Techniques For Playing String Instruments

These are some techniques that are used in playing various string instruments

There are many techniques for playing string instruments. It is a difficult skill to learn, it needs a lot of work in order to "perfect." It takes many years to learn all the techniques, which must be practiced frequently.

The first thing learned is the proper way to hold the instrument. With a shoulder pad on (for violin and viola), the instrument is tucked underneath the chin on the left shoulder. The hand is placed around the neck (or, when resting with the instrument up, or playing open strings, with the hand around the right shoulder of the instrument), with the palm not touching (not flat - the wrist should be perpendicular to the ground). This is necessary for vibrato later. For cellos, once the end pin has been adjusted to the player's height (so the neck goes over the shoulder, just high enough to reach the fingerings, but not so high it's awkward), the neck goes over the left shoulder, elbows out and palm not touching.

Next is the bow hold. The bottom of the bow (the rectangular part) is called the frog, and the top is called the point. It is taken in the right hand. The thumb is bent and placed at the frog between the hair and the stick, right above the groove. The index finger is laid over the stick on the black grip, slightly curved. The two middle fingers are wrapped partway around the rectangular part of the frog. The pinkie is at the end of the bow, up on the stick. It is used for controlling the bow in some strokes. Though this is uncomfortable at first, it will soon grow to feel natural.



When playing, the bow should be placed on the strings, not tilted at all, halfway between the bridge (the wooden part) and the fingerboard (the long black part, covering the neck and part of the body). The bow should be pressed gently into the strings, but not enough to produce a scratchy tone. If the tone is airy, press a little bit harder. The bow should be drawn straight down, not back.

Finger placement is tricky, because they move all over depending on the key the music is in. They must be placed firmly down on the string, with bent knuckles. The fingers must not be collapsed. Short nails are necessary. They are, however, relative to the positions. Where the first and third fingers are in the normal first position determines third position. The most common positions are first, third, fifth, and seventh. On both the violin and cello, higher positions are used (mainly on the violin; and for different reasons on the cello). Third is when the first finger is slid up to where the third finger had been. Once in this position, fifth position is sliding the first finger up to where the third finger is again. So this goes for seventh, ninth, and eleventh. Though all the positions are used, these are the most common. In seventh position, if the finger is touched only lightly to the string (called a harmonic) the note should be clear, exactly an octave above the open string.

Vibrato is later learned. It's a technique that's used to enhance playing and the sound quality. It's an advanced skill and should not be attempted until good tonal quality and basic skills have been developed, or about three years. On a cello, only one finger is placed on the string at a time, and is then moved in a rapid up-and-down motion. The hand must be loose, with the hand away from the neck. On a violin or viola, the instrument must be mainly supported between the neck and shoulder. The hand must be free, and not touching the neck on the right side. The motion is smoothly and rapidly back and forth, with only one finger down at a time. On basses, two fingers are sometimes used at the same time.

There are many different bow strokes that need to be learned. The first that is taught is legato, which are long, full, even strokes. This is used often throughout many levels of music. Next is staccato, which is short, quick, accented strokes, often with brief pauses in between. Spiccato is learned later and is an off-the-string style of bowing, a "bouncing" bow. This should be done at the bow's balancing point, about seven inches from the frog. This is testable by actually balancing the bow on one's finger. Another style, which is not bowing at all, is pizzicato. This is plucking the string, which is often used in orchestra music, especially in the viola section. The string should be plucked cleanly and over the fingerboard with the index finger of the right hand.

These are some basic techniques of playing string instruments. It's a lot to learn, and anyone trying to learn to play should have a teacher, whether in a group setting or a private teacher. These skills are hard to learn and easy to mistake, so they should ALWAYS be taught by a professional. This, however, is simply a guide for anyone who's "forgotten" or wants a quick refresher.

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