Written by Stephen Brivati
Published: April 14, 2014 at 10:06 PM [UTC]
Sometimes the path of most resistance can be useful but at other times the ratio of effort to result is just wrong.
The quite understandandable misunderstanding sevcik tends to create is that if one covers every possible pattern that the fingers may make then when we meet them in music we will automatically do them. This is nonsense. There are actually a small number of fundamental patterns that the brain can learn easily from which slight deviations are simple because one has a clear framework , but this is not the same thing at all. the first person to really clarify this as 'modern' violin technique was Robert Gerle in a rather old book now called 'the Art of Practicing.' He demonstrated how learning I think 12 basic patterns lead to complete mastery of the fingerboard. The patterns don't just occur on one string. The spacing remains the same but the fingers are on different strings so one is able to play all manner of double stops using awareness of these patterns.
Gerle's ideas were taken to the next level by Drew Lecher who used to post blogs regularly on this site. In his Manual of Violin Technique, he demonstrated how one could focus on one single pattern (say, bcde on the a string) and do a whole range of fundamental exercises -using only this pattern-IE finger strengthening, velocity, vibrato, shifting, double stops and bowing exercises to name just a few.
By keeping only one pattern in the mind yet covering the whole gamut of technique for a few days or a week or whatever, the pattern is absorbed naturally and will be recognized automatically in pieces. One does of course practice on different strings...
The book also includes some of the most efficient and interesting double stop exercises I have ever seen. the level is completely at the discretion of the individual player. Lecher only provides the framework and the player chooses how far up the fingerboard they wish to go, what key or pattern they wnat to use, what kinds of bowing and so on. This is another reason why the approach is superior to things like Sevcik: you learn to think for yourself.
I often recommend this book to adults who are short of time. When Drew wrote this book it was largely with the idea in mind that working through the standard course of etudes , even with judicious selection, takes an awful lot of time that adults in particular may not have. Thus the book takes the essence of technique and presents unique exercises that should be done only for a short space of time working between pieces and all the fun stuff.
Not only is it incredibly efficient compared to the way one often ends up laboring through sevick (it really does correlate much better with how the mind works) it is actually a lot more fun.
Thanks for the insight.
...and i'll be getting the Drew Lecher book you recommended at some point soon: i've just moved onto my second violin book (The ABCs of Violin for the Intermediate) having finished my first one, and as it consists of pieces to perform, and nothing else, i'm looking forward to something broader, and more over-arching.
You know what, I'm going to make this bold assertion: étude tend to encourage mindless practice largely due to their unmusical dry nature. I love to work on technique and I love making music. What works for me these days is, by combining the two and working on the pieces that I really want to play but are challenging, together with scales and arpeggios related to each piece I am working on, I feel I could pretty much cover all that need to be addressed. I love it that the tricky technical bits are worked within musical context and thus meaningful and each step of progress is clear and rewarding. I no longer feeling frustrated or wastful as I used to feel when I worked on étude.
For those who have a preference for learning technique within pieces (as I do, and have been allowed to), can I recommend Dvorak symphony #1. By far his least satisfying work, but if one approaches the 1st violin part as though it were an étude that goes on for 35 pages across 4 movements, plenty of opportunities to work on 2nd & 4th pos, and occasional brief bits of fine Dvorak rhythm and melody - then it's survivable. No one theme is expanded for more than 4 bars at a time and a page turn is like going to the next exercise. Bloody brilliant.
It has a link to another blog that may be of interest.
That said, I don’t consider it’s a criticism of Drew’s book but just want to share some of my thoughts on improvement. At minimum, I think the book needs some editing so as to be more user-friendly. Look at first a few pages for instance, the bold fonts don’t serve good purpose and overused bold fonts diminish the effect. Too much font size changes also make the pages look too busy and unpolished.
"Terms & Tips" can be broken down to three parts: 1) "Abbreviations” (i.e.,acronyms)and keep it in the early part of the book. 2) "Useful Terms” could be put in the end of the book as an index for a quick search for these musical and violin technical terms, Italian language preferably italicized; and 3) "Tips" insert into relevant sections of the book.
There need to be more consistency in language and fonts. Example, on top page 3, “(See No.2 for example)” but I can’t find No.2. I think Drew meant “2” in the square box below. The font changes seem to be rather random too -- terms look like subtitles and different subtitles/topics at the same level don’t share the same size, etc.
So far are some of the simple and easily fixable details that I’ve noticed, but more detailed technical explanations will make this book from a good one to a great one. I am sure readers want guidance more than anything when it comes to use this book. We want to know how to practice these notes, especially the thinking behind is “a little too far outside the conventional box for many to get a good grasp of”. We want the thoughts to be pointed out rather than being left to dummies like me to figure out. Example: page 18 “Basics IV”, I want to know what should I be thinking about my 1st finger if at all when my 2nd and 3rd are leading the shift. A few words on the margin in small font like that will be so helpful and make people feel money really well spent :)
If you or Drew would consider rework on the book, I’ll be happy to help with test reading and editing, from a student point of view. Even though I’m an ELS kid, last 10 years or so my day job involves quite a lot of editing written materials to make them look user friendly. I think I can be of some use for Drew on this if he wants to give a go of it. Of course I’ll be delighted to be part of your next year’s blog project too. Whatever works for you guys.
Also, Agopian is on its way from Shar Music. Thank you!
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