Playing the second fiddle

Playing the second fiddle


I’m sure that we are all familiar with this saying and its derogatory connotations. It implies a role as a subsidiary one; lesser and not as good.

It is an unfortunate fact that it is often used in this way in school and amateur musical contexts. All musical directors must be aware of the issue of balance and of how important it is to get the ‘right’ balance in your ensemble so you can produce performances of the best quality.

Every part in a composition or arrangement is crafted to enhance the whole work. The roles of the various instruments and instrument groups are designed to make sure that this happens.

It is clear to everyone that the violins are spilt into two groups, first and second. All violinists are trained to play the instrument well and then, when playing in an ensemble, to fulfill either part as needed.

The first violins carry the melody more often and usually are required to play in the higher register. The second violins play the melody less frequently, but have an important role to support the firsts and provide the inner voices of the harmony and rhythmic drive of the piece. The second violins are also required to be more flexible and agile in the lower register.

In other instrument groups there are similar specific roles. In a stage band the first trumpet plays lots of high notes and the second trumpet takes the solos. The horns in an orchestra are also required to fill specialised roles. Generally there are two players on the higher parts (first and third) and two on the lower parts (second and fourth).

Musicians take many years to find their specialisation and perfect the repertoire and technique to successfully take their place in the whole ensemble. Playing second fiddle is an important and necessary function and must not be associated with being lesser.