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richardz

Playing double stops

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I've been working on playing double stops, mostly from a fiddle or improvising perspective. I can get a sound but it isn't great, and I'd like to improve it. I notice I need more bow pressure (toward the frog) and a particular angle draws the most sound, also I'm using Vision titanium solo heavy strings. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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How do the double stops sound to your ear right now? I don't quite get what you mean by "not great." Could you please be a bit more specific? Thanks.

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Richardz might be referring to getting both strings to vibrate strongly and uniformly as opposed to finding the finger position to get a sweet sounding chord.

I have not practiced double stops in a long time because I do not use them with the simple repertoire that I currently play. But I have gotten interested in fiddle tunes and double stopping seems to be a big part of the sound. So I have a similar question.

Is it easier to get the two string going with looser or tighter bow hairs? Should I practice with full hairs on the strings or is it easier playing on the edge of the hair?

Right now if I play on hair edge, with the middle of the bow and with a lot of pressure nearer the bridge, I can get a uniform sound from both strings. But it seems like a lot of work.

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Some questions:  Are you having trouble getting the chord in tune?  Are you getting equal bow contact with both strings, or close to that?  Can you tune your instrument by playing adjacent open strings to get a perfect fifth?  Do you work on double stop etudes, like those of Trott, and work on double stop scales?

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I've been working on playing double stops, mostly from a fiddle or improvising perspective. I can get a sound but it isn't great, and I'd like to improve it. I notice I need more bow pressure (toward the frog) and a particular angle draws the most sound, also I'm using Vision titanium solo heavy strings. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

 

Nothing to worry - takes time and some practice to get them to sound good. I wouldn't know about great - great is abused often.

First thing to notice is that d/stops drop the bow pressure in half while in the same time, there are two strings making noise. That means you'll need to press a bit harder. The two fingers stopping the strings should also press with equal and moderate force. Too much and intonation becomes difficult. The next problem with d/stops which affects both how they sound and the intonation is the equality of bow pressure on the two strings. At least in the beginning, it must be dead equal. You achieve that by playing piano and at convenient tempo : not too slow, not too fast. The piano will greatly exaggerate the need for equal pressure - it'll force you to concentrate. Try them in your most comfortable bow / hand position and when you get the knack of an equal d/stop take it from there. 

 

You'll do just fine. 

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How do the double stops sound to your ear right now? I don't quite get what you mean by "not great." Could you please be a bit more specific? Thanks.

The intonation I can deal with, It's more about the sound produced. When playing against an open string it's pretty good, but when I get to second and third position using 2 fingers to stop the strings, it sounds weaker and kind of dry....not full resonance of the violin.

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If you haven't already taken this into consideration, remember that in general the higher you go with the left hand, the closer to the bridge the bow needs to be. I'm not sure that is your problem, but it's worth experimenting with, IMO.

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Some questions:  Are you having trouble getting the chord in tune?  Are you getting equal bow contact with both strings, or close to that?  Can you tune your instrument by playing adjacent open strings to get a perfect fifth?  Do you work on double stop etudes, like those of Trott, and work on double stop scales?

Tuning is ok. Open string double stops are good. It's more like a dry non resonant sound as I move up the neck. Thanks for the exercise book suggestions. I'll have a look, however I do think I am asking a more specific technical question.

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If you haven't already taken this into consideration, remember that in general the higher you go with the left hand, the closer to the bridge the bow needs to be. I'm not sure that is your problem, but it's worth experimenting with, IMO.

 

Aha! This is the type of thing I'm looking for. Thank you Will!

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Nothing to worry - takes time and some practice to get them to sound good. I wouldn't know about great - great is abused often.

First thing to notice is that d/stops drop the bow pressure in half while in the same time, there are two strings making noise. That means you'll need to press a bit harder. The two fingers stopping the strings should also press with equal and moderate force. Too much and intonation becomes difficult. The next problem with d/stops which affects both how they sound and the intonation is the equality of bow pressure on the two strings. At least in the beginning, it must be dead equal. You achieve that by playing piano and at convenient tempo : not too slow, not too fast. The piano will greatly exaggerate the need for equal pressure - it'll force you to concentrate. Try them in your most comfortable bow / hand position and when you get the knack of an equal d/stop take it from there. 

 

You'll do just fine. 

 

Thank you Carl. I like the idea of playing piano for equal bow pressure. I am learning to go easier for longer, rather than attack, so this will fit right in.

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The intonation I can deal with, It's more about the sound produced. When playing against an open string it's pretty good, but when I get to second and third position using 2 fingers to stop the strings, it sounds weaker and kind of dry....not full resonance of the violin.

I think intonation may be part of the problem, because if the notes are in tune they should ring a little. The other thing may be the bow. It may be necessary to play closer to the bridge and with slightly deeper bow than normal.

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Right now if I play on hair edge, with the middle of the bow and with a lot of pressure nearer the bridge, I can get a uniform sound from both strings. But it seems like a lot of work.

 

I know about things feeling like a lot of work. Lately I've learned to be more patient with myself and take a long time to build a better stronger foundation and not expect to be able to do certain things right away.  Carls approach and attitude sounds like it's along those lines. The muscle strength and correct feel can slowly build that way. Lately I'm thinking months instead of days or weeks. It works.

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I know about things feeling like a lot of work. Lately I've learned to be more patient with myself and take a long time to build a better stronger foundation and not expect to be able to do certain things right away.  Carls approach and attitude sounds like it's along those lines. The muscle strength and correct feel can slowly build that way. Lately I'm thinking months instead of days or weeks. It works.

 

As our esteemed member and my dear friend Will L put it a while ago, "Violin is a bag of tricks". I put the trick in my post #5 when I wrote "The two fingers stopping the strings should also press with equal and moderate force".  This is crucial or one string will sound ahead / easier than the other one and that will have you solving an extra problem every time you try a d/stop and you'll have to correct exactly the wrong way, i.e. you'll have to play with unequal bow pressure. 

 

Wish you the best !

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Try making one string louder than the other by leaning more into that string, and then reverse it.  Use the whole bow and play it slowly.  Use the whole bow and alternate between the two strings quickly.  This is all to help develop fine control.  For scales in double stops, play each note separately to tune it, then play the notes together.  Do it in rhythm.  Have the bow either parallel to the bridge or the tip slightly in front of the frog; frog in front of the tip will often sound rougher.  Try playing single finger double stops like e-b or g-d.  Some people have the experience that they can "think" those into tune.  The strings don't have to go all the way to the fingerboard but some string sets are better about that than others.  Never noticed tilt of the bow having anything to do with the sound of double stops.  Flat hair usually sounds bigger and rounder than tilted.  Double stops need less vibrato than single notes.

 

At a certain point, a general paradoxical rule is if you're having trouble with the left hand, pay attention to the right and vice versa.  An explanation I've heard for that is you can't function your best if somebody is looking over your shoulder :)

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Carl Stross:

Thank you for the clarification. Makes a lot of sense. Just so you know, I wasn't overlooking the rest of your advice : )

 

Bill Merkel:

Thank you. These sound like great suggestions and exercises to get the finer points of double stops. Also, in my initial post I mistakenly said bow angle, meaning the angle of the bow in relation to the bridge. I did hear a better sound with the tip in front of the frog as you say.

 

Everyone:

Thank you all for the outpouring of great advice. This will keep me busy and headed in the right direction.

I'm excited...I had great results today already using Wills suggestion of bowing closer to the bridge as you go up the neck. I think I was in some way preoccupied with the left hand and didn't think of that on my own. It's a different world with that information. Thanks again Will!

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In addition to what Stross said, make sure you know how to get a good tone on a single string.  If you can control the bow and the tone on one string, then you should be able to do it on two strings.  You need to be flexible and adjust as needed.

 

But what does this entail?  Holding the bow correctly, for one thing.  Curved, flexible fingers.  Firm but flexible hold, etc.  The other details of how to hold a bow are mostly a matter of religion.  ;)

 

I notice that many adult learners don't control the bow well and don't learn to do so easily.  They play with a frozen hand, but don't recognize that there's a problem.  Your bow control can never be too good.  I'm not even going to attempt to discuss the details.  You need a good teacher, and probably someone who was trained in a conservatory.

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Keep us updated about your progress, about what works for you, what you think the problems are/were.  There's already plenty of good advice here.

 

One more double-stop practice trick:

 

With the left hand, finger both notes.  With the right hand, bow only one string.  Do it a few times for intonation and tone production, then switch which string you're playing, again, fingering both notes.

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La Folia:

Yes I've been on the long road of improving my single string bowing and that's what lead me to begin working on double stops. I have been researching teachers in my area and may go that route. It seems my brain/body is slow to absorb a large amount of new ideas, and change my old bad habits. Getting individual concepts and working on them over time seems to work. I may try a teacher though. In the past whenever I did that they did not teach technique at all, only repertoire. In retrospect it doesn't make much sense, except in negative interpretations. My next teacher will be one who specializes in technique....probably a conservatory trained one as you mentioned. Thank you.

 

Stephen Fine:

Yes there is plenty of good advice here to keep me busy for a while, or a lifetime.

Your exercise seems an much a mind exercise as a physical one. I tried it and noticed myself thinking in a different way about it...imagining the other note. Interesting. Thank you.

I will update about any progress. Time to work on it all a bit.

 

Thank you again everyone!

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At least one person has mentioned intonation.  Maybe more.

 

I have been trying to think about this problem and it seems to me it is to some extent simple:  It is at least twice as hard to play two notes in tune as just one.  

 

We have to have the two notes in tune to each other, but they can still easily be out of tune with what came before or will come after.  So I think when we are learning a series of double-stops, we have to always relate them to other notes we are more sure of.

 

Then we have to do two more things:  1. In effect we have to memorize* what is right, and 2. Be willing to adjust as instantaneously** as possible.

 

*By memorize, I mean we have to learn where to put the fingers, and what the tendencies are.  (Raphael Bronstein made a big point about this in his teaching:  He, in effect, said that people are lazy and too often allow their fingers to do what feels natural instead of making them do what they need to do.)  

 

**There are only two ways to sound in tune:  Either have the fingers in the right place to start, or move them very quickly.  That tells us that we need a concept of intonation in advance; a concept of where the fingers SHOULD go in advance; then a willingness and ability to adjust so quickly that the lowly audience can't tell.   :)  Of course, all this has to have become "second nature," before we perform successfully.  We can't be learning on the job, so to speak. 

 

Dorothy DeLay used to say, "Perfect intonation is instantaneous adjustment."   That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try be so correct that we don't need to adjust; or only need to adjust occasionally; or very little.  You can imagine that having to adjust too much or too often would not allow instantaneousness (yes a real word   :) ).  

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Casals is quoted as saying that for string players, correct intonation is a matter of conscience.

Ain't that the truth!

 

And I have been told that Szigeti said, "There is no substitute for perfect intonation."

 

One of my teachers instilled in me to "Never assume you are in tune.  Listen to every note, and never stop trying to be even more in tune."

 

BTW, it would make an interesting topic to list all the old sayings that we have heard or read over the years. Probably there is a wealth of useful insights in those old "suitable for framing" expressions. 

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