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Violin octet
From left to right:
  • Baritone violin
  • Small bass violin
  • Contrabass violin
  • Tenor violin
  • Alto violin
  • Mezzo violin
  • Soprano violin
  • Treble violin
Other namesThe New Violin Family
Related instruments

The violin octet is a family of stringed instruments developed in the 20th century primarily under the direction of the American luthier Carleen Hutchins. Each instrument is based directly on the traditional violin and shares its acoustical properties, with the goal of a richer and more homogeneous sound. Unlike the standard modern stringed instruments, the main resonance of the body of the violin octet instrument is at a pitch near the two middle open strings, giving the instruments a more balanced, clearer sound.

The instruments were proposed by composer Henry Brant in 1957 and the first octet was completed in 1967.


The instruments of the violin octet are:

Instrument Range Tuning Notes
Treble violin
G4–D5–A5–E6, tuned an octave above the violin, like the Kit violin or pochette[1] or the two "kleine Poschen" of the Syntagma Musicum of Michael Praetorius[2] About the size of a 14 violin
Soprano violin
C4–G4–D5–A5, tuned a fourth above the violin, like the violino piccolo About the size of a 34 violin
Mezzo violin
G3–D4–A4–E5, tuned the same as the violin The body is slightly longer (368–381 mm; 14.5–15.0 in) than a conventional violin (355 mm; 14.0 in) but the strings are about the same length (328–338 mm; 12.9–13.3 in)
Alto violin
C3–G3–D4–A4, tuned the same as the viola Similar to a viola but larger, and is often played upright, like a cello
Tenor violin
G2–D3–A3–E4, tuned an octave below a standard violin, like the historical tenor violin The body is similar to a half-size cello but with thinner ribs and a longer neck
Baritone violin
C2–G2–D3–A3, tuned the same as a cello Larger than a conventional cello
Small bass violin
A1–D2–G2–C3, tuned a fourth above a double bass or G1–D2–A2–E3, tuned a fourth below a cello.[3] About the size of a 58 double bass; played like a double-bass or sitting down (like a cello)
Contrabass violin
E1–A1–D2–G2, tuned the same as a double bass or C1–G1–D2–A2, tuned an octave below a cello. Larger than a conventional double bass; played like a double bass

Note: While the Small Bass and Contrabass violins were designed and originally meant to be tuned in fifths, most bassists find the required extra shifting impractical. The former[4] New Violin Family Association listed tunings for these instruments in fourths, while the Hutchins Quartet retains the original fifths tuning.


Carleen Hutchins did not design specific bows for the instruments of the violin octet. This is important research which still has not been completed. Players of these instruments use a variety of violin, viola, cello and double-bass bows, looking for the best fit they can at the moment.

Performing groups

Currently, there are three performing groups which play and record on the instruments of the violin octet.[dubious ] The Hutchins Consort (based in San Diego, California) plays on Carleen Hutchins' instruments. The Hutchins Consort Quartet is a subset of the consort and plays on soprano violin, tenor violin, baritone violin and contrabass violin. The Albert Consort (based in Ithaca, New York) uses a set of instruments made by Robert Spear and the New Violin Family Orchestra, organized by the association Octavivo[dead link], which also uses instruments made by Robert Spear.

Use in traditional roles

The instruments of the violin octet do not necessarily have to be used in the context of the consort and for playing music written especially for them. They can also be used as alternatives to members of the usual violin family: for example any string quartet could be played by an ensemble consisting of two mezzo violins, one alto violin and one baritone violin, as an alternative to the two violins, viola and cello of the usual string quartet.

The best-known use of a member of the New Violin Family in this sort of role is that of an alto violin by Yo-Yo Ma to perform and record Béla Bartók's Viola Concerto.


  1. ^ which were however three string instruments
  2. ^ two types are shown both having three strings: see Syntagma Musicum, vol. 2, page XXI
  3. ^ The existence of two basses, a smaller one and a larger one, was also a feature of the viol family, which had two types of violone tuned one fourth apart
  4. ^ "The Hutchins Consort - History".


  1. Carleen Hutchins' Instruments and Archives at the National Music Museum[dead link]
  2. Hutchins Consort, a performing group that uses the violin octet
  3. Lipsett, Fred (2006). Yahoo!Groups Viola list message 42682 "Alto Violin" Retrieved March 24, 2006.
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