There are plenty of monophonic and polyphonic instruments to choose from. Considering violins [typically] have four strings, it's common to question if violins can play two (or more) notes simultaneously and how difficult it is to do so.
Can the violin play two notes at once? The violin can play more than one note at a time. This can be done by either bowing or plucking two or more strings together. When you play two notes simultaneously on stringed instruments, it's called a double stop. This is commonly used in violin sheet music to add depth and harmony.
In this article, we will look at what exactly are double stops, the different types of double stops and their difficulty, if double stops are chords and if you can play chords on the violin.
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Table Of Contents
What Are Double Stops
Double stops are when two notes are bowed or plucked at the same time on a stringed instrument such as the violin, cello, viola or bass. They are called double stops as your fingers are literally stopping two strings by pressing down on them as you play both notes simultaneously.
Double stops are composed into music to add depth, texture and harmony to a song. Double stops are quite common in fiddle and concerto music. In sheet music, double stops will look like two notes sitting on top of one another. Chances are, if you ever played two open chord notes at the same time (even if it was accidental), then you have already played a double stop.
Types Of Double Stops
There are four different types of double stops that can be played on the violin.
Open Double Stop
The first is by playing two open strings together. This is the easiest to play as it requires no fingering and produces a clean sound. Examples of open double stops are bowing G and D, D and A, or A and E is an open double stop.
Open Lower Note With Fingered Upper Note
To play this double stop, you would play one open lower note string and a fingered higher note string together. It is still rather easy to learn and play, though harder than open double stops. For example, try bowing open D with the first finger on A (also known as B natural).
Open Upper Note With Fingered Lower Note
This double stop is a bit more challenging to achieve as it can be difficult to ensure your finger does not touch or stop the upper strings from moving when fingering the lower one. An example of this would be placing the first finger on G (also known as A natural) and open D.
Both Notes Fingered
This type of double stop is the hardest to master as it involves fingering both strings as opposed to one being open. There are many combinations of notes that can be played. An example is to play the first finger on A (B natural) and the second finger on D (F sharp).
Are Double Stops Chords
By definition, double stops are not considered chords. As previously mentioned, double stops only consist of two notes being played at the same time, unlike a chord, which is three or more notes.
Although double stops are not chords, triple and quadruple stops are. They can be challenging to play but are doable with practice.
To play a triple stop, bow three of the strings at the same time. For a quadruple stop, you will play two back-to-back double stops. There will be a small arpeggiation as it is difficult to bow all four strings at once.
Can You Play Chords On The Violin
Although difficult, it is possible to play chords on a violin. Chords are when you play more than three notes simultaneously. This is challenging on a violin as the bridge creates an arch with the strings as opposed to a flat surface. Because of this, there will be a slight arpeggiation when playing chords with three or four notes.
Learning to play chords on the violin takes time and practice. In order to play either a three or four-note chord on a violin, they are played in two parts to create a concurrent sound.
Three-note chords are played by bowing the first and middle strings, then angle the bow to hit the last string while staying on the middle string.
For a four-note chord, bow the first two lower strings, then continue in the same bow stroke to the two higher strings.
Chords are not common in violin sheet music. And, when they are, it tends to be in more challenging pieces such as Chaconne by J.S. Bach or orchestral music, where numerous violins are used to emulate chords.
To learn more about playing chords on the violin, check out our article “Can Chords Be Played On Violins, And If So, How?”