Oistrakh - double stopping a single note on a single string??!

May 17, 2011 at 10:17 PM ·

I was looking for bowing examples and looked at this oft-cited gorgeous recording:


Now go to ~30 seconds (scroll-view) and multiple subsequent repeats (e.g. 3'43 gives a face on view) David stops the D string with the 3rd and 2nd fingers simultaneously as he does his vibrato.  There is no obvious reason for finger placement for the next note - indeed at 43 he moves both fingers to the new note and does the same thing.

Is there a reason for this - is it a trick for a more expressive vibrato?

Replies (33)

May 18, 2011 at 12:44 AM ·

My teacher told me to place fingers for all descending notes on the same string at once, and leave the note stopped if the same note will be played again soon and if doing so doesn't interfere with my playing. It looks like Oistrakh took it one step further and prepared the fingers before shifting. I think it's for secure intonation, efficiency, and smooth transition, as lifting/placing fingers may result in gap or extra sound.

May 18, 2011 at 01:43 AM ·

Interesting!  I heard of shifting rules of course but have never seen this particular technique (or paid attention).  That means very light finger pressure for sure...

My guess, maybe it helps for continuous vibrato from one note to another.


May 18, 2011 at 03:26 AM ·

Joyce - take another look.  David goes down one note but uses the same pair of fingers - this convinces me that he is doing something else than preparing to shift - besides, he is far too good a player to need to do that for such a slow tune. 

I think A-M is more onto the reason, that its something about creating a profound vibrato but I'd love to have the opinion of more knowledgeable players...

May 18, 2011 at 03:46 AM ·

Actually, the first time he has fingers 2 and 3 down on the A string he does not play a continuous vibrato but the second time ( around:48 seconds) he does. It just looks to me like his fingers are very lightly and efficiently keeping an ideal shape for whatever he needs them for. Certainly this technique would help the average player improve their target practice, so to speak, with intonation, and this set up also enhances the ability to connect the vibrato from one note to the next with such an efficient close-knit hand shape but it may be Oistrakh learned this so early in his studying the violin that this good habit just remained  with him even though, being the consummate master that he is,  he clearly does not need to rely on it for intonation or continuous vibrato.

I realize I wrote of him in the present tense- I guess such great players' influence is so strong and their legacy so valuable it does not feel as if they are no longer with us but that their great gifts are still very much with us.

May 18, 2011 at 03:51 AM ·

Elise, you seemed to have misread what I wrote - I meant that he placed 2 and 3 before the shift in preparation for the upcoming 2-3-2 notes, which happened after shifting. Another possibility is that vibrating with two fingers helps produce a very narrow and controlled vibrato, but I agree that continuous vibrato, i.e. smooth transition, is most likely the main purpose.

BTW, on page 225 of Simon Fischer's Basics, there is a vibrato exercise that calls for vibrating with two fingers...

May 18, 2011 at 07:21 AM ·

Oh, I see Joyce - and good catch on the Practise comment . 

May 18, 2011 at 12:26 PM ·

Ronald: its interesting that he does this only with 2 and 3 and not with the first finger.  It makes me wonder the two fingers are poised as a central pivot to facilitate either upward or downward shifting.  Whatever, I'm going to explore it since I've yet to come accross this ...

May 18, 2011 at 04:17 PM ·

Hi Elise,

It's what I'm being taught at the moment: keeping more than one finger down both for safety of intonation and for continuity in vibrato. I'm having some trouble with it :( , and seeing David Oistrakh do it is an inspiration.

You must have viewed this video with great attention. Thanks!


May 18, 2011 at 05:06 PM ·

This video is interesting in a second way.  One of the violin professors at Eastman, Oleh Krysa, was a student of David Oistrakh.  In watching Oleh Krysa during many concerts, I have noticed that he frequently shifts one position up or down so that he can do vibrato with the second or third finger on quarter notes and anything longer. (Second is his preference, but third sometimes) Vibrato with the second finger (or third) can be much broader. Oistrakh does this same shifting in order to use the second and third fingers for broad, sustained vibrato. So its clear that he taught his students the same thing.  I wonder how far back in Russian performing/teaching this virtuoso technique goes.

May 18, 2011 at 05:08 PM ·

 It might be worth checking to see if Igor Oistrakh also uses this technique.

May 18, 2011 at 06:07 PM ·

yeah i agree about the narrow vibrato. i just tried vibrating on third finger with second stopped, definitely narrows the latitude of vibration. and notice how it contrasts with the succesive wider one finger vibrato. very nice lesson in varying the vibrato.

in addition to preparation for usage of second finge, sure...i also think its a tactile symptom of his heartfelt playing, sliding with two fingers is more tactle than one :)

May 18, 2011 at 09:42 PM ·

Valery Oistrakh had a youtube chanel. 

But it seems to be managers and not him who write on it.  Nevertheless, maybe one of us could politely write something there to ask about that technique and his managers could forward the question? (if ever one wants more info about this)

I once asked violinist Rima Sushanskaya if she planned to come to Canada thinking I would not have any responses because I was just a fan...  To my amazement, her manager kindly reply to me and asked Mrs Sushanskaya the question for me.  

If even David Oistrakh prefers two and three to vibrate... ("if" because we can't be sure about that)  One can imagine the vibrato challenge faced by numerous violinists who have all five fingers smaller than his pinkie... : )  

May 18, 2011 at 09:53 PM ·

I find it odd that people think that just because a great player is so good, he does not need to rely on basic technique or follow good practice.  I believe that great players become great by building up techniques following good instructions, and practicing diligently to ensure that they can execute every tiny bit exquisitely and consistently (beside the talent factor). Someone who becomes sloppy when s/he gets to the top is probably not going to stay there for too long...

May 18, 2011 at 10:06 PM ·

As for "good technique", I don't think anyone told that a master shouldn't apply it to him/herself? Obviously, if masters would have let go, we would not have heard of them very long...  I agree very much

Everyone on this thread seems to admire Oistrakh's technique and ask questions about it.    

May 19, 2011 at 01:24 AM ·

I really agree with Joyce re: following good practice. And FWIW, and I know I wouldn't be considered a 'knowledgeable player', but my teacher has suggested I block fingers in some situations to help with vibrato and intonation. She says it helps with control - something to do with the tendons in the hand. I'm sure whatever reasoning Oistrakh is using is far more complex, but watching him play, it makes perfect sense to me.

May 19, 2011 at 02:27 AM ·

Interesting find Elise! I must have watched that video a half dozen times and never noticed. I wonder if it has anything to do with the 'crawl' shift he uses in those spots. Having tried it, the crawl is much more stable with two fingers than one.

May 19, 2011 at 03:27 AM ·

Ophelia, interesting! Talking about anatomy, most people have a harder time to stretch a gap between 2 and 3 than between 3 and 4 or 1 and 2....

March 1, 2013 at 11:02 AM · More information about David Oistrakh:


March 1, 2013 at 01:33 PM · I suspect he is using the second finger to support the third for more comfort and security, and perhaps for better control. I sometimes advise my students to do something similar, supporting the fourth finger with the third.

March 1, 2013 at 01:42 PM · Nice to see this topic bouncing back - apparently by the Oistrakh foundation...

Roy: why does the finger need more support - in particular for a slow piece? I wondered if it helps him control the rhythm of the vibrato.

March 1, 2013 at 02:13 PM · It seems to me that it is always best to have as many fingers on the string as practical for the passage. I think that this is his practice but that he lifts the first finger off for a little more freedom for the vibrato.

March 1, 2013 at 02:53 PM · Well, the fingers have to go somewhere, and putting them on one string may minimize vibrational interference on the others; it also is apt to be the most relaxed position, particularly in slow passages. Leaving "extra" fingers waving in air isn't either efficient or comfortable.

March 2, 2013 at 03:51 AM · Well, Elise, now that you mention it the finger really doesn't need support. I was thinking more in terms of supporting the fourth finger with the third. But the third finger is pretty self sufficient. Very likely, as Marjory said, the fingers have to go somewhere :-)

March 2, 2013 at 06:59 AM · For the most efficient playing, one leaves as many fingers down as possible in the required patterns, only moving what is necessary, and in groups when possible.

Playing "whack-a-mole" style by lifting and dropping every single finger for every single note one at a time is severely limiting on the overall LH technique.

March 2, 2013 at 08:40 AM · Gene, and John too - I think what you say is true but this is different. Why? Because the two fingers are held together for the note. If its just putting the finger somewhere and anticipating the next note then the second (rear) finger can be added at any time, it does not need to be there for the duration of the note.

Least thats how I do it and I've been taught. if I have a slow passage and I am going to put the new finger in place for a clean change it happens just before the playing finger leaves the string, there is no need to have it in place for the full duration of the preceding note.

My impression is thad David has that second finger there for a defined purpose and it has something to do with the tone or clarity of the note. Maybe he gets more control over the tone that way (beyond vibrato)...

March 2, 2013 at 11:21 AM · I think he does it specifically to confuse young ladies in Canada ... (wink)

More than that though I notice that he rolls the stick away at the heel to middle and uses the flat hair when approching the point. I've observed this with a viola player of all things as well, another Russian, Yuri Bashmet (Bash-it ... - wink).

March 2, 2013 at 12:07 PM · Elise, out of curiosity, when you are sustaining a long note with the 4th finger, for ex., what do you do w/ 1st, 2nd & 3rd fingers?

March 2, 2013 at 05:35 PM · "I think he does it specifically to confuse young ladies in Canada ... (wink)"

lol such as young ladies in Canada who's recording collection is about 3/4 of his playing, collects decades of articles on his art and him and is a member of the Oistrakh group? :)

Maybe I'm a victim of this confusion strategy...duh

March 2, 2013 at 06:49 PM · One of my teachers recommended using the third finger along with the fourth, as fourth fingers aren't always very strong on their own. I don't find this necessary, but I suppose some people may find it helpful.

March 2, 2013 at 06:54 PM · OK DAVID ITS WORKING! Utter complete confusion...

But this was not only a fourth finger thing, its second and third too..

and when my fourth finger is playing I often dial my cell phone with the other three...

March 2, 2013 at 09:09 PM · It's something I was taught as well. As far as I understand it, keeping more than one finger on the string makes the vibrato more even, and it guides the vibrating hand in the right direction. When I see David Oistrakh doing it, and hear how beautiful he sounds, I'm immediately motivated to try it out.

March 3, 2013 at 06:18 AM · Well, I am taking my reply off, after having read coments from earlier, I joyce has it on the head. It is IMHO all about intonation and security, which would free one for more expression.

As someone later said, great violonists are great because they master the basics.



March 3, 2013 at 07:04 AM · Anne-Marie

Yes, David Oistrakh is a great blueprint for us violinists, and I too have quite a few of his recordings. I was also lucky enough to hear him live and see him close up outside the hall. I first dicovered him on LP recordings when I was about 14 and he has been at the top of the list of my favourite violinists since then.

He was a favourite of my teacher too, when I studied at the RAM later.

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