Doing it with Dounis

December 20, 2006, 9:49 PM · Greetings,
Japanese students and adults alike frequently bemoan their inability to use English after so many thousands hours of boring grammar explanations and examples of communication that never go beyond a single sentence.So one of the things I enjoy doing at my middle school is turning student lose in the computer room to research a famous person of their choice and write about them , the subsequent essay being constructed with me and then transferred to a poster for the whole school to read.

This necessitates students working with dictionaries which always leads to hilarious mis translations. My favorite of the week comes from the students who chose Thomas Edison. Two of them had honed in the quote `Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,` (or something like that.) Alas, use of a Japanese dictionary seems to convert this to `Genius is 1 percent thinking and 99 percent flashing.` Time to get those cookies out again….

On a more violinistic note, I like use and recommend a great deal of different kinds of technical material to the different levels of players who wander in the direction of rice field. I was thinking about these because of a couple of recent v.commie postings about `building` or even `rebuilding` technique time in private practice. In many ways I think this kind of thinking is a little bit of a dangerous road that players and teacher shave tended to go down in recent years. Tat is, making a very sharp distinction between technique and music.

In many ways this approach is efficient but I always have in mind Auer`s comment that it is nuance that makes any note worth playing in the first place. That being said, I think one of the best all round books a university or early twenties technical session (or anyone else for that matter ;) ) is Dounis: the Artists Technique of Violin Playing. There isn’t that much information out there anymore about this somewhat elusive pedagogue. Not sure if the one book about his idea sis still in print, although you can buy his complete works via The Strad book department.

Likewise, the players who can talk knowledgeably about him, even second hand through the teaching of a cellist (!) whose name I can’t spell are somewhat few and far between. Although they do pop up on this list occasionally. It was s one of them who commented that although the Daily Dozen (a self explanatory and very helpful warm up routine) is fine it is not in the same class as The Artist’s technique. That has had me considering what aspects of violin technique the AT (Artists Technique not Alexander) highlights and develops so well. Could they be isolated as a serious of useful maxims which are known but oft forgotten during our daily rush to cram in practice and end gain at any cost?

Well, the first thing Dounis does is critique our tendency to leap into scales (an advanced collection of techniques) without preparation. That is clearly an important rule. Then he begins with an exercise that that has always struck me as rather extreme as an opener, involving a two octave slide on one string to get the notion of guiding finger chugging along. Nonetheless, one might add to this guiding finger idea (no leaping) the point that moving up and down comes from the elbow opening and closing (until the higher positions ) and this is well worth constant review. It’s very easy to over focus on the fingers.

It also provides a perfect exercise for working on the idea discussed in depth by Menuhin in his book on the violin that one creates space with the shoulder back for an upward shift and vice versa. This can usefully be consciously worked on. Furthermore, one cannot go into the stratosphere unless one has a clear mental conception of where one is going. `Fly me to the moon` has to be engineered. Finally, such a radical shift of position involved an equally radical change of sound point and concomitant bow speed and weight.

Thus form just the first exercise one might keep in mind the following for starters:
1) Scales are not for starters.
2) Don’t jump, slide.
3) Makes space with your left shoulder.
4) Move from the elbow.
5) Don’t let the violin move around as you shift.
6) Visualize where you are going.
7) Hear where you are going.
8) A left hand exercise is a bowing exercise and vice versa.

I’m always a little puzzled that his next exercise which is arpeggios of a similar distance on one string are called `for intonation.` Personally I think the first exercise should be in tune as well…

Following this big set is a half page exercise which a novice might be excused for not noticing. Dounis refers to it as rounding the bow, which just means a smooth crossing from g to e string for more long shifts. But I have used this little exercise in a number of different ways. One can, for example, practice three different kinds of shift to get to the highest note in each phrase: the classical or French(implied by Dounis), the Russian and the combination shift.
Then we get to the `dreaded` independence of finger double stop exercises. Here the rule about bowing should be called to mind. But these exercises are often practiced 100% wrongly which is why they have earned the reputation for being hard and causing injury.

Being 100% wrong means that almost all players I have seen try to play these with an instinctively stiffened hand. It takes a great deal of mental control and patience to STOP/THINK/ relax the neck , shoulder, base of thumb, base of first finger, BEFORE practicing this exercise in any way shape or form. But if you do this then the hand feels open and free and a wonderful sense of ease occurs. The stretches and extensions may not be fully accessible to small hands but they feel really good to work on. You can choose to make this either a very nice or very tense exercise. If you choose the latter your technique will suffer. One usually finds it helpful to break them down into the relevant actions before combining them.

If the mind has a clear understating that one finger is moving laterally and another vertically the technique improves very rapidly. Thus we get the maxims:
1) Complete relaxation of the thumb and fist finger allows easy stretching and extension.
2) Think ten time s, play once.
3) Break a problem into component parts
4) And… practicing 7ths improves your intonation!

Dounis advises us to follow these athletic exercises with a real relaxer. Further, V.commie was lucky enough to have an explanation of how Dounis advised practicing this exercise through the good offices of Brian Clage. To whit, the scroll is supported on the mantel piece., the thumb stays exactly where is in the beginning position and the higher note ornaments are played by mowing the hand with the thumb as anchor. This exercise develops immense rapidity in shifting. It also has the advantage of loosening up the hand swing which helps with vibrato.
Once one finally gets to the double stop exercise there is not that much left to say. I would personally like to see more work done on just using the same two fingers rather than alternating 13/24 straight away. The most useful approach to practicing probably is playing only one of the two stopped strings and listening very intently to intonation. It goes without saying that the key should be changed continuously.
Time for a siesta I think,


December 23, 2006 at 12:15 AM · Practicing sevenths does improve one's intonation. And I agree with you about the spending more time on just 1-3 and 2-4 and not combining the two too early.

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