Before diving deeper into the concept of memorizing the string names, you should also have a look at our violin string comparison that we made in another article. You might also be interested in reading our recent article about the best violin shoulder rests. Knowing how to name the 4 violin strings is important in your learning process. It’s a piece of information that you need to know in order to improve your playing ability and tune the violin.
The actual names
Let’s start with naming and distinguishing between each chord. The G string is the thickest and thus produces the lowest pitched sound. For right-handed players, this string is placed on the left side of the violin, and on the right for left-handed people. The musical note this string should produce is, of course, a G.
Next to the G string, you have the D string, which is the second thickest. For right-handed players it sits on the left-hand side of the violin, being one of the two inside strings. The other inside string is the A one, and for right-handed players, this one is positioned toward the right of the violin.
The A string is the second thinnest string, with the E being the thinnest one. The E string, or the last one, is positioned on the right side of the violin and it has the highest pitch. When you look at all the 4 strings you can see that each one is different in diameter and that should give you the idea that thicker strings produce a thicker, lower sound.
Types of strings
There are numerous strings available and they have a significant influence on how the violin is played. The sound of the instrument depends a lot on the quality of the strings. When discussing string types, there are 3 main categories – gut, steel, and synthetic strings.
The oldest of these are the gut type, and these strings were originally made of sheep gut. They have been around for hundreds of years and in the 1500s craftsmen started to cover the gut strings with silver wire to make them heavier. The mass of the string has a big impact on the volume – the heavier the string, the more output volume there is.
Nowadays you can find gut strings in different forms. You can find pure unwound strings or wound ones and they all offer a complex, rich, and warm sound. But these strings are not recommended for beginners because of their natural core, which is susceptive to changes when it comes to humidity and temperature. A set of such strings requires constant tuning and is harder to maintain in pristine shape.
Then there are steel strings and they use a steel core, providing a brighter and tinner sound. These are not for classical music but should rather be used in jazz, rock or bluegrass, where their crisp tonality sounds great. They are usually thinner than other types and once they are broken in, they don’t require too much maintenance.
Synthetic strings are the choice for both professionals and beginners as they offer both a warm sound and great responsiveness. They represent the middle ground between gut and steel strings because they have a complex sound, while still providing good pitch stability. Another advantage they present is that they tend to be affordable and a beginner should find a good set of them for around $20.
Once you determine what kind of strings you want, you should also decide on their gauge. The width of the strings has a great impact on the volume of the instrument. Most players prefer middle gauges because they offer the best mix of qualities. Mid gauges give you the volume of thicker strings, with great tension and slow response and the precision that can be found in thin strings but with a higher projection.
Choosing the perfect gauge for you depends on your instrument and on what you want to do with it. You may think that your violin is already loud enough and you want to have more control over the notes you play, and if that is the case, you should go for some thinner strings. On the opposite, if you feel that your violin needs more projection, go for the thicker strings.
If you are a beginner, you should ask an expert to assess your violin and give you advice on what strings to choose. Also, you could ask him or her to teach you how to tune the strings just right.
Over time, however, you will find out which particular strings you like and which you don’t. In the process, you can end up having an E string of a certain type and brand and a G string of a different brand for example. You can even have different gauges.
Not to be confused with the gauge, a string’s tension is essential in transmitting the vibrations of the string to the instrument. Basically, the more tension you have in the strings, the clearer the sound and the vibrations transmitted to the resonating box of the violin. But too much tension isn’t good either, as the instrument is pulled too hard.
Tension level is calculated using many factors that include the weight of the string, the material it is made of and how it is positioned on the violin. Finding the perfect tension for your instrument is of great importance in assuring that it has a long life and a good sound.
There are three different strengths when it comes to tension – soft, medium, and strong. Strings that have a strong tension will produce more sound volume, however, they do that neglecting the high harmonics. Soft strings are used by the players that want more harmonics in their tone. Also, soft-tensioned strings are the ones that allow the instrument to “breathe” more freely and don’t put too much pressure on it.
String manufacturers often provide you with a chart of their strings’ tension levels; however, each of the manufacturers uses a different way of measuring the tension, so the charts aren’t comparable between them. Ultimately, you have to test the strings yourself and make your decision based on that.