May 2012

The A String

May 24, 2012 14:26

I had a great lesson yesterday. I finished up the Sevcik exercises on the A string, the first part that is. I have not done the sixteenth note exercises. My teacher had me move on to Sevcik 5. This is still the A string but there are triplets using all four fingers. First I do one triplet per bow, then two, then four triplets per bow, always keeping the bow moving at a constant rate and evenly dividing the bow. This is a nice change from Exercise 1. She also has me continuing with exercise 11, bowing alternately on two strings. Moved the metronome up to 108, which is a challenge. Short bows, single note per bow, quick (and accurate) string crossings. Sounds almost like Bach. I am also trying two notes per bow and four per bow. That is challenging to keep even. I have to slow it down quite a bit, but hopefully I will be more confident by next week.

Also I am continuing with Kayser 4. The stretches are difficult so I have to practice them over and over to get the intonation correct, or at least close. A-C on the E string and D-F# on the A string. The little arpeggio G#-B-E-F#-G# is pretty cool to, especially when executed at a higher speed, say MM104. Not really fast, but fast enough to feel satisfying when it works. I have only been practicing the first two lines but now am moving on to the first four. I think my teacher wants me to master the basic patterns that recur throughout the piece and try to get them up to speed before moving on too far.

From the Suzuki 2 book I left behind the Schumann and am now working on Paganini’s “Witches’ Dance” and Thomas’s “Gavotte from Mignion.” The Paganini is OK, but I have never been big on flash. The main challenges are the dotted rhythm and getting the arpeggios clear and precise. The Gavotte is actually pretty interesting. The staccato will be the death of me. I am still struggling to stop the bow and not squeak and scratch and the Gavotte has lots of sixteenth note staccato runs. I figure I will practice them detache and just try to move the bow less and less. In the limit, short detache becomes staccato. Overall, it is seems like a substantive piece, more than just melody. It has interesting variation, at least to me, and technically there is a lot to learn.

My vibrato is slowly improving. This week’s assignment is to play the G major scale with vibrato on each note. Play slowly, one bow per note, and keep vibrato going for the full bow. Getting it go be slow but even is hard, I guess I can try using the metronome. I think I am getting a feeling for the necessary relaxation in my fingers. It is very interesting that there seems to be this contradiction, hold the note but relax and roll your finger. Relax, always relax when playing. I know it but I don’t always do it.

Since my teacher does not assign sight reading, I have been trying to do a little each day. It’s fun to play the melody from some Bach Inventions for Piano (keyboard, I guess.) I have a couple of books with simple pieces, so those should serve me well. When my daughter took piano lessons a number of years ago, she had ‘a line a day’ that was for sight reading. She was supposed to play the line three times and rate herself, as I recall. The go on to a new line the next day. Seems like a good method. Play a phrase or two, then repeat it to two or three times to improve it a little.

Time to go have some fun.

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The A String

May 17, 2012 14:06

A new discovery! I started a new Sevcik exercise (#11), playing open A or open E alternately with notes on D or A string. Actually, you also play an octave, but that’s a detail. So I discovered that you can hear harmonics (ringing tones) when playing notes, not just on the open strings. I know, it's obvious, but to actually do it is another thing. That is for me one of the most wonderful parts of playing a string instrument, hearing the harmonics. And for a beginner like me it has to do with intonation, precise fingering, not hitting other strings, and bowing evenly. That is a lot of things to get to work together, at least for me. So even when playing an exercise, it is a wonderful sound. In fact I could hear shades of Bach’s Partita #3. It is wonderful to play. And with a few pointers from my teacher I was able to improve my bowing so it sounded even better: lighter and smoother. She also had me playing it as double stops, which helped my intonation. It’s very interesting that even the dissonant intervals like a second sounds less dissonant when you play it right. Hah, beginner’s insight.

I did finally get my recorder out and listened to my playing. Not very fun. The sound quality was not very good and the playing had problems but it is a different way of listening to things so it will probably be helpful in the long run. I did find that the Suzuki pieces are actually longer than they seemed, it takes a good minute and a half to play through one even though it is only one page.

Started a new Kayser too, #4. Only started with the first two lines. Again, it appears that Kayser likes accidentals; there is a lot of modulation. It sounds nice at a slow tempo—all that I can manage right now—but I can hear it in my head at a faster tempo and it sounds really great. So if I keep at the slow, steady work of good intonation and even bowing then I should be able to ramp it up just a bit before too long.

Finished off the Handel Bourree in Suzuki 2 and now am working on Schumann Two Grenadiers and Paganini Witches Dance. Both have a fast dotted eighth-staccato sixteenth note rhythm. It is a little challenging but not too bad. Stop the bow on the dotted eighth and continue with the sixteenth with the same up-bow or down-bow.

Of course, the vibrato is developing, but slowly. Still find it easier to do it without my thumb touching the neck. I think that as I get more limber, as my fingers learn to roll in the correct direction, by the correct amount, I should be able to place my thumb again and have it roll or rotate a bit. In a way it is one of the hardest things to practice because it has to be slow and relaxed it seems very unnatural. But, as with everything, persistence pays off and it gets a little better each week.

And I am still having a wonderful time.

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The A String

May 3, 2012 17:21

This past week I started vibrato! My teacher wants me to do arm vibrato. Fine with me. I didn’t ask why arm and not wrist vibrato. I guess I have to learn both in time. I slowly move my arm away from my body, keep my wrist and arm in line, roll my finger, bend or unbend my finger a bit. That is a lot of movements that don’t seem to go together so it is rather slow going. But I can hear the sound and imagine what it will be like in a month or a year. Stay relaxed. Keep the thumb in place. Try it with the thumb away from the neck. Move the arm along the neck, but don’t move it laterally. There is a lot to think about, just as with every other skill on the violin. But with practice it gets better.

Only sometimes it gets worse with practice. Why is that? I have been working on the Handel Bourree and for a while it seemed harder to play in tune than it did in the beginning. Now I am supposed to up the tempo. And I have to add more dynamics, always more dynamics!

The staccato for Kayser #3 has improved. I finished that up and moved on to number 4. She want’s me to just play the first couple line and concentrate on intonation. I think that must be her way of suggesting my intonation needs work in general. No problem. I’ll keep it slow and steady and listen carefully, use my electronic tuner sometimes. And this will improve my playing overall.

Now the thing that made me really nervous this time was the question about whether I would play in a recital! I believer her other students are young kids. They could be my kids. I am not really eager to play a recital with a bunch of little kids who could be playing better than me. I’ll be 54 next month. On the other hand, I know it is good experience to share with others. And, I don’t think the recital will be until the fall or winter, giving me plenty of time to get better. Any comments or thought on this subject would be appreciated.

And all this practicing is giving me calluses on my fingers. I have a scar on the tip of my left middle finger where I almost slice the tip of a few years ago. But even my other fingers are getting a little firmer and are feeling tender sometimes. I assume this will pass?

Well, back to the books. Still have to pull out my digital recorder so I can listen to myself and be my own best critic. If I just knew where it was…

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More entries: April 2012

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