More Than Just the Violin


Alex Van Duyne and Jared Arbolario

If you’re not a musician or just not educated in music, you’re probably not aware that the bowed string orchestral instruments aren’t just violins and bigger violins! Don’t worry, we’ve got your back, here’s the orchestral strings you should be aware of:


The violin is the most well known of the 4 (orchestral string instruments. It’s 4 strings are the G, D, A, and E. This instrument is the highest pitched and the smallest. Violins support a wide variety of genres from classical, to country music, to jazz. When the violin is played, it’s placed on the violinist’s left shoulder and the bow is held with the right hand. The modern violin is around 400 years old, but similar string instruments have been around for over 1000.


The viola, often mixed up with the violin, is the 2nd highest pitched in the family. It’s strings are the same as the cello, C, G, D, and A, but the cello is an octave lower. The viola is slighter deeper than the violin but is played the same way— with it on the violist’s left shoulder, and the bow held with their other hand. Instead of the normal treble or bass chef violas normally use alto clef. In an orchestra they’re usually playing the inner voices.


Cello is another instrument under the family of bowed strings. The instrument has 4 strings, tuned to the keys of C, G, D, A, from lowest to highest. Invented around the 1660’s in Italy, the cello is used from orchestral groups to solo play. Like the viola and the violin, it’s a bowed instrument and is the second largest and has the second lowest pitch in the bowed string family.

Double Bass/Contrabass:

The double bass, also known as the contrabass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument, tuned at E, A, D, G. It was invented in Europe around the 15th century. Like the cello, the double bass can be played sitting down, but it can also be played standing up. It is used in different genres of music including jazz, classical, and even rock.

Even if you don’t remember details about each of these instruments, at least you’ve increased your knowledge of orchestral strings. Now you can go impress your friends as a musical genius! Well, maybe not. These instruments have tons of similarities but produce very different sounds and all matter in an orchestra (even the violas!).