Orchestra playing

February 4, 2019, 9:06 PM · Out of curiosity I wonder if anyone wants to comment on whether first or second violin is more difficult. I have played both in orchestras. I find 2nd more difficult. My teacher in the 40’s and 50’s was The concertmaster in the Toronto Symphony in the 30’s and he said that 2nd was harder mainly because it is different than 1st. I realize that there are many variables.
Thanks
Terry

Replies (12)

Edited: February 4, 2019, 9:16 PM · I have found 2nd violin very much more difficult than first; it's hard to practice because it doesn't always make sense (to me, anyway) in isolation.

I think my weakness is partially due to being a good violinist as a youngster. The better violins were always firsts. I didn't play 2nd violin at all until I went to college, and that was just in one orchestra. It's harder to play 16 measures of repeating eighth notes with musicality and perfect rhythm than it is to play a melody any day of the week.

February 4, 2019, 9:37 PM · 1st and 2nd are difficult in different ways.

1st violin parts are typically more "difficult" in the way that students and amateurs are likely to use the term -- often a lot more notes, and in higher registers, and often with greater complexity.

2nd violin parts are primarily harmony, which means the finger patterns are less common and less intuitive, the rhythms are often trickier, and you sometimes need to really focus on what you're doing because of repetitive patterns and the like. And there's often less for the ear to hold onto, thanks to the lack of melody.

February 4, 2019, 9:39 PM · Guys.

Sincerely,
The Violas

(2nds will usually have harder rhythm, 1sts the tunes and harder/higher notes. Depends which you are weaker at which is harder)

February 4, 2019, 10:19 PM · All good points
February 4, 2019, 11:18 PM · Mozart 2nd violin parts are often harder than his 1st violin parts.
Edited: February 5, 2019, 9:13 AM · Got our first rehearsal this evening of Bruckner 4 - for the 2nd violins that's 22 pages of fairly dense score. This symphony is in E-flat, but that doesn't stop it from moving happily through the spectrum into double-flats on occasion.

Mary Ellen, some of Mozart's "German Dances" were composed for village bands, at least one of which apparently lacked a violist. Mozart accordingly would write an elaborate 2nd violin part to make up the deficit, a part more "difficult" but perhaps more interesting than the straightforward dance tune of the 1st violin part.

February 5, 2019, 9:38 AM · I'm just gonna be that guy with the 'basic/immature' answer amongst you all and say that 1st violin is definitely harder than 2nd. Obviously both have their difficulties, but if we assume that a violinist has a solid grasp of the core concepts in playing both, and has much experience in playing both parts, then in my opinion 1st violin part is harder.
February 5, 2019, 1:31 PM · As one who played in the back chairs of the seconds by choice for a few decades I can say from my perspective: "it's different." To be sure the fists are expected to go way up the fingerboard and the seconds rarely play much above third position (yes there is some literature that drives the seconds higher). The difference is, as many have mentioned, the seconds tend to be supportive and rarely get the melody. Hence as another noted, practicing the part in isolation is far from fulfilling to your musical need for melodic structure. Finally, some pieces are technically demanding for the seconds.

As with all group activities there tend to be a lot more support personnel than front line people.

That may be the reason that many musicians love chamber music - a good chamber piece moves the melody around so everyone gets a shot at leading the melodic structure while the others provide support.

As I mentioned, I liked sitting in the second section. It taught me to count, pay attention, listen to others, and never to get a swelled head.

February 5, 2019, 1:46 PM · It should be noted that while 2nd violin parts rarely get high up on the E string, there are many 2nd violin parts that SHOULD be played in the higher positions on other strings for tone color reasons.
Edited: February 5, 2019, 2:18 PM · 2nd violins were hard when I was a kid.

These days both scores and professional performances are readily available online, it is easier to learn the musician-ship part of the job. All else being equal, the challenges of first violins are greater.

Edited: February 5, 2019, 3:00 PM · 2nd parts can be more nuanced, it's true. But until you get to that stage of technical development where the stuff in the high registers is something you find easy, then you're going to find the 1st parts harder. Viola parts are typically easier. We are doing Mozart K136 (D major Divertimento) the violins are working pretty hard and my viola part is kind of a joke. 2nds need to work hard in that one.
Edited: February 5, 2019, 3:00 PM · If one is only having to play K-12 school orchestra arrangements all day long, of course violin 1 is more challenging.

If one is dealing with Hindemith's Nobilissima Visione or Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre then difficulty is really measured only relative to the individual player's skills.

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