Playing 2nd Violin

September 15, 2019, 7:20 AM · I am in a group of adults over 50 playing mostly for fun. I have been playing violin for a few years, and embarrassed that I can’t seem to be able to practice my part at home without hearing the main melody played by those in the Violin 1 section. It seems harder to learn the violin 2 part! I seem to do better playing Violin 1, but I am slow at times. I am not easily finding violin 2 recordings. Any advice? I am taking lessons but my teacher wants to practice straight bow and intonation before moving on to songs.
Thanks much,

Replies (32)

September 15, 2019, 8:20 AM · Learning the Viol 2 (or any of the inner instrument) parts takes a different approach. The firs thing I do is sit without the instrument and listen several times to the piece on Utube. You need to internalize the music first to make sense of the accompaniment. Next look through the music and find the bits that are technically difficult - 16th note runs, chords, odd fingerings. Practice them as if they were exercises, not music. If you can get your speed up you could even play with the recordings.
September 15, 2019, 10:48 AM ·
September 15, 2019, 11:52 AM · Nowadays you can slow down the music on streaming services.
September 15, 2019, 3:01 PM · Thank you for the replies. I am not finding a lot of my music for Viol 2 on Utube. I search for the composer, name and Violin II. one piece is Allegretto by Mozart, Violin II.
September 15, 2019, 3:10 PM · I always thought 2nd was much more difficult than 1st. What might help is keeping track of where the beat is and which beat you're on.
September 15, 2019, 3:57 PM · One important advantage for a beginner of being in the 2nd violins, especially towards the back of the section, is that you are literally in the middle of the orchestra and can hear what is going on around you from all the sections much better than if you were sitting in the firsts or were a cellist, as I was once. You'll also be sitting more or less opposite the conductor, so you'll have a good view of him, and him you - err, perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned that :) - but anyway, being in the seconds is an education in the best sense.
September 15, 2019, 5:15 PM · Maybe you could find the score on imslp, and listen to the piece - following along with your part, but using the first violin part to help you when you get lost and noticing what you are doing vs. what they are doing?
Edited: September 15, 2019, 5:27 PM · I struggle with this too.
I have a horrible sense of timing so for tricky rhythms I scan my music onto an app such as music-scanner, or forScore to get an idea of the rhythm . It might make more sense to get a copy of violin 1 and play along with that.
In our small, beginners orchestra, the brass drown out a lot, which is a mixed blessing .
Sometimes we’re given an mp3 of the full score to play along with and that’s helpful, but I have trouble keeping up.
Mary Ellen has previously pointed out that 2nd violin is by no means easier. It would be interesting to see her comments .
September 15, 2019, 5:38 PM · I'm guessing that the OP's ensemble is playing arrangements of pieces, not the original pieces themselves, so it may not be helpful to search on Youtube. There is no piece called "Allegretto" by Mozart; it's certainly a simplified or school arrangement of a more famous movement. Which movement that might be, I can't guess. But there isn't going to be a score on IMSLP.

Some school arrangements have demonstration recordings available and it might be worth it for the OP to ask her group's conductor (if there is one) for more information about the pieces they are playing, for a link to a recording if the publisher provides one, or maybe even for a score of the arrangement.

I agree with Elise that the OP should treat the tricky parts of her ensemble music as etudes. But it seems to me that what would really help would be her teacher's guidance.

September 15, 2019, 6:59 PM · Thank you. We’ve just got new pieces, so I will,try the Etude approach.
What makes it more interesting in our orchestra, is that although I am the least experienced violinist, with a Poor sense of timing, I am not the only one. When learning a new piece, we can often only manage a few lines before collapsing. It’s all fun though.
September 15, 2019, 7:11 PM · Thanks again everyone, so helpful. I am not familiar with IMSLP but will certainly check it out. k
Edited: September 15, 2019, 8:14 PM · I agree with Elise that you should practice the hard sections of your part as though they were studies. The purpose of your rehearsal with the other players is to be listening for the other parts and grasping the role of your part in the ensemble, not struggling to find notes and count rhythms. (But we all do, sometimes. At least, the amateurs among us do!) Some of the most useful notes you can write in your part during rehearsal are things like "with the cellos" or "syncopated against the cellos" or "alternating with first violins" or such. In other words, notes about what other sections are doing that might help you organize your work a little better.

Another idea is to ask the director if you can make a "fair use" copy of the score -- just for your own study. You could do it during the break-time just by taking pictures of it with your phone.

Also if you know one of the first violinists pretty well, maybe you could practice together. You might find that they're having a hard time figuring out what's going on in the second violins!

The problem you describe is not so unusual. I'm mainly a violinist but everyone wants me to play viola. So I'm a violist in three different orchestras. Sometimes it's easier than others to hear how my part fits with a recording. And sometimes I can't even pick out my part in a recording even though I'm just listening and I've got my part on my stand. Inside parts don't really stand out all the time. I could improve my listening skills, I guess...

I like to try to play my parts along with recordings. But it's hit or miss. If it's an arrangement, or the tempo is too fast in the recording, then I'm screwed. I would guess it works about half the time. I queued up a recording of the Lohengrin Act 3 Prelude and started playing along with it. It was horrific. After the third try I realized our version isn't in the original key. It's like a 6th lower. To make it playable, I guess.

September 15, 2019, 8:10 PM · are you relying more on playing by ear then reading music? Could you work with another second or stand partner that knows the music well enough to help you are even play along with just one on one?
September 15, 2019, 8:18 PM · For orchestra music, you should never expect there to be recordings of your part alone. You want to listen to the whole thing so you understand the context your part occupies. Follow along your music as you listen.

I agree with Mary Ellen on the demo recordings. They're fairly common with arrangements these days and can actually be found fairly frequently on YouTube as well.

I also agree that 2nd violin is frequently harder because you don't have a tune to follow and the note patterns can be weird and unexpected, ditto the rhythms.

I recommend ScannerPro for scanning music from an iPhone. It's around $5 but it's worth it.

September 15, 2019, 8:39 PM · There may be an arranger listed or publisher identified and by using that to search, you might find a preview score or recording sample on the publisher's website (or videos of other groups that have played it) - just to help you out before you get to the next rehearsal to talk to the director/others.
September 16, 2019, 1:13 AM · Here is another idea: Get yourself a notation software. Musescore (download from is free and easy to learn (or so I think). There are others that you can buy. You enter your part and then you can listen to how it sounds, rhythm, pitch etc. though it does not sound like a violin. You can modify the tempo as required by your progress. This may help you though if a piece is long it requires some serious time to get the whole part entered correctly.
September 16, 2019, 7:33 AM · In my quartet we have experienced that when there is an ensemble problem it is very often due to lack of knowledge of what the other parts are doing. Rehearsing the passage over and over does not help as much as taking out the score, look at it for a few minutes and then play. I saw a note backstage in a concert hall: "Rehearsals are not for you to learn your part. They are for you to learn all the other parts!"
September 16, 2019, 7:40 AM · A word of warning about Musescore: There's a learning curve. If you have never used it before, unless you're a particularly quick study, you'll find it takes some hours to enter your Allegretto part. But ... it's a useful tool and learning to use it will pay back dividends, so it could be a worthwhile project.
Edited: September 16, 2019, 11:14 AM · I will disagree with some-- 1st violin parts are still harder than 2nd violin,or viola. That's why auditions for 2nd violin section are mostly done on 1st violin parts. 1st violins win and keep their jobs on the second half of the E string - where the notes are about 1/4 inch apart, and 1/8 inch off is grossly out of tune. And sometimes you have to find those high notes without preparation, with long distance shifts. 2nd violin and viola parts can be busier, awkward, with more rhythm problems. Hints for 2nd violins: if you seriously practice standard 1st violin orchestra excerpts, you automatically prepare yourself for auditions, and about half of the 2nd violin part. For late romantic symphonies, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, etc. you frequently have the lead melody one octave lower than the 1st violins; play those loud and expressive,- the 1sts will appreciate the support, and the mix will sound better.
September 16, 2019, 11:51 AM · For the kinds of arrangements we're talking about here, the difficulty of standard orchestral music is irrelevant. In these basic arrangements, first violin parts might be technically more difficult because they go up into third position whereas the second violin parts can be played entirely in first position, but there's a good chance that from an ensemble perspective, the second parts are harder.
September 16, 2019, 1:17 PM · It's true that you may have trouble finding the full context of the piece, but you can still practice with your part, and make sure that you are counting and playing in rhythm. There's no shame in taking your part and playing with a metronome, and even slowing it down, but really making sure that your counting is good and that you are playing the correct note values.
September 16, 2019, 1:43 PM · I don’t think you need to study the score. Practice your part until you can memorize them, then you can pay more attention to what others are doing during rehearsals.
September 16, 2019, 10:34 PM · The advantage of having the score is so that when you are listening to a recording you can more easily follow along because there are more clues. Oh! The cellos have a sforzando there ... now I'm back on track. Useful when you play 2nd or viola and you can't really hear your own part all that well.
September 16, 2019, 11:10 PM · David, I wish I could, but for lots of reasons, memorising the score is not going to happen.
I’ll try Paul’s trick of inserting landmarks into the score. The brass drowns everything out, so I can’t tell if I’m in tune or in time sometimes.
My issue is often complicated by the issue that often I am playing violin 3 , which is very similar, but slightly easier, or sometimes a few bars behind or ahead of , violin 2 .
Edited: September 17, 2019, 4:54 PM · No one ever memorizes the full score, except maybe the conductor if it's a frequently played piece. The purpose of studying the score is to do the things Paul mentioned. Look for things in the score that you can listen for while playing, and mark those cues in your part.
September 17, 2019, 2:30 AM · Joel - have you played second violin in a Mozart opera? Those parts are often harder than the first.
September 17, 2019, 8:12 AM · Kathy,

As a longtime veteran of the second section of a community orchestra I fully understand what you are dealing with. The value of sitting in the seconds is that you learn to focus and count. FWIW: It took me a while to appreciate the challenge.

One of the problems with modern violin pedagogy is that the focus is almost exclusively on playing lead/melodic and solo concerto music. We forget that an orchestra or chamber group is about the entire piece not just the melody. In my teaching using Doflein has the student playing duets with the teacher on almost every page and often the student is called upon to play both melody and harmony. I have found that my students transition quite easily into youth orchestra because they are already used to playing harmony while others are playing melody.

The advice provided by others already is sufficient. You may actually come to like, or even love, the second chairs. I did.

September 17, 2019, 10:39 AM · @Bo,- Yes. I have played Mozart Operas, 1st and 2nd violin, and yes, there are spots in the second part that are harder; busy, awkward, lots of string changes,etc. The 1st violin part rarely goes above high A, unlike a R. Strauss opera. But, if you were auditioning for a second violin chair at the opera you would probably be asked to play the First violin part to Mozart S. 39.
Edited: September 17, 2019, 1:39 PM · Joel, if you were auditioning for a second violin spot in an opera orchestra, you would almost certainly be asked to play the second violin part to Marriage of Figaro and/or Magic Flute overtures in addition to the standard first violin excerpts.
September 17, 2019, 3:49 PM · "second violin parts can be played entirely in first position"

From my experience, I can't agree with that. I find myself in 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions and sometimes 5th at least 1/2 the time for a number of reasons. Thechnically speaking one can agree that the range of notes in 2nd violins parts can be found in the 1st positions a high percentage of the time, but the music often dictates climbing up the fingerboard.

September 17, 2019, 4:39 PM · I don't know what these mythical 2nd violin parts are that can be played entirely or even mostly in 1st position. Maybe school arrangements, or Strauss waltzes. We're playing Mahler 2 this week and I can assure you that it is a workout.
Edited: September 17, 2019, 4:54 PM · Roger and Mary Ellen: Lydia is referring to school arrangements. Same post says: "For the kinds of arrangements we're talking about here, the difficulty of standard orchestral music is irrelevant."

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