Knowing is half the battle
Welcome everyone! In this article we are going to talk about the notes on the violin. It’s important to know what the violin is capable of in order to make full use of your lessons and the skills they produce. Notes on the violin are also sometimes referred to as “pitches”. You’ll see this used much more frequently in music theory discussions, but it’s important to know.
Your first order of business is going to be learning the notes in the first position of your violin. I want to dive right into the mechanics of note production on the violin. In other words, how you make a pitch, or note, on your instrument. I also want to inform you on the range of notes available to you on your violin.
How to make a note on the violin
There are only two ways to make a simple note on the violin: play an open string, or press your finger down on the fingerboard of your violin between the nut and the end of the fingerboard. Theoretically, you can produce harmonics between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge, but we generally don’t because there’s so much rosin at that location and it wouldn’t produce a pleasing sound.
Notes are not random on the violin. They have mathematically predetermined locations on the fingerboard. This is the reason I either add tape for finger location indicators for my students, or I have them purchase a finger location method like the “Don’t Fret” finger locat0r system.
You can make notes all the way up to the end of your fingerboard, but we generally don’t play notes that high in most circumstances due to the fact that it is more difficult to make a note that high in pitch pleasing to the ear. Still, there are performers who are quite capable of doing just that and they routinely show the world the full breath and beauty of what the violin can do.
If we stay with this concept, you would use your 1st finger, 2nd finger, and 3rd finger in first position on your violin. This is the position that starts closest to your nut. On a full size violin, a regular 1st finger starts about an inch and a quarter above the nut. The second finger lands about an inch or a little less beyond the 1st finger location. The third finger lands a little less than a half an inch beyond the 2nd finger. The 4th finger lands about 3/4 of an inch beyond the third finger.
The range of notes you can make on your violin
For those musical scientists out there, I want to give you specific pitches for the range of the violin. The violin strings are G3, D4, A4, and E5. The lowest note the violin can produce is the G3.
This is a G below middle C. Sometimes this G string is tuned lower, but for the most part, this is the general pitch the lowest string is tuned to. The highest pitch the violin can produce is a little more difficult to pin down. It often times depends on the skill of the player and the physical abilities of the violin you are playing.
The usual limit of a normal pitch on the violin is an E7. This is two octaves above the open E string (an E5). Again, depending on the player and the length of the fingerboard, you MAY be able to play higher. However, the violin is also capable of what we call harmonic pitches. The violin is able to play up to a C8 using what some refer to as artificial harmonics.
The types of notes you can make on your violin
This may be more appropriately described as the types of “sounds” the violin can produce. Nevertheless, there are several different ways we can make notes on the violin.
Pizzicato is an Italian term roughly translated as “pinched” or “plucked”. Using this technique, you are going to use your finger to pluck the violin and cause the string to vibrate. You an do this on an open string, or you can use this method while placing a finger down on the specific string on which you want to play your note. It’s a great alternative to the arco method. It’s often more quiet, but adds a new dimension to the piece. It is also slightly slower than arco in that you can play faster by bowing.
Arco is translated literally as “bow” or “to bow” as pertaining to music and musical instruments. This makes more sense when you see a Medieval, Renaissance, or even Baroque style violin bow. Modern bows don’t have an outward facing arch, but their predecessors did.
This is a style that draws the horsehair of the bow across the strings of the violin and thus produces vibrations from the string (as long as your bow hair is sufficiently rosined).
With the arco method, we can make natural harmonics and artificial harmonics. This is a bit of a music theory discussion, but there are points along each violin string where you can lightly place your finger down and produce a secondary pitch sonically higher than your current finger location would otherwise play.
With a regular note, we press the string down to where it touches the fingerboard. For a natural harmonic, we press down very lightly, so light that the string is barely depressed, if at all. This doesn’t happen everywhere on the string. They exist at specific locations.
There is another type of harmonic called an “artificial” or “false” harmonic. This is made by pressing down lightly as with a regular harmonic, but we involve the first and fourth finger. The first finger acts as the stopping point for the string, the fourth finger is the finger that creates the final contact point and produces the false harmonic pitch. This type of harmonic is moveable and thus can be created almost anywhere on the string.
Keep at it
These are the basic pitches we can make on the violin. Some of them you might not be able to produce immediately, but you will be able to if you keep working hard. So once again, have a great day, and keep practicing!