Learning double stops systematically

Edited: January 3, 2020, 12:12 AM · Up to now when I stumbled over one of the rare double stops in my repertoire, I learned that specific one, for "single use" purpose so to speak. But slow by slow I'm reaching a point where this strategy just isn't very effective anymore, and I see that in the next months I will have to learn this systematically to be able to play the repertoire I'll be working on.

I started out on Preparatory Exercises in Double-Stopping, Sevcik Op. 9 yesterday and went through the first few pages for a first run. I'm sure it's good, since generations of violinists developed their skills on Sevcik, and I see how the systematic approach helps in understanding the intervals, finger spacing, building harmonies up from the bass etc.
But since I still have to work without a teacher since a year, for some reasons (not that I"d wish to...) I'm asking here for your thoughts and advice about the what and how to, as well as the how not to...
Thanks in advance!

Replies (32)

January 3, 2020, 12:13 AM · A lot of students do Josephine Trott's "Melodious Double Stops" at the intermediate level.
Edited: January 3, 2020, 4:05 AM · There's a free pdf of Trott somewhere online. Isn't there a Whistler on double-stopping?
January 3, 2020, 5:28 AM · Place the lower finger first (not necessarily the lower note) and let the whole hand adapt its shape as you place the higher finger.

As in arpeggios, we have to learn a whole new series of "diagonal" finger patterns: stretched in 6ths & octaves, "squashed" in seconds and thirds.

An extreme case: my short 4th finger on the C string, second finger on the G string: my 2nd finger has to curl under itself, pushing the G string sideways rather than down onto the fingerboard.

All this applies to any published exercise.

Edited: January 3, 2020, 7:55 AM · The Whistler book is called "Developing Double Stops."

I did study books, but I'm not sure they did me much good. Partly that's because my childhood teacher did not teach me "ring tones" or the difference between scale intonation and double-stop intonation. I should probably try the study book again now that my eyes and ears have been awakened to those realities.

There is one thing that has helped me a lot: Slow scales in thirds. Here is how my teacher taught me to practice them.

BD BD-CE CE-DF DF-EG EG-FA FA-BD etc.

Rules: The hyphen indicates a slur. The space indicates a change of bow with a gap of about one second. The only open string is the D in the first double-stop. So, everything written above is on the G and D strings except for the last BD, which brings you onto the A string for the B. Use classical shifts (slide and drop). A little at a time until you build up stamina. Maintain careful hand positions and eliminate all tension. Add key signatures to the above as needed. Go to third position (D) on the E string before going beyond (thus for now all scales are D to D along the top notes).

January 3, 2020, 8:53 AM · I would recommend the Trott books over the Sevcik. And once you master Trott, you can do the Vamos double stop book, though that one is HARD.

But before you do any of that, I would do your scales in octaves, sixths, and thirds. Start with the octaves, and when you can do those with ease, add the sixths, and finally the thirds.

My kids started with double stops doing just the bottom note (but with the correct double stop fingering). Then they played (with three separate bows) the bottom note, the top note, and both notes together. Once they mastered that, they moved to playing them together (especially important for sixths).

January 3, 2020, 10:49 AM · "My kids started with double stops doing just the bottom note (but with the correct double stop fingering). Then they played (with three separate bows) the bottom note, the top note, and both notes together." Susan, that's exactly how I'm starting out. Dunno why, no philosophy behind it, guess I just wasn't able to find the right notes otherwise! But thanks, glad to know it's not complete nonsense... I'll have a look on the Trott. If Vamos is" really hard ", then I'm not sure I'll ever get there anyway.
January 3, 2020, 10:51 AM · "Lower note" vs "lower finger" - I'll just get it done both ways, just to be sure. And any kind of little variation helps in staying focused.
Edited: January 3, 2020, 11:07 AM · Gordon, do you remember the source? And, is it legal? (On ISMLP I see only the Studies in Shifting...) It doesn't have to be for free, I'd be willing to pay for a pdf version as long as I don't have to wait for delivery and then had to digitalize it by myself for iPad use...
January 3, 2020, 11:31 AM · The Sevcik double stops books was designed to weed out people. Or drive insane the serious ones.

Besides Trott, another good (single-volume) method is Polo.

Edited: January 3, 2020, 12:17 PM · If you want to study double stops (or indeed anything in violin technique) systematically then Sevcik is your man. However, as already mentioned, he will bore you to tears.

So some shortcuts are in order: I find the scales in thirds and other intervals in Flesch's scale system (another systematician!) useful, especially for slow practice (admission: I do too little of them).

If you want to have some music going on while working on double stops you may want to look at those etudes by Mazas which feature double stops. They are not too difficult i.e. useful to people with little experience in double stopping. From there you can graduate to Spohr's violin duos. Good luck!

January 3, 2020, 12:46 PM · It depends on the student. You can certainly assign Sevcik, but a method, no matter how good, that the student doesn't want to practice isn't worth much.
January 3, 2020, 1:13 PM · Although I appreciate any shortcut (as I'd expect anyone to) this isn't what I'm after in the first line. I accept that there aren't any real shortcuts, and for developing real and stable competence it will be necessary "having played it all". And that's what systems are made for, I think.
Sevcik is really hard, I admit - no matter the volume. But for 15-20 minutes per practice session, a lot of things seem bearable.
January 3, 2020, 2:02 PM · Join an orchestra and do everything divisi.
January 3, 2020, 2:20 PM · nuuska was talking about sevcik op 9, it is a preparatory book, quite OK actually, the exercises are progressive and quite standard I would say. perhaps Scott was referring to opus 1.

in thirds 42, place the 4 first so that is nice and rounded. then place the 2 which, for minor thirds, means stretching down.

January 3, 2020, 3:35 PM · My daughter is using Sevcik op 9. She did some of op 8 (the shifting one) before taking on op 9. Both books were very challenging at the beginning. Almost every measure was difficult. Nonetheless, things are getting better over time – that's the point of practice. I feel Sevcik has helped a lot, though we don't have a chance to compare it to other methods. Note that her teacher can quickly suggest how to adjust if a double stop is out of tune (e.g. which note is not in tune or if fingers are out of shape). You said you don't have a teacher right now and might not benefit from this feedback.
Edited: January 3, 2020, 8:16 PM · My daughter did Trott first and then moved to Vamos and the thirds in Flesch. I cannot tell which one she dislikes more. I don't think I've ever seen her struggle so much with intonation until she started doing scales in double stops across 3 octaves. Apparently, it is very difficult at least for her. She keeps on blaming her tiny hands but I am not so sure that's really the reason.
January 3, 2020, 3:55 PM · I like the Josephine Trott Books. The exercises are musical and pretty, and my students generally like playing them. She has a really cute solo piece -Puppet Show? (I think?) that is at the beginner-ish level.

I did double stop studies by Richard Hofman as a child. They were okay, but I teach Trott. The beginning exercises are fairly easy- open string against a fingered string, which helps you work on balance and voicing. Which is actually the more difficult aspect of double stops, I think.

Also, I use music by women where ever possible because they are generally written out.

Susan's suggestion of scales in thirds and sixths is interesting. I don't teach double stop scales before I teach Trott, and I wonder if anyone else starts with scales. They seem very much more advanced to me than Trott.

Edited: January 3, 2020, 7:40 PM · I think it depends on the student but scales in thirds and sixths is a very efficient way to learn what is really happening. Of course thirds are just physically harder, so it's good to do sixths first. But when you do scales, especially if you mix up the key signatures a lot, then you really see what is happening when you transition from a major sixth to a minor sixth in terms of the spacing of the fingers for these intervals to be in tune. The method my teacher taught me (see above) starts with working on them one transition at a time. So at the start you'd play:

BD BD-EC EC-BD BD-EC until you had the first transition cleanly in both directions, and then you work up the scale that way.

We often hear folks say that certain things like scales or studies need to be boring. I don't think I would have found it nearly as boring as a child if my teacher had given me appropriate amounts to work on at a time and taught me what I should be listening for, and how to improve them. Then I would have gone home and done it. Stuff only gets boring if you have no idea how to work on it, to improve it.

What happens, I think, with a lot of scale practice is that you try right away to do three octaves when you should be working on smaller components of the scale to improve the fundamentals of linear intonation and smooth string changes. Students get bored because they don't have the ability to apply the necessary intense concentration across a whole Flesch Scale Study or Sevcik/Kreutzer study. Somehow repertoire is something you divide up into tiny bits to improve it, while studies are something you play through from beginning to end. At least, that's pretty much what my childhood teacher expected, and I wonder if there are a fair number of teachers today who basically expect that as well.

January 3, 2020, 8:11 PM · I'm not saying that scales aren't valuable- I'm just wondering which comes first, double stop scales or double stop studies?

I teach the studies first.

Edited: January 3, 2020, 8:33 PM · My daughter's teacher did studies (Trott) then scales in 3rds.

I don't think she finds them boring but she does find them extremely frustrating and difficult. I think it was her first big wall she hit on violin. I wouldn't have been surprised if she quit violin over it and decided to focus on piano/composition. She still isn't happy with her double stops but they are getting better.

January 3, 2020, 9:44 PM · My daughter's teacher (not the same as my son's as she is younger and not serious) doesn't do etudes at all. Which I find problematic, but that is another discussion. So the scales have become the etude much of the time. Doing them "bottom-top-together" makes them very manageable. My 10yo has no problem with them at all and she has been doing them for about a year.
January 3, 2020, 10:53 PM · Kiki, if you have small hands, thirds require that you slightly reposition your hand from where it is normally placed. It's effectively its own unique frame of the hand. Sixths use the normal octave frame of the hand. Thirds drive me nuts. (If I size down to a smaller violin, I do not have the same issues.)
Edited: January 3, 2020, 11:11 PM · Lydia, my daughter recently switched up to a 1/2 and that is when all the problems started. I feel bad now that I was so dismissive of her explanation. I'll pass your advice to her. Thank you. She'll probably feel better knowing that she wasn't imagining small hand problems.

It's not that everything came easily and naturally to her in the past but nothing has made her "mad" in the way thirds have.

Edited: January 4, 2020, 3:28 AM · My graded étude book (O'Leary) has a double-stop study by Sitt at grade 4 (and simpler things earlier than that). ABRSM begins very basic double-stopped scales at grade 6 (Bb 6ths).
Trott's first eight will be easier than grade 4, as they all employ an open string.
Edited: January 4, 2020, 6:55 AM · Small hands? Or my medium hands on a viola...

We often allow ourselves more raised fingers and a more mobile hand in each position. But in double-stops the fingertips must "hover" over the target notes often with unorthodox fingertip contact, as I mentioned earlier: a middle finger very curled (with a very short nail!) and an index leaning way back with its string contact near the corner of the nail.


Tone?

Do'nt press twice as hard! Since each string requires different bow speed and pressure, we have to favour the upper string.

January 4, 2020, 8:53 AM · "I'm just wondering which comes first, double stop scales or double stop studies?"

Whichever one you think the student will actually practice at home. The reality is that most students dislike scales or anything else that isn't musical, so they will say they practiced them when they really didn't.

They have to be really motivated, or really advanced (or both) to actually practice Sevcik or Flesch double stops in a productive way.

January 5, 2020, 12:01 PM · Intervals can be taxing for normal (non-violinist) hands. In addition to all the points above, pause from time to time with fingers in place and make sure your arm is loose. There will be some time (days or weeks) needed to stretch the ligaments and forearm muscles.
January 6, 2020, 9:20 AM · Stephen, that's thoughtful advice. Pausing now and then to make it more conscious what's happening makes control and adjustment a lot easier, not only in learning to play an instrument.
January 6, 2020, 12:42 PM · When starting on double stop scales, you can start by bowing the lower string, then the higher string, then the strings together. Do that for each note as you get comfortable, and then later you can drop that. The utmost relaxation is essential, especially for your shifts.
January 7, 2020, 12:04 PM · For a gentle introduction to double stop scales, I highly recommend Barbara Barber's "Scales for Young Violinists" (also available for viola). It starts with just the first position double stops, then adds a full octave, for the first several keys the "foundation keys" in the book she writes out a lot of the bottom note-top notes-notes together practice mentioned above. As a teacher, I like that students can pretty much just play what's on the page and will end up practicing reasonably effectively.
I would follow this with Trott double stops, then progress to the double stops scales in Barber's "Scales for Advanced Violinists," followed by either Polo or Sevcik Op. 9. Then whatever Kreutzer or other etudes, repertoire etc.. you want.
January 7, 2020, 4:50 PM · I'm doing the Trott book at the moment. I find double stops to be hard, but I think everything with the violin is insanely hard.
January 9, 2020, 4:08 PM · Before I took up violin I played bluegrass mandolin (I still do when our mandolin player can't come). I took some mandolin lessons when I started, and my teacher focused heavily on harmonized scales, in both sixths and thirds. I did a lot of exercises up and down the neck, on all pairs of adjacent strings. Harmonized scales, along with pentatonic scales, became my toolbox for all sorts of improvisation.

When I got into violin these harmonized scales served as my introduction to double stops; my teacher got me working on Trott as well. I'm still trying to improve my intonation, but I guess that's a lifelong task (even for those of us who aren't switching back and forth between violin and viola).


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