Playing open strings as a Rule.

September 27, 2010 at 01:04 AM ·

From a classical standpoint: Is it fair to say that one is justified in playing open strings if one is learning the violin.  After one becomes proficient on the violin, then playing open strings is no allowed.  Generally speaking that is.

Replies (26)

September 27, 2010 at 01:11 AM ·

I think a lot depends on teh violin!  Most student instruments I have tried have a dreadful squeeky E - we would get hit with a piece of chalk fro our music teacher/conductor if he heard an openE.  On the other hand, some violins have a perfect open string and one can almost use it at will (except, of course, that there is no vibrato). 

OK for a 16th note, passable for an 1/8th but you are pushing it for a quarter note...

September 27, 2010 at 01:45 AM ·

 I have few reservations about using open strings - probably comes from my background as a cellist and later in English and Irish folk fiddling.  A conductor we had in the chamber orchestra a few years ago, a very highly respected soloist who also runs his own professional chamber ensemble, had no general objections to the use of open strings, provided it wasn't obtrusive in a particular context.  He could also rely on us not to produce squawky sounds on the open strings, including the E. 

September 27, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

Robert, using open strings well is extremely important in classical playing not only because it adds special (bright) color music calls for from time to time, but it also is part of the fingering that make playing, especially in fast passages, effective, such as avoiding unnecessary string cross. Some double stops and chords also require open strings. I know a lot of people tend to avoid playing open strings on long or slow notes, but what if it's a G? You play it, maybe using vibrato on a higher g at the D string, but this is not always the case, depending on what music calls for. I can't think of one piece that I'm playing these days  (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Barber, etc) doesn't include playing some open strings at some parts of the piece. Hope this helps.

September 27, 2010 at 02:59 AM ·

It totally depends on the context.

September 27, 2010 at 12:42 PM · Since you are doing Suzuki books, you might be interested to know Dr.S said not being able to play a beautiful open-string tone means the tone of every fingered note is less than its best. Sue

September 27, 2010 at 02:55 PM ·

I know that there are those that say, "Never" but as Sue & Emily point out I too agree at this point of my soon to be three years of playing open strings certainly have their place. I have often used vibrato on the note an octive higher than the open string to warm it up, or add texture, color, or flavor to the open note. It works for me and others that listen to my playing the violin say that at this time prefer this too!

September 27, 2010 at 06:06 PM ·

 Sue, I think you've put your finger on the reason why some people (usually conductors or class teachers) virtually ban the open E, and that is because there are players who have never been taught how to produce a good tone, not only on the open strings but elsewhere, and are therefore nervous about it, which doesn't improve the situation.  Given that, the ban is understandable, if only for the conductor's/class teacher's sanity :-) It's not good enough just to blame the setup of student fiddles.  Shinichi Suzuki's term for acquiring a good tone is "tonalization", not the most attractive of words, but we know what he meant (I suspect it may be a literal translation from the Japanese).

Some years ago the orchestra I then played in held a technical workshop over a weekend, given by a visiting professional.  The tutor spent over half an hour teaching the otherwise experienced amateur violinists how to play the open E and not be frightened of it.  We cellists watched with interest, because none of us had hangups about open strings, and I, for one, hadn't appreciated it was a problem for some violinists.  Irish and English folk fiddlers, too, have no hangups about open strings - a nice Baroque attitude. The result of the workshop was that the overall sound of the violins was noticeably improved.

September 27, 2010 at 06:15 PM ·

There are no rules and one should ignore conductors, class teachers and Japanese schools of playing, and do what all good soloists and chamber music players do and use open strings where appropriate, necessary , and useful.

September 27, 2010 at 06:51 PM ·

E strings, being tiny and made of metal, go out of tune very quickly.  If the stage is a few degrees cooler than the green room, or if the air conditioning kicked in a few minutes ago, that open E will peel paint.

September 27, 2010 at 07:03 PM ·

Good players tend to notice these things immediately and quietly retune the E in a bar or two's rest by the adjuster.

September 27, 2010 at 07:04 PM ·

 Conductors have long laid down rules for their orchestras/choirs to follow, and members who don't, do so at their peril; because, in the final analysis the conductor is the performer, and the orchestra or choir is his "instrument" of choice.  The conductor will obviously wish to apply rules to control his "instrument" in order to get the results he wants. Top performers have all followed "rules" laid down by their teachers when learning, as a result of which they now know exactly how to apply the rules. 

It is difficult to envisage how to learn any skill without following rules set down by a teacher, the main purposes of which are to guide the pupil on the path to achievement.  There are, throughout the world, several different schools of teaching playing music, and they bring useful perspectives and new ideas through their individual rules and methods.  The world would be a sadder place without them.

September 27, 2010 at 07:12 PM ·

"E strings, being tiny and made of metal, go out of tune very quickly"

In my experience, my E strings tend to be fairly stable, often over a period of days, and certainly more stable than the other strings. I wouldn't say that they go out of tune quickly.  Possibly because they are metal?

September 27, 2010 at 09:13 PM ·

 I think I am getting the idea.  Open strings have their place, and they are no less important then fingered strings.

Thanks all.

September 28, 2010 at 01:48 AM · I agree with Trevor - my steel E string is by far the most stable as confirmed by a digital strobe tuner. Then again, my other strings are gut...

September 28, 2010 at 04:31 AM ·


player who tended to use open strings more thna most- Nathan Milstein.   Contributed to an over all more resonant sound.   Have also heard good viola player spoint out that it is veyr helpful to use open strings as much a sposisble as they actually considerably enhance that deper sound.



September 28, 2010 at 06:55 AM ·

 To me, a well-placed and well-executed open string is like a breath of fresh air. From listening to my own playing, avoiding open strings too long makes things sound "suffocated," or "stuffy." 

September 28, 2010 at 11:41 AM ·

But how does one reconcile open strings with the idea of 'continuous vibrato'?  Not that I'm convinced the latter is really a good idea either....

September 28, 2010 at 12:50 PM ·

 Continuous vibrato is a modern idea; 18th century and before, vibrato was indeed used but it tended to be used as an ornament, along with the mordents, turns, trills etc. The absence of the chin rest in those times may have been a significant factor.

As Yixi pointed out earlier, you can, when playing an open string, vibrate the octave above, but I think you've got to be a little careful with that - it doesn't sound quite the same as the real thing.

September 28, 2010 at 04:13 PM ·

 Trevor,  when you say to "vibrate the octave", do you mean to play an octave from the open string and vibrate that note?

September 28, 2010 at 04:26 PM ·

Same can be said about natural harmonics, they're easier to execute than fingering on the actual note. Is that unprofessional or skill-less? I guess not, it's the result, the effect, the colors.

I can't imagine playing simple A B C# D E on A strings ascending and descending constantly, where the A played with 4th finger on the D string all the time. So troublesome and on top of it the A will sound different among the others.

September 28, 2010 at 04:27 PM ·

 No, you don't actually bow the octave.  You bow an open string (the D for example) and finger the octave on the next string up (the D on the A string in this case) and vibrate your finger on that note.  It resonates with the octave harmonic of the open string, and you can hear a ghostly vibrato-like sound coming from the harmonic which can persuade the listener that there is vibrato coming from the open string. But, as I said, it's not the real thing.   Use the technique with thought; sometimes the straight sound from a vibrato-free open string works best.

September 28, 2010 at 05:46 PM ·

 OK Trevor,  I see what you mean.  Thanks

September 28, 2010 at 08:07 PM ·

@elise : "On the other hand, some violins have a perfect open string and one can almost use it at will (except, of course, that there is no vibrato). "

Except for "on the nut", which is an unusual effect (by jazzers, etc), however that practise is generally frowned upon.

@Yixi :  " also is part of the fingering that make playing, especially in fast passages, effective, such as avoiding unnecessary string cross. "

As well as playing an open E instead of a fingered octave E, as in fast passages the open E does not ring out fully, and fools the ear into thinking the open E is a fingered octave E. I'm guessing you were including that too.

September 28, 2010 at 10:05 PM ·

Wow! I agree with never say never.

You know, a lot of players just don't do well with open strings.  So think about that.

I've known several Concert Violinists practice on open strings.  I do every day. 

1. It perfects your bowing (it is NOT easy to get an even ringing tone from frog to tip)

2. It enables you in your playing the literature, when (as a few mentioned above), the open string is perfectly appropriate, enriching, and has it's place.  If you can't play an open string beautifully, your forced to avoid them, and then,,,you might even advise others to avoid them.

The open string is indeed used frequently enough, that drawing your full bow over an open string (as well as attack, stacatto, spicatto, martele etc..) and obtaining a beautiful, continuous and uninterrupted sound, is essential for your Violinistic development.


September 29, 2010 at 12:04 AM ·

Go to youtube and punch in Bach's partita# 2 / Chachonne.... Menuin & Vengerov.... excellent example IMHO of use of open strings!!!!!

here is a link to Maxim...



September 29, 2010 at 12:44 AM ·

Royce, that for the link to Bach's partita #2. I am now finally convinced after listening to  Bach's partita #2, that open strings are not  just for the beginner who is learning, but open strings play a very important role in violin music.   That all for the lesson  :)

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