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Strings refer to a group of instruments consisting of bowed string instruments of the violin family, i.e., the violin, the viola, the cello and the double bass.

The violin is an instrument with four strings usually tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the strings family. A violin is also informally called a fiddle, regardless of the type of music played on it. The word violin comes from the Middle Latin word vitula, meaning “stringed instrument”; this word is also believed to be the source of the Germanic “fiddle”. The violin, while it has ancient origins, acquired most of its modern characteristics in 16th-century Italy, with some further modifications occurring in the 18th century. Violinists and collectors particularly prize the instruments made by the Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati families from the 16th to the 18th century in Cremona.

The casual observer may mistake the viola for the violin because of their similarity in size, closeness in pitch range (the viola is a perfect fifth below the violin), and nearly identical playing position. However, the viola’s timbre sets it apart: its rich, dark-toned sonority is more full-bodied than the violin’s. As its mellow voice is frequently used for playing inner harmonies, the viola does not enjoy the wide solo repertoire or fame of the violin.

A person who plays the viola is called a violist or simply a viola player. While it is similar to the violin, the technique required for playing viola has many differences. The difference in size accounts for some of the technical differences, as notes are spread out farther along the fingerboard often requiring different fingerings. The less responsive strings and heavier bow warrant a somewhat different bowing technique. The viola requires the player to lean more intensely on the strings compared to the violin.

The name Cello is an abbreviation of the Italian violoncello, which means “little violone”, referring to the violone (“big viol”), the lowest-pitched instrument of the viol family, the group of string instruments that were superseded by the violin family. Thus, the name carries both an augmentative “-one” (“big”) and a diminutive “-cello” (“little”). By the turn of the twentieth century, it had grown customary to abbreviate the name violoncello to ‘cello, with the apostrophe indicating the six missing prefix letters.

The double bass, also called the string bass, upright bass, bass violin or contrabass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. The name “double bass” derives from the early use of the instrument to double—an octave lower where possible—the bass part written for the cello. The double bass is a standard member of the string section of the symphony orchestra and smaller string ensembles in Western classical music. In addition, it is used in other genres such as disco, jazz, 1950s-style blues and rock and roll, rockabilly/psychobilly, traditional country music, bluegrass, and tango.

The double bass is typically constructed from several types of wood, including maple for the back, spruce for the top, and ebony for the fingerboard. It is uncertain whether the instrument is a descendant of the viola da gamba or or the violin, but it is traditionally aligned with the violin family. While the double bass is nearly identical in construction to other violin family instruments, it also embodies features found in the older viol family.