Violin Lesson #2 for Absolute Beginners: How to Pluck & Learning the 4 Open Strings

Jan 19, 2021
NYC Violin Studio's Free Violin Lesson for Absolute Beginners

Just starting out on violin? Watch Lesson #1 to learn how to properly hold the violin in playing position. Once you've gotten that down, it's time for the next step, learning how to pluck.


 Plucking, or, pizzicato, as it is formally known, is one of two ways to play the violin. The other way to play is to use the bow (formally termed arco.)

To pluck the violin, you are going to use your right index finger. Use the flesh (pad) of your finger, not the nail. Pluck about an inch and a half higher than the end of the fingerboard (meaning, in the direction closer to the scroll).

This is also a great time to learn your open strings. "Open" means you are not stopping the string with a finger from your left hand. It's just the sound of the string, as-is.

Practice this lesson to master the 4 strings on the violin. Spend about a week on it (or perhaps slightly less, if you get it down quicker), and then advance on to the next lesson!

Happy Practicing!



Here's what we covered in the lesson. This is for the visually impaired in case you can't understand me or see the closed captions, or if you just prefer to read what happened in the lesson, or if you can't watch the video.

Hi guys, Antoinette here. I wanted to teach you violin. So here I am. I'm doing this as a live stream because I like it better. I feel like it's more natural and I even get to answer your questions, if you're able to catch this live.

So as it says in the title today is going to be your second violin lesson. Yesterday we covered how to hold the violin, where you're putting the violin here on your left shoulder right and on your left collarbone. You're holding the violin up and keeping the strings parallel to the ground. You don't want to be out to the side like this. You want to be about 45 degrees in the middle between the violin sticking out straight in front, and the violin being way out on the side. (Over your left foot.) This is the other way you want to be about in the middle with your jaw on the chin rest, but you already know that because came yesterday or you already know, or, you going to try to catch it later.

So, today I wanted to show you the next step in case you've never touched the violin or let's say you taking a really long break, and you're saying to yourself, "I just need to start over." A lot of people say that to me, and it's not totally true. You have retained a lot of the information that you've learned in the past.

This is a book that I wrote to get adults who are Absolute Beginners to play faster because it doesn't need to take that long to get rolling. Okay, so we're going to jump down to Lesson 1, Learning to pluck the four open strings.

What's an open string? We have four strings right? So, open means it's vibrating from the bridge here to the nut unchanged by the left-hand finger. So when you play and you put your finger down, you're making a new nut basically (where the string meets the fingerboard, near the pegs), where you make that the new stopping point. The string becomes shorter, and it's a new sound. So open means no fingers. I can even hold the violin from the bout (the curvy part near the top). I could like this if I really wanted to (no hands). Okay, but what it means is you're not changing the length of the string. Guitars use the same term. But if you're already a string player of some kind, you already know that.

Alright so I'm going to teach you how to pluck, it's the first thing that people usually start with. What you're going to do is you're going to come into playing position, with the violin on your left shoulder. What I usually tell my students is to hold the bout here, this curvy part. And basically, if your chin rest is on the left side, which it probably is if it's not in the center,  you're going to go diagonal, you're going to hold it up here, because let's say you were sitting down and this was on your knee (in resting position). Then you would just lift the violin straight up, and put it into playing position while continuing to hold the upper bout nearest the E string. Because if you hold it with your hand over the fingerboard, sometimes the hand can lay on top and get in the way, and it cuts the sound.

Okay, so I'm going to show you not only how to pluck but what the four strings are, and how to learn them. Okay, so it's really simple. Here's what you're going to do. Keep the violin up, make sure your hands not in the way, take your right hand and make the OK symbol, where your thumb and forefinger touch. Now open up those two fingers about two inches wide, and keep that space open the whole time.

Take your thumb. Put it on the corner of the fingerboard, so not the bridge, you don't want to touch the bridge. You're on the right corner of the fingerboard. And then, (keeping that space in between your fingers is really important), you're gonna take your index finger on your right hand and you're gonna grab the string, and pull the string to the right. So that's a pluck! So there we go. Our first note.

So remember you want to use the flesh, not the nail. Now, if you have long nails you have to...well, first of all, you should probably cut your nails if you're going to play violin, and secondly, you're going to not use that nail and you're going to use the soft part of the finger, the fleshy part (the pad). Otherwise, it's going to sound doinky. Doink doink doink.

You don't want that. You want a nice, soft sound, unless maybe one time you're writing music and you want it to have another sound, then by all means, do what you want to. I'm just showing you the basics.

Okay, so that's it! That's how you pluck. Now I've done this at times where I don't use my thumb, and that's ok. But this is usually the way that people do it, is they grab the corner.

Okay, so why don't we do one pluck on each string. So we're going to do this string all the way on the left. And the string next to it on the right. Then this next string. And then this thinnest string.

Now let's go over the notes. In this book, which I have hidden on this stand back here, it goes over these exercises that I'm going to show you. We can't really do them in their fullest form because of the live stream, but they can be done either live or inside of the online course that I have.

So go we're going to jump to the notes. Now if you've never read notes on a staff before, do not be intimidated. What's the staff? Well, it's those five lines that you see right there. Okay, so we got five lines, not that scary. It's going to be okay, I promise you.

So in the book you can see that when you see this note down here, that's G, so you're going to memorize that. So, when you see this note, you're going to look over here at this kind of picture of the bridge. So if you're holding the violin and looking down it. So it is going to be on left-most side. That's G. And then if you keep looking at the chart, from left to right it's G, D, A and then E. But I don't expect you to remember that right now. We are going to practice it!

But that is what happens. So what you would do is you would look at that first note. So you're gonna say what note is that? Well, it's on the space below the first line. So let me find that. Okay well here it says D.  Then we look at the other chart and we say, "Okay, well I guess it's the second one over from the G."

Alright so let's start practicing. The first one is indeed D and I wrote it that way because D is one of the most common notes that I'm going to start you with. I want you to memorize the spot where it is on the staff.

You can learn violin, without reading music, yes. But you'd be a little bit sorry. You actually would be very limited as to what you can pick up and play. Unless your goal is just to play by ear in which case, yeah I guess technically you don't have to read music, sure. But I just think that there's so many, you know, books and pieces, and it's just so much faster to look at the paper and play what's there. Sorry, I'm rambling because I haven't heard anything from anyone so if you have any questions or you want to say hi, please leave a comment or leave a like, so that I know you're there. And I also want to help! Give me your questions even if it's something that's not included in this topic, and I'll cover it later. So, here we go. We got D.

So we're going to go like this: we're going to get a count off of 1234 at the speed that we want to go, and then we're going to play it.  If you're not looking at any paper, here is how I would describe it: So you notice that the strings are thick, and then a little bit thinner, a little bit thinner and then really thin. So the thicker string, that's our lowest string. That's G. I'll leave that alone for the moment.

And then the one to the right of it is D. So that's the one we're going to play right now.

Get your finger ready. Grab that D, and here we go.
1 2 3 4 D D D D. And then it says rest, so you'd have a bit of silence for that moment.
And then D again. D, D, D.

Then there is another measure of rests. A measure is a section of music. Each of these measures have four beats in each of them and that's the most common thing you're going to see is four beats.

Okay, what is a beat? The smallest unit of time in music. Just like in regular time clock time, the smallest basic unit is a second, obviously. In music, it's a beat.

Now in the book, we have a duet. But obviously, I can't play that with you right now because I don't know what's happening over there. I'd need a little feedback.

So let's play number two. Okay. So number two is going to be the second line. So we have four rests, and then four notes, and then four rests, and then four more notes. And remember, a rest is one beat of silence. 

Rest rest rest rest | D D D D | rest rest rest rest | D D D D

This is pretty easy, right? If you are tracking with me and you know what to do, then this will be easy. Actually I think this will be easy for anyone. So let's go on to three.

Three is A and E.
So, A string. We see here on the third spot on the chart, that's where A is. Then this one is where E is, the smallest string and the most delicate string, all the way up here on the staff. Remember as you go up the staff, right, you have G D A E. So as you do that of course the notes go higher and higher and higher. If you say "I'm going higher on the staff" you're also going higher in pitch, as well. So it's the same thing.

On the violin, when you're going from low to high, you're going from left to right. Lowest on the left-most open string to highest on the right-most open string. So the reason I'm explaining all this is because I'm on a few different mediums here so I just want to make sure you have a full and complete understanding.

Okay, so number 3.
(Count in) 1 2 3 4 
A A rest rest | E E rest rest. |Here's the tricky part. You rest two more 1 2  and then E E | Rest rest A A.

You know, I never thought I could talk so much about pluck. Honestly, I didn't think that was going to happen. Alright, so I'm going to skip ahead because I feel like this format isn't the most interesting way that we could do it but I did want to show you about plucking.

So let's just jump to number eight here, which is all the notes in order. So number eight we got G G D D A A E E so lowest to highest. You can see it going up. And yes, the stem does flip after you hit the middle line. The stem will point the other way and faces down, I think just for space-saving considerations.

Here we go.
(Count in) 1 2 3 4
G G rest rest | D D  rest rest | A A rest rest | E E rest rest.

Now of course you're violin does have to be in tune for it to sound like mine. I have one tuning video out. I plan on doing others, but comment, let me know if you would like me to do that sooner rather than later.

Let's do it again. 1234.
(Count in) 1 2 3 4
G G rest rest | D D  rest rest | A A rest rest | E E rest rest.

Now, there are way more fun things we can do with this in the book. And in the course that I have for this. You can play with me so both parts playing.

You can pick one person to play with in the video and hear both parts to do it. And that's really fun. So I think that's pretty much it for today. Any questions that I'm missing here? I don't see any yet, so I'll just say thanks for joining. And if you're watching this after the fact, please leave a comment.

And, I would really love to hear your feedback. I want to hear what you want to know more about. And if you're not already following me or subscribed to me and you want to learn violin, I would say, do it, because I'm going to be doing a lot more of this. In fact, I'm going to be doing this every single day for a while, because I want to teach you more advanced violin stuff and if you are not ready for that, then I can't teach it to you!

So I want to get you zoomed up to a more advanced level as soon as I can so that you can join me on the more fun stuff like cool songs and the famous pieces. I have group classes that are about to start on February 2nd. And if you don't know how to play violin you can't join, so I wanted to kind of start giving you a taste of it so that you can join me soon in my really fun group classes.

Right now they're online so anywhere in the world you can join me. I really hope that you do, if you already know how to play, or you want to get back into playing. I highly recommend checking out my website, so that you can find the right class for you if that's something you want to do. But I would love to have you. I really feel like this is a good resource for people because I put a lot of practice videos up for the material recovering, and there's a concert at the end.

That's it for now. Happy practicing!