This week I had a special opportunity to see Rachel Barton Pine's viola d'amore up close after her concert with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and to see what it was like to draw a bow across the strings.
That's all I can claim to have done -- I could see right there that it's pretty complicated to play a 14-stringed instrument, even if just seven of those strings are the "playing strings."
All the intervals between the strings were different, and I could sense that I'd need some major orienteering to get adept at feeling which string was where. In fact, I completely missed the top string the first few times I tried to play all the strings as a chord! It was at such an unusual angle that I didn't drop my arm far enough to find it. But what a beautiful instrument, and I felt honored to get such a close look.
This made me think about what it's like to play instruments with more than just four strings. On the same day as I met Rachel's viola d'amore, I was revisiting the idea of getting an electric violin, which raises the question: four-string or five string? I simply decided: five-string! Why not? You only live once. I just may actually do that.
One of my students actually has a five-string electric violin, and many artists who perform on electrics have a five-string. I was curious, do a lot of people have instruments with more than the traditional four strings of a violin or viola? I'm sure many people have a guitar on the side, so I've thrown that in there. For the vote, if you can say "yes" to more than one category, then pick the category for the instrument which you feel is the most unusual among them.
I'd also welcome advice on how to learn to play on an instrument with more than four strings!
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