Hi Guys and well done on making it to a stage where you’re ready to begin violin double stops!
Although double stops do involve playing on two strings at the same time, the word ‘stops’ is a bit misleading as we don’t necessarily want our double notes to stop on the string; in many cases, we would actually rather they were as smooth and ‘un-stopped’ as possible.
I clearly remember the day that my teacher introduced me to double stops. I was about 6 or 7 years old and we were learning a piece called ‘Beautiful Bluebird’. I can’t remember who the composer of this piece was but do remember being super excited to be making two sounds at the same time. Double stopping can be a lot of fun, so do take time and effort to develop the necessary skills correctly.
Where We Go Wrong
Often, when a students struggle with double stops, it’s because they’re raising their left elbow and pushing the bow down harder onto the strings. Although this will, in most cases result in two strings being played at once, the quality of the sound produced is really quite poor and this is certainly not conducive of comfortable and correct technique.
Whether you’re just starting out with your violin double stops or if you’re looking to improve because you know they just aren’t right, then you’d do well to stand in front of a mirror and see what’s going on.
Before You Begin:
Start by playing some open A or D string notes on their own. By this stage, your right arm should be comfortably correct and your bow hold should be well established; if not, you’re not ready to begin double stops.
Now try playing the open D and A strings together and pay particular attention to your right arm, hand and wrist.
Take a look at the picture of Olivia above and you’ll see that the position of her right elbow looks unnatural and forced. What you may not be able to see is that this arm position is forcing the bending of Olivia’s right wrist which in turn, causes her bow hold to suffer.
Playing with your right arm in this position is certainly not going to create a good quality of sound and you’re going to experience tension and even pain in your right arm, hand and wrist.
Let’s look at how we can begin to play double stops comfortably and correctly.
Finding The ‘Middle’ Strings
When my students start playing violin double stops, I get them to imagine that there is another string, in between the two strings that they want to play together. This ‘middle string’ is where we want to aim the bow and the elbow and right arm position must be at the level that would be correct for playing on this ‘middle string’.
Take a look at the following slides; this is Olivia again and she’s playing some double stops. Take a look at the position of Olivia’s right arm and hand as she plays on each pair of strings.
Try finding your own ‘middle strings’ in front of the mirror and pay attention to the position of your right arm and hand. Also take note of the feel; there should be no tension in the hand, arm or wrist and your correct bow hold should be maintained.
Playing on two strings
Now that we’ve established where the bowing arm should sit, you can begin following my video below. Place the middle of your bow on the A and D strings and try playing the two strings together. Start very small and always play softly; don’t go further than a couple of centimeters in each direction and listen for the consistent double sound. Keeping your bows small, now turn your attention to how your bowing arm, hand and wrist feel.
- Are they loose and relaxed?
- Are you still holding your bow correctly and comfortably?
- Is the position of your elbow comfortable and at an appropriate height?
Extend the bows slightly and check your technique at this new length. Increase again, check again and continue doing this until you are able to play whole, slow, steady bows on the A and D strings.
Never move your bow more than what good technique and a high quality of sound will allow. Once your bow starts to wobble onto just one string, the quality of your sound decreases or your right hand and arm technique begin to suffer, stop. This is the limit for you at this stage; practice up to this point until you are able to increase your bow length again following a few days or even a week of practice.
Once you are able to confidently and comfortably produce a beautiful double note sound for the entire length of your bow, you want to start developing further control with your violin double stops.
As shown in the video, start on the open D string and then, in the middle of your bow, change to playing the A and D strings together. A sticker in the middle of your bow may help with this.
Be super careful not to raise your elbow as you move to the double stop and listen that your transition is smooth and controlled.
Add a minim double for each up bow and you’ve now developed a really strong double stopping technique.
Let’s Introduce Double Stops
This exercise is from the AMEB preliminary syllabus and is really good for developing your double stopping technique. Even if you’re not doing AMEB exams, the AMEB technical workbook is certainly a good investment and something that you will make much use of over the years. Using the skills we have discussed above, now you just need to add the fingers.
Learn one line at a time, always listening for a beautiful quality of sound and watching out for the maintenance of correct technique.
Check out my post on violin finger placement for more help with using your left fingers on the strings. Standing your left fingers up correctly and maintaining good left hand and wrist technique is especially important for double stops; you don’t want your fingers pressing on more than one string here!
If you’ve made it this far, you’re well on the way to playing beautiful violin double stops. Remember that although we want to hear double strings, for the exercises here we don’t want any ‘stopping’ at all; we want a very smooth and continuous sound.
Whether you’re here as a beginner double stopper or if you’re struggling to make a nice double stopping sound as a more advanced player, please do practice these exercises daily so that your quality of sound and technique develops well.
Don’t forget that if you need a hand with double stopping or anything else violin related, just reach out either through one of my social media accounts or in the comment section below and I’ll certainly get back to you as soon as I can.
Best of luck with your double stops!