Orchestration: Techniques of Strings - Part II

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Orchestraheader.png A YC Tutorial
Justin P. Tokke
This page is a part of the Orchestration Masterclass. For other related articles, see Category:Orchestration masterclass
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Introduction to the Left Hand

The left hand serves two purposes in string player: to control the pitch of the notes being played by the bow, and to physically support the instrument as it's being played. The method of support varies depending on the instrument. For the violin and viola, the thumb is held under the instrument neck to counterbalance the player's neck's hold on the instrument. For the cello and bass, it holds the instrument upright on its peg on the floor.

The four fingers of the left hand determine the pitch of the strings by pressing them against the fingerboard shortening them from their default tuning. This is why the lowest possible pitch is the tuning of the lowest string. (On the Violin, the bottom of the range is G3 because the G string is tuned to G3.) The fingers are numbered from 1-4 starting with the index finger. Piano players should not get in the habit of including the thumb as it is in piano playing. The thumb is only used on the fingerboard in cello and bass playing where there is no need for it to support the instrument. It is either given a number of 0 or an indication of “T” when writing fingerings.

Finger Numbers


Fingering System

The fingering system on the strings is, in principle, the same for all the string instruments. However, there are modifications to the system for each individual instrument because of the differences in size. We will therefore only look at the basics of the system and then deal with the finer details when discussing individual instruments. For explanation, we’ll use the fingering system of the violin and viola which are essentially the same.

When placed on the fingerboard, the four fingers are pressed down in the order of a diatonic scale. This will naturally yield four notes, a tetrachord of the scale. Other tetrachords can also be produced on any of the strings at any given time. This gives each finger up to four notes available to it because there are four strings. Thus, at any given time, there are as many as 16 stopped notes, a tetrachord on each string, available in one setting of the fingers. The setting of the fingers can be shifted to start on any degree of the scale as required by the music. These different placements of the hand are called positions. When the tetrachord is one tone above the open string, we call this first position. See the notation below:

1st position.png

Each open string is indicated as a whole note and bears the number 0. The notes stopped by the fingers correspond to the fingers’ numbers. So the index finger (finger #1) can yield an A, E, B, and F. Notice that there are three repeated notes controlled by the pinky (finger #4). These are often used to avoid the non-vibrato timbre of the open strings. These overlaps are very useful for extensive scalar and expressive passages. So, essentially, in any given position, one can have a full two octaves of stopped notes at any given time.

If we shift the position another step away from the open strings, we get second position.

2nd position.png

Notice now that the 3rd finger is now playing the repeated notes of the open strings, and the notes once taken by the first finger on the upper string are now with the 4th finger on the lower string. This is third position:

3rd position.png

Here again, more trading of notes. You may be able to see the pattern by now. In general, the higher a passage’s compass, the higher the position will have to be. String players will often choose a position not only by how high it is, but also by how easy a fingering would be in one position over another. For example, if a passage is dominated by the first four notes of the G major scale in a middle register, it might be advantageous play the passage in third position (on the D string) rather than first position, even though it is possible to play it on both.

Fourth and fifth positions:

4th position.png

5th position.png

This pattern continues until about 7th position where things start to get tricky. Since the notes get higher, the positions of the fingers must also get closer and closer, and eventually, it becomes difficult to keep pitch accurate on extremely high notes. However, it is possible by experienced players to go as high as 13th or 14th position which is about the total limit of the fingerboard. However, in orchestral use, 11th position should be considered the absolute maximum and anything above 7th position should be written with caution.

Another consequence of higher positions on the Violin and Viola is the loss of the thumb’s support of the neck. Because the positions get so close to the bridge, there eventually comes a point where there’s no room for the hand to hold onto the neck and the body of the instrument gets in the way. This becomes a challenge to balance the instrument, further complicating the high positions.

One note about position shifting should be said: While it is somewhat discouraged, position shifting, or changing from one position to another quickly, is a fact of life for string players. The composer, should be aware, however, that extreme changes (like from 1st position to 7th position) can wreak considerable havoc on a string sections intonation and tax their good will and tolerance of the composer writing such ridiculous stuff. Positions, as with all high notes, should be approached gradually, ideally by step. If this is not possible, then a moment or two of silence (in the strings only, of course. No one else need be silent for them!) before the strings play should be written in so they can properly position their fingers and not cause the string section to sound like a highland bagpipe band.

Chromatic Fingering

Since the fingering system is essentially diatonic, there must be alterations for chromatic notes. This brings some alterations to the positions to the party. The first are individual changes of the fingering placement. The finger will be placed “high” or “low” from its default diatonic position to achieve the correct chromatic alteration. The other position changes are half positions which place the hand between two positions. These are designed to chromatically alter all or most of the notes in a position and are very useful for highly chromatic music or keys. Half positions, in theory, be used in combination with regular positions; however, it is usually more efficient to use normal positions just with chromatic alterations than ½ positions all the time. Half positions show their greatest usefulness in passages of high complexity.

In general, the diatonic scale to which the fingering is defaulted to will vary depending on the player and piece. Some say it’s G major, others say C major, though, ultimately, the player will alter the position as needed regardless of the key; it is in his or her head only. Naturally, then, whether the default fingering is in F# major or in G major is quite irrelevant. (Though, one ought to feel pity for the player who learns his default fingerings in the former… and kill his teacher.) Thus, chromatic alterations may vary from player to player. Though, for the sake of a theoretical model, we shall say that if the note is “natural”, then the finger defaults to its diatonic fingering. If the note is sharp, then the finger will be placed in a “high” position shortening the string a ½ step. The opposite is true of flat notes. The finger will be placed in a “low” position lengthening the string by a ½ step.

Indeed, it is for this reason (and, truthfully, the sole reason) that enharmonic equivalents sound different on the strings. Often the difference in tuning may be a few cents only, but the playing consequences are very significant to the player. They will also, usually, place their finger not so that the pitch fits with equal-tone temperament, but that it fits with the diatonic “just intonation”, or the tuning system based off of the harmonic series and whole number ratios. (For more on that: Just Intonation) This causes slight discrepancies between sharps and flats and, as a consequence, whether to use a sharp or a flat on the page will hold significant weight with the player unless the composer obviously considers them equal. (Such is so in 12-tone music where all tones are created equal, endowed by their creator, with certain unalienable rights such as…) The composer should thus be aware of this phenomenon though not overly concerned about it. A good guideline to follow: use the correct enharmonic spelling for notes as per the tonality of the music (within reason). However, if that leaves an abundance of E-sharps, B-sharps and double accidentals, then, by all means, write what looks easier to play! In sum: “write right, easy read.”

Let us note right now that obviously this is a simplification. Only the C major scale is comprised of all naturals, so how goes one account for the other scales? Say we have a default fingering in G major which has one sharp with F# as the leading tone. On the D string, the 2nd finger has the F in the scale. To accommodate for the key signature of the scale, the 2nd finger would take its default place where F# is. So if an F natural was written on the page, the 2nd finger would be lowered to the F natural position, or a “low 2”. Note that the different half-step and whole-steps between fingers will depend on the default scale. This will lead to different overlaps of semitones depending on the scale. What scale the player chooses, however, is not a matter that the composer should concern himself or herself with. It is a player’s decision which to use and which way or another it makes only a minute, at best, difference to the sound.

Thus, to conclude our discussion of the fingering system, we can create a full fingering chart of the Violin by using the rules we have above.

Violin Fingering Chart – First Position

1st position fingering chart.png

Note that this is only for first position. You should also notice the large amount of overlap enharmonically. Several fingerings have an enharmonic equivalent fingering increasing the versatility. If you start overlapping this with other positions, you will start to fathom how incredibly complex and versatile the fingering system is. It is, without a doubt, the most complex playing system of all the instruments.


The strings are in the group of a few instruments that are capable of a true glissando. String players can glissando by sliding their finger along the string up or down the fingerboard making a continuous change of pitch. This effect is very effective when used with taste and moderation. Aside from special effects, it is commonly used in passages with heavy expression that have several leaps in the melodic contour. Just as human voices would glissando those leaps, the strings can do so as well to add another layer of expressiveness to any melody.

The subtler version of glissando is called portamento. It is primary intended as a natural connection of notes by siding between them. However, portamento is rarely marked by composers and just “understood” as a piece of common-sense expressive playing. A string player will almost always add some portamento between pitches simply with the passage marked espressivo or similar. Portamento is thus not usually used outside of legato playing unless there are very special circumstances or a special effect devised by the composer. Either way, explanation will probably be needed if it is taken out of its usual context.

The pitch limits are quite wide and any glissandos on a single string will be able to be played continuously. Glissandos that must break across strings, however, will never be completely continuous. Players will usually hide the break as best they can.

There are myriad examples of glissando in the repertoire, most from the modern period. Some good examples are as follows:

Mahler: Symphony No. 4, Mov. 4


Recording: Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam; Leonard Bernstein, conductor

Here we have the cellos adding a subtle glissando between their notes. Mahler uses the gliss. to emphasize the connection between the notes they have, which are very far apart, relatively.

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet, Suite No. 2, “Montegues and Capulets”


Recording: New York Philharmonic; Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor

Here is a similar example as the Mahler. The violas are asked to gliss between their octave notes. It gives an eirie background to the flute solo. Note that the gliss is almost a portamento being so light. Fortunately, this works to the melody’s advantage.

[More modern gliss example]

Multiple Stops

And thus, we come to, likely, the most notorious subject in all of string writing. Take a deep breath because we’re about to delve into combining different fingers and positions with different strings so that the string instruments can play more than one note at once. Unfortunately, the system for double stops has never really been explained properly, often just relegated to an obscure list of possible stops with the student just expected to “get it.” It wasn’t until Forsyth created a schema, or set of “rules” that were easy to understand and put to practical use for the student. Thus, much of this section is indebted to his system of explanation in his book on orchestration.

[insert longwinded stuff]

Examples: Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Part 2 Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra, solo violin


So far, we have been discussing bowed sounds where the left hand fingers press down on the strings all the way allowing for a full rich sound from the strings. What we have not discussed is harmonics which are produced by allowing the string to vibrate at a certain harmonic within the harmonic series. This timbre is very soft and sweet. Harmonics can also be played extremely high, even out of range of human hearing, thus providing a very useful range extension for the strings.

Harmonics are produced by touching the string at certain points called nodes and then bowing the string. The left hand only touches the string but does not press the string down to the fingerboard allowing the whole string to vibrate. When no node is pressed, i.e. when bowing an unstopped open string, the open string produces the fundamental of the harmonic series which is always the note that any particular string is tuned to; the G string produces a G3 fundamental. As more different nodes are pressed, different harmonics along the series are produced causing the sound to change even though the entire string vibrates.

The harmonic series for the G string is as follows:

Harmonics 1.png

The numbers indicate the number of the harmonic, or partials. For example, G4 (labeled with the number 2 above) would be the second partial of the G string while the D6 would be the sixth partial of the G string. The thing to remember is the harmonic series is a set of intervals that get progressively smaller as the pitches ascend. In order, we have a P8, P5, P4, M3, m3, m3 (flat), M2; each gets smaller than the previous. Note that there is (theoretically) no end to the harmonic series. The intervals will progressively get smaller and smaller the more partials there are. This becomes an issue with brass instruments since their entire mechanism is based on the harmonic series. Be sure to commit the concept of the harmonic series to memory because you will be using it often as an orchestrator.

The harmonic series can also be transposed to any fundamental; every note (or indeed frequency) has the same harmonic series (that is, the same series of intervals) just transposed to a different fundamental. For illustration purposes, here is the harmonic series for the E string:

Harmonics 2.png

As you can see, the E string harmonic series goes beyond the range of the piano and almost out of the human range of hearing.

There are limitations on the production of harmonics, most notably dynamics and speed. Harmonics are very delicate and can rarely be played above a piano, maybe at mezzo-piano. They are also very hard to produce under some instances and we will discuss specifics for each instrument in turn. Some instruments produce harmonics more readily than others, even some strings produce harmonics better than others. Because of the tricky production of harmonics they can’t be played at great speed either. Indeed, some of the most effective uses of harmonics are slow melodies or long notes and chords being held out to emphasize the unique harmonic timbre. Needless to say, there are many factors in harmonics and they need to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

There are two types of harmonics: natural harmonics and artificial harmonics. Natural harmonics are produced by touching the node of an open string allowing a harmonic to sound. Artificial harmonics are produced similarly by touching the node of a stopped string, i.e. a new fundamental for the string in question. The combination of the two allows for a vast array of notes to be played via harmonics giving the composer great freedom to use this great sound.

Producing Harmonics

Harmonics follow the harmonic series by touching a node at a particular fraction of the sounding string. A simple way to figure out the fraction is to put the number of the partial in the denominator and put a 1 in the numerator. So, to make a harmonic to sound the second partial (the G4 on the G string), one would touch exactly 1/2 way from the nut to the bridge; for the third partial, 1/3 from the nut to the bridge and so forth. Note too that any multiple factors of the first interval can also be touched to play the same harmonic. So for the third partial, one could touch either 1/3 of the way from the nut or 2/3 of the way from the nut; both will produce the same pitch. However, some of these “alternate harmonics” are not as reliable as others especially in a large orchestral context. Thus, we will usually only concern ourselves with the first and second (or very rarely a third) nodes for any particular partial when discussing harmonics.

This system, while a bit confusing at first, is a very efficient way of figuring out what notes are possible with what harmonics. To illustrate this concept of fractions, see this picture:


  1. The fundamental A string. (This case would be a bass A string since it is 110 Hz or A2)
  2. Pressing the note at the ½ way point creates a note an octave up.
  3. Touching the node at the ½ way point creates a harmonic an octave up.
  4. Pressing the note at the 1/3 way point creates a note a fifth up.
  5. Touching the note at the 1/3 way point creates a harmonic a fifth and octave (15th) up.
  6. Pressing the note at the ¼ way point creates a note a fourth up.
  7. Touching the note at the ¼ way point creates a harmonic two octaves up (15ma).
  8. Touching the note at the 1/5 way point creates a harmonic a two octaves and a major third up (15ma + M3).

In examples 5, 7, and 8, the finger could also touch any of those points where the string vibrations cross to produce the same note. However, they won’t be as effective, especially the more vibrations there are. (It is less efficient to make a note vibrate in 8 parts if the 5/8ths node is touched as opposed to the 1/8th node because the 5/8 must be divided into 5 and 3 parts to sound and that will not happen as readily because of the laws of physics.) As a general rule, the closer the finger is to the nut, the more reliable that node is as opposed to its factors.

Artificial harmonics, in principle, are the same as natural harmonics in with regard to the nodes. What is added is another finger to change the fundamental of the string. To produce a natural harmonic, the 1st finger presses down a new fundamental and the 4th finger touches an interval above this fundamental to produce a new harmonic. Those unattainable by natural harmonics can now be played with this technique.

Harmonics of a third, fourth, or even a fifth, can be played, however the fourth is the only one reliable enough for orchestral use. The third and fifth harmonics are used more commonly in solo work, but it is impractical to rely on their tuning in an orchestral context because of their notorious unreliability. Thus, only “touch-forth” artificial harmonics should be considered in the orchestra.

As with the natural fourth harmonic, the touch-forth harmonic will raise the fundamental by two octaves. These are very valuable in orchestral writing because, coincidentally, the span of the hand is about a fourth, so the intonation and hitting the correct node is relatively reliable compared to others. Since any fundamental can be used for artificial harmonics, a great number of new chromatic tones can be added to the list of possible harmonics for any instrument. These are very useful for filling in the gaps left behind by natural harmonics.

However, artificial harmonics, unlike natural harmonics, are not as versatile and will cause problems when they are to be moved quickly. Since the entire hand must move, it is, in effect, just like changing position. Thus, the same rules of changing position should be applied but with even more rigor. Since both fingers (nos. 1 and 4) must correctly hit the right notes at the same time, it becomes more difficult if there are large gaps. Therefore, even when moving by step, it is advisable not to move too fast. 8th notes at a moderato tempo are about appropriate as an upper limit. But, as with all techniques, there will be players on both ends of the spectrum. It is best, however, as with all harmonics, to keep it slow and sustained. That’s when their effect is most powerful anyway.

Let us put this all together. A nifty system invented by Forsyth in his book is to create a list of all the possible harmonics by combining the artificial with the natural harmonics of each instrument. The student should keep these in reserve so they can reference to them again and again (and again) because they become invaluable in saving time. We will create the single version for the violin. The student can then transpose it down a fifth for the viola and down another octave for the cello. Double basses, as a rule, can only play natural harmonics, but the student is encouraged to figure those out too.

Let us begin with natural harmonics alone.

Natural Harmonics

Natural harmonics.png

For practical use in the orchestra, we will just consider the first five natural harmonics of each string.

Next, we have the artificial harmonics. This is just a chromatic scale.

Artificial Harmonics

Artifical harmonics.png

Now, let us combine them onto one staff. We will also add some markings. The + symbol is for harmonics that can be played both as natural and artificial harmonics. The o symbol is for harmonics that can only be played as natural ones. All the others are artificial only.

Complete Possible Harmonics on the Violin

Complete harmonics.png

And there we have it! These sorts of charts are very useful for the student so he or she can have a quick reference but to also understand why certain notes are possible and others aren’t. This little list system takes away the “performance” or “production” matter and just focuses on the actual sound, which is all the composer really cares about anyway.

Harmonics Notation

Probably the most confusing part of harmonics is how to notate them. Because of the different types of harmonics, it varies depending on context. There are several methods, some better than others. For our examples, we will show the method of notation in the first bar, and the actual sound in the parenthesis in the second bar.

  • “Harmonics” indication alone: This is where one intends a certain passage to be played with harmonics but does not indicate which ones or how to produce them. The only marking is a technique marking saying “harmonics” or similar. Obviously, this is the most lazy method and the worst possible way of going about it. A composer should have a respectable enough work ethic to put in the time to figure out which harmonics should be played.

Harmonics notation 1.png

  • Open circle articulation: The not-much-better method is to place an open circle on top of each note intended to be a harmonic like so:

Harmonics notation 2.png

  • While this is a limited form of notation, it does have a very important purpose in string writing. If you refer back to the above, you’ll remember that the 2nd partial or harmonic at the ½ node is exactly the same pitch as the harmonic. Thus, the touched note is the same as the stopped note. There is no need, therefore, to indicate some special notation for the sounding pitch and fundamental pitch since they are exactly the same. The rule: when writing natural harmonics for the 2nd partial only, use the open circle notation only.

  • Diamond alone: This notation is the most useful for natural harmonics. The pitches of the nodes are indicated with diamond-shaped note head instead of the standard oval.

  • Sometimes the strings are indicated if a note head that could possibly be taken on two different strings is indicated. This is a somewhat rare occurrence, but the proper “sul G”, “sul A” etc. notation should be written to eliminate ambiguity, but only if necessary. You’ll see in the example below, the Sul G is actually unnecessary since all notes below D4 must be played on the G string. It is shown below only for example.

Harmonics notation 3.png

  • Diamond with fundamental: This is the primary notation for artificial harmonics. The “artificial” fundamental is written with regular a note head while the node to be touched is written above it with a diamond note head. If the artificial harmonic is “touch-fourth”, then the sounding note will always be two octaves higher than the fundamental. It is therefore unnecessary to indicate the sounding pitch of the harmonic as it is unchanging and implied.

Harmonics notation 4.png

  • Diamond with sounding: This notation is very rare and often considered “excessive” by string players. If they know which harmonic they have to play, notating the sounding pitch is unnecessary as the playing technique will sort itself out properly. Thus, it is best to avoid this notation unless using rare and obscure harmonics. In the orchestra, though, this is very unusual.

Harmonics notation 5.png

To sum up, use the circle notation for 2nd partial harmonics, diamond notation for all other natural harmonics, and the diamond with fundamental notation for all artificial harmonics.

Use of Harmonics in the Orchestra

Harmonics, since introduced by Berlioz, have been used many times over in the orchestra. Thus, it would be folly to just pick one or two examples and say that they are the primary uses and all other new uses should follow them. Their use, like with other techniques, is heavily varied requiring a more total analysis of the orchestral repertoire to understand their use. Thus we will quote several examples to get a small gist of how harmonics have been used in the past, but they should not be construed as the “be-all, end-all” of harmonic use.

One of the most famous examples of harmonics is in the very beginning of Mahler’s First Symphony. The first note in the piece is an “A” played in seven octaves by the strings almost all in harmonics. Using the unique timbre of the harmonics gives this passage an extremely eerie quality made especially so by it being the first sound heard in the whole symphony.

Mahler: Symphony No. 1, Mov. 1, opening (Strings only shown)

Mahler 1 harmonics.png

This extremely effective opening was a rare sound in 18?? when the piece was written. The harmonics, while giving range to the A, also give color that normal vibrato-ridden stopped notes would not. The harmonics also allow the note to be played quieter. So while almost 70 players are playing one note, the actual sound is very, very quiet, almost pppp. Indeed, it is a strange and thrilling opening, and often unexpected by the audience, even those who have heard the piece many times before.

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2


Debussy: La Mer or Prelude on the Afternoon of a Faun


Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Part I, Introduction


In this excerpt, the basses are divided into six groups and play a set of natural harmonics. This gives a sort of foundation for all the woodwind lines to rest on top of. What is most interesting here, though, is more that the harmonics are “felt and not heard.” Indeed, he uses the harmonics more as background noise more than anything. The harmonics, when analyzed in their sounding pitches, essentially create a tone cluster that isn’t easily discernable by the ear.

Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Part I, Ending


Stravinsky, in another stroke of harmonic genius has various artificial and natural harmonics combined to produce a very eerie, and indeed, scary tone cluster foreshadowing the coming music.

Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Part II, Slow Section


Here we have a different technique employed. Stravinsky uses a “harmonics gliss” in the violins where the players slide their finger up the string as if playing harmonics. It thus causes the entire harmonic series to sound all in a row. This effect is a unique sort of “grace note” to the flutes’ C major chords being held out at the top of the gliss.


The scodatura is a re-tuning of the strings to another tuning. Only one string could be changed or up to all of them being changed. This technique is used for several reasons:


Re-tuning the stings will change their timbre. Generally, tuning higher will create a brighter and more strained sound. Tuning lower will create a mellower and rich sound. Probably the most significant example of this is from Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, where the concertmaster is required to have two violins. One is the regular tuning; the other is tuned up a whole step. The extra-tight strings gives a very intense and strained sound giving off a timbre easy to associate with the “devil’s fiddle.”

Mahler: Symphony No. 4, Mov. 2 – opening


Sometimes individual strings are changed to provide change their timbre. In Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre, the solo violin’s E string is tuned down a half step. This causes the interval between the two top strings to be a diminished fifth, an interval commonly associated with the Devil (the tritone, known in Latin as diabolis in musica or “Devil in Music”). The sound of the open strings being in a “wrong” interval has a very distinctive sound made to sound like the deformed fiddle of the devil since the tuning is, indeed, “wrong.” The iconic solo passage is shown here:

Saint-Saens: Danse Macabre


Note that without the change in tuning, one could not play the passage without shifting positions with the hand. It would also not have that characteristic double-stop open string sound, most commonly associated with fiddle music. For the effect Saint-Saens was intending, the choice of changing the tuning was a great one.

Playing Simplification

This is a rarer situation where a string will be altered to simplify certain fingerings or make other passages playable when they couldn’t be otherwise. J.S. Bach did this in his Cello Suite No. 5, for example, where the top string was altered to simplify its fingering. A good example in orchestral music is at the very end of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. For the last chord, he has all the cellos detune their top string from A to G#. This allows the players to play a quadruple stop that would have been impossible without changing it. Notice the problematic chord boxed in red.

Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, ending – Strings only shown.


Sometimes all of the strings are raised or lowered to make the instrument easier to play in certain keys. If this is done, the instrument essentially becomes a transposing instrument. For example, if one raises all the strings of the violin a half-step, one would have an Ab – Eb – Bb – F. This default tuning would make flat keys far easier to play in and would require a transposition of ½ step down to compensate for the tuning up. This technique, however, is not recommended (at all!) for orchestra sections because of the sheer amount of players required to detune their strings. It is far more effective in solo settings anyway.

Extended Techniques

As we saw in part one, many extended techniques exist for strings. Here are some Left-hand ones:

  • Silent Fingering: Pressing the fingers down percussively without bowing. This is analogous to key clicks on the woodwinds.
  • Microtones: Playing in microtonal intervals in between the standard 12-tone chromatic intervals.
  • Re-tuning while playing: While bowing a note, the left hand adjusts the tuning of the string by turning the tuning peg or fine tuners. This is useful for comical special effects and was used in great jest by Haydn in his Symphony No. 60. (Measure 23 of Mov. 6).
  • Wide vibrato: A ridiculously wide vibrato, obviously customizable.
  • Harmonics Glissando: A not-so-rare technique where a glissando is played but only touching causing harmonics to be sounded up the harmonic series. Used famously by Stravinsky in Rite of Spring, Part 2 (as seen above).

Other effects do exist. Annoy a string player to tell you more.


That concludes our discussion of general string techniques. If your eyes just glazed over, do take a break but read it again before you go on. Once you understand the fundamental techniques of the strings, you will be able to understand the exceptions and alterations to the rules per each instrument. Each instrument is a little different having its own idiosyncrasies and quirks. Keep in mind that the strings are the most complex instruments in the orchestra and thus have the most complex technique. So if you go through this section, it’s all downhill from here!

Next tutorial: Violin