Everyone loves music; it's an essential part of the human experience. Music has many different styles, genres, melodies, harmonies, and purposes. Music is a unifying experience which anyone can join; or for those who are gifted, play along. Musically inclined people have lots of options in terms of what instrument they can choose. While everyone has a voice, not everyone can sing. Similarly, though there are lots of options for musical instruments. Within that grouping, there is a great variety of string instruments.
Lots of people choose to play brass instruments because they're loud; the same goes for percussion. Others choose wind instruments because they're smaller and easy to carry. Violins, violas, cellos, double basses, guitars, and harps as the most commonly played string instruments. There are even more variations of string instruments that can vary by region and country, including mandolin, banjo, sitar, autoharp, and many more. This article will focus mainly on the symphonic string options, which are most commonly played around the world.
Violins are the most common of all the string instruments, often playing the melody in symphonies and smaller chamber groups. The high range of the strings allows it to soar above all other sounds, cutting straight to the ear of the listener. The small size of the instrument makes finger placements difficult in the higher registers, so people with thicker fingers might have difficulty playing the violin. In an orchestra, the violins are the largest group, broken into two sections. The first violins tend to play more of the melodies, while the second violins often play the harmony.
The viola is the unsung glue of an orchestra, bridging the gap between the high, melodic notes of the violins and the low, bass notes of cellos and basses. They are larger than violins but are still played off the chin. The viola does not tend to get a lot of solos and is not the most famous of the string instruments, but it has beauty nonetheless. It can imitate the sounds of both the violin and the cello, making it the ultimate chameleon of the string section.
Cellos have the broadest range of all the symphonic string instruments, crossing three separate clefs. They can provide the rich, deep bass lines that keep the rhythm, but they can also climb high in the register and produce some hauntingly lovely melodies. The cello has a slightly melancholic tone, bringing a somber and conflicting beauty to the sound it makes. It is played sitting down and requires the use of the thumb to play on occasion. It is not recommended for people with smaller hands.
The largest and lowest of the symphonic string instruments, the double bass – often just referred to as bass – is unsurprisingly the biggest. It can be played either standing up or on a stool, and requires large hands and a sturdy fortitude to play. The bass is the rhythm-keeper of the orchestra, matching the baton strokes of the conductor to keep time. The bass' low notes can sometimes be difficult to hear, but when played with vigor its notes can make seats and ears vibrate.
The guitar is the first instrument on this list that is only played by plucking. The above instruments tend to be played with a bow, but can also be plucked. Also, where all the symphonic string instruments have four strings, the guitar has six. It is one of the easiest string instruments to learn because the neck has frets that dictate where the fingers should be placed. The symphonic strings have no such markings and require practice and muscle memory to perfect. Guitars can be played in any setting, from solo around a campfire to plugged into an amp on stage.
The harp is one of the hardest string instruments to learn. There are 47 strings on the harp that requires the user to pluck with both hands. It also has pedals that must be used by the feet that can either dampen the noise or shift the tone. It requires extreme coordination, especially when chords must be played simultaneously with both hands. The harp has a delicate sound, but when strummed in unison, can emit a powerful noise that reverberates beautifully.
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