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Ledger Lines

Mendy Smith

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Published: January 27, 2014 at 1:07 AM [UTC]

Ledger Lines. Its not a thing we violist have to navigate often. But when we do, rest assured we're up in the nosebleed section of the fingerboard. Case in point, the 1st viola part of York Bowen's Fantasy Quartet (for 4 violas):

That high G? That is 11th position on viola. When I make it up to that note, my fingertips are nearly hitting rosin. Luckily, I get to climb my my way up to that note bit by bit, then come back down to 1st position on the next note and then back up to 3rd position, which by that point is as easy as 1st position.

This piece is an exercise in shifting. So much so that my teacher gave me this Mazas Etude to study in parallel with the Bowen:

There are ledger lines to navigate here, but they are all in alto clef (unusual by itself). What makes this etude tricky is the string that the notes are to be played on. This particular etude only gets up to 9th position on any given string, but it is the lower strings in the high positions that are trickiest. On viola, the upper bouts are much larger than a violin, so planning those shifts ahead of time is very important. Without advanced planning of the shift, you literally run into the upper bouts of the instrument and get stuck in 5th position with nowhere else to go.

What is amazing to me is that I can actually play these pieces at all. It was not that long ago when shifting past 3rd position was a struggle. Now the struggle is not so much on how to get up that high on the fingerboard, but more a matter of how to get back down again gracefully.


From Paul Deck
Posted on January 27, 2014 at 8:39 PM
I never thought about the effect that the larger size of the bouts would have on reaching the upper part of the finger board on the viola. Interesting, thanks for sharing that!
From Thomas Cooper
Posted on January 30, 2014 at 2:48 AM
Try releasing your thumb when you go past the 5th position. Also, bringing your elbow around can really help. The viola is big, yes, but one has to play those high positions fluently if ever aspiring to a piece such as Bartok concerto. There are violas with smaller shoulders. Mine in particular has extra small shoulders allowing for easier access to the high positions. Those pieces do look like a lot of fun. :)!

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