Learning how to read violin notes through sheet music is an extremely valuable skill, it will also allow you to play a variety of different instruments.;
It gives you a basic understanding of the sequence of music, the tempo, and so much more. However, there are many instruments, such as the violin, that have specialized notations to indicate specific playing techniques. Reading sheet music for the violin requires an understanding of where to put your fingers/hands, how to move the bow, and much more, to create the unique/beautiful sound of the violin.
First of all, you must learn the staff and clef. The staff is the set of lines on the page where the notes are. The clef is the first mark on the staff, on the left-hand side. This tells you the musical register in which you are going to play.
Once you’ve learned the staff and clef, you must learn the names of the notes. The notes are the round circles on the lines or in the spaces of the staff. The notes that are in the spaces, from the bottom to the top spell FACE. The notes that are on the lines, from bottom to the top are E, G, B, D, F (my music teacher taught me to remember the sentence Every Good Boy Does Fine for the notes on the lines).
Now, you will learn the violin notes that correspond with the open strings, which is when you play a note without pressing down with your finger. A violin has four open note strings—E, A, D, and G—listed in order from thinnest—right to thickest—left when holding the violin in a playing position.
Next, if you want to be able to play more than just E, A, D, and G, you must press on the strings with your fingers. Therefore, you should number each of your fingers on your left hand as follows:
- Index finger- #1
- Middle finger- #2
- Ring finger- #3
- Pinky finger- #4
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Now, it’s time to learn how to finger the strings. As you place another finger on the string, the note of that string will go up in tone. For example, when you draw your bow across the “D” string, it plays the “D” note. When you place your index finger on it, you will be playing a “C#.” You will go the rest of the way up the scale by placing the rest of your fingers on the string, one by one.
Once you have your pinky finger on the “D” string, you will move to the next string, “A,” to play the next note in the scale. You’ll start just as you did above and play the string open (not pressed down) and then, one by one, add your finger to it.
Finally, when you are playing the violin, one hand will wrap around the neck so that you can press the strings with your fingers. you can play the strings closer to the peg box (the top of the neck), which is 1st position, or closer to the bridge (the body of the violin), in 3rd, 4th, or 5th positions. You will move your hand up or down the fingerboard depending on which position is indicated on the music by Roman numerals.
Violin Bow Movements
There are several symbols that indicate how you should play with the bow of the violin. When there is a “V” shaped marking under the note, it is showing that the bow movement should be upward. If you see a marking that resembles a table with legs, it is showing that the bow movement should be downward.
When you see an angle bracket symbol, such as >, this is an accent and tells you that the note needs to be played strongly. If you see a symbol that looks much like a thick comma, this indicates that the bow should be lifted and brought back to where it started.
In some music, there will be a notation that will show you which part of the bow should be used on a specific segment or note in the music. The following are the common initials used to do this:
- WB: whole
- LH: lower
- UH: upper
- MB: middle
In sheet music, you will also find what are known as dynamics and style markings. When you see the marking “vibr,” it should be played as vibrato. This is the warble effect when you are playing a note and can be achieved by bending/unbending your finger as you play.
When you see the marking “pizz,” it should be played as pizzicato, which is when you pluck the string with your finger. If you don’t see any obvious markings to indicate that you should play in “pizzicato” then play it as “arco,” which means using the bow to play. In some music, pizzicato will be designated as “Bartok pizzicato” which is a symbol of a circle with a vertical line. This indicates that you should play the note with an extra snap by pinching the string between two fingers and letting it snap back.
Another common style of violin playing is tremolo; this is when you play rapid sounds as you pull the bow back and forth across the string(s). This is indicated with lines that are thick and short diagonals through the stem of the note or the note itself.
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You must understand the style markings because they show you the mood that the music should be played in. You will typically find these indicated in Italian. Below are some of the common words you will see and their translation.
- Con – With
- Poco a poco – Little by little
- Meno mosso – Less movement
- Dolce – Sweetly
- Allegro – Quickly/lively
Finally, make sure that you are paying attention to the dynamics in your music, as this indicated how loud/soft the music should be played. Typically, dynamics are indicated below the staff and will change as you go through the music. These also may be in Italian:
- Pianissimo – Very quiet
- Mezzo – Medium
- Fortissimo – Very loud
You may also see these indicated with lowercase letters such as p for pianissimo, ff for fortissimo, and mezzo for medium. A diminuendo or a crescendo is indicated by a long, thin accent mark and indicates that you should gradually get quieter or louder.
Violin Notes: Conclusion
Learning to read sheet music will open a variety of doors for you, because once you learn, you’ll be able to learn most any instrument. However, when it comes to violin notes, there are a few special things that you must also learn to properly play the violin.