What chords can a Violin play?

• Aug 12, 2019 - 09:46

I don't play the Violin but I have to arrange one... Can someone fill me in with the basics?


Violins do not usually play chords. Playing chords is something only advanced, very skilled violinists can do, and they appear only in very advanced, difficult violin music, such this (surely, the most famous such piece) https://musescore.com/bsg/phrased_chaconne_intro (Bach was a very skilled violinist). And they are not "smooth sounding", like guitar chords, but are bowed and sound piece-by-piece as the bow moves from low strings to high strings (what violinists call "cross-bowing"). To know what chords are possible, you must know exactly which notes can appear on each of the four strings, where, and what a hand can do. No one who does not play the violin should attempt to write violin chords. You cannot even write two notes at the same time ("double stops") absent real violin-playing knowledge. Write for multiple string instruments instead.

In reply to by Haoto 2

Those are not even chords, but two-note double stops; there are no complete three- or four-chords there, and the examples it gives of possible violin chords, actually double-stops, is only a small fraction of what a skilled player can do; In that person's tablature, he or she writes "O" at the bottom of the tab, which actually makes no sense. Violinists do not play from chord diagrams or tabs. The person there even says that playing "for" [sic, i.e., "four"] notes at the same time is "extremely difficult".

Do you know any violinists? If amateur or non-skilled violinists try to play chords, you will get an out of tune mess. I really don't think you should write violin chords if your knowledge of violins and violin playing is so minimal.

In MuseScore, you can write any violin part you want, including five or six note chords. No violinist has to be able to play it. You cannot write chordal music a violinist can play unless you yourself know.

Will some violinist reading this please say the same? Thanks.

In reply to by Haoto 2

Strings are usually arranged in sections, and chords distributed among the instruments. If you write for a section with say Violin I, Violin II, Viola and Violoncello you can write 4 way chords. Vln I plays the top notes, Vln II the next, Viola the third and Voiloncello the lowest. One string instrument alone doesn't play any chords like for instance a guitar would.

BTW: I am also not a violinist, but arrange a lot for strings sections. If humans are inteded to play your arrangements, stick to playable stuff. If it's only the computer, you can write whatever you want. It won't sound very realistic however.

In reply to by Haoto 2

One thing about a triple (3 notes) or quadruple stop (4 notes) on a violin, it's not normally played as a chord but rather more like an arpeggio sounding no more than two notes at a time. The bow cannot run across all 4 strings at once. Look at the arc on the bridge of a violin to see how the strings sit and then look at the straight line on the bow. If you put the bow down on the strings hard enough to run it across 3 or 4 strings, at best it will be a screeching noise like you stepped on a cats tail.

To see the quadruple stops in action, you can look at the score I transcribed some time ago found at https://musescore.com/user/6105546/scores/2459141. Use MuseScore version 2 to view this, it will likely look terrible in version 3 no matter what you do. The second movement is the Chaconne. Find a video of it being played by someone like Heifitz on YouTube and you will see how the angle on his bow changes as he glides across the stings on the quadruple stops and never plays a chord.

@Haoto 2....

Earlier you wrote:
"So, does this page sum up the fundamentals?

As mentioned earlier, that page shows double stop diagrams as played on violin. Most stringed instrument players will recognize the 'O' as being an open string (because there is no such note as 'O').

Another fundamental to learn is that web pages can be wrong. Here's the 'G7 chord' (dyad) image from that very page:

BTW: The 'A7 chord' (dyad) immediately above that image also (correctly) shows 'G' and 'A' double stopped notes.

If you don't play violin, I would recommend you avoid writing 'chords' for a violinist. You should spread the chordal tones among a string section.
Get a bluegrass mandolin player for any chords - dyads, triads, seventh, etc.. Those guys are fearless!


In reply to by Haoto 2

Your song sounds like a simple, typical violin melody with simple chordal accompaniment on the piano. That's exactly what violins in ensemble are for; it is by far the most common solo melody instrument. A violin is not a chordal accompaniment instrument, never. Violins do not play solo chords behind other instruments, ever. If you attempt to write chords, and indeed find a violinist to see of they are playable, the violinist will tell you the same thing: don't write chords. Solo violin chords are for complex solo music that draws 100% of attention to the violin. Did you listen to those you-tubes to see what violin chords sound like? There is no such thing as "Can you play a G major chord, then E minor?" That is not what violins do. But you seem hell-bent on using a violin as a chordal accompaniment instrument like a guitar, and you are not interested in how violins are used or have been used in the past. So have fun, and good luck finding a performer (who will tell you the same thing).

In reply to by Haoto 2

Well, trying to score violin chords as an accompaniment or non-solo part is unnatural. I and some string players have told you so. But you can certainly use MuseScore to write music that no live human musicians can play or will ever play. Unlike a real violin, a MuseScore violin can play any chords you want, including ones of five or six notes! It's great for that! Have fun!

For an early attempt like this I would suggest that you forget about chords and pizz and arco and mute and all manner of tricks and gimmicks. Worry, instead, about writing good music. Consider phrasing. Unless you specify differently, violinists will change bow direction every note. Or they may add their own phrasing.
Stay well within the range of the instrument. Players tend to avoid open strings. They sound different than stopped strings, and they can't control the pitch and sound of open strings.

chords are very rare in orchestra instruments. The only instrument in an orchestra that I know of that usually can and could play chords is a piano. If you see a conductor orchestra score that shows an instrument like a flute staff that has a chord means that a flute musician plays the top and part of the chord and the other plays the bottom.

Sometimes a string player (violinist, violaist, celloist etc) could have a chord to play which people above said is really hard. The chord should be bracketed when it starts as a chord instead of saying div. to be a chord. an example is John Williams Star Wars: Here they come piece or Battle of Endor Part 3 (same melodies for both). Those scores uses chords for the strings. You can hear the strings overpowering the music in both bassline, bass, and melody but not really (there are just bass instruments for the melody and nothing else). It is really hard to understand and needs extreme understanding of music theory.

so basically chords don't sound good in (orchestra) music. (ive tested an instrument that doesn't play chords playing chords vs 2 of the same instruments playing each of the notes)

In reply to by Ralts

And also: in orchestral pieces, double-stops marked as"non-DIV" in strings are often used to give-effect/describe for bad/strange/demonic situations. see: Offenbach's Can-Can ("Galop Infernal" in "Orphée aux Enfers").

The bows of the violinists move away from those beautiful and gentle movements. And it works like a saw that cuts wood.

I don't know much and haven't read everything people posted, but I believe that what is said about the violin probably applies to all fretless instruments. Fretless bass, guitar, banjo etc. Chords are usually represented by arpeggios. Then probably by two note chords that don't span the four courses (strings.)
That would be notes played on two adjacent strings. To play a G chord you could bow the open g and d strings because they are adjacent and throw in a b (played on the g string) somewhere along the way (g b d or g d b.) Note that one of those strings, the d string could continue sounding while yu were getting that b. You could also begin on the d string and go d b g downward or go up from the d string d g to b on the a string.

Another method of representing a chord is to play it melodically up one string. So a G chord could be played up the G string to get the notes g b d, which equals the chord. You might call it a "linear chord." Same thing as an arpeggio only played up one string rather than across the courses.

I know all of this from playing the mandolin, so check all of this out before you go breaking your arm or something. I am not a violinist.

If you are asking what chords can a violin most naturally play, then the answer is that you take your cues from the open strings on any stringed instrument. If, as in this case, the open strings are g d a e, then chords based upon those notes are going to be most natural and comfortable. This would apply to any other stringed instrument.

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