Printer-friendly version
Emily Grossman

Visions of Sugarplums

December 21, 2007 at 9:34 AM

Anyone familiar with Yost shifting exercises will immediately envision long, stark rows of cookie-cutter notes, moving up and down in orderly patterns. Don't be fooled by their black and white description on paper, though. In practicing them, you might be surprised by what you discover.

The goal of the Yost exercise is to travel on the fingerboard from point A to point B and back again using various combinations of four fingers. Before my teacher and I parted for the summer, he handed me a copy of Yost and advised me never to practice more in one session than what I could give my full concentration. I swore to obey and drove home thinking about what full concentration felt like. How do I know if I'm concentrating fully? What am I supposed to notice? When do I know I'm done?

Back in the studio, I set my metronome on on 60, gave each note one beat, and left one beat between each repetition to get ready for the next shift. Each shift was repeated ten times.

I tried my best to concentrate, but my mind kept running off somewhere. I told my fingers to get ready to go to the perfect spot, and sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn't. But my mind, it kept running off, no matter how hard I tried to concentrate. At the end of twenty minutes, I had covered two strings' worth of first-to-second-position shifting. Then I put the violin away and went fishing.

Every evening, my mind wandered off as I moved my hand back and forth rhythmically on the fingerboard, so that I couldn't tell where concentration began or ended. But then one day, I decided that instead of trying to concentrate, I would follow my mind when it wandered away, just to see where it was going. This process was a little difficult, since the subconscious is very wary of the conscious, and tends to become scarce at the slightest sign of being followed. But I managed to catch it, and the following description is a rather rough sketch of what I found.

This note, it's not just a B natural, it's a little creature. It glows, which is how you know when you've found it. ...And this particular note creature is orange, and lives over here on a little soft perch, and that one is green and lives over there, on a different perch. They are connected by a path that travels across space, something like an electric current. The note creatures sound different depending on which finger creates them, but when they do speak, they glow with their own specific, unique color. This is how they communicate, through the glowing. One speaks to the other, and the other speaks in return. They each have different relationships with each other, which is why each shift must be practiced individually.

And so my mind and I wandered through the Yost shifting exercises, becoming familiar with the places for the little glowing creatures, taking turns visiting each one and letting them all speak politely to each other. If I let my mind travel to this imaginary world, I never missed the notes, because good friends always know the way to each other's home.

That was last summer. Now I'm with my parents in Oklahoma for the holidays, far away from my studio and decent practice time, and busy catching up with the real world and all the real people in my life. It's not until late at night after all the others have gone to bed and I'm still running on eight cups of coffee and three hours' jetlag, that quiet and solitude begin to allow my mind to wander away again.

With it being Christmas and all, strings of lights glow and flash merrily in the darkness that surrounds me. I'm just about to nod off. In just a flash, I see orange and hear B natural. Well, hello there, B natural, and I see you've brought your friends, too!

The thought lasted less than an instant, and then I became fully conscious with a shock. Have I finally gone crazy? Where are these visions coming from, and what do they mean?

Maybe it's madness, or maybe it's sugarplums. Either way, I can't wait for Yost tomorrow.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 21, 2007 at 11:39 AM
This sounds a lot like meditation, or "mindfulness." Observing the thoughts and where they go. The meditation book I was reading compared the mind to an elephant's trunk: if you just let it flail around willy-nilly it will knock things over, but if you give the elephant something to hold onto, like a stick or some Yost exercises, it focuses and moves gracefully.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on December 21, 2007 at 2:58 PM
That's a very good description, Karen.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on December 21, 2007 at 5:58 PM

I like your analysis and it is beautifully written. To me the notes are "little people" all with a duty to perform the best they can and the fingers are dancers legs gently or powerfully placing, sweeping, sliding and leaping to the notes.

Have a Blessed Christmas!

From Albert Justice
Posted on December 21, 2007 at 6:10 PM
Whew--I use to drink a lot of coffee--for a long long time. I hear ya.... I like your images of shifting too... Ditto Drew sorta.

I'm not very advanced shifting yet, but there's just something au'natural going on with my placement for some reason at this point. Must be guitar/spatial/aiming for the center of the fret kind of thing.

You've motivated me though--thanks.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 21, 2007 at 8:54 PM
Emily - have a good holiday with your family and a well-earned rest. As always, your blog is fascinating; you have a great imagination. For those of us not familiar with Yost, is there a particular volume of sheet music?
From Tara Shaw
Posted on December 22, 2007 at 12:38 AM
Is there someplace one can even get the Yost exercises anymore? I've seen them mentioned over and over, and they're out of print?

Great blog as always, Emily. Have a good holiday.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on December 22, 2007 at 1:58 AM
Nope, they're out of print. Mine is a copy from Steve Redrobe.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on December 22, 2007 at 3:18 AM
I do my Yost exercises EVERY DAY and found that I actually LIKE them. This is saying alot. I love your imagry on these exercises!

Unfortunately Yost is not in print anymore. My "copy" is a few penciled in excercises in my scales book. But once you understand the theory behind the exercise, you really don't need the book to do them.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 24, 2007 at 9:52 PM
Emily - can you scan the Yost and make it available?

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine