Playing Double Stops

November 3, 2017, 7:06 AM ·
I'm beginning to learn to play double stops. I was under the impression that this was primarily a technique used in different types of folk music.Since then I realized this is also used in classical music.

Some time ago I discovered that some players use a different bridge specifically to play double stops better.
Is a special bridge necessary to play them well?

Can you recommend do's or don't when learning this technique?

It seems that in order to play a dyad you use a bit more bow pressure and the right fingering.Not sure if a different bridge would help or make some other things worse.

Similar to playing ornaments well though,incorporating these on a whim is more difficult than actually learning the technique.

Replies (26)

Edited: November 3, 2017, 7:12 AM · No special bridge!
No added pressure!

Successful double stops require the proper string level. This can be hard when first learning the technique because beginners have spent the first good bit of their training being taught to have the bow on only one string. Hitting extra strings is a sign of error. And now with double stops, the bow must be on two strings at once. It's an entirely different set of right arm levels to learn.

Depending on the double stops, it may be necessary to increase the weight of the right arm but this is not the same as pressure.

There are lots of good double stop exercise books out there. There's always Sevcik, of course, for those with a high tolerance for tedium. I like "Developing Double Stops" by Whistler. The Barbara Barber "Scales for Advanced Violinists" has several pages in the front devoted to practice techniques for the double stop scales. Flesch scales are the most comprehensive but I would not put those in front of a beginner.

Edited: November 3, 2017, 7:20 AM · I've never heard of a classical violinist putting on a different bridge so they can play double stops.

The easiest introduction to double stops, in my amateur opinion, would be slow scales in 6ths.

GE GE-AF AF-BG BG-CA etc. where the hyphen indicates a slur. Quarter notes at 40 bpm should be a reasonable starting tempo.

Once you can do this comfortably in first position in several different keys, then you can try extending the scale up to third position on the E string. Same approach for thirds, but I would do sixths first. Do them at "forte" and make sure you are getting a nice full tone that's even throughout the length of bow you are using. It's much harder to stay in the right "plane" for a double stop because unlike playing on one string there is not much room for error. Practice drawing whole bows on open-string double stops. GD DA and AE

There is also a book called "Malodorous Double Stops" or some such by Trott that is often recommended. I used the Whistler book that Mary Ellen mentioned. It was fine.

November 3, 2017, 7:25 AM · I don't use a special bridge when I play folk music
November 3, 2017, 7:41 AM · People use different bridges for double stops? Why? If it is a flat bridge, would it make it easier to hit other strings when you play "single stops"?
Edited: November 3, 2017, 7:54 AM · Paganini used a less concave bridge. This made, for instance, the 8th variation in the 24th caprice playable as written, 4 triple stops under one slur.
November 4, 2017, 1:38 PM · There are a total of seven positions for the bow arm, four to play the individual G-D-A-E strings and three, in-between positions to play the G&D, D&A, and A&E double stops. It takes as much practice to know those double-stop arm positions as it does to know the positions for single strings. Practice is the real key to develop the required muscle memory.
Edited: November 4, 2017, 3:49 PM · No, you do not need a special bridge -- only a practiced technique.

There are 7 string "levels". 4 for open strings, and 3 for double-stops. I usually have students play "ppp" (or as soft as possibl)" the 3 double stop levels while sighting down their fingerboard with their scroll pointed toward a mirror, with full bows. This helps them to observe and quickly correct string level variance. Then we take the mirror away.

The problems that are generally encountered early on is the desire to add pressure when the string level (being on both strings) is incorrect. What we want to avoid is pressing in an attempt to bow on both strings -- it's all in the string level!

In addition to Mary Ellen's recommendation of Developing Double Stops by Whistler, I use Paul's recommendation of the two Trott "Melodious Double Stop" books. Particularly early on, the Trott book 1 makes double stops more accessible and (you guess it) melodic :-D

November 4, 2017, 7:12 PM · Per Paul: "There is also a book called "Malodorous Double Stops" or some such by Trott that is often recommended. "
Now I know why my double stops stink. ;-)
November 5, 2017, 9:37 AM · My violin has a flatter bridge than most other violins (many people have commented on it) so it definitely helps when playing double stops but you dont need to go change your bridge just for playing double stops.

You just need more effort is all. Good luck!

November 5, 2017, 5:05 PM · Thank you for the helpful advice from all.So far I have been playing a few open double stops. It feels a bit odd. As Mary Ellen says. I have been told not to hit two strings and now the idea is to intentionally hit two strings.

I am sitting down this evening to work on a few. One thing that strikes me as unusual is since the bridge is curved, how can you hit two strings with a perfectly level bow in unison unless you either go closer to the fingerboard or use some kind of pressure to make contact? Maybe not bow pressure but arm pressure?

Although I'm told you don't need a special bridge, some seem to prefer a flatter bridge for that purpose ( like Yuntan Xu above), however this would seem to make regular technique more difficult.Diminishing the distances between strings would make exact movements more critical it would seem.

I will go back over this and look at ordering some materials to help. Thank you!I appreciate all the great help from those who contributed.

Also thanks to those who suggested helps in the form of books to practice these. I'll look into that and temporarily print some ideas from images on Google.

November 5, 2017, 5:36 PM · Cynthia I've seen a bunch of photoshopped study-book covers ... Dont becomes Don't or Can't or Didn't, Mazas becomes Matzos, but the best one that I ever saw was Wohlfahrt becoming Voldemort.
Edited: November 5, 2017, 5:38 PM · Doug's suggestion of playing pp is very good because there's even LESS tolerance for error then, so the "plane" has to be set by your right arm very precisely. He is absolutely right that the most common newbie mistake is bearing down on your bow when you hear that one of your cylinders isn't quite firing.
November 5, 2017, 7:40 PM · Timothy, I think you are overthinking this. Close your eyes and put the bow on two strings as even as you can. How to do that? Listen. Move your bow slowly, not too much pressure to start with, then adjust the pressure to find a better sound. When you find the sound is better, then open your eyes to see where your bow is, and see if you can repeat the same or better result.

Also, it's always good to play the open strings and get the sound you like before putting the fingers on.

Hope this helps.

November 5, 2017, 8:29 PM · Is Simon Fischer's Double Stops good for beginners or targrts intermediate and advanced students? Can it be used independently of the teachers lessons?
November 5, 2017, 8:52 PM · Yeah, well respected violinists in classical music change the bridge whenever a double stop is coming. One has to master the quick almost instant bridge swap so the public doesn't notice a pause in the process. It's specially difficult to do this in pieces like concertos and stuff, where master violinist soloist probably changes about 400 times the bridge, taking into account the 3 movements of course. Also, master bridges are tune-fixed so they can match a given key. I.E., last week I had to play Vivaldi's A minor and I used my A minor bridge.
November 5, 2017, 10:20 PM · tammuz, Simon Fischer is supposed to be good for all levels, as long as one has the patience to carefully go through it in details. Both Scales and Double Stops are great, just that they are huge and it could be a bit overwhelming. I use them as reference book. For everyday, I use Flesch and now also Barber, the one that Mary Ellen recommend. The first a few pages are great to follow and build the method into daily practice.

In my view, the best scale book is the one you'll use it. It's really a fitness routine. You can have great gym or great workout equipment in your own home, but if for whatever reason you don't keep going back to it again and again, it's not the best for you.

November 7, 2017, 5:15 AM · Thanks Yixi :)
November 7, 2017, 5:59 AM · Timothy,

A 'double stop' means playing two strings at once. So the bow hairs must make two points of contact: one for each string.

The bow hair is a straight line. Two points fit perfectly on a straight line regardless of how flat or curved the bridge.

Triple stops, three strings played at once, would be drastically affected by the bridge curve, but such playing would be considered a novelty, not a required technique.

There have been a few world class soloists that preferred a flatter bridge, but they had spectacular bow control and played with bow hairs drawn to a high tension.

For us mere mortals, the standard 42mm radius curve for a bridge allows single note and double stop playing with both flat and tilted bow hairs and with a wide range of hair tension.

An exercise that helped me when first learning double stops was to draw the bow across a single string and gradually lower/raise it until I sounded two open strings at once. Then I reversed the bow direction to continue sounding the two strings for an entire bow length. This helped me "find" the plane I needed to sound two strings and hold that plane to get a good sound for an entire bow.

November 7, 2017, 9:20 AM · All of the above, but I would add this: have someone knowledgable take a look at your setup. If the arc of your bridge is too high, double stops with string changes will be very hard to play.

All of the old time and bluegrass fiddlers I know use flatter bridges because almost all of their music played with a drone. But for classical players, it's definitely not the norm.

November 7, 2017, 11:58 AM · Carmen, do you find that term "double stop" a bit misleading? I'm not sure what I would have called it.I will try the exercises you learned on. Thanks.
Julie I have intended to have my violin looked over by a luthier. I have procrastinated.I hate to give it up even for a week.

After a few rehearsals trying double stops, I seem to be getting the hang if it all fairly fast.As many have said already.It isn't my bridge. My bridge isn't getting in the way of my playing them.The open ones are easy to play. The others will take more work to perfect.

I don't know what bridge this guy is using. Mostly on the first two strings. Is this the drone you mean? I think I relate a drone more to something like the bagpipes constant drone.

November 7, 2017, 12:23 PM · His bridge looks pretty normal to me. (But how about all that rosin?)

Michael Cleveland is one scary powerful fiddler. I've see him perform. You might say he's the Paganini of the bluegrass world.

November 7, 2017, 12:24 PM · For anyone not familiar with Micheal Cleavland you must check him out.
November 7, 2017, 12:32 PM · It would make more sense to call it a "double string" rather than a "double stop" since frequently one is not stopping both strings with the fingers.

You will find advanced violin music written with 3 or 4 note chords. The technique is usually to start with the lowest two notes and swing the bow across the strings to sound the rest of the chord two notes at a time. There are various rules for how long one sounds each set of notes.

I find it much easier to play double stops where the lower string is open and the higher string is stopped. Or the lower string is stopped with a lower finger than the finger used on the upper string.

Some common chords, like thirds, are played with the higher string open, or a higher finger on the lower string. I find these very challenging because the tendency is to touch the higher string with the finger that is stopping the lower string.

I know a few fiddle tunes that use a drone technique. Typically, the tune will be written in the key of G, D or A. This determines which string will be the drone. The tune is played on the next highest string.

You can then double stop the entire piece by using the open string. Or only double stop the open string when playing 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, and octaves. 10ths can work two. A tremendous amount of Western music, both classical and folk, is built around just these chords, meaning every tune note can be double stopped with the drone and still be harmonically "meaningful".

Edited: November 8, 2017, 10:39 AM · Carmen you sound as though you have long traveled the road I'm about to ponder.

I agree. "double string" seems like a better thing to call it. In my thinking, there's nothing about the whole process that stops. Maybe a reference to something like an organ stop?

It can be frustrating to be in an open biplane and want to fly first class in a 767.I won't give up though. Hopefully in the not too distant future I'll look back on double stops with a warm fuzzy feeling. Right now they simply look like more work to get right.The thing about time is it's so slow :)

Thanks for those tips!

November 9, 2017, 12:02 PM · SOME (not all) folk fiddlers (and other stringed instruments like the hardanger fiddle of Scandinavian origin, and other such instruments) of other countries use a flatter bridge specifically because their music incorporates double, triple, and even quadruple stops (usually rolled, but sometime "crushed'). The classical violinist, or the celtic fiddler usually (ALMOST without exception) uses the standard bridge, and just used the bow/elbow angle's 7 positions to play double stops.
November 10, 2017, 8:09 AM · Thanks Joel. As I understand it, playing a triad with a standard bridge is also a fast roll with the bow which introduces three notes in such fast succession that it comes out sounding like a triad, though technically all three notes weren't played at the same time.

Before this I seen the violin as a monophonic instrument. Now I'm coming to realize that it isn't. Although dyads and chords are mostly seen in the violin word as momentary additions to the music.

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