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March 2010

The Soul of a Bow Arm

March 30, 2010 12:25

 Last night was pretty remarkable.  Believe it or not, a violin lover arrived in Sedona all the way from Korea to have a violin ‘intensive’ with me. 

 And no, he was NOT an aspiring professional looking to make inroads into the Hollywood film recording business.

 Naturally I had to give him my best ‘stuff’, which for him involved taking his tone production to a whole new level.

 You see, like many folks I see, my Korean friend had a number of little bug-a-boos in his bow arm.  And taken together these resulted in significantly limiting his effectiveness to produce a compelling tone, much less one that could be finely nuanced to express a range of colors and feelings.

 In short his playing sounded amateurish and fell far short of his aspiration that ‘Milstein tone’ he so desires from his instrument.

 Now, his bow-hold and arm movements looked pretty good, at first glance.  Being basically self-taught I was actually surprised at how good he ‘looked’ whilst playing. 

 Yet, as I say, his tone and expression were far from the mark.

 Then I began watching the bow itself as it was drawn across the strings.  And on every stroke I could see that the bow stick dipped down and back up like a ship riding up and down ocean swells.

 At the same time I noticed that with each bow he took, the speed increased toward the middle and trailed off at extremes, adding to the queasiness I felt as a listener.

 And there is one additional thing.  I noticed that his bow tracked very consistently toward the fingerboard side of the playing surface. 

 You’ll never produce anything very substantial in the way of tone with your ‘point of contact’ always being closer to the fingerboard than to the bridge.

 Well, it didn’t take long for me to step in, lift the hood, so to speak, and start making some adjustments.

 You see, in spite of his good form he was falling short in a few areas that could really make for big changes in his effectiveness.

 The whole secret of a gorgeous tone, one that listeners just can’t get enough of, is getting a ‘hold’ on the string on not letting it go; from one end of the bow to the other.

 In other words, you must place a certain amount of weight on the string and keep it there from tip to frog.

 Now, granted, when you mean to play quietly you can allow the bow to move away from the bridge as you ‘suspend’ your arm weight in space.

 But in every case, control of the tone is about consistency of bow speed, pressure and placement, from tip to stern.  Not one of these can be neglected to produce a fine result.

 So I gave him some things to practice at home.

 They are the same sorts of exercises, in fact, that you will find in both my ‘Beginners Circle’ course – for entry level players, and my ‘Allegro Players’ program – for more intermediate level players.

 Of course my new friend could have placed himself far ahead of the game had he worked with one of these courses before coming to see me.  He certainly plans to become a subscriber on his return home.

 Yet the trip was not a waste in his eyes by any means.  As he expressed it to me, it meant a lot to him just to come and meet someone whose playing he has enjoyed listening to on Youtube for many months.

 I could not have been more flattered.

 All the best,

 Clayton Haslop

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The Vibrato Twitch, part 2

March 10, 2010 13:02

Don’t know if you tuned in to the Oscars last night.  It was great to see the very talented Michael Giacchino take home the award for best musical score.  There is FEELING dripping from every note of the score to the movie ‘UP’.

This morning finds me still thinking about vibrato, however.  You see after my last newsletter I received one response that seemed to question the sense of starting the motion from below the pitch.

And the writer is right in noting that this does not conform to traditional thinking about vibrato.  I, myself was taught to start at the pitch and oscillate down and back up, in fact.  And it worked for me.

Yet it is clearly not working for a number of folks out there who have tried this for a considerable amount of time and still can’t make the ‘jump’ from slow, measured motions to quick, automatic ones.

So I did more experimenting over the weekend.  And I noticed two additional things.  First, when I ‘twitch’ my hand toward my body it more readily reassumes a relaxed state on the rebound than the reverse; something that is very important. 

And secondly, if you think of the vibrato as a series of automatic ‘twitches’ of the wrist, you will hear the strongest sound indication at the apex of the twitch.  If the twitch energy is sent downward, then, the result is a note that sounds flat and best.

Combine that with a reluctance of the hand to relax on the rebound and the effect is even worse.

Now, having said that, bear in mind that the twitch upward is quite rapid and coincides right with the first beat of time.  In other words, the apex of the first twitch and the beat are simultaneous to the ear.

Once you can do one ‘twitch’ quite cleanly, as I outlined in my last post, you indeed have the beginnings of a fine vibrato.

And yesterday I experimented further with this twitch approach.  At first I measured and ‘counted’ each one, pretty much as I outlined in the last newsletter. 

Then I counted on every OTHER twitch, every third twitch, every fourth, and so forth.

Doing this had the result of giving little pulses to the twitches.  And the ‘weak’ twitches – or rebounds – became the ‘automatic’ motions that I think are so elusive to some players.

So you see, it’s never a bad thing to pulse your twitches! 

Yet seriously, even if you have a decent vibrato, this sort of practice and control is useful.  It ensures that the hand remains relaxed as you vibrate, and that the vibrato is even and purposeful when it is used.

Now all this being said it is important that the twitches I’ve been talking about have a certain form.  And that form is what I demonstrate quite clearly in month 7 of my Beginners Circle program.

Of course the program provides a whole lot more instruction than what you need to master a beautiful vibrato.  In fact it’s truly a one-of-a-kind resource for the novice violinist who wants to PLAY the instrument and not just dilly-dally around with it.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

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The Vibrato Twitch

March 8, 2010 09:56

The past few days I’ve been doing the spring cleanup around our property.  And let me tell you, there isn’t a plant in Arizona that doesn’t have at least two ways to scratch, poke, bite, or otherwise draw blood from you if you try to alter their personal destiny in the slightest way.

Fortunately, none of the insults to my physical being have proved life threatening, so far.

Now, during my off time I’ve been taking another look at vibrato.

It seems that some folks have difficulty going from the slow, deliberate motion to the quick, automatic oscillation that characterizes a true vibrato.

Today I believe I have an approach that will solve the matter, once and for all.

Here’s what you do.

Place your hand in first position and take a pitch with one finger, you choose.

Actually I want you to begin with that finger ‘rolled back’ slightly, on the pad of the finger, with very light pressure on the string.  And since the finger is ‘rolled back’ the pitch should actually be about a quarter of a tone flat from what it normally is.

Ok, now, with your hand and arm relaxed, I want you to send a quick impulse to your wrist such that it gives a light, fast twitch toward your nose.

When you make this twitch you will notice a couple things; the finger you’re playing will be pushed into the string slightly and released, the pitch will rise to ‘in tune’ and fall back down, and your wrist will return to the relaxed state it was in just before the twitch.

This little ‘event’ should be like the blink of an eye.

Now, once you have done this a few times without trying to measure it in any way, see if you can repeat it once a second.

After this is managed, on each finger, move to twice a second. 

Up to this point each twitch, or pulsation, is controlled consciously. 

Now you are going to twitch four times within a second.  And at this point the first impulse will be given consciously, yet the second will be almost a reverberation.  And as such, it will be automatic.

The final step, and one you may already have taken, is to string several beats together.  And there you have it, vibrato.

Now, one of the mistakes people make in trying to master vibrato is to force it.  Uh-uh.

Start flat, toward the pad of the finger, relax everything, and pulse.  Each pulse should be clean, quick, and return the finger to the starting point; that is, BELOW the pitch of the note.  And everything is relaxed.

You see, the pitch level that is audible to the ear is the one where the finger is at its apex.  Why this is so is simply that that is where the finger is most pointedly in the string.  If you start from the pitch and go up from there, as some folks do, you will have a tendency to sound sharp to everyone else.

Good luck, and…

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

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