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June 2009

Those Annoying Little Finger Sounds

June 21, 2009 10:05

Two weeks ago I returned from the City of Angels.  No recording sessions this time.  Instead I attended a special screening of the movie ‘Up’ – for the orchestra with my family.

‘Up’ was indeed an up experience - a touching, genuinely funny, worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours. 

And the music was more effective than even I thought it would be.

While I was gone, many emails poured in.  A few came with questions.  Here’s one you might find interesting and relevant to yourself.

"Hi Clayton. Greetings from Singapore!

"I received your Kreutzer for Violin Mastery (1+2) last week and started viewing them. From the intro, I read that you are willing to entertain our questions via email. I jumped with joy as I am currently without a teacher (though I do try to practice "with much thinking" 2 hours a day in addition to taking care of 2 young kids).

"Please enlighten me regarding my long-standing difficulties:

"For example, first playing a G (first pos, D string) then a B (first pos, A string). Short, detache strokes. Somehow when I lift the 3rd finger (which corr. to the first note), it will make quite a very audible ring.

"I have seen this discussed on Youtube, but the answer didn't really help me.

"What is the fundamental technical flaw there? I always thought I was quite good in finger lifting, putting down and articulation in general." 

Thanks for your help,

Renee, there are 2 possibilities here. Either you are drawing your finger slightly sideways as you lift it, hence the little pluck, or there is ‘surface tension’ developing between your finger and the string, resulting in a ‘pop’ when the finger is lifted.

In both cases I would take a look at the amount of finger pressure you are bringing to the string. 

The less pressure you can use, and still maintain the tone you want, the better.

That being said, in humid conditions a little ‘tackiness’ between finger and string may be unavoidable.  In recording sessions, in fact, I’m very careful not to lift fingers from the string at the end of quiet cues - many times I’ve heard sound engineers complain of having to trim those little sounds away.

As far as plucking the string goes, the cure must be pretty self-evident – lift straight up.  But again, using less force on the strings will make everything more relaxed, fluid and clean - and you may find that just doing this one thing remedies the problem.

Now, in my Beginner's Circle program I do teach a little left hand pizzicato exercise. It is excellent for developing control and flexibility in the small muscles of finger and hand.

This exercise though is not meant to be the model for left hand articulation in general. 

And one last thing.  In slow, quiet sections one can avoid the surface tension I talked of by sliding the finger slightly up or down the string as you lift it.  Obviously one’s bow cannot be in motion as this is done.  We’re talking the ends of phrases or before rests here.

So, this evening you do have my permission to take the night off to see ‘UP’.  In fact, it’ll make my day if you do. Enjoy the violin solos too!

All the Best,
Clayton Haslop

P.S.  To celebrate Father's Day and the beginning of Summer, I'm having a big Saleabration. Be sure to check it out.

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Stronger In A New Way

June 6, 2009 16:21

This morning I had a rather profound realization.  I think you're going to enjoy it.

As we grow we are constantly challenged to caste off outdated and inefficient ways of doing things.  Thing is, our minds and muscles often spend years defending them far below the level of consciousness. 

And sometimes, either through a great expenditure of will or an abundance of talent, we give off the appearance of success.

Inevitably, however, events can come to a breaking point.  In fact it should be seen as a blessing when they do.  They are, after all, clear and present opportunities for personal growth.

So let’s say you’ve reached such a place, and let’s also assume that you’ve got a fair idea of what change you need to graft into your playing and/or musical thinking to remedy the difficulty.

There is still the challenge of rooting the new habit or way of doing something so firmly and deeply that it consistently supersedes the ‘old way’ in performance.

Yep, the best of intentions can just dematerialize like a desert mirage when the pressure is on, can’t they.

What I realized today very powerfully, however, is that it is possible to meet this challenge, providing you do the following:

Make the case for the new SO compelling and attractive that your body-spirit reaches for it, and nothing else - even when the heat is on.

Now, I find that doing some seemingly unrelated activity along with the one I’m trying to adopt into my playing is essential to this end.  Verbalizing the beat, visualizing the music in your mind, and moving your feet to the music can all be useful. 

The point is you’ve got to take your learning to a deeper level than that held by what your are replacing, and beyond any shadow of doubt held secretly in mind.

Yes, the process can be uncomfortable at times.  That’s to be expected, in fact. 

After all, if playing in public is uncomfortable to you, creating and meeting a challenge of greater discomfort can be quite disarming to that vulnerability.

So I say, "Bring it on."

And don’t forget the ‘once difficult now easy’ reality we’ve experienced with every skill we’ve ever mastered.  There is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by putting up with a little extra, purposeful discomfort to increase the effectiveness and potency of this effect. 

As I’ve said in my courses, if you can play and count a piece simultaneously, with accuracy and control, it leaves you way ahead of the game when you, say, surrender the counting in favor of following a conductor.

So there you have it. 

To surrender bad habits you must not only discover more effective ways of doing things - you must also root those new ways more deeply in the mind and body than what they replace.

All My Best,

Clayton Haslop

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