Basics about: violins, violas, cellos, and basses.

String instruments produce sounds when plucked, bowed or struck (sometimes called "hammered"). The basic styles of these instruments have not changed in the last 300 years.

Today's manufacturers, however, have been innovative in finding ways to make learning easier for beginners. For example, there are a number of different sizes to fit the physical capabilities of individual students. Your music instructor can help you identify the size instrument your child needs. For very young students, manufacturers create instruments with durability in mind.

How are different sounds and notes made?

In string instruments - violins, violas, cellos, and basses - a bow is drawn across the strings to create vibrations. These vibrations travel to the "bridge" (the part of the instrument that holds the strings). The musician controls the pitch of each note by knowing which strings to vibrate and when to stop the vibration (by holding the string against the fingerboard). Notes can also be "plucked" (the strings pulled).


Your music instructor may recommend some accessories. The following are just a few of the accessories available at Portman's Music. We can help you learn what you may need and how to use them.

For all string instruments: humidifiers, mutes, pitch pipes (tuners), polishing cloths, rosins, and shoulder rests.

Shoulder rests: Shoulder rests help to reduce the amount of pressure a player needs to exert to hold the violin. Padded shoulder rests also are more comfortable. They come in a variety of styles and sizes.

Rosin: Rosin is applied to the bow to allow the horsehair to grip the strings. Be careful - too much rosin can have a negative effect on the sound. It is a good idea to have your orchestra instructor show how to properly apply rosin.

Polishing cloths: Polishing cloths are used to polish instruments to remove fingerprints and rosin dust.

Mutes: Mutes are to quiet the vibrations of the strings.

Humidifiers: Humidifiers are used to humidify the wood of a stringed instrument. It is placed inside the instrument, and is designed to prevent cracking and separating of wood during dry conditions.

Endpin rests (for cellos and basses only): Endpin rests are usually foam rubber disks that hold a reinforced brass cup for the endpin of a cello or bass. It keeps the instrument from sliding around, and it protects the floor from damage.


Every time you play:
  • Rosin your bow with a few sweeps across the cake of rosin. Initially, your bow will require more rosin than it does once you have been using it a while.
  • Check the tuning of your strings using the pitch pipe or matching the other members of your group. Get close with the tuning pegs and then make small adjustments with the fine tuners.
  • After you play, wipe the fingerboard, strings, and bow stick with the cleaning cloth to remove rosin dust. Loosen the bow before you put it back in the case.
Every few weeks:
  • Loosen your fine tuners all the way and retune the strings using the tuning pegs, checking against the pitch pipe.
Every six month:
  • Replace your strings with a new set. Never remove all the strings at once; replace them one at a time.
Every year:
  • Bring your instrument in to Portman's Music for an annual check.
General tips:
  • Be careful not to store music or supplies over the instrument in the case. Store them in accessories pocket or a separate bag.
  • Never touch the bow hair or the strings of the instrument with your fingers.
  • If possible, keep a spare set of strings on hand in case one breaks. To prevent breakage, avoid tuning a string above its intended pitch.
Watch How-To Video

Back To About Instruments