The principle behind the violin is simple: the four strings produce a sound when a horsehair bow is drawn across them. To change the sound, you press the strings with your fingers, producing a whole range of notes. Traditionally, the violin is held between the chin and the left shoulder, with the left hand fingers pressing on the strings and the right arm doing all of the bow work. Nothing very complicated.
The first step in playing your violin is to make sure it's in tune. If you have access to a piano or keyboard already, that's great. Otherwise, you will have to use a pitch pipe or a tuning fork or sound files on the Internet to produce the correct notes. Adjust the strings with the tuning pegs (the black pegs on the end of the neck) or the fine-tuners (the screws by the bridge): tightening the string makes the note higher, loosening the string makes the note lower.
Your instrument is in tune now, and you're ready to play. You lift the violin to your shoulder and. . . how do you hold this crazy thing? First, make sure you have the violin in your left hand. Bring it up to your shoulder, resting the side of your jaw in the kidney-shaped plastic thing attached to the body. While it's technically called a chin rest, you don't actually put your chin it-it's more for the side of your face and jaw. You rest the neck of the violin in the hollow between your thumb and index finger. Resist the urge to bring your wrist up and cradle the neck in all of your palm! Also, you should be pressing your head against the body of the violin, holding it in place between your face and your shoulder. Your left arm shouldn't be out straight from the body (as if you were lifting your arm to do a jumping jack) but at a slight inward angle. Your elbow will also be bent; do not let it sag against your body but keep it out. And correct posture goes without saying: stand or sit with your back straight, feet firmly on the floor.
Holding the bow can be a bit tricky, and there are many different ways to hold your bow. As you advance, you will find a style that suits your hand, but a good beginner hold is universal: place your thumb on the “frog" (the rectangular part by the handle, right where the horsehair is strung) and curve your fingers around the bow. Keep your pinkie curved and thumb bent.
The violin is in place, the bow is ready. Now, to play your first note! Place the bow on a string-any string-right by the frog. Make sure you keep it in the “middle" of the string, not too far away from you (towards the neck) or too close (towards the bridge). You want to keep the bow on the parts of the string where there's nothing under it. Now draw it across, any speed will do. Ta-da! You've just played the violin!
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