he ABRSM Grade exams
are full of interesting
pieces to play, ranging
from the tried and tested
baroque repertoire, full of
twiddly bits and endless
scales and arpeggios, to the up-
to-date stuff, full of quirks and
inventions. In the higher grades,
as well as scales and arpeggios,
you also have double-stopped
scales, where you play two notes
a 3rd apart both separately
and together. You may think
this is easy-peasy, but there's a
little more to it than you think.
W here it proves to be very
useful is in combining hand
shapes when playing two notes
at a time: it also really tests your
ears and muscle memory in
getting the two notes precisely
in tune.
I'll add as an aside here that
in most classical music, an awful
lot of potential double stops will
be marked 'divisi', which means
that one player plays the top
note and the other the lower
one. Most of the time this is not necessary, as intervals of a 3rd, 4th
or 5th are easily available under the hand, as you will see from the
accompanying exercises. Only the octave is impossible - unless one of
them is an open string, naturally - as you have three strings to cross.
Let's look at
Figure 1
. Here we have a one-octave scale of Bb in
3rds, and this is listed in Grade 7 among all the scales, arpeggios,
dominant 7ths and diminished stuff. The first bar is easy: just use a
D open string, likewise bar four with a G open string. We'll use half
position for bars one and two, second position for bar 3, half again
for bars four and five, second position in bar six, third position in bar
seven, and three and a half for bar eight. If you like, you can then
reverse the positions and come back down again.
Here comes the fun part: as you go up the scale, the relative
distance between intervals and fingers will reduce, plus you're
changing between a 4-1 fingering for minor thirds, and a 4-2
fingering for the major ones (1-open when you're using open strings,
of course). So the Bb, Eb and F 3rds are all major, and the rest are
minor. The thing to watch out for here is to keep your fingers in
position as you move up and down and adjust accordingly. You
may well notice that when you move up or down to a new position
that things have gone slightly out of tune. Listen carefully for any
microtonal intervals that sound out of tune: when in tune the 3rds
will sound smoother, as there's a mathematical relationship between
them and they harmonise correctly.
Now let's look at
Figure 2
- the very same thing but this time in
the key of D. This example comes from Grade 8, and has its own set
of challenges. We'll start with D on the A string in second position
rather than an open D. Bars two and three are in first position,
second again for bar four, third for bar five, fourth for bar six, fifth
and a half for bar seven, and sixth for bar eight. Now as well as all
the fun and games we had with the Bb scale, we've got two quite
large moves for bars six, seven and eight.
Teaching my students this stuff for their grade exams, I've always
found that the last three bars are the problematic ones: moving far
enough between the B/D and C#/E
3rds, and then avoiding moving
too far up for the top D/F#. Note
that we'll use the third finger for
the top D. This can be a harmonic
if you like: use this to act as a
check on your tuning. Once again
the key is to maintain your hand
position between each move, and
hold the fingers in relative position
as you go. Let the hand shape
collapse between shifts and you'll
be trying to rebuild the intervals
from scratch, which means that
you'll be out of tune very easily.
The secret here is to play the
intervals slowly and listen to
see which one is out: it might
be either of the two. Play them
both together. In fact a good idea
to try out is to play the entire
scale, playing both notes at the
same time, both to get used
to the sound and the varying
changes in hand shape as you
go up the neck. Remember that
in this case the hand shape will
change markedly once you get
above fourth position, as the
thumb starts to move around
the side of the neck.
C lic k to v ie w extra
vid eo co n te n t h ere
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