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Corwin Slack


July 21, 2008 at 3:01 AM

What 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.

From Laurie Trlak
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 11:21 AM
Finger patterns is something my teachers have emphasized for me, but I still have a hard time remembering to do them. I, too, do Sudoku, and while I've been aware that there are patterns there, I just haven't been able to internalize them either. I know that my speed would improve if I could internalize finger patterns. Any suggestions on how to do this?
From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 12:39 PM
Laurie, Just do it. In tbe beginning just annotate the music but after you have done it once or twice try to annotate it mentally.
From Betsy Taylor
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 3:58 PM
This is an excellent topic! Reminds me of how I hate all the fingerings written in on the Suzuki books. I have never notated a finger pattern. What markings would you use?
From Donna Clegg
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 4:17 PM
Nice analogy, Corwin. You've inspired me to stop overmarking the Sudoku puzzles and maybe even some of my music.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 4:25 PM
Betsey now don't get me going! :)

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.

From Neal Donner
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 4:00 PM
Finger patterns can indeed be difficult to remember. But it gets a lot easier if you give them silly names.

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".

[123] and [234] are "triple squashes".

[1 2 3 4] and [1234] 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.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 4:44 PM
I'm glad you wrote about this concept, because it is often difficult to convey to the student who just keeps asking "Why?" Why do I need scales? Etudes? Why should I memorize a piece?

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. ;)

From Drew Lecher
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 5:08 PM

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:-)

From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 5:34 PM
Hello, my name is Anne, and I have a Sudoku problem...

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!

From Mendy Smith
Posted on July 22, 2008 at 6:09 AM
I too use the finger patterns book by Emanuel Ondricek. My teacher assigned it to me for my scales. It took MONTHS to get the pattern part of fingerings to finally click. Since then, 5 sharps or 5 flats don't send me into a panic when I see it notated in the sheet music.

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.

From Jay Azneer
Posted on July 22, 2008 at 2:18 PM
Corwin your remarks about solving a piece hit me because I have been working the Goldmark concerto and I have marked it up quite a bit as far as fingerings and have pencilled in places that I tend to shift incorrectly with big red 'restez' to prevent those unnecessary shifts which are hard to recover from. But what really tickled me was coming across the Goldmark that is on IMSLP only to discover that some of the same odd solutions I had applied were used by this anonymous fiddler 80+ years ago. I guess like sudoku many of us come to the same conclusions about how to solve a work's problem passages.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 22, 2008 at 3:44 PM
Jay, For now I am trying to limit myself to the following changes to printed parts

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.

From Kim Vawter
Posted on July 24, 2008 at 7:12 AM
I am a "pattern" learner. I visualize the choreography
of the finger work. It is great when we finally realize what kind of learners we are and can diagnose our own way to learn something. I think I will try the sudoku puzzles again as an exercise. I got the electric gizmo on sale after Christmas and tossed it into a drawer meaning to figure it out some day.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on July 24, 2008 at 9:47 AM
Kim, Have fun with the Sudoku. But I am not sure that there is any neural connection between Sudoku and violin playing. I am just making an analogy.

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