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I am an adult beginner on the violin and would just like to say I've absolutely loved it so far. I started at the very beginning of this year and found a teacher who I'm extremely happy with. Around three months into playing they had me start on Melodious Double Stops. Just recently, around five months in, someone commented that it seemed very early to be playing double stops. I also noticed that this sequence of violin repertoire suggests Trott around Suzuki book six, and I'm squeaking my way through two, so it does seem I started early.

This seems strange to me. The first handful of etudes all use one open string and stick to first position so they definitely seem playable to me though I'm sure they'll sound rough from a beginner. "Sounds bad" seems like a bad rationale though. It has helped me a lot with intonation to reference an open string and this seems especially important when you're just beginning.

Is there any particular reason that starting double stops later seems to be the norm? Why would you wait six suzuki books to start?

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  • At the moment it sounds opinion-based, you should probably ask why they said that. I love double stops because they make it easy to find octaves and the octaves makes it easy to find fourths and fifths. I use them and harmonics as a guide to find my way around on the fingerboard.
    – Emil
    May 19, 2022 at 5:51
  • Considering that you are happy with your teacher and that there are many ways to learn and teach… why does it matter? May 19, 2022 at 6:00
  • Seems your teacher feels this is the right time for you. If you're coping, don't bother questioning it - except maybe to teacher. Double stops like this are really no more difficult than playing single notes - particularly for the right arm/hand. And, they'll help your intonation.
    – Tim
    May 19, 2022 at 6:55
  • There is not really an appropriate time to start learning double stops. As with anything in teaching and learning this depends on lots of thing and preferences. That being said it makes little sense to do double stops before you’ve got the basics, that is at least some bow control and some sense of fingering (basically before you’ve internalized which fingering position on which string gives which note playing multiple notes will probably not be helpful). But then there is no real problem with starting double stops.
    – Lazy
    May 19, 2022 at 9:16
  • @KrisVanBael for me I don't think it does matter, really I ask for the reason that I think if I didn't have a teacher I would have missed out and I think a google search result for "when should I start double stops" would be helpful. I think Tim and Lazy really answered my question in that there isn't a specific reason (some advanced bow stroke, whatever) that you definitely shouldn't start earlier than book 6
    – qfwfq
    May 19, 2022 at 16:03

4 Answers 4

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Double stops that don't involve open strings are essentially incorrigible. So there's a point in starting to practise them only once intonation is rather dependable. They also interfere with vibrato. Consequently they are an advanced technique in classical violin practice and practising, getting focus only once other skills are dependable. Bach's solo partitas and sonatas contain lots of very advanced examples where the violin is essentially fingered like a small guitar (actually lute), with 4-voice fugues and chord play.

On the other hand, in fiddle play which is mostly focused on first position does not use vibrato a lot and doesn't focus on lyrical qualities of the instrument, drone notes and shuffle play and other double stops are essential for the soundscape particularly with a single fiddle in an ensemble. Here one would start double stops a whole lot earlier as they are essential to the sound.

Of course, there is a middle ground too, like a lot of Bela Bartok. Which can be a lot of fun.

As to your question: I see no point in questioning your teacher while you are enjoying yourself and making progress. The order in which you are making progress is secondary as long as you don't feel you get into dead ends.

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Actually, some isolated double and triple stops appear quite a bit earlier in the Suzuki sequence -- it's been awhile since I was a parent coach, but I think the first appearance is in Book 2 or 3.

Here are some reasons one might not want to spend much time on double stops in the early days:

  1. It can be frustrating, because there's less wiggle room for something to sound in tune, and because sometimes it's confusing to try to figure out which finger needs to be adjusted, and in which direction.

  2. It can get on people's nerves, and it can get on the student's nerves. I'm speaking generally -- not about you in particular.

  3. Technically, it's important for a beginner to learn to use arm weight to stop the string sufficiently, in order to get a solid sound. The alternative to using arm weight is to push down on the string. When playing double stops, it's easy to lose the relaxed use of arm weight, and introduce damaging tension. It's so much harder to correct a bad technical habit than it is to accustom oneself to helpful technique from the beginning, in a consistent way. Note that the risk is much less when one of the notes is an open string.

However, as you pointed out, there are positives to practicing double stops.

Narrowing my focus to you: it sounds like you're enjoying getting started with double stops. Yay! I would just ask that you not spend a significant portion of your playing time working on them, and that you pay special attention to avoiding pressing on the string, and focusing instead on using the weight of the arm in a relaxed way.

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The logic of learning double stops early is that it allows you to learn to tune your violin in a standard (strings tuned to each other) rather than the temperate tuning that a tuner will give you. You can only do this once you have reliable open strings double stops -- but once you've put in the practice for open strings, might as well learn about scales in 5ths, etc, because who would stop at open strings? Having a standard tuning on your violin will allow you to train both your ear and your fingers for better, more reliable intonation -- it's really like magic. That in turn provides a much more stable foundation for learning shifts and vibratos, both of which tend to mess with intonation.

The reason many methods delay double stops is bow control. But if the student has spent the upfront time to learn a proper, relaxed bow hold and right arm position and motion, double stops are a logical next step that enables a better transition into more advanced topics.

Bottom line: Enjoy! You might think this delays your playing into the higher positions and the more complicated / fun pieces, but the progression actually is a big step towards playing well. The rest will come easily.

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It's great to hear that you feel you have found a great teacher to work with, and are enjoying playing the music. You've been playing double stops (or the Melodious Double Stops) for a while now, so are you feeling comfortable with them, or able to play them well?

I think that because you have experience playing the violin already, you should learn double stops. It's great to learn this skill or technique, and it adds another layer to your playing. I love playing fiddle and bluegrass music, which double stops are great for. Learning double stops will expand your ability to play more textured music across many genres and styles.

Your teacher should be able to guide you through any troubles you might have while learning double stops. If you can play each string individually and get a good sound, you shouldn't have too much trouble tilting your arm a little to bow two strings at a time! Try playing open string double stops first, to get a good feel for them!

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