Need suggestions for practicing Octaves in Brahms violin concerto

October 23, 2005 at 03:29 PM ·

Replies (16)

October 23, 2005 at 06:30 PM · What's actually wrong with them at the moment?

January 17, 2011 at 11:35 PM ·


depends where the problem is.   If it`s purely a left hand issue then the golden rule of octave intonation is almost always `get the first finger in tune and the rest usually takes care of itself.`  If its linked to bow weight distorting te pitch then work in that area.  Find the best posisble sound /tempo for the passage in each lane of the violin. Its also useful to practice versions in which differnet degree sof bow weight are used on either string until you find the optimum balance.

To work on intonation on adjacent octaves the `hooking exercise` (google this site) is fundamental.  The main issue is to `hear` (if necessray sing the next note befor emoving to it.   If things are really bad then slow down things to an absolute extreme.   Play one octave and freeze,  remove all extraneous movement or twitches that are causing the problem before moving to the next note.  Very often we cannot play up to speed because we have peculiar little habits between notes that we are not aware of because we never really practice slowly  with 100 percent attention to what every aspect of the body is doing.  At speed thes eminiscule`gremilins` become monsters that plague us forevever. 

Use your ears and be conscious of everything you are doing and the problem will resolve itslef.



PS Depending on your hand it may be much more accurate and tehcnically secure to play octaves in highe rpositions using 1/3   as opposed to 1/4.   This was a characteristic of Heifgetz@ tehcnique.  Mullova also does this (-very= long fingers ;))

January 18, 2011 at 12:23 AM ·

I don't think octaves are that difficult if you practice octave scales daily  (both 1-4 and fingered) and go through all the keys regularly.

I have heard many say that the bow's weight should be primarily on the bottom note of the octave double stop. This theory is usually taught by violinists who do not practice octave scales and who are not used to playing both notes in tune together.  

The listener should be able to hear both notes when you are playing octaves - not just the bottom note, because playing the bottom note alone is faking, kind of like changing staccato passages to spiccato. :)

January 18, 2011 at 12:31 AM ·

I find that doing slow 1-finger scales on one string, up and down, helps a lot with intonation. The trick is, for me, if I don't get a note quite in tune, not to correct it at that point but to start again. Takes time, but it works.

[Edit] Nate's post reminds me that if you're using gut core strings, especially the G and D, you have to think about controlling the weight between the strings when playing octaves, because the pitch of the lower string changes more in response to the bow than does the next string up if the bow isn't well balanced across the strings. I notice this when tuning gut strings by perfect 5ths – do I tune loud or quiet? If loud, then that 5th between the open strings most likely won' t be perfect when playing quiet: and vice versa. The answer may depend on things like one's need to project in a big concert hall when playing a concerto (I wish!), or perhaps it is quiet chamber music in a smaller room. For orchestral playing the compromise I adopt is to tune those guts by plucking rather than bowing. 

January 18, 2011 at 01:04 AM ·

Two studies I find helpful to review frequently are Sevcik, Op. 9, Exercises 9 and 10.

These help a lot to reinforce good left-hand position.  As with any octave studies that go well up onto the A and E strings, they will also reveal mechanical items that can interfere with good octave-playing and need correcting: excessive bridge height, string tension, and/or bow-hair tension; and worn-down or diminished stock of bow hairs.

January 18, 2011 at 02:37 AM ·

 I like your idea of 1 finger scales, Trevor.  Especially with the first finger.  Ruggiero Ricci recommended these to me as well.  Also, I forgot to mention earlier, Kreutzer No. 23 & 24 are good studies to work on for octaves.

January 18, 2011 at 03:37 AM ·


one finger scales are also a importnat way of figuring out how to play without a shoulde r rest;)



January 18, 2011 at 04:19 AM ·

 What's a shoulder rest? ; )

January 18, 2011 at 11:00 AM ·

So you give the shoulder rest the finger?

January 18, 2011 at 12:48 PM ·

I don't use a shoulder rest, and haven't for many years. I do have one, and very occasionally, at the behest of my teacher, I might put it on during a lesson. The renewed novelty of this restrictive scaffolding lasts only a few minutes before I take it off  –  but that's just me. I might well give it to a deserving cause; there are a number of school music teachers in my orchestra who could use it for their kids. 

I learned how to survive without a chin rest, also many years ago, when I was at an Irish fiddle summer school in a remote fastness of Ireland. The thread in one of the tie rod holes in the CR stripped, so I had to remove it. One of the tutors, who never uses a CR or SR, showed me how to hold the fiddle safely and comfortably without a CR, and now I don't use a CR when playing folk music. Playing is more comfortable without and I get the impression that the sound projects better (that may be subjective, though). 

I've since figured out how to handle downward shifts when playing baroque without a CR, and if my DFA permits, I'd like to get a replica baroque violin one day. I alway use a CR on my orchestral violin, though – post-Spohr violin music doesn't forgive the absence of a CR quite as readily as does the music of earlier periods!

January 18, 2011 at 03:39 PM ·

 Those are some bold statements, Nate :)

May 15, 2012 at 01:39 AM · Hey Nate,

I know a violinist who teaches that you should play the bottom note of the octave louder....

his name is Ilya Kaler


Please dont make blanket statements like that ever again.

May 16, 2012 at 06:21 PM · I teach my kids to play artificial harmonics first.

If those work, you just move the fourth finger over one string, and add in a tiny bit more weight to stop the string for the upper note.

Ta-dah! In-tune octaves. :)

May 16, 2012 at 07:37 PM · I realize that the discussion is probably no longer addressed to Ms. Chow but I thought I'd offer an update on what happened with her Brahms if anyone's interested. She won the concerto competition at our university playing Brahms shortly after she made this post, seven years ago. Her octaves were very good.

May 16, 2012 at 08:04 PM · 'Hey Nate,

I know a violinist who teaches that you should play the bottom note of the octave louder....

his name is Ilya Kaler


Please dont make blanket statements like that ever again.'

Hey Jonathan, my teacher recorded the Bach Double and studied with a guy named Jascha Heifetz, ever hear of him? Heifetz taught his students to practice octave scales daily and to play both notes equally.

Are you Kaler's student or a fan of his?

July 9, 2012 at 07:52 PM · Nate,

My point is that you cannot say that this theory is usually taught by violinists who do not practice octave scales and who are not used to playing both notes in tune together.

If Heifetz taught that,then good for him, he plays in tune

But so does Ilya Kaler...

clearly it's a different approach, but if the end result is good - why do you have to assume something that is not true.

and besides, the principal of tuning to the bottom octave is taught in orchestras throughout the U.S

There are many ways to get somewhere. All im interested in is what works.

The only thing i'm against here is blanket statements.

thats all.

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