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Emily Grossman

What You Preach

November 22, 2011 at 9:53 AM

The studio needed a solid cleaning after the weekend's practice binge. As I sorted and arranged stacks of books, I thought about some of the glaring flaws I'd discovered in my latest recording sessions: namely, double stops. Every time I'd come across a section in the Mozart duos, they basically stunk. That nagging fourth finger issue remained unresolved, even after all these years. The shape was all wrong. As a kid, I'd stuck my pinky down and let it buckle, unaware that it would learn such strong habits as to permanantly alter the muscle structure. To this day, I wonder with skepticism if it can be undone. When it lands, it doesn't buckle, but sometimes the base knuckle falls out of line, which makes it an unreliable member of the left hand machine. I won't even get into my vibrato issues. I am in utter despise of my pinky.

In case previous entries have led you to believe I have fully achieved "teacher" status, and have all the answers and can play the bejeezus out of everything I wish, you are mistaken. I am still a student--a student without a teacher. If I cannot keep myself as a student, I will cease all forward progress as a musician. The thought of settling back into my own mediocrity makes me want to curl up in a ball and turn off the answering machine.

So, every once in a while, I feel compelled to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, so to speak. When this desire presents itself, I put all other musical interests aside until the issue at hand is resolved. Problems like fourth finger weakness cannot be addressed with a wish and a blow of the candles. It must be daily taken to the gym until all the muscles understand their place. I pulled out the double-stop exercises of Schradiek and Sevcik, longing for something to pull my left hand into consistent alignment.

Sevcik exercises are methodical, covering every base of the technical spectrum. For this very reason, I fear their existence, because, like a coke addict, once I begin a line, I can't stop. The idea that one more phrase lies just ahead is unbearable, and I move forward, minute by minute, hour by hour. No teacher sets a boundary with a specific prescription. Instead, I have to decide before I begin where I will draw the line.

Then, today, I ran across the siren call of Dounis, reiterated by so many voices of the internet community. Apparently, Dounis' Daily Dozen could address the needs of the left hand's shape. I dug around and located a pfd.

Dounis came with a warning label, included in his last words of advice:

With ease and suppleness in mind, I tackled the first exercise, which didn't even include the bow. For twenty minutes, I analyzed the first left hand exercise, puzzling over the needs of the note placements on the fingerboard versus the shape of my individual left hand. So small. Look at that tiny hand, trying to swallow the intervals like a snake on a chicken egg. I felt genetically ripped off. Yehudi Menuhin mentioned stretching at the base of the knuckles. I reread the instructions, using his voice as my mental narrator. I stretched and watched my knuckles conform.

This is going to be a long process...

From Emily Hogstad
Posted on November 22, 2011 at 4:50 PM
I use that exercise *all the time.* I rarely have a practice session without it. It has done wonders for me for finger independence (and made double-stopped thirds much easier than they would have been otherwise). It is brutal in the beginning though, and if not physically, intellectually. It's like you have to make new connections in your brain or something to keep everything straight. I still can't do the "difficult" setting very well at all because my fourth finger is so short and joints so prone to collapse. After a while it does start to come more naturally though. But now I'm wondering if I'm actually in tune and have a good position. I've gotten to the point where I've done Dounis so so so so many times that I just breeze through it brainlessly, but it might be worth hauling out the mirror and pausing after each finger reset to see if I'm actually in tune, or if all I'm doing is just limbering up my fingers...heh. If it's not one thing, it's another!!! (Or five others! Or ten others!)

I know a ridiculously talented player with a great job who once cheerfully mentioned that s/he'd once taken a summer to work solely on vibrato. That level of devotion to the art impressed me. If super-well-trained full-time performers aren't afraid to admit taking time out to rectify weaknesses in their playing, what excuses do we mortals have?

From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 22, 2011 at 7:53 PM
I gave an entire summer to shifting once. It's totally worth it. I can't wait until this gets easy.

I find the "difficult" setting "easier" than the easy setting. When reaching across to the G string with my first finger, my second finger closes in at the base, and the other two fingers are left to fend for themselves. I have difficulty maintaining good form with the pinky on the E.

From enion pelta
Posted on November 22, 2011 at 9:06 PM
Emily, how timely - I have just started revisiting my pinky form, using dounis as a guide, as of yesterday! First exercises had immediate results!
From Corwin Slack
Posted on November 22, 2011 at 9:42 PM
I spent years doing this to no good end because the fundamentals were not there. Until my left hand was fully engaged in holding up the violin and my right hand could coax a real tone out of the violin, the etudes, studies, dozens etc. we're just a waste of time.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on November 23, 2011 at 1:29 AM
going through sort of the same thing with 4th finger extensions... on viola. It is a challenge enough for "normal" 4th finger placement with some finger patterns.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 23, 2011 at 9:56 AM
My favorite admonition: forget the existence of the thumb...

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