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Drew Lecher

The Stratosphere

August 10, 2008 at 3:57 PM


Concerns from a professional violinist and teacher.

Drew,

“…in sight-reading, I go back to playing like a junior higher. I see ledger lines, and my mind freezes, my thumb gets high around the neck, and all the work I've done … in my left hand goes out the window. I noticed it especially on upper strings, because it challenges the proportion that is naturally attained when playing in the lower registers. And again, I don't know if it's me being mentally used to being unable to play stratospheric rep, or if it's my lack of truly trained technique, or a lethal combination of both-- but I need to be able to sight-read Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. I need to be able to fight a black out just because things get high-- it's as if even though I'm well aware of the intervallic relationships between pitches in lower positions, I have difficulty translating it to higher parts, and that strains my ability to blend, as I retreat to an anemic tone and defensive sawing.
I tested myself just by dropping my hand, naming a note, placing it, and playing it. In third position, I was consistently sharp in THIRD position on the A and E String. In fifth position, my C's were misshapen in my finger-- I think this position really challenges the shaping of our left hand because it's the "in between" stage. What do you think? What do I do? I've done all of Basics IV and Basics V, I've translated them to higher positions before, but again, I feel my technique most failing me in sight-reading.”

Xxx


Thanks for asking.

Prokofiev's Classical Symphony: Virtually nobody sight-reads a composition as tricky and exposed as this—learn it fast with a rock solid technique, yes! Mastery takes care of the panic blackouts, but when they still try to force themselves upon you take a deep slow breath and think—notes, intervals, patterns, etc.

Persist with time. You mention Basics IV & V. Are you thoroughly working all the types of Arpeggios/Scales (master a standard fingering before varying and work at least as high as 3-8vas starting from 10th position), the 8va Slides with varied Hand Groups and starting positions, 8va Study (1,4,5&8), 3rds, 4ths, 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, 10ths and 5ths. Know the NOTES, POSITIONS, and HAND GROUPS/INTERVALS all the time — simply say when working slowly and they will become natural and instinctive.

The proportions of intervallic measurement remain in all of the positions. This is why it is crucial to know the Hand Groups/finger intervals, as whole-steps feel like half-steps and half feel micro—they are! But, you must retain knowledge and proportion/ratio in the left hand. When shifting up an 8va, the intervals shrink by 50%.

The stratospheric passages are only conquered by study and practice until you ‘own’ them. If the passage is high and awkward climb Mount Everest—transpose it up in half-step increments several times. When you work back down you will ‘own’ it—again, know the notes and intervals don’t just play by ear.

Vary rhythm in all your work and balance the left hand for fluidity of motion and ease of vibrato that is appropriate for the passage.

Up high, read by NOTES, POSITIONS, and HAND GROUPS/INTERVALS as well. All the odd positions have the odd fingers, 1 & 3, on the line notes and even fingers, 2 & 4, on the space notes—this flips around in the even positions. Play high passages down the 8va (or 2) and use the same fingering as much as possible.

Also, note that the 1 & 3 across the strings, bottom up, (ACEGBDFA) in first position are the names of the lines above the staff — PIECE OF CAKE:-)

Don't play melodies by ear—play notes and intervals melodiously.

When dropping fingers onto various notes and in various positions, master the measurement of the left arm opening or closing, the touch of the thumb and its slide, and the touch of the inside of the 1st finger when in use in the lower 3-5 positions, depending on the type of passage and hand size.

Every string, every position and every Hand Group have their own feel and ratio of measurement. Treat them as individuals that relate and play off of each other. Choreograph the appropriate moves to achieve this flexibility and freedom.


Everything affects everything.


Hope this helps —
Drew

Author of
Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 1:56 PM
Two questions:
1. "simply say when working slowly and they will become natural and instinctive" Simply say what when working slowly? Is a word left out there? Say the notes, positions, hand groups/intervals, all of those? Say them aloud? Play through once saying notes, once saying positions, once saying intervals? Do each 5 times?

And, if you've got brain freeze, what about writing it all out first so that you know what to say when you get there?

2. I'm also not sure what you mean by climbing Mt. Everest. Where's the base camp? An octave lower than the passage is written, and then start the transposing in half steps, so you'd play it 11 times, a half-step higher each time, until you got to it as written? Or do you start with it as written and go even higher? And do you say all that stuff (question 1)as you're doing that?

Sorry, a lot more than 2 questions!

From Drew Lecher
Posted on August 12, 2008 at 1:31 AM
Hi Karen,

A few quick answers IN CAPS. You really caught the points very well.

"Two questions:
1. "simply say when working slowly and they will become natural and instinctive" Simply say what when working slowly? Is a word left out there? Say the notes, positions, hand groups/intervals, all of those? YES.

Say them aloud? YES, THAT IS INITIALLY BEST.

Play through once saying notes, once saying positions, once saying intervals? YES, THAT IS AN EXCELLENT WAY. AS YOU BECOME MORE FLUENT, THINK NOTE, FINGER, INTERVAL (SUM=HAND GROUP) THE POSITION NUMBER IS SIMULTANEOUSLY ARRIVED AT, AS WELL. Do each 5 times? AS MANY AS NEEDED. AT FIRST, IT MIGHT TAKE MANY MORE TIMES. WITH FLUENCY AND KNOWLEDGE COMBINED WITH SKILL IT BECOMES LIKE READING A BOOK — WE DON'T SAY THE LETTERS, WE READ THE WORDS, BUT WE DO SEE THE LETTERS AS WE READ.

And, if you've got brain freeze, what about writing it all out first so that you know what to say when you get there? ABSOLUTELY!

KNOWING SIMULTANEOUSLY THE NOTE, FINGER, INTERVALS/HAND GROUP & POSITION ARE THE 'ADDRESS' FOR LOCATING SAID NOTE(S). THE SAME HAND GROUPS OCCUR IN THE SAME KEYS NO MATTER WHO THE COMPOSER IS, IF PLAYED IN THE SAME POSITION. THE HAND GROUPS OVERLAP AS THE KEYS DO IN SHARING NOTES, i.e., 3RD POSITION ON THE AING IS "HIGH 3 GROUP" IN G AND D MAJORS. IN HAVING THE ADDRESS/LOCATION CLEAR THE ARM, HAND AND FINGERS WILL INSTINCTIVELY GO TO THE CORRECT LOCATION AS WE MASTER THE MOVE. DO NOTE THAT WHEN GOING FROM 1ST TO 3RD POSITION, THE FEEL AND MEASUREMENT ARE SUBSTANTIALLY DIFFERENT FROM GOING 5TH TO 3RD POSITION, THOUGH THE ARRIVAL SET SHOULD BE THE SAME IF PLAYING THE SAME TYPE OF PASSAGE.


2. I'm also not sure what you mean by climbing Mt. Everest. Where's the base camp? BASE CAMP IS WHERE YOU ARE STARTING WITH THE WRITTEN NOTES—HOWEVER, IF ONE NEEDS TO FALL BACK TO A LOWER ALTITUDE AND THEN WORK UP TO BASE CAMP, THAT IS STANDARD PRACTICE. LEARN DIFFICULT PASSAGES, AND THEN CLIMB AS HIGH AS YOU CAN, HENCE 'MOUNT EVEREST.'

An octave lower than the passage is written, and then start the transposing in half steps, so you'd play it 11 times, a half-step higher each time, until you got to it as written? YES, EXCEPT YOU MUST MASTER EACH POSITION BEFORE CLIMBING HIGHER.

Or do you start with it as written and go even higher? YES:-)

And do you say all that stuff (question 1)as you're doing that? YES, YES & YES:-)

Sorry, a lot more than 2 questions!" NO PROBLEM, HOPE THIS HELPS.
DREW

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