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Violin Sheet Music: How to Read and Play

How to Read Violin Notes: A Beginner’s Guide

Violin Sheet Music: How to Read and Play

Learning how to read violin sheet music is a challenging but important task.

Being able to read music off of the page unlocks an entire world of musical potential. When you develop your sight-reading skills, playing a new piece of music can be as easy as reading these words.

Playing by ear is a wonderful and valuable skill that can come in handy in many situations, especially when it comes to improvising. However, learning how to read violin sheet music is necessary if you aspire to perform with an orchestra, quartet, or band.

Once you’ve learned how to read violin notes, you’ll be able to play any piece of music you set your mind to. Learning a new piece is exponentially easier when you can interpret the sheet music. The good news is that you can learn how to read music while building up other fundamental violin techniques such as scales, finger positions, and bowing

Below, we will walk you through how to read violin sheet music and then test your knowledge with a quick quiz.

How to Read Violin Sheet Music: Step by Step

The Staff

The journey of learning how to read sheet music starts with the staff. The staff is the set of five horizontal lines on which notes are placed in standard violin sheet music.

There are seven notes of which all music is based: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Once you get to G, you would start back over with A and the cycle would repeat again, getting higher in pitch as you go up the staff.

There are also multiple pitches that correspond with the same letter in music. For instance, there are several different A’s on the violin. They are just in varying forms of higher or lower pitches.

how to read violin notesThe Notes on the Lines

The easiest way to learn violin music notes is to divide the staff up into lines and spaces.

These are the notes that fall on the lines of the staff, meaning the notes directly on top of the lines, with the lines intersecting them.

how to read violin notes

Starting from the bottom line, begin to memorize each note going up the top line. One popular mnemonic device you may have heard is “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Another is “Elvis’ Guitar Broke Down Friday.”

These devices can be really handy to help you memorize the notes! You can also start with a beginner violin book, such as Essential Elements for Strings Volume I, which will give you some great exercises to help you memorize and learn these notes.

The Notes on the Spaces

Next, there are the violin music notes that fall in between the lines – on the spaces:

how to read violin notes

Another great mnemonic device applies here. If you look at the notes starting from the bottom note up to the top note, you will see that the letters spell F-A-C-E. And that of course rhymes with space. It’s quite catchy and memorable: “Face is in the space!”

Whenever you’re practicing or working from an exercise book make sure to keep these mnemonic devices in mind. If you forget the name of a note, first determine whether the note falls on a space or a line.

Then take your finger or a pencil and point to each note from the bottom on up, while saying aloud the corresponding mnemonic device to refresh your memory. See, learning how to read violin notes isn’t that hard after all!

RELATED: Beginner’s Guide to Tuning a Violin

Ledger Lines

The five lines and four spaces aren’t quite enough to contain the entire spectrum of violin notes. In order to place these violin music notes, we use small lines or dashes called “ledger lines.” The notes can fall on the lines or in the spaces between them just like the five lines of the staff.

In the G scale chart above, you’ll notice that there are other notes that fall below the staff (lower in pitch) and above the staff (higher in pitch.)

To read these notes you can use the ones on the staff that you already know as a reference point to figure them out.

Important Symbols on the Staff

A very important part of learning how to read violin notes is memorizing the different symbols you might come across on the staff. If you look over some violin sheet music or an exercise book, you’ll notice some new symbols at the beginning of each staff line.
how to read violin notes

The Treble Clef

You may recognize the fancy swirly symbol at the beginning of the staff as a clef. Clef symbols are reference points that name a specific note on the staff from which the names of all the other notes are based.

Lower pitched instruments use other clefs with different reference points, such as bass or alto clef. But in violin (as well as higher pitched instruments such as flute and trumpet) we use the treble clef.

The main thing a beginner should take from this is that if you’re looking at sheet music with a treble clef on it, it signifies that the music is suitable to be played on the violin.

Key Signature

Next, you’ll see the key signature, which is very important to pay attention to because it will tell you whether or not you have any flat or sharp notes in the song.

  • A flat note (i.e. B flat) is a half-step lower in pitch than the base note (B) and is signified by this symbol: ♭
  • A sharp note (i.e. C sharp) is a half-step higher in pitch than the base note (C) and is signified by this symbol: #

how to read violin notes

If you see a flat symbol in the key signature, look at the line or space that is striking through the center of the symbol and determine which note corresponds to the line or space.

Now throughout the duration of the piece (whether it’s a higher or lower version of that note) you will be playing the flat version of that note.

The same goes for when you see a sharp symbol in the key signature. Take a close look at the sharp symbol and notice that there is a little skewed square right in the middle of the symbol.

Whichever note corresponds to the line or space that the square forms around will be the note that will become sharp throughout the piece.

Sometimes there will be multiple sharps or a combination of sharps and flats. If you don’t see any sharps or flats in your key signature, you can just assume that all the notes in the piece are going to be your normal or “natural” notes.

Any notes that are not mentioned in the key signature are assumed to be natural notes as well.

Time Signature

Next in line is the time signature. The time signature lets you know how to count a piece or how many beats are in each measure.

The staff is divided by vertical lines into segments called “measures,” which will contain a certain number of beats depending on what your time signature says.

The top number in the time signature tells you how many beats are in each measure. Once the allotted number of beats have been counted out, it’s time to move on to the next measure and start the counting over again.

The bottom number describes the length of the beat. If you have a 4 on the bottom (most common) that would signify that you are basing your beat off of the length of a quarter note.

These are the numbers you’ll be seeing on the bottom of the time signature and which note lengths they correspond to:

  • 2 = half note
  • 4 = quarter note
  • 8 = eighth note
  • 16 = sixteenth note

These are the most common time signatures you will see:

how to read violin notes

The 4/4 time signature is so common that it is referred to as “common time” and often, you will see a C on the music where the time signature would normally be which means to play the piece in 4/4 time.

SEE ALSO: The Pros and Cons of the Suzuki Method

Quiz Yourself on How to Read Violin Notes

Now that you understand all the symbols and signatures at the beginning of a violin song, you’re ready to start reading notes.

Remembering your mnemonic devices can help you read the notes on the staff, but will you be able to identify the notes that fall off the staff?

As discussed earlier, there are many notes that will fall above the staff and a couple that fall below it.

Just remember that if you know the notes on the staff, you can count up or down using the alphabet to figure out any note you come across.

Test yourself with the chart below.

Starting with the top line, which you know is an F, count up alphabetically to figure out what note this is. Make sure you count each space and line!

how to read violin notes

If you guessed D, you’re right!

Now that you understand the basics of how to read violin notes, you’re ready to start putting it all together. You can now begin to learn about how these notes on written sheet music correspond to the notes on your violin, which is discussed thoroughly in this article.

While we covered a lot of information in this post, online resources such as these are no substitute for a violin teacher. Your teacher can provide you with a personalized, step-by-step approach to mastering how to read violin sheet music, while answering any questions you may have along the way.

If you’re looking to improve your musical skills from the comfort of your own home, online violin lessons are a great option. Your teacher can share their screen and explain the various elements of sheet music in a fun and accessible way. Through real-time feedback, you can develop proper playing habits and make the most out of your time on the instrument.

The time you spend learning how to read music is well worth it. The more you practice, the more the notes will jump off the page and onto your violin!

Post Author: Naomi Cherie S.
Naomi teaches violin in Austin, TX. She is a classically trained violinist with over 20 years of experience and a diverse musical background. Learn more about Naomi Cherie S. here.

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The Beginner’s Guide to Violin Scales [Video Tutorial]

violin G major scale for beginners

One of the most important aspects when learning how to play the violin is understanding scales. Learning scales will give you a solid foundation as you begin to explore new pieces of music.

Violin Scales for Beginners

Simply put, a violin scale is a series of notes, ordered by frequency or pitch, that span an octave (a consecutive set of eight notes.) For instance, to play a G scale, start by playing the lowest G on your violin (open G string.) Then, ascend up in pitch and play the notes in consecutive order until you reach the next G on your instrument (third finger on the D string.) Next, descend down the scale and play each note again, but move backwards until you return to the lowest G (open G string) on your violin.

Each scale is accompanied by a set of naturals, sharps, and flats which determine what type of scale it is. There are many different types of scales: major, natural minor, harmonic minor, etc, but as a beginner, the first type of scale to focus on and master is the major scale.

What Makes a Scale Major?

There is an easy way to determine which notes go into a major scale, and if you can memorize this rule, you’ll be able to figure out any major scale based on these two principles:

  1. There are half steps between the third and fourth, and seventh and eighth notes in the scale.
  2. There are whole steps between all of the other notes in the scale.

To play whole steps, leave about an inch between your fingers (for instance E and F# on the D string). To play half steps, squeeze your fingers together so they touch each other (B and C natural on the A string.) If you’re not sure about some of the aspects of violin finger placement, check out this article which includes violin fingering charts.

Once you’ve mastered many of the major scales and have advanced into an intermediate level player, you can delve into other types of scales such as the natural minor. Each type of scale has its own set of principles that determine which notes are used in the scale.

How to Play The G Major Scale on a Violin

The G Major Scale is the easiest scale to learn for beginners, so let’s start there.

violin scales for beginners - G Major

Follow the principles above and identify your fingers with these numbers:

  1. Index finger
  2. Middle finger
  3. Ring finger
  4. Pinkie

For the G major scale, use the following finger pattern:

G string: 2 and 3 touching (half steps) with all other fingers spaced apart (whole steps).

G Major Scale Pattern

D string: 2 and 3 touching (half step) with all other fingers spaced apart (whole steps)

D String

If you want to go into a two-octave scale and make the exercise a little longer and more challenging (highly recommended), allow the scale to span from the lowest G (Open G string) to the next G (3rd finger on the D string), and then expand and play all the notes leading up to the next G (second finger on the E string). This makes the scale twice as long.

Start over with the counting of the third and seventh notes, and continue the following finger pattern:

A string: 1 and 2 touching (half step) with all other fingers spaced apart (whole steps).

A String Violin

E string: 1 and 2 touching (half step) with all other fingers spaced apart (whole steps).

E String

Once you have this fingering pattern memorized, take note of the set of sharps, naturals, and flats that make up this scale. This set is what we call a key. In the case of the G major scale, follow the principles above, which gives you an F#. Leave all of the other notes natural.

The set sharps, naturals, and flats would then change for each scale you play. For instance, the A major scale would contain C#, F#, and G#, and the D major scale would use F# and C#.

The best approach when learning scales is to memorize both the set of sharps, flats, and naturals, and the fingering pattern for each scale.

Violin Scale Warm-Ups for Beginners

Here is a helpful warm-up routine that uses  the two-octave G major scale you just learned. Practice this routine to turn on your musical mind, get your fingers moving, and get  your bow arm flowing before each practice session. This warm up will also help you focus on your intonation and form,  and will explore different areas of the bow.

Follow the outline below as you play your two-octave G major scale:

  1. Half notes (long, slow, smooth bows that span from frog to tip)
  2. Quarter notes (quick, strong bows that span most of the bow)
  3. Four per note eight notes (four quick bow strokes on each note)
  4. Two per note eight notes (two quick bow strokes on each note)
  5. One per note eight notes (one quick bow stroke on note)
  6. Four per note 16th notes (four ultra-quick bow strokes on each note)
  7. Two per note 16th (two ultra-quick bow strokes on each note)
  8. One per note 16th notes (four quick bow strokes on each note)

This video will walk you through this violin scale warm up. Once you get comfortable with the warm up, try playing along with me in the video.

Take some time to grasp the section of the warm up leading up to the eighth notes. Depending on how long you’ve been playing violin, you may need to practice it for a few weeks.

Once you’re ready, try playing along with the 16th-note routine outlined in this video:

Now that you’ve learned the G scale and have an excellent warm up routine to go with it, take some time to get comfortable: practice and perfect it! For the next few weeks, play through your warm-up exercise each time you practice.

Learn to play this warm-up proficiently (all notes in tune and you can work smoothly and seamlessly from half notes to 16th notes) before you move on to another scale.

Work your way up gradually and play through your eighth notes and 16th notes slowly, until you can add speed without taking away from the overall quality of your sound and intonation. When you first start learning the scale, you may need to work through the warm up multiple times during your practice sessions.

Once you’ve mastered the two-octave G major scale, try moving on to the A major, the D major, and the C major. Using the scales as your cornerstone, you will become familiar with the different keys and will be able to approach songs and pieces of music with confidence and ease.