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To die trying...

September 1, 2008 at 3:57 AM

Greetings,
One of the biggest enemies of the violinist is `clenching.` I think most players don’t reach their full potential even though they reach really high levels simply because they habitually contract something somewhere in the body when performing a specific action on the violin. And typically of habitual actions, we are unaware of them or have trained our body to think they are right to such an extent that not doing the action feels `wrong.` A lot of it simply boils down to `trying.` We are exhorted to try from a young age in many fields of endeavor and the well meaning criticism of the teacher trains us to be more and more stressed out by a certain passage or note perhaps because we are so keen to please that person and so on. This trying has very little to do with the necessary mental control of playing the instrument. One of my favorite example you might like to play with is from Agopian`s `No Time To Practice,` a real hard core volume for advanced players although not all the exercises are beyond the ken of the less skilled.
Try placing the fourth finger on c in a curved and relaxed shape. Now reach back with a second finger on d flat on the a string and the first on b flat. This is not a hard stretch by any means. Now place the third finger on d. One is going to play four beats at mm120 on the a string. During this time the third finger will slide up and down in 8th notes playing dededede. Really push your self and try and get this movement. I will tell you in advance that the hand does not like this kind of stretch. It is not designed to work this way in the real world. The outer finger are the stretch fingers and the two middle actually prefer to work together as a pillar supporting the outer fingers
for want of a better metaphor. Casals based his whole idea of fingering around this key point of body mechanics…
Keep trying to get that damn side to side movement. You can do it.

Now take a break. Have a shake. Put the violin up. Relax yourself systematically. Check shoulders, neck , wrist, and especially base of thumb and fist finger. Fell how relaxed and soft your whole hand and arm is. Now visualize the finger going from d to e and back retraining this amazing sense of freedom and relaxation.
Now just play it with this amazing softness and flexibility. For many I wonder what all the fuss was about?
Cheers,
Buri


From Tess Z
Posted on September 1, 2008 at 5:24 AM
Buri, you've been missed around here. :)

I have been working on the 'side-to-side' finger movement for a couple of months now. It is my biggest sticking point, not having the necessary dexterity between the fingers. I also do a similar exercise off the violin using a pencil for the fingerboard.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 1, 2008 at 10:08 PM
Greetings,
Thanks for your kind words. I did take a summer vacation and I was fasting for six weeks so using a computer was a no no.
I cited the exercise to make a point and i do think the Agopian collection and sequencing of technical work is superb. However, side to side movement is really about gently developing the stretchy web between the base of the fingers. I suspect one of the simplest ways to work on this is more along the lines of a lot of work in thirds which are beautiful for shaping the hands as well as intonation. Then fingered octaves, worked form the upper finger stretching backwards. That might be of some use to you.
Cheers,
Buri
From Tess Z
Posted on September 2, 2008 at 1:00 PM
Thanks for the additional advice, Buri.

The lack of side-to-side movement was/is hampering my intonation and also the root cause of my hand not staying in place when playing flats or sharps.

It seems as a player progresses, the more you strive for beautiful tone and dynamics. Then it's a matter of dissecting what is holding you in place.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 2, 2008 at 4:50 PM
I need to go home and try this. It strikes me that it won't work if one has a hyper curved finger posture.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 2, 2008 at 10:11 PM
Greetings,
Megan, the Agopian you can order from Shar. )No Time to Practice) I can`t see why there is a problem? Its in an odd section though. Maybe somethinglike Teaching Aids rather than the etudes section one would expect. A general search should bring it up though.
Cheers,
Buri
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 2, 2008 at 10:13 PM
Greetings,
>So how do we try not to try - and how do we learn to accept where we are without drifting into complacency? For me, the most challenging part of this has been separating the concentration needed from a physical sensation of 'working hard'. Feeling the challenge without letting my body sympathize, and make it all that much more difficult. Understanding that a stretch doesn't necessarily have to feel like a stretch unless I tense my hand and make it that way.

I think the bottom line is probably mental clarity/vizualisation. Unless one has a clear mental image of what one wants the body to do (with a lot of slow practice) then what does almost all of our practice consist of? I dare to suggets that it is looking at a page of black dots and saying to yourself `Go.` No more precise instrcution than this is given to our body (a sa computer to be programmed). Depending on our level of tehcnique the whole shebang may be more or less sccusseful but in either extreme we pretty much rpeat the procedure , either to consolidate or `deal with` the bad bits, which get better sort of by default over time.
However, the poor confused organism has done its bets for you by cobtracting this or that set of muscles that don`t need to be contracted, or used three times the muscular effort needed.
The main source of unnecssary contraciton is misuse of the head, neck back relationship, which is why a good Alexander Teacher is so helpful. The other aspect of AT which is crucial is the ability to mentally check what one is about to do unconscioulsy and becomes aware of all that is going on in the whole self. This is the responsibility of teachers to a large extent. It often seems that a student keeps trying and trying to repeat a passage well so they will not wait and think . So much so that I often want to rip the bow out of the Ss hand and ask them what mental prpearation for their rerun they have actually done.
The private pracitc emimics this `ecstasy of fumbling.`
Cheer,s
Buri

From Willie M
Posted on September 2, 2008 at 11:07 PM
Trying is only emphasizing the thing we know already.

-FMA

From Corwin Slack
Posted on September 3, 2008 at 3:21 AM
Well I tried it. It was easy. I did it for a while but there was never a sensation of stretching. I suspect that this may have been nearly impossible back in my shoulder rest days.

I think that the trick here is "flattening" the finger when moving to the e and pulling it back to a more curved position for the d.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 3, 2008 at 5:54 AM
Greetings,
Megan, the Agopin is in the practice section of the books department at Shar. Can you not order from them i Germany?
Chees,
Buri
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 3, 2008 at 10:20 PM
Greetings,
I think by what you are saying you are actually defining the learning process itself. Something that is new has to be worked on consciouslt until it achives automaticity. The challenge for us is to get the most precisely organized and efficient automatic reflex. That is done with the mental work first. Otherwise the badly learned habit will always limit ones abiltiy to express music as freely as the organism will allow.
One childrens book that allows for this very strongly is Adventures in violin land. In a very subte way, it makes sure the child develops pitch and sound color cocnepts before anything is done on the insturment. Quite remarkable.
RE Agopian, I will try to remeber to punch in the number tomorrow. I did check the disributor which is SHAR. Unfortunately I don`t have email but if you don`t ind printing your mail addres shere......
Cheers,
Buri

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