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The Path of Least Resistance

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Published: April 14, 2014 at 10:06 PM [UTC]

Although I don't deny the value of Sevcik Op. 1 (it is a classic) and his ouvre in general I think this kind of work is misleading on occasion.

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.

Best wishes,


From Graham Jenkins
Posted on April 14, 2014 at 11:44 PM
As an adult beginner it's heartening to hear that fundamental abilities are so transferable: as Kate's blog post relates, there is an overwhelming amount of scales, exercises, and so on, and it makes the learning process seem nearly insurmountable.
For my part, ~seven weeks in, I don't find that playing the same finger pattern on another string presents a problem.

Thanks for the insight.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 15, 2014 at 12:00 AM
Dear Graham,
it sift he same as life: rather than look at the mountain peak and be overwhelmed, recognize that any complex problem becomes simple when broken down into manageable units. Failure to do this is the ause of many students and teachers pro lems.
For example we talk about s ales but fail to recognize that a scale is a combination of many complex discrete techniques. The result, many people practice scales for years and learn absolutely nothing except that scales are not for them.....
I hope ypu can drop into Buri's studio on this site and read the blog called something like 'scales from a dead fish,' I wrote in one of my saner moments.
Best wishes,
Buri
From Graham Jenkins
Posted on April 15, 2014 at 1:52 AM
Haha.
I'll be sure to have a look.

...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.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 15, 2014 at 6:03 AM
Buri, over the years your advices have helped me such a great deal, and all the books you recommended (including books by Fischer, Applebaum, and AT books too) all have changed my life for so much the better. This is truly amazing! There is an exception -- Drew Lecher's manual. I just don't get it. It seems to me that the book needs a bit more explanation on each excersice or better, supplemente it with a video to demonstrate how to use it

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.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 15, 2014 at 9:44 AM
Hi Yixi,
I know what you mean about Drew. When he first introduced Repetition Hitsit took me a while to figure out exactly what he was getting at and many people seemed to be floundering. That`s why I wrote the blog `A humble stab at Repetition Hits,` just to try and help people make sense of what he was saying. It was juts a little too far outside the conventional box for many to get a good grasp of. Its a shame because they could be a very radical advance in technique for a lot of people.
I also agree that there are some exercises in the Manual where one might well go `And er, what, how....?` and not know how to proceed. There are a couple I can`t quite grasp the best way. However, there are certain major exercise that are quite new that do drastically improve technique in a veyr short space of time. Sorry, its really annoying but i cant find my copy now I really need it... hard to say anything intelligent. However,I am not clear why the first page of bowing exercises which I think are absolutely wonderful should be difficult to interpret. Like wise the first page of finger pattern exercise which is pretty much the same as Scradieck in principle. Then I would use the tuning exercise for thirs wothout fail; the lower position then one octave higher pattern practice; especially the three octave scale exercise that takes up a whole page and repeats all the shifts so effectively and finally the vibrato exercise where one goes from fast to slow on long notes arpeggioing up one string. I cannot honestly see why these should be hard to decipher so I am wondering what other information you would require.
This is a serious question because I think your criticism is perfectly valid and the book may well need rewriting to provide a little more information. I am thinking of making this something of a project via blogs next year (if I have time....) and would really value your input.
By the way, I think you should get Agopian`s `No Time to Practice.` Now that is your level:)
Cheers,
buri
From sharelle taylor
Posted on April 15, 2014 at 11:57 AM
Buri, I find myself in agreement with you as usual, and one of your early recommendations 'the art of practising the violin mentally & physically' (maybe you just mentioned it again here?) has been great. I have done some of Drew's exercises too, but like Yixi haven't been able to quite get it.

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.

From Christina C.
Posted on April 15, 2014 at 2:15 PM
*sigh!* I have both the Gerle & Lecher books..... probably based on high praise of them from you & others here several years ago. Thanks for yet another nudge to finally get around to looking at them. Long weekend coming up, I think I know what I'll be doing!
From Corwin Slack
Posted on April 15, 2014 at 7:31 PM
I will add my three cents on finger patterns

Finger Patterns II

It has a link to another blog that may be of interest.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 15, 2014 at 11:07 PM
Buri, thank you! I went back to Drew’s book again after reading your last post and did discover great stuff I overlooked before. For instance, I’m working on 1st violin part of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra for a local amateur orchestra and one of things I try to nail is those big jumps from lower positions to the notes in nose-bleed range spot on every time. Drew’s 8va slides with HG sequence (with some modification perhaps) could be useful as a daily warm up exercise. I’m sure I’ll discover more gems the more I use the book. It was my loss for having no patience or enough faith to give it a decent try the first place.

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!

Cheers.

Yixi


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 16, 2014 at 3:34 AM
Greetings,
many thanks Yixi. That`s a big help. Now I juts have to talk to the greta man himself.....
The Agopian is an absolute blast. For someone of your level I think its perfect. Looking forward to your comments on that.
Warmest regards,
buri
Sharelle, your absolutely right. We nerds spend so much time farting around with this book and that book and often forget one of the greatest resources we have is orchestral repertoire. Dvorak is always a pig. He had no idea.....
Szigeti strongly advocated the use of the Beethoven String Quartets as technical material for orchestral players. Probably fell on deaf ears.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 16, 2014 at 4:38 AM
BTW
if you do a youtube search you can find a few videos of Drew demonstrating.
Very interesting.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 16, 2014 at 7:21 AM
Yes, I saw all four of them. I guess I'm spoiled by teachers like Simon Fischer (and my own teacher). I want to know why we do what we are told to do. What is the purpose for each gesture and what sort of moves we should avoid when doing a particular drill. There of course will be occasions you just have to stop asking and just do as told. But we should be given some sort of analytical tool and something to think about when we approach to the task. Like yoga or gym workout, you have to know what muscle groups you are working on to get the result and avoid injury. Isn't it kind of basic stuff, or am I totally off?

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