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March 2012

The A String

March 28, 2012 17:38

A common problem: I perform better alone than with an audience. As a rule, when I practice each day I am relatively relaxed. When I make a mistake I can go and work on that measure, or those two notes, for five minutes, or ten. I can play things over, slow it down, check my intonation, stop and start again if I am out of sync with the metronome. But during a lesson I feel much more tense. I worry about mistakes, my intonation goes south, my left hand gets tight faster and I play lots of unintentional double stops. My teacher reminds me to relax my hand, and I do. That helps. She it certainly not critical about any mistakes I make. I bought a book on the Alexander technique. I’ll see how much I can glean from it before I run off to find an Alexander teacher. I have read that the Alexander technique is used widely in music performance, the name keeps coming up. Does anyone want to share his or her experiences?

So today’s lesson was frustrating like that. I had practiced Kayser op. 20, number 1: staccato staccato slur, down up doowwn, up down uuuppp. It was surprisingly hard to do it consistently. But I worked at it and it got better. But during my lesson it kind of fell apart. Squeaking, too may up bows, no slur…. So my teacher said she wanted me to just bow. I said I did that. I practiced the bowing pattern on an open A. But she wants me to do it silently, bow above the string, with string changes. Fascinating! I have no idea how to do that. I have no idea where the string changes are. I need to hear the music, to finger the notes, in order to do the bowing. This is a great exercise. It will help me learn the bowing much more solidly, learn the bowing pattern independent of the fingering. The same goes, of course, for the fingering. Learn the fingering independent of the bowing. I think I will have to mark the music to indicate where string changes are. I guess I could just recognize them by where they are on the staff. I have to figure out an approach to this exercise. Any suggestions from readers are welcome.

So also today I moved on from the first two pieces in Suzuki book 2. Handel and Bach. These were easy pieces that allowed me to work on musicality and dynamics. Dig in the bow to accent the beginning of the note. Play piano here, forte here, crescendo and decrescendo. I have lived with music all my life, listening to it. But playing gives me a whole new appreciation for the complexities of a piece (yes, I find these pieces complex).

But again I look forward to practicing in the morning. Struggling with an awkward instrument that someday I will get a consistently beautiful sound out of. I read on another blog that it seemed reasonable for that person—another adult beginner I think—to be playing with a community orchestra in 3-5 years. OK, but I have my heart set on chamber music.

I would be interested in any recollections people might have of their starting out, especially as older students.

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The A String

March 26, 2012 14:17

I started violin when I was a teenager and took lessons for maybe three years, into college. I stopped because I wasn’t practicing enough and had other obligations, family, jobs, real life.

Now, as a middle-ager, I have decided to take it up again. I started practicing on my own to see if I could do it and then decided I really needed lessons to help me along. So now I have been taking lessons for two or three months and thought it would be good for me, and maybe other adult beginners, to keep a record of what I am doing and how I am progressing. My goal is to play chamber music—Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and, of course, Bach. I think in ten years it won’t be a pipe dream any more. Here it goes.

I just started Suzuki book two. I struggled with a couple of the pieces at the end of book one. Clean staccato is difficult for me and moving up in tempo is a challenge. The Handel and the Bach at the beginning of Book two are great, not too hard, giving me a chance to concentrate on dynamics and musicality. Very satisfying.

Also playing the first Kayser op 20, number 1. That is really fun. Some of the arpeggios are challenging. I have worked on it with dotted rhythms, leaving out every other note, different bowings (detache, sluring, staccato, combinations). I have broken it down into measures and practiced one or two measures for half an hour. It all helps and moves me forward.

For rote practicing I have been doing Sevcic, op 1, number 1. Getting to know the A string in first position very well. Interestingly, some of the patterns are easy and some are hard, but not necessarily the ones I would predict. Various patterns help break up the monotony. I start with one note per bow, then two, four, eight and sixteen, all to the same metronome speed.

Some days are better than others. For no apparent reason I can be very out of tune on one day and very in tune the next. Relax the fingers of the left hand. Watch the thumb. Listen for harmonics. I can tell I am out of tune but don’t always know if I am high or low.

Still, I look forward to every day of practice in a way I haven’t known for a long time.

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