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Corwin Slack

When you start to hate your piece....

June 21, 2008 at 10:05 PM

Have you ever worked on a piece so long you started to hate it? I have. I was starting to get disgusted with my current pet project. I felt that I had plateaued and that it just wasn't going to go to the next step.

But I had a flash of insight that spared me. As long as it has taken, I realized that I had learned many passages too hastily. I thought I could play them but I really couldn't. There was no reliability or repeatability to the passages. One day they were great but for the next three days they were awful.

I went back to the piece and analyzed it more carefully. All my life I have played with a bow, four fingers on four strings playing notes from A flat to G #. In recent years I have started to think about and notate patterns in some passages and occasionally I will notate a shift but it occurs to me that real violinists don't learn notes. Not really. They learn intervals and chords. They know the length of every shift, the distance between any two fingers and they also know the first instance they can place or lift a finger. They know where the bow should be, how much to use, etc. etc.)

When I was taking lessons I was amazed at how fast my teacher analyzed passages. He knew the chord names, described the intervals etc. bang bang bang. I was always three notes behind and scrambling.

But in the end that is the gig. That combined with proper principles of posture, preparation and placement allows one to play difficult passages. It also allows one to sight read. In the end it frees one to start thinking about art -- I hope.

I don't think I am alone. When I watch Youtube videos of average to very capable performers I frequently see a lot a facility, a competent ear and a ton of self confidence. But the music frequently sounds like it was learned too hastily. Contrast any performance on Youtube of the Paganini Caprice No 5 with Nathan Milstein's performance. He didn't learn it too hastily. Many others did.

I went back to my piece and found new energy. More analysis has ended the boredom and now I don't hate it anymore. In fact I am starting to see a lifetime of learning in this piece. It will be a resource no matter what else I choose to work on.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 23, 2008 at 6:17 AM
ā€œ... real violinists don't learn notes. Not really. They learn intervals and chords. They know the length of every shift, the distance between any two fingers and they also know the first instance they can place or lift a finger. They know where the bow should be, how much to use, etc. etc.)ā€
How true! Just to add another point, real violinists donā€™t worry about the left hand as much as they do about the right hand, and they listen like crazy to the tone and colour when the bow is moving. Like many people, I tend to worry too much about the intonation, fingering and vibrato, but my teacher told me again and again that it is the right hand requires above all serious attention at all time. The LH techniques can be accomplished mechanically through analysis and repetition, but to make the bow sing, I have to, like someone said, think with my heart and feel with my mind.

A great blog! It gives me a lot to think about.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on June 23, 2008 at 11:54 AM
I agree that great violinists are all about the right hand but not because they ignore the left hand but rather because they have overcome the left hand.

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