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Am composing a modern violin-piano duet here, would love the piece to actually be playable for a violinist (am a pianist myself), so would really appreciate your expertise here:

"Can double stopping (on violin) be done on pizzicato, and what are the melodic limits of doing so? By double stopping I mean simultaneous plucking of 2 strings rather than arpeggio-like quick succession of tones."

Looking forward to learning from you folks, many thanks for your insights :)

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4 Answers 4

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I disagree with Lazy; it's very doable to pluck two strings simultaneously with two fingers. It could be considered a bit of an "extended technique," but is certainly not the hardest or most outlandish thing requested in modern repertoire. A picture is worth a thousand words, so when I get a chance I might edit this answer with a video for demonstration. I actually do this often on purpose in orchestral settings that would often be taken as divisi, say pizzicato octave double stops, just because I'm bored.

In terms of technique, it helps to know the standard technique. Under normal circumstances, right-hand pizzicato is only done with the pointer finger. For the most resonant, full-bodied tone, a lot of thought has to be given to the rigidity of the finger and the angle at which it contacts the string. The performer might use some extra "tricks" to get the very best sound, like bracing the thumb against the pointer finger, and plucking near the first harmonic node of the string. In passages of rapid pizzicato—like, really, anything above 16th notes at 60 bpm—one can't be quite as particular, and settles for simply "pecking" each note.

Meanwhile, pizzicato chords are done by strumming the pointer finger across the relevant strings. If it's in forte, and the performer chooses to, this strum can be near simultaneous. At lower dynamics, or for expressive purposes, the performer could roll the chord more noticeably. Pizzicato double stops on adjacent strings would normally be handled the same way. So even with normal technique, loud ones would probably be near simultaneous.

But for truly simultaneous attack, I would simply use a second finger for the higher note. This would also be the only approach that would let us play two notes on non-adjacent strings, something like this: enter image description here. Using two fingers might mean some sacrifice of that ideal, big fat tone, though honestly any loss might be slight. If there is a very long passage of pizzicato, players often choose to hold the violin like a guitar; in this case, one might pluck with the thumb as well, like guitar finger-picking technique.

Warnings:

  • It would take some mental and physical effort to prepare these multi-finger notes. They would be better suited to long durations, or notes separated by rests, than rapid repeated pizzicati. For example, at quarter note = 60, a sequence of quarter notes would be a bit of a challenge but reasonable; eighth notes would make steam rise from my head, and 16th notes might well be impossible.
  • Think about the left hand too. If notes are so far apart in range, make sure you're not causing any left-hand contortions that might be far more challenging than simply plucking with two fingers. In general, it's easy to put higher fingers on higher strings. That is, of these chords, enter image description here , the first is much easier than the second.
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    Berlioz complained about violinist’s unwillingness to adopt guitar player techniques :). But if you say you disagree do you claim this is a common thing? I have not encountered a lot that goes into that direction, and I suppose this would be quite awkward with moderately fast string crossings.
    – Lazy
    May 12, 2023 at 7:11
  • @Lazy Certainly, not common, and no, ill-suited to anything fast. (And I'll say I've never seen a piece instructing the player to use multiple fingers, though the 1627 Capriccio Stravagante, that imitates various instruments, says in the guitar-imitative section to "hold the violin on the hip, like the Spanish guitar." May 12, 2023 at 13:14
  • Elgar in his violin concerto instructs the orchestral strings to play pizzicato "with the soft part of three or four fingers across the strings" (during the accompanied cadenza in the last movement). Admittedly this is not a case of playing distinct separate notes or chords.
    – David
    May 13, 2023 at 7:30
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While it would be theoretically possible to pluck multiple strings at once it is quite uncommon to do so. But it is possible to pluck across multiple strings quite rapidly so it sounds simultaneous.

This can be done on any number of strings (as long as keep within the limits of the instrument, but you should try not to leave out any strings in between other strings. Melodically anything is possible that is possible with regular double stops, but you should keep in mind that pizzicato is less melodic and more percussive, which might make some types of melodic lines a bit awkward.

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    What limits plucking multiple strings at once? Is it because of the plucking hand? How does it differ from instruments which are normally plucked, like guitars? May 12, 2023 at 0:11
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    @user1079505 Multiple things: 1) Convention (violinist have plucked the violins a certain way for ages and won’t change it easily), 2) Instrument position: The way you hold a violin makes plucking multiple strings at once really awkwards. You may hold the violin like a guitar (as is done in Berlioz when he wants to simulate a guitar), but still it’s awkward, because the instrument is small and not built to be held like that, 3) Bow hold except for long pizzicato passages violin players will have a bow in their hands, making plucking with multiple fingers quite a challenge.
    – Lazy
    May 12, 2023 at 6:57
  • @user1079505 It might be a bit comparable to "what limits bowing a guitar? how does it differ from instruments which are normally bowed?", to which the answer clearly is "the guitar is not built to be bowed". While it is not as extreme for the violin (you could do it if you really wanted to) the instrument is not designed for the task. For example a guitar does have a straight bridge, which makes it impossible to be bowed. The violin as a curved bridge, which enables you to bow it, but it also means that if you want to play the violin like a guitar you have nowhere to rest your hand.
    – Lazy
    May 12, 2023 at 7:01
  • "which makes it impossible to be bowed": the internet shows that this is incorrect. The analogy is actually closer than that. Just as it's awkward to play a violin in finger-picking style, it's not impossible to play a guitar with a bow but merely awkward.
    – phoog
    May 12, 2023 at 7:09
  • @phoog Are you talking about a proper bow, or about one those short gimmicks you slide between the strings? With a flat bridge a proper bow can only access the lowest and the top string of the guitar, as well as all six of them in a not so useful manner. And that is ignoring the fact that most playing positions cannot be accessed, because the body is in the way. At least that is my understanding, if you’ve got any example of a guitar actually being played with a bow, I’d be delighted to be proven wrong. Btw.: If we talk about bowed guitars c.f. Viola da gamba, Arpeggione and the GuitarViol.
    – Lazy
    May 12, 2023 at 7:33
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It's cool to write double (or 3 or 4 note chords) stops for pizzicato or arco on violin. Aim for using as many open strings (G, D, A, E) in the chords as much as possible, because that will encourage more accurate intonation and be easier. The more left hand fingers that are needed to put down to accomplish playing the chord, the harder it is to play. Also note that as pizzicato it will more likely sound like an arpeggio than a chord the more notes you use. Feel free to private message me or comment here if you have follow-up questions.

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I do this all the time because it lets me find how big a whole tone is by finding the octave two strings away. I usually do it without holding my bow or with the thumb and index finger when holding a bow. I wonder if my fingers are strong enough so only one is needed to hold the bow, maybe with training... I don't know for sure how easy it is to resume playing afterwards, perhaps there is a small delay.

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  • Come to think of it, taking a semibarré on the two middle strings might allow me two find two whole tones at once if I use all four strings. Might look into that later.
    – Emil
    Jun 14, 2023 at 5:47

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