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.
Positions 1–7 are regarded as the low positions, the positions 8–11 as the high ones. Playing in high positions is required particularly in virtuoso solo performance (up to 14th position). In the very highest registers the term position is no longer used.
The distance (spread) between adjacent notes steadily decreases upwards.
The further from the bridge the bow makes contact with the string the quieter the sound is (and the fewer overtones it contains).
An example of the same note played on two strings. The effect is one of reinforcing the sound.
A few examples for double stops:
Playing position: the “Geminiani grip”
To put the left hand in the right position the so-called “Geminiani grip” is used. The hand takes hold of the fingerboard in first position so that each of the four fingers is touching a different string: forefinger (1st finger) = E string; middle finger (2nd finger) = A string, ring finger (3rd finger) = D string; little finger (4th finger) = G string.
The bow is held at the frog by all four fingers of the right hand. The thumb and middle finger are opposite each other. The pressure of the bow is regulated mainly by the forefinger. The wrist is the most active joint, the elbow and shoulder remain as still as possible. The bow touches the strings one centimeter above the bridge and is thicker at the frog than at the point. Short, rapid notes are generally played at the point. The speed of bowing must be altered to correspond to the pressure of the bow; a faster speed of bowing with higher bow pressure produces a louder sound.
All string players distinguish between two basic forms of bowstroke:
The upstroke, the stroke from the point to the frog. As a rule it is found on unaccented beats and has a crescendo tendency.
The downstroke, the stroke from the frog to the point. It is found on accented beats (the beginning of a measure, accent) and has a decrescendo tendency.
The types of bowing are the result of the music’s meaning (phrasing). The natural accents of a piece of music are emphasized by means of the strokes, especially in dance music. Sometimes they are explicitly called for by the composer at particular places.
In orchestral playing the strings’ bowing is synchronized.