How to practice second violin part for orchestra music?

Edited: July 9, 2021, 10:39 AM · I'm an early intermediate (?) adult violin returner player and just joined the local community orchestra. I got my second violin parts and our first rehearsal is in a few weeks. The summer concert is pops which I've never played. I played in several youth orchestras as a, well, youth, 40 some years ago and I've played some chamber music the past few years. But Pops is so foreign to me although I know some of the tunes and have listened to the rest on youtube. My father plays cello in the same orchestra so we've waded through our parts together but I'd love to find a better way to practice. I have Tomplay and they have one of the pieces, which is really helpful, but not the others. Any good apps or suggestions to work on this? I considered sitting this concert out and starting in the Fall but I would like to try it if I could figure out a way to practice. Thanks in advance for any leads.

Replies (11)

July 9, 2021, 12:24 PM · Count, count, count! Memorize the difficult parts. Get familiar with all the fingerings and bowings.
July 9, 2021, 1:42 PM · Yes count, including all rests and whole bars' rests out loud.
July 9, 2021, 2:30 PM · Depends a lot on the arrangements, but I remember from doing a pit orchestra (Camelot/Wonderful Town) that the most confusing thing can be actually reading the music. There may be some endlessly repeated rhythmic patterns that are not at all Schubertian, and repeat/vamp/cut signs that are a little unfamiliar to the classically-trained. If you can get a recording off YouTube, just follow along in your head and see if there is anything that you weren't expecting.

The other thing would be to see if there are any unfamiliar keys (too many sharps or flats) and get the hang of those.

Once you make the cultural shift, the actual notes aren't usually that hard. The main thing then is to follow your section leader.

July 9, 2021, 3:15 PM · Yes, practice with counting (in your head or use a metronome) as folks have already stated. If you find a good recording on YouTube you could also practice by playing along with it. YT has a great feature where you can set the playback speed to 75%, 50%, or 25% if the recording is too fast for you.
Edited: July 9, 2021, 5:46 PM · If you can find the 1st violin part and become familiar with that you will then learn how the 2nd part fits with that. I just had that experience this Tuesday when my chamber orchestra got together for the first time since Mar. 10, 2020.

I had been practicing the 1st violins part because that's what I had been playing 15 - 18 months earlier. However when I gto to rehearsal ther were 5 people sitting in the 1st violin section and only one in the 2nds- so I joined her. Some of this was music I had not played in orchestra before, but because of my week of 1st violin practice at home I could fit right in the couple of times I messed up.

As far as "POPS" goes, the parts are probably not available at IMSLP.com but if they are, check out the 1st violin parts to see how things fit together. If you can't find the 1st violin part, try listen to recordings of the music with the 2nd violin part in hand to see where you fit in - maybe play along.

I played in "POPS concerts" every September but 2 between 1970 and 1996. POPS music can actually include almost anything. I recall playing concerts that included Bernstein's "Overture to Candide" and Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" (with actual military cannon) not exactly POPS. But every cocnert included a Sousa march - and we "auctioned off" the "conductorship" for that one to raise money for some charity (probably the orchestra). The last one I played it turned out the winner was a descendant of John Philip Sousa himself, who had bought most of the tickets. He was no better than any of the previous years' "instant conductors." The trick was to ignore the guy and have him follow us as best he could - which was never anything but distracting - but it was always a march, so what could go wrong?

July 9, 2021, 7:48 PM · Is there a first-violinist that you could practice with? The second violin part mainly has to fit together with the first violin part, and this is especially true in "pops" arrangements.

Our community orchestra does some "pops" stuff too. It's not my favorite thing, but I'm there, so I figure I might as well enjoy it.

You might find YouTube videos of your pieces -- youth orchestras record all sorts of things.

July 10, 2021, 6:14 AM · Thank you all for this great advice and Andrew for your fun story! Yesterday my father and I had a blast playing New York New York on youtube at full blast (he's hard of hearing) as we played our cello and 2nd violin parts (while the rain pelted down outside). Some of the pieces on youtube were faster than we could play along with though so I am thrilled to hear you can slow them down. i didn't know that! This will help us in learning them. Great idea to print out first violin parts.
July 11, 2021, 12:46 AM · You can also try entering tricky bits into a music notation program and playing along with its strictly rhythmic robotic playback.

I am a terrible reader of rhythms and I do this with sections where I consistently screw up the rhythm.

July 12, 2021, 5:16 PM · I play mostly viola but sometimes also 2nd violin in quartet or orchestra. Both the viola and the VLN2 have similar challenges - the rhythmic elements are not necessarily obvious when "just listening" to the recording. When I get new music, especially pops stuff, I will go through the following routine: start very slowly to go through the part with my intrument, figuring out the fingerings, and identifying the tricky passages if possible. Sometimes those aren't obvious until the tempo comes up! Then, I often listen to video recordings on YouTube where I can see the conductor and the section I'm in, and I follow along with the score. From there, usually I mark tempos in the various sections of the pieces, unless they are already there. Next, for the tricky passages, I'll look closely at the rhythms, make "beak" slash marks, and work those sections slowly with a metronome. This can be tedious but will pay off! next, perhaps I listen/watch videos again, this time simulating playing along with a pencil in my bow hand, to make sure I at least understand where every stroke goes. From there, more metronome practice. The Amazing Slow Downer app is also good - play along with recordings slowly. Mainly, you are aiming to have absolute confidence in the rhythms and passagework. Over time, notch up the metronome until you can play along with the recordings at tempo. Play along with as many recordings as you can find - they are all different. If I really want to nail it, then I'll go back to the metronome and try to perfect those passages at every temp between 90% to 110% or more. That way, whatever happens, you'll be ready.
July 24, 2021, 10:09 AM · Hi, I support Andrew - the first violins have the melody, so this is what you will hear, anyway, and so it is good to know where to fit in.
If you have the option to listen to recordings, do so and read your music. It is most important to always know where you are. If you can’t play everything during rehearsal you still need to know where the music is. You should aim to be able to play at any point as if you have played the previous measures correctly.
You should focus on practicing slowly and with metronome, and be aware of repetitive patterns : Where do they start, how long do they last, and, most important, when and how do they change?
It is all a matter of concentration, and during the repetitions of patterns, you can allow your brain to rest a little bit, when you know when to “wake up”, later.
When you listen to recordings, also practice counting rest bars. Count them with your fingers, this also gives your brain a chance to relax to be ready for more intense work, later.
After all, much is learned during rehearsals, after all, so I would go for it and have fun, there.
Edited: July 25, 2021, 11:54 AM · For any orchestra string part, viola, 1st, 2nd Violin, I use the triage concept. I look through the part and say to myself: this section I can sight-read at the first rehearsal, this section I can learn during the rehearsals, this spot is beyond me, I might have to fake it, these spots I will actually need to practice.
For the fully professional orchestra the rules are different. You have to play all of it at the first rehearsal. There is very little rehearsal or practice time available, so sight reading becomes a necessary survival skill.

Listening to a recording helps, and is easy to do.


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