The violin is, historically, one of the most celebrated instruments of Western civilization. In a rich history that goes back several centuries, the violin has been the choice instrument of kings, gypsies, prodigies, and musical geniuses. Now, the guitar, and the computer, generally run the show, with the piano, both historically and in the present coming in at a close second. And seriously, we all look at the lead guitarist and definitely notice the cool factor. From the blues and The Beatles onward, the guitar has been the soloist, the performer, and the overall leader of the show in modern music.
But the guitarist is simply fulfilling a role that needs to be filled. And a violinist can fulfill it as well.
There are excellent reasons why the guitar became the leader, of course. One, is simply technology. The electric guitar is a glorious weapon. You can throw one down the stairs, hit somebody over the head in a bar fight, and jump on the stage, plug it in, and rip a solo that melts faces. Then you can toss it in the back of your van and do it all over again in the next town.
There is very little tossing that can be done to a violin, no matter how much you care about the instrument or not. It’s simply not that tough.
Also, the simple nature of the “electric” guitar. It sounds new, doesn’t it? And when the electric guitar was invented, we were all about new things. And it sounds cool, dirty, electrical.
But technology is still changing, and so are people’s tastes.
Another reason for the guitar’s success is its range. The guitar is, mostly, about an octave lower than the human voice. This is extremely convenient. Because pop music is all about the voice, and a good producer knows that you generally want to stay out of the same range as the voice to give it space and to allow it to be heard.
The violin is in the same range as the human voice, and this is not convenient. But there are ways around it.
During the heyday of the violin, the violin often took the role of the singer. By that, I mean that, instead of the audience listening to the voice, while other instruments provided an enjoyable background. The audience would listen to the violin while other instruments provided an enjoyable background.
This is possible occasionally in the modern world. Lindsey Stirling is an excellent example. Another, similar example of instrumental music taking the lead role in pop music would be 2Cellos. But these are mostly the exception to the rule, for a simple reason. Humans like language, so we enjoy hearing words in our music.
I want to talk about the rest of the time. How to we make the violin, an amazing instrument, work for us in our new world?
Easy, just look at the problems, and find a way around them.
Ruggedness – The toughness of the violin doesn’t matter anymore, we have carbon fiber cases, bows, sometimes violins, and electric tuners.
Sound – The amplification of an acoustic violin has been studied to the point where a beautiful and pristine tone can be created that is well worth the audience’s time, and money. And with that amplification, every pedal meant for a guitar is now at your disposal.
Range – This is the tough one, but also the coolest one. Because the fact is, if you want to create a great sound on the violin that works well with the human voice, you will have to make good music. It’s really quite simple. Because the violin and the voice are so close, their parts must be written carefully so that they give each other space. It was always possible, it just hasn’t been done very much. Think of it like a duet. Two voices can sing at the same time, in fact, it’s beautiful. Those voices simply have to be careful not to get in each other’s way. So the solution to this one is simply write good music.
I think it’s time for the violin to make a comeback.
One other dilemma that faces the modern violinist is the change in how we view music. Most violinists are trained to read sheet music, then improvise, the maybe learn some chords. The first thing a guitarist learns is chords. So, now, there are vast internet databases of songs that have excellent chord charts, and, because of intellectual property laws, and a lower number of violinists playing pop music currently. very little sheet music. So, once again, the solution is simple, learn chords.