Double Stop Octaves

March 7, 2010 at 12:15 AM ·

We are a little confused. This is with regards to Carl Flesch Scales no. 8, double stop scales.

We have one teacher  told us that double stop octaves should be low note loud, high note soft, like an echo. We have another teacher say that both notes should be even.

What do teachers here think? And why?

(Just to clarify, we are not having 2 teachers at the same time. They are in different cities- we moved.)


Replies (26)

March 7, 2010 at 01:00 AM ·

I prefer the lower note be slightly louder than the top note.

March 7, 2010 at 01:10 AM ·

What is the musical context?  For example, in a passage expressing anxiety, emphasis on the high note may achieve that expression.  In a calm passage, emphasis on the low note may help. Practice to get bow control either way, and in between - even.  Perform it in the context of the emotion that you think the music expresses in that phrase.

March 7, 2010 at 04:28 PM ·

I suppose it could depend on the music/passage you're playing at the time but I would tend to agree with the second teacher that both notes ought to sound equally loud. 

If octaves were to sound like the 1st teacher suggested, lower note louder than higher note then then that would make the Mendelssohn Violin concerto (E minor one with the octave passages on 1st page) sound a little odd!!

To be on the safe side, I would have both notes sounding equally loud and adjust only when the music requires it.


March 8, 2010 at 03:26 AM ·

Thank you for all the responses. Appreciate it.

So we play according to context of music. But what about when playing scales, how do you practice?

March 8, 2010 at 03:34 AM ·


you practice with more weight on the lower string because it is thicker and very sluightly harder to get a repsonse from.  Kind of like my cat...



March 9, 2010 at 04:54 PM ·

Acoustically, the lower note gives richness and a solid foundation by which to judge the upper note. We tested this in the last movement of the Borodin String quartet # 2. and was also true of that Mozart Divertimento ( No. 1 I believe) in the slow movement between the first and second violins. When the lower note was louder than the higher note of the octave, the notes sounded better together- in tune and with a nice body to the sound. The other danger is that when two players are trying to match in octaves if the vibrato cycle is too wide or not timed quite right one person  may end up below the pitch at the bottom of the vibrato cycle while the other may be hitting the top of the pitch at the other end of the vibrato cycle thus causing the octaves to sound out of tune. This is also especially challenging with  unison passages, like the one that opens the slow movement of the Faure Piano Quartet  No. 1 in C minor.

March 9, 2010 at 07:35 PM ·


this is crucial in an orchestra situation.  It is especially true of amateur orchestras that they are not aware that when 1st and 2nd violin are in unison the seconds must be veyr strong and the first play down.  It can make or break a performance.



March 22, 2012 at 02:50 AM · I recently read an article in a Chinese violin website ( about this topic. The author suggests that if you play the high note "a hair" higher, the double stop will sound both in tune and brilliant. I tried and kind of see what he means. Have any of you tried this?

Edit: The Chinese teacher was talking to people who have solid technique in playing the octave stops in tune but are looking for more color or more desirable sound.

March 22, 2012 at 03:06 AM · Listen to professional recordings of Bruch no. 1 mov. 1 when they play the double stops. Although this is a matter of perspective, I believe you should play the top note a bit louder for great sound. Note that the top note is in a higher register, so it can be heard more easily than the bottom note perhaps.

March 22, 2012 at 08:52 AM · To answer the question they should sound like octaves and not like 7ths ...

March 22, 2012 at 02:28 PM · Play the lower note out more. The high note will sound more in the end just because it is the higher note. You want to play the lower note more because you are tuning the higher note to it. You shouldn't be tuning the lower note to the higher note.

March 22, 2012 at 03:05 PM · Would it be accurate to say that technically, you need to lean on the bottom note a little more to make the two pitches sound even? The teachers could actually be going for a similar effect, but the first is talking about what you do, the second about what you hear?

March 22, 2012 at 04:38 PM · The idea is to start with the perfect octave (to me it means two notes 'ring' together like one note) and then play the high note A HAIR higher. It has to be still in tune of course.

Yes, your bow should give bottom note more emphasis and the first finger of LH is the anchor always.

March 22, 2012 at 05:41 PM · Kathryn, you hit the nail on the head

March 22, 2012 at 06:29 PM · "The teachers could actually be going for a similar effect, but the first is talking about what you do, the second about what you hear?"

The Chinese teacher was very clear about this (a trick as he puts it): based on a perfect octave double stop, youn move the high note a hair higher. It says nothing about changing the principle of bottom note emphasis (which is more of the RH issue once both LH fingers are already in the right places). The trick is about the left hand subtle action. Note that he was talking to people who already have solid technique in playing the octave stops in tune but are looking for more color or more desirable sound.

March 22, 2012 at 11:53 PM · Play both notes equally with the same pitch as best as you can.

When I hear someone covering the top note of the octave double stop with the bottom one, I really find this to be a form of faking more than anything else (kind of like changing staccato passages to spiccato). Lots of violinists do this.

On the other hand to hear octaves played correctly, I'd recommend listening to Jascha Heifetz's recording of Vitali's Chaconne for example to hear this.

March 23, 2012 at 07:31 PM · If the octaves are not equal and dead in tune then they are crap.

March 23, 2012 at 07:55 PM · Peter, of course has to be dead in tune, but can we talk about color? Have you tried the "Chinese trick" I'm talking about?

March 23, 2012 at 08:50 PM · Peter wrote,'If the octaves are not equal and dead in tune then they are crap.'

I agree Peter. Octaves are black and white, they have to be perfectly in tune, like forths or fifths.

March 23, 2012 at 08:55 PM · I have no idea why anyone would want to stretch octaves on a violin. I understand there are reasons to do that when tuning a piano but this is a totally different matter with completely different underlying physics.

March 23, 2012 at 08:57 PM · Something to agree whole-heartedly with Nate about! There's no grey area between octaves being perfectly in tune or the top note being a hair high. Either it's in tune or it's not.

March 23, 2012 at 09:43 PM · Thank you for all your responses. But can we please get an answer from anyone who actually has tried the trick in good faith? I thought someone other than myself might be curious for a little experiment.

March 23, 2012 at 10:48 PM · 'Thank you for all your responses. But can we please get an answer from anyone who actually has tried the trick in good faith?'

In the imperfect world we live in, I'm sure everyone has, but the goal for musicians is to strive for playing *in tune* octaves. When I do the trick, I call it playing out of tune.

March 24, 2012 at 02:50 AM · Thanks Nate.

March 24, 2012 at 06:33 AM · No comment.

March 24, 2012 at 06:02 PM · I'm not sure what the OP was asking. Was he asking about intonation or the relative volume of the two notes? I would guess that one would try, at least initially, to play Flesch scale octaves with equal volume on both notes. (Let's just say that if I could actually do that consistently I'd be quite pleased with myself.)

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