Fifths on the violin????

November 2, 2022, 5:44 AM · Dear friends, here is the age-old question: how does one practice fifths on the violin?

Secondly, it's hard enough to play them in tune just by themselves, but when I get to a passage where I need to play with the same finger on two different strings, I find that I can't press down on both strings at once when string crossing as the note "cracks", and if I don't press at once, there's a shifting sound.

How do I deal with this? Please help!!

Replies (22)

Edited: November 2, 2022, 6:44 AM · First, I recommend Nathan Cole's YouTube videos on "MVP" (minimum violin pressure). My teacher made me the highly useful suggestion a few years ago to avoid pressing too hard with my left hand when playing fifths. If you are overpressing the stops, then you will have less agility for the ultra-quick adjustments that you need to get the interval in tune. Aside from that, really, if you are working on a passage that has fifths, then you have to program each one into the passage by knowing how your hand has to be set to manage the interval, the same way you would with minor thirds or tenths or any other interval that might require some small accommodation in your hand position.
November 2, 2022, 7:07 AM · @Wall - you might want to get Josephine Trott's etude book "Melodious Double Stops." There are two volumes and that should give you some etudes that include fifths. I recall my teacher telling me at one point to concentrate on the upper note when fingering them.
November 2, 2022, 8:36 AM · Rodney Friend has 2 videos on YouTube on playing in 5th which I think are really good. Just search "Rodney Ftiend 5ths"
November 2, 2022, 10:24 AM · It is possible to have strings brought closer together for this reason, but you would probably need a new bridge. It depends on your setup, fingers, and playing level. Struggle with it for a decade and then get a new bridge if that doesn’t work….
November 2, 2022, 10:32 AM · @Scott, seems to me that not only the bridge but also the nut would need to be fabricated afresh? Unless it's only fifths in high positions that you're not managing (I manage them by not playing that kind of repertoire). The fingerboard, neck, etc. were all designed to have particular bridge spacings so there are a lot of downstream effects on changing the spacing between the notches on the bridge (or nut).
November 2, 2022, 11:37 AM · Two little tricks from a violist with violinist's fingers:
- place the finger between the strings, slightly further up than usual so that the sides of the pad catch the notes, then roll the hand slightly as we bow from one string to the other; or,
- use two different fingers (on viola, in low positions).
November 2, 2022, 12:21 PM · I always flattened the fingertip joint so that it ‘squishes’ the fingertip on the string. It works 100% of the time, but my teacher told me to stop doing it.
November 2, 2022, 12:40 PM · You must find the place on your finger and the orientation of that finger where the fifth is in tune. I recommend flattening out the approach angle to the string as well.

This looks different for every player!

November 2, 2022, 12:47 PM · Yes. I too use flattened fingers. That is the basis of Rodney Friend's theory of playing in fifths and octaves. It puts the hand frame in the correct position.
November 2, 2022, 1:23 PM · My recollection is that RF recommends having the elbow out to the left as well?
November 2, 2022, 1:28 PM · Paul,
Yes, you're right--not sure why it slipped my mind.
Having a new nut will help in lower positions, and bridge in higher positions.
November 2, 2022, 1:36 PM · Closer strings do sound kind of nice, because I have these dancers' fingers.
Edited: November 3, 2022, 5:43 AM · It is a common topic here on the forum, if you search [fifths] in the search box you will find very useful discussions from more than ten years ago. Just my three cents: (1) practice playing in fifths, to cultivate the feeling. While practicing, make it a habit of playing some passages "doubled" in fifths. This cultivates the feeling of double-stopped fifths. (2) In real passagework, often one of the two notes of the double-stopped fifth is the most important one. You place your finger mainly on that one, just a small part of the finger pad left over to cover the less important one. That is actually a tip given in the past here on this forum by the, now, famous soloist Ilya Gringolts! (3) Don't forget that successive notes that form a fifth need not necessarily be played with 2-2 fingering, they can also be played 1-4 on the same string, or 2-3, or 3-2, or 2-1, or 4-3, etc, by very small finger shifts. It needs to be practiced.
November 3, 2022, 6:44 AM · For some time now I have written “Rodney Friend” adjacent to difficult fifths. It puzzles other people... .
November 3, 2022, 6:59 AM · The problem is, to me Rodney Friend is terrifyingly intense, and all you really need to know about fifths can be said in a dozen words.
November 3, 2022, 7:45 AM · Okay, I'll bite. What are the 12 words?
November 3, 2022, 7:56 AM · I only write two!
Edited: November 3, 2022, 9:15 AM · "Keeping your elbow to the left aids intonation, Grasshopper. Now practise it." 12 words.
Edited: November 3, 2022, 10:26 AM · For non-double stop, melodic perfect fifths, I usually look for a way to shift out of it; two adjacent fingers, one position different. The fifths at the beginning of the Schindler's List melody can be played 1-4.
Out of tune double stop perfect fifths can be an early sign of old, false strings.
November 3, 2022, 11:09 AM · ...also of an old false violinist, Joel!
Edited: November 8, 2022, 11:47 AM · The packaging of the plain gut A and D that I had on my viola in 1964 had "true fifths" as a selling point!
November 22, 2022, 8:35 PM · Playing solo Bach will help in practicing fifths on the violin. But really anything would be helpful. You could play fifths by adding a double stop to the downbeat beat of every measure when working to establish a consistent tempo in a particular passage.

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