By Michael John Sanchez

Double-stops are when you play two notes at once on the fiddle, but you play both of the notes with a finger down. You can also call double-stops chords. As you’ve found with the fiddle, it isn’t always easy to put your finger down in the right spot, but now with double-stops, you have to do two down at the same time. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

When you put a finger down on one string, and play it along with an open string, this is considered a drone. Drones are easier to play than double-stops because you don’t have to get the accuracy of two finger placements proper.

Developing proper fiddle placement with double-stops

If you’re a beginner player, you can always choose not to play a double-stop and instead play just the top note. This is the easy way out, but it’s definitely what you should do if you don’t feel comfortable playing the double-stop yet. Adding in the double-stop, though, gives your tone a fuller sound.

Listen to the difference between a fiddle passage that has a double-stop and the same passage without a double-stop. Do you notice how the double-stop adds to the music?

[Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez]
Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez

As you can see, the first measure has two notes on top of each other. This means that you play both notes at the same time. Do you see where the black dot is on each of the lines? This shows you which notes should be played at the same time.

The first measure has all fiddle drones; one of the notes is played with an open string. The second measure has all double-stops; you need to put two fingers down at once.

Follow these steps to play the fiddle line:

  1. Put your 2nd finger on the D string (F♯), making sure you curve the finger over and far away from the A string.

    You don’t want your finger to touch the A string when you play both notes together.

  2. Play four of the F♯s without combining it with the open A yet.

    The speed of your bow and relaxed grip will be the same going into the next step.

  3. Combine playing the open A with the F♯ and do it four times.

    You’ve just played the first measure.

  4. Put your 3rd finger down on the D string (G) and make sure you’re in tune.

    You can always use a tuner to make sure you’re putting your finger in the right spot.

  5. Put your 1st finger down on the A string (B) while keeping your 3rd finger down on the D string.

    It’s very important that your 3rd finger on D doesn’t touch the A string or it will create a very bad sound. Lean your 3rd finger more toward the G string to stay away from the A.

  6. Play both the 3rd finger and 1st finger separately to make sure you’re in tune and not touching the strings improperly.

    If you hear a clash of sound, your 3rd finger may be slightly hitting the A string accidentally.

  7. With a relaxed bow grip, play both strings together.

    Forcing this will cause a bad sound, so it’s important to apply the bow just like you would with any other note.

  8. Now go from measure 1 to measure 2 without stopping.

If you’re struggling to get a similar sound to this double-stop line on the fiddle, it’s almost always because of bad technique. You could be doing any of the following things, which may be causing the bad sound:

  • You aren’t placing your fingers in the right spots to create the proper note.

  • Your 3rd finger may be hitting the A string instead of staying away from this string.

  • You may be gripping the bow too tightly to create the double-stop.

  • You may only be using a little bow, which makes it harder to create a clear sound.

  • You may be using too much arm instead of guiding the bow with your index finger.

Watch the fiddle creating clear double-stops to fully understand these points and how to get the best possible sounds out of your double-stops.

Getting proper contact with the bow is the most important thing to create a clear sound with double-stops and drones. It’s easy to try to force the sound of the double-stop by gripping harder or applying your big muscles into the stroke instead of the small muscles.

It’s especially important to have your fingers in the correct spots when playing a double-stop compared to just a single note. The reason for this is that if one of the notes is off, you’ll hear a clash of sound between both notes that sounds very unmusical.

Applying double-stops in fiddle tunes

You can change a fiddle tune each time you play it. With this in mind, understand that you can add or subtract double-stops in fiddle pieces whenever it fits your mood.

Listen to the simplicity of “Galesburg Tune.”

[Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez]
Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez

Playing this musical line shouldn’t be too hard for you. (If it is, don’t continue on until you’ve mastered it!) Listen to “Galesburg Tune” with some double-stops and drones added to it.

[Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez]
Credit: Figure by Michael Sanchez

One thing you may want to try, which is a level above simply doing a double-stop, is to slide into the double-stop. This is considered an advanced concept, so if you’re more of an intermediate player, sliding into a double-stop may be difficult for you to accomplish (especially sliding into the notes in tune).

Start first with just trying to play the double-stops without sliding before trying to apply a slide into them. You can technically slide both notes or just one.

Check out the tune “Cacklin’ Hen” which has some suggested double-stops.

Try to replace some of the suggestions in the piece with some of your own.

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Figure by Michael Sanchez