How do you play a 4 note cord on the violin?

October 30, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

 I am working on a piece of music, and the music wants me to play this cord: D.G.Bb.E.  I need to position my hand on the following:  

Play the 4th finger D on the G string, the 3rd finger G on the D string, the 1st finger Bb on the A string, and open E.  Now how do I play those notes?  

Replies (14)

October 30, 2010 at 05:50 AM ·

No expert but start with your bow at the heel positioned on the G/D strings, start the pull and then sweep accross the A and E.  However, its all in the timing - you can make a lot of different colours by how you rotate accross the strings relative to timing.  I believe the most usual one is to linger slightly longer on the two lower notes and then rotate smoothly accross the other two strings.  Sort of a 'Brrrring' sound! 

If you want a lot of practice at that just pullout the Bach solo sonata/partitas...

Thats my best shot at your question!

October 30, 2010 at 06:43 AM ·

 You probably realised that the bow cannot possibly be on all 4 strings at once, so "spreading" the chord is what you need to do. Sometimes in Bach you might start with the higher string, but usually you would begin with the bow on the G and D strings simultaneously then contact the higher strings shortly afterwards. Keep an eye on maintaining the point of contact on the string and don't press the bow too much, then the "scrunch" can be avoided. Keep the fingers down on the "G" and "D" as long as you can and for a moment as a 4-note chord will be heard.

Just to complicate matters, the B flat will usually be especially out-of-tune and the "E" string will whistle unless the contact-point of the bow is kept quite near the bridge !!

October 30, 2010 at 09:45 PM ·

4-note chords are often played as (string pairs) 4-3 / 2-1. The amount of time you spend bowing each pair will determine the "fullness" of the chord. (Yes, tons of that in the Bach sonatas and partitias). 3-note chords are often "struck" on the middle string of the chord, closer to the fingerboard, with the lower third of the bow, so you get a true chord (3 notes sounding at the exact same time). It all depends on the context.

October 30, 2010 at 10:28 PM ·

hey Robert... you wouldn't be messing around with the Bach Chaconne, now would you? If not, congratulations, you've just learned one of the chords!



October 31, 2010 at 12:50 AM ·

On the modern day bridge it is of course impossible to play all 4 notes at once.  Jim's description is exactly correct.

Also I recommend not accenting the II-I when crossing over from the IV-III.  Make sure it's as smooth as butter.

October 31, 2010 at 12:54 AM ·


I was thinking the same thing.  That's the chord at the beginning of the second measure. 


if you are not playing the Chaconne, I'm curious to know what other piece has this chord in it.


October 31, 2010 at 01:35 AM ·

I saw a piece performed last year (can't remember the composer) entitled string quartet for solo violin.  It's played by removing the frog from the bow, placing the hair  over the strings with the bow stick beneath the neck.  The frog and stick are held in the right hand.  Doesn't get much dynamic range, and bow changes look kind of tough, in terms of maintaining proper tension, but it does allow the playing of four notes simultaneously.  Not at all practical, obviously, so my apologies to Robert.  Just thought it was an interesting curiosity, especially because it's not at all a contemporary piece. 

October 31, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

 @ Christina C and Smiley Hsu,

Yes, I am learning the Chaconne, and I can play the first 3 measures finally.  The way I have gone about learning this piece is to play it on the piano first.  Now, I understand the harmony, of the first 6 measures.  In fact, I have started playing the violin pieces I am learning on the piano first. That is what really has helped me, along with the help I am getting from this and another thread I posted.  You people have no idea how much your comments have helped me.  I really appreciate all the comments from all the members of this thread and this site. 

October 31, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

October 31, 2010 at 03:55 PM ·

When playing chords my teacher Robert Bardston told me to remember 2 pitfalls:

Chords will tend to sound louder than they deserve to be as the natural tendency is to put more pressure on the bow. Try not to put too much weight on the bow and listen for the phrasing.

Chords are often played too late rhythmically. If you break a 4 note chord in IV-III and II-I then the II-I part should start ON the beat. That means the IV-III part is played as part of the end of the previous beat . Listen to Hilary Hahn for example and you will see that`s how it is done.


October 31, 2010 at 04:27 PM ·


>if you are not playing the Chaconne, I'm curious to know what other piece has this chord in it.


October 31, 2010 at 05:00 PM ·

Brahms did an arrangement of the Chaconne for piano, left hand only.  I was listening to it on the radio the other day and was amazed how easy it sounded.  I'm sure it is not without its technical difficulties on piano, but it illustrates the difference between the two instruments and how much harder it is to play chords on the violin. 

Are there any pianists here?  Have you tried the Chaconne for left hand only?  Is it as easy as it sounds?


November 1, 2010 at 02:53 AM ·

 @ Liat,

 I am working on the Bach Chaconne.  Please read my comments in this thread.

November 1, 2010 at 02:55 AM ·

 Thank you all.  I am understanding better how to play chords on the violin. 

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