How do you practise octaves?

January 16, 2008 at 10:53 PM · Buri said in Jay's thread:

'Also consider two aspects of left hand security. Do you keep only 1 and 4 down? Would it help to have the second finger retsing lightly on the upper string?'

Jay replied

'I rest 2&3 lightly on the strings......'

How to play\practise\teach octaves is something I have been thinking about a lot recently.

Personally, I don't actually remember holding down or lightly resting any other fingers apart from 1 and 4 when I was at college, (and I see a lot of other people do the same) but am not sure that was the best route. A famous pedagogue here in Italy recommends the second finger being lightly on the upper string (so you are 'feeling' the sixth.) On the other hand there are those who hold the third finger and not the second finger on the string (can't remember who it is on the 'Art of Violin' who has a pretty pretty high flying second finger during octaves) .... and then there are those who tend to rest both middle fingers on the upper string.

So IS there a best way, or can it depend on the individual hand to some extent?

Also: if you are going to have three fingers on the upper string, does it matter what pattern they are falling in? 12 3 4 or 1 2 34 or

1 23 4. Probably 1 23 4 is the most comfortable.

Obviously I am talking about octaves in the lower positions, not when you get into 'nose-bleed' territory, as Jay puts it.

Thanks for any input


Replies (13)

January 17, 2008 at 03:00 AM · For me , second and third finger hover above the string. Usually, my hand is in a "1 23 4" pattern, but I don't actively think about it. It just happens naturally.

Most likely, it varies from person to person (something I would suspect). Obviously, you don't want your 2 and 3 fingers flying around in the air. Just do what works for you, as long as it feels natural.

January 17, 2008 at 03:32 AM ·

January 17, 2008 at 02:05 PM · My teacher Hadley Castille, famous for swing-style Cajun music, can finger an octave comfortably with 1&3, so he sometimes uses that when it helps in context for what comes next. Also means he can do turns & gracenotes a sounding octave. Way cool. When I see him this spring, I'm going to ask if he ever uses 2&4 for octaves. If you have a big hand, or especially a wide span across you palm or the base of the fingers, this "switched fingering" might work for you. Sue

January 17, 2008 at 10:47 PM · 1)chain system

2)put the not involved fingers to the board to not to generate additional effort

3)advice: more importance to lower note as for vibrato and intensity

January 18, 2008 at 03:27 AM · Greetings,

thats interesting. I follow Dounis` advice and keep the vibrato focus in the upper finger of a double stop. I wonder if it varies from person to person?



January 18, 2008 at 09:58 AM · Thanks for repies so far!

To be really specific I am interested in teaching and practising Kreutzer 24. I just spent a pleasant morning playing it:

1) 1-4 with middle fingers hovering,

2) with second finger down, in a major 6th pattern, (third finger not on string)

3)with 3rd finger down (second finger not on string)

4)both middle fingers on string in 1 23 4 pattern

For me, the most COMFORTABLE and most SECURE for intonation is second finger down.

My daughter (12)is working on this study and I asked her to try all the above ways (under protest of course) She tells me that she just want 1-4 down, but if she has to have anything else down it would be the second finger but in a minor sixth hand shape!!

I find having the second finger down more comfortable and secure, could this be a general rule, or no, because everyone's hand is sightly different? Or do we think we are comfortable with something just because we've always done it like that and never tried any other way for long enough?

One of the privileges of teaching is that you start questioning all the things you just did without thinking about it, and often find there are better ways! I am now a convert to keeping my second finger down (at least in Kreutzer 24!)

Ciao ....Antonio ...or Antonello? ...what happened ..did you shrink? Come si sta a Bari? Three weeks of grey skies here is not funny.

January 18, 2008 at 01:16 PM · Most important for accuracy is to practise one finger scales with both first and fourth finger separately, i.e. not double stopped as octaves.

January 18, 2008 at 01:41 PM · Tresa--

I notice that after I get past 5th position in octaves I have to lift my fingers off the strings(2 &3) because otherwise they push my octaves too far apart and I'm out of tune--fat fingers:(

January 19, 2008 at 10:54 AM · For me, a good way to practice easy movement and intonation in octaves is playing 1-4 flageolet scales, with and without vibrato. It greatly helped suppleness in arm, wrist and finger movements, as well as in finding just the right amount of pressure from the lower finger so that the note speaks easily while movement is not harmed by too much pressure. That way, you can concentrate on your intonation focus without tiring early.

Actual octaves I practice the usual way --

one-finger scales first with the other finger following silently, then 1-4/4-1/1-4 ...,

1-octave/1-octave ...,


then 1-octave/4-octave/1-octave ...,

then octaves,

then octaves with change 1+4/1+3 above 4th position

etc. etc.



January 19, 2008 at 02:42 PM · I have learned from practicing with my students during lessons, as well as from my own practicing, that it is very easy to become so absorbed in trying to find a double stop pitch, that one fails to notice that the *tone quality*, or momentary lack of it, may be making the search difficult, or nearly impossible. Often the unusable tone is caused by excessive bow pressure on one of the two strings, which in turn is caused by the bow hair losing contact with one string, and the violinist responding inappropriately.- - Instead of reacting to the dropout of one string by correcting the plane of the bow hair, he presses harder! He presses on the one string that is sounding until the hair meets both strings. Now he has seemingly corrected the problem of only one string sounding, but he has unwittingly killed the tone in the process! The violinist should re-train himself, to react to the dropout of one string by correcting the plane of the bow hair, rather than by pressing. The practical remedy for all of this can be as simple as practicing whole bows on a pair of open strings, with the goal of absolutely clear, rich and unforced tone from end to end of the bow. If one's standard of tone quality and clarity are high enough, this simple exercise might be more challenging than it seemed before trying it!

May 19, 2013 at 12:33 PM · Five years late, I know, but I found this video interesting on the subject of practising octaves:

He puts the emphasis on getting the first finger right, and also suggests placing the 3rd as a support to the 4th.

May 22, 2013 at 10:07 PM · As it turns out I've just joined the community! Will have a look at the website for practising octaves, thanks.

August 30, 2013 at 09:06 PM · My own teacher started octaves with a whole routine based on a one octave scale on one string. He would have you play the scale for every octave d.s., crossing the strings and including some rhythm variations, then practicing each shift 1/4 - 1/4. When you could do a three octave scale in octaves, you started doing pieces and etudes in octaves. It was a lot of work, but I did have great octaves if I do say so myself.

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