ViolinThe Violin or Fiddle

Is a small instrument with four strings which you hold under your chin and play with a bow. A bow is a wooden stick with horse hair stretched across it. The horse hair is rubbed with a sticky stuff called rosin to help it grip and pull the strings.

A fiddle is just another word for a violin. We usually think of someone playing folk music on the fiddle whereas we might call it a violin if they play classical music.

Listen to the violin

The Mandolin

Round-back mandolinThe mandolin is tuned like a violin but instead of using a bow the strings are plucked with a piece of plastic called a plectrum, or a pick. It has eight strings, twice as many as a violin.

Fortunately you don’t need twice as many fingers to play it as the strings are in pairs, so you play two together.Flat-back mandolin

Old Italian mandolins (left) have a round back that can slide around on your belly when you play it. Most modern ones (right) have a flatter back and are easier to play standing up. The two types have slightly different sounds. See if you can hear a difference when you click on the pictures.

Just as the violin has a family (the violin, viola, ‘cello and double bass) so does the mandolin. The names of these are the mandola, mandocello and mandobass.

Listen to the round-back mandolin

Listen to the flat-back mandolin

guitarThe Guitar

The guitar needs little introduction as it is the most popular instrument of all. It has six strings which are plucked with the fingers or a plectrum (pick).

Acoustic guitars have either nylon strings or steel strings. Electric guitars need an amplifier to be heard properly.

Listen to the guitar

banjoThe Banjo

It’s really a drum with a neck and strings stretched across it.You can play it with a plectrum or with your fingers.

It is a loud instrument, but some players like to make it even louder by using metal fingerpicks. It originally came from Africa and was taken by slaves to America. It has a happy, ‘plink plonk’ sort of sound.

Listen to the banjo

The Voice

VoiceMost people forget that their voice is a musical instrument, and the great thing is we’ve all got one.

So join in the choruses and help us out. If you find the words a bit difficult at first, try doing some actions. Many of the songs have choruses with great actions.

See if you can work them out.

Double bassThe Double Bass

This is the biggest member of the violin family and makes the lowest sound. It stands about two metres tall and can be played with a bow or plucked with fingers.

You can also slap the strings to give a drum-like beat.

Listen to the double bass