Cripple Creek (P4) “Intro” technique: Double-Stops
In the opening Introduction (“Intro”) passage of “Cripple Creek”, we encounter something fairly new, the Double-Stop! Simply put, a “double-stop” is when you are bowing on two strings at the same time. It’s really fun and makes a lot of noise! Playing harmonies in double-stops on the cello is one of my favorite things to do, it is so beautiful.
[Exercise 1.A] Bow Rolls
First things first, without drawing the bowing side to side, let’s practice our “Bow Rolls”. That’s right, back to some Cello 101; always a good thing to do when learning a new technique. Start by placing your bow at its balance-point on the C string, your “point-of-contact” should be about halfway between the fingerboard and the bridge (“1/2 way to the bridge”). Now, roll your bow up from the C string slowly to the G string and continue rolling up one string at a time until you are up on the A string. Now come back down the strings, slowly at first, make sure you feel your bow grip each string individually. Stay connected to one string the entire time, don’t lift your hairs from the strings when rolling from one string to the next. OK! after you get the hang of this, slowly increase the speed until you get a fun “blug-ga-da-nuh! nah-guh-da-dunt!” sort of sound as you “lock in” to each string. Roll Up from C to A, then Roll back Down from A to C.
What is happening to your bow arm as you simply Roll from string to string? What part of your arm actually controls which string your bow will be on?…
[Exercise 1.B] Double Stop Lock-Ins
Now I want you to start on your C string and slowly Roll your bow up until it meets the G string. This time, don’t leave the C string, but let your bow hairs “Lock-In” to both strings at the same time. It’s a really cool feeling and kind of a comfortable resting position to be in, as you have two strings supporting your arm weight instead of one! Now, go ahead and rip a big huge down bow double-stop playing on both the C&G strings at the same time. It should sound like this: “BBRRRRRAAWWWWWWWCCKKKKKK!!!” Yeah!! woo-hoo!! you sound like a cellist now! This is one of the greatest joys of playing cello, laying down a huge open fifth double-stop on your lowest strings… it’s awesome!
[Exercise 1.C] Double Stop Lock-In Whole Bows, Down Bow Only
After you’ve had a minute to rock out on the low to strings.. I want you to play each pair of strings, one Down Bow at a time. Just start with a Whole Bow Down Bow, from the Frog to the Tip on the Low Pair (G & C strings). Then lift and reset on the G string at the frog, roll up and lock into the D string and do a whole-bow-down-bow, again from the Frog to the Tip on the Middle Pair (D & G strings). Now reset your bow on the D string, roll up until you’ve locked in to both the D and A strings. Again draw a slow, controlled down bow on the High Pair (A & D strings). Bow with a consistent slow speed, control your bow – hold your angle and don’t “drift” or “fish-tail”.
[Exercise 1.D] Double Stop Lock-In Whole Bows, Down & Up Bow
Once you feel comfortable staying connected to both strings at the same time across the whole bow, you can add the Up Bow to this exercise. Every time, lift and reset your bow at the frog on the lower of the pair of strings. Roll up slowly until you feel your bow hairs lock-in to both strings. Draw a slow steady down bow from the frog to the tip and stop at the tip. Don’t lift your bow off of the string, stay connected! Now reverse your direction with a steady slow Up bow, from the tip back to the frog. Spend as much time on each pair of strings as you need. Once you get a good core sound and your movements feel coordinated, you are ready to repeat the process on the next two strings!
“Low High Low (LHL) Song”
aka “GDG”, this time with Double Stops too!
[A] L H L _
[A] L H L _
[B] L L H H
[A] L H L _
Exercise [2.A] LHL Song, Single-Stops
Try the Low High Low song on all pairs of strings, first in the original way that you learned it, playing a single string at a time
(1) first with A & D strings, where L=D and H=A
(2) then on the D & G strings, where L=G and H=D
(3) and finally on the C & G strings, where L=C and H=G
Exercise [2.B] LHL Song Double-Stops
Then try the LHL song as double-stop pairs, where you are playing 2 strings at the same time!
(1) first with L=G+D and H=D+A
(2) then with L=C+G and H=G+D
Exercise [2.C] LHL Song Single Stops, Upper Arm
Finally, go back to playing the LHL song on only a single string at a time (Exercise [2.A] again). Now compare: how does it feel in your bow arm (right arm) to play on one string at a time vs two strings at a time? Focus your attention on how the upper arm feels (from above the elbow to the shoulder). This is the key: the height of your upper arm determines which string(s) you are bowing. Playing this same exercise back and forth on single strings and then double-stops can help train these muscles to fine tune the difference of bowing on one string or another vs playing on 2 strings. It also shows you the range of “roll” that you have on any given string before you lock in to a double stop or reach the next string.
Exercise  Roll “Ranges”
At this point you are ready to fine tune your “Range”. How much Roll Range do you have on single string before your bow hits the next string? It’s all in the upper arm and it takes a lot of careful work to dial it in. I like to start by setting my bow at its balance point on the D string. Then I roll up to lock-in on a double stop with the A string. Then I roll back as little as possible until my bow is just hovering over the A string, but not touching it (bow is on the D string only). If I drew my bow now, I’d only hear the D string ring (it’s one way of proving that you are or aren’t touching that other string still!). Now tilt the bow back towards the A string and rest on the double-stop with A & D (ahhhh this should feel nice). Repeat this “lock-in to hovering” process over and over again. By doing this you are training the boundary (in your upper arm) of how far you can roll up on the D string before you lock into a double-stop.
Now, do the exact same thing, but this time roll down from your D string to lock-in on a double stop with the G string. Roll the bow back up just slightly until you are hovering over the G string but not touching it (bow is on the D string only). Again, if you were to draw the bow at this moment, you should only hear the D string. Now repeat over and over this lower D string boundary of “lock-in vs hovering”.
After you’ve trained your arm to know the outer limits of where you can bow on the D string before it becomes a double stop with the neighboring string, you should practice rolling the Range of your D string! Start at a centered point on your D string and roll the bow up and down as far as you can towards your A string then towards your G string, but never touch your neighboring string! Don’t lock in to a double stop, see if you can physically remember where those hovering points are, at the boundary from one string to the next. This is really detailed work, go slow and focus on one set of strings at a time.
After you feel that you’ve fine tuned the boundaries of your D string, you’ll notice you have quite a lot of space to bow on that string! Move on to doing the same process, but center your bow on the G string this time. “Lock-in and Hover” with its neighboring strings, the D string and the C string.
Once you get the hang of this exercise, you’ll notice that you are much more accurate when playing on a single string. It will reduce the number of times that you accidentally “Grab” another string with your bow.
This is not the glamorous side of cello playing, but it’s a big part of the discipline of the practice room and how we improve on this instrument!
In certain passages of music, we need to be bowing towards the neighboring string so we can go back and forth between them easily. For instance if our passage involves a lot of string crossings between A and D, I am going to be primarily on the D string, but leaning towards the A string. Hovering as close as needed to minimize the amount of space and effort it takes to cross strings.
OK! That is it for this lesson. I hope you learned something helpful today. Stay healthy and Happy Practicing! ~ Brian
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