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Corwin Slack


November 26, 2008 at 4:35 AM

Two things have occupied my thoughts for the last while.

These are both problematic. The first because the information is so dense and has to be explicated in order to really learn a piece well. The explication is very time consuming, requires enormous scholarship, erudition and acuity. The process to do it quickly for successive pieces is so vital to building a repertory, learning how to sight read effectively  and also to turn it into music. 

The second is because there is so much that depends on knowledge that is not conveyed in the music. Performance practices, cultural context etc may not be at all contained in the notation. An audible shift here? Why? At the frog here? At the tip there? Why? These bow divisions for this phrase? Why? How do I remember everything? It is hard enough taking out one's hicks and tics that make something grotesque or ugly and then we have to add in subtleties and nuances that are not cliched to make something beautiful.

It is becoming clearer that one needs to turn more of notation into words and symbols  and also to add words and symbols for things that are only implicit in the music. These words may be added to the page but for sure they have to be added to one's mental concept of the music and its technical execution. We already add bowings and fingers. We may even add words and symbols. Perhaps we need a language for notating bow divisions and possibly a better notation for indicating what is happening in the entire left hand. When does a finger move? Where does it move to? I have written other blogs on notating finger patterns.

In the end though I don't think one should have an end goal of having a million notations on a score. But we do need a million notations in our heads. We need to learn how to analyze more quickly so that it isn't just about storage. Some time ago I wrote a blog about sudoku. I don't see any link between sudoku and violin playing but if you look at the sequence 79146 how long does it take you to say that 2358 are missing? This is a basic skill in sudoku. So it is with looking at a score. One must be able to translate the notation into instructions for the hands and fingers and arms and etc. to execute.

The more explicit we can make the instructions, the better and sooner we can prepare the motion, the more instructions we have in the queue the better (to a point obviously).

This takes words. More words and more words until words become a part of you.


From Jerald Archer
Posted via on November 26, 2008 at 10:07 PM

Your blog subject is interesting. I have always considered the "notated" page as only a simple guide to personal interpretation and usually will change many fingerings and bowings that are usually better suited to the historical context of the composition and my own personal interpretation. Of course, this would be disasterous in an orchestral situation, but on should  consider how the conductor usually does this anyway, which makes their version "unique". In the case of new modern works, it is  the composers responsibility to include indications of dynamics, expressions and so fourth, often using unheard of terms they may invent. Sometimes this is not even the case. In the past, overt editing was not always so involved, as players of a particular era simply played the music with common sense and the prevailing tastes of the day. Today, I wish I would see more histoically correct interpretations of many works, and hear more personal interpretations of them, as well. The markings in many well known published works of the past are not particularly how the composer would have had them, but rather it is the work of a particular editor who "modernized" the work, often to point of losing historical accuracy in every aspect. It's like publishing an edition of Shakespeare in modern english. 

From Stephen Brivati
Posted via on November 26, 2008 at 11:09 PM


interesting topic and very enjoyable blog.  I think words are onf the most neglected elemnts of violin pedagogy,  although the other side of the coin is they are ultimately meaningless if the music is being heard.

Its been on my mind becaus eof an experience a few weeks back playign Bachilianis Brazilieros (?) no 8 with a well known and very gifted semi profesisonal guitarist I often do duet recitals with.  He rang me on 48 hours notice to play the piece and I agreed without having any knowledge of it whatsover (stupid me). He turned up at the door and we wnet through it and a syou probbaly know there is a middle section that repeats the same note over and over ad naseau stopping for about 8 pauses en route.   We went through it a few times and it seemd awful to me so we left it and kind of sat staring at it for a while before it dawened on this dumkoff thta it wa sactually a setting of a poem and that the only way you could play it was to work out the exact articulations of the words and reproduce them ont he instrument. (Good job I`m a lingust,  albeit rather dense at times).  WE met upp the next day and I mad emy friend go through it word for word until he got the point and we actually pulle dit off.  Alas,  he hasn`t spoken to me since.

The other area where I fidn players so relcutant to use words (especially in Japan) is in chamber music.  Yes,  there are times when it is just better to paly over and over until undertsanding is achived but it relaly is the one media where one can often only move forward by constanly asking the other players `What are you trying to do here?`  What character do you envisage?`  More often than not four people are in four completley differnet zones and didn`t have a cluethta this was the problem but until one has a unified vision of character progres sis slow at best.   In essence chamber music multiplies tenfoold all the issues you raise above,



From Corwin Slack
Posted via on November 27, 2008 at 2:14 PM

I think that the artistic discussion frequently occurs especially between performers who want to convey their impression of the music and its content to others. But often there is no internal dialog. The words are not attached to the music until there is someone else to say them to.

I think we need to describe the music, the sequences, the techniques etc. to ourselves much more explicitly, even if we have no intention of discussing it with anyone else. 

In words we ought to be able to describe the length of every shift (in interval size, in number of half steps, etc.) We ought to be able to put words on every finger pattern that we should form. We ought to be able to indicate every place where fingers will cover multiple strings, where every finger will be prepared etc. etc. and that is just technical sequencing and execution in the left hand.We have a huge number of issues with the bow and we have a very weak descriptive language for bowing (how many definitions of detaché have you heard?).

But whenever we add words to some aspect of the problem it seems that we can solve the problem. In fact isn't much of teaching just putting in to words a teacher's analysis of problems? How often does the student resist the words? (I think about 90% of the time.) If the student can make the teachers words his/her own words then progress is made. Sometimes the student has to find their own words. Hopefully teachers can give them a grammar and a vocabulary to express themselves in words. Sometimes teachers don't have this grammar and vocabulary and a student needs to move on. 

But the words are just the seed of something that grows in us. In time we integrate these words into our consciousness (and perhaps or unconscious)  and they become an element of our being.

The word becomes flesh in us if you will allow the expression. 

From Drew Lecher
Posted via on November 27, 2008 at 4:15 PM

Hi Corwin,

Wonderful points. It is certainly true that the musician/artist must understand and define in their own words what they are after and how they are going to get there.

“But we do need a million notations in our heads.”

Absolutely and there are no page turns in the mind, just clarity of thought in ordered sequences conveying the heart and soul of the music as we perceive and interpret the score.

“This takes words. More words and more words until words become a part of you.”

Words turned back into thoughts and emotions, attitudes, characters, colors, movement whether of joy or sadness, victory or defeat, exuberance or weariness, etc.

Here are a few definitions/embellishments for Détaché.

Détaché – The basic but all-important stroke from which everything else is derived – notes are well sustained and played with individual and connected bow strokes of any length.

1. Détaché Décisivement/Decisive Détaché – A sustained tone with distinct bow changes.

2. Détaché Lancé – A very quick, short and lively stroke, without accent and yet released from the initial start.

3. Détaché Porté – No initial accent due to a slight swell or sneaking into the note at the beginning of the stroke followed by a lightening and relaxing of the tone to the end of the stroke.

4. Grande Détaché – Similar to détaché with extraordinary length given to the stroke, increases breadth of tone and character that is well sustained.

5. Détaché Pulsé/Pulsed Détaché – Begin the stroke with additional weight and speed of bow followed by a release, retaining fluidity of motion and never stopping the bow. In certain instances the bow may minimally leave the string at the end of the stroke – make sure the return landing is of utmost elegance and refinement appropriate to the passage.

6. Détaché Lié/Legato Détaché – Seamlessly connected strokes. See Bow Fingers/Hand/Arm, 8c.

Hope this contributes a bit—


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