Traditionally, a violin is a wooden box with four strings: G-D-A-E. But what about 5-string violins? Do they really exist?
5-String violins are a fun way to explore additional range, which can open a variety of musical doors.
So Just What Is a Five String Violin?
The fifth string is generally added to the lower end of the range, borrowing the lowest string from the violin’s brother—the viola. The viola is a larger and lower-toned, but held the same way as a violin. The strings on a 5-stringed violin then become C-G-D-A-E. The 5-string violin can be acoustic or electric, but most models tend to be electric.
The addition of a 5th string to the violin allows the player to have a wider range of notes available for playing music across multiple genres. The player has the full range of both the violin and the viola. More notes on the bass (low) side of the instrument permit extra harmonization where not previously possible. In addition to different harmonies, playing double or triple stops becomes easier! (For more help with playing chords on your stringed instrument, see my previous blog post.
The performer is also able to access melodic lines written for viola, in addition to the standard violin repertoire. These pieces can include viola concertos and cello music transposed for viola. Accordingly, when working with a 5-string violin, it is helpful to have a functional knowledge of the alto clef, read by violists, as music printed for violin will not generally reference notes below the low G, the lowest open string. Music for viola, however, spans from the low open C string, and sometimes calls for the violist to read treble clef. Being able to read music in both clefs will be a big advantage and allow full access to all of the 5 strings.
Is Playing a 5 String Violin Hard?
Playing a 5-String violin is not without it’s challenges. Students will need to be even more aware of the placement of their bow on the string. Since the strings are much closer together than they would otherwise be on a standard violin or viola, it is easier to get a lot of unintentional noise by hitting the strings surrounding the one you are trying to play.
A 5-stringed violin player has options when looking for strings. Some companies that manufacture 5-stringed instruments also manufacture strings for the instruments. These manufacturers offer strings in a 5-string set. A player could also purchase a regular set of four viola strings and then separately buy a violin E string to add. Or, a player could purchase a regular set of violin strings and then add a viola C string.
Players of 5-stringed violins may also want to consider using a viola bow. Because viola strings are slightly thicker than violin strings, a violin bow may not be strong enough to create a full sound on a 5-string violin, especially if the player elects to use primarily viola strings. Viola strings require a bit more effort to pull, and the viola bow is more hefty and designed to do that.
And Yes… These Violins Aren’t Just a Myth!
5-String violins do exist. The addition of the lower C string creates some additional considerations regarding technique and equipment for players. Despite these considerations and modifications, the experience of playing a 5-stringed violin is rewarding. 5-stringed violins open many musical doors!
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 here TakeLessons profile.