All Things Strings:

An Illustrated Dictionary

String players face a bewildering array of terms related to their instruments. Because string playing is a living art form, passed directly from master to student, the words used to convey complex concepts such as bow techniques and fingering systems have developed into an extensive vocabulary that can be complicated, vague, and even contradictory. Many of these terms are derived from French, Italian, or German, yet few appear in any standard music dictionary. Moreover, the gulf separating classical playing from fiddle, bluegrass, jazz, and other genres has generated style-specific terms rarely codified into any reference work. All Things Strings: An Illustrated Dictionary bridges this gap, serving as the only comprehensive resource for the terminology used by the modern string family of instruments. All of the terms pertaining to violin, viola, cello, and double bass, inclusive of all genres and playing styles, are defined, explained, and illustrated in a single text.

Entries include techniques from shifting to fingerboard mapping to thumb position; the entire gamut of bowstrokes; terms found in orchestral parts; instrument structure and repair; accessories and equipment; ornaments (including those used in jazz and bluegrass); explanations of various bow holds; conventions of orchestral playing; and types of strings, as well as information on a select number of famous luthiers, influential pedagogues, and legendary performers. All Thing Strings is expertly illustrated with original drawings by T. M. Larsen and musical examples from the standard literature. Appendixes include an extensive bibliography of recommended reading for string players and a detailed chart of bowstrokes showing notation and explaining execution.

As the single best source for understanding string instruments and referencing all necessary terminology, All Things Strings is an essential tool for performers, private teachers, college professors, and students at all levels. It is also an invaluable addition to the libraries of orchestra directors and composers wishing to better understand the complexities of string playing. With the inclusion of terms relevant to all four modern string instruments played in all genres—from jazz to bluegrass to historically informed performance—this resource serves the needs of every string musician.


  • The complex and multilayered art of music making includes a bevy of tools and terminology – not to mention a sea of genres. It's wonderfully overwhelming and daunting to think that one book could capture all of this information in a logical arrangement within a portable casing. But… Jo Nardolillo and … T.M. Larsen set out to tackle just that with All Things Strings: An Illustrated Dictionary. With encyclopedic breadth, they catalog instruments, techniques, musical terms, gear and accessories, and include short bios for prominent luthiers, teachers, and musicians.Strings
  • Nardolillo has produced an excellent resource for bowed string players and those interested in bowed stringed instruments. It is a valuable reference work for school libraries, to be sure, but also the private libraries of teachers, performers and students.American Musical Instrument Society
  • All Things Strings is set up in the style of a dictionary. Included are alphabetical listings of hundreds of musical terms, many translated from their original Italian, French, and German. We find brief biographies of exemplary luthiers, violinists, teachers, and composers. Many obscure bowed stringed instruments, including the trumpet marine and rehab, are described and well-illustrated. A violinist and violist herself, Ms. Nardolillo’s knowledge of popular, jazz, and folk styles in addition to the world of classical music has allowed her to produce a comprehensive reference work… Fascinating and highly recommended!Fiddler Magazine
  • Ambitious in its scope, this illustrated dictionary bills itself as a one-stop resource, covering all the terminology a modern string player could ever need. Violinist and violist Jo Nardolillo — herself a player of new music and jazz — spreads the net wide, so that the glossary of terms covers 'all genres and playing styles' (Western, that is) from classical and historically informed to jazz and Bluegrass.

    The book is elegantly set out, packed with invaluable nuggets of knowledge and dotted with helpful instructions by double bassist T.M. Larsen. It's a lovely book to browse through — who knew a 'doit' was the jazz term for ending a note with an upward slide? Or the difference between a Georgia shuffle and a Nashville shuffle? And I'd never before come across the 'violalin' — as you might imagine, a hybrid between a violin and a viola. There's a good sweep of entries on stringed instruments around the world, taking in the Javanese rebab and Russian gudok among many others. The detailed chart of bow strokes (with their notation, clues on their execution and a note of their names in French, Italian and often German too) is brilliantly informative, and there are some very good explanations of lutherie terms.

    Nardolillo also makes a fine attempt to include short biographies for the most influential luthiers, pedagogues and performers. Inevitably these are selective — for example, she apologises for leaving out David Oistrakh, and luthier G.B. Guadagnini doesn't get a mention. The heroes who do make the cut are in limited number, but they include Paganini, Heifetz, Stradivari and Ysaÿe. In such a male-dominated field, I heartily approve of Nardolillo's rather partisan inclusion of two female 20th-century violist-composers: Rebecca Clarke, for her achievements in blazing the trail for women in art music; and pedagogue Lillian Fuchs — the first to perform and record Bach's Cello Suites on the viola.

    All told, it's a great resource for students and teachers, and even includes a huge list of books for further reading around the subject, grouped under headings such as 'repertoire', 'ergonomics and healthy playing', 'orchestral and ensemble playing' and 'pedagogical treatises'. For me, the only niggle was that Nardolillo could perhaps have given coverage to extended string playing techniques of the past 50 years, but then again her focused approach has, I'm sure, made the difference between producing an appealing book of manageable size and creating a huge and unwieldy tome.the Strad Magazine