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Thirds and `Freudian, Freudian` -silly`s ode to joy

January 14, 2007 at 11:12 PM

Well, the conductor decided to start with the 4th movement of Beethoven 9. So I’m sitting there diligently counting as the single cellist did bizarre things with whatever it is a cellist is supposed to play. The second violinist had fallen asleep I think and didn’t come in at all. Two bars later I played a beautifully articulated and tension packed de, dum across the bar line pp as Beethoven indicated.. The conductor stopped. `Not loud enough.` The second violinist woke up and we went from the preceding two bars. A charming mp, de,dum from Buri. The conductor stopped. `Not loud enough.` We went back and I cam in with a Kreutzer is mf de,dum,. The conductor stopped. Not loud enough. Now I am really pissed. Back two bars. De effing dum using wb martele. `That\`s it. ` said the conductor. `What do I do when its marked FF with an accent? ` I asked. `Play louder,` he responded…..
The question of thirds.
There are a small number of practice methods for learning thirds which are described in most of the literature. However, without understanding the mechanics of what is being done giving scales in 3rds (for example in the Flesch) to students and telling them to `practice slowly and listen carefully,` isn’t going to do much good and may even do harm.
The first thing to recognize is the reason why thirds may be a little more awkward than 6ths and octaves: they occur in the closed hand position as opposed to `open.` That is, in a sixth the lower number finger is on the lower string and the higher on the higher. In thirds this is reversed and to a beginner it does not feel at all good.
Placing the hand in this position for thirds is a wonderful diagnostic tool that may show up a slight error that single notes do not- the hand is often placed too near the scroll and the fingers stretch towards the nose. This is wrong. The fundamental rule is that the fourth finger is curved and relaxed and over the left elbow. Unless this position is correct all the slow practice in the world is useless. In order to achieve this feeling in the hand I advise beginners to practice an exercise which actually breaks some of the rules of third playing albeit briefly.
Place the fourth finger on the g string and adjust the hand so it is relaxed . Having `memorized` the feeling of this hand position place your third finger on `c.` Keep it rounded and balanced. There is no stretch. It is important to keep the space between the thumb and first finger open. While playing this 3rd as a long note silently place the first finger. The third finger must not change shape.. Play the double stop. Take the first finger off. Leaving the third finger on.
Put the fourth finger on.
Remove the third. Keep the balance on the fourth finger.
Place the 2nd finger (stretched back) without changing the fourth finger.
Play the double stop.
No particular rhythm is necessary. Work this way on all the notes of the scale.

Once this is under control one might consider analyzing scale sin 3rds as Flesch himself did as consisting of three parts. I am always amazed at teachers who blithely give out the Flesch scales without bother to explain to students how Flesch himself analyzed and taught scales in 3rds.
A scale in thirds has four basic LEFT HAND problems. 1 and 2) Vertical finger action plus stretch. 3change of position and 4) change of string.
For one month Flesch had his students play only falling and stretching exercises. IE no shifting and only use two strings.
During the second month they practiced only shifting IE 2413 up and down on the same two thirds over and over.
In the third month they practiced only string changing, IE the same two thirds repeated back and forth over changing strings.
Only then were the scales put together.

I suggest one also spend a great deal of time on the following exercise before doing the complete scale everyday. Play only the 13 double stops in a slurred bow, missing out the 24s. In doing this the hand knows exactly where it is going as it is anchored clearly without the mind being confused.
Another factor in the intonation of thirds is the bow! That is, if you are too near the finger board, (very common) the sound will be poor and the string stretched out of tune. String length is also crucial. A third consists of two strings of different lengths. A longer string can take more bow weight than a shorter one so although the difference is small , the distribution of weight is different. One exercise to help you find this is to play a third on a slow long bow UNDULATING between the strings as rapidly as possible as many times as possible in one stroke. After doing this a few times the weight of the bow tends to distribute itself correctly across the two strings.
Finally, remember that the use of two fingers has a strong tendency to promote gripping in the left hand. This must be guarded against at all costs.
All the best,

From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on January 15, 2007 at 6:25 PM
Very helpful as usual. Would I be the only one interested in knowing what a practice routine should contain for a beginning intermediate player practicing about 1 or 1 and 1/2 hour? We don't get around to thirds.


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 15, 2007 at 11:08 PM
I’m afraid it’s not really possible to write out a practice program for another teacher’s student except in broad generalizations and even those can be wildly off the mark. For example equally reputable teachers hold very divergent ideas about which kind of double stop interval to teach first, what kind of vibrato to teach and in what order and so on. Factor into this that a teacher is only using these principles as guidelines and should have clear reasons for deviating from them related to the nature and talent of the student.
So for what it (isn’t) worth here are some brief thoughts.
If a student has one and a half hours to practice I would divide it into two forty five minute periods. The first one is devoted to technical work. The second to musical. This order may be reversed on occasion. Another -very- healthy option is to divide the practice session into half music and half technique irrespective of length. This procedure was strongly advocated by Kievman.
In the technical session I would divide the time roughly in half between scales and etudes although you might want to spend slightly longer on the former.
The scale work might include:
1) 2 octave scales in one key.
2) One finger scales on one string (highly neglected, but vital from early on)
3) Acceleration exercise.
4) Scales with different rhythms and bowings.
5) Scales in octaves, 6ths, 3rds,
6) Don’t neglect arpeggios and chromatic scales.

You will have to work out a system so that all of these are covered in a week if you can’t do all of them every day.
At weekends I would change what you do for variety. That is, work in the finger patterns recommended in Gerle`s book `The Art of Practicing the Violin.` a must read for all students and parents. Basics also have the finger @patterns and how to practice thirds. 6ths etc in one pattern for a whole session. Just keeping the same spacing between the fingers for a whole session has a remarkable effect on stimulating clarity of mind and technique. Very powerful.
The etude work should be part of a systematic approach by the teacher. But one should cover basic bowings everyday, including a lot of work on string crossing.
As far as working on a piece is concerned this is usually a waste of time. I strongly recommend you read Burton Kaplan`s book `The Development of musicians` or something like that. There’s only one. It’s easy to find Shar etc. That will give you a very clear approach on the different reason why one might be practicing and a very clear plan on how to improve ones pieces without just scratching randomly at them.
It is also very important to have system of recycling repertoire. That is, just play through one old piece of repertoire a day to keep it under the fingers.
Listening to recording and following scores is also an integral part of practice on top of the hour and a half mentioned here.

From Karin Lin
Posted on January 16, 2007 at 7:28 AM
Great stuff on thirds, Buri. Double stops are my nemesis (well, one of them :) ) and I'm always looking for new ways to think about them.
From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on January 16, 2007 at 11:22 AM
Thank you, Buri. This is exactly what I was looking for. I'll get the Gerle's book and read Kaplan's book again. In a book, often things don't stand out in a way that I can adopt. Thanks.

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