During a feedback session on one of my compositions I was told that the first violins always get the first/more/better/complex notes and themes than the second violins. Even if it means that you would split a repeating part like this:

Second violins repeat themselves

to this:

First violins take over part A of the repeating pattern

I.e. as you can see there's a repeating phrase here. To me it looks logical to give it to the second violins and keep it there, but apparently not. Is this true? And is this something I need to take into account as a composer?

The person who told me this is a conductor, i.e. I can imagine that probably, on the floor, it will be spread out like in my 2nd example, but do I have to write it like this on paper too?

(FYI: the excerpt comes from a transcription I'm making of Andante in C minor, by Nicholas Britell)

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    In professional orchestras, first violins might be slightly better players, but everyone has to be able to perform at the top level. The differences between first and second violins is not nearly as much about skill as it is about sound. Seconds are farther back, usually a smaller section. So it’s not complexity that puts a part on the seconds, it’s sound and orchestration. And many times first and seconds play the exact same part. Nov 5, 2020 at 17:02
  • Personally if I want a smaller sound for a part I don’t see why I would put it on the firsts but lower the dynamics a step and/or ask only some of the firsts to play. I’d just put it on the seconds. Perhaps a conductor or orchestrator would disagree and make changes, that’s their job. As a composer I would want to specify my vision as closely as possible with the understanding that somewhere down the line someone is going to interpret it. Nov 5, 2020 at 17:06
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    @ToddWilcox to me it rather makes sense to keep the ostinato in a single section to give it its identity as an ostinato. The same argument applies if one substitutes "accompaniment" for "ostinato."
    – phoog
    Nov 5, 2020 at 17:17
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    @phoog Yeah that too! Excellent point. I mean the music pictured in the question could be given to the violas or celli instead if desired for reasons of orchestration and sound. Nov 5, 2020 at 19:00
  • The always get part is more a rule of thumb than a strict rule. There is no harm in violating it if it seems appropriate.
    – guidot
    Nov 5, 2020 at 21:08

1 Answer 1


You can split the parts up any way you want, there is no need to give all the complex parts to the first violins and all the easy ones to the seconds. In your example the accompaniment is the harder of the two parts. There will be a difference in spatial orientation between the two sections and maybe a very slight difference in sound. If you want to emphasize that, then you could use your second example. Otherwise it's much better to use your first example and keep the accompaniment in the second violins.

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