Quartet Violin II - best way to practise?

November 22, 2012 at 05:39 PM · I prefer to play the theme - first violin - but its also fun to play 'in the middle' - and usually obligatory as the other violin takes a turn.

However, I don't know how best to practise Violin II. Sure I can go over the notes, but they make little musical sense by themselves (except for the occasional break through). What do others - and violists - do to get the group feel? I thought of working with a recording but they are usually too fast before you know the part (and time is a premium).

Replies (30)

November 22, 2012 at 06:38 PM · Work on rhythm, intonation. Listen to recording to see how your part fits in, do not play along unless you have everyone down. Usually the second violin is the support for the first violin in regards to often sometimes playing an octave lower. Do NOT play weak. Even though sometimes it might feel like your part doesn't fit in it does. Just make sure you have a great sense of rhythm. That's all I can say, considering I'm only 14 years old haha. Good luck. I'm a second violin in a quartet too.

November 22, 2012 at 06:43 PM · I was just listening to Heifetz play a quartet with his students. He asked "What's the most important thing about playing in a quartet?". "Playing all of the notes especially. But above that making music."

Or something similar along those lines.

You can see him say this at this video


Around 39:30 minutes into it.

November 22, 2012 at 06:43 PM ·

November 22, 2012 at 11:45 PM · Thanks Nimesh :)

Is it possible to actually feel the music from the inner voice alone? I think I am growing a huge respect (dare I say it) for viola players!! I guess to be a great inner voice player you have to have a great sense of what the total music is at all times. does anyone start by learning the first violin or cello?

November 23, 2012 at 12:30 AM · I've heard some say that the 2nd violin is often what determines how good the quartet is. I think on the professional level that can often be the case. At an amateur level a good first violin to carry the tune and a decent cellist to make sure there is a bass line to follow often determines the quality of a group.

The 2nd violin is a rover, sometimes doubles with the 1st violin, sometimes with the viola, sometimes with the cello. Sometimes with both the viola and the cello while the 1st violinist is in the stratosphere. As a result, the 2nd violinist has to have a very unique understanding of the score. It seems to me that the first violinist may need to be the better violinist, but the second violinist needs to be a better musician.

In doubling with the first violin, the second violin needs to play much louder than the first violin. There are two reasons: one, because the 2nd violin is in a lower register, two, because the 2nd violin sits behind the first violin onstage! What may sound like blasting to the first violin is actually an appropriate balance to the audience.

The 2nd violinist has a lot more decisions to make regarding matching vibrato, strokes, bowings with the other musicians than the 1st violinist.

And, as Nimesh says, rhythm, intonation, tone quality - these are all super important too!

November 23, 2012 at 01:26 AM · To add to Terry's suggestions, think of the 2nd violin and viola as more foundational. A cathedral's towers and arches can't soar without a solid foundation, but few people really notice it till that foundation begins to crumble.

Rhythm, intonation, line, sensitivity. Playing impeccable detache is more important in 2nd than it might be in first violin, for instance, because it's so much more of what's going on.

November 23, 2012 at 02:09 AM · So interesting how you put it. I just got contacted by a violinist who is trying to put together a quartet (not the same one that my queery is about) and she is insistent about playing IInd - which suits me fine. After reading these commments I'm going to evaluate IInd rather differently; does it bind the quartet together or is the person playing IInd just to avoid being in the hot seat...

November 23, 2012 at 02:57 AM · when I practice quartet, or even orchestral music I do so with a drone in the key that I'm playing. It is helpful to hear how dissonances form and resolve themselves. I put much time into dynamics, articulation and nailing rhythms, even in the "boring" parts. Looking at the score helps you figure out where you are supporting and where you carry the melody line.

November 23, 2012 at 03:31 AM · Its obviously a different world - one that I haven't chosen, but to succeed in chamber music its one I have to get good at for sure, you can't always play first (and very many pieces I'm simply not good enough...). Besides, there's obviously much more in this that I thought...

November 23, 2012 at 03:59 AM · Off the top of my head, perhaps it would be most useful to do a study (and play-through) of the part you aren't playing (whichever) in order to really get an idea of what you are listening for / setting up / being set up by. That might give you a lot of the context. (I guess Mendy covered it pretty well)

I imagine that most quartets are aiming for a singleness of sound, so getting the broader message to be delivered is imperative, by understanding how everything adds up. I wonder if there are some quartets that aim not to blend, but to some extent maintain the autonomy of their voices. I guess it would depend on the phrase at hand.

November 23, 2012 at 04:17 AM · What I just did - and seemed to be most useful - was to read through the part while listening/watching a youtube recording(hagen quartet). The piece I am playing incidentally is the Moz K465, better known as the 'Dissonance'. The introductory adagio is short but quite tricky to 'mesh' from the sounds of it.

I know if I try playing the first violin part I am just going to get distracted and will find it difficult to relate the II violin part

[I'll be playing 1st in the gorgeous K387

here's the budapest quartet playing it full speed ahead.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1-CKAqeI5k ]

November 23, 2012 at 02:24 PM · Heh... I'm playing the Dissonance tomorrow night for my turn on 1st & I'm not so sure I shouldn't be doing 2nd because the other violinist is a member of the local pro orchestra. We'll see!

I enjoy playing second violin very much if the other player can handle 1st (I'm *really* looking forward to playing 2nd tomorrow night with the pro). A strong player on second helps to provide group cohesion, a strong base, a steady rhythmic section and can drive from within. I wish there were clips online of the group that coaches my string 4tet workshops because while they're all wonderful players & characters, I was particularly drawn to the second violinist from the very beginning. He basically embodies all of the traits I described.

In my experience, you cannot assume that second is the easier part in works later than the early Mozarts.... all you can sure of is fewer high notes on average. In the pieces for the last 2 of those 4tet workshops most of us agreed that violin 2 was the more difficult part.

November 23, 2012 at 03:02 PM · @Elise, "What I just did ... was to read through the part while listening [to] a recording."

I was just going to suggest that! But were you reading your part or the score? The latter might be more fun and instructive. You can envision yourself nodding to the cellist for an entrance, or receiving a nod from the Violin I, etc., as you play it through -- leading from within. I have found this quite fun, especially for material that is beyond my technical skill. It's sort of like a video game for string players.

For allegro and presto movements, might be even useful to use some of that software that slows the music down without changing the pitch. I've never used that but I've heard it's helpful especially for contemporary stuff that is harder to read.

November 23, 2012 at 03:03 PM · Duplicate post ... forgive me.

November 23, 2012 at 03:13 PM · Good idea on the score, I'll get the best of both worlds and give it a try.

"For allegro and presto movements, might be even useful to use some of that software that slows the music down without changing the pitch."

I see a Christmas present.... :)

November 23, 2012 at 03:16 PM · Hi Elise,

This is a great topic and as far as I know, it has not been discussed here, or anywhere for that matter.

I would probably start by listening to the recording while watching the score. So you start to get a sense of the whole. Then you start practicing the part. There is a lot of nitty gritty, working out fingerings, learning tough passages, that really doesn't depend on a knowledge of the score.

Meanwhile, every couple of days you can listen again to the recording with the score. Every time you do this you will hear more because of the practice that you did.

I assume that during this process you are also rehearsing from time to time, so your practice at home and your rehearsals with the group reinforce each other.

One thing I would add. Your part should sound beautiful by itself. We can fall into the trap of over-fitting in. I've done that myself.

November 23, 2012 at 03:31 PM · Thanks Roy. I'm actually learning this for a one-off play through; I meet with a group and we usually play different quartets each time. Its a lot of work but also alot of fun - since they are fine musicians (finer than me!) I try to get ontop of the part as much as possible.

BTW we all four play instruments made by our local luthier, John Newton, and he plays one of his violas! How's that for amazing... Oh, and then we have tea, fine cheeses, cake and endless conversations...

November 23, 2012 at 04:18 PM · Sounds like you're doing it right, Elise. Good chamber music always includes good company and food.

In all my ramblings I never got around to the jist of your original question. Nothing that hasn't already been suggested, but I would emphasize the importance knowing the score *especially* when you have a part that does not tend to have the melody. If you have a bunch of measures of repeated notes you need to have the full picture to know how to play them rather than just puttering along.

ps- in groups where the other violinist tends to prefer 2nd, I usually urge them to try 1st every now & then.

November 24, 2012 at 03:33 AM · Elise, what you are doing there sounds very civilized. To be playing all instruments made by one of your group is noteworthy (sorry!).

November 24, 2012 at 06:45 PM · Paul thanks - and blahhhh. I think you know which goes with which...

SO I've tried several methods of listening. First, just listening to the music when you are trying to learn it 9s (for me) frustrating, I find I want to DO something.

Second listening with the score ie excellent, though my eye and ear naturally gravitate to the first violin part because of its dominance - and I have to force myself to look at the second. However, its definitely a great way to become familiar with the music, better than by ear alone.

Third, I did it with just the IInd violin part. This is quite challenging - and is actually a real-time experience as you don't have the first violin part to find yourself if you get lost. Also, and quite fascinating, if you look at the second violin part and listen - that is what you hear! This is amazing for me as I have a hard time hearing the middle instruments. But my brain naturally searches for the note I see on the page.

Thus, what I've learned thus far is to listen first with the score until you are familiar wiht the musical aspect and then listen with just your part.

November 24, 2012 at 08:25 PM · All this sounds positively Elysian, Elise!

November 24, 2012 at 08:52 PM · Bart: wasn't that the name of W.H.'s wife?

Ah, but do you know where the term Elysian comes from (without googling)?

November 24, 2012 at 09:10 PM · Elise, the word was on A Word A Day, a few days ago, and they claim that it is used, nowadays, to mean blissful. The mythological origins were explained as well.

But seriously, your quartet sounds like great fun!


November 24, 2012 at 10:43 PM · It comes from the Fields of Elysium, the paradise in the Underworld where those who did good deeds went to in the afterlife.

November 24, 2012 at 11:38 PM · Bart: its a wonderful experience as its all about four people getting together and playing quartets - not at all about performance or anyone else. As I understand it, that was the original intent of chamber music, fun for the musicians (perish the thought :D ).

this was probably very common, normal even, before the days of radio, tv or internet. Perhaps we've gone backwards?

November 25, 2012 at 10:48 AM · In the subsequent babble I wonder if you guys missed this observation:

"Also, and quite fascinating, if you look at the second violin part and listen (to the quartet recording) - that is what you hear! This is amazing for me as I have a hard time hearing the middle instruments. But my brain naturally searches for the note I see on the page."

November 26, 2012 at 01:36 AM · Elise, if the first violin part is distracting, try redacting! I recommend electrical tape.

November 26, 2012 at 02:18 AM · Paul: electrical tape will not go with 18th century music, tallow drippings would fit the bill ...

Am I the only one who has difficulty hearing the middle instruments consistently in a quartet? The first violin is (generally) obvious and the cello next but I find it hard to follow the second violin - and even harder the viola.

Thats why it was such a suprise that when you look at the second violin part you can hear it destinctly and consistently. But maybe I'm alone with this handicap!

November 26, 2012 at 01:01 PM · Elise, no I think most people share this problem, except for the occasional auditory savant that becomes an orchestra conductor. It's a little easier when you *watch* a quartet because if you focus on one player you can watch their hands. That helps you follow their part too.

November 26, 2012 at 04:07 PM · I tried that (watching the player) but its of limited use in particular when another instrument plays something close. Please try this - it was really an eye opener. It was as if the second violin was the main instrument all of a sudden....

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