mozart established his career at a young age     

This fact about Mozart is one that thrust his career and made him recognized. He wrote his first symphony at the age of eight, an Ontario at eleven, and his first opera at twelve years old. His musical journey gained momentum at this early age, and by the time he was 15 years old, he had a seat on the court orchestra. Although he enjoyed learning different music genres and working with great musicians, Mozart was unsatisfied with the low pay at the Salzburg court, and so he resigned.

#7 He had a fascinating love-life

He married Constanze Weber in 1782 and had six children, but only two survived. Mozart wasn’t the typical body-built man, but with his small pock-marked face, he had a great sense of humor and was free to enjoy life to the fullest. He had first fallen in love with Constanze’s elder sister, Aloysia, but she had lost interest in him after their first separation.

#8 He became friends with the Emperor

He stood out in Vienna as the finest keyboard player after participating in a competition as a pianist before the Emperor in 1981. His career as a composer became prosperous during this period. His opera “The Abduction from Seraglio” was played all through Europe. The Emperor became a substantial supporter of Mozart’s musical dream.

#9 He had an unwavering passion for his work

Following his breakthroughs in Vienna, he decided to settle there as a freelance composer and performer. His father was not pleased with this decision and fervently opposed him, forcing him to reconcile with his former employer. Mozart heard none of it and continued to pursue his music career undeterred.

#10 He achieved success in his career

Between 1782 and 1785, his career reached its peak as he organized many popular concerts, with him as the soloist. During this period, he made enough money to live luxuriously – he and his wife moved to an expensive apartment, sent their son to a boarding school, and even had servants.

#11 He was a FreeMason

In 1784, he joined Freemasonry and began to compose Masonic music occasionally. One of the Masonic specials he made is the Maurerische Trauermusik. This new commitment became a crucial part of his life as he attended meetings and made friends from the Masons group.

#12 Operas were his home, and he always came back

The great success achieved from his masterpiece “The Abduction from Seraglio” enticed him to continue writing concertos and performing as a piano soloist. He found his way back to writing operas and had significant collaborations with the famous Lorenzo Da Ponte. These compositions were musically complex and were quite tricky for listeners.

#13 He thrived even when he wasn’t well

His last year before his illness can be described as the most productive year of his life, as he experienced great public success and was very satisfied with his work. At the time of his death in December 1791, he left incomplete albums of his operas (La Clemenza di Tito and The Magic Flute) that he had premiered before his wealth deteriorated.

#14 The cause of his death is still a mystery

During his illnesses, he portrayed symptoms such as vomiting, swelling, millet rushes, and severe pain, which would suggest many different diagnoses. This fact is one of Mozart’s most argued points, as some people have rumored that his rivals might have poisoned him.

#15 His burial did not depict his high standing in society

His burial was in a common grave that could face excavation in about ten years. There was not much recognition as compared to the concerts he held that had full attendance.

#16 His game spread more after his death

There was a sudden rise in interest for his work, and many authors came out to write his biography and verify facts about Mozart that had remained a mystery to many people. Many publishers also looked to produce his completed work.


Did you know all of this about Mozart? What did you know already?


Violin Experiment! Interesting story about one of the greatest violinist in the world!

On April 8, 2007 the Washington Post ran a long feature article by Gene Weingarten in the Sunday magazine called Pearls Before Breakfast that won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Rarely have I been more intrigued with a story, and I think musicians will be and should be talking about it for decades to come.

The author was a writer for the Post, and convinced classical violinist Joshua Bell, considered one of the greatest virtuosos of this era and voted the best classical musician in America, to put on a T-shirt and a baseball cap and try being a street musician to find out what would happen. During a January morning rush hour, Bell opened the case to his $3.5 million Stradivarius and played in the subway station at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C. Bell was in town playing a concert at the Library of Congress, and agreed to participate in this unprecedented social and musical experiment. Would passers-by recognize genius and talent or just walk by? Would a crowd obstruct the commuter traffic? How much money would he make? Could hallowed music and “high art” make a mark or maybe shine some bright sunshine into the everyday world of commuters in a hurry?

A hidden camera documented what happened during a 43-minute period, while Bell played pieces by Bach, Schubert (Ave Maria), Massenet and Manuel Ponce. He opened at 7:51 AM on Friday, January 12, with Bach’s 14-minute Chaconne (Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor), generally considered to be the single greatest solo violin work and one of the greatest musical compositions ever created. It was played on one of the finest instruments the world has ever known, the so-called “Gibson ex Huberman” Stradivarius, made in 1713 at the peak of the legendary luthier’s powers. The subway location was chosen because it was a place where the acoustics were not bad, and the music would carry reasonably well. Bell even took a taxi 3 blocks to the subway to keep his instrument from even getting slightly cold.

The results of Bell’s experiment:“Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something. A half-minute later, Bell got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened. Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run — for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look. “

$20 of that $32 was from the one person who recognized Bell, and who had just seen him play the night before at the Library of Congress, so the 26 givers among the 1096 commuters pitched in a whopping $12, including a lot of pennies. There was never a crowd, and the fears never materialized that there might be a need for extra security. So the moral or message of the story seems to be simply that commuters might have walked by the Mona Lisa also, and that you can’t expect “random people” to notice and appreciate great art on their own without some kind of guidance, commentary or marketing. How many times have we been told that people need to be taught to appreciate great art?  It’s hard for people to believe there is something amazing going on when there is no crowd, and nothing telling you to pay attention.

If you are interested in watching the video of this interesting experiment, find it below:

Music for your soul!!!


Plato said that “music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”.

I couldn’t agree more with this! Think about it! Music is on every sound of nature and it is present on our everyday life more than we can realize.  In fact, life without music would be a chaos.

Imagine what would happen to our favourite movie or video game without that music we hear in the background?

When you hear your favourite music, how does it make you feel? Perhaps it brings back fond memories and transports you — even momentarily — to another time and place. Maybe it makes you feel relaxed from head to toe. Or maybe it gets your blood pumping and makes you want to get up and dance.

Few other experiences in life have the wide array of effects on us that music has. Whether you want to destress, get motivated, forget your troubles or focus on a project, the right music can help you get there.

Music is a universal language that can be loved and shared by any person regardless of their age, ethnicity, or gender. Music can be shared by the young and the young at heart and has no limitations. Music is something all cultures have in common, a universal language of the soul and can speak to anyone. It connects and brings people together.

Music is a gift! Let’s make it ours! Let’s make it count!

How do you think music impacts your life? When do you like listening to music? Let us know?

Work in Progress!!

This student wanted to play his favourite super hero song. After two lessons, here we are so far…. Practice makes it better!

What do you think? What would be you favourite song to play? Or what it’s you goal song?

What is a Hurdy-Gurdy?

Have you ever come across the word Hurdy-Gurdy?

Last week I had a student starting a new piece on the RCM Violin Level Two Repertoire Book with this name: “Hurdy-Gurdy”. My student made a funny face! What was that? He never heard of that word before. I explained what it was and we watched a couple of videos during class.

After the lesson, I kept thinking how most students know the more popular instruments, like piano, violin, violoncello, etc.  Then I wanted to mention about this very interesting ancient string (bowed) instrument.

The Hurdy-Gurdy is a mechanical string instrument that produces sound by a hand-crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings.The wheel functions much like a violin bow, and single notes played on the instrument sound similar to those of a violin. Melodies are played on a keyboard that presses tangents—small wedges, typically made of wood—against one or more of the strings to change their pitch. Like most other acoustic stringed instruments, it has a sound board and hollow cavity to make the vibration of the strings audible.

It is thought to have been originated from fiddles in either Europe or the Middle East some time before the eleventh century A.D.

A person who plays the hurdy-gurdy is called a hurdy-gurdist, or  viellist (particularly for players of French instruments).

During the Renaissance, the hurdy-gurdy was a very popular instrument (along with the bagpipe). The hurdy-gurdy tradition is well-developed particularly in Hungary, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. In Ukraine, it is known as the lira or relia. It was and still is played by professional, often blind, itinerant musicians known as lirnyky. Their repertoire has mostly para-religious themes, most of it originated in the Baroque period.

Lirnyky were categorized as vagabonds by the Russian authorities and fell under harsh repressive measures if they were caught performing in the streets of major cities until 1902.

The instrument came into a new public consciousness when Donovan released his hit pop song, “Hurdy Gurdy Man“, in 1968. Although the song does not use a hurdy-gurdy, the repeated reference to the instrument in the song’s lyrics sparked curiosity and interest among young people, eventually resulting in an annual hurdy-gurdy music festival.

Today, the tradition has resurfaced and as the instrument has been revived, musicians have used it in a variety of styles of music, including contemporary forms not typically associated with it.

In pop music, especially in the popular neo-medieval music, electric hurdy-gurdies are used, wherein electro magnetic pickups convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals. Similar to electric guitars, the signals are transmitted to an instrument amplifier.

Electronic hurdy-gurdies, on the other hand, manage completely without strings. The signals for the melody strings are purely generated electronically by the keys and also in combination with the rotation of the wheel. 

Had you heard about the this unique instrument before? If so, where did you learn about it? Let me know on the comments!

If you are curious to know how the Hurdy-Gurdy sounds, listen to this wonderful cover of He’s a Pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean Movie.