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Conquering Octaves at Fast String Crossing Speeds!

Ben Chan

Written by
Published: April 19, 2015 at 1:03 AM [UTC]

Hey violinists!

My student who has been working on the Wieniawski D minor concerto 1st movement is getting ready to perform it at a solo festival called "NYSSMA" in a few weeks.

One of the hardest parts for him right now is the last page octave runs with string crossings. So I created a YouTube video to help him practice and addressed it to everyone hoping to help someone else out there!

I'll be the first to admit that my octaves aren't perfect, but I do think the techniques I discuss in this video are applicable to everyone regardless of where you're at skill-wise.

In summary:

RIGHT hand:

- Tilt the bow as little as possible when moving between the two strings.

- Move closer to the lower middle part of the bow to access more natural bow weight/gravity to produce a nice sound without having to work too hard

LEFT hand:

- Use your 3rd finger up against your 4th finger to help push it up. Keep your 1st and 4th finger forming an octave (hand frame).

- Practice RELAXED. If you practice relaxed all of the time, when performance time comes you can continue to relax and things should continue to work! It has done wonders for my own playing - good-bye to the vast majority of my stage fright!


Best of luck to all of you! Please let me know if this helped you and if you have other suggestions for the rest of the violin community as we all struggle with (and hopefully conquer) this very difficult set of violin techniques!

-- Ben Chan


From Paul Deck
Posted on April 19, 2015 at 3:22 AM
Ben, cool video, useful tips. And timely for me, because there's a passage like that in the piece I am working on which is the Spohr No. 2 (D Minor) Concerto (first movement measure 119). The piece is a little hard for me but I'm making progress.
From Ben Chan
Posted on April 19, 2015 at 10:33 AM
Awesome - good luck to you!
From Paul Deck
Posted on April 20, 2015 at 1:13 AM
Its in the de Beriot No. 9 also, although the triplet pattern there is maybe a little easier.
From Bill Palmer
Posted on April 20, 2015 at 4:31 AM
I thought most people used fingered octaves in that passage to cut down the shifting. Maybe start 1-4 if your hand is small...
From Ben Chan
Posted on April 20, 2015 at 8:40 AM
Interesting - I've never tried fingered octaves here. I'm actually kind of a wuss when it comes to fingered octaves - I try to avoid them like the plague because they don't turn out quite right when I do it.

Maybe someone would like to do a fingered octave tutorial video for people like me? That'd be pretty sweet!

From Alice Trimmer
Posted on April 20, 2015 at 2:53 PM
Ben, excellent video. Thank you for posting this, the tips are, as you pointed out, applicable to many similar passages.
From Paul Deck
Posted on April 20, 2015 at 2:57 PM
If you have a younger student with small hands, fingered octaves, tenths, etc., can be very stressful. Maybe by the time folks are playing the Wieniawski they should have more technical skills already mastered, but the Spohr No. 2 and De Beriot No. 9 concertos are typically assigned to intermediate students, who have not done fingered octaves yet.

Something that could be useful would be a book of studies that is designed specifically to help stretch the hands of the young intermediate player who may be ready for such pieces except for the stretchy bits. When I was a young student I had small hands and I struggled even with playing minor thirds fingered 4-2 in first position. Inevitably there would be a few stretchy notes in a Kayser study or such, and I could never play them without cheating by shifting or whatever.

From Ben Chan
Posted on April 21, 2015 at 2:04 AM
You're very welcome!

I agree about stretching out the hands - flexibility definitely opens the way for many techniques that are needed for the harder violin pieces. And it certainly is rewarding to be able to play the music that you WANT to play!

From Jessica Dalton-Morgan
Posted on April 22, 2015 at 2:37 AM
I always have problems with these sorts of passages when they go from lower positions up into higher positions and the finger distance becomes considerably less. Should I be switching to 3rd finger for the top note or try adjusting the 4th finger back?
From 76.27.120.229
Posted on April 22, 2015 at 5:13 AM
Ben--great little video! thanks! I also have my beginners playing octaves from the start (the first pitches they learn); to set that hand frame, and to get them used to hearing and playing octaves (3+open, then 1+4, with the 4th fingers dead on to the pitch of the unison open string). The 3rd fingers helps for sure then; its the relaxation that we spend forever working on!! Meredith Campbell
From Ben Chan
Posted on April 22, 2015 at 11:49 AM
Hi Jessica! I would recommend staying with your 4th finger as you go up - it really helps to maintain the hand frame which forms an octave so that your other fingers will really get used to the spacing in between. This way, any position you go to will feel much like 1st position because you've practiced going to those positions while maintaining this hand frame.
From Ben Chan
Posted on April 22, 2015 at 11:49 AM
Hi Meredith - long time no see! Yes, that relaxation thing sure is a doosie, isn't it? Especially for little kids who get rather impatient trying to maintain perfect tuning. (I get impatient, too, at times!)

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