String instrument theory

Welcome! Throughout the comparatively brief history of orchestration the string group—violins, violas, cellos, and double-basses—has maintained its position as dominant element of the symphony orchestra. Countless scores from all periods bear evidence that their composers regarded woodwind and brass rather as accessories and were hesitant to entrust much of their essential musical material to any but stringed instruments.

Violin Sheet music

Cello Sheet music

Viola sheet music


Such an attitude is partly justifiable because of the superiority of the strings in so many important respects. Strings are tireless and can play virtually any kind of music. They have a greater dynamic range than wind instruments and far more expressive capacity. The tone color of the string group is fairly homogeneous from top to bottom, variations in the different registers being much more subtle than in the winds. At the same time, stringed instruments are the most versatile in producing different kinds of sound. As string tone is rich in overtones all manner of close and open spacing is practical. One does not tire of hearing string tone as soon as one tires of wind tone; in fact, there exists a sizable literature of compositions written for string orchestra without wind instruments.

The string section of a typical symphony orchestra usually consists of sixteen first violins, fourteen second violins, twelve violas, ten violoncellos, and eight double-basses. Variations in these proportions may be found, reflecting the predilections of individual conductors, or perhaps determined by some such circumstance as the size of the concert stage.