How to improve double stop?

November 3, 2004 at 06:40 AM · My teacher taught me double-stops playing about two years ago. But I was never happy with my double stop. Is there any suggestion for practice? I think I need some sort of disciplined and progressive study. Also, I found particularly difficult when playing double-stop on E-A strings, but relatively controlled and easier on A-D string and D-G strings. What is my problem and how can I improve?


Replies (40)

November 3, 2004 at 07:43 AM · Sometimes I suggest that my students just "mess around with double-stops" away from the books." Try playing a few slow easy double-stops and see if you can find new combinations or transitions that sound good to you. If you do this often enough, you might find that you're more focused and eventually more relaxed when you have to go back to the books because your fingers will be used to making a lot of different changes. Just a suggestion . . .

November 3, 2004 at 08:12 AM · double stops take a while to feel comfortable, there are many books to help you improve these. i'd start with scales like flesch or something maybe, sevcik is also good (opus ??) whichever the double stop one is. then maybe get a little more extreme with some dounis double stopping exercises. just stick with it.

November 3, 2004 at 09:11 AM · Greetings,

take a lok at the book 'melodious double stops' by Josephine Trott. Also, what Owen said.

But there are also questions about how one practices them, (only soudning one line while fingering both) balancing the bow weight most effectively- consider that two differnet length strings (the result of fingering a double stop) need to have the bow in two different places! Howare you going to deal with that?

You give litlte indictaion of your level so it is hard to offer advice but the octave scales is fundamental to a good left hand position. It is often called the octave frame. In order to practice this it helps to play scale son one string using only one finger. The Galamian scale maunal has these at the front after two octave scales.

But alsokeep in mind that double stopping is not somehting separate from single stopping. A scale involves double stopping in order to prepare a finge ron the next string before the bow moves. Also , the best approahc to scales is chordal, IE one shoudl practice double stopped intervals in the key you are going to play across all the stirngsand then arpeggios and finally scales. The reverse is normally taughtand I think it encourages too linear thinking. In your head the violin should always be part of a harmonic structure.

You might also find sevcik opus 1 no1 very helpful in this repsect. I think it may be worth doing before the opus 8? 9? thatneither Owen or I can ever get the number right....



November 3, 2004 at 02:52 PM · A question to the "wise ones" since I can't advise yet having just begun double stops myself a few months ago. If Angela is having the most trouble on the EA strings, wouldn't that point to bowing more than fingering at this point - and what advice could you give? I held off for a month after double stops were introduced to me and looked at how I was doing string changes, straight bows, and gradually got a nice bowing action going on double stops before gradually bringing the fingering back into it because I didn't like the way I was switching from single to doubles strings initially. I have a nice unforced tone going now, but it does seem that EA might feel more difficult than GD because of the slant of the violin etc. Any helpful ideas on that?

November 3, 2004 at 04:06 PM · Some exercises that have helped me are playing both the G and D string while playing (on the D string) from D to G, then back down. It works on other strings too. Then just make up some rythmns on different strings with the notes while doing double stops. Make it into something fun, not disciplined study.

November 3, 2004 at 04:28 PM · Buri's suggestion of playing one line while fingering the other is, I believe, fundamental in the practice of double-stopping. You might try this step-by-step approach as a systematic way to practice:

1) Play top line only.

2) Play bottom line only.

3) Play top line while fingering bottom line (i.e. only bowing on the upper string).

4) Play bottom line while fingering top line.

5) Play both lines as written.

November 3, 2004 at 06:34 PM · Sue, I think your method must be what the RCM people had in mind when they put together the gr. 5 program which introduces double stop scales. In each scale, first the bottom note (and string) are played, then the top note, both in a downbow slur, then both notes and strings are played in a long downbow. I found that this had its own technical challenges since there is a very subtle string change happening that is smaller than when you usually change strings completely and this kind of string change is happening constantly. There is a lot happening in both hands so I can see the reasons for isolating separate strings at some point.

But you still have the act of bowing on two strings in and of itself. So back to AE - It still happens to me that when doing the upbow into AE strings for the exercise I described I find myself playing only the D or E string so it seems trickier to play double stops here. I think that observation goes toward what Angela is asking about. I already have some ideas but don't want to put them forward since I'm too new at it myself. It seems to me that the angle at which the violin is held or tipped has a lot to do with why it is relatively easier to bow double stop on the GD than on the AE strings for example.

November 3, 2004 at 06:45 PM · Hi Inge,

There are basically seven 'elbow levels', i.e. angles of the upper arm; one for each of the four strings, and double-stop levels spaced evenly in between. You'll find that if you place your bow on the strings halfway down its length and move your elbow/wrist up and down (making sure they remain at the same height), you'll see these levels operating from your view of the bow's contact point. Watch yourself do this in the mirror; try slowly swinging your whole arm unit from the shoulder up to G level and down to E - the whole lot should seesaw nicely, like a picture frame hinged at the top edge.

November 3, 2004 at 07:08 PM · Got the seesaw and the elbow. Minute adjustments to hand-wrist angle has done a lot more. I've had it in hand (pardon the pun) for quite a while -- but if someone else is encountering difficulties in exactly the same area, I suspect there is something going on at that string level making it more difficult. It seems, for example, that the hand angle to the string is more acute there than on GD. At least now I know what is meant by the "7 levels". I prefer to do more adjusting using the hand for minute and quick bow changes though, no?

November 3, 2004 at 10:29 PM · well its either 8 or 9, b but i'd get both anyway, they're both pretty darn useful.

November 3, 2004 at 11:20 PM · Owen: You made me look back to see 8 or 9 what, and both of what ... which brought me to Buri's post.

Buri: you have created an entire paradigm shift in my way of thinking in what you say about linear thinking, chordal approach etc. to scales. My neural pathways are creating all kinds of new connections related to half thought out ideas and they're absolutely crackling in there somewhere (the neurons, I mean). So that's what that recent attraction to chords before scales is all about!

November 3, 2004 at 11:33 PM · Greetings,

hey, a paradigm shift a day helps you work rest and play...

Alas, I learnt this from Ricci rather than neural excellence.

Inge is right to draw attention to the bowing but it also crossed my mind thta their might be another underlying problem. When you play on the d ang string your (left ) elbow is further to the right . As you come onto the a and e it has ot go back to the left. In the early stages of playing it often ocucrs that the elbow is not moved back to the left but the writs is. The result is a slighly collapsed wrist whihc would make double stopping on the upper strings difficult,



November 4, 2004 at 02:20 AM · You can also try playing drones first until you're comfortable them then tackling dbl-stops.

November 4, 2004 at 02:25 AM · Do you mean playing two strings but one as an open string = drone, Sam?

November 4, 2004 at 03:36 AM · Thanks for all advice.

Maybe I should further clarify my case. I learnt violin for three years from 12 to 15 in a group class, then picked up again eight years ago till now. I play because I like. My teacher is a retired professional, very strict and disciplined. My studies now include Kayser, some works from Kreutzer, Mazas, Suzuki 6/7, Handel sonatas, Bach concertos and other short pieces of work. I feet I got very systematic and disciplined studying with him, scale, arpeggios, pizzicato, shifting, vibratos, bow pressure and speed, contact point, detaché, staccato, spiccato …. etc. I see my progress all through the way with regular practices. But I was completely lost whenever I play double-stop. My teacher told that my problems are not with the fingers, but with the bow. My mind is tensed whenever I come to double-stop. And no matter whatever I am playing, once there are double-stops, I play as I am fighting in war. If I could play double-stops well, I feel that is by random chance and luck, not because I acquire the skills.

November 4, 2004 at 03:43 AM · Yes Inge, exactly.

November 4, 2004 at 05:00 AM · I've been fighting the urge to respond because on the one hand I am singularly unqualified with my amount of experience, and on the other hand some aspects sound uncannily familiar. One thing that hasn't been mentioned in this discussion is the role of your teacher. If he is a professional performer and perhaps a "natural" player he might not be that connected to the nitty gritties of the "hows" of a technique - there might be something from way back there in the very beginning of your learning, maybe even before you started with him, which is showing up in these double stops, and it could be something exasperatingly simple. I was lucky that by the time the first double stop lesson came around, I had already noticed that some of the things that I had taken for granted as having learned properly in the beginning were quite flawed and the cause of seemingly unrelated difficulties in later material. So when my double stop lesson came, and my teacher identified something faulty in bowing WHEN GOING ONTO THE HIGHER STRINGS like A+E, I took that experience, and went back and back until I found the cause somewhere in the things we learn in about our first month of lessons. I abandoned double stops and for several weeks worked on those things I had identified: string crossings and even bowing and then tentatively tried out how these would work into the double stops. Then I asked my teacher to give me the same lesson again and this time the bowing part worked like butter.

Since your teacher has identified the bowing part to be the problem, and you have further identified it involving particular strings, could you ask him to help you find out where exactly you're going wrong with the bowing and how to correct it? That way the two of you are working on the same thing from different angles and perspectives.

I hope that my rather simplistic ideas might work together with the more expert advice given here.

November 4, 2004 at 06:41 AM · Greetings,

well the problems of violin playing often break down into separating what the hands are doing. So why not forget the left hand and work on playing double stopped open strings? You can practice all manner of bowings on two strings instead of one: long slow bows, detache at the heel and point, different rythms and so forth.

As far as the left hand is cocnerned can you play 1234 with various finger spacings on one string? What would happen if you playe dtaht and then moved your little finger one cm to the right. You would actually have an octave. If you moved the second finger to the right you would get a sixth and so on. Would this be a differnet wya of thinking ?

Can you put this much together with bowing?

What about two octave scale sin one position? Remeber that these are actually double stop exercises becuas ein order to make a smooth bow change you have to have the fourth finger kept down on the lower string and the first finger ready on the new string. can you practice just this double stop using pizzicato and then with the bow, then try putting the scale together. Play the first three notes (for example g string abc#) then the two notes after the double stop- F#g#) then put thosae two chunks together with the double stop in the middle.

You say you have done handel sonatas but those are -very= advanced pieces (believe it or not). One way to practice the double stopped passage in the A major for example is to sing the top line and then the bottom liner. Unitl you have those off pat then don`t touch the instrument. Now try playing one line and singing the other. Don`t get frustrated - this is a skill that takes a little time to get. Then do the opposite. Don`t put the two lines together until you are abolsutely fluent in the singing. Actually, before you put them together practice the passage in question on open strings until it is driving you crazy. =only then- try the passage.

I often find rather advanced students playign badly in the seocnd movement of the a major sonata and when I ask them to bow the passage without playing the left hand they are surprised to discover that they did not know where the bow was actually supposed to be going. Slow practice is only valubale if you are using that time to give your brain instructions that in can put into operation at high speed. Slow practice without analysing what you are doing is as big a waste of time as fast ,



November 4, 2004 at 07:05 AM · One exercise that you could try is to take a simple little tune like Frere Jaques.First play it using the first finger only shifting up and down the same string.Then play it on the next string using the 4th finger.Then play alternately etc until you have the octaves.From here on you can move to thirds and then sixths.This eliminates reading the music and gives you a chance to concentrate on intonation and tone.The common faults can then be dealt with one by one.Hand and elbow position are of paramount importance and double stops are an excellent gauge to see if there is any problem in that department.As for the bowing,the first double stop excercises begin with tuning the strings or at least they used to before the invention of electronic contraptions.

November 4, 2004 at 08:41 AM · Polo wrote a good folio of double-stopping studies; fun and musical.

November 9, 2004 at 11:37 PM · Sevcik Op. 9

November 10, 2004 at 02:25 AM · I've had a thought about the AE bowing and catching both strings. There is another aspect to bowing other than the obvious one that one is bowing across a string and trying to do that at right angles with more or less pressure or bite into the string. There is also the angle that one traces along the circumference of the string, sometimes bowing around that shape or into it --- it's something that I'm becoming aware of as I get more deeply into bowing technique (or my lack thereof). Obviously bowing across two strings would mean going flat across the top of both of them. However, when there is difficulty of being able to catch both strings in the GD level and less easily on the AE, that aspect has to play a part somewhere too - or?

November 10, 2004 at 03:09 AM · The thing to remember about double stops is that the force required to produce say a forte tone on one string will have to be doubled to produce the same forte tone on two strings.

November 10, 2004 at 07:21 AM · This is interesting because I keep running into two opposite instructions about double stops. One says that you need twice the force for twice the strings. The other says to make sure not to think you need twice the force, that you need the same amount of force, otherwise you sound harsh. I've been taught the latter and it serves me well. It may be that this has something to do with the argument I've been reading where some prefer more speed to pressure or vice versa.

The main issue is something going awry with distributing the bow over two strings when getting closer to the AE side which must have something to do with how the bow, the hand, the violin, or other things end up being angled when approaching those strings.

November 10, 2004 at 06:01 AM · Practicing the double stop section in Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy will familiarize you with finger spacing (since the intonation is so familar, you'll know when your tone is off).

November 10, 2004 at 08:43 PM · Physics requires twice the force. The problem is that people mistakingly put in more than twice as much when thinking about it, because it seems like a lot more than you think.

November 11, 2004 at 03:41 AM · inge, having trouble?

November 11, 2004 at 06:16 AM · I practice third in a special way which I find very effective. I wonder if anyone else uses this way.

I play the first third in a scale (say C and E on GD) then I play the upper voice of the next third with the C thus creating a perfect 4th. Then I play the D and check if the third is in tune. Next I play the G on D string and check it with the D I played in the last third and so on...

It sounds crazy but it is worth the try, especially when you need to get used to a new violin.

After practicing that you still need to practice the scale in different speeds (2 in a bow, 4 in a bow and so on).

November 11, 2004 at 06:19 AM · How did you guess? I write too much when I'm keyed up which I was because the upcoming lesson was more of a rehearsal-lesson kind of lesson. So I edited but the editing turned into a second post. Of course I can't delete either post, so I ended up with two blank posts. You could impute some kind of symbolism: double blank post with minimal words = pressure regarding double stop bowing with less than double pressure.

Anyhow: The first thing I was taught about double stopping was specifically NOT to use twice as much pressure, and was told why that was false reasoning. I forget the "why" but it was something along the line that you're still doing the same bowing action - no idea. I get a nice smooth pleasant sound when I bow my double stops and am not aware of using more pressure. It could be that the speed/pressure ratio goes more toward using more bow. Doesn't one offset the other? I.e. you can get more sound through more bow or through more pressure but balance the ratio out through the quality of sound you are trying to achieve. Then there's the angle of the bow: I assume people usually use as much hair as possible?

With all the things I'm still working out, at least the double stop bowing is working fine.

November 11, 2004 at 10:19 PM · Those blank posts always conjure an image of someone inhaling before they speak, and then not proceeding due to a change of mind.

November 11, 2004 at 10:29 PM · lol A delete button would be a nice antidote against that kind of embarrassment. Of course thinking before clicking the mouse would go a long way as well (I can say since I'm the empty breather this time around).

November 11, 2004 at 11:57 PM · Greetings,

Inge, I believe a delete button could legitmately be called a `double stop,`



November 12, 2004 at 04:42 AM · Especially if you have to delete twice.

I think I finally have a left hand question about double stops. Is there a hand adjustment you do to get over both strings or just move the finger on the lower (higher pitched) string back? If I'm asking this question it probably indicates that my hand frame is wrong - which it is - but then octaves are supposed to define that frame in the first place (I think).

.... or (having just watched the senior player play) it's the fingertip way to use the fingers properly thing. I'd erase if I could.

November 12, 2004 at 05:04 AM · Greetings,

let the finger sdetermine the position of the hand. The part of the base of the index fiunger touching the neck will vary slighly according towhcih string you are playing on. Incidentally, there is an interesting contrast of thinking involved in double stops: when shifting pay attention to the lower finger and when vibration pay attention to the higher one. That was what Doinis taught. Cheers,


November 12, 2004 at 05:33 AM · When my lower finger is the lower finger (1 on G, 3 on D) it seems to be easier than vice versa (3 on G, 1 on D for example).

When shifting .... so if I had the 3 on G, 1 on D for example, my "lower" finger is the 1 and that's the one I'm "shifting on" so to say, carrying 3 with it in a sense (though the hand would be doing the carrying, of course)?

Your 2nd example has to do with vibrato I take it? Vibrato on double stops would be way, way beyond me right now. I think I'm back to redefining which part of my finger is actually involved in stopping the string this week. That goes hand in hand with your newest column which happens to coincide where I've been heading.

Oh, and thanks Buri. Again.

I'll have to leave the base of the 1st finger question alone for now. It's still a problem area being worked on. One thing at a time.

November 12, 2004 at 06:34 AM · Greetings,

Inge, your observation about comfort is correct. it is always easier to play the chord 1234 starting from the lower string (one finger on one string) tan the reverse. Ti schord (in both positions) is referred to as the Geminiani chord position and is the basis of many types of (silent) left hand finge rexercises. The reverse positon (4th finger on g) is always acknowledged to be the most difficult of the two verisons. If you search for Geminiani on this list you should fnd detailed descriptions of the exercises by me. But, you have to go into the older archives to get the full Monty I think. Alas, everything good wot I have wrote is in mothballs,



November 12, 2004 at 02:20 PM · There are archives? I shall indeed look up Gemaniani. As I might have mentioned, a lot of my left hand action was seriously distorted because of a distorted and non-standard violin neck which I was finally warned not to use (the violin - not just the neck) but by that time it was too late. The entire thumb-finger interaction and the way the fingers relate to the instrument themselves have had problems. Sometimes when I work on some later things (which in fact is where I am in my lessons) then these earlier things have a way of resolving themselves because I'm forced to consider and work with new angles. Sometimes it's a matter of finding the right question in order to get the right answer.

... Found part of it. There's that wonderful fingertip exercise Emily mentioned off-violin! That in fact goes back to something you wrote in your latest column Buri because it's that neglected joint which is weak in fingers 3 & 4. Misusing the hand and ending up with shortened fingers mentioned in the archive I just read: that is precisely why I stopped everything I was doing for half a year - because I could feel myself getting into ways of playing that strengthened the wrong things and consistently bypassed actions that I was not able to carry out and would continue not being able to do since the bypassing was crippling precisely what needed strengthening. I shall do some happy searching.

.... and found: "In effect more of the pad of the upper fingers is used than the lower" which opens the door just a crack more: Fisher's different angles of fingertips is definitely a clue to what is ailing me in the left hand compartment (I had it once upona time) but I think I was just as high on the 4th fingertip as the first and actually pulling the hand in to the fingerboard with the 4th -- all in a faulty impulse to keep the 4th "nicely rounded". The hand my look correct and satisfactory for those supposedly in the know, but to me from the outside it is way too flat, linear, and "unrounded" which goes together with the sense of being cramped or clamped. Much to work on. In the context of the doublestops of this thread, it is not easy to shift in octave work if the hand itself is clamped and cramped (NOT thumb squeezing, I know that much at least).

November 12, 2004 at 10:39 PM · Greetings,

Inge et al.this archives business is really frustrating. There are, going back two years and more. A huge data base of essays on all aspects of violinplaying which include the most extensive advice imganiable on anythign from vibrato to cooking prunes. If printed out I bet it would make Basics look like Mary Poppins on LSD. Paradoxically, this has had the effect of incrementally reducing the quality and quantity of v.commie even as the number of visitors increase for the simple reason that many of the great players and teachers who have been around for yonks cannot face answering in detail the same quesions coming up over and over agin , yet it seems awfully short and brusque to tell an interested enquirer "go look in the archoves"

It is my dearest wish this situation could be rectified in some way,



November 13, 2004 at 01:09 AM · Nothing frustrating about them at all. All I did was do a search, once I knew what to look for, and cut and pasted the information I found useful into a kind of compendium. I think that we who are newer to the violin are all very grateful for the advice on what are old and worn out question for the experienced violinists, by the same. On the site of my own profession we're thinking about creating a kind of F.A.Q. section compiling the "how do you" questions together with the myriad of answers found in the archives ... as soon as we can find someone to volunteer to do so.

November 13, 2004 at 01:40 AM · Greetings,

glad you found what you wnated. thefrustration is not in the looking itself but in the fact that even regular users such as yourself are often unaware of the huge resource of the chamber of secrets.

The secondary frustration would, as you say, be getting someon to organize them,



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