Bach Gigue in D minor: Tight hand, fumbling over notes?
Hi everyone, I understand you're all busy so I'm not expecting anything, but would really appreciate if someone could help me with this as my teacher is overseas at the moment and unavailable to contact. Thank you :)
I'm playing the Gigue from Bach's 2nd Partita (the one that's 99% fast notes), and I'm having two major difficulties: 1. my left hand tightens up to the point where it becomes painful & difficult to play, and 2. no matter how much slow practice I do, I still fumble over some notes.
I've played more difficult repertoire than this, I just don't know how to solve these problems in this situation.
How many hours have you put into this piece so far?
Hard to say - definitely at least 5-10
To reduce tension in the left hand, practice with "whistles." That means, play with your fingers just barely touching the strings, as if every note were a natural harmonic. This should sound terrible--the worse it sounds, the better you're doing it. Then add *just* enough weight to your left hand so that the notes speak clearly; no more. This should result in significantly less l.h. tension than before.
In addition to what Mary Ellen said, use added pauses and added stresses. After you have her 'no pressure' left hand + 'very little' bowing down pat, start adding solid tones, and (ever so slightly) longer bows, e.g. on first of every 4 or 8 notes. Also, to check tension use added pauses. Simply play 4 notes, pause and wiggle your left thumb, release your right thumb, play next 4, pause and release, etc. Next time play 8 notes, pause, etc. gradually increasing how much you play in between pauses. As you do such exercises you should be more and more aware of where and when you're tensing. Make note of problem sections, but more importantly, patterns of tension in certain types of fingering or bowing. Address those further in various contexts. After you do such abstracted exercises, start looking for pauses and stresses which make musical sense, note grouping according to sequences, shapes of phrases and dynamics. If you're 'working' every note, not only is it physically taxing, your playing will sound 'notey'. Feel single impulses and let the rest of the group of notes 'rebound' away so to speak (like skipping stones, or dropping a basketball) so there's the initial impulse and reduced effort and action for subsequent notes in the group (unless otherwise notated in the score.) Grow and wane.
I had this problem with this very piece in the past. I believe it was the result of just working too hard to get the job done. Therefore I endorse the suggestions that others have made here:
Yes thanks Paul. Generic advice, so adapt to 3, 6, 12 (although sometimes it's useful to work in hemiolas and also just for fun :)
Very good advice above. I'll add a bit...
Thanks, that's a good point about the right hand. I agree about the difficulty of keeping appropriate weight in the right hand while playing with no weight in the left.
Also, for the Gigue and Bach in general, you need to master Sicilienne bowing and "travelling" along the bow, and travelling through the air. There's nothing like getting stuck in your bowing to make you tense up. And as Douglas says above, you must develop bow control which is independent of left hand function (especially pressure; as long as you have control over it, sometimes you also want heavy left hand and lighter strokes.)
Thank you everyone! That was really helpful :)
For "fumbling over notes" - the only things I can suggest are the following (after you have addressed the tension issues!)
Mary Ellen wrote, "To help with clarity, practice with a pause just before every string crossing."
Paul, I believe it's a way of programming the right arm to "categorize" string crossings as a different movement than simply "playing the next note."