Is this playable?

September 3, 2017, 1:55 PM · Hi all, Im new here. I am a composer and am wondering if the following passage is playable by both 1st and 2nd violins in a top professional orchestra. I see its going up into a really high position and am wondering if, at half = 90, if it can be done by top players.

Thanks for your help on this.


Replies (14)

Edited: September 3, 2017, 2:05 PM · Yes. Those you have written aren't by any means the highest positions that orchestral violinists sometimes have to play.

Note that at the professional symphony level the 2nd violins enjoy the same level of competence as the firsts. This doesn't necessarily apply at sub-professional levels.

September 3, 2017, 2:08 PM · Yes, this should be playable, but not super easy at that tempo. It really depends on the effect you are going for. In a section, it will sound kind of muddy, and you probably won't hear individual notes very well. It will be kind of hard to read given the way you have beamed the 16th notes, which would preferably be beamed four at a time in this situation. I also don't think the 8va is really necessary, as most violinists are used to seeing 5 ledger lines above the staff.
Edited: September 3, 2017, 2:10 PM · That looks trivial from a range perspective; that's a standard moderate violin range, not especially high. However, I'd strongly recommend that you write it out without the 8va. That's sitting in a range where violinists are accustomed to just seeing the notes written out.

From a tempo perspective, that's a bunch of notes that are mostly going to blur past at that speed, so if what you really want is an effect, do something different.

September 3, 2017, 2:29 PM · I've seen and played things higher and faster; There is a spot in Gershwin, American in Paris, that comes to mind. Only use the 8va notation when the notes are consistently above 3 ledger lines. I have read somewhere that our speed limit for hearing is about 16 notes/second. Passages faster than that sound like a glissando or blur, and it annoys the players.
September 3, 2017, 3:27 PM · Trevor, Lieschen, Lydia and Joel,

Thank you all so much for the quick reply. These kinds of resources are great for composers. Im not looking for definition. My biggest worry was the two octave leap at that tempo. would you leap from 8th position on the G string to 7th position on the E string there? That seemed pretty scary to a non violinist at half=90.

Also, Thanks for the tips about 8va and beaming. Its much appreciated!

Andy Brick

Edited: September 3, 2017, 8:22 PM · Nobody is going to leap from 8th position on the G string to 7th position on the E string. We'd shift down in the scale and then shift back up for the next one. And it is going to sound like a blur. It would be much easier to read without the 8va.

Honestly this looks like a Harry Potter part to me.

Oh, and as has been mentioned before, 1sts and 2nds in a professional orchestra are of equal caliber. Asking if something is playable by "both 1sts and 2nds" in a professional orchestra is insulting, though I know you did not mean it as such.

September 3, 2017, 8:37 PM · yes its fine , XD oooh Mary getting mad . yeah 2nd violin audition piece Don Juan :/ always scary .

playable, will sound a bit blurry in some parts

remove the Ottava

September 3, 2017, 10:02 PM · Don Juan is aleays nasty...
September 4, 2017, 5:09 AM · You're fine for professionals, but not for non-professionals. A conservatoire orchestra would be able to do it but the orchestra of a non-conservatoire university, or even a good amateur orchestra, would probably look to avoid that kind of writing for its second violin section.

Of course, you know the market you're writing for better than we do, but I'm aware that many composers don't have the pick of orchestras to play their work.

(though if you're this Andy Brick you've probably got it sorted - )

September 4, 2017, 9:55 AM · Ever played any John Williams? Much of it is unplayable, unlike Don Juan, which is nasty but playable.

There are other issues to consider when writing music:
-as Chris points out, don't assume that your work will be played only by top orchestras. Even if you're John Williams, it still won't.

-what else is in the workload for the musicians? Yes, something MIGHT be playable, but if your piece is on a program with La Mer or a Shostakovich symphony or even Don Juan, how much effort do you think the violins will put into your piece? I can tell you that, unfair as it may sounds, not much.

-the more difficult the passage is and the more it it sounds like just fast crazy gratuitous scales or just swooping effect, the more likely the violins actually won't practice it AT ALL. Maybe a couple of orchestra nerds with no life will try to work out every note, but many won't. Not because they're lazy but because they have to prioritize their time and put their practice resources elsewhere. They'll do their best to simply be on the beat and not play in the rests.

I've played many a work I which, yes I could have learned the notes with hours of laborious practice, but at a certain point you just say screw it.

Composers need to take into account these other factors, or accept the results.

September 4, 2017, 11:03 AM · Agree with Scott, as usual. A pro. orchestra player will have a different program every week. I use a version of the triage concept. These spots I can sight read or pick up in rehearsal. Those spots I need to practice. Then this spot here is beyond me, no matter how much I practice, so let it go. jq
September 4, 2017, 11:31 AM · It depends. If those bars are the only part it is no problem for pros, a few minutes to practise. If you got 60 minutes of this stuff you need a dedicated orchestra.
September 4, 2017, 1:51 PM · I bet the video game industry can bankroll any orchestra to play anything : )
September 4, 2017, 7:54 PM · Scott put it very well as to the realities of the music biz.

Glancing at the specific passage - playable, yes; easy, no. I certainly wouldn't want to have to try to sight-read it. Practice it? I refer you back to Scott. Is the octava necessary? Actually, taking another glance, not so bad. I'd still advise taking it down an octave starting with the 3rd full measure.

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