Am I Ever Going to Play Monophonic Music Again?

July 6, 2018, 4:45 PM · Disclaimer: complaints abound.

I've been playing the instrument for about 9 years, and while I am happy with the way I sound and the pace of my progression and generally the pieces I play, I recently noticed that everything new I play (or most of it, anyway) is at least part polyphonic, be it just for embellishment (Bruch, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps....) or actually polyphonic (BACH). I'm currently happily working on Nigun from "Three Pictures of Chassidic Life" (which is BONKERS gorgeous), but sometimes I can't help but miss those days where most of what I worried about was "is this note in tune?" rather than "which note is not in tune?" It doesn't help that I was booned with innately short fingers, most of my friends, male and female alike, having much larger hands than I do, that my annoyance towards double, triple, and quintuple (I'm looking at you, Bloch, even though it's fair game because the bottom two are open strings and we break chords anyway) intensifies day by day.

And I can only dread the upcoming Bach Fuga days.

Does anyone else share a similar frustration towards double and triple stops? I surely cannot be the only one, right? Has anyone come to enjoy putting multiple fingers down at once? If so, what has brought you around?

Replies (19)

July 6, 2018, 5:14 PM · Small hand has small hand problems. Big hand has big hand problems...there'll always been specific weird things about your hand that it's good or bad at. The sooner you stop complaining the sooner you'll be happier.

I would encourage you to approach multiple stops by finding the most relaxed and comfortable set up/angle of the elbow, hand, and thumb, so that the fingers are able to be released and are able to adjust immediately. My arm, hand, and thumb are constantly micro-adjusting, their job is to make the fingers' job as easy as it can be.

A lot of horizontal writing is really just broken chords. Even without double stops, the more the fingers know their relation with each other, the more at ease you would be. We're extremely lucky to be able to to play double stops and chords, and to play the in tune — unlike the poor keyboards and fretted instruments. Complain less and search for more resonance. Good luck!

July 6, 2018, 5:14 PM · Small hand has small hand problems. Big hand has big hand problems...there'll always been specific weird things about your hand that it's good or bad at. The sooner you stop complaining the sooner you'll be happier.

I would encourage you to approach multiple stops by finding the most relaxed and comfortable set up/angle of the elbow, hand, and thumb, so that the fingers are able to be released and are able to adjust immediately. My arm, hand, and thumb are constantly micro-adjusting, their job is to make the fingers' job as easy as it can be.

A lot of horizontal writing is really just broken chords. Even without double stops, the more the fingers know their relation with each other, the more at ease you would be. We're extremely lucky to be able to to play double stops and chords, and to play the in tune — unlike the poor keyboards and fretted instruments. Complain less and search for more resonance. Good luck!

July 6, 2018, 5:23 PM · Yes, most of my "am I in tune" practices revolve around "how do the two notes ring in respect to each other, if at all?" If it sounds bad, I'm probably not in tune or choking the instrument somewhere. I also agree that it's a whole lot more than just the four fingers.

I figure I would probably warm up to them as I just get better, much like I did with shifting. I remember when I couldn't put down my fourth finger down without touch the higher strings (and my teacher thought it was interesting how much work I had to do to bend the finger to avoid the other strings and I think I have enough length to barely dodge out of the way of the others) so I'm more hopeful than I am angry.

Thank you for your advice!

July 6, 2018, 9:48 PM · First of all, scales! Gotta get the 3rd/6ths/8ves in your ears ...

Like others have mentioned, when we are on polyphonic domain, the intonation starts to become subjective. Most of the cases our ears can pick up the really dissonant chords that consists of notes in tune by itself. But if that's not the case, sit down with the score! Figure out what each note does in a chord, and it should not be hard how to tune it.

In a given chord, there are always negotiable and non-negotiable notes. Usually the negotiable ones are tuned in reference to the non-negotiable ones. So usually you are just constantly asking yourself "which note should I tune X to"?

Edited: July 6, 2018, 10:15 PM · so, what is a double stop? You stop 2 strings instead of one. If you are having intonation problems while playing double stops, then your left hand placement is not optimal, quite possibly for 1 sting as well.
If you have a really, really small hand, consider using 7/8th violin and/or get violin's neck customized to suit your needs.

Still not convinced? Take a look at the 1st violin player:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejL43BmxL20&list=PLW1S0RqJS2bNEnL1GDdQLce8aLhuZwIGf&index=5

July 6, 2018, 10:15 PM · I think part of the difficulty of double-stops is that they are introduced into the lives of classical players relatively late on. Fiddlers, from what I've seen, don't seem to have the same issues, probably because double-stops are inherent to the music early on and are therefore not an "add-on" but a core part of early technique.

I fear double-stops, but most advanced repertoire contains plenty of them, so it's best to get good at them. Moreover, developing artistic intonation means learning to keep the harmony (chord structure / polyphony) in mind, too.

Edited: July 9, 2018, 7:17 AM · Intervals across the strings need specific practice in addition to those along the strings: slow slurred arpeggios leaving fingers on the strings as long as possible.

And those of us with short fingers (and I'm a violist..) cannot cross the strings without continual help from wrist and elbow.

Intonation? 3rds and 6ths that sound resonant and smooth don't usually "fit" in our perfect-5th environment,: we have to "build" our intonation around the 5ths, and "indulge" in pure 3rds & 6ths when we can!

Example: First chord of Bach's Chaconne:
Elbow to the right, 4th finger curved, 2nd finger very curled under itself and pushing the string to the right rather than pressing it down. Then, as the bow crosses to the middle strings, the wrist straightens while the elbow swings to the left, allowing the 2nd finger to settle in a "normal" position, with better tone. To get pure thirds D-F and F-A, the F must be a little sharper than in a melodic phrase .

July 7, 2018, 9:18 AM · Get a mandolin (same tuning and scale as violin) - learn some chords. You learn harmony, strengthen your fingers and get some very nice calluses!
July 7, 2018, 9:06 PM · Those preparing for difficult professions invariably reach a point where they realize what the profession is really all about and then have to decide whether they like that or not. Sounds like you are reaching that point with the violin. One question you should ask yourself is whether all the double- and triple-stop laden music is what you choose to listen to for enjoyment. Is the cadenza the highlight of a concerto movement? Or something you'd just as well skip over.
July 7, 2018, 9:33 PM · Rocky Milankov,

Thank you for that YouTube video! I have small hands too and just starting out on the violin. Having small hands was one of my biggest worries, but that first violinist is amazing and gives me hope! Plus I didn't even know I can have adjustments made to the violin to accommodate small hands. Thank you so much again for your post!

July 8, 2018, 12:42 AM · Well said, Paul. Amateurs don’t have the same worries as professionals.
July 8, 2018, 7:00 AM · "Amateurs don’t have the same worries as professionals"..
Except about intonation?
July 8, 2018, 8:13 AM · Thank you everyone!

I took all of your kindhearted and genuine advice to heart.

I have assigned myself a couple of double stop Kreutzer etudes and thirds and sixths scales to get over my fear of double stops. Correct and tenacious practice hopefully pays off in the long run.

I’m more mindful about my elbow position to see if there are better ways to position my left hand to facilitate fingering.

I’ve also realised most of what I think is amazing are the rapid double and triple stops in concerti and cadenzas and even etudes! I’m remaining hopeful that it’ll work out like it did wat back with positions.

Edited: July 8, 2018, 12:09 PM · Cassio my teacher showed me a good way to practice scales in thirds and sixths. Use two-note slurs:

BD, BD-CE, CE-DF, etc. Where the comma represents a pause and the dash represents a slur. Ultimately you can go to slurs of three notes but not until it's really smooth and in excellent, reliable tune.

As far as Kreutzer double-stop studies, I recommend starting with 36 and 37. I don't know why 32 and 33 are in the book before those. Kreutzer must have been smoking something.

One could always say, "to hell with it, I'm giving up on double stops because I want to play chamber music where they're not very common anyway." But double stops improve your intonation and your overall facility -- significantly.

July 9, 2018, 11:50 AM · Mr Paul,

That’s the way I was taught too, but it hasn’t crossed my mind until you mentioned it. I’ll be sure to try scales that way!

I actually found number 38 so charming that I immediately set it as my goal. It’s not too hard, and I think it helps that I am more mindful of bow pressure distribution to really bring out the different voicings. It also sounds like a mini fuga, so it’s a feel-good practice for me as well.

Funny you should mention chamber music because both pieces I had to perform, Brahms and Dvorak had double stop accompaniments, though definitely not in the same way as does with Bach or many concerti.

Thank you again for your insight!

July 9, 2018, 2:45 PM · Adrian: heheh, you drive the wedge of logic through my casual wording. Amateurs don't have all the same worries as professionals.
July 9, 2018, 3:25 PM · I think amateurs do have the same worries as professionals, or at least there's a gray area of overlap. The better you want to become as a performer, the higher you push your standard. Some amateurs push towards a professional standard, while some professionals don't strive for a performance standard.
Edited: July 9, 2018, 4:18 PM · for what it's worth, 2 amateur cave divers went beyond any professionals... to discover 12 boys and their coach in Thailand! Never, ever under-estimate the knowledge and passion of non-professionals!
July 9, 2018, 5:23 PM · Rocky, yes, perhaps especially when reaching beyond involves significant personal risk.

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