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Stiff wrist? Nonsense. Sort of....

December 3, 2007 at 11:09 PM

Adam wrote:
>I'm working on the Presto from the 1st Bach Sonata, and having problems making smooth, relaxed string crossings.

First of all I would say try not to let an actually rather vague concept like `I have a stiff wrist` drive what you are trying to achieve on the violin. Decide on what you want to produce. Play. Compare the two sounds. If they are not the same decide what you don’t like and try isolate the precise reason why. IE this b flat didn’t sound. Perhaps when you try again you pause on the b flat so it becomes a more highlighted part of your awareness. It is always the mental model of sound that drives the result.

Very often the reasons why one has problems in string crossing in these kinds of works goes much deeper than just a stiff wrist.
Consider that the musical mind is simply a computer that has to be programmed with correct data in order to recreate what one then rerecreates on the instrument. Like any inputted code to do a certain task it must contain the minimum necessary information in the most efficient order completely free of errors. So with this piece you have to be -utterly clear- about what information you have fed into yourself during practice time. This means going back to two fundamental rules of learning the violin at any level: 1) practice slowly enough and 2) practice the bow arm as much as the left hand.
In the first case, if you practice at what you consider a slow tempo but are -not thinking- you are wasting your time. Slow practice could mean something as intense and focused as setting the metronome to 40 , yes 40!!!! playing a note, pausing for one beat, visualizing the next note during the pause, playing the next note , visualizing and so on. What form does this visualization take? It may be verbal or not but it includes identifying the string, position, finger, pitch, quality of sound and all the -feelings- that go together in producing that sound. Once this level of programming is working then once the space between the notes is reduced the piece automatically goes faster until it is as fast as you could wish for.
As far as the second point is concerned, you need to program the bow with open strings for every phrase of this piece., If the bow arm doesn’t know where it is going, which is true for most people, then all sorts of counter thoughts will run through your mind `Is it up or down, left or right? etc` and it is these thoughts which will create tension in the arm wrist or whatever because it simply doesn’t know where the hell it is going. Incidentally, during this practice, and also during when it is combined with left hand the string crossing should be played as a double stop to practice being close. Again slow practice with visualization.
Another hint is recognizing that when breaking a piece down into smaller units for practice it is not satisfactory to assume that a group of four or six semiquavers is actually a musical unit. It is merely a written unit. The phrase itself may start on the second or third 16th note or whatever. So if you are practicing small chunks of non musical units you are actually creating a disjointed work (rather like Picasso) which will also, in my opinion leads to quite a lot of tension.
Then, instead of thinking of this piece as a problem of coordination see it as one of discordination. We don’t want one hand to govern the other so spend a lot of time doing the correct bowing patterns on for example, the g string, while playing the left hand as it would be. Or bow the e string only but play the left hand all the way trouguh. This is a very powerful exercise.
Finally, never forget that even in a relatively fast piece like this one every note has a musical relationship to the one before it and the one after. By thinking about the shape of the music rather than technique as a means to a musical end you are not completely clear about many problems seem to just disappear for some reason.

From Albert Justice
Posted on December 3, 2007 at 11:22 PM
Great Blog Buri.
From Adam Dawdy
Posted on December 3, 2007 at 11:54 PM
Many thanks. I certainly need to practice just the bow arm, detached from the left hand.
From Bruce Berg
Posted on December 4, 2007 at 1:14 AM
Adam, if you start flopping your wrist up and down to do the string crossings you will find that the amount of pressure on the string will be constantly changing and also the amount of bow hair on the string will change. Most of the string crossings should actually be done by moving your arm. An excellent way to practice this is to place the bow on the string and finger with the left hand. However, do not move the bow back and forth horizontally. You will find that the bow will follow the left hand for arm levels. After you do this several times, play normally and you will probably know where the strings are.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 4, 2007 at 1:27 AM
whta Bruce says -exactly=. I think the active wrist business has been highly exaggerated by some schools of violin playing. Perhaps its similar to Flesch finger exercises. They have a place in the practice room but not somehting to be actively pursued in actual performance.
Claytons Haslop`s excellent materials also recoommend paying attention to the back and forth arm movement and letting the eyes takes care of the string crossing. It is a similar cocnept I think.
Thanks Bruce,
From Bruce Berg
Posted on December 4, 2007 at 1:41 AM
Something else to think about: Find the places where you can make a circular motion to bring you to the next string. The first place is going from the 3rd to the 4th note. You can use the scooping motion of the bow to bring you to the A string. Unfortunately, some of the circles will go in the wrong direction, for instance going from the 4th note to the 5th note. Like Buri says make sure your E string arm level is quite near the A string level, not too low.
From Elizabeth Lindsay
Posted on December 4, 2007 at 10:34 AM
I just wanted to thank Buri for this great practical advice; equally as useful for returning adult beginners like myself as for all you budding virtuosi.


From Anthony Barletta
Posted on December 4, 2007 at 6:06 PM
Not to sound unoriginal, but this blog once again proves a goldmine for useful advice. Thanks for posting, Buri - and thanks to Bruce as well!
From Willie M
Posted on December 4, 2007 at 8:52 PM
Mr Berg,

Is the scooping motion you are talking about mostly executed by the forearm?

From Bruce Berg
Posted on December 5, 2007 at 3:04 AM
The scooping motion must not be described, otherwise it will become a technique, not a motion.

Just imagine scooping ice cream out of a container using your right hand (if you are right handed.) The best way to do this is an up bow scoop. If you can imagine a down bow scoop, which by the way would not be the most efficient way to scoop ice cream, then you will have the down bow version. And, yes to answer your question this will probably turn out to be a forearm motion. However, to complicate matters if you tend to be an overly analytical person, you elbow, wrist and fingers will probably follow this motion.

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