Open Strings — a curse or a necessity?
February 11, 2020 at 7:15 PM #81962Great ScottModerator
I have always heard that violinists are always encouraged to NOT use open strings if they can avoid it. For fiddle players, I guess it is a little different because open strings seem to happen a lot in fiddle playing. However, I have discovered (guess I always felt this way) that I really dislike the sound of open strings: to me, they are cold, lifeless. Soulless. They sound like an open mouth gasping for its last breath. BUT, I sometimes resort to using open strings during my practice sessions despite my loathing. That said, I often experiment with the use of a fingered string instead: for instance using the fingered G string instead of an open E string, and this is what gets me in trouble — having already learned the tune with open strings and then switching to the fingered string for the same note, I get really thrown off track, like trying to speak two different languages at the same time, if that makes sense. I think it might have something to do with muscle memory: my finger muscles are used to one way of playing (as in open strings), and the same muscle memory has a difficult time trying to quickly retrain itself (as in immediately trying to play the fingered string for the same open string note).
I do find that for me as a beginner player who is not always clear with my string crossings, that open strings become a bit of a saving grace, as empty as they sound; and they make me (for me, at least) sound more advanced that what I am because those eerily grating string crossings don’t mess up my playing or recording.
Does anyone else encounter the same problem (switching between open strings and fingered strings for the same note after learning to play a tune with one or the other), or have similar sentiments toward open strings, or am I alone in the Universe?
And, am I correct in assuming that fiddle playing requires the use of open strings more as a necessity to playing fiddle tunes than does violin playing?
OR … am I just too anally retentive? 🙁February 11, 2020 at 10:14 PM #81972cricketParticipant
Well I don’t know about violin, but in fiddling, yes you have options. I think, just my opinion from what I’ve seen, fiddlers are more likely to use that open string because, well I don’t know why, but probably because it’s just easier to get to at times and they didn’t have the teachers rapping their wrists with rulers for playing that open string like the violinists had. But yeah, the stopped string always is gonna sound better…open strings ring differently, and they cause a difference in relation to the other strings you stopped as you played…like you’re pressing down the notes, and they are ringing out in such a way that it’s giving you the slight adjustments as to where your fingers go to stop the strings, then you run up on an open string, it rings out all different, plus, it’s probably slightly off from where you were stopping the strings.
I heard a tale somewhere, on some message board maybe, that some famous violinist…maybe that Yasha Hyfits guy (I’m sure that’s not how he spells it)…I think maybe it was him…giving a master violin class to advanced classical students…anyway, what I heard was he was take their violin and slightly tune the strings off pitch, then give it to them and have them play some piece. The idea was that an experienced violinist’s fingers will find the right spot to make everything sound in tune with everything else, even with their strings slightly off pitch.
This is what we do with fretless instruments…we get in our own little world of pitch while stopping strings, but then when we get to an open string, besides the tambre being different on that string, the pitch might actually sound a little off too. Then also it’s gonna sustain longer…so … yeah it’s an interruption in the playing.
Yet…I think fiddlers do tend to go for the open string at times, because nobody forced them to do otherwise. Me, self-taught that I am…I try to avoid open strings…yet I do use them because sometimes I need to…I can’t get to the note quick enough without resorting to it.February 12, 2020 at 6:02 AM #81981Steve SraderParticipant
As long as your dead on tuned to 440 and your dead on with closed fingering then the open strings are fine , but if your a little sharp or flat with closed fingering then the open notes are going to sound off !
DR: Johns lessons are full of open notes , and if your sharp or flat the open notes will not sound rightFebruary 12, 2020 at 10:05 AM #81985FrederickParticipant
When I’m playing, I will stop a string rather than use an open when I want to use vibrato for effect. Or when I need a double stop where I prefer a stopped string’s sound rather than an open string.February 12, 2020 at 7:40 PM #81993Great ScottModerator
Thanks everyone for posting your view of open strings vs stopped strings. I guess it might be a matter of preference as well as a definite necessity for fiddle players, for instance, when they need to drone by fingering a note on the E string and leaving the A string open.
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