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Mendy Smith

Technique Follows Music?

June 25, 2012 at 1:10 AM

Lessons in the summer months are rare. This summer, I have 3 lessons before the fall season. Three very small lessons in which to get advice on how to go about tackling Beethoven's Grosse Fugue.

Lesson #1 was an overview of the piece: pitfalls to watch for, practice techniques, fingering and bowing advice. Lesson #2 had me questioning my whole approach on studying new pieces.

I struggled on two particular passages: one with string crossing that skipped strings at a fast tempo, and another one that is in G-flat(-ish) during my practice sessions at home. I had them marked and ready to work on at my next lesson.

Lesson day came, and I was blown away by the feedback my teacher gave me. She very emphatically told me that the music drives the technique, not the other way around. In other words, if I put more focus on the phrase and music as a whole, the technique will follow pretty much well on its own. She's been telling me this for months, but never quite so bluntly.

I had a difficult time believing this was indeed true, until she helped me look at the measures that were giving me problems in a musical way. Once I got the gist of the phrase, my technique did indeed seem to do what it needed to do to make it sound clean, albeit at a much slower tempo. Could it possibly be so simple?

Over the weekend I took those passage and ignored technique and put my focus on the musical phrase instead. I started at a very slow tempo and ever so slowly increased it until it was up to tempo. What she told me was indeed true. There is a method to the madness when put into the context of the musical phrase. Simply thinking of a passage in a musical way really does make the technique tend to do what it needs to do without a tremendous amount of effort.

Who would have thought it could be so simple?


From Lily Morris
Posted on June 25, 2012 at 2:49 PM
This happens to me too! I also sometimes manage to find an etude with a similar thing in to what the passage is presenting me with, over and over. For example, in Glad You Came by The Wanted (highbrow, I know ;) ) there's a G above the stave line -> G third finger on D string slur, which obviously skips over the A string, so I was getting so flibbertigibbety about it, but my teacher was just like 'go with it!'
From Tyrone Wilkins
Posted on June 25, 2012 at 5:09 PM
I found out something while working on a string changing,spiccato passage. If I thought about it my bow wouldn't bounce the way I wanted it to (I over think thing A LOT)but if I just went for it without mentally preparing my self,my spiccato was nice a clean. Nike knows what they're talking about. JUST DO IT!
From steven su
Posted on June 25, 2012 at 9:16 PM
Interesting topic! I think it's more of a mental block we create for ourselves. My teacher keeps telling me I own the instrument trust it and let it sing!
From elise stanley
Posted on June 26, 2012 at 2:32 PM
I don't think its quite THAT simple. Most likely you already have the technique but not in the context of the piece. By following the musical content you are incorporating your established technique into the particular demands of that passage.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 26, 2012 at 8:35 PM
My teacher has the same philosophy. It works for me too in a kind of mysterious way. It makes sense in that music gives us the direction and focus as to where and how we should approach technical issues, which could often be dealt with independently more than one ways. We might otherwise be wasting too much precious practice time on irrelevant technical issues and clear musical ideas can help cut this done.

Also, as an analogy, why do I always speak better (more convincingly), especially in a foreign language, when I have clearer idea what I want to express? Don’t know how this magic works but like Steven suggested, our body can do a lot more than we would like to believe.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on June 29, 2012 at 4:20 PM
My teacher sometimes uses a similar approach. If I'm struggling with a tricky passage in a lesson she may point out that I'm thinking too much about fingering than on a good fluid tone from the bow, so that is what suffers, of course. She tells me to forget the fingering (mistakes and all!) and to concentrate on tone and phrasing. When that's sorted out then I can pay attention to details of fingering and intonation. Players sometimes forget that tone is so important to the listener. Perfect left hand technique is nothing if the tone is scratchy, glassy or weak. Get tone sorted and the audience will forgive, or even won't notice, a slight glitch in intonation or a wrong note.

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