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Do sweat the easy stuff....

March 19, 2007 at 6:09 AM

Has an interesting experience last week. A cellist due to play the Haydn D major concerto came for two hours last week. After I had removed the spike from my neck and been released from hospital I found myself quite intrigued. She was playing it quite fluently from a technical perspective but I felt she had fallen into some of the most dangerous traps that a string player can (after prune addiction). First, I suggested that she had created a mental image of the intonation in quite a number of places which was false by using the instrument itself rather than the mind as primary guide.
Second, she had practiced the technical passages to the nth degree but not the lyrical `easy` melodies in between.
Three, she felt so much pressure or need to play music in entirety she was failing to analyze –exactly- where a problem was which is the only possible starting point for resolving a slightly off sounding passage.
Fourth, one shouldn’t hide impure intonation behind a powerful and intense vibrato.
After we kicked this stuff around for a bit she still didn’t really seem convinced the lyrical melodies needed much work so I told her something Vivien Mackie had been taught by Casals: it is really important to over practice the `easy` passages. When one does this one gets a real feeling of comfort and support for the difficult stuff in between. The brain knows that there is a lot of stuff that one is really secure on and it really supports confidence and relaxation in the trauma sections.
This seemed to make sense to her so she conceded that her work had been perfunctory on the easy stuff so we started there. We started with a very lyrical high passage which sounded sort of okay and I had her slow it down. It was amazingly difficult to get her to stop and check notes against open strings, but once she did she was shocked by how far out she had allowed herself to wander. I also had her play the high themes intone an octave or two lower and again it came as a very painful surprise how far she had allowed herself to believe she was actually playing in tune when she wasn’t. She was also surprised to find that her shifting in these easy passages was the black hole pulling all the intonation awry. It took two hours of murderous work to get her intonation back into the usual high standard I hear from her. When she played through the work from beginning to end everything had improved as a result.
It was a useful reminder to me how self critical one has to be of intonation at all times. One of my favorite exercises, since I am into singing and playing anyway, is to play the one string scales of Flesch. But when you do the arpeggios play the tonic as a drone and sing the arpeggio before you play it. Then play it a couple of times. Very good focusing exercises.

From Karin Lin
Posted on March 19, 2007 at 7:42 PM
Very wise advice as always, Buri.
From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on March 20, 2007 at 5:14 PM
As always, I learned something.

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