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1 String Writing (Introduction)

You can find some general introductory examples on this page. Further and more specific examples are organised as follows:

String instruments are played with a horsehair bow drawn across the strings by the right hand to make them vibrate. The left hand, meanwhile, ‘stops’ the strings in order to create different notes. This handout documents some of the effects that can be created on string instruments using a variety of techniques. Click here for information about the ranges of string instruments.

The LSO have done a rather good twenty-minute video on string techniques – well worth a watch.

As with any instrument, simply using a mixture of slurs and staccato can make a huge difference to the character of a melodic idea as in this example by Mozart:

Mozart String Quartet KV 157 I: bb. 1-8

01 Mozart

In Romantic music, the use of articulation is more intensive but to different effect. Look at Dvorak’s American Quartet (link to score) for a good example of later Romantic music.

In this earlier example from a Schubert string quartet the choice of articulation and dynamics creates the character of the music in a way that is more like the Mozart in many ways:

  • the fz markings add energy and emphasize the phrases the slurring in small groups of two and three in the second line create a more legato effect but create a more energetic delivery than longer slurs would
  • the semiquavers in the inner parts have no articulation and therefore are quite neutral


Schubert Op. 125/1 Allegro

02 Schubert

In music before the twentieth century, dynamics were most often used either to determine the general character of melodies or shape them. You will find lots of these type of dynamic markings in the examples of string quartets elsewhere on Moodle.

In this handout, the focus is mostly on special playing techniques, but even dynamics and ordinary articulations alone can create quite striking effects when used creatively.

In this Shostakovich quartet note the way in which the composer overlaps the entries so that the next note has already started underneath the accent.

Shostakovich Quartet op. 144 no. 15, second movement opening

03 Shostakovich

In the same quartet Shostakovich also uses striking contrasts of articulation, with pizzicato, held (tenuto) but separate notes at the beginning of the extract, a fully legato line accompanied by staccato stabs towards the end of the extract:

Shostakovich Quartet op. 144 no. 15, second movement fig. 29

04 Shostakovich

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