Scales and a Souvenir: Event 5 of the Violympics

July 30, 2020, 10:18 PM · We’re past the halfway point in Nathan Cole’s Violympics, with three events down and three to go! Besides my degree programs, this is officially the longest course or summer program I’ve ever taken, and it is definitely a marathon. These last two weeks, I definitely felt some fatigue setting in. I was grateful, therefore, that our first week covered scales and vibrato, topics on which Nathan’s teaching brought some new practice techniques and slight adjustments to how I do and practice things.

This, by the way, is a great week to follow along and get a taste of the Violympics in your own practice. Most of the materials covered are public domain and/or easily accessible, and Nathan has free YouTube videos on the main topics we covered so you can experience his teaching for yourself!

Our scale work covered the infamous three-octave scales and arpeggio sequence from Carl Flesch’s Scale System, as well as work with two-octave scales and arpeggios in a single position (starting always with 2nd finger on the G string) to build fluency and speed.

Get your own copy here

I found Nathan’s exercises with note grouping to be particularly valuable, and you can try them for yourself with his YouTube video here - choose whether a two- or three-octave scale is more comfortable for you and give it a a try!

Nathan Cole's Note Grouping Video

The other technical topic discussed this week was vibrato, and the exercises mostly came from Simon Fischer’s excellent book Warming Up. Nathan has used this book a lot with us in the course, and for anyone wanting to get a little taste of the Violympics themselves, I highly recommend picking it up.

Buy Warming Up here.

See Nathan's vibrato video here.

One vibrato exercise which was new to me this week was Nathan’s technique of vibrating one finger, then waving the finger which will play the next note around in the air (while still vibrating the first finger!) before playing it, and so on through a passage.

Our challenge piece for Week 2 was Franz Drdla’s Souvenir, a lovely lyrical piece which united many of the topics from both Event 3 and Event 4: shifting, scales and arpeggios, doublestops, and vibrato! After last event's wonderful experience with a contemporary composer, this event took us back to the early 20th century and introduced us to this little-known Czech composer. Souvenir was written in 1904 and is one of Drdla's many light pieces for violin and piano.

The specific assignments from Nathan on this piece included finding vibrato on every note, including the doublestops, choosing old-finger, new-finger, or exchange shifts, and deciding the degree to which we would slide. One of my favorite assignments was to seek out historic recordings of the piece to hear different interpretations.

Here is the YouTube playlist I made
which includes performances by Fritz Kreisler, Misha Elman, and Maud Powell.

Here is my own performance, and I have to say I’m rather happy with the improvements made in my vibrato this week. I also experimented with some expressive shifts that used some of Nathan's shifting technique, and while I'm not completely sold on it, it was still fun to explore.

We’re on to Event No. 5 (and Week #9!) of the Violympics next … tune in later to read what happens next!

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