V.com weekend vote: Would you rather play first or second violin?

March 20, 2022, 7:21 PM · In the last few weeks I've had the good fortune to return to some orchestra playing, and for one concert I played in the second violins, and the other in the firsts.

So after all this time "off," which was better, the firsts or seconds? Which was more fun? Which was harder or easier?

They both certainly have their own personalities.

first second violins

In the second violins, one is surrounded by the orchestra - which is a comfy feeling, if a little loud. There is less position-playing, but arguably more tricky counting and noodling around, providing that "backdrop" harmony. One has to cultivate a taste for harmony. For example, playing "Firebird" in the second violins last week, we found a mistake in the score (every single time I play this thing it comes up) - one measure before 10, in the bottom part, that should be an E natural, not an F. Correcting this felt downright triumphant - it changes the whole mood, transitioning in to the final movement! This is the level of harmonic geekdom and pride that I've developed, playing in the seconds.

But playing in the first violins - it requires a certain kind of courage. One must often play the melody, often way in the stratosphere. And the melody, by its nature, is an extroverted beast, there is no hiding. The firsts are also positioned right next to the audience, with no buffer. No getting out of the spotlight here! All this can serve as a reminder: the spotlight is actually a nice place for a performer to be.

So which do you like to play better, first or second violin? And if your answer is "both," tell us what you are in the mood for today, for example if you were to sit down in a quartet and someone said, "first or second today?" which one? Or if someone were to offer you a choice in orchestra, which would you choose And if you'd rather be playing viola, let us know, and tell us why!

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March 21, 2022 at 01:14 AM · In my playing career, I've probably spent an equal number of years in both sections (right now I play 1st violin in two orchestras and 2nd violin in one plus I rotate in another) but at this stage of my life (I'm 74), I'm starting to wind down and playing 2nd violin would be fine.

March 21, 2022 at 01:30 AM · Right now I play first violin in one orchestra and viola in another. The university orchestra decided they no longer wanted non-students. Prior to that decision I played viola there, too, although I would have been happy to play first or second violin too. They may revisit this decision ... they hired local pros (ringers) to beef up their violin sections for their upcoming concert.

On balance, in a good orchestra I think I would rather play second violin. I like the "inside parts" and I feel like I have a decent understanding of harmony and musical structure that I can apply well in those roles.

March 21, 2022 at 02:06 AM ·

It's hard to say. Both violins look the same to me. :-)

I voted for the 2nd violin section. I'm retired in my 70's, and I'm more interested in the sense of community that playing in an orchestra can bring. That's what really brought me back to the violin after decades of not playing. Let the youngsters who are working towards a future play 1st violin. They can benefit more from the challenge.

That said, in my early years of playing, I would have voted the opposite.

March 21, 2022 at 02:09 AM · I prefer playing first, because I think I'm more suited to it (If I'm playing 2nd or viola in something I know, i tend to impose suitable dynamics for the 1st violin part on it, and that may not always be appropriate. I'm not a good enough musician to play 2nd really well) - but I'd rather play 2nd or viola if it makes the orchestra more balanced.

March 21, 2022 at 02:36 AM · A very good orchestra, led well, will offer challenges on both sides. But first is a safer bet.

That said, I just put together a group that shall play the Schubert Cello Quintet, and I deliberately cast the other fiddler on 1. The second part for that piece has some of the best stuff.

March 21, 2022 at 02:41 AM · I played 2nd in our Symphony Orchestra for a few years. One year, at our first rehearsal, the Orchestra President approached a group of us to say she needed three 2nds to step up to play 1st violin as we lost three 1st violinists. I started playing at 62 and jumped at the chance to play 1st. I took lessons, raised my level of play and haven't looked back since...oh, and I am now 74.

March 21, 2022 at 03:10 AM · I started playing violin in my early forties. I am now 59 and just joined a community orchestra. Our conductor asked me to play 1st but I find it very intimidating. So I am playing 2nd and I love the challenge of playing harmony.

March 21, 2022 at 03:57 AM · I think at my stage of musical development, I'd be better off as 2nd violin or viola. Playing harmony is fine with me.

March 21, 2022 at 03:59 AM · Viola. I'm not really comfortable playing violin -- I play viola 99% of the time, so it takes me two or three weeks to get used to bowing more lightly on the violin. Also, I have a professional-quality viola and an intermediate student violin, which means I'm really spoiled by the viola.

That said, at one point I played in an orchestra that bumped me from viola to second violin for a year.

March 21, 2022 at 04:17 AM · Playing 1st violin well,,GREAT..but given the choice I love Second violin and or viola..you as a player MUST know the score very well, you support the lines and harmonies. Only had a chance to do so, National Symphony orch. Dominican Republic and the Reading Symphony (PA)....and loved it...the res of my orchestral participation was Concertmaster or just first violins..... BORING.....

March 21, 2022 at 04:44 AM · In an orchestra, it is definitely more exhilarating to play First. With few exceptions, the Firsts get all the wonderful melodic passages (ex. Second mvt of Tchaikovsky’s 5th). But in a string quartet, I think the best experience is being with a group where the 2 violins and viola are able to rotate (assuming all three can play viola). That way you can hear more and experience 3 of the parts for a deeper understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the music. Plus you become a better listener and that’s the key to being a true chamber musician.

March 21, 2022 at 04:58 AM · I would say that I prefer either first violin or viola, but would be happy playing second violin as well. In other words, I'm okay with anything.

In my area, orchestras and chamber groups seem to need violas more, and as important and critical as second violin is, I prefer first violin if I'm gonna play violin for something more different from playing the viola part, but still, I'm okay with anything.

March 21, 2022 at 08:48 AM · Back desk of seconds or front desk of violas.

March 21, 2022 at 12:29 PM · No question, second violin! And that was true for me even when I was seriously studying violin and practicing a great deal. Best seat in the orchestra, in my humble opinion: Principal Second.

March 21, 2022 at 01:18 PM · Voted second!. If it was a community orchestra (i.e. one that rehearses weekly), I'd happily play second. I have no interest in playing first at all at any point. My violin sight reading is appalling at the moment. In the one orchestra I play in currently, I play in the viola section and thats where I am most comfortable

March 21, 2022 at 02:53 PM · I've never played in an orchestra, but I have played viola in a couple of string quartets. I learned a delightful fact - like rock groups who need drummers and bass players, violas are needed when it comes to balancing string groups.

March 21, 2022 at 04:07 PM · I can go either with 1st violin or viola in my orch, but for chamber music, I am a violist all the way, like all of the great composers who played string instruments.

March 21, 2022 at 07:44 PM · I have played the viola in orchestras and in quartets, but have played violin 2 in quartets and occasionally violin 1 for light music - the latter is the real challenge as I don't regularly do this, but I have felt a benefit from playing different parts as it forces you to think of the separate roles and what we contribute to the whole.

March 22, 2022 at 12:21 AM · I would select playing viola. It is still considered the "black sheep" of the violin family, can I say "black" without being called a racist. Viola is the very bowles of the orchetra and it takes a certain personality to embrace the duties of this "lack luster" voice.

March 22, 2022 at 02:10 AM · For chamber music, I can go with 1st or 2nd. For orchestra, I preferred 1st - past tense, since I did orchestra only about 7 years, high school till near the end of my degree program.

My teacher said, “They’ll probably start you on 2nd violin [in high school]” - which they did. Not surprising - I was one of the youngest members of the group and had no previous ensemble experience. But I had started playing as a preadolescent kid and already had position-playing in my arsenal. Next semester, they kicked me upstairs to 1st.

When I played in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the CSO’s training school, during my degree program, we had some rotation. For the initial summer session, first afternoon, I was on 1st, still in my teens, and once again among the youngest members in the ensemble. My desk partner, 5-10 years my senior, asked me if I would trade chairs with him and become the “outside player” - the one who takes the top notes in divisi passages. I agreed to do so. He didn’t feel comfortable sight-reading “in the stratosphere of the instrument,” as he put it.

Another afternoon, I was slated to play 2nd; but the associate concertmaster asked me if I could come over to 1st - they were short-handed that day. I agreed. We sight-read through Sibelius’s Symphony 2 and Richard Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration). I found ‘Transfiguration’ far more challenging to sight-read - and so did my desk partner. Soon into the Allegro molto agitato, he took one look at the jagged downward run from high G and said, privately to me: “Oh, forget it!”

March 22, 2022 at 03:33 PM · I have always done a better job on 2nd violin or viola. Orchestra 1st violins spend a large part of their lives in the second octave of the E string. I have always had trouble finding and tuning those notes, especially without preparation, after a long-distance shift. Of course at the fully professional level every 2nd violin auditions on the hard 1st violin parts, and the winning violist can play R. Strauss on a large instrument with a loud, great C-string sound.

March 22, 2022 at 07:51 PM · I haven’t played in an orchestra, but play in a quartet and play both melody or harmony. It takes getting used to playing harmony, a different mind set for sure!

March 22, 2022 at 08:06 PM · I call myself The Accidental Violist, having been dragged into a community orchestra to fill a much-needed position. But I've stayed with it, realizing that, like 2nd violin, we fill in the harmonies and internal structure that brings music to life. Anyone can play melody - although when I look over at the first violins playing way up in what a friend calls "nose position", I shudder. That's scary high, and how do you count all those ledger lines in a hurry? (We violists just switch clef.)

When playing bluegrass fiddle, on the other hand, I do play melody (plus as many double stops as I can fit in for harmony) - but I still love to harmonize someone else's solo.

March 23, 2022 at 03:04 AM · If I ever land a semi-major orchestra gig, I hope it's in 2nd violin. Until then, 1st violin because it's more challenging and I need the experience. For string quartet, definitely 2nd violin. Better for the group that someone who can climb around the violin in their sleep play 1st, while I help with texture and harmonies (plus the occasional big 2nd violin moment).

March 26, 2022 at 10:32 PM · My daughter has taken whichever option is available, but at youth orchestra level she found herself mostly asked to be first (and became leader/concertmaster).

At university, after a term in firsts (behind an established and rather over-assertive leader) she has moved to lead seconds and is enjoying that - we will find out how it has worked out when we go to her concert this week (Sibelius 2).

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