“Don’t go faster than the violin” - Quebecois Proverb
The violin family of stringed instruments is as popular in North and South America as it is in Europe. 15% of music students in the United States of America play the violin whereas 41% play the guitar.
“Ability to think, like the violin or piano, requires daily practice.” - Charlie Chaplin
While this is quite high in comparison to South America, there’s still local interest in the violin.
In this article, we're going to have a look at the countries around the Americas and how they play the violin and similar string instruments.
Common Violins in the Americas
When it comes to music, the Americas are a melting pot of musical influences for a number of obvious reasons. For one, waves of immigration from Europe heavily influenced the United States of America. In Latin America, the violin and its local relatives are commonly used.
While there are a number of variants in Latin America, North America only really has the viola, cello, and electric violin. In South America, musical diversity has given rise to a number of new bowed and plucked string instruments:
- In Chile, Guatemala, and Ecuador, you may see the Rebec. This is an instrument with three strings.
- In Brazil, they also play the Rabeca, a Portuguese variation of the violin.
- In Argentina, they play the violin against their chest (rather than with a chinrest). This gave rise to the name violneros, used for both the violinists and the instrument itself.
- In Peru, they play the kitaj, a blend between a ukulele and a violin inspired by Incan music.
American luthiers are quite famous nowadays. Of course, they're not quite as good the European greats such as Antonio Stradivari (the maker of the famed Stradivarius violin), Andrea Amati, and the Guarneri, violin makers from Cremona, Italy, who made the musical instrument famous!
Of course, not every musician can buy the finest fiddle known to man. That said, there is a market for the instrument and you can find plenty of stores where you can buy a violin bow, polish for an ebony fingerboard, and replacement parts for your violin.
While traditionally North America led the way in violin making, a number of South American luthiers have started competing in terms of craftsmanship. It’s not uncommon for South American luthiers to export their creations, including:
In North America, luthier training is demanding. In Quebec, Canada, for example, you need to study for 3 years before you can open your own workshop and start making violins.
The violin was an essential part of jazz and rock music and in the 1920s in the United States of America. There were two main types of violin for two different genres:
- Blues (traditionally played in black communities)
- Country (traditionally played in white rural communities)
The New Orleans Symphony Orchestra was the first to work with known artists like Eddie South and Stuff Smith. While the violin isn’t the most popular instrument, like the saxophone, it became popular towards the end of the 20th century with jazz violinists such as Didier Lockwood.
While there are a lot of similarities between the violin in North and South America, there are a number of stark contrasts that we need to look at.
The Violin Around the Americas
Generally speaking, classical music is well known in the United States of America and Canada. In South America, classicism is different. Here’s what’s different for violinists around the Americas.
In addition to jazz music, the violin is a common instrument in North America and is one of the most common instruments. It’s not uncommon to see violin concerti and chamber music performances.
In the US, there are also fiddlers, violinists who play the violin on their arm or chest rather than adopting the traditional posture. They also use scordatura.
Scordatura is a different way to tune the violin and was famously used by Schumann and Stravinsky.
In Canada, there are two main types of violinist.
Classical and modern violinists
Traditional and folkloric violinists, notably in Quebec and New Brunswick
Since most countries in South America were once part of either the Spanish or Portuguese empires, it’s no surprise that there’s a huge influence from these countries. Local populations, who already had their own string instruments, adopted elements from these countries.
Before we talk about violins and violinists, we need to mention some of the local traditions. For example:
- In Mexico, there’s norteña music and Huasteco from Veracruz.
- Andean violinists from Ecuador and Peru play with the violin, mandolin, and double bassists.
- The violin (or violinero) is used for chacareca and gato dances in Argentina.
- The violin and mejorana (like a small guitar) are common in Panama.
- In the Antilles and Cuban music, you can see violins in charanga orchestras.
So where can you learn to play the violin in the Americas?
Where to Learn to Play the Violin in the Americas
To become a famous soloist, you’ll need to train. While some people are born with talent, others need to work on it a bit.
“Doing easily what others find difficult is talent; doing what is impossible for talent is genius.” - Henri-Frédéric Amiel
It’s important, from a young age, to attend music schools and higher education institutions and conservatoires if you want to become a great violinist, composer, or performer. In the Americas, there are tonnes of reputable establishments offering violin tuition. Here are some of the most reputable:
- Conservatorio Superior de Música “Manuel de Falla”, Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Musical Conservatory Beethoven, Saõ Paulo, Brazil
- Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, Canada
- Humber College School of Music in Toronto, Canada.
- Projazz Professional Institute, Providencia, Chile
- EMMAT, Bogota, Colombia
- Universidad de Costa Rica, Costa Rica
- Conservatorio Amadeo Roldan, Havana, Cuba
- Julliard School, New York, United States of America
- Conservatorio de Música de Occidente “Jesús Castillo”, Guatemala
- Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, Mexico City, Mexico
- Facultad de Bellas Artes, Panama City, Panama
- Conservatorio Nacional de Música, Lima, Peru
- Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico
- Escuela Universitaria de Música, Montevideo, Uruguay
- Conservatorio de Música Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela
Did you know that there are over 350 internationally-recognised establishments in the United States where you can train to be a professional violinist?
Speaking of professionals, do you know some of the most famous violinists from the Americas?
The Most Famous Violinists from the Americas
Some play in international orchestras and some know every one of Mozart’s symphonies off by heart. Here are some of the most famous American (both North American and South American) violinists:
- Willy Arteaga. A violinist from Venezuela known for using his violin politically against the current regime in place.
- Ljerko Spiller. A violinist and conductor whose two children are both on the same musical path.
- Jean Carignan. One of the greatest Canadian violinists.
- Ricardo Herz. A Brazilian violin virtuoso.
- Yilian Cañizares. A Cuban violin maestro.
- Catalina Escobar. A Chilean violinist who now plays in France.
- Manuel Arce Sotelo. A violinist and ethnomusicologist from Peru.
- Enrique Diemecke. A Mexican conductor and violinist.
The violin is a passionate instrument with a variety of influences and ways to be played, especially across the Americas.
Would you like to become the next great violinist or one of the best composers of your generation?
If you can't make it all the way to the Americas, don't forget there are private tutors available in the UK such as the tutors on Superprof. Since you're a tutor's only student (in that class), they can tailor all the lesson to you.
Additionally, a large portion of the tutors on Superprof offer the first hour of tuition for free. This is a great opportunity to talk to them about how they teach, what they can teach you, and just to see if you get along. Whether you want to learn the violin for fun, get into a prestigious music school (in North America, South America, or elsewhere), or become a professional violinist, you can find a tutor to help you work towards your goals.
For those who live rurally or have a work schedule that doesn't allow them to get regular violin tutorials, there are always online private tutorials via webcam. These are often cheaper than face-to-face tutorials as the tutor doesn't have to cover the cost of travelling in their rates.