As a beginner, it is hard to learn how to balance on one string and not hit the others with the bow. Playing more advanced music however, means that you will need to learn how to intentionally play more than one string at a time. This means you’ll be playing chords on your violin. There are two main groups of chords, and each requires a different approach.
Before You Start Any Chord:
Before you start playing your violin chords, follow this simple, four-step process.
- Check your bow hold. Make sure that you have a proper hold that’s secure enough to stabilize the bow, but loose and relaxed enough to permit free movement. You will need to use a bit more pressure on the bow to pull more than one string at a time.
- Check your violin hold. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed and even.
- When reading the notes, read from the bass (lowest) note to the treble (highest) note. In other words, read from the bottom up.
- Keep your fingers up and curved over the fingerboard. Take care that one finger does not rest on two strings (unless called for due to the positioning of the specific notes you are going to play). Do not use chords as an excuse for posture!
The Two Types of Chords:
Let’s explore the two main types of violin chord.
- This occurs when there are two notes stacked on top of each other. These notes are meant to be played at the same time. They should be given equal pressure with the bow.
- Play each note separately so that you can make sure they are BOTH in tune.
- Set the bow hair flat across both strings and pull with even pressure.
- Chords can come in groups of 3 or 4, depending on how the composer has written the music. It is obvious that it is impossible to play all of the notes in the chord at the same time on the violin! This is because the top-plate, bridge, and fingerboard of the violin are curved. This means that the chord will have to be played in a “broken,” or “rolled” manner.
- As before, play each note separately to check tuning.
- Set the bow hair flat across the lowest two notes, and pull with equal pressure. Only use half of your bow-start at the frog.
- At the half-way point of your bow, pivot the bow to the higher strings. Set the bow hair evenly across the higher notes and pull with even pressure in the same direction you had bowed before. If you were doing a down-bow, you will hear a pause so that it sounds like you are playing down-down. With practice, you can eliminate the pause between notes and you will easily move between the groups. In a chord of 3 notes, sometimes called a triple-stop, the middle note is repeated. For example, if you played a chord on your violin of the open G, D, and A strings, you would first play G and D together, then pivot the bow to play D and A together.
Why Are Violin Chords Important?
Knowing how to play chords is a useful skill for violinists. Why? It allows you to play music in many genres.
In classical music, the chords are printed in the music and are typically used to make a point. For example, a chord might declare the ending of a piece.
In other genres, such as country music, the violin may be used as a rhythm instrument underneath the main vocal melody. In that situation, make sure that you play softly enough so that you do not overpower the lead singer! Recall your regular methods for controlling the volume of your instrument. If you are playing your violin in a way that allows for improvisation, know what key you are in. You can create chords by combining the notes in the arpeggios.
When practicing chords, it is good to start with double-stops and work up to four-note chords. Be patient with yourself! At first, chords may sound too loud or forced. It may be hard to keep your fingers in proper positioning and the notes in tune. Trust the same process that you have used to learn the violin this far: dedicated practice!
About the Author
Lisa has been playing stringed instruments for over 20 years. She teaches the violin, the viola, and the cell to students of all ages and levels. When Lisa isn’t teaching, she plays the violin with different local orchestras. She enjoys writing about the violin as much as she loves playing it, and likes to play a variety of genres including classical, rock, and fiddle. You can connect with Lisa at her TakeLessons profile.