Strings – Skips of Position

Use caution in wide skips of position, especially where a slur is involved.

This is another common error for a beginning composer, related to the past two tips. Let’s review quickly: a set of finger positions dictate the pitches to be played; and bowing must be worked out for each passage, if not each note. Now, let’s apply that to slurring a wide skip. Any skip with an interval greater than an octave is likely to have an intervening string. For instance, if one is skipping from first-position E on the D string directly to second-position C on the E-string, then the A string will definitely interrupt the slur.

Violinists have several ways of working this out. The first and most effective is to not play the works of composers who don’t understand the first thing about how their instrument works. That’s the default reaction right there. However, a number of great pieces of repertoire do have awkward skips, which are worth playing because their jobs and reputation depend on it. So the second strategy is to fake it – create the illusion that the notes are connected. This usually works when the line in question has a little bit of cover to it, like a busy orchestral texture, or some doubling by the winds.

The third strategy is to slur up to a very high position on the next string where possible, or an even higher position on the same string. There are definitely risks of poor intonation involved here, not to mention a double-helping of portamento as the fingers slide up to reposition themselves.

In the example below, from the Romantic Suite of Max Reger, the problem of a wide skip has been solved very simply and elegantly with the use of the natural harmonic on the octave node of the A string. What’s especially interesting here is that the violinist must eventually slur forward on the A string from E-flat to get the A harmonic. That must be done in fourth position, with the first finger on the E-flat, then relaxing the pressure and touching the octave node lightly. That’s a lot trickier than it sounds if an effortless slur is to be played.

Strings - Skips of Position

Thomas Goss is a professional composer and orchestrator with an international roster of clients. He has worked with such talents as Billy Ocean, Melanie C, Sharon Corr, and Nikki Yanofsky. His compositions, orchestrations, and crossover arrangements have been performed by such ensembles as Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony Chamber Ensemble.

Thomas lives and works in Wellington, New Zealand, with his wife Erica and son Charlie, and one very unappreciative cat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *