String instruments exist in almost all musical cultures. They produce sound from vibrating strings when the performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner. Today, bowed string instruments form the backbone of symphony orchestras, and people widely use them as solo instruments and in chamber music. Guitars are universally used in pop music as well as in classical music. Furthermore, the piano is probably the most versatile of all musical instruments, used widely in various ways.
A brief history of String Instruments
A cave painting in the Trois Frères cave in France from around 13.000 BC depicts a musical bow, a hunting bow used as a single-stringed musical instrument. Some of the earliest stringed instruments were identified in Ancient Mesopotamian archeological sites. As time went by, the development of lyre instruments required the advance in technology to create a functional tuning mechanism. Moreover, string instrument design improved during the Renaissance and into the Baroque period (1600–1750). Violins and guitars became more consistent in design at that time.
A famous Greek scientist Pythagoras, who established mathematics in Greek culture during the sixth century BC, studied vibrating strings and musical sounds. He reportedly discovered that dividing the length of a vibrating g sting into simple ratios produced consonant musical intervals. According to legend, he also observed hot the pitch of the string changed with tension. Galileo reviewed the relationship of the pitch of a string to its vibrating length. He also related the number of vibrations per unit time to pitch.
In the 19th century, mass production made string instruments more widely available, with wood string instruments a key part of orchestras. For example, cellos, violas, and upright basses became standard instruments. At the same time, the 19th-century guitar became more typically associated with six-string models, rather than traditional five-string versions. In the 20th century, major changes to string instruments involved innovations in electronic instrument amplification and electronic music. As a result, electric violins were available by the 1920s and were an important part of emerging jazz music trends in the United States.
Bowed String Instruments
During the sixteenth century, two families of viols developed: “leg viol,” and the “arm viol.” These instruments developed in different sizes, from treble to bass. They have remained popular to this day. The instruments in the violin family emerged in Italy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They reached a peak in the eighteenth century in the hands of masters such as Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu of Cremona. The all-important bow was given its present form by Francois Tourte.
Bowed instruments include the string section instruments of the Classical music orchestra (violin, viola, cello, and double bass) and a number of other instruments. Musicians can also pluck all of the bowed string instruments with the fingers. This technique is called “pizzicato.”
Finally, electric guitars have become one of the most popular musical instruments in the musical world. Adolph Rickenbacher is often given credit for inventing the electric guitar in the 1930s. In the 1940s, Les Paul designed and built a solid body electric guitar at the Gibson Guitar Factory, which became very popular.
Musicians play some string instruments by plucking the strings with their fingers or a plectrum. However sometimes they hit the strings with a light wooden hammer or by rubbing the strings with a bow. In some keyboard instruments, the musician presses a key that plucks the string. With bowed instruments, the player pulls a rosined horsehair bow across the strings, causing them to vibrate. With a hurdy-gurdy, the musician cranks a wheel whose rosined edge touches the strings.
Also, musicians use a wide variety of techniques to produce sound on the electric guitar, including plucking with the fingernails or a plectrum, strumming, and even “tapping” on the fingerboard and using feedback from a loud, distorted guitar amplifier to produce a sustained sound. Musicians mainly pluck certain types of string instruments, such as the harp and the electric bass. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, string instruments are called chordophones.
In most string instruments, musicians transmit the vibrations to the body of the instrument, which often incorporates some hollow or enclosed area. The body of the instrument also vibrates, along with the air inside it. The vibration of the body of the instrument and the enclosed hollow or chamber make the vibration of the string more audible to the performer and audience. The body of most string instruments is hollow. Some, however, such as electric guitar and other instruments that rely on electronic amplification, may have a solid wood body.
The strings are the largest family of instruments in the orchestra. Musicians most often play these instruments by drawing a bow across them. The handle of the bow consists of wood, and the strings of the bow are horsehair! All of them consist of three main parts: the body, the neck, and the head.
The first thing you’ll probably notice in a string instrument is its wooden construction. The bodies of the string instruments, which are hollow inside to allow sound to vibrate within them, consist of different kinds of wood. However, the strings which make the sound consist of nylon, steel or sometimes gut. Musicians play the strings most often by drawing a bow across them. The handle of the bow is usually wooden, and the strings of the bow are actually hair from horses’ tails! Sometimes the musicians pluck the strings with their fingers, and occasionally they will play the strings with the wooden handle.
The strings are the largest family of instruments in the orchestra. They come in four sizes: the violin, which is the smallest, viola, cello, and the biggest, the double bass, sometimes called the contrabass. The smaller instruments, the violin, and viola make higher-pitched sounds. The larger cello and double bass produce low rich sounds. They all have similar shapes, with curvy wooden bodies and wooden necks. The strings stretch over the body and neck and attach to small decorative heads. Here, small tuning pegs tune them.
A string at a certain tension and length will only produce one note. So to obtain multiple notes, string instruments employ one of two methods. One is to add enough strings to cover the range of notes desired; the other is to stop the strings. The piano and harp are examples of the former method, where each note on the instrument has its own string or course of multiple strings.