Learning how to read violin sheet music is one of the most useful skills to develop as a violinist. It's all fine and well if you learn to and can play "by ear". That said, there's no denying the world of difference learning to read music makes. Shortly, we'll walk you through the basic concepts of how to read music for violin as a beginner to help you discover a whole new musical world.
What Makes Up Violin Sheet Music?
Violin sheet music is all about music notes. Guitarists, for instance, usually read their music from charts that map out the song's chord progressions. On the other hand, drummers read off of a rhythm chart that shows them what to play. And this brings us to violin sheet music and what it entails.
Standard sheet music outlines all the necessary elements for playing an instrument. These include:
Rhythm - made up of notes, dots, rest and accents
Key signature - showing natural notes, sharps and flats
Sheet music also includes elements that are specific to a particular instrument. Violin sheet music, for example, often includes numbers to show neck position, bow direction markings and specific markings for techniques unique to the violin, such as vibrato and pizzicato.
Despite the general opinion, learning to identify notes is not extremely complicated. By just learning a few note-reading concepts, you can be able to make out most violin notes. With plenty of practice, you'll eventually be able to sight-read, essentially reading notes while playing the violin.
1. Violin Music Basics
We'll start by learning the basic symbols of violin notes.
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A musical staff comprises five lines and four spaces, making up the foundation on which music notes are drawn. Each line or space represents a violin note.
Barlines run vertically across the staff, dividing it into sections known as measures or "bars". They help the violinist keep track of where they are on the sheet music to keep the right timing.
The Treble Clef
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The treble clef is easily one of the most common symbols, resembling the shape of a stylized G, which also gives it the name; G clef. The space around which the treble clef wraps denotes the G. All violin music is written in the treble clef. Therefore, you don't need to learn other clefs as a violinist.
As you probably already know, the musical alphabet is made up of only seven notes, named after the first seven letters of the Roman alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Each line and space on the staff represents one of the notes, including sharps and flats.
The lined notes start from E at the bottom to F at the top line. The lined notes include E, G, B, D, and F. That means the notes F, A, C and E make up the notes in the spaces. Most learners use the mnemonic Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge to remember lined notes, while the space notes spell out the word FACE.
The key signature is marked right after the clef. It's made up of sharps (♯) and flats (♭) markings at the start of a section of music. The key signature shows the player which key to play the song in. Therefore, it also affects where they need to place their finger while playing.
Key signatures are universal markings. For example, if it shows a Bb, then all the "B" notes in the particular music should be played as a B flat. In other words, a key signature is a sort of musical shorthand that makes reading sheet music easier.
A time signature outlines the number of beats per measure as well the kind of notes that get a beat. It's usually represented as two numbers on top of each other. The top number displays the number of beats per measure, while the bottom number indicates the type of note received by the beat.
For instance, a 4/4 time signature implies four beats per measure, whereas a 1/4 note gets one beat. 4/4 is generally known as common time and is usually represented by the letter "C".
Music is certainly made up of more than nine notes. Ledger lines are used to expand the range of the staff. Essentially, they are short lines used to write notes that are otherwise too low or too high for the staff. That means they can appear both below and above the staff lines.
Note names on ledger lines continue using the musical alphabet. The staff's top line represents the note F, while the note that sits on the top line is a G. Therefore, a ledger line on top of the staff represents the note A, whereas the note on top of the ledger line is a B.
2. Note Reading
Having gone through the basics, we can dive right into reading notes for violin music.
Open string notes are a few notes that are particularly vital for violin players. These four notes, E, A, D & G represent the tuning of each of the four strings of the violin. Each string is tuned to sound a perfect fifth to the one below it.
Notes of the Fingers
So how do you read all the other notes for violin music? The main thing to remember is the order in which the notes follow each other in the musical alphabet. Since the same set of 7 notes repeats after a note G, it should be pretty easy to fill out other notes on the staff.
Reading Fingering Above the Notes
Fingering is just as important as note names when it comes to playing the violin. Luckily, naming the fingers is equally straightforward.
Each finger on your left hand is assigned a specific number, except the thumb since it's used to hold the violin. It starts from the index finger, which is assigned the number 1; 2 for the middle finger, 3 for the ring finger and 4 for the pinky finger.
Open strings are played with just the bow and no fingers. Ope strings are normally assigned the number 0 to show the player where they need to be played.
The first note on top of the open string is played with finger number 1, or the index finger. The note above that takes the next finger, which would be the second finger in this case. This helps you make out which finger you need to put on the string to play a specific note.
Violin music consists of different notes that determine how long the sound lasts. That means each type of note has a distinct note duration.
Understanding note durations is key to learning how to read violin sheet music. It shows the number of beats to hold each note for every musical symbol. These are the most common note durations for 4/4 common time:
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Learning how to read violin music and other music notation concepts is just like learning a new language. If you genuinely want to master the skill, you'll need to do a bit more than learning music theory. After all, the goal is to get to the point of effortless sight-reading.
As such, it's highly recommended that you start practicing note reading as early as possible. You can find several songbooks with beginner sheet music for violin playing that can guide you through.
Remember, proper practice makes perfect!
It's equally helpful to find an experienced violinist who can give you feedback from time to time.
5. Bowing Symbols
As you start practicing how to read violin sheet music, you'll also come across a couple of notes marked with special symbols. These show the player the specific bowing technique to apply when playing the notes.
Learning these bowing symbols is generally the next step in reading violin music. These are some of the most common bowing techniques:
- Legato Bow Stroke - means playing notes smoothly and connected with no interruptions in between.
- Martele Bow Stroke - a strong accent at the beginning of the note, usually detached from the other notes.
- Up-Bow and Down-Bow Staccato - involves several short and detached notes that begin with an accent or bite. All the notes are played in bow direction.
Tips on Reading Violin Sheet Music Quicker
Any beginner violinist would rather play their instrument rather than learn music theory. That said, learning music notation is just as important and doing it effectively is what sets a good violinist from a struggling one.
1. Few Notes at a Time
Overwhelming yourself with loads of new information will do you no good. For the best results, stick to practicing step-by-step.
For a violin player, that means you start by learning open string notes and quarter notes. Once you're comfortable with these, you can gradually introduce additional notes and note values as you progress. The goal is to ensure you learn each fundamental concept exhaustively before moving on to the next.
2. Sight-Reading from the Start
The goal behind this is to ensure that you're applying each set of information as you go. Therefore, as soon as you're comfortable with sight-reading open string notes, dive into practicing rhythms on open strings.
Furthermore, every time you add new notes to your knowledge base, look for exercises and songs that have notes for constant practice.
3. Enjoy the Journey
What's the point anyway if you're not having fun? It takes time to get to where you want, and you'll certainly have some frustrating days along the way. Remember, you're mostly here for the love of music and violin, so why not enjoy and trust all that the process entails?