Double stop solos overview


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!


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.

After American Melodies was written, I continued my writing efforts in successive years, with the Duet Melodies, Hymn Melodies and Wedding Melodies Music Series being the resulting outcomes.

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