Do orchestral players play triple stops as they are or divisi?

Edited: May 8, 2020, 11:01 AM · Hey all,

I was wondering if orchestra players play triple (and quadruple stops) divisi most of the time?

In particular, should the chords in the fast section of the 4th movement of Tchaik Symphony No. 5 be played as it is divisi? I'm asking because my section leader plays the full chords!


Replies (18)

May 8, 2020, 10:57 AM · The good players who you can count on to always be in tune play divisi. The hotheads play the full chords.
May 8, 2020, 11:00 AM · An important point to be taken into consideration is the standard of the orchestra. A car crash can loom with some community orchestras if they don't do divisi!

Basically, it depends on the music and how the conductor wants to interpret it, taking into account the technical capabilities of the orchestra.

Edited: May 8, 2020, 11:05 AM · Depends on the context and on what the conductor and/or concertmaster is asking for.

The chords at 316 are most often played divisi. The chords at the molto meno mosso near the end are usually played unison.

My default setting is to play all chords (except obvious ones such as those at the molto meno mosso) divisi unless instructed to do so otherwise by concertmaster or conductor.

Cotton is right about the classifications of good players and hotheads.

Editing to add to Trevor's point, the better the orchestra, the more likely string players are to do the professional thing and divide.

Edited: May 8, 2020, 11:12 AM · It depends on the music. There's some Sibelius with simple octaves which I shall play until told not to.
Also barn dance stuff with fifths would be silly divisi.
That's double stops, of course.
Triple stops I'd always play divisi.
May 8, 2020, 11:14 AM · Thanks all for your replies!

Mary, does divisi also apply to the chords in bar 58 (allegro vivace)?

Edited: May 8, 2020, 11:20 AM · Agreed that barn dance stuff with fifths is silly to play divisi.

Octaves are the WORST when violinists in a section don't divide. Please divide all octaves unless specifically instructed to do otherwise, no matter how easy they seem, with the only possible exception being single octaves that include an open string on the bottom. Just imagine your tiny imperfections in the octave intonation multiplied by twelve or fourteen. Yikes.

Editing to answer Joel's question: I have always played those chords (58 in the last movement) divisi and would only play unison if instructed to do so by conductor or concertmaster--I think that could happen, though. But we've always done it two-way divisi with the inside player playing both of the lower notes on the triple stops.

May 8, 2020, 12:50 PM · Oh, this drives me crazy! In almost every youth group I conduct, this is probably the most-addressed concept next to playing on the right part of the bow.

And I can't tell you how many recording sessions have been derailed because someone didn't get that memo, played an out-of-tune double stop, and the engineer asked for a do-over. :(

May 8, 2020, 12:55 PM · I swear, recording engineers can hear grass grow.
Edited: May 8, 2020, 3:11 PM · I'm finding conductors willing more often than before to do non-divisi for 3 and 4-stops. Generally at the end of movements, though, or in--say-- Beethoven, where one can argue about the nature of the string section's sound.

Otherwise, you'll never have a problem for divisi. Maybe a correction, but it will be the conductor asking for the unexpected.

Edited: May 8, 2020, 5:47 PM · Concertmaster solos by Rimsky-Korsakoff and Strauss have triple and quadruple stops. If you are a section player, you can hide behind divisi most of the time.
Edited: May 8, 2020, 7:09 PM · In my community orchestra the rule is divisi unless it's open strings, and regardless whether the music says "non-divisi." The only time we have problems is when there are more than two notes, because we are only two violists. In that case we divide according to whatever makes the easiest double stops. There was some piece by Respighi or something where my stand partner played the top and bottom notes (the intervals were sixths) and I took the middle! But honestly most of the time one of the notes (especially with viola parts) one of the notes is usually doubling the cellos so you can just skip it. Nobody will notice.

Concertmaster solos are another matter entirely. There's not really an option to do those divisi or to cook up any of the usual community-orchestra cheats.

May 8, 2020, 8:23 PM · Divisi unless otherwise stated. It's not a community orchestra cheat. Cotton and Mary Ellen have both nailed it.

For the orchestras in which I have been principal violist, I have always asked for divisi except in two situations: 1) the end of a movement where the triple and quadruple stops are both easily playable and well covered by winds and brass, and 2) passages where the composer seems to be calling for either a ringing open string or a drone-like effect.

May 8, 2020, 9:01 PM · I meant that leaving out notes you can't play in tune, when divisi is not possible because there are two violists and four notes, is a community-orchestra cheat. I realize the problem of two violists and four notes to play does not come up very often. :)
May 8, 2020, 11:50 PM · Divisi unless otherwise stated. (When I am bowing parts, I almost always write in specifically what I want.) Triple or quadruple stops with an open string on the bottom or the bottom two notes may sometimes be nondivisi for the purposes of sound. (And there should always be an section leader's indication if a triple/quadruple-stop should be broken, rolled, or played with as little audible break as possible.)
May 9, 2020, 7:31 AM · The experienced players here are correct.
EVERY orchestra I've played with has divisi as a default
the part is marked non-div
under instruction from the leader / concert master
May 14, 2020, 5:55 AM · On a side note could I ask if chords in orchestral auditions should be played divisi or together, specifically the double and triple stops in Beethoven 3rd Symphony. There are some really tricky octaves and chords!
Edited: May 14, 2020, 10:09 AM · In an orchestral audition, play as you would play in the section—i.e. top line only on most chords except for those which would obviously be played unison (triple stops at the end of a movement for example). Playing double stops where we normally divide tells the committee that you are either inexperienced or a show off, possibly both. And odds are that your intonation will be compromised as well.
May 14, 2020, 10:39 AM · When I was in my youth orchestra, conductor always got us to do divisi no matter how simple the interval

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

ARIA International Summer Academy

Meadowmount School of Music

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine