Can Chords Be Played On Violins, And If So, How?


Chords are an essential part of music harmony, and since violins have four strings, you may be wondering if and how violins can play chords. While string instruments, like guitars, are often tasked with playing chords, few violin songs feature chords.

Can chords be played on the violin? Playing chords on the violin is possible. When you play three and four notes simultaneously, this is called a chord. If only two strings are played, this is a double stop. Although playing chords on the violin is often only seen in more challenging pieces of music, such as the legendary Chaconne by J.S. Bach, learning to play chords is possible with practice.

In this article, we will take a closer look at how to play chords on the violin, why double stops are not considered chords and violin chord examples.

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Table Of Contents


What Is A Violin Chord And How To Play Them?

A violin chord is when three or four notes are played to sound as if they are simultaneous.

While playing chords is doable, it is important to note that there will be slight arpeggiation when three or four-note are played simultaneously. This is due to the violin's bridge creating an arch rather than being a flat surface.

To play three and four-note chords, violinists separate chords into two parts to create a concurrent sound.

Four-note chords are played by hitting the first two lower strings, then continuing in the same bow stroke to the two highest strings.

To play three-note chords, you play the first and middle string, then angle the bow to stay on the middle string while also hitting the last string, thus resonating a chord.


Why Are Double Stops Not Considered Chords?

Double stops are when two separate strings are either bowed or plucked at the same time. Technically speaking, these are dyads and are not generally considered as intervals rather than as distinct chords.

When it comes to playing double stops, it does not matter whether or not the chords are fingered or open as long as the two strings are played together. Note that there should be equal distribution of pressure on each string, or else one note may overpower the other.

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The Role Of Violins In An Orchestra

Violins are typically lead instruments in the song they're featured in. They are often at the forefront of symphony orchestras, as they are well-suited to play melodies.

String ensembles and sections generally harmonize with multiple violinists (one note each) to produce chords. While playing chords is not overly common in solo violinist songs, it is popular in orchestras to create the illusion of chords using multiple string instruments playing different notes at the same time.

Typically in a symphony orchestra, there are two violins sections, first and second violins, consisting of around 10-16 violinists per section. In addition, there are also 10-12 violas, 8-10 cellos and 6-8 double basses. The reason violinists are divided into two sections is that the first violins tend to play the melody. Meanwhile, the second violins play the harmonies.

Playing in a larger ensemble can make producing chords easier. One could create various chords by adding in more string instruments playing different notes simultaneously.

Here is an example of what a C major triad chord could look like in an orchestra piece using multiple string instruments:

  • Violin 1: C4
  • Violin 2: E3
  • Viola: G2
  • Cello: C2

Although rarely used, the divisi technique can divide a single section into multiple parts to produce a chord, though this compositional technique generally only splits a section into two parts.

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Examples Of Violin Chords

Now that we know we can play chords on a violin, let's consider a few of the easiest common violin chord examples and their fingerings.

D Major Chord On Violin

The D major chord is one of the easiest to play on the violin. It's made up of:

  • D (root): played on the open third string
  • A (fifth): played on the open second string
  • F♯ (major third): played with a normal first finger on the first string

D Minor Chord On Violin

The D minor chord is another easy chord to play. Instead of the major third (F), we play a minor third (F). It's made up of:

  • D (root): played on the open third string
  • A (fifth): played on the open second string
  • F (minor third): played with a low first finger on the first string

G Major Chord On Violin

With G major, we can easily produce the chord using all four strings, doubling up on the root (G). The G major chord on the violin is made up of:

  • G (root): played on the open fourth string
  • D (fifth): played on the open third string
  • B (major third): played with a normal first finger on the second string
  • G (root): played with a low second finger on the first string

G Minor Chord On Violin

The G minor is also easily produced using all four strings, doubling up on the root (G). As you may have expected, we only need to modify the third down a half step to change it from a major to minor. The G minor chord on the violin is made up of:

  • G (root): played on the open fourth string
  • D (fifth): played on the open third string
  • B♭ (minor third): played with a low first finger on the second string
  • G (root): played with a low second finger on the first string

There are many more chords to be played, though these four are among the easiest, thanks to their inclusion of open strings.


Conclusion

While challenging to master, playing chords on a violin is possible with time and practice. Learning the foundations of violin and grasping double stops is a great first step before learning chords.

Alternatively, if you are looking to create a chord, harmonizing single notes of a chord simultaneously with multiple violins or other string instruments will build whatever chord the notes are part of.


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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