The violin is a string instrument that is played with a bow. It has four strings. The strings are usually tuned to the notes G, D, A, and E. It is held between the left collar bone (near the shoulder) and the chin. Different notes are made by fingering with the left hand while bowing with the right. It has no frets or other markers. Players have to learn the exact place to put the fingers of the left hand by memory. Students learning to play violin may put dots or stickers on the fingerboard to help them learn how to play.
A viola is a musical instrument which is similar to the violin and cello. The viola sounds lower than a violin, but higher than a cello. It has four strings, called the C, G, D, and A strings. The highest note is the A. The viola is played with a bow in the right hand. Playing with the bow is called arco. Sometimes the strings may be plucked (pizzicato).
When people see the viola, sometimes they think it is a violin. This is because the viola is only a little larger than a violin, and like the violin, the viola is held on the player's left shoulder. It is also because the sound of the viola is only five notes lower than the sound of the violin. The biggest difference between the viola and the violin is the different sound. The viola's lowest string is the "C" string and its highest string is the "A" string. So, to see whether a violin-like instrument is a violin or viola, one will need to pluck the thinnest string. The violin's lowest string is the "G" string and its highest string is the "E" string. Even though the viola and violin can play many of the same notes, they each have a special sound quality. Sometimes people describe the viola's sound as more "dark", "earthy", or "mellow" than the violin's sound.
The Violist reads in the Alto clef.
The parts of the cello are similar to those of the violin. The strings are tuned to C – G – D – A, (low to high) exactly one octave lower than the viola. The cello is played sitting down and holding the instrument between the knees. There is an end-pin which rests on the ground. This is adjustable in height so that the player can put it in a position to make herself (himself) comfortable. The cello is normally played with a bow.
The cello has a deep, rich sound. It starts two octaves below middle C, but can go very high. For the highest notes the player can use “thumb position”. This means that the left thumb is pressing down on one or two strings high up over the fingerboard. Although cello music is most frequently written in the bass clef, cello music often goes quite high so that the tenor clef or treble clef are used.
In an orchestra, double bass players bow the strings with a wooden bow strung with horsehair, or pluck the strings with their fingers (plucking the strings is called pizzicato). In jazz the double bass is played pizzicato most of the time. However some jazz players use the bow to play melodies on the double bass.
To play different notes on the double bass, double bass players hold down the metal strings against the fingerboard with their left hand and then bow the string or pluck it with their right hand.
Double bass players in jazz bands or rock bands often connect their double bass to an electronic amplifier and a loudspeaker, to make a louder, stronger sound. This makes it easier for the double bass player, the other musicians, and the audience to hear the double bass's musical notes.