March 2011

Return to Variation 2

March 25, 2011 22:51

The other night Danielle had me return to variation 2, but still didn't have me do any grace notes.  Danielle's new thing lately is for me to "pound" my fingers down on the strings especially when I'm playing faster notes.  Here I try that finger pounding technique to the first four measures of the second variation, except I don't play any of the grace notes:

 The camera work kind of degenerates there as Danielle started clapping, but oh well.  I really like this variation.  It's fun to listen to, and it seemed surprisingly easy, that is until I actually played the grace notes.  After about 25 takes, this was the best:

I'll tell you, those grace notes add a whole different level of difficulty.  At first, I naively thought it would be an easy variation to bank early before moving on to the hard stuff.  It looks like I was wrong.  It's OK though, I'm married, so I'm certainly used to that.

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On a Larger Scale

March 23, 2011 12:35

One piece of the violinist toolbox I've yet to touch upon is the scale.  I've been doing scales, of course, but just never showed myself doing them.  They're more difficult than they seem like they should be.  Well, maybe they're not more difficult, just that standards are higher with them.  On a difficult passage, if a few things here and there are off, then so what, but on a scale, you're playing very predictable notes, so shouldn't it be perfect?

With my playing, that answer is clearly no.

Since Paganini Caprice 24 is written in A-minor, it would makes sense for me to be practicing an A-minor scale, right?  Probably, but Danielle wanted me to start with A-major first so that's what I've been doing.  At the beginning, I only went up two octaves, and I didn't even use a 4th finger - I played with open strings.  Then I used the 4th finger, but still played only two octaves:

Besides the fancy camera work, noting too exciting, right?  Adding on just one more little octave means several shifts going up and down.  Here's my valiant attempt:

Besides missing the cute little face at the end, not horrible, huh?  Several of the high notes are out of tune, but hey, my tapes don't go up that high.  An interesting thing to do with the last video is actually to mute it and watch it again.  My left hand actually looks kind of good.  My darn right hand seems to be messing everything up.  When starting the violin, I would have guessed that the left hand would be 99% of the problems.  Now, I'm not saying I've mastered the left hand or anything, but the right hand is surprisingly an equally (if not more so) beast to tame.

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Studio Class Performance #1

March 21, 2011 23:46

Residential Life puts on a talent show every spring here at the Colburn School.  Students can perform anything except their primary instrument.  We the RA staff of course have to put on one or several skits.  Danielle this morning gets the brilliant idea that I should perform part of the Paganini in the talent show.  The only problem?  It's this Sunday.

She insists that I a) have to perform in the talent show and b) it can't be my first performance in front of a large number of people.  The only chance I would get to have a somewhat public performance would be in Danielle's studio class, which is--wait for it--tonight.

The idea of playing in Danielle's studio class is a nightmare.  Not only are all the students in this class less than half my age, but they're all about 10 times better at the violin than I will be at anything in my life. 

Danielle breaks the bad news to me in the morning - her class is at 5:30PM.  So I do what any red-blooded American would do in this situation--I throw a hissy fit.  It was actually pretty ugly.  I yelled at her for trying to embarrass me in front of everyone and throwing me under a bus when I wasn't ready.  I even made my first quitting threat.  It was bad.

She backed off but resorted to laying on the guilt.  Long story short I played.  I really can't describe how nervous I was, but it was a lot.  My hands were physically shaking during the performance.  Of course it wasn't very long, just the roughly 30 seconds of the theme, but still nerve racking.  I played it once, and it was OK, so Danielle asked me to play it again.  I didn't think I did much better, but I didn't have a major memory slip during either one.  Then, I was about to leave the stage when I realized we didn't film it.  Danielle took my phone and filmed my third performance:

She told them to go crazy with the cheering.  You didn't think my playing caused that, did you?

What's weird about a performance is that you get what you get.  When I tape things I can do them over and use the best one, but with a performance, it's one and only, unless the piece is only 30 seconds and then you can apparently do it three times.

Oh, and tonight at our res life staff meeting I found out that the talent show was postponed a couple of weeks.  Phew.

**Read the entire blog at**

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All Octaves and no Play...

March 19, 2011 18:10

So I've been practicing octaves quite a bit lately.  As we've mentioned before, octaves are like pushups--you feel really good after you do them, but really crappy while you're doing them.  Violin is one of those unfortunate things that makes you suffer to get any better, but there has to be a little fun, right?

So I revisited the theme. Yeah, I know. Since starting this project my definition of fun has slightly altered.  If you remember:

Here's the theme I played a couple of weeks ago

Here's me this morning

OK, not perfect but some improvement, right?  There's a little pause before that second shift, but at least the ending is much cleaner.  I also don't pause as much throughout the second part.  I'm happy for now.  Before the final performance I will need to play it cleaner, and much, much faster. Luckily, there's time.

Don't tell Danielle, but I looked ahead to variation 2.  It's a cool little tune.  Here's my first go at it.

I'm actually missing quite a bit of the piece here.  I don't play any of the, what we call, grace notes. A grace note is a super fast little note that doesn't even count numerically in the measure.

They seemed pretty difficult so I wimped out for this first performance.  I'm really looking forward to playing this variation more in the near future.

Sigh.  Now it's back to those octaves.

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Vaughn vs Violin - about a month in!

March 19, 2011 18:06

 As I put in my first post, I'm a beginner violinist and am lucky enough to receive world class instruction from my wife, Danielle Belen (

With her tutelage, my goal is to play the Paganini Caprice #24 in one year.  Well, eleven months at this point.

I'm finally up and running on, and I plan to double post on my blog site and here.  Unfortunately, pictures and video won't be posted here, but you can go to the site for those.

Visit to catch up on my progress and check out the videos and pictures!

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Vaughn Vs Violin

March 13, 2011 11:19

My name is Ryan Vaughn and I've given myself one year to master the violin.  As an adult beginner,  I should be learning Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  Instead, with the help of my teacher (and wife) Danielle Belen, on faculty at the Colburn School, I am tackling Paganini's Caprice No.24.  Yes, this is for real.  

Follow my adventures here and on my blog at




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