Violin terms

October 20, 2011 at 09:11 PM ·

 Hi everyone, I'm working on a little glossary of terms for to help those who are new to the violin and new to with some of our violin-specific lingo, like "bariolage" or "pizzicato" or "prunes."

Can you remember back to your beginning days, were there any terms that confused you? I'd like to include some basic music terms, but mostly terms that are violin-related. Please give me suggestions for words you'd like me to include!

Replies (50)

October 20, 2011 at 10:30 PM ·

I would love a section including some of the frustrating French and German terms such as "avec le bois", "main gauche", "spitze", "ohne dampfer, "luftpause" that make you curse nationalism.  

Have you considered making it a wiki type page to which members can add and edit terms?  You could lock the pages for basic terms to ensure they remain accurate.  

October 20, 2011 at 11:02 PM ·

purfling is the narrow inlay that traces the edge fo the top but you knw that already:-)



October 21, 2011 at 12:08 AM ·

Ok as a beginner l have lots of questions.  Words l have never heard before and things l would love to know. Like what are these words l see, cocerto, pedagogy, wolf tones,sonata.  What's the difference between beginner intermediate and advanced.  We all know Stradivarius but what is Guarneri, Amati, Guadagnini? What's the difference between light, medium and heavy strings?  What exactly is 1st 2nd and 3rd positions? These are some of the questions l have had these last 4 months of learning.  Some I sort of understand others I see but don't understand.  I look forward to this.





October 21, 2011 at 01:12 AM ·

 I think the meaning of prunes should be discovered by oneself by perusing the posts....a iittle p alliteration there!  :)

October 21, 2011 at 03:13 AM ·

How about we make up a few new ones too?

Fiddlaria- a violin solo in an opera

Vowelia- A two string viola that tuned to natural A & E

Nag Rag- the cloth used to clean horsehair on a bow

October 21, 2011 at 04:08 AM ·


ladies and gentlemen.  You have misunderstood the word `purfling.` 

Some people erroneously believe it is the Japanese loan word for winning a gold medal in the olympic discus event.  This is incorrect.

Those of us with deeper knowledge of such issues know that it is when the cat wakes you up at four in the morning with an oddly loud roaring noise and you throw it across the room.  Need I say more?



October 21, 2011 at 06:28 AM ·

 Bariolage :-

October 21, 2011 at 10:45 AM ·

 i think there should be a section under the headline of "shoulder rest" and includes the current 3565 threads on that topic.  a true superlink! :)

October 21, 2011 at 12:25 PM ·

I think Brivati deserves some sort of an International prize for that. It hurts to laugh that hard this early in the morning.

If there are questions about specific terms for instrument parts or instrument making, I'm willing to answer them, as I'm sure David, Michael, Luis and other makers lurking in this forum would do as well.

October 21, 2011 at 03:17 PM ·

 Thanks for your suggestions, everyone, and keep 'em coming!

Joseph, we tried doing some wiki-form pages a number of years ago, but I concluded that the discussion board is a great place for people to air lots of different ideas, and a written article works best for an FAQ. That said, I always welcome suggestions, corrections, etc., so I welcome everyone to click on "Contact the Editor" if you see something that needs tweaking or correcting.

Buri, as usual you offer the conclusive, expert definition....:)

October 21, 2011 at 04:07 PM ·

There is this one from a listing of Mahler terms which floats around the internet:

Von hier ab unmerklich breiter werden = As if wild animals were gnawing
on your liver

October 21, 2011 at 04:13 PM ·

A professional is someone who, having spent his or her youth practicing, now enjoys serene, effortless mastery and poverty;

an amateur is someone who, having failed to make the necessary sacrifices, is condemned to bafflement and frustration in music, but may be comparatively well off doing something else.

October 21, 2011 at 04:25 PM ·

Sounding point, hooked bowing, detache, staccato, spiccato, colle, martelé, sautille, richochet, double stops, senza sord.,con sord., portamento, glissando, fingered octaves, natural harmonics, artificial harmonics, vibratos (finger vs. hand vs. arm), bow holds (Franco-Belgian vs. Russian), intonation (Pythagorean vs. Just vs. Equal Temperament), intervals (perfect/major/ minor/augmented/diminished/compound, etc.), pernambuco vs. Brazilian wood.

October 21, 2011 at 05:45 PM ·

 I think that in this dictionary you should have pronouciations. Include composers also. It was not until a few weeks ago that I realized Bruch was pronounced "Brooks" OOPS

October 21, 2011 at 05:49 PM ·

Yes! Bob's right.

October 21, 2011 at 06:11 PM ·

When conductors say things like "The ensembles good but it's not together" one begins to wonder if our vocabulary of musical interpretation, taken at face value, means much. We need a Naom Chomsky to dig out the deep structure !

I don't know the American equivalent, but here in the UK we distinguish between "Practice" (a noun) and "Practise" (a verb). Both need to be included, in very bold type !

October 21, 2011 at 06:17 PM ·

Laurie, let me suggest that after doing all the work to make a quality description of terms, that it / they should go into Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the first source that folks under 30 go to for a quick check about terms - and lots of us over 30 go there as well.  So put it where it will get used a lot. If you want it on your site, fine, but put the terms in Wikipedia, also.

October 21, 2011 at 06:57 PM ·

 Well, these will be very specific to violinists, so I'll probably just put them up here! Also, they probably will have just a hint of attitude...;)

October 21, 2011 at 07:33 PM ·

Vibrato - your hand vibrating on purpose.
Frog - the place where the bow croaks.
Sound post - a contribution to
Label - inside the violin, where it always says "genuine Stradivarius"
f-hole - (never mind)


October 21, 2011 at 07:51 PM ·

"Frog - the place where the bow croaks."

That's the best definition I've heard so far. LOL

Regarding ff holes, I have quite a collection. These are the parts cut out with a saw, analogous to a doughnut hole.

If some people can come up with truly creative and embarrassing uses for them, I'll mail a few out. :-)

October 21, 2011 at 09:25 PM ·

Let's see, what do you do with f-holes leftovers?!

1. making earrings for people with long necks.
2. making pins.
3. making tie clips.
4. making eye glass frames.
5. making torture devices...
6. using as artificial mustaches.
7. using as artificial eye brows.

October 21, 2011 at 11:11 PM ·

James Buswell once said this on... 

Continuous Vibrato--"something teachers insist you do that, in any other situation in life, would make people think that you have some sort of disease." 

October 22, 2011 at 01:33 AM ·

 viola - it is not just a big 'out of tune' violin.  ;)

October 22, 2011 at 02:00 AM ·

Viola--more than the butt of jokes ;-)


Or make people think you are impersonating Kate.

October 22, 2011 at 01:53 PM ·

It'll make your fingers tingle (and that's why they can't hit the right notes)

October 22, 2011 at 06:22 PM ·

It would be helpful to have short video demos for bowing terms.


October 22, 2011 at 06:43 PM ·

I don't want to hijack this thread, especially since I would love to see this project come to fruition.

Anne, I just wanted to make sure you were familiar with a particular homage site:
Detache' what happens to my mind after too many études.  

October 23, 2011 at 06:16 PM ·

Darn!  I thought purfling was the process of purfecting a piece.  Goes to show how much I know.


Oh, :-)

October 23, 2011 at 08:57 PM ·

slurs and ties. 

How about including symbols and notations.  I was following a book that threw a slur in but never said what it was or how to play it.  I had to email a friend with a picture to get my answer

October 23, 2011 at 10:53 PM ·

I think that the word "Brivati" should be included.  I think his definition of purfling is sheer genius. 

October 23, 2011 at 10:57 PM ·

Laurie, I think making a dictionary is a great idea. 

October 24, 2011 at 01:20 AM ·


please don`t forget to include `the Schoenberger.`   My proudest moment.



October 25, 2011 at 11:43 PM ·

John, I thought a loure was a type of dance- I've seen some pieces titled Bouree in one source and Loure in another.  Also, I'd love to hear you say "detache" with a cute accent!

Laurie, bowing terms would be a great inclusion, although I can hear the disagreements starting already.

One term to start with: brivati: noun.  An alternate, colloquial, puckish yet inevitable definition of a common word.  Often used to comment on the relationship between man and cat.

October 26, 2011 at 01:55 AM ·

 Pedal tone/drone- the repeated note in a barrialage (sp?). (not a definition, just to give context)

October 26, 2011 at 02:17 AM ·

 Sorry if it has already been said but I don't have time to read through all the responses before mine! 

But arco seems a good one :) 

Also col legno

October 26, 2011 at 02:20 AM ·

 Oh, and tremolo, if not already said too!

October 26, 2011 at 09:41 PM ·

Came across a nice word: sprezzatura. No idea what it means.

October 27, 2011 at 12:31 AM ·


October 27, 2011 at 12:37 AM ·

 "sprezzatura" = "nonchalance", "making it look natural"

October 27, 2011 at 02:22 AM ·

Cal Legno .-- The branch of the University of California in Legno, CA.

Purfling -- Petty theft



October 27, 2011 at 05:09 AM ·

@Trevor: :)

October 27, 2011 at 09:44 AM ·

Dot .Some players do too much if they see a dot.Some composers leave the dot out.Then it`s not done enough. 

Well spotted, Mr, Cadd !! There are lots of unwritten conventions about shortening notes, e.g. ones tied over a barline to,say, a quaver, and a MULTITUDE of ways of executing (or putting to the sword) notes with dots upon 'em. Don't ever leave 'em hanging.

Assembling a short glossary of fiddle terms is the equivalent of trying to put together a 100 word Spanish/American dictionary. Laurie is not noted for cowardice, I think. Then, musical notation has never been much better than Pitmans shorthand. We all have to scratch our heads and think, "What the ?????" 

Some dots looked in original Mss like little daggers - there you go, you have to sort out the "rationalisations" of 19th. century editors. Much the same goes for accents, e.g Schubert.

Jolly good luck to Laurie Niles. One helluva something, can't think exactly what just now, but I am full of admiration.

October 27, 2011 at 10:15 AM ·

October 27, 2011 at 01:08 PM ·

detache'  My prof taught that this meant up&down bows, not accented, shortened, lightly-staccatoed, etc., all of which have their own terms already.   

October 27, 2011 at 02:01 PM ·

 Bariolage - isn't that where they wash out your innards with barium before an x-ray?

Maybe you could include some notation explanations, like  notation for finger tremolo, or simile.

October 27, 2011 at 02:29 PM ·

Brown trousers:  Universal concert wear for nervous conductors ...

October 27, 2011 at 02:30 PM ·

Vocal wobble: Visual effect when a big soprano wears a low cut dress ...

October 27, 2011 at 02:42 PM ·

O.E. = Organo Espressivo  (It)  i.e. swelling of organ.

Decoupler: To uncouple.

Demisemiquaver : Proper name for thirty second note ...

Desto: (It) wide awake - does not apply to orchestral rehearsals ...

Second violin: person to blame for everything that goes wrong ...

Conductor: highly educated but unmusical idiot ...

October 29, 2011 at 02:03 AM · Isn't ballet derived from fencing?

October 31, 2011 at 10:26 AM · Laurie

On a more serious note, Drew Lecher's manual contains a mind-boggling glossary of violin terms. You may be able to do a deal with him to make some use of it in return for a credit?

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine