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Clayton Haslop

Points of Refinement

March 30, 2009 at 9:11 PM

Once upon a time I was having tea in the middle of one of my coachings with Nathan Milstein, and the talk turned to the issue of scratch.

No, not what chickens do whilst in the pursuit of nourishment; what too many violinists do when putting bow to string.

Anyway, Milstein told me about a time Perlman visited.  He, himself, had asked about this very thing, feeling he ‘scratched’ more than he would like. 

Milstein told me he said to him, ‘you scratch because you scratch.’

Pretty funny, as I think back on it. 

What the master was really trying to say was that on some level an inattention to detail had become habitual.

Fortunately there is a way out of this, and I’ll tell you about it.  But not before I add that Itzhak Perlman is definitely NOT a scratchy violinist.  In fact, at the time I was quite surprised that he would have had any concerns whatsoever on the subject.

Now, scratch happens when the amount of pressure on the string is not matched by an appropriate amount of horizontal bow movement.  Most often it occurs at changes of bow direction, particularly at the frog. 

One of the things I stress from the first months of my ‘Beginners Circle’ course and through every course I have produced on playing the violin, is the importance of keeping the bow moving horizontally and evenly.

It’s one of those things you just cannot take for granted.  And I myself find that I must slow down and go back to school on the specifics of doing this, from time to time, to keep my bow arm scratch free.
Yet there is another big producer of scratch.  It’s the kind of splatting scratch heard when the bow is brought down too forcefully from above the string to create an accent.

I call this a ‘Hack-cent.’

The problem here is one of timing and control.  The timing is in getting the arrival at the string to coincide exactly with the horizontal movement of the arm; of transferring the downward force into what I’d call ‘horizontalized’ force.

In other words, the energy makes an immediate 90 degree turn, the bow stays glued to the string, and the amount of vertical pressure arriving on the string matches the bow speed perfectly.

Now, again, this can be broken down and practiced quite slowly and easily.  But one has to hear there is a problem before a problem can be fixed.  And unfortunately, many players have come to accept certain ‘mannerisms’ in their playing to the point they no longer register consciously.

Yet it's never to late to question every sound coming out of your violin.  To ask yourself, must this scratch, this unsightly bulge, this unvibrated note remain as it is?  Now what am I going to do to fix it?

All the best,
Clayton Haslop

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 30, 2009 at 11:01 PM

So true! 


From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 4:34 AM

"Hack-cent," LOL I love it!

From Jose Correia
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 4:28 PM

Thanks this helped me a lot

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 6:23 PM

Enjoyed reading this!

And the line below creates a great image.

 >It’s the kind of splatting scratch heard when the bow is brought down too forcefully from above the string to create an accent.

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