Double-stopping on strings

Not being a string player, this was one of the most useful plugins for Sibelius for me.

In the absence of plugins for Dorico, is there any kind of equivalent way to know when double/multiple stops on the four main instruments in the string family (violin, viola, cello, double bass) are, for instance:

  • easy/possible
  • difficult but possible - perhaps for an intermediate to advanced player
  • impossible and to be avoided no matter what


I also appreciate that just knowing the open strings (for each instrument) is not enough because of the order of the notes in the chords.

If it’s a question of researching how real string players work, I’m quite prepared to do that. But I thought I’d ask here first.


Dear Mark,

Technically (nominally), the limitation - what double-stops can’t be played on string instruments - is quite straight forward: any interval that is smaller than the interval between the two lower strings. For example, on violin the following intervals are impossible: from open ‘G2’ - 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, including tritone; from A2 - 2nds and 3rds; from B2 - 2nds. Other than that, any interval within 10th is playable.
While somewhat similar logic applies to chords, the situation is a little bit trickier; e.g. say A2-F3-G3 - no way because of F3 and G3; hence, say, A2-F3-B3 - fine; granted it will be played appoggiatura.

As to the criterion ‘easy/difficult’, if you’re writing for professionals, I’d say, follow infamous Beethoven’s saying (although, be prepared that the players will quietly curse you :slight_smile:
If you’re talking about students, that’s a whole different subject - mostly, it’s about how justified are the technical hurdles and how big is the gap between students’ current level and the level of challenges.

Hope that clarifies (somewhat) your question,
Igor Borodin

P.S. Mark, for a reasonable number of instances, you can send me the specific questions and I’ll gladly tell you what I think. (I’m professional violinist and a teacher).


How very kind of you!

I’m going to reread this, digest it and - I hope - make some sort of table, perhaps in spreadsheet form.

Your offer to help is much appreciated. May I PM you if I get stuck?

Thanks again :slight_smile:

Couple of addendums: for double-stops, if one of the notes is open string, you can go beyond 10th (the 10ths are commonly considered an utmost stretch).
As for chords (in terms of playability), a lot depends on the preceding note(s); i.e. the context.

Thanks again, IgorBorodin - I’ve sent you a PM with some questions…

Gordon Jacob’s book: Orchestral Technique - a manual for students (available on Amazon £21.50), though somewhat dated, has an excellent chapter on writing for strings, along with musical charts showing which double, triple stops work etc.

Ian Schofield

If I remember, Gordon Jacob’s book is quite conservative on double stops etc.
If it’s for a particular player, and not mission critical to be right first time, it’s worth pushing these a bit and giving the player input.

When I started studying orchestration, my teacher told me to go talk to a fellow student about violin fingering. The talk/demonstration about fingerings and positions took only an evening and the student he sent me to was an eighth grader.

Knowing how violinists finger their instrument has made writing for the instrument (including multiple stops) much easier to envision. So I would suggest you find someone you know to explain the string fingering system to you; you will find it gives you much more flexibility writing for the instrument.

Thanks, Donizetti06 and Derrek! Always so helpful.

I don’t have GJ’s book on orchestration; but virtually everyone else’s. I’ve just found this aspect of tem a little off-putting. I’m in no hurry so can see that I shall just have to dive in and work it out. I shall have the opportunity soon to talk to ‘live’ string players too.

What’s more IgorBorodin has very kindly gone well above and beyond and is also helping me understand - amongst other things - fingering charts. I suspect an exact understanding of fingering is at the heart of what I am beginning to see is a multi-step process… to achieve multi-stops.

My reluctance has always been to think I can be justified in wandering into the world of professionals and provide them with their own raw material!

To you all, I am extremely grateful :slight_smile: