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Kate Little

A Really Fabulous Lesson on Minuet 3 by Bach

July 6, 2014 10:56

The following are notes from a recent lesson that was particularly effective. The notes were taken after-the-fact from the audio recording of the lesson. After performing Minuet II (Bach/Suzuki Book I) for my Montana teacher, Angella Ahn, we spent the next 40 minutes of our hour together studying the opening 8 notes of the piece. Focusing on clarity and intonation, the phrase was presented in a continuous series of exercises of increasing complexity, building toward fluid playing.

Ex. 1

On the octave sequence G (on E-string) to G (on D-string): play upper note – stop and hear silence – cross – play lower note. The double string crossing itself should be completely silent, absent extraneous string and bow contact sound. Keeping the 2nd finger on E, reach the 3rd finger to D. Relax the left thumb. Keep the finger frame stable and the fingers low.

The relationship between these two notes is important. Relax and open the palm to get this octave interval. Pay closer attention to what is happening physically and really listen to the resulting sound.

The first exercise examined the 2-note double string crossing. The following exercises refer to the first 4 measures of the minuet, of which measures 1-2 are sequenced in m3-4.

Ex. 2

Play and stop after every 4 notes to see if L-hand is clenching. Relax the palm. Play – check – play – check. Always stop to check. Have silence in the stops. Make them absolute stops to give time to listen and check.

Ex. 3 (12 minutes into the lesson)

Play 1st 4 measures on open strings. Slow tempo. Loose wrist. Strive for noiseless string crossings. Stop before double-crossing to prepare it.

Ex. 4

Play m1-4 on open strings with slow-fast-slow-fast rhythm. Stay in the middle of bow. Don’t rush. Silence before the double-crossing. Keep wrist in line as pull up-bow. Keep bow straight. Avoid clenching violin with chin.

Ex. 5

Play m1-4 on open strings with opposite fast-slow-fast-slow rhythm. Pay attention to the bow hair – all should be in contact with the string. Keep bow action in the wrist and lessen use of the whole arm.

Ex. 6

Start with bow on A-string: play A-D-A-E-A- . . . . . . Use wrist to create this continuous figure-8. Allow wrist to be really flexible & loose. Release all tension in the right (bow arm) shoulder. Sometimes the wrist is too low and bow turns to bridge so hair not flat on string. Pay attention to wrist to fix this.

Ex. 7

Using loose wrist of previous exercise, play normal rhythm and bowing of open strings of m1-4. Stop at each phrase and fix bow grip. With supple wrist don’t loose bow grip – you don’t want to drop the bow. Create relaxed stability in bow fingers. Is your wrist relaxed and the bow-hair flat on the string? Watch this.

Ex. 8 (20 minutes into the lesson)

Add the left hand. Use each fingered note to find the placement of the next finger – use the physical intervals between fingers to find notes. Learn these physical intervals. Prep each finger as playing the previous note. Take care not to get sharp. Is your hand moving up the neck? Check and re-do intonation. Be exacting about this. Play ½ scales with drone in G-major. F# should be high for the leading tone. Remember the note sound and physical placement. E’’ on a-string and E’’ on e-string should sound identical.

Ex. 9

Add slow-fast-slow-fast rhythm to fingering the tune. Make fast really fast. Don’t go to tip, stay mid-bow. Keep wrist loose. Watch intonation, always go back to the same G’.

Ex. 10

Change rhythm to fast-slow-fast-slow. Don’t creep to the frog. Stay in the middle of the bow regardless of the rhythm. Try to do the phrase with even tempo, without stopping. Relax your shoulder. Relax your bow arm. Relax your left arm, too. Keep everything loose.

Ex. 11 (32 minutes into the lesson)

Play m1-4 as written. Bow arm is less cockeyed, but still work on this. The tiniest bit off parallel changes the sound. Use the mirror. Make it clean – no extraneous noise! Go slow and watch. Balance the bow. Keep the hair flat. Stop intermittently and fix the bow grip (and the L-hand grip). Work bow – bow – bow!!!

Now go home and on any line with predominant 1/8 notes work this whole process to develop muscle memory.

The lesson was fabulous because it was focused and detail oriented, typical of Angella. She is demanding, in a good sense, that I develop a beautiful, clean sound with my bow arm, and precise intonation with the left hand. We work slowly, both within lessons and with respect to advancing in repertoire, in order to attend to these basics. Angella is attentive to the physical process, and perceptive in connecting movement to sound. She exudes expertise.

With lessons like this, maybe I’ve got a chance.

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