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Bowed stringed instrument. The violin is the highest-pitched member of a family of instruments that includes the viola, cello, and double bass. It has a fretless fingerboard, four strings, and a distinctively shaped wooden body whose waist permits freedom of bowing. The violin is held on the shoulder and bowed with the right hand. It has a wide range of more than four octaves. It evolved in Italy in the 16th century from the medieval fiddle and other instruments. Its average proportions were settled by the 17th century, but innovations in the 18th–19th centuries increased its tonal power. With its brilliance, agility, and singing tone, the violin has been immensely important in Western art music, and it has the largest and most distinguished repertoire of any stringed instrument. From the mid-17th century it has been the foundation of the symphony orchestra, which today usually includes 20–26 violins, and it is also widely used in chamber music and as a solo instrument. It is played as a folk instrument in many countries, folk violins being often called fiddles.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on violin, visit Britannica.com.