May 20, 2010 at 11:21 PM
I must admit that at the beginning of Lesson #1, my first thought was, my God, I’m really going to post this on Youtube? Where, like, people can watch it? And then I’m going to blog about it? Where people can read it? I have this thing where I feel hideously exposed if I share my playing or my writing or any number of things to other people if I don’t feel the product in question is perfect, or at least as close to perfect as I’m going to get. I’m writing my first novel and I swore I would give my mother the first five chapters as a Mother’s Day gift. Darn if I didn’t chicken out at the last minute, simply because…why? I don’t even know! She’ll love it regardless of what needs to be fixed and tweaked, but I'm always so humiliated to show anything to anybody before I have it 100% under control. Why? Am I scared my own mother is going to hate me because a couple of my sentences are clumsily constructed? What’s my problem? And it’s the same way with violin playing. If I let my ego have my way, I would have shot dozens of videos and picked the very best. But that’s not what happens in a real lesson, so I shot maybe one or two prep videos to warm up and make sure I was in the view of the camera, then took the ones I uploaded below. (I also reminded myself beforehand to keep the Christmas decorations out of the frame, but I obviously forgot about that too late. Oh, well. Yes, I like Christmas decorations. And I’m lazy. Either/or.)
My bow arm is almost always the weakest link in my playing and I want to talk about that a bit before I continue. During my first five years of playing, I was a student of a student of Auer. If I’m understanding correctly, this Russian method can often translate into a high wrist that tilts into the bow. Because of this, I was always under the impression that the movement of the bow was a purely horizontal one, that a player was holding the bow above the strings and merely skimming the bow across them. (No wonder I had wrist problems that entered into my neck! At one point I was practicing this way obliviously for four hours a day. My God.) It took me many years to even be exposed to an alternate viewpoint - thinking of the bow movement as a vertical one as well as a horizontal one; letting the entire weight of my shoulder and upper arm and lower arm come to a relaxed rest on the bow. A whole new world of sound opened up to me with that single idea. It has taken me a long time to even begin to apply this to my own playing, but believe it or not, despite what it looks like on the video, I have made some progress.
Onto the first video, the b-flat major scales. (Gulp!)
As I was watching this video for the first time, I had an incredibly disheartening revelation. If I was asked to describe to a beginning violin student how to bow, I wouldn’t be able to do it, aside from saying, pull down, push up, and check in a mirror to make sure you’re parallel to the bridge. But I ought to be able to describe this motion, and in detail. It’s the most basic building block of violin playing. And I’ve been playing for ten years, for God’s sake. What muscles should move first? Where should you envision the movement coming from? The wrist? The elbow, opening and closing? Where does the weight rest? How is an up-bow different from a down-bow, in regards to which muscles start the movement? Is it different at all? And then a whole new terrifying world opens up - how does one describe bow changes? What happens in the arm, the fingers? This whole realization is humbling, and a tad humiliating. The violin has a way of humbling and humiliating you, though, so I suppose it’s par for the course.
But anyway. Back to the video. It was difficult for me to watch because it just all looked so ugly and ungainly. Four things leapt out at me straight away, all having to do with the right hand.
(1) The bow is awfully tilted toward me. In fact I can see the entire frog. I must only be using twenty percent of the hair, at best. And my pinky’s not even resting on the top of the bow; it’s resting on the edge of it!
(2) I’m having trouble keeping the bow parallel to the bridge. It’s making a curved motion, like the curve in a capital D, especially on long bows, and especially especially on up-bows.
(3) My wrist bends too much. I’ve heard this referred to as “chicken wing” bowing. It’s not pretty, and it’s not relaxed or efficient.
(4) Perhaps because of the wrist bending, my elbow gets too low, or at the very least, the connection between the elbow and wrist is broken up when the wrist bends so much. I can’t imagine how the relaxed weight of my arm is going to get into the bow to make a nice big sound.
I went back to the practice room later and experimented. After a few moments of working with the elbow and the wrist, I decided to tilt the bow hair so more of it was flat on the string. And voila. Ten years of chicken wing bowing, (for the most part) gone. I took a video of myself with the new position and looked at it and rewound it and watched it again. And I almost started to cry. Wait - what? My bow arm still needs a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. But - seriously? That was my problem for ten years? And nobody told me (that I can remember)? Really? The bow stayed parallel to the bridge more often. The wrist didn’t flop around as much. And perhaps more importantly, the line between the elbow and the wrist was more consistent, and I was able to relax the weight of the arm into it. The sound was much bigger (although I don’t know that you’d hear a difference in the camera) and I felt much more relaxed. All from a simple tilt of the bow hair.
As for the left hand…well, I don’t think I should even start with that yet. Maybe next week.
During the same recording session as the scale I played the first Kayser etude, so this was before my bow-tilt breakthrough. No bowing variations. I had enough to worry about without them.
haven`t tinmeto go through all this yet (Ithought it was your book at first...) but I note you say the pinkie is on the side of thebow. As far as I am cocnerne dthat isusually correct. It givers better control(in most cases) and can then be used to push/pull the bow laterally when you angle the bow to change the sound point. Most people ahve trouble with this if they are taught to have to pinky directly on top of the stick. Thats probably why the bit above the heel os octagonal....
I was wondering if your bow thumb gets locked straight...it's a little hard to see!
Also, I'll offer some (unsolicited!) advice about Youtube that you can take or leave: don't let anybody comment through Youtube. I know that your whole purpose is to solicit comments, but you can do that somewhere like here, where people understand the context of what you are doing and aren't so anonymous. Youtube can be a total GUTTER, so protect yourself! It's just inevitable that some anonymous stranger will surprise you with a horrible comment that stabs you straight in the heart. Not to be dramatic. But after seeing comments on other people's Youtube videos as well as on videos I've put up, I always pick the settings that disallow all commenting and rating. (Things like people saying that some famous amazingly wonderful violinist's playing "sucks" I mean, it's totally ridiculous. But still hurtful. And it gets way worse! )
The bow hold with the pinky on the side is what I was taught by my university teacher and for the same reasons Buri listed.
lesson 1 Bb Scale..... looks like good choice of contact point! I cannot remember if you mentioned knowing this but, the closer the bow hairs are to the bridge the slower the bow stroke speeds and a little more weight down on the bow (but not too much). The closer to the fingerboard the faster the bow stroke speeds and lighter weight on the bow... lighter and faster than the points closer to the bridge. Try experimenting with an open string. Devide 5 different points with point # 1 just over the finger board to #5 almost on top of the bridge. Start @ #1 just over the finger board with whole notes at about 100 BPM, then #2 just back from that untill you get to #5 which is almost on top of the bridge. Notice the diference in sound! Notice that as you go back towards the bridge you'll have to slow down and add a little more weight to the bow to improve the quality of tone.
do 4 whole bows on #1 at 100 bpm stop.
Now repeat the same with point #2, 4 whole bows at 100 BPM.
Do this for the rest of the points all the way to #5.
Oh Buri, that made me laugh. I’m chronically long-winded when I write. Sorry about that. It’s a good omen that you were the first to comment because I’ve learned the most from you from everyone online - especially about the importance of relaxation and lack of tension. I obviously don’t have it under control but just you just talking about those things and letting me know they existed…that was a huge step for me, and your posts are always inspiring. You’re unbelievable.
And Royce and Buri, thanks for the information on the pinky on the bow. It makes perfect sense. I imagine there’s a happy medium between only using about ten or twenty percent of the bow hair (as I was doing) and having the bow hair flat and the pinky resting on top - everything varying, of course, when it comes to contact points and dynamics.
And Laurie, what a sweet comment. I’m going to leave my Youtube videos open for comment for a little while just out of morbid curiosity of how bad it gets. Who knows, there may be one or two worthwhile comments in the filth. It might be fun to collect some outre comments as a violinist.com blog! Also, I’m pretty sure my bow thumb is bent. I haven't checked recently but in the past when I have, everything has been good.
Great first lesson!
That 'tendon' you noticed is the sternocleidomastoid muscle which, as you say, runs from just behind the ear to your collar bone (actually there are two adjacent muscles, one attaches to your sternum, the other at the tip of your collar bone next to the sternum,) and is responsible for turning and tilting your head. It sticks out when you turn your head to the opposite side and is not necessarily a sign of tension, just that your head is turned. Of course leaving any part of your body in a position away from neutral for an extended period can cause fatigue and possibly a few complaints from the antagonist muscles, so you might want to simply turn your head away from the fiddle from time to time, like a rotating fan (another good reason to practice from the music inside your head rather than from the score.) Swiveling the head from time to time will also make you aware of and release any vice like grip you're applying with these same muscles. But I think what might be more important to consider first is the rotational alignment of your shoulders, hips and feet.
Check the alignment between the line of your hips to the line of your shoulders. It's very common for violinists to hold the shoulders out of parallel (twisted clockwise) relative to the hips. This alignment favors playing at the tip of the bow, but if held permanently, also makes things a little cramped for the upper arm when playing at the frog (especially if you leave the elbow low, keep it from 'floating'.) Of course everything is relative, so if you align your hips in a similar fashion (left foot out in front, which really means external rotation of the upper-leg at left hip and neutral right hip rotation), you're more aligned. This 'rifle shooting' position can become particularly painful if held while sitting down for extended periods, since it's hard to keep your lower back twisted (and if you keep your lower spine neutral the fiddle ends up being too far to the left,) so it's useful to be able to undo the rotation or be able to realign the body in different ways, which of course means being able to control the relative angles of the arms, within the bow arm, and between bow and fiddle. You can become more familiar with angles and rotation within your body without the instruments, arms held out; then try different rotational alignments with the instruments, and finally change angles of your arms and bow-to-hand. So, in short ;) to 'release' the sternocleidomastoid, you can face away from the fiddle, or rotate the shoulders/torso counter-clockwise (relative to the head, i.e. leaving the head still) to align with the hips in which case you may have to change your hip rotations/feet position as well. Lastly tilting your head to the right while facing left will further contract your sternocleidomastoid; so while facing left, you might try tilting to the left to release it. More on bowing later but along with others', my comments here and here may be of some relevance to you.
What's important to both bowing and playing posture is the awareness of space around you which literally projects from the 'space' within you (i.e. your proprioceptive space.) In martial arts or sports this might be referred to as a zone or striking distance (baseball, boxing), similar to personal space in body language. Although the 'intimate space' or 'working space' we create for ourselves is related to our personalities, it is also related to experience, comfort and habit. I think one of the most direct paths we can take to get us from technique to expression is staking out our playing space. That's harder for us to do as musicians because we have no visible targets; ultimately our working space becomes our sound space (less tangible than relative position to team-mates, a ball and a net,) whether we make our audience lean in to hear the most subtle shift in color or we need to project through an 80 piece orchestra. But I think for nearly all of us, whether we want to emulate Heifetz or Vengerov, we have to start by expanding that space everyday, and it starts by physically moving around (even walking around your studio) and moving more (functionally,) increasing the envelope so to speak. All the expression from our bowing comes from the relative speed, pressure, angle and character of attack and release between the string and the hairs of the bow -- to be able to control that requires everything from the most delicate balance to almost athletic motions.
Hi.For me as all very well!
But that would like to mention. You will not disclose her right elbow! In this bow is crooked. When you go to the end of the bow, the elbow should straighten. Good luck!
Jeewon thank you so much. I'm printing that response out now. I'm continually amazed at the generosity of time and knowledge that the people on this site have. Thank you thank you.
Thank you to everyone reading and answering!
I have been playing for a little more than 2 years. Before that the last time I played I was a music major at a J.R. College in 1985. What you say about the people here is pretty much true! And what a privilege to share anything newly learned with others doing what they can to learn this remarkable & elusive instrument.
I call the playing with low elbows the "trannosaurus Rex " style.
Its physically near impossible to have straight bowing with a too low or too high elbow.One problem causes another.
I teach and play with the pinky on top of the bow.I feel its best to play bouncing bow techniques with the hair flat on the strings with no tilting of the bow,and parallel with the bridge.The more tilt you apply to the bow,and the more off angled the bow is with the bridge,the harder it is to get a bounce.I find if you are playing with the pinky on the edge, when you go to straighten the bow ,the wrist will drop to much,making it hard to get a bounce.The way I teach is: with the hairs flat on the string,with the bow mid way on D or A string,your hand ,wrist and forearm should be flat across from 1st knuckle to elbow,then tilt the bow with the wrist, keeping the elbow height the same.
Another thing is the pinky doesn't need to be on the stick all the time.The use of this finger is required for off the string playing or power strokes,but isn't really necessary for most playing.I find the pinky generally tightens up the hand,making it hard for someone to get real emotion in their playing.Another thing is, the farther the pinky is from the ring finger or index finger ,the tighter the hand.
These two finger exercises are the most important to practice for a loose hand.
I teach these two finger exercises (not colle or saullite bowing) in the first lessons with new students.In six months the majority of students have no problems doing these.
I used to allow comments and ratings on my YouTube videos, but I stopped. It wasn't all that bad, but one person posted, in Spanish, "what a nightmare!" (I know a little Spanish, but I had to look that one up.)
The video in question was a video of a string quartet where we were playing at a party and there was a lot of talking and extraneous noise while we were playing. After I got over being upset about the comment, and blocking the guy, I thought hmm, maybe he actually meant that in sympathy, that the circumstances under which we were playing were a nightmare, not that our playing was a nightmare. I'll never know now.
Emily I think the tendon in your neck is only prominent because the light comes from the back over your right shoulder, when you turn your head the shadow is gone and you can hardly see the tendon. Also the tendon will show because of your below average body weight, ten pounds in body weight increase can do wonders. Have you looked at a different type of chin rest maybe something like the mach type? The height of your chin rest could also be a factor.
I cannot comment on the other aspects of playing as you are obviously in a higher league than myself, but I admire your courage to pin yours colours to the mast. I can only say that your upper body and shoulders could be more relaxed, maybe a bit of "body language" will show that you are really enjoying the music. But that is just a personal opinion.
All the best for the future.
You're welcome Emily! I hope it helps make your playing position more comfortable.
I have a few more suggestions that I'll post as I have time and as they become well formed in my head (which is no guarantee they will be articulate - tell me if anything's unclear.) Also, I'm not sure how detailed you'd like us to be, so if you feel 'bombarded' just say so and I'll scale it back. It goes without saying that my observations are best guesses based on what I see and hear in the video and everything should be taken with a grain of salt (as we can only see/hear a small slice of what's actually happening.)
When practicing technique it's important to be very specific and clear about what you're trying to accomplish. You talked about practice and permanence and neurologically that is literally true -- practicing physically creates the neuronal links, the brain maps by which we navigate our music making. A couple of ideas that are relevant to practice from Norman Doidge's, The Brain That Changes Itself: clear in, clear out; fuzzy in, fuzzy out; neurons that fire together, wire together; neurons that fire apart, wire apart. You mentioned you might work on the left hand for next week and while you're already doing well with the 3 octave scale, here are some things that might help with precision.
If while practicing scales, all you can think about is your bowing, take away the complexity of the left hand and practice bowing on open strings and finger patterns in various positions (to change the sound point) to a maximum of 4 notes (4 fingers). When working on scales, focus intently on scale work and keep the bowing as simple as necessary until your left hand patterns and shifting, and sense of key and pitch are fluid and automatic.
As you feel more secure with bowing evenly with whole bows, add more complexity, e.g. string cross, one octave across strings, one octave along one string, position scales using all fingers across all strings, 1 finger scales (also 2, i.e. 1-2-1-2-etc., 3, and 4 finger scales), 2 octave scales along one string, shifting exercises specific to scales, 1 octave arpeggio across strings and along one string, same finger shifts of an interval of a 3rd/4th/5th in succession, 1 octave arpeggio in high positions (i.e. starting at 8th position and higher), 3 octave arpeggio, 3 octave scales, 3 octave scales and arpeggios using same fingering (plus open string fingering) playing a different key, chromatically in succession from G on the Ging to E on the Ding, 4 octave scales and arpeggios. These are just some scale exercises that will help make scale practice more effective, especially as you add rhythms, rhythmic acceleration, mixed bowings, various bowing articulations along the lines of Galamian and Flesch methods.
For intonation it's important to do double stop exercises (especially perfect intervals -- P8, P4, and as you get more comfortable, double stop scales,) and ear training exercises. A very basic exercise you can do for ear training is simply to imagine (audiate) every note before you play it (sing it if you need to). This is especially useful for shifting but will help with intonation in general. It may require extreme focus so should be done in doses you can handle. Playing against a drone (the Tonic or the Dominant) is helpful not only for intonation but also for hearing the function (and color) of each degree of the scale. To hear function you can also play a pattern which highlights tendency tones: (numbers are degrees of the scale, dashes represent relative duration) 1-6-5-- 1-4-3-- 1--7-- 2--1-- 1--8--1--; you can vary this sequence however you like and play it across strings or shifting on one string. A good way to exercise vibrato is to match intensity to the function of the pitch in the context of the scale: degrees 1,5,8 relatively calm and even; 4 with something extra if resolving on 3, more calm if resting on 4 (e.g ascending might be more calm than descending 4); degrees 3 and 6 with added color; degrees 2 and 7 with intensity. Do this exercise against a Tonic drone to hear the tension and release in context. The tension and release you sense in the harmonic, rhythmic and dynamic content of a piece is what informs the intensity of your vibrato and density of sound from your bow.
I'm not suggesting there's a magic order in which to develop all of this; on the contrary I think learning is very much a cyclical (a spiral) process whereby you constantly revisit issues, each time with a little more experience or a slightly altered point of view. But there is a lot involved in being able to play a 'simple' 3 octave scale well; and you know you've had a really good scale practice session when afterward you're mentally exhausted.
When you feel comfortable enough to tackle rhythmic acceleration, I would suggest you use the Galamian approach where you play (degrees of the scale) 1-3-2-1-2-3-4-5 etc and finish with 5-4-3-2-1-3-2-1 and move on to the next rhythmic division without pause. This approach will force you to figure out rhythmic subdivision on the fly and help you relate rhythms (rationalize rhythms). A good way to develop rhythmic subdivision is to use 5 notes (e.g. A-B-C-D-E-D-C-B) using one bow per rhythmic unit: e.g. two beats per note per bow; 1 beat per note, two notes per bow; quarter triplet per note, 3 notes per bow (i.e. triplet: 3 quarters in the place of 2 quarters); eighth notes, triplet eighths, sixteenths, sextuplets, thirty-seconds, the same sequence you can apply to the Galamian pattern. Since you only have 5 notes, on odd patterns cycle through all the permutations and go to the next pattern when you return to the first note; on even patterns, it's useful to do several repetitions starting on each note to play through all the permutations.
One last thought on the use of metronomes, when used they should be matched. That might sound facetious and obvious but it's actually quite difficult to do and precision is often ignored (by all of us who use and have used the machine.) When you are with the metronome it's almost as if it disappears - if you try to hear it, the experience is that it is diminished in volume or presence (you can hear this on your video too, when you are in sync.) This is similar to ensemble playing, the phenomenon of blending and playing together (what a novelty ;) Some soloists play a bit sharp and stay ahead of an orchestra to stand out of the texture. If you want to blend you have to give in to the whole; you have to be with (in an uber existential way) your ensemble-mates, and when that happens it truly is exhilarating. In an ensemble setting, it is your own sound that seems to melt into the ensemble. That's just a verbose way of suggesting that you never play with a metronome in the background. When using it, you must practice timing every action to it; without this kind of attention, it's better to use your sense of inner pulse. Before you use a metronome, it's good to practice counting: count 1,2,3,4 (or 3,4 if you want to shorten the preparatory beats) and on 1 MOVE (whatever it is you're trying to time: finger placement, shift, string cross, bow change,) exactly with your utterance of 1. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be precise with this timing and how difficult it is. Once you're confident with your own timing, try counting with the metronome (you should practice counting even with a metronome since it only gives you a beat, not a meter) in the same way. When you play extended passages with a metronome make sure you never hear it; then you know you can play like a machine :)
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