The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello.
The violin is sometimes 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 and 19th centuries. Violinists and collectors particularly prize the instruments made by the Gasparo da Salò, Giovanni Paolo Maggini, Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati families from the 16th to the 18th century in Brescia and Cremona and by Jacob Stainer in Austria. Great numbers of instruments have come from the hands of "lesser" makers, as well as still greater numbers of mass-produced commercial "trade violins" coming from cottage industries in places such as Saxony, Bohemia, and Mirecourt. Many of these trade instruments were formerly sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other mass merchandisers.
The earliest stringed instruments were mostly plucked (e.g. the Greek lyre). Bowed instruments may have originated in the equestrian cultures of Central Asia, an example being the Kobyz or kyl-kobyz is an ancient Turkic, Kazakh string instrument or Mongolian instrument Morin huur. The modern European violin evolved from various bowed stringed instruments from the Middle East the Byzantine Empire.
Since the Baroque era, the violin has been one of the most important of all instruments in classical music, for several reasons. The tone of the violin stands out above other instruments, making it appropriate for playing a melody line. In the hands of a good player, the violin is extremely agile, and can execute rapid and difficult sequences of notes.
The earliest references to jazz performance using the violin as a solo instrument are documented during the first decades of the 20th century. Joe Venuti, one of the first jazz violinists, is known for his work with guitarist Eddie Lang during the 1920s. Since that time there have been many improvising violinists including Stéphane Grappelli, Stuff Smith, Regina Carter, Johnny Frigo, John Blake and Jean-Luc Ponty. While not primarily jazz violinists, Darol Anger and Mark O'Connor have spent significant parts of their careers playing jazz.
Up to the 1970s, most types of popular music used bowed strings. They were extensively used in popular music throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. There was a drastic decline in their use with the rise of swing music in 1935 as the string sound was deemed inappropriate to the improvised style of swing music. The late 1960s saw a revival of the use of strings with the rise of soul music. Popular Motown recordings of the late 1960s and 1970s relied heavily on strings as part of their trademark texture. The rise of disco music in the 1970s continued this trend with the heavy use of string instruments in popular disco orchestras (e.g. Love Unlimited Orchestra, Biddu Orchestra, Monster Orchestra, Salsoul Orchestra, MFSB, etc.).
The rise of electronically created music in the 1980s saw a decline in their use, as synthesized string sections took their place. However, while the violin has very little usage in rock music, it has some history in progressive rock (e.g., The Electric Light Orchestra, King Crimson, Kansas). The 1973 album Contaminazione by Italy's RDM plays violins off against synthesizers at its finale ("La grande fuga").