How Many Strings Does A Violin Have? (& Some Fun Facts)

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  • How many strings does a violin have?
  • How are violin strings tuned?
  • What else is there to know about violin strings?
  • Also, check out our post on whether violin is hard to learn!

A standard violin – as well as the other classic string instruments like the cello, viola, and double bass –  has 4 strings. The notes for the open strings of a violin are tuned (from low to high) to G – D – A – E.

A mnemonic to remember the order and notes of the violin strings could be: „Greedy Dogs Always Eat“.

About Violin Strings

Historically strings for classical string instruments were made from sheep intestines.

You can still find these types of strings today, but they are mainly used for authentic historical performances.

They have a very distinctive, warm sound but are also very sensitive to humidity and temperature, which can result in unsteady pitch. These are the strings people refer to as “(cat)gut strings”.

A more recent alternative is provided by steel strings. They have a pristine sound, are long-lasting, and are far less sensitive to temperature and humidity.

Especially cheaper steel strings can have an unwanted metallic sound to them. The long sustain of steel strings is also undesirable, which is why the low strings are often wrapped with another metal or synthetic material.

This leads to the final very common material. Synthetic strings.

Manufactured from materials like Nylon or Polyester among others, synthetic strings offer the long-lasting, resistant qualities of steel strings with a warmer character that comes closest to the sound of gut strings.

Synthetic strings are also usually wrapped in another metal.

Tuning

If you go to classical concerts regularly you are used to the procedure of the orchestra tuning their instruments before the concert.

Usually, the concertmaster, who is sitting in the first chair of the first violin section will start and then pass on the correct pitch.

The first note is always the open A string of the violin. It is tuned to the famous 440 Hz although higher tunings are common to give the orchestra a more pristine or brilliant sound.

To tune the instrument, the player strikes their bow over the open strings to excite them one by one and uses the left hand which usually determines the pitch on the fingerboard to tune.

The violin can be tuned in two different places. There are fine tuners close to the bridge of the violin or the standard tuning pegs at its scroll.

Twisting the tuning pegs or fine tuners changes the tension of the string and varies the pitch in which it vibrates. More tension results in a higher pitch.

Restringing

Let’s take a look at how to (re)string your violin.

The most important piece of advice: Change the strings of your violin one by one.

Don’t remove all the strings at once! If you do all the tension is gone at once, so the bridge will lose its position, and worst case the soundpost inside the violin tips over.

Use the tuning pegs to remove the string you want to start with and once it is free at the scroll pull it out at the fine tuner.

That’s also where you thread the new string through before you attach and fasten it at the tuning pegs.

So when should you change strings?

Firstly, don’t wait until they break. Once you see they are worn down or the sound gets muddy or dull it is time for a new set.

A quick tip: By cleaning the rosin off after playing you can make the strings last longer.

Special Violins

There is always an exception to the rule. So of course there are violins that don’t have 4 strings. There are exotic or historic instruments with 3 strings and the more common 5-string violins.

In addition to the “main strings” G-D-A-E those instruments have a low C-string enlarging the range of the violin by a fifth. 5 strings and a fifth more range, the Italian word for fifth is Quinto.

Not much of a stretch to get to the name of this special violin: It is called Quinton.

More alternatives to the classical acoustic violin are provided by electric violins. They make this flexible instrument even more versatile.

Electric violins can be practical additions in a live situation or a solution to make it a bit easier for your neighbors to endure your practice especially when you’re a beginner. Why?

Check out our article on how hard it is to learn the violin, then you know why!

Oh, and of course, there are electric violins with 5 strings as well.

FAQs

Do violins have 4 or 5 strings?

The classical violin has 4 strings. however, there are instruments with an additional low c string. they are called Quinton.

Can you play violin with 3 strings?

There are some exotic 3-stringed violins out there, otherwise, it’s rather unusual, like playing the guitar with 5 strings.

What is a five-string violin called?

Quinton

Is a cello a violin?

No. A cello is also a string instrument that has roughly the shape of a violin. It is much bigger though and is rested on the ground between the legs when being played.

Are violin strings made of cat guts?

No. Strings are either made from sheep intestine, steel, or nylon.

The misleading word „catgut“ allegedly comes from 13/14th century Italy, where a violin maker didn’t want to give away his secret to good sound strings (sheep intestine).

Do violin strings need to be broken in?

Not really. If you have just restringed your instrument with brand new strings, they may need some time to adjust so you might need to re-tune them a bit more often.