Notation Confusion

November 16, 2019, 9:36 PM · First: Greetings to the wonderful folks here! I’m a long time lurker who recently created an account, on the off chance I might find a thread desperately needing my 2 cents. This has not yet occurred. One of the things I love about this forum is the efficiency with which ya’ll work over questions.


Anyway, I’m playing in a string quartet accompanying a choir. We’re playing four pieces, and the music is pretty easy. (Side note: this is my first time playing in a quartet. The first rehearsal is on Monday.)

There's a passage of double stops that says “div.” above it, presumably divisi. I know how this works in orchestra, but since this is a quartet, who am I dividing with?

It is possible the music was originally intended for an orchestra. If this is the case, do I play the top line?

Replies (10)

November 16, 2019, 10:34 PM · I'd practice the top line for now and wait for the rehearsal to see what the others have. It's possible one of your lines doubles one of the other parts. Double-stops do exist in the string quartet literature, but in orchestra, you almost always play divisi unless there is some really special reason not to. You could be looking at a string quartet that was subsequently arranged for orchestra. What's the piece?
November 16, 2019, 10:39 PM · What's the piece of music? That might lend some useful context to the question.
November 17, 2019, 5:20 AM · Look at the score and see if either of the parts in your divisi section are doubled in the other instruments. If they're not, and the double-stops would be too difficult to play, then look at the harmonies and figure which of the two notes in your part is more important harmonically. Perhaps a quick phone call or e-mail to the conductor can clear up what she/he would prefer that you to do.

Lydia's suggest to provide the name of the piece, to which I would add also include the composer's name and the arranger's name, if there is one, since if it's a common work such as a special arrangement of a common hymn just getting the name won't help.

Let us know how the rehearsal goes, since you say this is your first time playing in a quartet. But you've got the added challenge of not only working to have the quartet sound unified, you'll also have to follow a conductor (unusual for a quartet) and blend with the choir.

Good luck!

November 17, 2019, 6:42 AM · The most likely reason for the divisi marking is that these are orchestra parts and your conductor uses just one player per section (various reasons for that: limited budget or limited space in the venue, e.g. when you play a mass on the organ gallery).

I would recommend to be ready to play the double stops (2nd violin, right?) since there is likely no one to share those notes with.

November 17, 2019, 10:55 AM · Only play the double stops if you can do it well. Otherwise pick what you think is the most important line.
November 17, 2019, 11:33 AM · It's probably an orchestra edition. Look for octave doublings to cancel. One approach: 1st violin play only the top note. second violin play the high note and any easy double stop. Viola play the low note and any easy double stop. Cello play the low note.
Edited: November 17, 2019, 11:01 PM · The piece is What Child is This, arranged my Molly Ijames. I found a site advertising ‘full orchestration’, so that’s probably what’s going on. Unfortunately I do not have access to the score.
I will practice both lines for now. I’m not confident in my ability to play all of the double stops in tune, but I’ll get what I can do well and see what happens. (I play viola)
Thank you all for the help! I’ll let you know how it goes.
Edited: November 18, 2019, 12:41 PM · Look at the score to see if the other parts are also double-stops or divisi. You may need to choose a single note in EACH part (it could be either the top OR bottom note, but harmonic analysis has to be done before choosing), in order for all four instruments to end up playing basic four-part harmony rather than notes that merely BELONG to a chord without ever BEING the chord. Our local chorus does a lot of John Rutter each Christmas, and I have taken the parts and circled those notes in each part which make an entire harmonic accompaniment (in those areas where double-stops and divisi are indicated), so the players will know which ones to choose rather than just playing the high note, or guessing when we play the music (usually in a single rehearsal) the next year, and the next, and the next.
November 18, 2019, 11:33 PM · First rehearsal went great! Playing in a string quartet is SO much fun. A lot of it was actually less difficult than I expected.
I’ve decided to mostly play the top line, except in cases of interesting stuff going on on the bottom.
Thanks again!
November 19, 2019, 5:13 AM · I'm so glad the first rehearsal went well for you. Playing in small ensembles is a great experience and can be very trying since everything we do is so much more exposed. But the intonation possibilities (as well as challenges) are so much greater with one on a part. You can't hide somewhere in the middle of the pitch of an entire section supposedly playing the same pitch -- you're either nicely in tune with the others in the quartet or you're not. It's great when you are and embarrassing when you're not. Whenever I've played in small ensembles (haven't been in a string quartet yet -- I'm still waiting for that pleasure) I have been more drained at the end but usually more invigorated as well.


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