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September 2012

The A String

September 16, 2012 13:34

New teacher, new appreciation of the depth of the violin. My previous teacher recently got married and moved out of town. I am fortunate to have found an excellent teacher who has an uncanny way of seeing immediately what I need to work on and showing me the path to improvement. We started with a piece I thought I had finished, Gavotte from Mignon in Suzuki 2. Rather than gloss over the staccato notes he showed me how to play spiccato. But along with spiccato comes the curling and uncurling of the fingers of the bow hand at the end of the up bow and down bow. Who knew there were such things? Many other players but not me. I now eagerly practice my bowing on open strings, with Schradieck, with the Gavotte. Off the string bowing was something I thought I saw other people do but didn’t understand what it was. Now I can see the beauty, both of the sound it produces and of the technique that I am now working to master.

And there are so many other things I have suddenly been exposed to. The movement of the left elbow that I now do has helped my intonation immensely. And a new exercise for intonation that suddenly seemed to free me to identify what I am doing wrong and develop a simple way of practicing to fix the problem. And if I have something that I can’t figure out, something that has been vexing me for a week, Oh yes, I am told, try these exercises. Play slowly; lift the second finger high before playing the first finger in a 4 3 1 pattern. That way the second finger learns to move quickly out of the way. Thumb griping too tightly? Play slowly and while bowing a note, slowly move the thumb away from the neck and back to the neck. This teaches the thumb to be loose and helps develop the independence of all the fingers. And I learned about the French School (it has a more specific name but I don’t remember) where the key was slow bowing. Playing D E D E, one second per note and bowing more and more slowly to fit in more notes. I am a long way from thirty notes—thirty seconds per bow—let alone sixty, but I am learning to divide the bow and get a feel for how fast it should be moving an how to keep a nice sound.

There are so many ways to learn to relax the left hand, such as slowly pressing my finger on the string until the note sounds clear, but not pressing harder than necessary. It makes me feel that I am gently caressing a living violin, learning to gently coax a sound out of it rather than forcing the instrument to play what I want it to play (trying to force the instrument to play what I want.)

Suddenly a whole new world has opened up. I have a renewed love of the instrument, of the sound it can produce and of the technique needed to produce that sound. Not that every practice session is frustration free: learning all these things is an effort and combining them together is quite a challenge. But it sure can be fun and rewarding.

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