July 21, 2008 at 3:01 AMWhat has this got to do with violin playing? I don't know maybe something. I started to play Sudoku about a year ago. At first I solved puzzles in books I bought. Then I started playing it on-line. On-line I can compare my time with averages for various levels of difficulty. I am not fast. I am not even average. But I have improved over time. I now can look at a row or column or sub-square (I can't explain, you'll just have to try it) and almost instantaneously pick out the missing numbers. It takes a lot more than that to get fast. I am not even sure what it really takes to get a lot faster. When I play difficult puzzles I find myself notating the little squares with all the possible entries. On easier puzzles I try to avoid any notations. Writing everything down takes times and it can actually cause you to miss seeing important patterns that help solve the puzzle.
I have been practicing some chamber music lately. Its about two notches more difficult than anything I have played previously. I have noticed that I have developed a bad habit. In the past I notated fingerings very thoroughly. The parts I have for this piece only notate fingerings (just one) at a change of position or an extension. Nothing more. Rarely less. The fingerings are very playable but I find myself shifting when no shift is indicated. This is an indication of my lack of discipline in reading notations and following them scrupulously. I also find myself frequently getting backwards on a bowing. The up and down bow symbols are very sparingly used in these parts but if you follow all the slurs, the bowings work out perfectly. There should be no need for extra markings.
I have posted several blogs on finger patterns and notating finger patterns. I have decided that notating finger patterns should be done on a couple of etudes but after that one must learn to mentally grasp the pattern without a notation.
So what is my point? Like Sudoku one can mark up a piece and "solve" it. But you'll always be a slow solver. There are many intermediate skills that must be mastered to become a fast solver of music (and Sudoku). These intermediate skills don't show up in treatises on violin playing. Teachers teach them casually or as an aside.
The chamber music repertory is huge. When you look in the catalogs you can see all the same groups playing almost all of it. They didn't get there by re-marking every fingering and every bowing. Something got internalized.
They learned how to learn.
So I am teaching myself how to learn.
I have posted at least three times on different marking schemes. You may want to review the archive. i.e. I have been a bit fanatical about patterns.
I would either mark by describing a pattern as number of half steps (122 is a half step with two whole steps)
or use the traditional half step (upside down V, whole step (sideways bracket, or X for minor third.)
In any event one shouldn't turn notations into crutches.
Many violinists today like to speak about the "Vulcan salute" left-hand finger pattern, which could be represented as [12 34]. This is of course derived from a gesture by the character Mr. Spock, half-human and half-Vulcan, in the famous "Star Trek" television show. A layer behind that, it is an ancient Hebrew ritual gesture of benediction.
On the TV show Mr. Spock associates it with the courteous greeting "live long and prosper".
Why not give cute names to some of the other finger patterns we encounter?
[1 23 4] could be called "the fox", because it is similar to the right-hand "fox" position used by Suzuki teachers to train young violin beginners in the proper bow hold.
[1 2 3] and [2 3 4] are "triple spreads".
 and  are "triple squashes".
[1 2 3 4] and  are respectively "quad spread" and "quad squash".
[1 2 34] and [12 3 4] are two varieties of "turkey", based on the appearance of the turkey's so-called comb on his head. (A "turkey" could also be described as a "triple spread" plus a half-step.)
There are still more possibilities if the spaces between the fingers are extended beyond a whole step.
Also, the fingers may not all be on the same string. Then we say something like, "A quad spread across four strings", or "A vulcan salute across two strings."
My students seem grateful for this mental tool. It certainly has been a help to me.
Because mastery is the only way out of perpetual "solving." You have to DO it, and way more than you think you do. 10,000 times, says Suzuki.
Sight reading in orchestra is another good way to force the issue. ;)
I remember when I first began studies with Leonard Sorkin, 1st violinist and founder of The Fine Arts Quartet. They did weekly live broadcasts on WFMT in Chicago, etc.
When I first saw his music……there were no fingerings and a few bowing modifications — even in the Bartok and other 20th Century works!
He just read the music, identified the patterns and was able to change a fingering instantaneously if desired or inspired:-)
That was a major eye-opener.
Go for it:-)
I recently came across a nice book called "Superior Finger Exercises" for violin, bu Emanuel Ondricek, edited by Charles Castleman and Allyson Dawkins. It is $10.00, and published by Southern Music Company. You might find it useful.
Also, I like doing the Sudoku puzzles on the New York Times website. They have three new puzzles every day!
Before I learned the patterns, I would mark soooo many fingerings on my music. It was becoming diffult to play advanced pieces with all the extra marks. Now, my marks are limited to the shifts. Not quite ready for no marks at all yet.
1. Cross out fingerings that I reject and add the finger after a shift.
2. Emphasize with bigger writing any fingering that is illegibly small (I am in my mid 50s
3. Only mark bowing hanges without added up and down bow symbols
4. Only emphasize slurs that cross from one line to the next
I think that someone who is memorizing a work (i.e. concertos and show pieces) may be more justified in marking it up to learn it than someone who is learning chamber music or symphonic music to read it. It has been suggested that it is considered bad form in top symphony orchestras to add your personal fingerings to parts.
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