How do you practice double stops?

January 14, 2007 at 06:05 AM · My daughter is just now starting to take scales in 3rds, 6th and ocataves out of the Carl Fleshe book. The 6ths and octaves don't seem to be that much of a problem, but the 3rds are becoming frustrating for her to play.

She plays them separately, then together...How do you practice double stops?

Any suggestions would be helpful.. I'm just mom.

Replies (35)

January 14, 2007 at 06:33 AM · Thirds can be frustrating. I got an extra dose because I started them with an injured hand. So,

what I find beyond what anyone else may share, is to approach them very slowly, and methodically--and equally importantly, patiently.

I think, if it were me, I'd not only not do more than three minutes a day, but I'd separate the minutes in such a way as like 1:15 at one point in the practice, and two more rounds of the 1:15 at other points. The extra :45 is to get set and focused.

Now, I'm not sure how quickly one's program with these should develop--that's a question your child's teacher might answer; but, it's my feeling that not only double stop thirds, but other potentially frustrating elements like upbow staccato ought to be approached very patiently for just as long as one can reasonably muster.

I too found sixths fairly easy, but I'm just now getting some fluidity in thirds after a long time--for various reasons. But to answer your question about how, I do five series of partial scales at this point on each combination of strings. That's just my way though, and there are other alot more methodical approaches.

So if your child has smallish hands, you might start on E/A, and work slowly across to make the experience as least aggravating as possible. I originally started on A/D, and later found that practicing on E/A helped me with my spacing alot more effectively.

January 14, 2007 at 09:56 AM · Yo mom,

Easy... Start by telling her the process of "ear training" for thirds -- there is a listening value that needs to be enhanced.

Notice that 6ths are just thirds with a fourth added -- so, 1-2, instead, put 4-2 and you get the third. those are fingers...


So like, lets start with a G major third scale..

Make her play, open D, then the B natural under. So, Deee, Beee.. then dee bee together. do it up the scale, with one fingers 3-1/1-3. Push it a little more with 2-4/4-2. She should be able to get really proficient in hearing the tones.

Tone quality -- thirds have a tone quality that makes it ring. The STRUCTURE of the note has to be in tune with it's corresponding Fourth.

So try this exercise -- a bit advance.

Start, open double stop G and D.

then tell her to add one finger at a time, BUILDING the third.

So, G and D, then A and D, ask her to listen for the fourth, and tell her to let the instrument ring -- it will. Then ask her to play, B natural and D. there is a third, based on a fourth... As long as the fourth is in tune, you notice the third just sounds tremendously better and MORE in tune.

Go on by playing a B natural and E natural, ask her to listen to the pure fourth, then C natural and E natural... there is another third.

Keep doing this up the scale. Notice there are some augmented fourths -- make sure she knows when they come. This is important especially when she gets to Ysaye Sonatas, where he uses augmentations that hard to hear out.

Good luck to her, and if you need more exercises. Ask.

By the way, this is tedious slow ear training work... but it works wonders... wonders.


January 14th 2007

omg, this is so incoherent, but I'll let it stand -- wrote while drunk.

January 14, 2007 at 08:27 AM · I've been doing my own version of what Vince said for several years now. My intonation and tone have improved 1000% by doing it.

January 14, 2007 at 09:58 AM · HEhe, but I made this up and have a method of teaching it.

Plus multiple exercises on this. Fun..

Sleep now

January 14, 2007 at 01:42 PM · SCales and Kreutzer.

January 14, 2007 at 11:14 PM · Greetings,

Jodi, I wrote my most recent blog for you. I hope it is of some use.



January 15, 2007 at 12:57 AM · Sorry for the earlier messages.

Buri brings up a good point about engineering your fingers.

In playing in the left hand, the singular most important thing is to push for flexibility, dexterity (in movement) and individuality of function (for example, fingers 1 and 4 seem to be what I refer to as anchor fingers).

So mom, before you even start thirds, make sure that her fingers are strong enough to do these thirds. Make sure her pinky doesn't collapse, her movement between fingers is fluid, and there is a sense of balance in her playing.

Though I agreed partly with Buri's blog, I disagree that sixths are easier.

Sixths are not that easy to get in tune either -- thus as I stressed, it important to practice relationships between sixths, thirds, and fourths as well -- octaves are a pitch matching ordeal.

oh mom... make sure that her fingers don't "touch" when she is playing thirds. No finger dependency...


January 15, 2007 at 05:10 PM · For thirds I have used two exercise texts--Sevcik as well as Bytovetski. The mental exercises in Bytowetski are particularly useful because they force yuou to hear the tones before you play them.

January 15, 2007 at 08:07 PM · There's more than one difficult thing going on here. First is that the thirds can be harder to hear than the bigger intervals. Second, the fingering feels comparatively uncomfortably scrunched-together. Third, for anyone who likes to play a slightly raised third and seventh step in a major scale, etc., getting thirds to sound in tune can mean adjusting fingers to play in tempered-scale steps.

January 15, 2007 at 08:33 PM · Speaking of playing big thirds and big sevenths--the end result is that I tend to hear octaves sharp as you get up into nosebleed territory--7thy posiyion and higher. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

January 15, 2007 at 08:57 PM · Are you playing the upper position octaves 1-4 or 1-3?

January 15, 2007 at 09:56 PM · I've started playing 1-3 bewcause it's a bit easier that way but the problem isn'tmy fingers the problem is that I hear the top of the octave sharp.

January 15, 2007 at 11:09 PM · Greetings,

pracitce it an octave or two lower until you have retrained your mental conception. Very useful practice method,



January 15, 2007 at 11:34 PM · Sue, you're actually wrong about the thirds being scrunched together.

They actually aren't. Sixths are even more scrunched and they are just as tricky to get in tune. When you have thirds, it is easier to relate those two notes.

like, c-e, rather than having to jump up high, such as c-higher a.

just wanted to point that out.


January 17, 2007 at 03:21 PM · Thank you for all the advice. Her teacher did some explaining about hearing the overtone from the double stops and keeping the fingers relaxed. She is playing the C scale right now and is not yet going all the way up the scale. I forgot about keeping the 4th finger relaxed. I must say that it is good ear training... but when not played well... makes me want to drink (I am not a drinker haha)

Thanks again


January 17, 2007 at 08:21 PM · Thirds are tricky. Thanks Vince--this is a new method I've never heard of before--I'm trying to visualize it and put it into practice. It's inspired me to re-evaluate my intonation on thirds. It seems fairly logical. I wish I could understand logical things . . .

January 17, 2007 at 08:45 PM · Vince,

Interesting ideas about thirds. I like the idea of 4th coming into play.

I start double-stops-ear training by doing scale tetrachords with adjacent open strings. I start this asap with my beginners or anyone new to my studio.



January 17, 2007 at 09:30 PM · Ah hah . . . I'm slow but I got it, Vince. You're teaching me something I already knew but didn't know I knew.

Just came out of the practice room and I realized when I'm working to get passages with double stops in tune, I'm not listening to individual notes. I've learned to hear each chord as a singular entity the same way I learned to hear one note before I could play double stops. I'm listening to the tonal value of the chord rather than the individual notes that make up that chord--am I right?

Is this the "STRUCTURE" you were talking about--training yourself to hear the chord itself?

An analogy: if you had perfect pitch and each pitch stood out to you like a color, D=blue E=red B=green etc., then by training that ear even further, you would hear Bb/D=aqua and C#/A=red-orange etc.--right? Just more colors.

I notice this works mechanically too . . . your hand becomes accustomed to chord structures--like a guitarist.

January 17, 2007 at 10:07 PM · Also, though I want to learn what Vince wrote(another point), I use the keyboard to help me--sort of cheating, but... I program a scale in midi.

January 17, 2007 at 10:58 PM · Greetings,

there is nothign innovative about about using 4ths to pracitce thirds whatsoever. It has been aorund since time immemorial. One of the most efifcient verisons of this exervcise is described in Ronkin`s `Fundamental Secrets of Soviet Masters.`You can get that from Shar.



January 18, 2007 at 05:21 AM · HAHA, I never said it was innovative.

But like I said, I have a great ear -- and I made all that up.

So, I guess I'm a Russian Master as well.

Thanks for making sense of all that.

yeah, you hear a ringing, very vibrant quality. It helps super duper a lot with your Bach...

And I'm not a good teacher because I'm innovative, rather because I'm perceptive, smart, expressive, and a good communicator. Plus, I have an excellent ear and high musical tastes. It's a thing a book can't encapsulate, I'm sure.

Have fun guys, and don't let Buri bring you down -- he's a butt sometimes, as the community has pointed out to me.


January 18, 2007 at 05:57 AM · Greetings,

have flagged the above post because of abusive language.



January 18, 2007 at 04:39 PM · Okay, I understand Buri, but I really think life would be more free and fulfilling if we would all take a minute to go eat some prunes.

Or, better yet, live life on the wild side and go drink some prune juice! I find my thirds come much faster when I've had a glass . . .

Vince, and Buri, for that matter--am I on the right path with these? Is that essentially what you are trying to train your ear to do when you practice fourths to get your thirds? (see my previous post).

I can perform thirds, but I don't know how I do it, and I am trying to learn some new tactics for my students' sake.

January 18, 2007 at 06:23 PM · I'm a bit scared about being flagged for saying something stupid. So I'll just say this.

Using fourths for "structure" is for your hands -- Play Bartok Quartets, you'll see what I mean.

Using fourths for listening purposes is for your intonation. If you can't hear the fourths -- listen to the Sonatas and Partitas more... And Ysaye.


January 18, 2007 at 06:58 PM · Okay, Thanks, Vince. I'm afraid I'm going to need your "Thirds Course for Dummies." I'm still not understanding this.

How are you more in tune playing a third because the fourth is in tune??? And how is the fourth in tune when you're playing a third? Are we talking overtones here? You're not playing the fourth, you're playing a third . . .

i.e. you play first finger A (G string) with open D--a perfect fourth. Now you play B natural and D--your third. Now you've lost me--how is that more in tune because it's based on the fourth--just because you played a fourth before you played a third, it makes it more in tune????

I can run an exercise where I play fourths and their corresponding thirds all the way up the scale, but I don't see how that helps me improve my thirds--just structurally helps my hand figure out where it's supposed to be?

I guess the basic question is this: if I'm playing a third, what does a fourth have to do with it? I'm a very simple girl, Vince. You tell me to play my thirds in tune, I do it. I don't question, I just listen until it sounds right, and I play it that way. So what is it about a fourth that makes the third sound "right?"

All this thinking is wearing me out, but it's important I understand this, so thanks for the help.

January 18, 2007 at 08:40 PM · My daughter's teacher said 4ths are easier to hear because they are perfect 4ths also 5ths are good too.

I will tell you that all these doublestop training and listening has improved my ear training that I am more sensitive to intonation. I hope my daughter becomes more intonation sensitive as well.

January 18, 2007 at 10:07 PM · Oh, don't wear yourself out.

Well, I have this theory that I sort of realized over the years from playing violin and viola.

Everything up high, really really really depends on everything you play down low.

So, though this is a basic exercise, you've got some of the ideas that are concerns for complex playing. It is for your intonation, your hands... all that.

This is not a dummies thing.

I personally think the simplest things create the most complex results and you should keep that in mind.

Just do my exercises, and do it well, to the point of being able to play that way consistently, going up a scale at a faster tempo.

Eventually, just take out the fourths, and play the thirds... you'll notice either -- you've improved intonation all the way up, or you are still off (meaning your ear hasn't conditioned itself). It's constant work.

Even the best of violinists have problems -- this is just the most advance and demanding way to make sure you're in tune.


P.S. Even thirds to me, have a beautiful ringing quality when they are in tune. I was listening to Kaler's Ysaye, and in Ballade, he goes a little out of tune with the theme -- I think he might have done it on purpose. It's very slight, but after doing my fourths/thirds exercises, you should be able to hear it, that there is a tension, and it's just a little little off. God I love his Ysaye. Listen carefully.

January 19, 2007 at 03:12 AM · I love Ysaye too--have you heard Rabin's recording? I will listen carefully, and I will do your exercise.

After playing around with it a bit today, I can see how it will improve my control over tonal values--I say that because I believe one can use intonation for color. Sometimes a hair off adding tension is just what you want! Normally not.

June 16, 2007 at 03:14 PM · Either I haven't read the thread carefully enough, or it's too elementary, but it's worth pointing out to your daughter that not all thirds are made equal. Some are small, some are large. It's fun for a child to puzzle out which is which, and it helps in learning where to put the fingers.

The same applies to sixths, and tenths, of course:)

Besides, Prof S. ( has a great video on thirds.

On a more sentimental note, I recently picked up my copy of the Carl Flesch book again, to practice scales in thirds. It still had the dates marked when I was first given them: May 1966!

Eleven seems to be the perfect age for this.



June 16, 2007 at 04:32 PM · 1) play the single note of the chord and than the chord just to memorize the intonation.

2) the best system to study consecutive cords is the "chain system" consisting in playing in the same bowing the consecutive chords


where the chords in between brakets have to be played in the same bowing.

This was taught by my teacher and it works pretty well!!!

Hope it will be helpful.


June 16, 2007 at 08:22 PM · From a technical point of view, I find it helps if you put more weight on the higher numbered finger. For instance, when playing fingers 1 & 3 put more weight on the 3rd finger, and when playing fingers 2 & 4 put more weight on the 4th finger.

When playing 3rds the elbow will need to swing to the right more than when playing 6ths, so that the 4th finger can reach the string.

By the way, in what way is your daughter struggling with the 3rds?

June 17, 2007 at 06:52 AM · ... I suggest practissing thirds by Ozim's method: you hold one third (31)and then you take fourth with second finger (32) and then again third with fourth finger (42). When the thing is in tune, you start to change fingers like: you hold a third finger while the first and the second fingers are changing. You do the same thing with holding the fourth and third and fourth fingers are changing.

It's not easy to write that thing... Specially if you are not good in english :) ...


June 16, 2007 at 10:46 PM · Regarding intonation, I think that 3rds sounds best when they are all played using natural intervals.

To test that the major 3rd is in tune, you should be able to hear an undertone 2 octaves below the lower note. With the minor 3rd you should be able to hear an undertone 2 octaves and a major 3rd below the lower note. These undertones are easier to hear when playing up high.

Also, it is important to know which open strings will be in tune with your scale (assuming you've tuned your violin to natural 5ths). If you are playing the C major scale, I would recommend intonating the C to the open G string. Therefore your 1st notes (C and E) will be harmonically lower than the A and E strings. When you play the F and A, the A should be harmonically lower than your A string. Therefore, the G and D strings are the only strings you can use to test this scale with. If you play the E major for example, you'd most likely intonate the E to your E string, in which case you would only test this scale against the A and E string.

December 20, 2009 at 03:25 PM ·

This has been a really helpful thread to read.  I am battling with the same problems in thirds and sixths.  Please feel free to shoot me down in flames on this, but I have found that memorizing a "formula" for spacings between notes when playing scales in thirds has helped.  For instance, if I play a C major scale in thirds on just the A and E strings, I recall how many semitones there are between notes in each case.  A bit tricky when open strings are involved, though.  For a major scale, I try to remember 4 3 3 4 4 3 3 4.  I know this doesn't tell you which finger to advance one or two semitones, but it seems to help.  I try to memorize similar "formulas" for minor scales.  If anyone feels this is counter productive, by all means let me know.  Like everyone else, I just want to get it right eventually and I'll try anything that may work.

December 20, 2009 at 07:14 PM ·

The best advice is to finger both notes together but to bow only one string at a time. Then repeat bowing just the other sting, remembering to finger both of the notes. Thiis allows the ear to hear each individual line, making adjustments. Remember pitch tendenecies and then play both strings together. Practicing this way without fingering both notes while listening to one string at a time, will do little, but doing repetitions fingering both nots bowing one at a time will do wonders.

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