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Bowed string instruments are mostly used in a classical symphony orchestra, these instruments are the violin, viola, cello and double bass.
A string orchestra is, as the name implies, an orchestra composed only of string players, and simply indicates that no other instruments than strings are included. The size can vary a bit, anywhere from 15 to 40 players is common.
A bowed string instrument is played with a bow, the bow is moved across the strings, whose vibrations cause the body (resonator) of the instrument to vibrate.
These instruments are all constructed in a similar way. A body made of wood (commonly spruce and maple), a neck with a fingerboard of ebony or another hard wood, a bridge of wood that sits (unfastened) on the top of the instrument, over which the strings are strung. The strings are held on one end by the tailpiece, a carved piece of wood that is fastened to one end of the instrument (opposite the fingerboard). On the other end, the strings are fastened on tuning pegs that are installed in the instrument’s head.
Today, all strings have metal windings, and most have a metal core, although some have a gut core, which was usual for a long period of time. Gut strings were being used as late as the 1960′s in Germany. Gut strings have a softer, mellower sound, but project less and lose their tuning very easily.
There are two main playing techniques on bowed string instruments: playing with the bow and without. Playing with the bow is called arco (it. bow), and without (plucking the strings) is called pizzicato, often abbreviated pizz. There are a lot of different arco techniques, the most important are detaché, martelé (or martellato), spiccato, tremolo and col legno, while variants of pizzicato include Bartok pizzicato. In music from the Baroque era, pizzicato is quite rare. It is more common in the classical era, and in music from the romantic and contemporary eras, it is quite often heard. A number of special techniques have surfaced in the 20th century, too numerous to include here.