I PLAY THE VIOLIN. CAN I STILL BE A ROCK STAR?
By Amy Cassaniti
Other than the family of percussion instruments, stringed instruments appear to be some of the oldest instruments played by humans. The successor to the harp and lyre of antiquity, the violin is thought to have been invented sometime around 1530. Almost immediately, the violin became a favorite instrument for classical composers. In fact, you would be hard pressed to name a significant classical composer who did NOT write for violin. Violins are the highest pitched string instrument which make them well suited to playing melody, as their tone rises above other companion instruments. So, you know, as a violin student, you will never want for great and varied selections to play on your instrument. But as satisfying as it is to play the music of past centuries, maybe you want to bring contemporary music into your repertoire.
Therefore, the question of the moment. As a violinist, can I be a rock star? Yes, yes, ABSOLUTELY YES! Uniquely American music forms – Bluegrass and Country music – have always relied heavily on violins or “fiddles” as their aficionados call them. But rock sets itself apart from other forms of music by relying more on percussion and strong beats. Still, a strong melody line is crucial. As versatile as a guitar, and as mentioned above, a violin is well-suited for playing melody. Rock bands who want to create a varied sound have often employed violin solos. The list below is not comprehensive, but here are some of the more noteworthy examples of chart-topping songs (in no particular order) which feature violin solos.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2
“Paradise” by Coldplay
“Rather Be” by Clean Bandit, featuring Jess Glynne
“Comatose” by Skillet
“Do Ya” by Electric Light Orchestra (virtually all of ELO’s songs feature violins)
“Ocean Avenue” by Yellowcard
“Paper in Fire” by John Mellencamp
“Sea of Joy” by Blind Faith
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
“Baba O’Riley” (aka “Teenage Wasteland”) by The Who
“Hurricane” by Bob Dylan
And the granddaddy of all rock violin solos, “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. If you have not heard these songs, you are in for a treat. Many of these solos are as technically challenging and interesting as any classical solos you may already know. Listen and enjoy and know that sheet music for many of these selections is readily available.
But wait. Wait. Wait, I hear you say. Those are songs in which a violin and violinist is FEATURED, but the violinist isn’t a prominent member of the band. Well, let us not forget the seventies chart topping band, Kansas. Kansas enjoyed its greatest success during the years of 1973-1984. Two of their more well-known songs, “Dust in the Wind” and “Point of Know Return” feature integral violin solos. And those solos were performed by Robby Steinhardt, who was a founding member of Kansas and a lead vocalist. Click on the link below to hear Steinhardt’s playing.
Steinhardt’s example is clear. Don’t wait for an offer to be featured on a rock song. Found your own band and get started rockin’ out on that violin!