February 2012

Handel Halversen Passacaglia on Paper

February 20, 2012 15:27

Oh, if only these two masterpieces could be merged. I like the playfulness of Itzhak and Pinchas in the first half, and seriousness of the chords in Kennedy/Harrell in the middle section at 1 min 49 sec. The transcription to viola suits my ear a bit better than the cello transcription, who's bright overtones blend slightly less than the violin and viola version. I enjoy the visuals of Itzhak/Pinchas. However, the end of the Kennedy/Harrell simply kicks butt. I have visions of their heads spinning off, and the ending is perfectly voiced and fantastic.

There's something cool about two held instruments playing in the Itzhak/Pinchas version, as the bows really fly in unison. I also don't mind the lack of low-tones. Pinchas pulls it off. Here's the score, for notation lovers:

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6. Integration/Remembering How to Compose

February 18, 2012 12:49


Last night, after my student recital (which went well), I began integrating my vibrato and new bow hold into my playing using actual works. It's seemed a bit daunting and I put it off about a week. But last night I went slowly through the 4th page of Mozart Concerto No. 4, and played that 4th page about 6 times. Each time I discovered I was reverting back to my old ways, and my tempo slowed significantly over time to account for these un-foreseen "mistakes." The last technique and most significant to integrate was the bow arm, which opened and closed so automatically in my scales and long bows on open strings, but so un-automatically once my eyes hit a page of music. My vibrato is still slow and finicky sometimes, and very rarely, reverts to arm vibrato. I always wanted a wrist vibrato, so this is good. Now I can begin to "sound" like everyone else, for what that is worth.

Here's a reminder on Chord Progressions, as I must write a piece for my work, and I simply forgot how to write music:

iii vi ii/IV V viio I

Cm Dm, EbAUG, Fmaj, Gmaj, Adim, Bdim, Cm

I often start with the melody; as a violinist this is understandable! But the foundation MUST be laid before a melody is established, I've found. The whole form and chords must be planted solidly in the mind. It's like creating a road, before you drive down it. So here is my current structure for this piece:


Main Theme=A: (A) (A) (B) (B) © © (D) (D) (A1) (Coda)
(A) EMINOR > (B) AMAJ > © BbMAJ> (D) ___ (A1) EMAJ
i IV bV ___ I

As you can see, I developed a Bach-feel "main theme" (A) in Eminor, which has a "pop" feeling ending to it and am now going to transition into a softer, more lyrical B section. This is as far as I've gotten today.

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my daily routine

February 11, 2012 20:13

As you can see, here's my instruction sheet from my last lesson. It's littered with points of caution-- relax the fingers for a solid wrist vibrato; use force of the arm for legato. Above all, practice often and with a mirror.

The most frustrating exercises are double stop scales. I get lost in the upper half of the violin and fail to know the difference between half and whole steps. Announcing the notes out-loud while I play them has helped, and I will soon employ the 4th finger in this double-stop climbing adventure.

I recommend playing double-stops memorized in every scale, and to not play them too much. Much more enjoyable.

Additional Sources: Carl Flesch "Scale System"

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5. the mistake-friendly performance

February 10, 2012 06:22

I was recently asked how to perform by the mother of one of my students who she described as "driven and frustrated." How often I hear these two words paired when it comes to violin, and especially, violin performance. She wondered if I had any suggestions.

For me, the perfect performance is one where you set realistic expectations and achieve those small, but valuable leaps of both technique and your mental capacity to handle the risk of "putting yourself out there." Will you get all the notes correctly? Will you remember to have a straight bow hold? Will you treat yourself well after a performance? These things are imperative not only to feeling good, but they will have a lasting affect on the psyche and spirit, because you prepared, performed, and followed-up with a good attitude. You gave it the best shot you had.

As a super-determined person myself, I often expect mountainous goals for myself. Sometimes I achieve these goals and more, but 9 times out of 10 I feel exhausted, abused from my own pushing, and dissatisfied because the process has been compensated for my greed of obtaining the goal. "How did I get to this point?" I ask my tired self after one more "goal" is deemed successful enough to move to another. How many "goals" must I pursue before my ego is permanently elevated? The secret lies in being happy with the little things, tempering your lofty goals with a bit of old-fashioned "Realistic Expectations," and whatever your goal is, multiplying it by three or four, and to treat yourself well along the way, embracing error as a means to knowledge and growth.

Is this a fantasy for violinists? Can we be happy with mediocrity?

Here's some advice I gave a student the other day who was looking for some performance-anxiety relief. I am surprised how many new students enter with this pressure. Where does it come from?

"Hi ___,

What _____ may be experiencing is true of most musicians as we strive so hard and sometimes expect too much too soon, and a self-critical voice can enter.  It does not end once the piece is perfectly performed-- unless _____ starts now by giving herself some learned self-assurance paired with a reasonable expectation, and can embrace "failure" as a positive means to self-improvement.  If ______ can lower her standards a bit, and focus on the practice of performing and getting through the piece as a means of her success, then she will be satisfied with the recital.  Also, if she reminds herself, no matter what happens, to be forgiving and treat herself well after the performance, she will fear less, because what she fears may be how dis-satisfied she feels afterward.  This is the more important than the notes, I would say, so maybe she can focus on that alone for this performance: no matter what happens, to be content afterward, and if it does't go well, then instead of self-critical thoughts, say "I would like to do this part this way next time, so I'm glad I had this experience in order to find this out."  It's all a learning process.  All musicians struggle with performances sometimes, and it creeps in whether you prepare overnight or for ten years.  It's part of being discerning and determined, which is a good thing."

My conclusion? Play with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind-- and don't forget to be thankful for every mistake that comes along.

2 replies

4. practicing is for pros

February 5, 2012 20:33

Now let's stop for a minute with an important announcement on how to practice. I always practiced a bit hurriedly, like my life was going to end. Part of the reason was because I saw my poor dead sister when I was seven! From that day forward I vowed I would always make the most out of my life. But unconsciously, I also began to live like there was no time. I hurried along at everything. My practicing was hurried, too. Hurry up, I said, because I could go soon!

But now I am older, and I have more time. Time has slowed. Why hurry, I ask. That's what practicing is all about. Slowly working through passages, and letting them age even while you're not even thinking about it. Giving yourself years to grow. Then, someday, you will pick up your violin and say, "Hey, this is pretty cool. I'm doing it!"

The first thing to know about practicing is how to practice. When you learn a new concept, go slow, 10 minutes, put the violin down, and come back to it several hours later, for 10 minutes, and again later, or leave it for the next day. Alternatively, when you learn notes, memorize, or play through passages or pieces several times over, you have more time. Practice can go on for hours. Discernment is the key here, frustration is the stopping point. Failure brings the wisdom. If frustration gets high, 1. lower your practice time and expectation 2. take a break 3. get help 4. play something else and come back to the other thing later. Then, you will always love the violin!

Here's how to begin a good practice. Begin a good, appetizing practice with scales. Jasha Heifetz said that playing ability relies heavily on this one thing. There's Carl Flesch, Galamian… or memory! I tend to like the later the best. Practice scales like a religion every day and you will never be hungry. I recommend a half hour, for many years. If you do both scale systems, you will be more versatile as they use different fingerings. Carl Flesch has chromatic and extensive double stop exercises that are worth the wait.

Let's begin. Use a metronome.

1. Quarter note = 42 in your practice room. Start with long bow strokes, maintaining a beautiful, solid, and steady tone up a 3 octave scale. Memorize your scale and scale fingering. There should be absolutely no noise in the shifts. Use a mirror to correct your position, then go AWAY from the mirror. Do it automatically, like it's your body.

2. Next, slur 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8, and 12 with Quarter note = 42. Then play them all separated. 12 is the hardest, and requires that each note be perfectly in rhythm, with clean shifts. No loud note standing out among the rest. No tension. Light bow on fast passages, using your wrist. Practice your shifts carefully and slowly, then time them with the metronome into your scale. The notes must be perfectly in tune. But, ahh, aren't I getting ahead of myself? Did we only just learn how to hold the bow in lesson one? If you are not new to this, play the scales in differing rhythmic values. Consult Galamian for this- plenty to choose from.

3. Take time on each scale, but not too much time. Much can be gained by not finishing G Major and moving on to D Major and so-on. 2 weeks max on a scale, then come back to it later.

4. Play each scale in 3rds, 6ths, and 8vas. Build up to 8vas slowly so you don't stretch the muscles in your palm. Consult Carl Flesch. I tend to start in C major and play 6ths, going up from 1st position to 3rd position on all strings, then from 3rd to 5th position, and from 4th to 6th position. Be sure to call out the note names in the higher positions if you are new to them- will save you a lifetime of flubbering around up there, completely lost and tone deaf. The mind always wants names to things in order for complete understanding.

4. Arpeggios are the last exercise of scales. Start slow. Use one note per bow, beautiful tone. Use the whole bow. Galamian has great arpeggio exercises. Slur 2, 3, 6, 8 and 12. Then break up your bowing (ex. slur 2, then one, slur two, then one, and vice-versa). Do this with the scale too, and never slouch on learning something new with your scales. That is the secret to scale success. When the scales become so exact and so easy that they sound practically the same every day, and flawless, you know you have mastered them. If you are bored, you need new challenges in the scale. Carl Flesch will suffice.

My son is making weird grunting noises, so I suppose it's time to take him on a pleasant walk, maybe to the park?

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3. the not-so-basic basic bow arm

February 3, 2012 09:27

It's 5:30AM, the baby is sleeping soundly... so what could be more delightful than immortalizing a good bow arm in print? Get ready for a complex, packed-with-vitamins breakfast.

Described by some as the "painter's brush," the bow arm is one of those cardinal mysteries that appears to float in mid-air on some players, yet is a sinking submarine on others. How does one float their arm so gracefully that it seems to completely detach from the body itself? The answer lies in the fear and risk of error: of deciding to do things differently, to take that jump or leap off the cliff, or to decide to take that double black diamond for the first time. It's that kind of risk. And the reward? A pure, free, and swift arm, like a gymnast's leap or a dancer's quick turn. With movements so slight, it's the lifelong work of a master. Let's "dive" in, shall we?
A. The Wrist
1. Curve the wrist of the bow arm at the frog and invert it towards the tip, keeping the level of the upper arm and forearm neither too high or too low. This is a gradual transition as the bow moves from tip to frog, and vise-versa. The best example I've found is Itzhak Perlman, but you may have your own favorite: This is a link
B. The Elbow
1. The elbow should be positioned so that the arm is neither too high or too low when positioned on a certain string. The elbow will rise like a robot or elevator to lower strings, and lower down to higher strings, feelings independent of the the violin or the shoulder/back/posture. The violin should NEVER move to aid in hitting a string. Watch Jasha Heifetz as an example: This is a link
2. Move the elbow back and forth until the bow becomes perfectly centered in between the middle of the bridge and fingerboard on your violin. A slight movement of the elbow too far back can really throw the angle off and affect the intonation. Use a mirror- it's the only way to see what's really going on.
C. The Forearm
1. Once the elbow, and hence, upper arm, are in place, you may begin to do long strokes. Start right at the frog with a slightly curved wrist, and check your fingers: is the first finger on the second knuckle? Is the index finger on the first knuckle, and used in connection with the thumb? Is the thumb in the right place, flat against the bow hair, and the ring and pinky fingers lightly curved and relaxed? Stay connected to the string at all times. The elbow first moves back, and then the forearm moves out- actually away from the body. This is always a surprise for some players, as it seems like you are playing the violin in a forward position and not to the side. But this compensates for the angle at which the violin sits on your neck. Remember to invert your wrist at the tip! Practice this a few times, always giving careful attention to the bow hold and the position of the bow on the string so that it stays straight.
D. That First Finger
1. Itzhak relaxes his first finger upon the start of his down bows, that's how he gets a delicious, smooth bow transition. You will also want to squeeze your fingers slightly on every up bow, and relax them on the down bow. The first finger motion is the relaxing of the finger. "Squeezing" them on the up bow provides support, like pushing a cart up a hill. Relaxing them on the down bow is like letting your foot of the gas peddle as you coast down a hill. Practice relaxing the first finger with a mirror so it doesn't look like your finger is flying off the bow. Just a slight relaxing movement is all you need, and it will look like his!
E. Finally, The Forearm
1. The forearm is the primary vehicle for the middle bow stroke. Your upper arm will be almost completely static, but you will want to use it slightly. When you reach the middle to top half of your bow, move the upper arm outward to propel the whole arm outward.
F. The Bow
1. Play with a flat bow on every part of the bow except towards the tip, where you will bend the hair ever so slightly towards yourself, so that you see some of the white hairs. Don't bend it too much- just a bit. If you are small like me, you will have to bend the hair at the tip too- if you don't you risk hurting your wrist. So be careful. Practice your bowings slowly over the next few weeks on open strings, first forte and then piano to build strength. Do not integrate your left hand until you have mastered it on open strings, and when the transition at the frog is perfectly seamless. Do this by practicing at the first 3 inches of the frog, remembering to relax the first finger upon every down bow, and using wrist and fingers movements as opposed to arm movements. Play each short bow stroke and then stop- check your form, and then play another bow stroke. Go extremely slowly, as you are integrating the very foundation of your bowing which will be used extensively from now on. Once this is mastered, check yourself by playing from the first 1/4 of your bow to the frog and back, then to the first 1/2 of your bow and back. Once mastered, use full bow strokes. Always contact the bow with the string, and be sure to "squeeze" fingers, utilizing the ring and pinky fingers as support upon the up bow; it does wonders. The next step is to add easy scales, one note per bow, and work up to three notes per bow, and add 3rds and 6ths, first one chord per bow and then working up to three. But, then again I've forgotten something important- the left hand.

This is the not-so-basic basic bow arm, and if I've forgotten anything please forgive me, as it is early and the baby is now coo-ing. Next line of business: the bow arm and the bow hold: a true love story.

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2. the perfect bow hold

February 2, 2012 07:25

The bow hold is fundamental to the principles of the violin. Both awkward and extraordinary, a solid bow hold is worth more in weight than solid gold. Let's begin.
A. Finger placement
1. Hold your bow with your left hand. First, bend your thumb at a 90 degree angle and place it flat up against the bow so that the hair rests on the side of your thumb. The tip of your thumb should be on the stick of the bow. Then (veeerrry important) turn your thumb to the right slightly, so the stick hits the tip of your thumb at an angle. The thumb needs always to be bent and curved like this. Watch carefully as you play, to make sure it doesn't slip, straighten out, or get caught in the gully of your bow near the frog.
2. Curve your index finger and place the first knuckle on the stick. The thumb and index finger will be the primo support for your bowing AT ALL TIMES. Practice these two fingers together as the core for your bow hold.
3. With the thumb and index finger carefully in place, turn the bow upward toward the ceiling and place the index finger on the bow so that the second knuckle is attached to the bow. This will create a beautiful curve in your bow hold that is essential to the angle at which you will play.
4. Put the ring finger (first knuckle) and pinky finger (curved, tip on stick) on the bow.
5. Now, this is the carefully dedicated part. The fingers must feel relaxed. The bow hold is an unnatural pose for a hand. It must be learned in all cases. Take utmost care and time in establishing your bow position as automatic. Do this by taking your hand off the bow, then on again in perfect fashion. Do this many times during the day, using a pencil, anything around. Practice the thumb and index finger as the core.
B. Rudimentary Bow Strokes
1. Play long tones on your violin, keeping the thumb curved properly and fingers curved, not flat or bent. Keep the bow of the violin between the bridge and the fingerboard, not anywhere too close to the bridge, or too close and over the fingerboard. Get all the way to the frog. Do this for ten to fifteen minutes morning and night for two weeks.
2. Play up at the first 3 inches of the frog, using only finger and wrist movements to achieve perfect, solid contact with the bow and string up at the heaviest part of the bow. This will feel awkward but it must be mastered immediately so that your bow strokes are solid, and so that the entire bow can be utilized for performance purposes. Be extra slow and careful in considering this part of your bow. First, place the fingers in the correct position and center your frog on the strings. Stop, and relax your hand. Then, play one short stroke, keeping in perfect contact with the string. Then, play another stroke, going the other direction. Your fingers themselves will be involved and less arm will be involved. Do this just as much as the long bows. Ten minutes twice a day for two weeks.

3. THE BOW ARM (wow, this will be hard to explain... how will I do it??? Baby is sleeping soundly).

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1. learning the violin all over again for the first time

February 2, 2012 07:13

I'm 32 years old and I'm learning the violin all over again. Please join me for this fun adventure, initiated at 5am!

The first thing you want to do is make sure both feet are solid on the floor. Take a small step with your left foot, and balance equally on both feet. This should feel solid. In play position, your balance should be perfect between both feet so that the instrument feels like it's part of your body.

A. Violin Height
1. Your violin should fit comfortably with a shoulder rest so that you can hold the violin with your neck alone, allowing freedom of the left hand for shifts/etc. The height of the violin should be parallel to the floor.
2. Keep a straight, supportive back while you play at all times, even when seated to play. Practice the feeling of being supported by your feet and back while you hold your violin in the play position.
3. The left hand should be comfortably around the neck of the violin with the pads of the fingers stopping the strings. The angle of the fingers is neither curved completely nor flat completely, but somewhere slightly in-between. Use a mirror extensively to make sure your posture and finger placement is supreme.

This will be the next entry! Stay tuned. (Crying baby-- needing to comfort).

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