July 27, 2008 at 7:23 PM
Okay, two situations I need advice about... 1) I have a new student, Eileen. She's brilliant, a hard practicer, but she's got a LOT of tension. We've been working on her bow arm, she holds her wrist at a stiff 90 degree angle so that her hand dangles from it when it holds the bow. In other words, It always LEADS the hand, completely locked in place. HOW do I get her to loosen it up? We tried "air violining" to get the motion in place, and she seems to understand that-- I used the whole "petting the dog" thing-- but then when you get a bow in her hand, it's locked again. It makes a lot of other things difficult for her, needless to say, and I feel it's a huge brick wall for the musical work I'd like to do with her, especially controlling fast passages and making decisions about placement of the bow, etc.
Any thoughts on that?”
Try a few tricks—
1. Place an old flat eraser (or something else that is handy) on the back of the bow hand while playing on the A or D string (depends on posture and angle of violin top). She should maintain a coiled right hand, even stiff, then draw little crescent bows and gradually expand those into whole bows. This will require the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints to gain a free flowing action.
She needs to understand the relationship of the back of the hand and the bow — they basically never change.
2. With open strings initially, have her work on the Bow Planes, pg 4 #1-6, and incorporate the "Pulsed Legato" of Basics I, pg 11. She can hook the bows together, do separately and vary rhythms. With the Planes, she might do 3-4 minutes of 1a-1c and later in the practice or the next day do 2a-2c. This is only to be done as long as she retains focus and is aware of working to improve.
3. Before the above paragraph, she could also add counter-clockwise ovals in the air as when we prepare a down-bow entrance — 3 ovals maintaining the plane and level/degree of hair (favor flat) and then set the landing, noting contact point. When ready, while doing the ovals encourage movement of the thumb and fingers from their base joints. The hand should not flail around from the wrist and the bow’s path, plane and lines are to be maintained (quite difficult at first:-). Upon landing/placing on the string the fingers are to be in the coiled position and this is to be kept until the end of the down-bow stroke.
4. At the end of every line, measure if necessary, deliberately stop and adjust posture and positioning — this annoying interruption can work very well in correcting many problems.
“2) Bobby is SO hard on himself. He gets angry… He keeps telling me that he plays so much better when he's at home, and that he doesn't understand why he's not consistent, but that I've mapped out approaches to practicing in his notebook (I give all my students notebooks that I jot stuff in) and I feel it is falling on deaf ears. I mean, I think his will to succeed is so great, that that voice in his head is beating up so loudly he can't hear me or something. It's like he wants this over night, and to expect to be the level of a soloist in a year or less is killing his morale. I broke things apart for him again, we practiced "practicing," reiterating the points of repeating ALL components of an action (thumb placement, as well as finger placement, exact rep of motion, etc), memorizing or focusing on four NOTES at a time, instead of starting at the beginning and drilling a long passage, etc-- any thoughts on the matter? Oh, and I gave him Schradieck dexterity exercises to do when he gets really mad, because he tenses up as he gets progressively frustrated, and it forces him to loosen his left hand as he ups the tempo, and the mundane quality of it seems to calm him a little. :-)”
There is certainly no reason to get angry. Bobby must understand this. It is very different to demand improvement of one's self and sometimes be a bit frustrated.
That is when he must pull back take a few deep breaths and THINK. What am I trying to accomplish? What is the most efficient way? THEN calmly, methodically and thoughtfully…KILL THE PROBLEM BY MASTERING THE SOLUTION!!! :-) Actually, it is quite true, but when systematically done with composure and control — keeping in mind the character of the musical content — the feeling of successfully mastering a passage is one of joy and freedom, not oppression and brutality.
"…He keeps telling me that he plays so much better when he's at home, and that he doesn't understand why he's not consistent…”
This is often quite true and a bit false. When the student plays at home they are not judging what the teacher is about to say — that immediate pressure is gone and therefore not a huge distraction. I sometimes say with a smile, "Prove it." Having them do it again is sometimes all they need.
Other times, it highlights the obvious — when playing for the teacher, they are observing instead of doing. At home, they/we are into it and doing all the right stuff. In the studio or recital hall, they/we are in essence seeing if it will work — “let's see how it will go.” Will my fingers and arms succeed…without my being focused and doing anything, just observing. This equals failure and total frustration.
Most of us say we are doing exactly the same thing at home, but we are fooling ourselves. It has often amazed me, when I will duplicate the student’s error — even in a passage I know cold — how I get exactly the same result. If I imitate the point and type of tension and/or the mindless moment (when there is absolutely no thought, direction or character to the phrase) I get precisely the same problem. Often the student and I will laugh together, as they recognize it immediately.
Never imitate an error to be cruel, but do it with humor and such. It is a bit of fun and clowning for the benefit of the student.
…back to Bobby, he does need to be aware that things do take time and as he dedicates himself and his efforts remain focused he will accomplish the desired goal.
"…I broke things apart for him again, we practiced "practicing," reiterating the points of repeating ALL components of an action (thumb placement, as well as finger placement, exact rep of motion, etc), memorizing or focusing on four NOTES at a time, instead of starting at the beginning and drilling a long passage, etc-- any thoughts on the matter? Oh, and I gave him Schradieck dexterity exercises to do when he gets really mad, because he tenses up as he gets progressively frustrated, and it forces him to loosen his left hand as he ups the tempo, and the mundane quality of it seems to calm him a little. :-)"
This is all good, but remember the music and the sound are what we live for and thrive on. Keep them a priority and the reason and requirement of the technical work. Increase/decrease vibrato, bow speed, tension/release, dynamics — all using the technique to master and bring out the music.
Shrad always puts me to sleep:-)
Hope this helps —
The book is intended for the “5 yr olds” to the Juilliard grads and that is literally how I adapt/apply it. “…life without tons of Schradieck and Sevcik” — I grew up on those and all the other studies, and haven’t used them in my teaching for over 30 years.
I simply use my book and the repertoire. So, I won’t be doing that book of endless scales you mention:-)
Try one of your students on the Bb Major scale, pg. 76, 1a. (2-8va is fine as they just work directly across the strings and add the 4th finger Tonic on E.) When they are comfortable with the varied patterns have them go into 1b. — it’s just the scale moved up one half step. Make sure they actually shift to a higher 1st position and then, of course, everything becomes the same. Then, I begin having them name and identify keys, know their notes (shifts first), intervals and Hand Groups.
I point out that in the given finger pattern, the Ding is identical to the high Eing with the extension added (also, it begins on the 4th or subdominant); the 1st shift down is to the Tonic (name of key/scale); shifts down are Perfect 4ths and shifts up are M3rd and 2 m3rds.
Piece by piece, as they are ready…piece of cake!
Also, freely cross-apply the studies as appropriate for the student’s needs. For more resonant and flexible tone, add Basics I “Pulsed legato” bowing in the area/range of the violin where needed.
It is much better to use the skills acquired and combine with imagination.
Thank you for your generous comments.
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