Triple stops in Bruch

June 20, 2018, 12:47 PM · I'm having trouble on the triple stops on the 1st page of Bruch, specifically on the F-D-A triple stop and on the G#-D-E one. I'm having trouble engaging the D and A at the same time on F-D-A triple stop; I keep producing a scratchy and unclear sound. On the G#-D-E my 3rd finger keeps touching the E-string when playing it.

Any tips/tricks on how to practice them?

Replies (16)

June 20, 2018, 1:07 PM · Practice the triple stops as slurred arpeggios until you are comfortable placing your left hand. That is, finger the triple stop and slur downbow D string-A string-E string upbow E string-A string-D string, then go to the next chord and do the same thing. Get your left hand under control first and then practice the chords as chords with the repeated downbows.

You could also practice the downbows on open strings or just one chord, as you are working on learning the left hand.

Basic idea is: in this passage there are difficulties in both left and right hands. Instead of tackling everything at once, separate the difficulties and work on them one at a time.

Edited: June 20, 2018, 1:30 PM · This passage was the one that my daughter found perhaps the most difficult in the whole movement. The left hand issue basically dominates and prevents you from realizing just how straight-forward the right-hand issue really is. The way that Mary Ellen suggested solving it is pretty much exactly what my daughter's teacher prescribed (including the open strings study), and it worked. I'll only add that my own listening to this piece performed by top soloists suggests that no matter what you do, it's going to be an aggressive and brusque-sounding passage. It's not Mozart.
June 20, 2018, 2:17 PM · Good advice above. Make sure you are bowing straight and your right thumb is relaxed. On the G#-D-E double stop, try using more of the tip of your third finger and move it closer to the D string than the E string.
June 20, 2018, 2:22 PM · Since it's "triple" stops, the goal is to ring all 3 strings at once.

Try to think about playing JUST the A string (or the middle one, in that matter), and use the natural flex of the bow hair to catch the other 2. Once you've done that, you can alternate the angle to start on the TWO lower strings and "pull" out the chord.

When you are practicing it, slant the bow a little bit towards the fingerboard, that'll get rid of the cracking sound. I learned this technique from playing a fugue movement and turns out it applied back to the Bruch very very well.

June 20, 2018, 2:47 PM · All good advice above.

Something to add: on double stops that involve using a single finger on two strings (like 3rd finger needing to block both the A and E strings at the same time), it's important to be aware of how wide your fingertip naturally is. If you have fingertips that are narrow (relative to the distance, width-wise, of any two strings next to each other) and you're trying to plant a *vertical* finger, intending to have it fully block two strings, chances are that it's going to land only halfway on each string, and thus make a "raspy" or unclear sound when you play the chord.

Now, this is probably why most people finger the chord you're discussing as (1,2,2) instead of (2,3,3), since the 2nd finger's natural angle of attack makes it act like a wider fingertip, but that alone won't necessarily fix the whole issue.

Also, this problem won't *necessarily* be fully brought to light by the arpeggio method listed above, simply because in the time that it takes you to slur from the A string to the E string during the arpeggio, your finger may subconsciously "roll" over to the E and make you unaware that the fingertip width issue is still present as soon as you actually try to play it as a chord. (And YES, one could argue that you can do the same rolling motion in the context of a two-part chord, but this just won't always be practical, and the physical motion caused by the fast roll during the chord may disrupt the bow's contact with the strings).

My solution would be to bend your left wrist either significantly *in* or to the *left* (or both), which will allow the fingers to have a flatter angle of attack, as opposed to the vertical, "pointy" fingers that are often encouraged on many other notes. Since they are flatter, they will be - in effect - "wider" fingers and thus you'll be able to do both the arpeggio and the chord with the same finger formation. In this way, when you transition from the *arpeggio phase* of the chord to the *chord phase*, it will be a smooth one, and you'll only have to worry about breaking the chord correctly right the right hand.

Long story short: it's hard to play certain chords (specifically, ones with 5ths in them) with narrow fingertips, so make your fingers "wider" by flattening their angle of attack via left wrist bending.

June 21, 2018, 7:34 AM · Don't just think of this as a passage. Think of it as a doorway to a really important set of skills.

Work on an unaccompanied Bach fugue for a few months -- maybe start with the A Minor -- and then those chords in the Bruch opening will seem as easy as pie.

The left hand technique for double and triple stopping takes time to develop, but it is so worth it because it pays dividends in all kinds of passages, not just double-stop passages. It will help your intonation, it will help your ability to understand intervals, it will help you read music and play faster because you'll recognize how things are supposed to feel in your hand.

One of the hardest things for me was to play the diminished fourth with the fourth finger tucking in behind the third finger. Seems impossible to do fast when you first try it, but gradually your finger strengthens and gets comfortable.

It will take your fingers many months, even years, to get comfortable with the contortions necessary to play Bach chords but once they do, you have taken a big step on the way to being a violinist.

Edited: June 21, 2018, 7:47 AM · I agree with Thomas but I would generalize. Any time you encounter a really bitchin' passage in a piece that you're doing, then you've reached the bottom of a steep learning curve, and you're going to improve your skill set by mastering that passage. Violin students go through a progression of concertos not only (or even mainly) to learn that particular repertoire but to develop their technical skills and overall musicality. When you leave the Bruch Concerto and move on to the next thing, your Bruch will be good, but it won't be as good as Vengerov's Bruch. However, in ten years' time when you've got far superior chops, and you get an invitation to perform the Bruch, then you will get out your old music and bring the piece up to a truly professional performance level. Brushing up your triple stop passage will be a 15-minute job then. Still, there is a certain time in one's development when you start to see a lot of double and triple stops routinely, and this is a milestone because they will improve your left hand agility and strength much more than many other things you could do. And, yeah, it's hard to beat Bach for that.
June 21, 2018, 1:35 PM · I'm a bit skeptical of using several months of Bach to fix a section in Bruch (and Thomas, I know that this isn't exactly what you were trying to say, but I'm just using you as a way of making a point...forgive me).

Let me explain: It's very true that Bach would make someone more comfortable with chords, so if learning a particular Bach piece is on the near-future agenda anyways, why not?

But if we're only learning the Bach piece for the sole sake of improving the chords in the Bruch, then I see that as inefficient. Ideally, we would use Bruch to improve Bruch. Actually, to be more specific, we would use chords to improve chords.

If you have trouble with a particular chord (and it seems you know precisely the chords you have difficulty with), then you just need to "solve" those chords. Once you have figured out the hand formation or the "trick" to getting those specific chords down, then you can move onto the next challenge in Bruch, and keep repeating this process until you've actually completed Bruch.

This method will allow you to actually complete Bruch in a reasonable period of time and have that sense of accomplishment, as well as reaping the benefits of solving each technical challenge as you go along. In my opinion, we want to avoid "jumping around" too much in repertoire (e.g. learning the first 3 pages of this concerto, then the last 2 pages of this one, etc...).

I think some teachers and musicians have this habit of throwing either etudes or other auxiliary learning pieces at a student to try and solve technical challenges that they're facing immediately, instead of simply realizing that ///*the most relevant etude is the passage the student is having trouble with*\\\.

By seeing a concerto as a series of etudes, rather than a solid piece of music, you will quickly enhance both your learning ability and simultaneously get the piece done quicker.

Here's my personal priority list:

1) Solve immediate challenges by focusing on them and fixing them.

2) Solve known future challenges by doing etudes. Think of etudes as a way of preparing for the future. For example: "I know that at some point, I'm going to have to tackle a piece with a bunch of upbow staccato. So I'll start learning Kreutzer #4 now for a few minutes each day, so that by the time I have that challenge, the muscle coordination is already there.

3) Solve unknown future challenges by exploring etudes/complex scales. Etudes will quickly show you your weaknesses, and will give you ideas on what roadblocks you're likely to encounter at some point. Find your weaknesses early and address them a little bit each day, so that when you encounter them in the context of a piece of music, you are already prepared and you won't feel like you've hit a very large wall.

(As another example for priority #2 above, learning some solo Bach as a means of preparing chords for the future is a good idea. In this context, Bach could be considered as an etude. However, if you're already hitting that wall, it's probably to late to use Bach as a means of solving that problem).

Edited: June 21, 2018, 2:09 PM · Erik, I think what you are suggesting is the way 95% of teachers operate. However if a student is able to play the rest of the movement nicely but only struggling with the triple stop passage, then I can certainly see assigning some additional studies or even allied repertoire to deal with that particular limitation, maybe while taking a break from the main piece itself. And I think if you are a teacher who finds, over time, that most of your students tend to stumble over one particular section of a certain piece, then you can assign just that section a few months before the student starts the actual piece so that they can learn the rest of it more enjoyably. My daughter's teacher did this very early on ... starting with the arpeggiated sections of the Vivaldi A Minor! But sadly this very useful method did not continue through to the Bruch level -- in hindsight that would have been very useful.

So, what do y'all pros and teachers think about the general concept of excerpts from future repertoire as studies? Good idea, or better to cross the bridge when you arrive?

June 21, 2018, 10:12 PM · I should also add that this approach is only useful when the student has enough time to practice to validate studying for the sake of future pieces. If practice is less than 45 minutes a day, the time is probably best spent just on the piece that the student is on, and almost nothing else.

Paul, your 95% estimate means you must think well of the average teacher! (Or are we discussing conservatory trained teachers, and not just all violin teachers in general?)

June 22, 2018, 1:14 PM · +1 on Thomas' approach. I worked on both pieces concurrently and the a minor fugue particularly was good exercise to get rid of breaks and cracks in the chords.
June 25, 2018, 9:03 AM · How long have you been practicing them?

If you just started working on that passage for the first time of course it will be quite difficult and take some time to untangle. If you've been on the piece for 2 months and they still don't sound like anything then yes, it's time to try something different.

Patience. The fingers of your bow hand need to learn to become "shock absorbers" for this kind of chord to truly work out and that can't happen overnight. It takes lots of time and practice.

July 2, 2018, 8:08 PM · One of my all-time favorite videos explaining this technique is by German Professor Klaus Lieb. It's in german, so you have to turn on English captions to fully get it, or get someone to translate for you. I think the explanations are an important aspect of it. In the middle of the video he deals with triple stops.
July 5, 2018, 5:42 PM · Erik I've learned to be generous when talking about pro-level violin teachers on this site, particularly since I'm neither a violin teacher nor anywhere close to a pro-level player so a teacher's got to be really awful before I'm second-guessing them. That didn't serve me well in my childhood because I had plenty of hints from other players and teachers that my teacher wasn't serving me well but I stuck it out.
July 5, 2018, 6:15 PM · I would assume most teachers on this site are good ones, because they are on a forum dedicated to violin. That in itself dramatically increases the chance that they care enough about music to try their best when it comes to teaching.

Much like how self-taught players that post here are going to be of a much higher standard than the average.

Still, I think it's a redeemable trait to trust one's teacher until you're given clear signs that they don't know what they're doing. I know that on rare occasion, I get students who are overly suspicious of instructors and as a result actually make a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to their own progress.

Good example: I had a great introductory lesson with a teen who had been playing for several years already with another teacher, but at the end, the mom mentioned that the previous teacher gave them the advice to never go with a teacher that doesn't actively perform. I then mentioned that I wanted to be full disclosure: I don't really perform at all. Up to that point, the lesson had gone really well, and the improvements were obvious even from just that one lesson. The teen was happy and smiling and so was the mom. Seemed like a perfect fit. But after I mentioned that, the mood quickly changed and they didn't continue. So, without a doubt, being overly suspicious of teachers is just as bad as being overly trusting.

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