October 2007

Violin lesson: Soups and slides

October 29, 2007 14:16

“Stop, stop! It is much too salty!”

How can music be salty? We know that soup can be ruined with too much salt. Too much of anything is not a good thing: Too much heat makes a burnt toast, too much dressing makes a revolting salad, too much cleanliness makes a weak immune system—you get the point. But how can music be salty or sweet? That was my question when my violin teacher told me that x passage was “much too salty”.

His response?
"Did you ever make soup?" Not waiting for me to answer his question, my teacher continued to explain in detail three things: What makes good soup, what makes average soup, and what makes the soup that clogs up throats.

"Violin playing," he said, "is very similar to soups. You play all the notes—that is an average soup. You can pick up any ol’ cookbook, follow the recipe, and you have soup. Perhaps the soup is a bit bland or off-tasting, but it is nevertheless recognizable as soup.

“Now to make that average bowl into a masterpiece, you have to add the perfect blend of seasonings for flavor. You add the pepper, the herbs, the salt. Maybe you add some potatoes. Finally, you have to add a little something-something that makes the soup unique, so that it isn’t like every other bowl of potato soup I taste. Understand?”

“So what makes up the soup that clogs up throats?” I asked.

“Oh,” he said chuckling, “that happens when you add too many potatoes and the soup comes out thick like pudding.”


When we finally stopped talking about cooking, we got into adressing the slides aka salt.


I had been doing quite a large slide in this measure of Reinhold Glière's Romance. My teacher suggested that I do something smaller. He demonstrated his own way of playing it, and I realized that he was doing some sort of portamento that I couldn't quite place my finger on. How the heck was he making the sound?

I asked him, and found his explaination quite interesting.

He would play the G and the F#, and then just as he was going to play the C#, he would make his F# a hair flat. Then he would play the C# a hair flat for a split second before switching to the normal C#. All this was done completely naturally and I didn't realize exactly what my teacher was doing until played the same passage super slow after explaining it to me. After that, when I knew what I was listening for, I could hear the slight change in pitch before and after the shift. It was quite freaky, for lack of a better word. I'm interested in any thoughts about the topic.

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