The history of musical instruments


The violin in its present form emerged in early 16th-Century Northern Italy, where the port towns of Venice and Genoa maintained extensive ties to central Asia through the trade routes of the silk road.
The modern European violin evolved from various bowed stringed instruments from the Middle East the Byzantine Empire. It is most likely that the first makers of violins borrowed from three types of current instruments: the rebec, in use since the 10th century (itself derived from the Byzantine lyra[7] and the Arabic rebab), the Renaissance fiddle, and the lira da braccio (derived from the Byzantine lira). One of the earliest explicit descriptions of the instrument, including its tuning, was in the Epitome musical by Jambe de Fer, published in Lyon in 1556. By this time, the violin had already begun to spread throughout Europe.
The oldest documented violin to have four strings, like the modern violin, is supposed to have been constructed in 1555 by Andrea Amati, but the date is very doubtful. (Other violins, documented significantly earlier, only had three strings and were called violetta.) The violin immediately became very popular, both among street musicians and the nobility, illustrated by the fact that the French king Charles IX ordered Amati to construct 24 violins for him in 1560. The oldest surviving violin, dated inside, is from this set, and is known as the Charles IX, made in Cremona c. 1560.
Significant changes occurred in the construction of the violin in the 18th century, particularly in the length and angle of the neck, as well as a heavier bass bar. The majority of old instruments have undergone these modifications, and hence are in a significantly different state than when they left the hands of their makers, doubtless with differences in sound and response.
To this day, instruments from the so-called Golden Age of violin making, especially those made by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, are the most sought-after instruments by both collectors and performers. The current record amount paid for a Stradivari violin is £9.8 million (US$15.9 million).

A violin typically consists of a spruce top (the soundboard, also known as the top plate, table, or belly), maple ribs and back, two endblocks, a neck, a bridge, a soundpost, four strings, and various fittings, optionally including a chinrest, which may attach directly over, or to the left of, the tailpiece. A distinctive feature of a violin body is its hourglass-like shape and the arching of its top and back. The hourglass shape comprises two upper bouts, two lower bouts, and two concave C-bouts at the waist, providing clearance for the bow.
The voice of a violin depends on its shape, the wood it is made from, the graduation (the thickness profile) of both the top and back, and the varnish that coats its outside surface. The varnish and especially the wood continue to improve with age, making the fixed supply of old violins much sought-after.


The viola is similar in material and construction to the violin. The viola is an instrument in the violin family. It is slightly larger than the violin with a deeper, mellower tone. It's tuned a fifth lower (although it is hard to distinguish from a violin when played in an orchestra, unless it's on the C string). It parallels the human alto voice.

Both the violin and the viola evolved directly from the viola da braccio. Since the Italian word violino is a derivative of viola, historians and violists are led to believe that the viola may have actually appeared slightly before the violin. Many violists enjoy believing that they may be at the top of the violin family, at least historically (although nothing has ever been truly proven). In early orchestra music, the viola's role was merely harmony. It often had the bass line when the composer couldn't think of anything else to write. The melody was left to the brighter, higher violin and more powerful, distinct cello. Into the 20th century, the viola began to get a more prominent role, and is now sometimes featured as a solo instrument. During the summer of 2000, the Cleveland Orchestra held a concert where a violinist and a violist were each featured as soloists in a piece by Mozart.
Violas were made as early as the 1500's. Gaspara da Salo, who was a prominent cello maker, also was quite famous for his violas and his double basses. Originally, da Salo was given credit for making the instruments in the violin family. This was later proven untrue when earlier instruments and makers were found.

In the early classic period (post-Bach), many composers felt the viola was a source of anxiety. It was written for because it was a prehistoric instrument and such writing seemed expected. These attitudes were documented by Forsyth. The instrument was regarded as clumsy to play, and uncomfortable to write for. The bass line (which, as mentioned earlier, was given to the violas if nothing else seemed suitable) often had awkward harmonies, being written in three different octaves.

The eighteen and nineteen hundreds brought better parts for the viola, as composers started to recognize it more as an instrument in its own right, with different characteristics. Although this music didn't come until this time, both Bach and Mozart were accomplished violists back in the 1700's.


The violoncello, known also with the shortened name of cello,  is a musical string instrument of the family of the arcs as the violin and the viola.

The cello had, in the time, varied forms, and it delayed to impose itself as instrument of soloistic possibility.

The cello began its ascent in Italy in the XVII century; it was, and it is still, a virtuous instrument for its melodic harmony and composers as Haydin, Shumann, Dvoraks, wrote famous pages.

The earliest known makers of cellos, violas and violins were Andrea Amati (who died before 1580) of Cremona, Gasparo da Salo (1540-1609) of Brescia and his pupil Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1581-1632). Their cellos were larger than modern cellos (up to 80 cm in length), and survivers have been shortened.However, the cellos are still today make individuals  by hand, just as was done by Amati, Stradivari, and the other old master makers.

Advancing cello students usually try to buy one of these fine hand-made cellos as they become more proficient, and need a better sounding instrument. The history of bowed string musical instruments in Europe dates back to the 9th century with the lira , the bowed instrument of the Byzantine Empire, equivalent to the rabab of the Islamic Empires. The Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911) of the 9th century, in his lexicographical discussion of instruments, cited the Byzantine lira as a typical instrument of the Byzantines along with the urghun (organ), shilyani (probably a type of harp or lyre) and the salandj. The Byzantine lira spread through Europe westward and in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009). In the meantime the Arab rabab was introduced to the Western Europe possibly through the Iberian Peninsula and both bowed instruments spread widely throughout Europe giving birth to various European bowed instruments.
Luigi Boccherini playing the cello circa 1764-1767.

Over the centuries that followed, Europe continued to have two distinct types of bowed instruments: one, relatively square-shaped, held in the arms, known with the Italian term Lira da braccio (or Viola da braccio, meaning viol for the arm), family of the modern violin; the other, with sloping shoulders and held between the knees, known with the Italian term Lira da gamba (or viola da gamba, meaning viol for the leg), family of the Byzantine lyra and the modern Cello. During the Renaissance, the gambas were important and elegant instruments; they eventually lost ground to the louder (and originally less aristocratic) lira da braccio. However, the a gamba playing position remained popular to larger instruments that could not be played with a braccio position.

The violoncello da spalla (sometimes "violoncello piccolo da spalla" or "violoncello da span") was the first cello referred to in print (by Jambe de Fer in 1556). "Violone" means a larger "viola" (viol), while "-cello" in Italian is a diminutive and spalla means "shoulder" in Italian so that violoncello da spalla suggest a "little big violin" that may be held on the shoulder so that the player could perform while walking or that the early, short-necked instrument was hung across the shoulder by a strap.

Monteverdi referred to the instrument as "basso de viola da braccio" in Orfeo (1607). Although the first bass violin, possibly invented as early as 1538, was most likely inspired by the viol, it was created to be used in consorts with the violin. The bass violin was actually often referred to as a "violone," or "large viola," as were the viols of the same period. Instruments that share features with both the bass violin and the viola de gamba appear in Italian art of the early 16th century.

The invention of wire-wound strings (fine wire around a thin gut core), around 1660 in Bologna, allowed for a finer bass sound than was possible with purely gut strings on such a short body. Bolognese makers exploited this new technology to create the cello, a somewhat smaller instrument suitable for solo repertoire due to both the timbre of the instrument and the fact that the smaller size made it easier to play virtuosic passages. This instrument had disadvantages as well, however. The cello's light sound was not as suitable for church and ensemble playing, so it had to be doubled by basses or violones.

Around 1700, Italian players popularized the cello in northern Europe, although the bass violin (basse de violon) continued to be used for another two decades in France. Many existing bass violins were literally cut down in size to convert them into cellos according to the smaller pattern developed by Stradivarius, who also made a number of old pattern large cellos (the 'Servais'). The sizes, names, and tunings of the cello varied widely by geography and time. The size was not standardized until around 1750.

Despite similarities to the viola da gamba, the cello is actually part of the viola da braccio family, meaning "viol of the arm," which includes, among others, the violin and viola. Though paintings like Bruegel's "The Rustic Wedding" and de Fer in his Epitome Musical suggest that the bass violin had alternate playing positions, these were short-lived and the more practical and ergonomic a gamba position eventually replaced them entirely.

Baroque era cellos differed from the modern instrument in several ways. The neck has a different form and angle, which matches the baroque bass-bar and stringing. Modern cellos have an endpin at the bottom to support the instrument (and transmit some of the sound through the floor), while Baroque cellos are held only by the calves of the player. Modern bows curve in and are held at the frog; Baroque bows curve out and are held closer to the bow's point of balance. Modern strings normally have a metal core, although some use a synthetic core; Baroque strings are made of gut, with the G and C strings wire-wound. Modern cellos often have fine-tuners connecting the strings to the tailpiece, which make it much easier to tune the instrument, but such pins are rendered ineffective by the flexibility of the gut strings used on Baroque cellos. Overall, the modern instrument has much higher string tension than the Baroque cello, resulting in a louder, more projecting tone, with fewer overtones.

No educational works specifically devoted to the cello existed before the 18th century, and those that do exist contain little value to the performer beyond simple accounts of instrumental technique. The earliest cello manual is Michel Corrette's Méthode, thèorique et pratique pour apprendre en peu de temps le violoncelle dans sa perfection (Paris, 1741).
The violoncello is an instrument with a very interesting and large background. A large part of cellos today are produced in factories.


The double bass is generally regarded as a modern descendant of the string family of instruments that originated in Europe in the 15th century, and as such has been described as a bass violin. Before the 20th century many double basses had only three strings, in contrast to the five to six strings typical of instruments in the string family or the four strings of instruments in the violin family. Some existing instruments, such as those by Gasparo da Salò, were converted from 16th-century six-string contrabass violoni.

The double bass's proportions are dissimilar to those of the violin and cello; for example, it is deeper (the distance from top to back is proportionally much greater than the violin). In addition, while the violin has bulging shoulders, most double basses have shoulders carved with a more acute slope, like members of the viol family. Many very old double basses have had their shoulders cut or sloped to aid playing with modern techniques. Before these modifications, the design of their shoulders was closer to instruments of the violin family.

The double bass is the only modern bowed string instrument that is tuned in fourths (like a viol), rather than fifths (see Tuning, below). The issue of the instrument's exact lineage is still a matter of some debate, and the supposition that the double bass is a direct descendant of the viol family is one that has not been entirely resolved.

In his A New History of the Double Bass, Paul Brun asserts, with many references, that the double bass has origins as the true bass of the violin family. He states that, while the exterior of the double bass may resemble the viola da gamba, the internal construction of the double bass is nearly identical to instruments in the violin family, and very different from the internal structure of viols.