The kit violin, dancing master's kit, or kit, is a stringed instrument. It is essentially a very small violin designed to fit in a pocket—hence its other common name, the pochette (French for small pocket). It was used by dance masters in royal courts and other places of nobility, and by street musicians, until around the 18th century. Occasionally, the rebec was used in the same way. Several kit violins are called for (as violini piccoli alla francese—small French violins) in Monteverdi's 1607 Orfeo.
|Other names||kytte, treble violin; creytertjes; poche, pochette, pochette d’amour, sourdine; Posch, Tanzmeistergeige, Taschengeige, Trögl-geige; canino, pochetto, sordina, sordino; linterculus|
The word "kit" probably arose from an abbreviation of the word "pocket" to "-cket" and subsequently "kit"; alternatively, it may be a corruption of “cittern” (Greek: κιθάρα). Trichet is said to have described the kit's leather carrying case as a poche, hence, "The Pocket Violin". Similarly, Mersenne wrote that it was common practice among kit violin players (such as traveling minstrels or dance teachers) to carry the violin in a pocket. "Kit" is believed to have first been used in the first quarter of the 16th century England where it was mentioned in Interlude of the Four Elements, c. 1517.
The instrument's body is very small, but its fingerboard is long relative to the instrument's overall size, to preserve as much of the instrument's melodic range as possible.
Many violinists in the eighteenth century used kits because of their portability. The pochette or pocket fiddle was used by dance masters—not during dances, but when teaching. Niel Gow is known to have played a kit, and reportedly carried one in his pocket whenever he walked from his house in Inver to Blair Castle, where he worked. Thomas Jefferson also owned at least two kits.
A common misconception is that kits were for children. They were actually made for adults; their small size allowed them to be used in where full-sized violins were too large to carry, or too expensive to own. The "pocket fiddle" or "pochette" should not be confused with a saddle fiddle, the latter being a proper fiddle or violin with a nearly full-sized fingerboard and a full-sized violin body.
- Mary Remnant. "Kit". In Deane L. Root (ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- The Ultimate Encyclopaedia of Musical Instruments, ISBN 1-85868-185-5, p85
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. .