That large instrument that looks like a violin could actually be several things.
The violin family has 4 primary members, of which the violin is the smallest, the viola the next smallest, the cello larger than that and the double bass the largest.
The viola is the most similar to the violin, since they are both played on the shoulder. It is larger than the violin, but not by all that much. Calling it huge would be an overstatement.
For that reason, the instrument you are wondering about is most likely the cello or the double bass. Let’s take a look at both of them.
The Cello: A Huge Violin-Like Instrument
The cello is quite a bit larger than a violin at 120.9 centimeters in height (excluding the end pin), but they have many similarities. They look basically the same, apart from the size, and both have four strings that are tuned in perfect fifths and are played with a bow.
The main differences are the playing style and the sound. The cello is generally tuned an octave lower than the violin and is not played under the jaw, but standing upright in front of the cellist between his or her legs.
It is used as both a solo instrument and in chamber music ensembles and orchestras. They have also been used in rock and pop music quite a bit, with acts like Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Cher, Arcade Fire, The Smashing Pumpkins and a few others using them for at least some of their songs.
The origin of the name “cello” is interesting. It is actually a shortened version of the Italian word “violoncello”, which means “little violone.” The violone was the largest member of the viol family of instruments, which were stringed instruments that were in use until the end of the 17th century, when they were mostly replaced with the louder and better sounding violin family of instruments.
The violoncello was thus the smaller sibling of the violone. Eventually its name was shortened to just cello and it is now the second largest bowed string instrument commonly in use, after the double bass.
Double Bass: The Largest Violin-Like Instrument
Often referred to as just the bass, the double bass is the largest bowed string instrument (that is commonly in use today) at 180 cm in total height. Though it is generally considered a member of the violin family, there is some debate.
The double bass is tuned in fourths like a viol, not fifths like the other instruments in the violin family. For this reason, and because it has sloped shoulders and a few other physical characteristics similar to a viol, some scholars believe it belongs in the viol family instead.
But overall, it has more in common with the violin, most notably the internal construction with a sound post and bass bar, which is why it has historically been viewed as the lowest-pitched member of the violin family.
The double bass is heavily featured in classical music, like orchestras, concertos and even solos. It is also used in jazz, blues, rockabilly, rock and roll, country, bluegrass and folk music. It can be played either with a bow or by plucking the strings. In classical music and tango, both styles are used. In rockabilly, jazz and blues, plucking is most common. In these genres, the bass is also often amplified, while the natural sound is allowed to prevail in classical and bluegrass.
If you’re looking for a violin-like instrument to play, the viola, cello and double-bass are all good options. There are far fewer people learning these instruments than there are students beginning on the violin, so you will face less competition. On the other hand, there are also fewer opportunities to shine with these instruments than with the violin. The good thing is: all four sound great and are fun to play, so you really can’t go wrong, whichever one you choose.