Sound is produced by moving the bow over the string or by plucking it with the right hand. Pitch alterations are achieved by pressing down the string with the fingertips of the left hand on the fingerboard. This shortens the vibrating portion of the string and raises the pitch.
Change of string and change of position
Four strings with an interval of a fifth are available: C3 (4th string), G3 (3rd string), D4 (2nd string), A4 (1st string).
During playing the left hand plays in various positions.
In 1st position the hand is at the uppermost end of the fingerboard in front of the top nut. No strings are fingered, since 1st position includes open strings.
In the 2nd position the forefinger is a diatonic degree nearer the bridge, i.e. a whole tone higher. By climbing one diatonic degree at a time toward the bridge the musician reaches the next position. 8th position is an octave higher than 1st .
Lower positions are much easier to play than higher ones. In each position each finger (the forefinger is the 1st, the middle finger the 2nd, the ring finger the 3rd and the little finger the 4th) covers one diatonic degree, that means that a partial scale of a fourth is playable on each string. Chromatic notes (raising or lowering the diatonic degree concerned) are played by the finger responsible for the corresponding diatonic degree.
An example of the same note played on two strings – with the effect of reinforcing the sound:
A few examples for double stops:
The fingering and bowing of the viola is the same as on the violin, albeit with a few restrictions:
- The fingers must spread further due to the instrument’s larger proportions.
- Because its soundbox is bigger the viola cannot reach such high positions as the violin. Generally speaking the 5th position is the highest reached on the three bottom strings (C, G, and D strings), while the 8th position (or in extreme circumstances the 11th) is the maximum on the top string (A). Prolonged playing in high positions is difficult because it is relatively hard for the left hand to reach the part of the fingerboard above the soundbox.
- The same double and multiple stops are playable on the viola as on the violin. These are a fifth lower, in keeping with the instrument’s tuning. Double stops that require a wide spread (up to the octave) should be avoided. Quadruple stops in high positions are particularly difficult and are not called for in orchestra literature.