July 2011

Jedi mind tricks

July 28, 2011 14:36

I currently find myself at my second music camp of the summer:  Luzerne Music Center.  We're in Lake Luzerne, New York which is nestled in the beautiful Adirondack mountains.  

The good news is that I've been practicing quite a bit since I've been here, and no, I didn't forget the video camera!  The bad news is that Danielle is so busy with her students, chamber music coaching, and her own practicing and rehearsing that she doesn't have a whole lot of time to work with a rising star like myself.

Luckily, I'm pretty good at managing my own time and my practicing so far here has gone pretty well.  Remember the ending to the theme?

That little ending requires playing (all in first position) the second finger on the D string, then the fourth finger on the A string to get that D#, then back to the first finger on the D string and then a half step higher on the A string for an E.  So the fourth finger sort of slides up a half step while the first finger does its job on the D string.  The point of this is that it's some finger gymnastics and definitely the most challenging passage in the theme.  I've had some trouble with this part before, but it's getting better.

Interestingly, what's helped me with this passage is something that's happened sort of naturally.  When I first started playing, I would completely stare at my left hand the entire time.  This, of course, causes my bow to get sloppy, play on the wrong strings, too close to the bridge, etc.  Lately, I've done a much better job of trusting my left hand and looking at where my bow crosses the strings while I play.  It's funny; like Obi Won said, "your eyes can deceive you...don't trust them."  It seems like I can "see" my left hand play without staring at it.  Maybe it's muscle memory, maybe my ears are getting better, maybe both and something else as well.  Maybe I'm becoming a Jedi.  Whatever the case, it's helping with that tricky last passage.

Here's a nice slow run-through of the theme.  Notice that throughout, I snag quick glances at my left hand, but for the most part, I look at my bow:


I played this yesterday morning, and in the afternoon, Danielle gave me a little mini lesson.  I taped the entire thing, so the following video was sort of luck that I got it at all.  Danielle was helping me with my sound and intonation on the theme and I was getting frustrated by how slowly I was playing it.  She didn't mind the speed; she just wanted me to play it smoothly and correctly.  Really not intending to tape it or anything, I just busted out with this:

OK, so it's not the best playing ever, but we were pretty happy with it (although I do look at my left hand during the last passage!).  The sound could definitely get better, but the intonation is the best I've played it at that speed.  Do you notice the goofy looks on my face at times?  I didn't originally even mean for her to take this seriously.  It's funny; I just went for it and it turned out well.  Danielle called it an "anomaly" which I'm not exactly crazy about, but the fact is I played a bit above my station.

I got another explanation that I like better than it being something supremely out of the ordinary.  Have I mentioned Elbert before?  He was at USC when Danielle was there and they both studied with Mr. Lipsett.  He's now with the San Francisco ballet and helps Danielle with some of her students and was on faculty at Danielle's camp.  He's here at Luzerne now as well and he told me a story.  When he was younger, he worked on a piece (I can't remember which one), and he only practiced it long and slow and didn't want to pump up the tempo.  His teacher at the time (not Lipsett) told, rather ordered, him to just go for it and bust out the much faster tempo.  Just go for it!  He did and it sounded great.  Perhaps it's an argument to just practice it slowly most of the time and then just go for it.  Danielle typically stresses building slowly to the tempo with a metronome, going faster and faster bit by bit.

Which approach is better for building speed?  Perhaps they both have their place.

Read the whole story at vaughnvsviolin.com

3 replies

You're not so tough without your vibrato, are you?

July 5, 2011 13:52

OK, so I'm tackling Paganini's 24th caprice, an extremely difficult piece perhaps a little too early in my violin life.  I think I've mentioned something similar in the past, but the piece has octaves, chromatic scales, tenths, thirds (these really fast thirds that if anything's going to get me, they will), and more.  With that in mind, though, there are a couple of advantages to playing this piece early.

For starters, it's only 5 minutes or so long.  True, at my tempo I'll probably come in more like 8 minutes, but it's not a horrendously long piece.  What if I originally said I was going to learn the Brahms violin concerto in a year?  Would that even be possible?  Here you might think I'm crazy, but if I wanted to play a 45 minute concerto, you'd think I was absolutely mad.  Or just doing some serious wishful thinking.

Another advantage to playing this piece is it's so fast that, I have to be careful how I word this, you don't really need vibrato.  That's not quite right since Danielle and other great players would still use fast vibrato throughout.  How about, it's so fast that I can probably get away with playing little to no vibrato.  That's good news since learning to vibrate is a very difficult piece of the violinist's set of tools.  Of course, I listened to a youtube recording of the caprice by Shlomo Mintz:


There are many interesting things about this recording.  First, it's markedly different than the Heifetz one I posted a few months ago (most noticeably it's a minute longer!)  When you listen to the theme, do you notice the vibrato in each passage surrounding the fast 1/16th notes?  It kind of goes bum(vibrato)-rest-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum(vibrato)-rest-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum(vibrato)-bum-bum-etc.

It's very beautiful with the vibrato in there, so I get this crazy idea that I could learn some vibrato to perform on some key notes.  Danielle gave me a crash course (a few days ago) on vibrato, so I'll tackle a one octave scale:



Yeah, I know, I really need a haircut and a shave.  Anyway.  Danielle actually doesn't love the idea of vibrato, as she says I could play the entire caprice without vibrato and everyone would forgive me, so there's no sense in wasting time.  But it would be so awesome!  I'll simply add it to the laundry list of stuff I have to practice every day anyway:

1.  scales

2.  octave scales - then work on variation 3 if I feel saucy

3.  chromatic scales - beginning of variation 4

4.  thirds (on the A and E strings - the beginning of variation 6)

5.  theme - working faster with metronome

6.  variation 2 - working faster with metronome

7.  and now...vibrato!

I figure that if I get toward the end and the vibrato doesn't sound that great, then I can always not do it and people would forgive me, but if I am going to do the vibrato, I had better get cracking on it now.  No harm in keeping my options open, huh?

Remember the theme we were talking about earlier?  Here's me with the first part of the theme with some vibrato sprinkled in there:


It's no Shlomo Mintz, but I think even at this level the vibrato adds a tiny bit.

Read the whole story at www.vaughnvsviolin.com

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