What Is a String Quartet? - Definition, Instruments & Arrangements

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  • 0:01 Definition of a String Quartet
  • 0:29 Instruments in a…
  • 0:55 The Violins and Viola
  • 1:51 The Cello
  • 2:09 String Quartet Musical…
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erika Svanoe

Erika has taught several college music courses and has a doctorate of musical arts in conducting.

In this lesson you will learn about the instruments that make up a string quartet. You will also learn about the music a string quartet plays, including original music and arrangements.

Definition of a String Quartet

A string quartet is a group of four musicians who are performing together playing specific stringed instruments. The 'string' in string quartet refers to the fact that all of the instruments in the group make a sound by using vibrating strings. The word quartet means that there are four musicians in the group. There are four players in a quartet, just like there are four quarters in a dollar. The term 'string quartet' can also refer to a piece of music written for that group of musicians.

Instruments in a String Quartet

A string quartet is made up of specific string instruments. The four instruments played in a string quartet include two violins, a viola, and a cello. All of these instruments are played by either plucking the strings or by using a bow. A bow is a long, thin piece of wood strung with horse hair that is rubbed against the strings of the instrument, causing them to vibrate and produce musical notes. Let's take a closer look at each of these instruments.

The Violins and Viola

The violins are the smallest instruments in a string quartet. They typically play the highest notes in the music. There are two violins in a string quartet. The parts these instruments play are usually called the 'first violin' and 'second violin.' The first violin usually plays the highest notes in the string quartet and often plays the melody more regularly than the other players. The first violin part is often more technically difficult than the second violin part, and the first violinist is often considered to be the leader of the quartet. The second violin usually plays notes lower than the first violin, but higher than the viola.

The viola is the middle-sized instrument of the sting quartet. It looks very similar to the violin and is played in a similar manner by resting the instrument under the player's chin. However, it is built slightly larger than a violin and has a deeper, broader tone. It usually plays notes in the middle range, usually lower than the second violin but higher than the cello.

The Cello

The cello, also called the violoncello, is the largest instrument of the string quartet. It is so large that it cannot be held like the violin or viola and must rest on the ground and be played between the player's legs. It can play the lowest notes of all the instruments in the quartet and often fulfills this role.

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