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Clayton Haslop

Getting Two Hands Playing as One

January 29, 2010 at 5:33 PM

The other day I wrote some words about playing with a partner. The Bach ‘Double’ was the particular piece in question. And in the course of thinking about that venerable masterpiece, I began thinking about another concern many violinists have; getting the two hands knit together.

In the first movement of the Bach, for instance, there are numerous places where the players have to leap across two or three strings, or suddenly shift from 1st to 3rd positions, while maintaining the steady, uninterrupted flow of 16th notes.

In the haste to make these moves it is not uncommon for the two hands to lose sync with each other. And once that happens, certain ‘sound artifacts’ begin to appear that would definitely have raised an eyebrow or two on old man Bach.

Let’s begin with the case of a shift between to 16th notes.

The tendency here is for the left hand to leave early, while the bow hand is still drawing the previous note. And this is due to the very natural anxiety we have of getting our finger on the note we’re shifting to in time.

In the case of crossing multiple strings, it is usually the reverse. The upper arm, controlling the change of string, wants to ‘jump ship’ early to get to the new note.

Now the solution is really quite simple in both cases, yet it does require discipline and careful mindfulness to technique.

The technique first involves actively visualizing the new pitch whilst not getting ‘pulled away’ from the old. Once you are certain that no automatic, anticipatory movements get triggered by the THOUGHT of the new note, you’re ready for step two.

Step two is to consciously link the change of bow direction, change of string, and change of position. And I have a little trick I use for doing this.

I imagine wearing two gloves connected by a string running across my back and down my arms. Any movement in one hand will produce a corresponding movement in the other.

Now, using this image I think of the change of bow DIRECTION as the linked, ‘trigger’ for the shift, and or change of string.

If you employ this image yourself, you will find that all the elements are suddenly happening as you would like them to be; simultaneously.

Now the only challenge remaining, if there is one, is to arrange for ‘the event’ to happen within the even flow of 16th notes. And that simply means getting back into the counting groove.

Again, this sort of training can be done slowly and out of tempo at first. Once you ‘get it’ you’ll find the way back up to speed can happen very quickly indeed.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 29, 2010 at 8:07 PM

Some good and helpful ideas about how to to this.  I am just trying to figure out how I can remember to do all this and count out loud at the same time.  This will be an enormous challenge.

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on January 30, 2010 at 2:43 AM

This makes sense to me and it is something I talked with James Buswell about last summer who believed the two hands must always move in harmony and in sync with each other. Another noted colleague though felt that the left hand must always be ever so slightly ahead of the bow and even required her students in the early stages of playing to have a finger ready before the bow would move on that note. When she demonstrated or had her students do so it did not appear to be a sudden frantic knee jerk type reaction which, understandably, should be avoided. Do you believe that any such preparatory movements are unnecessary or can they be used without risk as she seemed to be doing with her students?

From Nicholas De Vizzio
Posted on January 30, 2010 at 4:43 AM


I definately agree with Ron and Mr.  Buswell on this one.  I would also like to add a though or two of my own.  First, I think of the left hand as the guiding maestro. Once we have a visulization of where we place the note and how we get there, I also would add that part of this process can be made more efficiently that us string players in general just count out the notes while we are visulizing where we are going.  It is sort of like having the idea of our left hand leading our right, so the bow never travels ahead.  I always like to warm up with scales in the same key and add some of the rythmic difficulties of the very same piece I am performing at the time.



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