Dreaded Double Stops

My violin lesson was yesterday, and that particular lesson was another case of “two steps back.” I’m of the opinion that maybe if I skipped every other lesson, I would be congratulated and patted on the back always. Of course, I’m a glutton for punishment, so I go every week, and risk being dressed down as a result.

I’ve always had a problem with double stops. (Double stops means striking two or more strings at once with your bow.) I don’t know why. I have an etude book full of them, and I still can’t do them with any skill. I’ve been playing (if you can call it that) my violin for over three years, and you’d think (or my teacher thinks) I’d be able to do at least the simplest double stops.

As a guitar player, I was always able to strike at least three strings at the same time. Heck, they call that “strumming” the guitar. Of course, I couldn’t read music back then and compensated for my lack of sight reading ability by only strumming. Plus, it’s easier to strum with a pick than it is to try to maintain a melodious double stop with a long narrow stick with one end in horsehair.

Now that I can read music, it takes me a while to cypher where my fingers should go on which strings and why. Because of this, I will sometimes pause ever so slightly just before the double stop in order to find my place. Doing this makes for a choppy performance.

If a piece has a passage with double stops, I work almost exclusively on those. I can play single notes just fine. It’s those damned double stops that drive me nutty.

I can’t figure out if I have a psychological aversion to double stops, or if I’m physically unable to do them. My inability could be the result of skinny arms and weak wrists. Or my brain could be working too hard. I tend to over-analyze everything.


12 Responses

  1. You know … if you listen very very closely, many professional-level performers hesitate just fractionally before a double stop. Maybe you’d feel differently about it if you thought of it as taking a breath, rather than pausing because you don’t know quite how to do it yet. Lots of things require a breath.

  2. Like life?


  3. I remember having dreadful problems learning to drive stick until I read a description an essayist wrote about teaching someone to drive stick–about the process. Maybe it would help to read everything you can about the process for a bit? See if your brain can process it another way, and then direct the hands. And David’s right, you need to think about what it means in the speech / song of the music. If it’s a breath, you know how to do that, right? 🙂

  4. I feel horribly inept when you talk about music stuff. I am, alas, without talent.

  5. Double stops are great on the mandolin too.

    On violin they are beautiful, but that bow is the devil.

    Dr. B

  6. Well, I think you’re amazing for even trying! Violin is a tough one to learn.

  7. It sure is tough! And Dr. B is right. That bow is a devil bow. I have two, so I’m doubly stymied.

  8. Well, you’re way ahead of me. I only lasted one year of violin lessons and that was about 45 years ago. I’m too chicken to take up an instrument as an adult. I am talent-less when it comes to music too. Wanda is not alone!

  9. Ah. I’m working on double stops, too, and we just figured out that I’ll hit 3 years of lessons in July, so we’re still running parallel… except you’re playing violin and I’m playing fiddle.

    Here’s what i was told: soften your bow a bit if you’re going to play two strings together, and make certain that your bow is closer to the fingerboard than the bridge, so the strings are a little closer in height. Also make sure you are moving the bow at right angles to the strings, instead of at an angle.

    I was also told that “double stops” specifically mean where you are actually fingering (stopping) both strings that you are playing. If one is open, you are simply adding a drone.

    What songs are you working on? My double stop tunes are Julia Delaney, Bus Stop, and Amazing Grace (with drones).

  10. Ahh, this took me back to the days of guitar lessons. My fingertips ache just thinking about it (in a good way).

  11. Ah, if only you lived here. My dear cousin is a retired first chair symphonic violinist. She tutors. She’s amazing. When I was young my brother learned a bit of violin from her before switching to guitar. Oddly enough, many years later, my youngest son started his musical involvement with violin and then moved on to a variety of guitars too.

  12. You’re never too old to learn a new instrument. And besides, you’ve already had exposure to the violin when you were younger. It’ll all come back. For me, I took up the fiddle (violin with attitude?) when I was 50. I ‘fiddled’ with my daughter’s violin and discovered that I had an interest. Luckily, a highly-regarded fiddle instructor lived nearby and I took lessons for about two years. Then we got the beagle… I stopped playing for about 4 years after that because I couldn’t practice without the dog howling (and I wasn’t a bad player). Just recently bought an electric violin with much less acoustic sound and started re-learning the fiddle all over again. I also developed an interest in Cajun fiddle, so I have to learn the double-stops, too. Just my $.02.

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