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How String Instruments Work

All stringed instruments make sound and notes by vibrating. Musicians make the strings vibrate by rubbing a bow against them, striking them, or plucking them.

However, if you were to take a string and stretch it tight and pluck it, it likely would not make a very loud sound. It also wouldn't make a very interesting or musical sound. This is where the instrument comes in.

Making the Sound Louder

Most stringed instruments have something that amplifies the sound (makes it louder). This is called the soundbox or resonator. The soundbox is often the largest part of the instrument or the body of the instrument. The top of the soundbox, called the sound board, is usually made of a type of wood that vibrates.

Sound Moves from the Strings to the Soundbox

When the strings vibrate their vibration is picked up by something called the bridge. Usually the strings rest on the bridge near one end. The bridge then transfers the vibrations to the sound board which vibrates and uses the soundbox to amplify and make the sound loud enough for people to hear.

The Strings

There are three ways that strings can produce different notes:
  • Length - Longer strings vibrate slower and make lower sounding notes than shorter strings.
  • Weight - Heavy, thick strings make lower notes than lighter thin strings.
  • Tightness - A tight string makes a higher note than a loose string.
This is how different strings and different instruments are able to produce different notes.

Playing a Note or Notes

Different string instruments are played different ways. As we discussed on the main string instrument page, some are played with bows, some with picks, and some by plucking or strumming with your fingers.

How you make a note is different depending on the instrument as well. With a guitar or a violin the musician vibrates the string with one hand and then presses down on the string, or strings, with the other hand. By pressing down on the string the musician changes the length of the string and, therefore, the note.

Some instruments are played differently. One is the harp where there can be a lot of strings of different lengths and weights. In this case the musician just plucks the strings with both hands. They don't change the length by pressing on a finger board, but there are a lot of different length strings helping them to make all sorts of sounds.

Fun Facts about How Stringed Instruments Work
  • The strings are usually made from nylon thread or steel wire.
  • Pianos are considered string instruments that are played by striking or hitting the string.
  • Most civilizations have produced some kind of stringed instrument.
  • Fine bows for violins can use up to 150 horse hairs.
  • The four main types of stringed instruments used in an orchestra are violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. They are all similar instruments but are different sizes to make different types of notes.

More on string instruments: Other musical instruments:

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