I'd like to find out if it is possible to play the double stop of E natural and F sharp on the cello. Thank you


4 Answers 4


I agree with Michael's answer. But there is another point of view :

If you are considering composing a piece with this chord, especially if it is to be played with the bow, I would advise you to consider having two cellos or two different string players forming it (for instance if it is with a sufficiently high E or F# to be played by a viola or a violin).

It is not only a matter of virtuosity, it is also one of composition quality, texture, sound quality and musicality. If this chord is important in your piece, having two players will allow for more precision in intonation, easy adjustment of volume of each component, more control of transition from and to other notes, as well as attack combinations and sound richness that an instrument alone can have difficulty (or impossibility) to provide.

Also note that E, F, F# in the low registers (especially E_2, F_2, F#_2) are often troublesome notes on cellos because they can elicit parasite resonances (known as wolfs). So it may be a good idea to split them between instruments.

  • Great followup. I totally agree that double stops should be used sparingly and knowingly for their specific effect when there is an alternative of using two players. Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 0:48

It will all depend on the octave -- the lowest E natural and F# are impossible since they both need to be played on the lowest string C (unless you want to tune the G string down to F#). In higher octaves it ranges from "possible" (if using the thumb or playing in higher positions on lower strings) to easy. If you'll be writing for double stops a lot, I suggest buying Donald Martino's String-O-Graph which lets you try out various positions on a strip of paper without needing a cello around.

If you don't have a string-o-graph, you may want to look at http://www.fransabsil.nl/archpdf/fingers.pdf which shows the distances for each instrument that are easily reached and are reached with a stretch.


The easiest way to play those pitches as double stops is as a minor 7th with the F# on bottom. Both F#2 – E3 and F#3 – E4 are quite easy. If you're looking specifically for the major 2nd with E on the bottom you are moving into much less common territory. E4–F#4 is almost certainly the easiest; an octave lower is quite a bit more stretch required unless it's played unusually high up on lower strings. In any case the stretch is the same as an 8ve double stop in the same position but with strings reversed. Having the higher finger on a lower string is definitely a bit more awkward, and definitely FAR less common. I wouldn't be surprised if some cellists tell you it's impossible. I would generally not use major 2nds in chamber pieces, and almost certainly not in an orchestral situation. If it's a solo piece, aimed at a virtuosic player comfortable with modern literature, then I think I might if the effect were desirable enough. In any case, you should give some time on either side of the double stop for the player to shift hand position (they will almost certainly need to use the thumb on the higher string).

As a 9th I would say this note combination is for all practical purposes impossible. I just tried it on my cello, and I can kind of do it, but it's very uncomfortable and I have relatively large hands. Best avoided.


So of course it depends on which E and which F sharp you want to play. Here are some examples:

E natural on the A string and F sharp on the D string: For this, you would use your fourth finger on the E and first finger on the F sharp. This is in 2nd position, if that means anything. I think this is the easiest one to play.

E natural on the G string and F sharp on the C string: You would then use 1st finger on F and 4th finger on E. This is in 3rd extended position.

There are various other ways to play it as you go down the fingerboard and the pitches get closer together. If you want to do this, then here are some steps to get a good fingering:

  1. Find either the E or the F sharp first.
  2. Then find the other note on a neighboring string.
  3. Test the interval out with different fingering to find one that's comfortable and convenient
  4. Roll with it! if If it turns out to not work, either start over from step 1 or step 3.

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