In double stops the fingers need to lift together and land together
The left arm needs to be free and available to move to make the very small movements to place the hand in the optimal position for the required finger pattern and the most useful angle of the fingers.
- Just as 6ths and 8ths tend to have flatter fingers and 3rds and 4ths use more curved fingers the left arm will make small adjustments when moving between them.
- Just as the bow rolls in 4-note and some 3-note chords the left arm may also roll under the violin, for instance if we are holding the top note of the chord and vibrating on it.
Practise double-stop shifts with guide fingers using similar principles to guide fingers in single-note shifts. Use the finger on the middle string as the guide when crossing from one pair of strings to another pair.
See Shifting in Double Stops
Tuning double stops and combination tones
Combination tones (also called difference tones, Tartini or third tones) occur when a double-stop is in tune. To tune double stops we need to systematically tune one of the notes to a relevant open string and then the other note to this note.
Find whichever note is the most practical to tune to an open string. This is commonly but not necessarily always the bottom note. For instance when playing in A major a C# on the A string and A on the E string then tuning the top finger to the open A string is best.
Listen for the sympathetic buzz (which sounds much clearer than the buzz that happens when the double stop is out of tune). While listening for the buzz, play slowly, making sure that you correct the pitch by sliding the finger along the string until the note rings. Do not roll the whole hand to change the pitch.
Once you have found the buzz of the combination tone practise lifting and placing the finger in the correct spot since in performance you will not be able to slide the finger into place. In performance vibrato can help!
See Tuning Double Stops & Intonation
Releasing the pressure
Sometimes when playing double stops we unconsciously tighten the hand. This causes problems with shifting and with adjusting our intonation. To prevent tightening:
Practise with harmonic touch.
Practise with the thumb underneath (up to 4th position).
See Shifting - Release Pressure
As in any passage of notes we make it easier to learn (and therefore later to perform) by looking for and working on the patterns between the notes. In double stops an important feature is the change of distance between fingers that happens with the change of interval from major to minor and vice versa.
Analyse the pattern of intervals in double-stop scales. In major 3rds the intervals are: major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, minor, major. Suggested activities:
Call out major or minor aloud before you play.
While playing the first interval call out the next one.
Use physical actions such as hopscotch and jump out the pattern. (Feet apart for major intervals, feet together for minor intervals.)
Each scale type has the same pattern. For instance all major 6ths are minor, major, major, minor, minor, major, major, minor.
Make sure that the fingers change to the new pattern early in the shift. Just like hopping in hopscotch we need to know where we are going before we move. Do the fingers stay in the same pattern or will they change? If they change will they be closer together or further apart?
Practice of Double-Stop Scales
Practise with only one set of fingers to concentrate the mind. For instance:
- Play the whole scale in 3rds with just the 1st and 3rd fingers (or just the 2nd and 4th fingers)
- Play a whole scale in 6ths with just the 3rd and 4th fingers (or just the 2nd and 3rd or 1st and 2nd)
Sound out all the major intervals (perhaps finger the minors silently) and then swap and sound out only the minors. See Practice Technique 3 All the Major Chords
It is common to practise fingering both lines while sounding out only one. You can extend this idea and play one line and sing (or whistle or hum) the other line.
Practise the feel of the interval by playing the single note scale degrees in between the two notes of the double stop. This is especially useful for 6ths and 8ves.
Playing with a light touch in the fingers and a sense of improvisation (changing the order of notes, the rhythm) can also help.
In general the bow needs to have equal weight and a similar point of contact on both strings. At times however, these variables change according to the musical demands of voice leading. Vary the weight distribution by making your right arm level closer to the desired string. To bring out a melody line, try angling the bow (making the bowstroke crooked) so that the desired string has a point of contact closer to the bridge than the less important line on the other string. For example in the 3rd movement of Mozarts Violin Concerto No.3 there is an open-string drone played with high notes on another string. See Chords for more on bow use in chords.
Development of double stops
In the early stages of playing you can start with developmental etudes by Sheila Nelson, Mary Cohen or Josephine Trott (Melodious Studies). Double-stop scale practice comes next once the hand position and shifting technique allows.
Just as with single-note scales look for patterns in double-stop scale fingerings.
When playing major 3rds adjust your fingering on the A and E-strings so that the last two notes of the scale are always 1-3, 2-4. In A major and C major this means doing two 1-3s in a row when you reach the A and E-strings.
When playing octaves use 1-3 at the top for high scales instead of 1-4 since the 3rd finger can stretch more easily there.
There are many systems of double stops that extend the basic up-and-down scales, such as Flesch, Galamian, Yost, Dounis. Many of these systems suggest overlapping fingerings - that is after playing for instance a 3rd with 2nd and 4th fingers, then you will play the same chord with 1st and 3rd fingers. As discussed above this helps our fingers learn the change of interval from major to minor and minor to major.
All the major etudes from Kreutzer, Fiorillo, Gaviniés, Rode, Dont and Paganini have an array of double-stop and chord studies. As an individual player or teacher you will need to create an order of these studies to suit your or your students technical needs.
Make sure that your hand position is compact enough; the left elbow will be somewhat further to the right than when playing 6ths or 8ves. This allows the 4th finger to reach the lower string without touching the higher string. It also helps the stretch when playing 2-4s in 3rd or 4th position on the lower strings.
When playing up high (from around 7th position) on the A and E-strings, the 1st or 2nd finger on the E-string needs to be flexible enough to straighten (but not lock down) at the nail joint. This stops the fingers pulling the string too far to the right.
See Shrinking Spaces between Fingers
Practise broken 3rds with various fingerings including playing descending 3rds with just the 3rd and 1st fingers using chain bowing to shift on the 3rd finger.
Practise also these 3-1 broken 3rds with a stretch shift, that is play 3-1 then leave 1st finger down and stretch (and flatten out) the 3rd finger up a semitone before allowing the hand and 1st finger to follow up to the new position.
Practise building the 3rds via 4ths. For instance play a 3-1 3rd then add the 2nd finger on the higher string, tune in this 4th and then add the 4th to make the new 3rd and so on.
6ths can have flatter fingers since the 4th finger is on the upper string and the flatter fingers allow greater stretch. 6ths are the most difficult double stop to play legato since usually one finger needs to change strings for each new interval. This is particularly the case in ascending 6ths since when descending the angle of the fingers make the slide across easier and quicker giving more of a legato feel.
Practise pizzicato and legato and then experiment with some portato when playing slurred 6ths.
Legato playing in 6ths is best achieved using the same sets of fingers eg 3-2, 3-2.
In octaves we don't lift and place fingers, both fingers need to shift together. Like 6ths, 8ves have flatter fingers that help with stretch. Since octaves shift on almost every note (fingered octaves usually shift every 2nd note), then the issue of shifting is particularly important; especially at fast tempos the arm is almost constantly moving.
Practise octaves with a long slide up and down the A and E strings, making no differentiation of tones and semitones and just concentrating on the fluidity of the shifting action. Gradually add in the notes and allow the arm to change pace to suit a semitone shift compared to a whole tone shift.
Set up the hand from the 4th finger stretching the first finger back. If necessary move the elbow substantially to the right and release the double contact of the index finger and neck. This will hep the backward stretch of the 1st finger.
10ths are just a 3rd and an 8ve so practise the change in degree of interval by playing broken 3rds to begin with.
Sometimes it is easier to begin with minor 10ths as the larger change of interval can help focus the mind on which finger moves the furthest.
Shrinking Spaces between Fingers
Practice Technique 3 All the Major Chords
Shifting in Double Stops
Tuning Double Stops