Okay, I've been taking the rather unusual step of playing some violin scores on the mandolin (the tunings are the same, and they're about the same size, so they're usually pretty suitable parts).

However, I found this score for the can-can online, which is tagged 'easy violin'.


The last note of the score, however, has the violin part playing three notes simultaneously.

enter image description here

So what's going on here? I know you can't bow three notes at the same time. It could probably be picked, although it would involve at least a double stop, and I can't see any pizzicato markings. (It takes the pizz).

So what's going on here? Are staccato notes implicitly pizzicato? Are there bowing techniques that would be notated this way? Is this a mistake while transcribing the score?

  • Not a violin expert but my first guess would actually be the part is intended to be played by at least three separate violinists and this format is condensed. Jun 10, 2016 at 18:42
  • @ToddWilcox it's possible, although if it is. The rest of the piece is written in unison.
    – AJFaraday
    Jun 10, 2016 at 18:43
  • I think it's more likely that this is just a misprint. A two note chord of E and C without the G is quite easy to play on the violin (and just as easy on the mandolin, since the tuning is the same). The 3-note chord E G C with the three notes on the G, D and A strings, or those three notes played as a quick arpeggio on just the D and A strings, are both too advanced to match the rest of this "easy" arrangement.
    – user19146
    Jun 10, 2016 at 21:50
  • @alephzero it's very easy to play three or four notes on a mandolin, it's a technique know as a strum. I just wondered what a violinist would do with this score.
    – AJFaraday
    Jun 10, 2016 at 22:34
  • I would consider it a sloppy mistake by the arranger and omit the G. Jun 11, 2016 at 22:10

8 Answers 8


It's very common to write 3 or 4 note chords for strings, and the implication is to play it as two gestures in quick succession. Here is the first page of the first movement of Beethoven's first symphony:

Beethoven symphony no. 1, score, first page

On the fourth bar, there's a 4-note chord (mercifully, with two open strings). The standard way to play this is to quickly play a double stop on the lower two notes, then sustain the upper two.

In your example, you would either play an E and then a G-C double stop, or an E-G double stop then a C. The fact that it's short leaves the options open.

As a related technique, it's common to write piano music with impossibly large chords, and it's similarly implied to break things up like this.

  • 4
    Would a symphony not typically have multiple instruments playing each part? I've seen similar parts in choral music, where there's an SATB arrangement, but sometimes a part will split into 2 or 3 part harmony. That symphony page has multiple notes on the winds, too. Surely those are split?
    – AJFaraday
    Jun 10, 2016 at 19:07
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    Yes, the wind parts are split, since obviously they can't play multiple notes (at least, not without weird extended techniques). But strings can, and so parts should be marked "divisi" if the composer intends for a split. In a beginner orchestra, you could decide to split the section to make it easier to play, but this example is certainly intended to not be split.
    – MattPutnam
    Jun 10, 2016 at 19:28
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    @AJFaraday In orchestral scores, all the wind and brass instrument parts are usually have the notes for by two or even three players written on a single staff, simply to save space. Each player in the orchestra has a separate part on his/her music stand, showing only the single line of notes that they should play.
    – user19146
    Jun 10, 2016 at 21:46
  • related blog post timusic.net/2013/02/double-trouble summry: "don't score double stops for orchesta, division is the 'default' "
    – James K
    Jun 12, 2016 at 6:49
  • @alephzero It's actually pretty common to have combined wind/brass parts in the individual parts, especially in Classical period music like this. Less so the more modern you get, but even in contemporary music the horns still get combined parts pretty regularly.
    – MattPutnam
    Jun 13, 2016 at 4:32

You're right, you can't play three notes at once on the violin with a normal bow and pressure. What's almost certainly meant here is an arpeggio, playing the three notes quickly one after the other. This is often notated sloppily as a chord which is not really possible to play- even Bach did this in his violin sonatas, leaving generations of violinists arguing about how exactly to perform them.

  • 3
    So how would you notate it? I play them almost as though they were chords. You can play them almost at the same time. Jun 10, 2016 at 22:46
  • 5
    Agree with General Nuisance, you would not play this chord as an arpeggio, rather accentuate the lower note as a sort of grace note then play the upper interval. Jun 10, 2016 at 22:56
  • 1
    I was using "arpeggio" just to mean some way of not playing all three notes simultaneously, not necessarily in equal note values. Yes, probably the usual thing would be to quickly touch the bottom note and then hold a double stop of the two higher notes. It's the sort of thing that no one usually bothers to try to notate exactly. Jun 11, 2016 at 10:23
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    @ScottWallace Aha, thank you for the clarification. Your answer is spot on. Isn't an arpeggio basically a rolled out chord with the notes played one at a time? Jun 11, 2016 at 17:58
  • @GeneralNuisance- sure thing. Yes, an arpeggio is exactly that, a rolled out chord. Jun 12, 2016 at 17:30

Depends on the era. Baroque violins had a less curved bridge and less string tension. This made it easier to play three notes simultaneously without sounding out of line.

The given chord is sort-of unusual but can be fingered in second position as 4-2-1 on G-D-A strings. Now here is where it gets strange: this is labeled "easy can-can" and a chord in second position would not usually count as "easy". It's not much of a contortion, but getting chord pitches right in double and triple stops (or more) requires a lot of practice since you cannot autocorrect in the same manner as with single notes, and second position is uncommon.

So on the whole, this looks fishy at surface value. C-E-C fingered in first position as 3-1-2 would seem quite more plausible. Or C-G-C as 3-3-2 (violins with their curved fingerboard are somewhat more amenable to partial barrées than guitars are), but that's missing the major.

While one does arpeggiate chords on the violin, that's something you do with the bow and without refingering in between and without playing two notes on the same string in succession.

So if this is intended for playing on a single instrument, it would point to having to be played in second position (which seems somewhat out of line with the "easy" tag), or being transcribed wrong.


These are called triple stops. There are also double stops and, I think they're called, quadruple stops. Double stops can be easily played by keeping your bow level between the two strings so that it touches both.

Harder to play are triple and quad stops. These are usually played with a rolled bow quickly. Usually for these, you try to keep them bow touching at least two strings at a time so that it sounds more like a chord. Of course, it's impossible to play all four strings, or even more than two strings, at a time.

Also, make sure, (if you ever decide to actually play violin with a violin ;-D) to not apply much pressure. Some people think, "Twice as many strings? Twice as much pressure!" This can cause problems, as can all excess pressure on a violin.

Don't try to roll them out - if the composer wanted you to do that, he would, most likely, write out a three note slur, or whatever. Happy violining! Or, uh, whatever it is you're doing...

  • 2
    I quite like the term mandolinnification.
    – AJFaraday
    Jun 10, 2016 at 22:59
  • Sure, triple stops are possible. But those particular three notes, particularly with E and G being a minor third apart? It's certainly not easy to play simultaneously, if possible at all. Jun 11, 2016 at 22:08
  • @200_success Yes, you would, in my opinion, shift into third position. Definitely not easy. But very possible. In fact, you can play the measure before the stop in question in third, and the note in the measure before that is an open string, which gives you a chance to shift. Although, I agree -- shifting has no place in an "easy" score. Jun 11, 2016 at 22:21
  • @200_success Excuse me, I think it would be 2nd Position. Jun 12, 2016 at 1:01

It is not easily seen in this video, she uses an up bow playing the 4 notes as two double-stops in succession. Hahn - Mozart - Violin Concerto No.3 starting at about 1:18. The first one is a G the second chord is an A I believe. Here is another one on youtube What Is a Chord? | Violin Lessons . So I would play the bottom two as a double-stop and then transition to playing the top two as a double stop if you are bowing. Do some more searching on youtube, a lot of good stuff out there.

Position? Might be easiest in 2nd position, playing the E on the G with 4th finger, G on the D with 2nd finger and C on the A with 1st finger.


The above comments about it being a triple stop are correct. The way to play it is to play the E and G simultaneously bowing the G and D strings, then pivoting the bow to play the G and C playing the D and A strings simultaneously. This is done in one bow stroke.

As for fingering this passage, it depends upon the preceding notes which aren't shown. But assuming you're in first position coming into this passage, I would play the two E notes staying in first position, then shift to second position to play the C. This will set you up for easily playing the final triple-stop in second position.

To practice the phrase you can start by first omitting the final triple stop. Just play the E - E - C(2nd pos) - E(2nd pos). Take it slow and concentrate on getting the final E and C in tune. Then you can add the second note in the triple stop and play E - E - C - E+G. Again take it as slow as you need and concentrate on getting all the notes in tune.

Once you feel confident, add the final note of the triple stop. You will find with this technique of practicing that you can master what initially seem like complex chords by breaking them down into manageable pieces and slowly putting them back together.


Reading through the replies so far I feel it hasn't been made clear enough that it is indeed perfectly possible to play three or even all four strings on a modern violin at the very same time. Not talking about an arpeggio here.

This works because if you put down the bow on,say, the d-string, apply enough weight and are not too close to the fingerboard, it gets the string low enough that the a and g strings sound as well. If you release the built-up tension very fast, you get a clean chord of three or even four notes simultaneously. Again, this is not an arpeggio, all three strings sound not in very quick succession but at exactly the same time. The same is possible for all four, though not often used. Even though needs to fine-tune the contact point, bowing spreed and pressure fairly precisely to achieve that. (When it comes to holding out triple chords longer, that's where it gets devilishly difficult. It is theoretically possible, but except from nasty exercises to torture poor violin students, I cannot off the hat think of any literature where it's actually required.)

There is a section in Arthur Grumiaux' recording of the g-minor fugue by Bach that illustrates this technique of quadruple-stopping quite astonishingly. (Even though Bach most likely would have simply played an arpeggio.) Examples where triple-stopping was probably intended by the composers would be near the finish of the exposition of the Bruch violin concerto (g-minor, No 1), or some parts of the first movement of the Brahms D-major one.

I agree that, in this case, it would be perfectly alright to play these notes as an arpeggio. Or the lower two and the upper two in succession, or something like that, mostly a case of personal preference. And I also agree that this chord is a bit out of place in a supposedly easy piece, since it's fingering is a bit inconvenient. And for a beginner playing this piece it would be far from me to recommend doing anything else.

But, again, just read through the comments and felt it sounded like some kind of arpeggio would be the only way to play this, which is not the case - if that was already abundantly clear I apologize for a well-meant, but entirely useless reply.

  • 3
    On a modern violin, with a normal setup and bow, you can't play all four strings simultaneously without horrible growing on one or two strings- there's simply too much pressure on the middle strings. What Grumiaux does, and if you listen carefully you will hear it, is arpeggiate the chord so quickly that it sounds nearly simultaneous. Brilliant playing, but not really quadruple stops. Nov 9, 2016 at 11:42
  • I'm sorry, I have to disagree. It is perfectly possible without scratching, as long as the bow-hair is not stretched out too much, and you play close or even slightly on the finger-board. Though maybe not in high positions. Seen it, practised it. Granted, in the recording Grumiaux does arpeggiate the tiniest bit. It is, after all, a musical recording, not a technical instruction video. However, there is some time in those chords where he does play all four strings simultaneously, not just give the impression he does as in usual arpeggio. Listened to it at 1/4 speed to be sure. Nov 13, 2016 at 10:17
  • I listened, and what I hear- you may disagree- is that the bottom note of the quadruple stops does ring a bit into the beginning of the top note. Try to hold a quadruple stop for a half note. Nov 13, 2016 at 15:11
  • Sorry, I might not have been sufficiently clear in my original reply - I do not believe it is possible to hold sustained quadruple stops. That can, to my knowledge, only done with three notes. However, what Grumiaux does (or very nearly does) here still is playing four strings simultaneously. Not holding them; he does not need to. There is a marked difference, technically, between arpeggiating those quadruple stops, and playing them at the same time. Of course, they can be mixed, but it definitely is possible to actively produce sound on all strings simultaneously. Nov 22, 2016 at 17:35
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    If you're pressing hard enough that you're playing all the strings at once, you're breaking something or injuring yourself. Nov 22, 2016 at 22:51

In this case, you would play the first two bottom notes (E and G), then shift your bow to play the top two notes (G and D), since it is very difficult to play on three strings at once.

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