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Reconciling a paradox

May 24, 2010 at 12:23 AM


First of all, many thanks to the dozens of people who sent me birthday greetings and the many messages on Facebook.  I have to confess that I don’t particularly enjoy the format of this er, `thingy` and regretfully have to say that since I cannot reply to all your messages please just use v.commie or write to me personally. It’s very rare that I don’t respond to an e-mail.  I just can’t chase three rabbits at the same time.
There is a very interesting aspect of playing which I find curiously under-discussed that can make such a difference to intonation and general technical security.  That is,   when one makes a shift one must not only pay attention to the finger one is shifting on but also move the adjacent fingers to their new spacing –in the air- before the shift is made so that directly after the shift the next finger will be in tune. Moving it after the shift is usually too late. I have been thinking about this after coaching an amateur orchestra with some very fine violinists who were playing the Russlan and Ludmilla over ture.  Near the beginning there is a descending passage from f# in fifth position which goes:
4343 2121 / 21 21
The final 21 is of course baba in third position on the e string. But look at the preceding pattern.   The second finger is close to the first on DC#.  Since the players are not conscious of the different spacing in third position before they shift the b they play actually comes out closer to b flat.  It’s really quite unpleasant!;)
Relating to this issue of preparation is  something else I have wanted to see as an in depth discussion for a long time but never got round to mentioning.  Mr. Haslop posted what seemed a rather controversial piece of writing in which he stated (roughly ) ` before one makes any kind of shift/string change or whatever  in either hand one should be absolutely motionless and visualize the position and state of the next note.  Then just do it.`   This doesn’t sound that nutty except that I think either Ronald or Roy immediately picked up on it by asking how one could seriously bypass preparation while playing the note before the action.  These two positions are apparently contradictory and I had a few nightmares experimenting and trying to see if either one is wrong or if quantum mechanics is in play here.
The truth I believe I found is that both positions are absolutely correct at the same time….
In order to integrate these two positions one has to look closely at the kind of preparation mentioned.  While it is true that the bow arm or left hand may anticipate in some way (as in Russlan and Ludmilla for example) I think it is this preparation that causes technical trouble.  The reason I tentatively offer is that although a thoughtful player may well think they are paying  attention to the note before the movement they are actually only aware of the beginning of that note. Furthermore, their mental image of the objective is not clear right from the moment it occurs in relation to both hands.  Thus one may be playing an excellent note , doing something ill planned and distracting and then hoping that the next note comes out well. In fact there are three distinct things that need to happen: the end of the first note, preparation and the beginning of the second. The first and last of these  must be moments of absolute control and clarity for the preparation/anticipation to work at all. The second must be absolutely efficient for the third to work at all.
What I think Mr. Haslop is doing is offering is a way of ensuring that this happens. In order to do this he asks us to stop at the end of the first note and get rid of all the little twitches and misfires that should not be there that we have acquired as a result of a lifetime of not really paying attention. Stopping and doing absolutely nothing can be extremely difficult on occasion.   After cleaning up the beginning of the preparatory phase in this way one must create a –super clear- image of where one wants to get to without any anticipation in the body, even if it an invisible tensing.   If this pre- and post- action is taken care of then our prior knowledge and the body’s instinct will precisely and economically do the correct anticipation/preparation to carry us between the two states.  It may or may not require some analysis but at least , like the Golden Gate Bridge, it has secure supports to hang itself between.
It’s simple but hard work. Very much worth pursuing.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 24, 2010 at 1:57 AM

Happy Birthday Buri!  I hope your birthday glass of prune juice was fresh, chilly, and smooth, just like all your shifts.  (smile)

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on May 24, 2010 at 6:34 AM

Happy Birthday, Buri! May I  just ask if this clear image of where the fingers will lie and the elimination of unnecessary and habitual preparatory movements which interfere with intonational accuracy is akin to the way people manage to walk successfully without tripping over familiar territory or how people size up the spread in their hand needed to hold an object before they actually hold it? Are you saying that the clarity of thought and awareness of the place the fingers must go to needs to happen before the actual movement is commenced so that the result is a foregone conclusion?  And if so, since I'm not sure I understood it originally, how does one practice such a thing without testing the waters, so to speak, at first?

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 24, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Happy birthday! Will you have a violin shaped cake???  ; ) 

Interesting blog!  I agree very much about everything and also the bad habits one can have when anticipating the next shift too early or too late...  I've done this too often! 

Have a nice day,


From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 24, 2010 at 11:48 PM

Happy unbirthdays, Buri! The FB thingy has it's own use. For instance, just a few minutes ago I posted some of my Chinese calligraphy (after years of hiatus on this old craft) on FB which I don't know how to do it here. But I understand how you must have felt with so much information overload and not being able to keep up with the messages...

As for the anticipation thing, it is something I've been struggling from the start as well. Just like talking, sometimes I speak so fast that I don't finish my sentences to get to the next one. When it comes to a presentation, I have to remind myself all the time to just finish each sentence, take my time and then move on to the next point. Speaking of language, how is your Japanese going?

Posted on May 25, 2010 at 2:02 AM


In "How To Study Kreutzer" (published 1903 and available in PDF form on Google), Benjamin Cutter has this to say about playing study number 2 on page 4:

"Furthermore, shift with the whole hand; do not push the first finger up or down and, after finding the new shift, move the hand with the other fingers to fit this first finger. It is a fundamental principle in shifting, that any finger must be in place to play in tune the instant the shift is made, and if the fingers lag behind the shifting finger this cannot be done;the places of the fingers must, accordingly, be taken as a secondary act in the procedure."


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