I just can't get the double stops right in Mendelssohn Mov. 2!

August 6, 2018, 4:15 AM · I practice them slowly, without the trilly things - just the chords, i play them separated but i just can't get them right! i play them perfectly one day then i go back the next day and i'm back to square one. It's been like this for about 5 months now? and i've made no progress on the passage. any advice? please help!!

Replies (24)

Edited: August 6, 2018, 5:58 AM · As a rank amateur, what I've found is that the best way to improve one's double-stops is to just play a lot of different things with double stops. Especially slow things where you can really concentrate on each double stop *and* each transition. Bach sarabande movements! Scales too! And if you really just can't learn the concerto you've been assigned, after five months of work, maybe just maybe you weren't ready for it in the first place.
August 6, 2018, 8:49 AM · I'm always suspicious when someone says they "can't get it right" without describing what that actually means. Intonation? Note accuracy? The fact that you don't have a vocabulary to describe what's wrong tells me you aren't at the level to play this, and don't yet have the practice methods. Or possibly teacher.

They aren't trills--they are actual rhythms and aren't as fast as you think. 4 to a n 8th note.

August 6, 2018, 9:56 AM · I do not mean to be discouraging or harsh.

Practice double stops every day, especially thirds and octaves. Watch for perfect intonation and a relaxed hand. This will translate to the passage-your brain hasn't "gotten it" yet, so keep working slowly.

Try also the Vamos double stop book, aiming for a relaxed hand and finger independence playing double stops.

You can do it. Don't get frustrated-patience and alert work is all that's needed.

Sometimes the emphasis is too slanted towards repertoire progression. While it's true one can work technique on any given work by making variants of each technical difficulty, things like "advanced" scales are generally "harder" than many popular passages, so having a high level of scale playing proficiency will make most repertoire "easier" on at least a technical level. Not saying this is your situation, OP-just a general thought (of course, practicing only scales for a year or more, like a few more strict teachers have suggested to some students, is not what I am implying here.)

August 6, 2018, 10:29 AM · In the nutshell, practicing double stop without knowing intonation system will most probably result in shooting in the dark at best.

That includes how you'll want to voice the top note in relation to others melodically (within an intonation system), and harmonize the other note(s) harmonically (also within an intonation system). Explaining in just words is hard, but basically, you have to know which note you need to make them flatter (usually, in sharp keys) and sharper (usually, in flat keys) to make ways for the harmonious resonance between the notes.

(I do have a system that I find works very well for me in real world, but peers aren't agreeing with me so I'll just keep this topic open.)

Then, you need to learn how you place your fingers, which one is the key finger (to put down first), which usually, but not always, the lowest finger (not necessarily the lowest note). Bach's, for example, are more complicated, though, creative finger placing need to be well planned.

And, before that, learn to bow 2 strings without crushing the tone and making the pitch unstable, etc etc...

...Consult your teacher. This topic is much deeper than you probably would have imagined, that involves getting a lot of fundamentals right before attempting the double stops.

Edited: August 6, 2018, 11:22 AM · Many of the double stops in this movement are thirds. Thirds are tricky because of the way they expose the intonation differences between harmonic and melodic passages. (It's one of the reasons amateur performances of Mozart string quartets often sound so bad.) Many of the non-thirds double stops are sixths, which have the same fingering problem.

I would recommend carefully playing the notes separately (as the OP says she does) and then together as chords [not as 32nd notes until you feel secure). Be sure your fiddle strings are perfectly in tune and base your intonation on the note of the pair that you can tune to one of your open strings. You may notice (you should notice) that the other note may not actually be in tune with the pitch of that note if played melodically (or in a scale - or on a piano). You might experiment with alternative fingerings - especially if you have trouble with 2/4 double stop fingering.

You will have to create a new habit of placing your fingers to get this right. No one said it was easy!

P.S. Looks like Casey and I were writing at the same time.

P.P.S. Looks like it's time to read a book on musical temperament." start with a google search, the Wikipedia article at least. The books by Isacoff and by Duffin are pretty readable.

August 6, 2018, 10:48 AM · Andrew,

And we are on the same track. Notes that sound melodically correct usually doesn't do well harmonically. And yes, getting the fifth tunings right.

August 6, 2018, 11:30 AM · Casey, I like what you wrote.

I have been aware of this problem for half a century (heard lots of lousy amateur ensemble intonation - including my own), but I did not really understand what was going on until about 12 years ago when the string quartet I was playing (Mozart and Haydn) with hired 4 sessions with a coach through ACMP. He pointed out how to tune the harmonies (wherever the h... we THOUGHT our fingers should go). And then in the past year or two I finally read the books on temperament by the two authors I suggested above.

Edited: August 6, 2018, 12:08 PM · Thanks Andrew!

Took me a long while to "get it", too. That aha moment was priceless.

Let's put it this way. What we think that's correct, because it sound correct, is actually not correct, when there are two or more notes sound together, be it double stops, or ensemble.

On a side note, practicing double stops is always easier than practicing ensembles, when your peers don't quite agree on your intonation. ;-)

August 6, 2018, 12:25 PM · That's one reason why I like to play piano trios. Sometimes it may not be exactly "correct" but there is no arguing with it.
Edited: August 7, 2018, 7:51 AM · Camilla, work every day a little bit on the Flesch scale in double-stopped thirds. Also work on finger independence exercises, develop soft fingers, proper left hand position, ..., in a word: the basics!
August 7, 2018, 7:49 AM · Also: play one string at a time with the bow while fingering all notes.
August 7, 2018, 12:18 PM · Congratulations. You have just encountered the three intonation systems; melodic (Pythagorian), chordal (just), and equal-tempered (piano). The differences are mostly noticed when playing thirds and sixths, and the thirds are also mechanically awkward. When asked why the string instruments do not have frets, my answer is "so we can play in tune." My opinion is that double-stops are three times harder to tune than single notes, and most students should learn the positions, the high notes on the E string, before starting double-stops or the famous Bach sonatas. Persevere-- jq
August 7, 2018, 3:26 PM · The good news is that working on double stops will improve your regular melodic intonation too. By a lot. Partly because you just get better control over your left hand, but also because your brain is learning to listen that much better and to react that much faster when things aren't quite perfect.
Edited: August 8, 2018, 10:08 AM · To be honest, the way I interpret Camilla's outcry is not that she is discovering subtle or not-so-subtle intonation differences. Like Scott and Adalberto I think it is mainly that she is technically not yet up the level of this section in Mendelssohn 2nd movement, which is not something to be ashamed of, as said section requires a high level of violin mastery to play cleanly and beautifully.
August 8, 2018, 3:51 AM · Camilla, can you post a short audio clip of your trouble section?
August 8, 2018, 5:19 AM · I'm not sure what the issue could be.

Those passages are no where near the hardest things in that piece.

August 8, 2018, 11:30 AM · That's interesting, Ryan. For me, that passage is overwhelmingly the most difficult thing in the whole piece. No contest.
August 8, 2018, 4:06 PM · For some reason I never had any issues with that passage. Probably because I played so much Korgoff and the Schradieck School of Violin technics double stop book before I played the second movement.

For me many passages in the first movement were much more tricky. A good example would be the transitionary arpeggios to the second theme in the first movement. It took me SO LONG to get those In tune. Frustrating. The whole top of the second page is a bear imo.

Also - in the last movement the spiccato runs that go up really high (and then really really high) are so hard to play clean. The last movement is generally not as difficult as the first but has it's moments for sure.

August 8, 2018, 4:24 PM · Ryan, I think it might stem from the fact that it's a lot easier for someone to *notice* themselves playing double stops poorly (in real time), whereas arpeggio and scale sections tend to work really well in conjunction with the "self-listening denial" effect where we're hearing something better than is actually coming out of the instrument.

I have a suspicion that if the OP recorded themselves and then critically listened back, they would notice just as many flaws with the other sections of the Mendelssohn as they do with the double stops.

Of course, it could also have to do with their hand mechanics and hand anthropometry. Certain finger proportions or stiffness in certain joints can make playing double stops very difficult, because in double stops we're unable to use hand/wrist articulation to adjust to "Roll" fingers into tune; we need to actually use the flexibility of small joints of the fingers themselves to adjust intonation, which involves both good flexibility and utilization of a very specific muscle group that moves the 2nd joint of the fingers towards and away from each other.


Once again though, just pure speculation until I see a video (with closeup of left hand, please).

August 8, 2018, 4:27 PM · Also OP, I have to agree with Scott. It is suspicious that you're looking for answers without actually having a specific problem in mind. It means that you haven't actually tried to critically think about the problem for yourself yet (or you have, but just didn't want to type it out).

Vague questions will inevitably lead to vague answers, so try to be more specific!

August 8, 2018, 10:38 PM · I will say, without knowing the exact problem, that this really isn’t the piece to learn how to play double stops in my opinion. I think it will be so much more satisfying for you coming to this piece with the necessary technique so you can sight read this passage at a high level.

I don’t think I really started working on double stops till I had played the instrument for over 3 years. I recall, I started working on double stops and chords with my teacher right around the time I was learning Bach’s Concerto in A minor. I did supplementary scales and etudes by Kayser, Rode, and Dont before I learned the Mendelssohn.

August 9, 2018, 6:41 AM · Ryan, come on, I think it is clear that this discussion was about the second movement.
August 9, 2018, 7:17 AM · I guess my response wasn't as clear as it could have been.

What my post meant was:

If you have the technique to play the Mendelssohn violin concerto it would be odd that the double stops in the second movement would trouble you to the degree that five months of practice would leave you with little positive effect.

If you don't have that capability and are simply toying with the second movement for fun then its an entirely different discussion.

Edited: August 9, 2018, 9:52 AM · "...without the trilly things"

I know I'm repeating myself, but the fact that the OP doesn't yet have the vocabulary to describe the piece indicates she isn't quite ready. And I'm wondering if she knows her intervals.

I don't think someone starting to play double stop 3rds would be well served by jumping into the Flesch scales. They quickly go into high positions. Books like Polo or Trott are much better choices, and more enjoyable. Flesch is for the professional, conservatory student or uber-high school student who is hyper-motivated and immune to tedium. Give her Flesch and she'll quit the violin.

Being able to play 3rds in tune implies that one understands the intervals--minor or major--and which should be tuned to which. There is almost always one note of the pair that takes precedence. For example, if you have G4 and B flat 4 in first position, you must get the G in tune first, and tune the B flat to that. I have to wonder if the teacher is explaining these basic principles of double stops and intervals.

If her teacher (if she has one) is like most of the ones around here, she is not being taught anything about intervals and basic theory.

This is another example of someone not including the most basic information about themselves in their profile. The fact is, we have no information about her teacher, background, age, level, or goals. We have to resort to playing detective just to try to answer her question and make some basic suggestions.

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