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Kate Little

Technique Books

April 13, 2014 16:13

These are technique books that I use:

I acquired them at various times in the last 2-1/2 years, and use them for various purposes, but not all at once.

Scales Plus! by William Starr was my very first technique book, purchased along with Suzuki Book 1. I used it for most of the first year learning single and double octave scales in first position, and associated finger patterns. It also has sections on shifting, 3-octave scales, arpeggios and melodic minor scales. Everything is pretty much in 4/4 time with quarter notes. The book is not comprehensive, and does not include all keys. Nor does it include scales with double-stops or varied rhythms. This is a fine book for an adult beginner.

School of Violin Technics by Otakar Ševcik was my second technique book. After about a half year of study, I found PDF of it on the internet and took a page of it in to a lesson and asked if I could do more of this sort of stuff. I use Part 1 – Exercises in the First Position. My Schirmer edition has 42 pages of about 50 measures a page of every possible finger-pattern that you could imagine, except for the fact that there is a Part 2 to this beloved series. After 1-1/2 years of working on exercise 1, page 1, measures 1 – 36 (all on the A-string), I have recently moved on to exercises 2, 3 and 4, which are basically the same thing on the D-, E- and G-strings. Work with these exercises is slow and meticulous, helping me find and coordinate small muscles of the left hand and fingers. This takes considerable time and patience for an adult with an under-utilized (from a violinist’s perspective) left hand, but without this sort of exercise and attention the hand will not develop the skill needed to play well.

Fingerboard Geography by Barbara Barber was designed to supplement Suzuki curriculum, and is targeted at a young audience. It uses big print and a color-coded presentation of finger patterns. This book was my introduction to “frames” for the left hand finger patterns, a helpful concept. The pre-song preparatory exercises can be helpful. None of my teachers assign me anything from this book. I use it independently for supplemental exercises.

Sixty Studies for the Violin by Franz Wohlfahrt addresses a wide range of fingering issues, but in contrast to Ševcik does so in melodic, musical settings. Wohlfahrt exercises can feel more satisfying than the austere Ševcik.

Scale Exercises, in All Major and Minor Keys for Daily Study by Carl Flesch is, like the Ševcik and Wohlfahrt, a product of late-19th/early-20th century violinistic thinking. All three are thorough to the max. If there is a permutation or combination to be done, these guys hand it to you. For the contemporary student used to skimming the surface of everything on the internet, the depth of technique which these volumes ask you to explore can be intimidating. On the other hand, the student up to their challenge will emerge atop the heap.

Melodeous Ddouble-Stops by Josephine Trott is my newest technique book, picked up last month on the advice of a respected (and sometimes respectable) violin-teaching-friend who said his students like it. The book is another oldie but goodie. Working on exercise #1, I am finding the book well recommended and am looking forward to continuing to use it to develop double-stop technique.

In addition to the above, I have various technique volumes by Constantine Dounis which I use to develop finger agility and precision; as well as a number of independent exercises from teachers (or made-up by myself) that address elemental aspects of bowing, intonation, finger speed, rhythm, shifting and double-stops.

I will try to get to a future post discussing how I employ all of this material.

(Here and on Facebook readers have also recommended technical studies and etudes by Edmond Agopian (2 mentions), Vladislav Blazhevich (1 mention), Jakob Don't (4 mentions), Constantine Dounis (1), Federigo Fiorillo (1), Simon Fischer (5 - Sort of Popular), Carl Flesch (10 - Popular) Ivan Galamian (1), Pierre Gavinies (1), Robert Gerle (2), Jan Hrimaly (2), Heinrich Ernst Kayser (3), Fritz Kreisler (1), Rodolphe Kreutzer (3), Drew Lecher (6 - SOP), Jaques Fereol Mazas (3), Niccolo Paganini (1), Enrico Polo (3), Pierre Rode (2), Henry Schradieck (1), Otakar Sevcik (15 - VERY Popular, despite certain drawbacks),Hans Sitt (1), Robert Starer (1), Joseph Szigeti (1), Josephine Trott (5 - SOP), Franz Wohlfahrt (5 - SOP), Eugene-Auguste Ysaye (1), and the Jack Benny theme song (1). Everyone has their favorite. Please feel free to leave a comment describing yours.)

(P.S. As has been noted by readers, many of the technical studies are available for free online. However, if you have a local music seller and you can afford to support the business by purchasing music from them, please do so. They are probably supporting music making in your community.)

26 replies

Viola Recital

April 8, 2014 12:51

Solo viola recitals are hard to come by, and it is always a delight to soak in their alto sound. On Monday, April 7, Alfonso Noriega Fernandez presented one at Reynolds Recital Hall at Montana State University in Bozeman.

This viola recital was unique in that all of the pieces were 20th century music (Correction: One piece was 21st century. When have you ever heard 21st century solo viola?), the musical direction this performer pursues. The first piece was disorienting: it was Bach as arranged by Kodaly. I kept listening for Bach but could only hear strains. Really, this was good as it challenged my expectations and thereby expanded my ability to hear and appreciate. The last piece was composed by an MSU student. Fernandez included it in the program to say thank you for the master classes that he had taught that week. What a nice way to celebrate his work with the students.

This is NOT the concert hall in Bozeman. But it is the violist who played there. Photo from his Facebook page.

Archive link


April 4, 2014 10:37

In 4th grade, I failed. School was offering violin lessons. But there were not enough violins for all the children, so we were screened for aptitude. The test presented twenty pairs of pitches, and we were to circle an up-arrow or a down-arrow indicating if the second pitch was higher or lower than the first. I did not get to take violin lessons. What I did get was deep-seated insecurity regarding pitch recognition. And when I finally did begin violin studies, 43 years later, my greatest fear, an acute inner panic really, was that I would fail, due to pitch.

I used a tuner. I played with drones. I listened for beats. Progress felt minimal. Other people seemed to perceive minute differences that I could not. Internally, fear was mounting, because I know that my ability to hear would always limit my ability to play. One day my teacher says to me: “You know, you can improve your ability to hear.” And I’m like “Seriously? Are you sure?” This idea had never crossed my mind. I thought that ability to hear was a static skill formed early on, that you had what you had and that was that. Her remark spurred me on a new quest to improve intonation. I spent an hour a day making up every kind of exercise that I could think of. And still progress was minimal.

After several weeks, it finally occurred to me that when tuning intervals that I don’t know what to listen for, and that if I don’t know what to listen for than I’ll never be able to recognize if I’m playing in tune, or not. Finally, I get to this question, “When tuning intervals, what do I listen for? What am I supposed to hear?” My teacher considers this a moment and decides to introduce combination tones to me. We spend the next hour playing harmonic intervals, looking for combination tones, until he is satisfied that I can find them and hear them. They sound like this (the red notes):

If you find this chart to be wrong, please post a correction in the comments for this blog entry.

Typical me, I google the topic afterward and learn that they are called Tartini tones and that there is lots of information on the web about them, including discussions on Violinist.com. I’m excited. To me, Tartini tones are the best thing since buttered toast. Why? First, because an essential door has been opened. Now that I can recognize in-tune-ness, I can practice getting it quickly, and with practice the skill will come. In this, I have confidence.

Beyond developing the specific skill, there are meta-lessons to learn: It is important to ask questions. This helps teachers know what you need to know. It is more important to ask the right questions. They can open doors to entirely new realms of capability. It is important to be curious, to explore sound production, and to wonder why something is or is not working. Curiosity, exploration and wonder lead to questions. Questions lead to learning. Learning leads to practice. Practice leads to skill. Skill at the violin is what it's all about. You can trust your ability to improve. You can overcome fears and insecurities. You are human, and the human capacity to learn is infinite. Trust it. Trust yourself.

5 replies

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