‘Double Stopping’ is a term used to describe the simultaneous playing of two notes on a stringed instrument. It is a versatile technique which can encompass melodies, harmonies, accompaniments and can be played in a virtuosic fashion at high speed. In the context of a string quartet, it can have the effect of making the group sound as if it is playing up to 8 parts at any one time which can create (when skillfully written) the impression of a far larger ensemble.
In the context of a string orchestra, the individual parts can either play double stopping – giving the music a thick and full feel, gaining in energy and effort or can ‘divisi’ – this means that on every ‘desk’ (two players to a desk) the left hand player plays the lower note whilst the person sitting on the right plays the upper note. This can thicken the harmonies with less effort required from the players, potentially sounding more lyrical and flowing.
One problem with writing double stops into a string arrangement, particularly when composed by non string players or composers writing at a keyboard is that they can end up being awkward or unplayable. If two notes are written on the same string (such as an E and a G to be played on the D string of a violin), this is not necessarily impossible to play as the musician can play it in a higher position but could in context make it uncomfortable or impractical to play. Composers must have a good insight into how stringed instruments work in order to write passages containing many double stops that feel ‘right’ under the fingers. Clients who have written their own arrangements, but who have less experience writing for strings are always welcome to send us through parts before a recording session. Sometimes it’s worth us spending a short amount of time re-notating some of the double stops so that they are written less awkwardly for the player – this saves time in the studio and gives a more natural feel to the music.