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Follow the leader?

September 20, 2007 at 11:15 PM

One of the great advantages of being a dilettante teacher when I choose to be is that I am free to explore and make connections (or not) between many disciplines, music and the violin without screwing up some hapless student who just wants to survive an institute and get a job. What I have enjoyed most over the years is integrating playing into the overall frame work of Alexander Technique (See Buri`s Studio, Barbara Conable`s website and current thread for explanation). This often raises questions or contradictions the majority of which are resolved with a little thought. Sometimes though, the AT will accurately contradict some very typical statements or approaches to playing at a surprisingly high level and seem to be correct on investigation. An example that interests me a lot is the question of what leads in the right arm. Very often good players (very good players actually) will say that `the elbow leads.` Now that’s kind of interesting. it clearly achieves a desired and effective result. However, I suspect it is more a description of the external aspect of something rather different.
What I mean by this begins with a cup of coffee That’s always a good place to start, especially if its from a good Starbucks. If you are not on an intravenous caffeine drip how do you pick up that cup between each version of the acceleration exercise then what do you do? Does you elbow lead you to that elixir of life. Try it and then clean up the mess. Actually your fingers/hand lead because it is in the fingers that your secondary brain exists and it is these that organize what everything else does. We already take this for granted in the left hand where rigid mantras about wrist and thumb have been replaced in recent years by the notion of organizing the fingers and then working around set up.
The implication of this is quite important I think. Very often students seem to be struggling for a straight bow because they assume that it is something to do with focusing on the arm/elbow/shoulder when in fact all this needs to be organized by attention to what the fingers are feeling and how the hand is moving in space as a result.
Often simply asking the student to notice `what the hand is doing in the air` can achieve a straight bow faster than many other instructions.
The cellist William Conable once explained this to me in a different way by asking me to draw a line on a white board with a marker pen. `How do you keep it straight?` He asked me. The answer he helped me find was that the feeling of the tip of the pen on the paper sends data to the fingers which in conjunction with the eyes correlate everything else. The parallels with the bow hair on the string is obvious I think.
One thing that is not being said here is that fingers need to be very active in violin playing. For some people this is definitely true (the Galamian school is typical) and for others not (Cf Milstein) all and either will do depending on the player. (Personally I work my fingers –really- hard in practice and ignore them in performance) . My point is that one can explore much more deeply and even alter what part of the body is leading, where the mind is actually or should be focused and it is studies in arts like AT that can help us address these questions to whatever degree we wish.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 21, 2007 at 6:01 AM
Lead from the elbow -- typical overanalysis.

Violinists, overanalyzing?

I'm trying to cure a young student of over-elbowizing; . I told her to quit flapping her chicken wings, which helped for a few minutes.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 21, 2007 at 6:13 AM
would it help to get her hooked on caffeine?
BTW do your Yankee Starbucks do somethign called Mango Latte. basically a mango smoothie? Discivered them this summer. Cheers,
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on September 22, 2007 at 12:06 AM
One of my violin teacher said something about the elbow is a very heavy thing when I had some trouble with bowing but I never quite understood what she was talking about. Anyway, I always found the elbow is the dumbest parts of the body and don’t want to give it much of a leading role. In doing Chinese calligraphy, your elbow is supposed to be off the desk in the air to free the movement of your arm, but the focus has always been on the hand, wrist and fingers but never the elbow – probably not without good reasons.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 22, 2007 at 4:35 AM
hence the designation of `funny bone` I suppose.

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