March 2008


March 27, 2008 17:58

Can you play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in 1st position on one string?

Playing the violin is all about extending boundaries and pushing limits. The best studies and techniques push us to to exceed limits. Pushing the limits gives us space to express ourselves even in much easier music.

Last night I rehearsed the third movement of the Sibelius 2nd Symphony. It is a fast study in 6/8 time with eighth note patterns. Everyone knows that its easiest to play the patterns with down bow on the first eighth note of every measure. But why should it be? I have noticed that a lot of my colleagues in amateur orchestras rarely play in even numbered positions? Why? Why do we avoid extensions or extended finger patterns? (Brivati-Sensei mentioned that Gingold asked his students to play Dont No. 2 in one extended pattern per 4 note group. Why not?)

Its interesting that some of the best studies focus very much on extremes. What is Yost but a study in the extremes of shifting: scales and arpeggios on one string using one finger, any two fingers etc? What about son filé? Dounis is all about almost every conceivable limit. Paganini is also a big limit stretcher. He gets them all, thirds, sixths, fingered octaves, tenths, left hand pizzicato, double harmonics (not in the Caprices though), ricochet, staccato, etc. etc. Is there a harder bow stroke than the original bowing for Caprice No. 5?

I think that every study from Wolfhart to Kreutzer and on to Paganini etc. should be approached as a question in extending limits. Can we play more notes per bow? Can we play it in one position? Can we play it on one string? Can we play it with one finger? two fingers? Can we ricochet up bow and down bow one measure at a time? Can we transpose it up a minor second? a minor third? For players in earlier stages of development can we play something without moving the shoulder? the elbow? the wrist? Can we play from frog to tip?

It isn't enough to just try to do something at a limit. One has to consider how the old limits can be breached and new limits set. What postures are necessary, what motions are required, what has to be suppressed, what exaggerated?

This is daunting to consider. I used to see success as a huge mountain peak in the distance. Now I see it as a mountain range, still in the distance, full of jagged and formidable peaks. The most daunting of all is musicality. I hardly know where to start.

11 replies | Archive link

Marked parts

March 20, 2008 09:38

I was invited to perform in a long established amateur orchestra. They had their first rehearsal for the upcoming concert a week ago (I was unable to be there). I went last night. It is a decent group but it is the same old story. No marked parts.

I know this is largely preaching to the choir but if you are the concertmaster or conductor or music director of an amateur or student orchestra (I am presuming that this isn't a problem in professional orchestras) please do not go to the first rehearsal without parts with marked bowings --all of them. Better yet send them out in advance.

Once upon a time orchestras passed out printed parts. Marking all the parts was a job for the librarian and it was time consuming, tedious, and error prone. Now most buy a set of parts and photocopy the concertmaster's or principal's marked part and distribute it. This isn't that hard to do.

It is totally disrespectful of volunteer time to not have marked parts available. Leadership entails responsibility. Take it seriously.

I spoke to one musician friend about this. He says that you can effectively double your rehearsal time by

1. Marking all bowings
2. Marking all changes in dynamics
3. Marking articulations, ritardandos
4. Indicating conducting pattern (e.g. fast 4/4 passage conducted in 2, slow 6/4 passage conducted in 6)
5. Indicating tempo changes especially where change is a multiple of the previous tempo (quarter note = half note, mm 120-124
6. Adding measure numbers and verifying rehearsal numbers and where necessary adding supplemental rehearsal markings (A1, A2).
7. If you have a good one indicating a fingering for a challenging passage
8. In expressive passages marking where you want audible shifts to occur
9. Marking or emphasizing the string you want a passage played on (e.g. all on the G string until...)
10. etc.

He conducts a junior high school orchestra for a summer music clinic. He always receives comments on how well his first rehearsals go. He says its no secret. He marks everything well in advance and sends parts to attendees at least a month before the first rehearsal.

This is the most tiresome aspect of playing in an amateur orchestra. Strike for marked parts!

11 replies | Archive link

The violin is not a piano....(but maybe its an organ)

March 8, 2008 18:27

For nigh on 29 years now the organ has been a very active part of my life. I don't play it at all. My wife does. I was describing my last post to her on holding fingers down and preparing fingers and she reminded me of the challenge of playing the organ. The organ only makes a tone when a key is held down. There is no pedal for sustaining like on the piano. Organists have to learn how to keep fingers down on notes and how to slither onto the next chords in order to create a real legato sound. They do a lot of planning.

It really is this way on the violin. It isn't just a matter of lifting and dropping the fingers like hammers. The violin would sound pretty clunky if all we did was drop a finger down to play a note. In fact probably half the time we sound a note by lifting a higher finger on an already placed note. We can enhance this by thinking of different ways to move the fingers on the strings. We can slide the fingers lightly across strings (practice ascending scales in 4ths to see what this means or a descending scale in sixths). We can roll the finger or the hand to the right to stop a note on an adjacent string. We can squeeze the string slightly to the left to cover a lower string (practice ascending scales in sixths without lifting the fingers or dscending scales in fourths).

This also means that we need to be conscious of how far to the left or right we place of finger to optimize the motion. This is a lot of thinking and planning but we don't have to do it very long before this becomes second nature. When we do this we find just how early we can prepare a note. Frequently it s a lot sooner than one thinks.

This really becomes a necessity when one starts to play harder etudes and studies that require multiple stopping. But the payoff for starting the simplest studies with this mindset would be enormous.

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