When you first start to learn to play the violin you will need to get to grips with the basics of how to read violin notes on sheet music. Reading music can be difficult if you don’t have the right training. Fortunately, we’re here to help you get to grips with learning how to read violin notes properly so you can advance with your violin playing.
The ability to read the notes of a violin will separate those who want to be a violinist and those who can play the instrument really well. Being able to read sheet music and play the violin is considered to be a great musical achievement as it’s a notoriously difficult thing to play.
If you want to move forward with your playing and want to play violin music from amazing composers, such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, you will have to start out by learning notes on the violin strings. This is a basic guide that will explain what each of the lines and notes means and then how you can apply these to playing them on the instrument.
Beginning with the Basics
Before we even start learning the notes you will need to get to grips with the notations for violin. These are the symbols that you see on violin sheet music. When trying to read sheet music for the violin you will see that the notation shows you where to place your fingers on the strings. It will also tell you how long to hold the note for.
- Staff – The first thing to take notice of on the sheet music are the five lines that run horizontally across the page. This is the staff. They’re numbered from the bottom upwards so the bottom line would class as the first line, with the top being the fifth line.
- Clef – The clef is the funny looking symbol that sits on the right side of the staff. This will tell you what notes will be used on the staff. For the notes on violin, you will be working in the treble clef which looks a bit like a G. You won’t see a bass clef in the violin but you will see it in other pieces of music, such as piano.
- Key Signature – Next to the treble clef is your key signature. This is important because it tells you which notes within the music are going to be normal, sharp or flat. The note is sharp if you see the # symbol. The flat symbol looks a bit like an italic b.
- Time Signature – The time signature is important for you to understand because you need it to play the violin music how it was intended. You may have to keep a standard rhythm or you may be in a different tempo such as 3/4. The time signature represents the number of beats per bar and which note represents one beat.
Reading Violin Scales and Notes
Now that you’ve learned the basics of violin music it’s time to look at how the notes are placed on the staves. Every line and space between the staves represents a different note. You start from the bottom line and work your way up. Here are the notes, starting from the bottom number.
E – bottom line and bottom number
F – first space from the bottom line
G – second line up from the bottom
A – second space up from the bottom
B – third line from the bottom
C – third space up from the bottom line
D – fourth line up from the bottom
E – fourth space from the bottom line
F – fifth line and top number
Holding the Notes
Notes are also coded for how long they need to be held and played for. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best violin and bow in the world, learning to read violin music is still vital for you to become a successful player. These symbols apply to all notes, whether it’s violin sheet music or not.
- Whole note – Look like an o and is held for four beats.
- Half note – Looks the same as a whole note only it has a line sticking up. You hold it for two beats.
- Quarter note – Looks like the half note but it’s filled in black instead of being an outline. You hold this one for one beat.
- Eighth note – Once again, looks very much like the quart note but it has a tail at the top of the stick. You hold it for half a beat.
As you continue learning to read violin music you’ll see lots of the eighth notes held together by a bar running along the top. These are played in very quick succession one after the other. Eighth notes can also be denoted with the top facing upwards or downwards.
- Sixteenth note – Instead of the one tail like the eighth note, this one has two. You have to hold it for a quarter of a beat so it’s a very fast one.
Not only will violin sheet music tell you what to play it also lets you know when. This is signified by the pauses and rests you will see throughout the sheet music. Rests have their own symbols which we’ve explained below.
- Whole rest – Represented by a small rectangular bar that faces upwards. You hold it for four beats.
- Half rest – The same as a whole rest but it faces downwards instead of up and you hold it for two beats.
- Quarter rest – This symbol looks a bit like a zig zag line and you have to hold it for only one beat.
- Eighth rest – This one is sometimes mistaken for a time signature because it looks like a number seven. Hold this one for half a beat.
- Sixteenth rest – Like the eighth rest but it’s two seven like symbols instead of just one and you only hold it for a quarter of the beat.
As you’ve worked your way through these notes and rests that appear on the treble clef of sheet music you may have seen a pattern forming. Progressing through the whole rests and notes to the sixteenth, the symbols look very similar to the one that went before with one minor change happening each time.
Special Violin Sheet Music Notes
So now you know the very basics of reading music and these rules apply to any type of instrument you are playing. However, with violin music, there are a few things extra you need to learn in order to play properly. Violin music has different symbols that let you know where to move your hands on the neck of the violin as well as if your bow is moving up or down too.
The motion for moving your bow up is shown as the V when you are reading music for the violin. A downward bow motion symbol looks a bit like a flat table. The violin strings each have their own music symbol too which are all Roman numerals. These start out from the highest-pitched string and go down to the lowest.
I – E
II – A
III – D
IV – G
You may also spot the vibrato symbol on your music which will let you know when to hold your note and then move your hand which creates a sort of vibrating effect. When you see an angle bracket symbol like a > this is what’s called an accent and this indicates that you should play that note strongly. If you see that symbol on your notes it looks a bit like a thick comma. It shows that you need to left your bow and bring it back to where it started from at the beginning of the note.
To go further into the music for violins there are also some pieces that will show you what part of the bow you should be using on specific notes or segments of the music. The following are the initials that are commonly used to do this.
WB: Whole bow
LH: Lower part of the bow
UK: Upper part of the bow
MB: Middle of the bow
In sheet music you will find different markings for style and dynamics. You have to understand what these style markings mean because they show you what kind of mood the music has to be played in. Usually, these are written in Italian. Below are some of the common ones you will see as well as their translations to help you read music.
- Con – With
- Poco a poco – Little by little
- Meno mosso – Less movement
- Dolce – Sweetly
- Allegro – Quick and lively
As well as the style of the music the dynamics are something you want to pay attention to as well. The dynamics will tell you how loudly or softly you should be playing. Typically these dynamics are placed below the staff and they will continue to change as you move through the music. Usually they are represented by lowercase letters.
Pianissimo is represented by a p and it means to play very quietly.
Mezzo is represented by an m and it means to play at a medium volume.
Fortissimo is represented by ff and means to play loudly.
The diminuendo and crescendo dynamics are represented by a long, thin arrow and this means you should gradually start to play louder or quieter.
Now that you know all about reading violin string notes, what the time signature and key signature mean as well as the string notation you will want to make sure your violin is tuned properly before you begin playing. The instrument you are playing should sound great and fit your style and needs to create the best music possible.