The violin’s notes

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What are the notes of the violin? What sounds do each of the four strings that make up the top instrument of the quartet produce? The question may seem confusing and obvious, but in reality it is essential when discovering this instrument. Whether you are new to the violin or just curious, this article is an opportunity to learn a little more about the notes of the violin.

The violin's notes
What are the notes of the violin and what are they used for?

The violin’s notes

Four strings, four notes: how to recognize them?

The notes of the open strings

The violin has four strings, which can be differentiated by the thickness of the diameter, and sometimes the material (but this is not always the case). The vibrations by the rubbing of the bow against them go through the stretched string, then are transmitted from the bridge to the body of the instrument. This body plays a role of resonance chamber the sound escapes from it by the F holes. But how can we explain that the sound we hear when playing the first string is different from the one produced by the second?

This difference in pitch and tone is explained by the length, diameter and tension of each string. When you look at a violin in the playing position, against the clavicle and the jaw, you can see that the strings, from left to right, gradually become thinner. We find, in order:

The G on the far left, the lowest note, then the D, the A, and finally the E, which is also called the chanterelle because it is the thinnest and highest string. These notes are reached by stretching the string more or less. Indeed, by playing with the pegs and adjusters at the tailpiece, you can change the notes of the open strings of your violin, this is called violin tuning.


Each note corresponds to a frequency. Also, the higher a frequency value is, the sharper it is. Therefore, here are the rising notes found on the violin, from low to high:

G = 196Hz

D = 294Hz

A = 440Hz

E = 660Hz

Is the tuning of a violin always the same?

As we have seen, tuning a violin in fifths is the most classical way. In any case, this will represent the majority of the repertoire. However, it is quite possible to detune a violin in order to access certain fingerings more easily. This modification of the usual chord iscalled scordatura and is normally indicated at the beginning of the partition. You can, of course, make your own experiments with arranged chords, especially in contemporary or current music.

However, avoid doing it too much as you risk breaking your strings. These are designed to accept a very precise tension and may not be able to withstand changes. Moreover, the instrument itself is subject to many changes during voltage variations, which can fundamentally impact your sound.


G, D, A, E all right, but what about the other notes?

It is from these ” open ” strings that we can produce all the other notes of the scale. By pressing your fingers on the key, you reduce the length of the string. This is how a higher note is produced. On the G string, for example, one can reach D, which is also the next open string, by pressing the fourth finger in the first position (see picture, in French sorry).

Notes of the pizzicato

A note played on a different string from the open one will also have a slightly different sound, which allows the violinist to choose to play such note on such string, depending on the piece, the desired effects and the technical and practical sequences involved. The combinations are numerous and participate in the richness of the playing of the violin, and of bowed string instruments in general.


The interval of the notes of the violin: the fifth

Each note has an interval relationship with the one before and after it – that is, the difference between their pitches –. These intervals are understood in Western music according to the concepts of “tone” and “semitone”. Two notes together, for example C and D, are separated from each other by one tone, in an interval called the second. E and F, as well as B and C, are seconds separated by a semitone.

The violin is tuned in fifths, which means that each note is separated from the next by three and a half tones – a so-called “right fifth”, without alteration –.


C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C: what is the origin of the French musical notation?

Names found from a Latin chorus

It was in the eleventh century that Guido of Arezzo, a monk, thought of taking up the first syllables of an ancient Latin chant to give each neume of his musical notation system a name. This system is called hexacordal, because it is a set of six joint degrees, with a semitone in the middle.

The beginning of each of the first six lines of the song in question, called the Hymn of Saint John the Baptist This allows us to reconstitute a complete range of products. Guido of Arezzo, operating what is called a solmization, thus calls each of the notes, in ascending order, ut (C), re (D), mi (E), fa (F), sol (G), la (A).
At the end of the 16th century, it is probably Anselm from Flanders who creates the B from the following verse.

Here are the verses in question:


Utqueant laxis
Resonare fibris
Mira gestorum
Famuli tuorum
Solve polluti
Labii reatum
Sancte Iohannes

Towards the appearance of the tonal system

From the 16th century onwards, Guido d’Arezzo’s theory of hexacords became unsuited to the musical complexity of the Renaissance and the need for a new system of notation is being felt. This system is slowly giving way to the tonal system.

Among others, L. Bourgeois asks in 1550 in his Droict Chemin de Musique to start the scale on ut(C). Then it is with Giovanni Maria Bononcini, in 1640, that we replace the term Ut by that of Do, easier to sing. According to other sources, however, Do (C) comes from the Latin name “Dominus”, the Lord, and appears in much older texts.


The final naming of the notes

This is followed by a a long journey paved with rectifications and novelties for the construction of a octave-based system (so do(C), re(D), mi(E), fa(F), sol(G), la(A), si(B), do(C)): names all more varied than the others follow one another, the syllables change regularly and struggle to be fixed, testifying to the difficulty at the time to fully grasp the concept of tonality.

It was finally at the end of the 18th century, under Bonaparte, when the Conservatoire de musique replaced the religious masterclasses for the teaching of music, that the members of the latter adopted a final transposition method whose notes are called as we know them today.


English notation: another way to name the notes of the violin

It is likely that you have already seen, instead of Do or Ré… that we know well, letters. It is in fact of a simple difference in notation, inspired by Antiquity, and which is used in English-speaking countries. Originally, it was the fifth century thinker Boethius who, in his De institutione musicaname from A to P the sounds on two octaves. In the Middle Ages, it was preferred to keep only an octave from A to G.

Here is the equivalence of the two notations:

A = La
B = Si
C = Do
D = Ré
E = Mi
F = Fa
G = Sol

Little memo tip: F for Fa, it’s easy to remember! From there, it is easy to deduce the remaining notes in order, forward or backward. But it is also very easy to remember that La and A are very similar, the notes then follow each other very simply.

Note that in German-speaking countries, the B is replaced by an H to designate the Si.


What about the notes of the viola and cello?

The viola and cello are always tuned in fifths, but with other notes: C, G, D, and A. The difference between the two instruments lies not only in their range but also in the way they are played. But generally speaking the notes of the cello are located an octave below those of the viola. Here are their frequencies:

Viola – C = 131Hz G = 196Hz D = 294Hz A = 440Hz

Cello – C = 65Hz G = 98Hz D = 147Hz A = 220Hz

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