Most of everyone knows I play an acoustic 5ing violin, even though I don’t treat it as such. When I first started playing the violin with the newly added, and sometimes controversial, 5th string I wanted to ensure that I didn’t over-use the string as if a new toy or gimmick. Something of this nature, an innovation of sorts, needs to be handled with care as to not allow it to become something that sticks out as a thorn. Rather, the fifth string should be treated as an equal member of the family. A 1/5th component of a larger unit. If this mind set isn’t adopted, the addition string becomes over played and subject to auditory abuse.
A common question that arises is whether the technique of the 5ing player is different than that of a traditional player? The answer is, yes. Although, maybe not as drastically of a difference as you might think. The main technical difference is mainly in the openness and reach of the left hand fingers. This is obvious due to that new string you have to accommodate for. As for the right hand, the strings are often closer together. This can make string crossing either easier or far more difficult. Easier in the sense that there is less distance between strings. More difficult in the sense that you can no long rely on that G string as your bottom string. These adjustments are easily adapted once some practice is had. Julie Lyonn Lieberman said that, “Playing a four string and a five string fosters the development of spatial acuity in the right brain, creat(ing) a vital and useful mental heirarchy betwen the motor cortices and both hands.” Chiming in, Daryl Silberman feels that the five string was best for students that was “specifically interested in the technical challenges” of a 5ing violin. In other words, after you beat the “4ing level” you can go on to the “5ing” level? I believe, and know first hand, that playing a 5ing is extremely building of character. Also, the creative component is inspiring.
Although you can do a very many fun musical things with a 4ing, one more string couldn’t hurt. The covenant C string adds a new way of looking at the instrument and the approach to performance. Like a child that has jut received the colour turquoise to add to is crayon collection, a musician with a 5ing is just the same. The crafty use of the new string is found in conscious use, lest everything become turquoise. Nevertheless, this new colour allows for new ideas to emerge, now that the opportunity has been given. To be clear, I don’t think every violinist has thought “I wish I had another strong.” Rather, the new ideas are exciting due to the new string’s availability. Therefore, this creative availability establishes new thought processes and instrument exploration. Now there are options to explore the other areas of the instrument in relationship to the new string. The entire creative landscape alters as the mind can expand along with the music.
As a colleague of mine stated, “The five string; the wanna be viola” The 5ing can offer some appreciation for the violin’s close family member the viola. As if to transport you to another world, you can suddenly read two new clefs. When playing the 5ing we are able to understand playing from the violist point of view, or at least a good sense of it. This is both humbling and character building at the same time. As this perspective grows collaborating with violists might become easier and simpler.
Whether you agree with the 5ing alteration or not, I hope everyone can see the many benefits that accompany attempting the 5ing experience. I truly believe that any challenging experience builds musical character and creative development. In the case of the 5ing violin, the truth lies in practice. The rewards in the results. The inspiration in the creation.
(Article originally featured on Violinist.com)
Live your passion deliberately!
With deep appreciation,