Left Hand Technique for Double and Multiple Stops
GOAL #1: Perfect Intonation for Maximum Ring
For ringing intonation, practice by checking every possible note with open strings. Play with a solid tone so that you can tell whether octaves and perfect intervals agree. Listen for the overtones. Eventually you should be able to feel the sympathetic vibrations when a note is in agreement with your open strings, even without checking directly.
Thirds and sixths will most often sound best using just intonation. If one of the notes agrees with an open string, tune that note to the open string and then adjust the other note to it.
Some intervals will be hard to negotiate – for example, a C major chord which uses notes that match both your open G and your open E has a built-in contradiction, because the C and G will either need to agree with the G string and therefore be too low to sound good with the E string, or the C and G will need to agree with the E string and therefore be too high to ring with the G string. Minimize the problem by tuning your fifths more tightly. Then choose the open string most important to your key.
GOAL #2: Voicing the Melody Note
For voicing in melodic double stops, align your left arm so that the melody note finger is supported. To find a perfect alignment, play the melody note by itself and adjust your elbow and wrist so that there is a straight line running down the back of your forearm from the middle of your hand to the middle of the elbow. The wrist should not be cocked. You will not always be able to attain this ideal position, but once you have this feeling of balance, you should be striving constantly to get as much of it as possible.
Practice slowly, playing all voices in the left hand but only bowing the main voice. If a note does not sound well, adjust your alignment until it does.
A simple exercise for getting a feel for your best alignment is to play the fourth finger on each string. Notice how the elbow swings forward and the hand rises slightly in order to support the fourth finger on the G string. Notice how the elbow swings under the violin and your hand lowers slightly when your fourth finger is on the E string. Facing your scroll toward a mirror, watch the line of your forearm as you play each string. Listen to the sound you make when you are aligned vs. when you are not.
GOAL #3: Comfort and Relaxation
Have loose first joints and relaxed, welcoming pads. Your fingers need to be able to slide across strings and between positions in an easy and legato manner. The square shape which results from playing on the bone or absolute fingertip is exactly wrong for doublestops! Practice with a beautiful sound, encouraging the left hand to relax. You should always be able to feel the strings circulating under your fingers. (References: Dounis doublestops from Artist’s Technique, Fischer fingers leading shift from Basics)
Release each note and multiple stop, just as you release the bow.
Never press more than absolutely necessary. The main voice should have slightly more pressure than the accompaniment.
Learn fingertip placement so that half steps, tritones and minor sixths are never squeezed. (Reference: Fischer Widening from Basics)
Whenever possible, pronate your fingers (turn your fingernails towards your face, not to the left) to encourage the thumb to relax. (Reference: Fischer Thumb spa from Basics)
Divide and conquer – in the most difficult quadruple stop passages, practice two notes to two notes, playing legato.
Learn the different positions for easy vs. difficult chords:
In an “easy” chord, the bottom finger is on the bottom string – 5ths, 6ths, 7ths, 8ths, 9ths, and 10ths. Place the lower finger first and allow the left hand (left index contact point) to lower. The elbow will be slightly under the violin.
In a “difficult” chord, the bottom finger is on the top string – tritones, 4ths, 3rds, 2nds, and unisons. Place the lower finger first and allow the left index contact point to rise. The elbow will be slightly forward, to the right of violin.
In fugues you will often find chords that are a marriage of easy and difficult. Organize the bottom finger of the difficult doublestop first whenever possible — this is not intuitive, but it really works!
Work on your independence of fingers with stretching and doublestop exercises. (References: Śevĉík Opus 1 Part 4, Dounis Artist’s Technique and Daily Dozen, Kourguof, Fischer Widening)
The more difficult the chord, the more you must find a way to enjoy it and make friends with it. Ideally works such as Bach Fugues, Paganini Caprices, and Ysaÿe Solo Sonatas should feel and sound wonderful all the way through!
Bayla Keyes © 2018