Warming Up and the somewhat lesser-known Dounis Op. 23 "Fundamental Technical Studies on a Scientific Basis" or whatever. (I lost the front cover a long time ago. You can download a free copy from IMSLP.)I don’t really do much violinny stuff these days. I’ve got a garden that produces humongous amounts of vegetables, a beautiful wife and an iPad. What else does one need? Unfortunately I can’t stop practicing every day because that is what violinists do. A weird species to say the least... After more years than I care to count, I am basically down to two books which maximize technical practice within the most minimalist space. These are Simon Fischer’s
I think Dounis did himself and us a disservice when he implied they are for beginners. Although they are nothing like as challenging as The Artist's Technique, which can be quite daunting initially, Op. 23, if used well, has most all of what we need for left hand movement in it, if approached intelligently. (The exception is shifting long distances, for which you will need to go to elsewhere).
I think it is one of those books (like Kreutzer) which can exist on many different levels, perhaps rather like quantum physics. So I was delighted to find that Daniel Kurganov has, on his superb site, done quite an extensive coverage of this tome. (Unknown (Awesome) violin exercise by Dounis). Not only is it a joy to watch, but it spares me the trouble of having to describe it in detail or even mention basic practice concepts!
Just to note that there are three sections. The first is supposedly about "balancing the fingers" which I think is a very nice way of thinking about the left hand in an effortless sense that allows the fingers to strengthen in a very natural way. For a relative beginner, especially adults, the significance in terms of knowing the fingerboard is that the variations systematically teach finger patterns which correlates well with the most modern ways of thinking about left hand technique.
Robert Gerle for example, has written a book on how this is actualized in performance. For me, where it gets interesting at a more advanced level is in the area of vibrato. In Daniel’s video he talks about a very specific vibrato problem that can be found all the way up to professional level. That is, in transition from fast notes to longer units the vibrato does not kick in immediately thereby causing a loss of sustainability within a phrase. Of course this is absolutely right, but I approach the exercises from a slightly different perspective. My goal is actually to, at least psychologically, have the hand in vibrato mode throughout the whole bar.
I actually try to avoid thinking in terms of no vibrato / switch on vibrato. I will even go as far as to mentally visualize the hand balancing on one finger and vibrating around that finger. The sensation this kind of work evokes is unusual at first, but it creates an incredible sense of relaxation in the hand. In essence, if the vibrato is technically correct, then a continuously vibrating hand is actually the goal of this work. Try it and see how it feels. I am not sure, but I think I read an interview with a cellist about fifty years ago in the Strad that said Dounis actually advocated this constant vibration. I may have made that up so any correction welcomed...
The second set of variations is concerned with lateral rather than vertical movement. (If you like, small chunks of a chromatic scale.) Dounis makes the point that it is this particular movement which is extremely effective in creating not only independence of the fingers but also developing a great deal of finger strength. For me it is actually better than up and down practice, although in a way it combines both types of work. The basic failing of violinists when playing chromatic scales is ubiquitous: when sliding the finger up a semi tone, it is usually flat. When sliding down, it is too sharp. In other words, we don’t move the finger quite far enough in either direction.
I practice these units for intonation first using a hooked bowing, ie. two notes to a bow, repeating the second as the first note of the next stroke. After that I play it straight, except I don’t. I actually trill the sliding intervals over and over every time I land on to perfect the intonation and give my hand a hardcore work out. You can also practice these kinds of exercises in fifths (a la Rodney Friend) to push your technical level even higher.
The bowing section is self-explanatory, so I won’t address it here. Incidentally, Dounis writes with a straight face that these exercises should be played musically. Once they are well under control there is no reason why one cannot add crescendos and diminuendos and varying the vibrato speed. Imagine one is playing the slow movement of the Beethoven concerto. Mentally thinking different rhythm patterns that do or do not correlate with what one is playing is also possible.
Finally, in order to avoid being overwhelmed by all the possibilities try allocating a particular chunk of the work a specific day of the week. Color coding time is always a good excuse for not practicing!
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