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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.


Highest note on your violin

Instruments: A lingering mystery in the non-violin world.

From William Yap
Posted January 31, 2008 at 05:08 AM

I recently came across a question from a young flute player in YouTube asking what is the highest note a violin could play. I responded with a video playing 4-octave A major, then answered that the highest note is A, range of 4 octaves and 1 tone (low G to high A).

Then I started wondering, perhaps if I were a better violinist with a better instrument, perhaps I would be able to hit a few more semitones.

What is the highest note you could play on your violin???

From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 05:31 AM
Double post, bah!
From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 05:28 AM
How high is high enough?
From Mara Gerety
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 05:49 AM
Uh, ouch. I especially like the sudden leap down to the C-flat on the G string. (What IS that piece??)
From K G
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 06:32 AM
Jonathan/William: The highest I recall seeing a c four octives above middle c in Paganini caprice #7. The one Jonathan posted looks like c flat.

I wouldn't be surprised if there's even a d one tone higher somewhere, but I've never seen it.

Kevin

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 12:26 PM
When I practice scales in harmonics I go as high as the high C# - one semi-tone above the piano's highest note. I'm not saying what kind of sonority I get way up there! I seem to recall that this note also appears somewhere in the Wieniawski concero no.1 in f#.

Now I'm curious about the highest notes on the flute and on the piccolo.

From Juergen L. Hemm
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 12:46 PM
The highest notes on the violin can be obtained by playing between bridge and endpiece.

There's a CD (actually an LP) "Yehudi Menuhin Explains the Instruments of the Orchestra" where he plays the empty strings and then "the appr. 50 notes on the violin". Even back then, I said, I've got more on mine *grin*.

Bye, Jürgen

From Sue Bechler
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 01:49 PM
Aren't we able to play some harmonics that are higher than the E-string notes at the end of the fingerboard? Sue
From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 02:12 PM
I practice four-octave scales, but not one that starts higher than D, per Flesch's advice. Does anyone really enjoy playing off the fingerboard? I hate how my fingertips get sticky from the rosin on the strings.
From Mathias B
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 03:40 PM
31231 Hz. However, you won't hear it.
From Mara Gerety
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 03:48 PM
The highest note I ever bother to hit is the C above the A you mention in the original post. After that your fingers basically start falling off the end of the fingerboard and it's more trouble than it's worth. Getting a decent sound way up there is an interesting challenge as well....*grumble*...
From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 04:28 PM
I'm old enough with enough hearing loss in the high registers so that I cannot even tell anymore what I am hitting up that high! Plus, I never play anything that goes up there. An academic debate for my $$. Have fun!
From Erick VictorJonus Stasijonaitis
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 04:20 PM
I find, to get the best, and most clear and smooth sound at the top of any string, be it G,D,A or E, one must move the bow a bit faster and apply much less pressure. I find that I hardly place any pressure on the bow at all when it comes to the top notes. I play very often at the top of the strings. I play up If you can picture it, one would start on E on the E string. From there, your third finger easily reaches A. One octave above that, you again hit A. And again, you can just get in one more octave, hitting A at the edge of the fingerboard. Also, there is one piece I play that I go one tone higher to B. If I play this piece, I always clean my strings prior to playing it. I used to use rubbing alcohol. ...but one drop of that stuff on the varnish and it is will ruin the surface. So, now, I use Goo Be Gone. It works wonders and provides a little bit of lubrication for easy slides. Depending on how your violin is tuned, you can go much higher. Did you realize that it is common for fiddlers to tune strings differently that one would usually tune the strings? It is common to tune the strings 1 and 2 or even 3 tones higher or lower than they are supposed to be tuned so as to make fingering a piece easier (more open strings for that particular piece in the key it is written). So, if one was to tune the E 2 or 3 tones higher, it is very easy to hit much higher notes at the top. From time to time, I will play Celtic Pieces (even though I mostly play classical). When I play Celtic Pieces, I sometimes tune strings differently than the conventional method.

Eric Stasijonaitis

From William Yap
Posted on January 31, 2008 at 11:36 PM
Hi Raphael Klayman,

In return for my answer, I asked the same question about the flute and piccolo. Apparently, the flute could go up to E (the one just below my A on the violin). The piccolo could go up to C (the one just above my A on the violin).

I didn't know that the violin could play up to C or even above! But then, that wouldn't be my violin or my fingers. I shall go to YouTube and revise my answer to the flute student.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 12:54 AM
Same question as Mara - just WHAT is that piece?!? I think the only realistic practical use for notes that high is for calling back bad dogs that have wandered off into the far distance... or perhaps for having an intelligent conversation with bats...
From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 02:21 AM
That is from the Romance for solo violin of Palaschko...what do you all think of the below by Vieuxtemps? This is from the Norma Fantasy for the 4th string only...scordatura tuning (up) G = C

Vieuxtemps

From Andrew Riching
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 02:53 AM
The highest note I've seen printed is a C four octaves above middle C... maybe a C#... (Paganini 1st concerto goes to the C a few times in the 3rd movement last page, but it's a false harmonic and people usually don't hit it.)

If you hit the right spot, however, you can faintly hear a 4th E natural on the E string. It's a harmonic, so it has some ring to it if you hit it.

Raphael-I'm pretty sure that the Wieniawski 1st's highest note is a b natural harmonic.

I don't know what that piece is Jon posted... but it I think I've seen it before... My guess is a Vieuxtemps piece judging by his biography. Anyways, a C flat is just a b... and it's a harmonic... so it's not that uncommon or very hard to hit.

From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 03:22 AM
Agreed, the B is a common stopping place for our violinist-composers:

Lipinski

I'm sure it's not the highest note audible to a human...but it's probably the most reasonable ;-)

From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 03:41 AM
This thread raises an interesting point.

Flute range is entirely within the violin range: eg. flute goes from B (one semitone below middle C) up to E (2 octaves above open E string on violin).

The entire repertoire can thus be played on the violin, if you are not averse to a bit of musical adventure or misadventure (however you see it) in your home practice. No transposition is necessary - you can sight read it as is. And the good thing is that flute music sometimes fiendishly difficult because it is written on average about a 5th higher than violin music, so you get a good workout in higher positions.

It is also sometimes not what one would call very violinistic. Milstein honed a lot of his technique on similarly non-violinistic Chopin. Unexpected intervals pounce out at you, with no editorial hints to guide your way. In other words composers tend to write things for flute with no consideration for the technical requirements of violinists. No fingerings are in the published sheets, so you have to work out your own. Check out Faure's 'Fantasie' for flute and piano (ask any college-level flutist) to get an idea of the difficult music out there which is imo an admirable addition to one's studies.

One comment though. In my opinion the violin repertoire is....better for want of a better word (ducks for cover).

From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 04:01 AM
lol, no need to duck, you are among violinists! :-)
From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 04:18 AM
That's true....I must be a bit shellshocked or nervy or something. Too many wolves hiding in the thickets when you're a musical adventurer (adjusts felt hat, and rubs stubble on chin while contemplating the path ahead...).

Some more gems while I think of it:

Prokofiev Op.94 (Oistrakh I think played this).
Various Mozart concerti (esp. flute and harp). I haven't tried this yet but plan to.
Vivaldi concerto 'La notte' is easy and charming.
Chaminade concertino (a lady composer).

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 04:28 AM
Andrew - you may well be right. At least quickly flipping through the Wieniawski #1 just now, I couldn't find it. Whether it's there or not, it would be the least among the many challenges that piece offers! Anybody know Michael Rabin's recording of it? It's great.

Back to high notes, certainly the last clear note I get is the natural harmonic for B - a semi-tone below the piano's highest C. There is an official way of indicating pitch, in which say g' means a certain pitch, and g" is an octave above it, I believe. Anyone familiar with it? It never stayed with me.

From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 04:30 AM
I always forget that too.
From Bill Busen
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 04:47 AM
So which has a higher note, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto or the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto?
From Andrew Riching
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 05:22 AM
I would assume mendelssohn... but I'm not overly familiar with cello repertoire... I know the elgar hits an A 3 octaves above middle C... and that's way off the fingerboard for them...

Raphael-I'm partial to the Shaham recording. It's about as perfect as you can get.

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 01:39 PM
Don't know that recording. In net surfing for high notes, I came across mention of Britten's concerto in that regard. It's also supposed to be a very fine work, which I don't know at all. Anyone here familiar with it?
From Nigel Keay
Posted on February 1, 2008 at 01:50 PM
The Britten Violin Concerto is a fabulous work, I used to have a great recording of it by Mark Lubotsky back in the days of vinyl... Apparently the Concerto is very difficult which maybe accounts for it not being played so often. It's definitely a piece worth checking out if you don't know it.
From Inna Langerman
Posted on February 4, 2008 at 12:37 AM
Haha here's a typical philosophy question for this thread. (Someone mentioned above an amount of mhz that people can't hear - but dogs probably can). So if we can't hear that harmonic, is it still considered a musical note reachable on the violin?
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 4, 2008 at 01:27 AM
Greetings,
a somewhat akin to the ancient Greeks noone has thought to ask the dog. Incidentally, most of them think Heifetz is the greatest violnist of all time. They also dont use shoulder rests when they pee.
Cheers,
Buri
From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 4, 2008 at 11:45 PM
Could be messy.
From Jim Hoyle
Posted on February 6, 2008 at 09:50 PM
An interesting side note - if the highest note on the violin is top B or C, then that on the viola is exactly the same, due to the greater string length. So you can play the opening of the Waxman on either instrument, at the same pitch!
From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 7, 2008 at 08:30 AM
Do you include harmonics or not in this quest for the highest note?
From Emma Otto
Posted on December 20, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I think that it can vary a lot, depending on the quality of the violin, the strings, the bow, and (of course) the level of the violinist. Personally, I am (barely) able to play a 4 octave C major scale. Some other violinists I know would nearly faint if I told them I could play a 4 octave A major scale.

The most I can play when I'm under pressure (like if I'm performing or auditioning, for example) is really an F or F# 3 octaves up. I did this at my most recent audition, and I felt I was kind of pushing myself to the limit - but I passed with flying colors, so the judges must have thought I did okay on it. :-)

Also, some violinists (myself included) struggle with higher notes just because they have thick fingers, and it's difficult to reach those notes exactly in tune. I solve this problem by reaching higher notes of a scale with my pinkie only.

From Nimesh Chudasama
Posted on December 20, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Don't forget, artificial harmonics.
From John Cadd
Posted on December 20, 2012 at 02:44 PM
I saw Norbert Brainin play some notes on the "wrong side" of the bridge in a quartet piece. That may not be higher than a harmonic though . Is there an Italian name for the wrong siders ?
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on December 21, 2012 at 01:07 AM
When I was an orchestral cellist I once accidentally played on the wrong side of the bridge in a ponticello passage for a few bars during a concert before I realised what I was doing. Nobody noticed. It probably added to the general richness of the sound.

Kodaly's Sonata for solo cello (Op.8) uses scordatura tuning with the two lower strings tuned down a semitone, giving a very resonant B minor feel. The last movement finishes with a page of spectacular rising cross-string arpeggios culminating in an A-string B five (5!) octaves above the open B-string - that is, just over three octaves up the A-string. This B is about halfway between the fingerboard and bridge. After these fireworks the piece finishes with a declaratory note on the open B-string. Any recordings of Op 8 by Janos Starker (including one on You Tube) are unlikely to disappoint.

As a violinist I have found that a plain gut E gives a more solid carrying tone in the highest register than do the metal Es I've tried. I would guess that this is because the low tension gut retains more of its flexibility in the upper regions than does the high tension and stiffness of metal, enabling the harmonics to come through. This would explain why composers in the 19th century, and in the 18th century as far back as Locatelli (there's a name to conjure with for the really high stuff!), were happy to write end-of-the-fingerboard passages because they knew the gut strings would give a decent tonal response. I suspect that such passages today on metal strings need rather more work, and, who knows, perhaps some little help from the sound engineer ;).

Earlier on this discussion there was mentioned the "Norma Fantasy" by Vieuxtemps, for the 4th string only, apparently exploring about 3 octaves with a scordatura from G up to C (see http://i117.photobucket.com/albums/o54/jonfrohnen/high4.jpg for a sample). A light-gauge gut-cored G wouldn't go amiss, and would probably see off the G-string wolves that lurk on some violins. Paganini knew all about these tricks of the trade.

From steven su
Posted on December 21, 2012 at 07:31 AM
I seem to recall playing off the finger board when I was trying out Paganini's concerto 3-5 ? I can't remember which one. Anyway, I suspect some modern composers would have written something harder or higher rather :P
From Gregory Lewis
Posted on December 23, 2012 at 09:47 PM
The last note of the first movement of the Saint-Saens violin concerto is a B 4 octaves above the B directly below middle C. That note is half way off the finger board, but higher notes are audible.
From Randy Walton
Posted on December 24, 2012 at 03:16 AM
I've never played the highest note on my violin! lol
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on December 24, 2012 at 03:18 PM
I think the 4 octave B (~3960Hz) in Saint-Saƫns 3 would be played as an open harmonic. In that region of frequencies on the violin notes don't have much projection and can easily be obscured somewhat by the accompaniment, and even by bow noise.

In the concert hall I think a lot ultra-high notes can be safely left to the audience's collective imagination in the heat of the moment, helped on by the player's stage presence. In the recording studio the sound engineer earns his fee ;)

There is a bare handful of open harmonics on the E-string above B-3960 that are just about available, depending on the capabilities of instrument and player:
D-4620 (a very flat D, too out of tune for Western art music)
E-5280
F#-5940
G#-6600
above which you are reaching the practical limits of playability (reach, accuracy of finger placement, instrument and bow response), audibility and pitch perception by the listener, and also entering the exotic realm of micro-tonal harmonics, the first of which is the D-4620.

From Nirmal Madhavapeddi
Posted on December 24, 2012 at 04:40 PM
I've never practiced scales that go higher than 4 octaves above open G. I use harmonics for notes any higher; my fingers are too thick to manage the tiny spaces between notes at the end of the fingerboard.

The highest note I've ever had to play is from an especially cheesy piece called "Curse of the Rosin Eating Zombies from Outer Space." The first violins were required to play on the E-string behind the bridge!

From Gregory Lewis
Posted on December 24, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Trevor,

The B in the first movement of the Saint-Saens is not played as a harmonic, as I have been playing it a normal note for a year now. It took many months to get it to sound loudly and clearly, however.

From Owain Sutton
Posted on December 24, 2012 at 08:06 PM
"I saw Norbert Brainin play some notes on the "wrong side" of the bridge in a quartet piece. That may not be higher than a harmonic though . Is there an Italian name for the wrong siders?"

Sub ponticello.

From Paul Deck
Posted on December 25, 2012 at 04:14 PM
There are some kind of real high notes in Schoenberg concerto. Now I will just have to listen to HH play it again. I love her recording of it.
From J Petersen
Posted on January 10, 2013 at 07:32 AM
I tend not to go all the way to the end of the fingerboard because the notes aren't very good up there. It may be partly the strings (I'm trying to experiment, but it's not a cheap "hobby") and partly the violin, so I haven't discovered the highest notes yet.

I going to try different E strings to see how much difference it makes and how high it's possible to go.

From Draco Rat
Posted on January 10, 2013 at 05:20 PM
According to Orchestration (c)1955 Piston Walter, the violin's range is from G3 to C8 though notes above E7 (using standard tuning) are only created through artificial harmonics.
Ilya Gringolts

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