DOUBLE STOP SOLOS:
How to Teach and Play using the
Yasuda Double Stop Solos and Duets Approach
by Martha J. Yasuda
My name is Martha Yasuda and I love playing and arranging Double Stop Solos! I also am a Suzuki violin teacher, string and orchestral arranger, and composer living in Atlanta, Georgia. Since 2007, I have served as the Arranger for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
In this article, I explore some of the basic issues relating to playing double stop solos and explain a bit about the my approach to teaching and playing double stop solos.
I am the author of four books pertaining to double stops for violin and viola, each book containing two volumes of difficulty. Their titles are: Christmas Melodies: Double Stop Solos and Duets for Violin and Viola and American Melodies: Double Stop Solos and Duets for Violin and Viola. More recently, I have come out with Christmas Melodies: Double Stop Solos and Duets for Cello, Volume I, with the advanced volume soon to follow.
DOUBLE STOP SOLOS — MAKING IT SIMPLE
Playing double stop solos on a stringed instrument has plagued students and teachers alike for years. Not only are the fingering and bowing techniques difficult for students to grasp, but the pedagogical aspects involved in teaching double stop solos also provide a daunting challenge for teachers as well.
For a nice, general introduction to this subject, please see the Wikipedia article entitled Double Stop.
Based upon my extensive experience, there are several basic things that are helpful to have in place when beginning to teach double stop solos to a string player. First and foremost, the music should be interesting and enjoyable for the student. Secondly, students have to clearly understand what they are trying to do and have a plan for how to achieve results. Thirdly, the material has to be manageable and well-graded for the student.
THE ENJOYMENT FACTOR: It is always so exhilarating to watch a student move on to a piece that they truly enjoy after the student has “dug in their heels,” so to speak, for a while on a piece that doesn’t interest them as much. Some students endure this process more patiently than others, but it is always such a wonderful relief when a student finally moves on to Allegro, Perpetual Motion or, later, the Vivaldi A Minor Concerto or the Bach Double. Students are just so happy playing these pieces!
This is not to suggest that other pieces which are less enjoyable for students should be skipped or studied less intensively.
We, as teachers, all know that each piece in both the Suzuki and the Traditional repertoires are carefully designed to build something essential in the students’ playing which they will later draw upon in other pieces down the road. Nevertheless, as teachers, I think we can all agree that it is a lot easier to teach something to a student when the student is truly enjoying what they are playing.
For this reason, my Yasuda Double Stop Solos and Duets books are all designed to be enjoyable for the student. In learning double stops, it is somehow comforting to a student to be playing pieces of music that they already know, such as Christmas Carols, folk and patriotic songs, hymns, etc. Quite honestly, this is the most essential element needed to “lure” students into the world of double stop solos without any begging or pleading!
CLEAR PLAN OF ACTION: As far as students understanding what they are trying to do and how to achieve results, the Yasuda Double Stop Solos and Duets concept is very simple and is designed to help unravel the mystery and complexity of playing double stop solos for students and teachers alike.
In a nutshell, students first play a duet with their teacher, with the same identical notes rewritten for one player as a double stop solo on the opposite page. As students play the duet first with their teacher, they get an exact duplication of what their double stops should sound like. I generally have students try to immediately play the double stop solo while the notes from the duet resonate in their ears. Is this not a wonderful representation of the Suzuki concept which encourages listening before playing?
GRADING: Concerning the grading of the material, it is essential for the music not to be too difficult in the beginning. There is nothing more sad and unfortunate than to watch a student who is attempting to play something that is just too far beyond their grasp.
The Yasuda Double Stop books are written with very typical, soccer-playing, ballet-dancing students in mind. Volume I pieces in the Yasuda Double Stop Solos and Duets Series are all designed with the absolute double stop novice in mind — in other words, the pieces are as easy to play as I could possibly make them, without sounding too boring. Many open string drones are used, as well as basic 3rds and 6ths, with occasional 4ths, 5ths or octaves (third finger with an open string). The 4th finger is used very rarely.
My goal was to create a musical situation or environment where students could experience a certain amount of immediate success, without imposing too many technical obstacles that would prevent this success from happening.
Interestingly enough, my most focused students do not seem to be under-challenged or bored by the Yasuda Double Stop books. I generally start teaching double stops from the Volume I Melody books towards the end of Book 3 in the Suzuki repertoire. This begins preparing them for the extremely difficult Seitz Concerto double stop passages, which are contained in the third piece in Book 4 of Suzuki.
I decided that older, more advanced students should have material written especially for them as well. Volume II double stop solos are quite a bit more challenging and are geared for the Book 6 and above student.
To provide further credibility for my approach to the study and teaching of double stops, I enlisted the help of two well-known Suzuki pedagogues. When I contacted both William Starr and William Preucil, Sr. back in 2002 and 2004, respectively, to ask for their reviews, I was absolutely touched and, quite frankly, surprised to witness their extreme generosity and willingness to help me get started, as I began blazing into uncharted territories pertaining to double stops. Their overwhelming support and endorsement has been vital and critical to me and I am forever indebted to each of these wonderful Suzuki pioneers.
I now share with you the Forewords which were so graciously given to me by William Starr, one of my former college professors, and also William Preucil, Sr.
William Starr, renowned Suzuki violin pedagogue, writes:
“American Melodies: Double Stop Solos and Duets for Violin, Volumes I and II, is an excellent resource for the study and performance of double stops. Mrs. Martha Yasuda, a former student of mine, has developed a very practical and helpful system to assist students in hearing what double stops should sound like. Having students play the duet parts first before playing the double stop solo arrangements further strengthens one of the key principles underlying the Suzuki method of violin instruction — that of listening to a musical piece first before playing it. Students will enjoy learning to play double stops as they play something fun and familiar to them.
For this reason, Mrs. Yasuda has chosen as her musical setting well known American patriotic and folk songs sung by most children. Younger students can also join in the fun as they play the duet parts in these fine arrangements. Students will be challenged as the duet parts alternate back and forth between the melody and the harmony.
I believe very strongly that this collection as well as Christmas Melodies fills a major gap in the field of the study of double stops. Mrs. Yasuda’s idea of relating double stops to duets is very cleverly done and is clearly a demonstration of Dr. Suzuki’s idea of making learning enjoyable for the student. I enthusiastically recommend both American and Christmas Melodies.”
William Preucil, Sr., Professor of Music (Emeritus) at The University of Iowa, writes:
“Christmas Melodies and American Melodies: Double Stop Solos and Duets for Viola, Volumes I and II, offer interesting material for students at varying levels of advancement. Volume I has nice duets that later become double-stop solo versions, while Volume II, using the same pieces, presents the same concept with a higher degree of technical challenge and bravura. These arrangements are expertly written and carefully edited for the student and they delight with originality and flair.”
TECHNICAL POINTS TO CONSIDER IN TEACHING AND PLAYING DOUBLE STOP SOLOS:
Obviously, as students launch into their new world of playing double stops for the first time, teachers need to address certain technical issues that will inevitably come up. Bowing on two strings instead of just one is a very intimidating experience initially and students need reassurance that they will do just fine. They are generally quite nervous about the whole thing. There are three technical concerns that need addressing. They are: 1 – Learning to maneuver the bow, 2 – Learning to play double stops in tune, and 3 – Incorporating music theory concepts which help to translate into double stop mastery.
BOWINGS FOR DOUBLE STOP SOLOS: Basically, students need to understand how to maneuver the bow as they go from lower strings to higher strings, from higher strings to lower strings and finally, from one string to two strings or two strings to one. As is practiced in Suzuki pedagogy classes, going from lower strings to higher strings involves dropping the elbow and in going from higher strings to lower strings, the hand and wrist guide this motion, without raising the elbow.
To make these changes smoothly, the bow should try to anticipate the new string direction while still playing on the old string by gradually moving the bow towards the new direction. This prevents a jerky motion.
This same technical concept should be used as students move from one string to two strings or two strings to one. Also, the bow learns to “draw” instead of “press.” This takes some patience for the student to learn to evenly distribute weight between the two strings.
PLAYING DOUBLE STOP SOLOS IN TUNE: The first basic element to address is that of matching octaves (3rd finger with an open string). At this point in the student development, (late Suzuki Book 3, early Book 4) the concept of a “ringing” 3rd finger should be fairly well in place. If not, remedial work may be necessary before proceeding further.
Whenever students play a note out of tune, I ask them if they think it was too high or too low. Eventually, they begin answering correctly in a consistent fashion. This helps to build ear confidence so that they begin to trust their instincts concerning pitch.
I frequently explain the concept of fingers ”passing off” pitches to other fingers. Sometimes students play things out of tune because fingers lift too quickly before they assist the next finger. Fingers should always be placed on the fingerboard in relation to other fingers (either touching or having a space between them).
INCORPORATING MUSIC THEORY: Once students manage to match octaves fairly well, I address the concept of fingers (1-2 or 2-3) either touching across strings (this forms a minor sixth) or having a space between them (this forms a Major sixth). I actually put in the music a little “m” for minor and a big “M” for Major. I ask students which is harder to play and they all agree that a Major sixth is much harder to play than a minor sixth. I put a box using erasable colored pencils around all Major sixths as each carol is studied.
I like to have students count interval distances between notes by reciting the letters of the alphabet. Take the interval “A to F.” Making sure that “A” is counted as the number “1,” students continue counting letter names up to six on their fingers so that they understand distance relationships between notes.
I also teach students about perfect intervals vs. the major and minor intervals. The perfect intervals (unisons, 4ths, 5ths and octaves) need to be played “perfectly” in tune or they will cause listeners a great deal of pain! (i.e., MORE pain than the major and minor 2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths produce when played out of tune.) I actually demonstrate the difference to students, showing them how very painful a perfect 4th or 5th sounds when it is “almost in tune!” versus when it is perfectly in tune. I help them listen for the bass overtones that resonate when these intervals are played in tune.
I teach students about key signatures so that they understand that even in the world of Suzuki, it is okay for the brain and the ear to learn to work together, helping each other out. A quick way for students to memorize key signatures is outlined below:
The names of the first 4 sharp keys follow the names of the open strings on the violin. Namely: 1 sharp = G (open) Major, 2 sharps = D (open) Major, etc. ending with the E string having 4 sharps.
I generally pluck the open strings and have students tell me the names of the key signatures and how many sharps each has. I ask them these questions repeatedly in lessons, trying to relate the information constantly to actual pieces that are being studied. This way the information is actually relevant for them and not simply something rote that they memorize. Jokingly, I will say to students when asking them what key a piece containing up to four sharps is written in, “Those open strings are sooo hard to memorize!”
The flat keys start on the E string side, using low 1’s across all 4 strings. Namely: 1 flat = F (low 1 on E) Major, 2 flats = B Flat (low 1 on A) Major, etc., ending with the G string having 4 flats, A Flat (low 1 on G) Major.
I have found that students actually seem to enjoy learning more details concerning the orderly world of musical structure. However, I think it is important to remember that the ear should never be left out of the endeavor.
The ultimate musical goal when playing double stop solos is to be able to bring out the melody line at all times. The technical demands are a slave to this goal. This is not an easy task to accomplish for the violinist and can be worked on more successfully once technical left hand issues become easier for the student. The bow learns to lean more heavily on the note which is melodic in order to accomplish this goal. Vibrato on melodic notes is also another element which helps to give more pre-eminence to the melody.
Many thanks to Jun-Ching Lin, associate concertmaster in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, for listening to me play and for pointing me in the right direction regarding these musical issues.
Obviously, this is a very incomplete and somewhat “sketchy” analysis of technical issues involved in playing double stop solos, but these are three general areas that I focus on in the beginning just to get kids started. I think that we, as teachers, need to be careful at this point not to share too much information, as this may overwhelm the student. Instead, let the children explore for themselves and allow the process to unfold on its own. Many mistakes will certainly be made in the beginning. However, slow and steady wins the race!
EVOLUTION OF THE YASUDA APPROACH TO TEACHING DOUBLE STOP SOLOS
You might wonder, “How did you come up with this idea and how did it all come about?”
Back in 2002, I was observing a student take a lesson from a good friend and fellow music pedagogue, Ronda Respess, who plays in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Her student was working on a Kreutzer Etude, #38. This particular etude is very difficult and is filled with double stop triplets that are occasionally slurred 12 to a bow. The bow feels like it really needs to be a mile long since there are so many notes to play in each measure. The left hand is intricately challenged in this etude as well.
I watched this obviously well-trained, fine student struggle along and felt each ounce of pain reverberate back towards me, where I was sitting in the rear of the room. The student and teacher attacked each difficult spot so admirably. However, it was quite apparent that the challenges were very frustrating (and rightly so!) to the student, who actually played quite well.
At the end of the lesson, I had a few minutes to chat with Ronda and I asked her what she thought about using Christmas Carols as a means of teaching double stop solos to students. I had been playing arrangements of Christmas double stop solos for years, sharing them at various holiday occasions, so I played for her my arrangement of “Jingle Bells” from Volume II of Christmas Melodies. She looked at me quite seriously and said, “Do it — it’s a great idea!”
That same week, I visited a large music store in Atlanta called Hutchins and Rea. This store specializes in stocking sheet music and it is an amazing place to visit, with music neatly organized in endless file cabinets. Anyhow, I know the owner’s wife, Roxanne Rea, quite well and told her my idea about writing a double stop solos book using Christmas Carols. Again, I was met with a favorable reaction.
I decided that week to start writing. At that point in my life, back in 2002, I was a pretty busy free-lancer playing in several different symphonies and teaching a full studio of students as well. My husband, Ken, was ill at that time and unable to work and my children, Hannah and Kenny, were 16 and 18 years of age.
In between my rehearsals, lessons and parenting teenagers, I committed myself to writing. I began to make a game out of the whole thing, imagining the notes in my head and visually playing out the double stops as I drove the two hours to Greenville, SC for my rehearsals. The best part was trying to arrive early to my rehearsal and taking out my staff paper to see how much music that I could remember from my trip and putting those notes on paper!
Once all of the double stop solos were written in a few weeks, I began to ask myself the following question: “If I were a student, how would I like to learn to play double stops?” Almost without thinking, I began breaking up each Christmas double stop solo into duets. I thought that if I were a student learning to play double stops for the first time, it might be helpful to actually hear what the song should sound like first before I tried it out.
A couple of weeks went by as I continued writing this way and finally, the impact of what I was doing really hit me. I began to realize that this type of music writing was something that had not really been systematically explored before, to my knowledge, in any organized fashion.
The real excitement came in the following weeks when I began trying out this approach for learning to play double stops in my studio. Students would arrive for lessons begging to play double stops at the beginning of their lessons. I would, of course, make them wait until after their hands were warmed up a bit.
I was quite unprepared for this enthusiastic student reaction!
I was equally excited to see that students were actually learning to play double stops well. Since the students desired to play the material, I had their full attention and could directly address each technical obstacle as it came up in their playing.
I am not suggesting that students do not have to struggle when they learn to play double stops.
Most of my students struggle quite a bit in the beginning. However, students are driven and motivated to learn when pieces are fun. One student, after attempting to play the first piece in the Volume II American Melodies Series, actually shed a tear because the piece was so difficult for him. However, the next week, he came in and smiled and played the arrangement quite well! Why? My theory is because he liked the music and the challenge!
Once Christmas Melodies, Volumes I and II for Violin came out back in November of 2002, I began to feel a bit strange in the month of May playing Christmas Carols. I decided that something else needed to be written, not knowing what it could possibly be.
Not too long after I began having this feeling, I had a conversation with one of my very close South-African friends. My friend, Vonnie, proclaimed with absolute fervor that she knew what book I was supposed to write next. She began describing how she felt that American music would be a wonderful theme for students to enjoy.
I was not terribly receptive in the beginning and thanked her for her advice, internally thinking that the idea wouldn’t really appeal to students. A couple of days later, all of a sudden, I saw the light and began to understand the wisdom of her suggestion — kids love to sing these songs at school. I decided to have five patriotic songs and five folk songs. I had such fun trying to decide which songs to include!
Unlike Christmas Melodies, American Melodies contains two verses of each song, the second verse being more elaborate. In essence, since there are two volumes of American Melodies, with each volume having two verses, there are, in reality, a total of four levels of double stop difficulty, each succeeding verse becoming more of a challenge. This extends the length of this book and also forces the double stops to be placed in the back of the book to accommodate page turning issues for the duets.
To depart from the topic of double stop solos for a bit, I would now like to address the writing of the duets in these books. When most students are going to read a duet for the first time, they ask which part they are supposed to play. I can see a twinkle in their eye and a growing excitement when I tell them that they get to play the first violin part.
You see, students are conditioned to believe that the first violin part is the most important part of the duet and generally has the most challenges. Having played much music in the orchestral arena, I agree with part of this statement—the part that says the first violin part is generally the most challenging to play.
However, I do not agree that the first violin part is the most important.
I decided that I wanted to play a little trick on some of the students that have a little “first violin chip” in them, the ones that say internally to themselves, “Watch me—this melody is more important than what anyone else is playing.” With these individuals in mind, (there were quite a few of them in my studio!) I decided to deliberately write the music with the duet parts being equal in difficulty, trading off melody and harmony parts.
What did this create? After the first violinist finished playing the first melodic phrase, the next phrase, being the harmony part and unfamiliar to the player, would generally require some rhythmic understanding, rests usually being present.
So many times, I would witness the first violinist become very flustered, as he/she would have no idea how to count the passage and we would have to stop and work things out. On more than one occasion, I witnessed the “first violin ego” become a bit deflated after this somewhat humbling experience!
My idea, of course, was never to embarrass anyone, but to try and get across to students that the harmony part is just as vital as the melody part, and quite frequently, is actually more rhythmically challenging to play! (Having been Principal 2nd violinist in the Greenville Symphony, I know this to be the case.)
I feel somehow comforted to know that I am making a small dent in helping to put into proper perspective the role of the first violinist in relation to other players. It is one of my personal goals as a violin teacher to replace the “first violin chip” with a sensitive, listening ensemble player, thereby creating greater harmony between all voices in music!
BOWINGS, DYNAMICS AND MUSICAL TERMS
BOWINGS: Having played a lot of solo repertoire over the years, as well as music in many orchestras, I have been able to visually see a lot of physical scores. As a young student, I can still remember how frustrating it was in my amateur, adult orchestra to be bowing in the opposite direction from everyone else in the section. This was very embarrassing to me and I tried the best I could to fit in with everyone else. I generally had to mark my parts with additional bowings to ensure that my bow would be moving in the right direction and that I would not stick out.
These early experiences have remained in my memory for many years! Now, as a music publisher, I try as much as possible to PLASTER my parts with bowings so that young students can have every opportunity to learn how to follow bowings, thereby gaining invaluable experience as an orchestral player later on.
ARTICULATIONS: I have made a concerted effort in each publication to differentiate between dots and dashes. Most scores leave this type of thing up to private teachers or conductors to decide, with occasional markings found in the scores to give a general idea for the intent or style that the writer has in mind. Then, the teacher or conductor puts markings in the scores by hand at rehearsals or lessons.
However, when writing the double stop solos, I had particular articulations in mind which I thought would sound best. I also thought that by including these distinctions in the scores, it would be educational for the students to learn to observe and follow these articulation symbols, while simultaneously saving teachers a lot of time at lessons. (Many additional hours were spent as I painstakingly entered each dot and dash in the appropriate places!)
DYNAMICS AND MUSICAL TERMS: We, as human beings, have the capacity to play music from our hearts, touching others that listen in ways that no one quite understands. The name of my teaching studio is “Suzuki from the Heart.”
How is it that some students seem to play with passion and zeal, while others limit themselves to a robotic demonstration of steely fingers touching metal strings in ways that exhibit no emotion? I can remember as a young student struggling with my inner emotions, how they got expressed, etc. and I can also remember some of my teachers’ frustrations with me as I couldn’t seem to get the point of it at all.
How does this process of musical expression start clicking for students?
My observations over the years have been that, as students begin to grasp the weight and importance of dynamic symbols and terms found in music, they begin to start formulating their own personal identity in becoming one with the music. As their practical understanding relating to musical symbols increases, their playing begins to unfold with freedom and depth.
Again, how does this really happen?
When teachers encourage students to exaggerate dynamics and the true meanings of musical terms!
Please keep in mind that technical issues need to be set well in place before dynamic contrast can have the purest impact on the listener. If the basics are not well established, the listener is distracted by the technical limitations of the player and is unable to be fully drawn into the musical expression elements being shared.
Foundational elements that I consider as basic necessities within any given piece of music so as to not create distractions for the listener are categorized as follows: 1 — making a good tone, 2 — playing in tune, and 3 — playing with rhythmic precision. The notorious violinist, Jascha Heifetz, emphasized that true music making begins once the technique is mastered.
Interestingly enough, after I recorded the CD, I began noticing that the music that I played on the CD really did not reflect what was visually found in the score. I decided to use my Finale publishing skills to integrate what was played on the CD with the visual score by adding more dynamics and musical terms. (It was actually a lot of fun to put down on paper what my musical interpretation reflected! I’m still not 100% happy with all my efforts…)
It is my hope as other Double Stop books come out to continue this type of integrated endeavor, so that students can start learning to formulate their own individuality as young artists through paying attention to and exaggerating the true meanings of musical symbols.
Hopefully, as you have seen and heard samples from the Yasuda Double Stop Solos and Duets books, you are beginning to understand that, although double stops are certainly a major emphasis in these books, my Yasuda books actually incorporate more than learning solely about the mechanics of playing double stops.
Indeed, these books are interested in fostering musical education through the use of strategically designed duets, which include opportunities for students to learn much about following bowings, dynamic symbols, and musical terms.
It gives me great personal satisfaction to watch students enter the magical world of double stops, learning to conquer each daunting challenge with great enjoyment! Within months, most students are absolutely mesmerized by the special effects that playing a double stop can create. It has truly been a labor of love to watch each individual student that I have interacted with over the years enter into the special world of double stops, shaking and trembling, soon transforming into a “Double Stop King or Queen.”
It has also been equally enriching for me to watch students learn to become sensitive players, learning the art of actively listening to others, while simultaneously expressing the music which is inside them.
Martha Yasuda completed her musical studies at the Eastman School of Music, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in violin performance. Christmas Melodies, Volume I, for Violin was distributed by Alfred Publishing Company, Inc., for three years, this distribution relationship ending in July 2010. All of Martha’s books are available on her Website at www.YasudaMusic.com. Mrs. Yasuda also is the Arranger for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra education concerts, where children in Kindergarten through 2nd Grade are in attendance, watching the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra perform.