Do you play guitar?
Or bass, or another fretted instrument?
Then you know how useful those frets can be.
They make it so much easier to get each note exactly right.
If you’ve ever player a fretless bass, for instance, you know how much harder it is to get the note right, when you have to nail the finger position perfectly on your own.
So if you’re thinking of taking up the violin, you’ve probably noticed some violins without frets.
Are they all like that? Do violins have frets sometimes, or are they all fretless?
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the violin and frets. It turns out, the answer to our question is not just a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Table of Contents
- 1 Do Violins Have Frets?
- 2 Does A Violin Have Frets: Final Thoughts
Do Violins Have Frets?
Violins traditionally do not have frets, but many models today feature them. It is mainly electric violins that have frets. The tonal versatility of electrified violins offsets the reduced flexibility, while vastly improving the instrument’s playability.
The main reason violins do not possess frets is that the violinist can play far more nuanced sounds without them.
By adding frets to an instrument, the octave is perfectly divided and produces exactly 12 unique semitones. Violinists can find and play much smaller fractions of tones on a fretless instrument. Let
Why Don’t Violins Have Frets?
Neither the first luthiers, nor the majority of contemporary ones, thought that frets are needed on a violin. There are a number of reasons for that, but they all revolve around frets being a hindrance to the player.
For starters, you wouldn’t be able to play all the notes on a violin if it was fretted. Frets divide any given octave equally, enabling the player to hit a desired note more easily, but eliminating the ability to play half the semitones on the board.
Musicians who play fretted instruments can master them a bit faster, but that comes at the expense of their sense of accurate hearing. Such hearing is only developed when you have to use it to find the right notes.
With a fretted instrument, you can tell which fret is supposed to be played, but you would probably be puzzled if you had to cover a classical piece with extremely intricate parts.
In the end, violinists do not generally want frets on their instrument. It might be a bit more difficult to learn to play without them, but the advantages far outweigh that disadvantage. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons most violinists don’t want frets on their violins.
More Semitones To Play
First of all, the violin is a remarkably difficult instrument to master. Even though it is true that by adding frets to the instrument, you could find the notes more easily and play with improved clarity, the violin would lose the ability to produce more than half of the semitones.
Frets are meant to basically group semitones, so that wherever a finger is placed between the metal rods, the same tone is produced. It is almost impossible to imagine any classical violin music piece using such ‘squared’ tones.
Due to its lack of frets, the violin has even more notes you can play than even the piano with its 88 keys (sometimes less). But finding the exact note on the piano is as simple as pressing the right key. This is the main reason the violin is harder than the piano.
Fretch Are A “Crutch” for Playability
Using frets on a violin almost feels like cheating, but that’s not even remotely the main problem with it. If a player were to decide that the violin is a bit too hard to learn as it is and were to opt for a fretted violin, they would never be able to learn how to play the instrument properly.
As someone who began on a fretted Behringer bass and purchased a fretless Warwick more than a decade later, it felt like I never played an instrument in my life. Every mistake I made was painfully obvious and the notes I could swear I got right were completely off.
The playing method, not just the style, is so different when frets are on the board. Circling back to the ‘need’ for more possibilities on a violin, you could learn how to play a fretted one, but as soon as you pick a more traditional model, it will likely feel completely strange.
Opportunity To Develop A Better Sense Of Hearing
For a musician, the ability to discern even the most minute of details in every sound they hear is vital. This becomes apparent the more you play an instrument and the more you intentionally listen to music.
However, some people spend decades in bands and music groups without ever reaching their full ‘hearing’ potential. We’ve had it too easy with fretted guitars, basses, and similar instruments being the gold standard in pop, rock, and metal. Our ears are accustomed to ‘perfect’ notes.
Players who specialize in classical music are a bit different. A traditional violinist has such a refined sense of hearing that enables them to play with any musical group relying on their ears alone.
On a fretted instrument, you can either hit a correct or a wrong note. On a fretless violin, the margin for mistake is roughly quadrupled. As a result, violinists learn more about this expanded range of sounds as they play and make mistakes.
How Do Violinists Play Without Frets?
This is a legitimate mystery for musicians who have tried playing a fretless instrument for a couple of minutes and learned that their hand-eye coordination only works on a fretted one.
During the earliest stages of violin training, beginners learn how to play single notes on each string. Even though the neck of a guitar/bass is considerably taller than that of a violin, the latter can produce far more diverse notes, and the space between each semitone is measured in millimeters.
Violins have ‘position markers’, just like guitars and basses. The little ‘dots’ above the positions of certain notes (e.g. these would be single dots on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th, and two dots on the 12th fret on a guitar) tell violin players where to put their finger.
You need years of practice and extremely high finger dexterity to continue to play, however. Even if you know where to begin, these dots divulge very little about the exact positions of other notes.
Can You Play A Violin Like A Guitar?
When I bought my first (low-end) violin, I lacked the skill required to produce a single tone anywhere with the violin bow. While trying to establish if the instrument was faulty, I used my pick to pluck the strings while pressing them, and sound came out.
It is possible to play the violin like a guitar or bass, but there is a good reason this instrument is meant to be played fretless and with a horsehair bow – it simply sounds and feels different that way.
People who want to take the easier route shouldn’t waste time and money on such shortcuts. It would be much simpler to buy an electric fretted violin, grab a couple of effect pedals, and a good amp with multiple modes.
‘True’ violinists deserve all the respect for their hard work and commitment, but many people today do not need to completely give up simply because they haven’t started learning when they were 4 years old. A good electric violin with frets can be a good compromise.
Does A Violin Have Frets: Final Thoughts
Violins do not usually have frets. You can find some violins with frets, but most players prefer them without. IT is true that frets make finding the exact notes easier, but the disadvantages outweigh the advantages for most violinists.
With no frets, you have far more semitones at your disposal. You need those to lay many classical pieces. Not having frets also trains your hearing, which is an invaluable skill as a musician.