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Papering over the cracks

October 13, 2008 at 11:05 PM

One of the experiences I like best is when something someone says or does strikes you as interesting and then related ideas seem to accumulate around that point. This week I was much struck by a comment in Emil`s interview with his mother. This concerned the advice given by Oistrakh to begin each practice session with a Mozart concerto movement (?) without vibrato. Then I reread an interview with a great violinist called Derek Collier (one of the best recordings of the Paginini Caprices!) who said that the secret of practice was to do it without vibrato even in melodies. At the same time I am thinking a great deal about Clayton`s Haslops system in which one practice with absolute awareness of what one is doing, garnering compete control of the fingers at the analog level. IE it is not a question of high speed but rather having complete control of finger action at any speed, by which means technical facility is more effectively achieved.
The moral of the story I think, is not only that we practice too fast , but that we allow vibrato to cover up a multitude of sins and then wonder why things go wrong in performance. As was also said in the Oistrakh interview: `he was a jeweler who put everything under the microscope.
One might begin applying this kind of thinking in the opening of the Mozart A major concerto. Can you actually hit the opening note dead on in tune without vibrato (1st finger a) or , once you expose yourself do you need to make a minute wiggle to get it right. A useful exercise is to play open a and then remove both hands from the instrument. During this pause imagine the sound of the a and visualize the feeling of it and its position. Now play it. Bang. Is it sharp or flat? Repeat exercise until you have got it 100 percent. Of course one may not do this in a concert- there are plenty of trick for getting ready, but this is the hard core of it. Now observe how you move from a to C sharp. Does the finger move smoothly, slowly and directly, or does it jerk and make tentative little forays. Find out and visualize how you want it to work. Some repetition hits wouldn’t go amiss either. Repeat procedure with third note and then back to a perhaps and play over and over checking these point. Now, if you use the Joachim fingering going down to first position to keep the melody on the e string how is the shift. Is it really smooth and slow as the tempo you are using or does it jerk. Is the a you land on the same as the one you started with?
How is your shift from first position e to 3rd position e for the next phrase? Is the note the same? A great deal of relatively slow and careful rhythmic shifting practice (perhaps using the approach recently recommended by Brian ) may be useful. Working this way it is easy to spend an enjoyable an focused hour or so on just the opening.
Typically I think students tend to just play through this kind of thing over and over with lots of vibrato and no attention to detail. They are not jewelers. But without this basic foundation the vibrato is papering over the cracks in the wall and making performance all the more difficult.

From al ku
Posted on October 14, 2008 at 1:37 AM
From Mendy Smith
Posted on October 14, 2008 at 5:03 AM
Buri - almost every new piece I learn there is at least one section where I do just that. Drop my hand and find the note out of mid-air, time and time again. I never begin a piece with vibrato. Maybe because vibrato is such a new skill for me, but I find it easier to work out other aspects of a piece before adding vibrato. Only when I start becoming comfortable with my "repeatability" do I add vibrato.

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