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Drew Lecher


October 22, 2008 at 6:13 AM


(In response to W’s inquiry regarding slow practice…)

1. "Slow practice is the key to at tempo accuracy and success. This is a common and fundamental principle of instrumental practice.”

How slow is slow?

I do not literally subscribe to this “common and fundamental” principle.

Moderate tempos, yes, dead slow, rarely — and then, only with extremely specific purpose and goals to be achieved.

Fast passages are the ones we really slow down in dramatic ratios, adding varied rhythms for mastery of execution and control. (In an interview conducted by Prof. Brian Lewis, Itzhak Perlman said "Get really used to one rhythm, then destroy it with another." This singular tip will help all who dare try.

A passage in 16ths that is not worked rhythmically will never be as accurate and secure as one that is thoroughly practiced, i.e., 2-16ths and 2- 8ths alternating and then permutate the rhythmic pattern. Work each up to the 8th = 208.

When doing this, the grouping of note patterns is tremendously strengthened along with intonation. This will also develop the interpretive skills as one hears the passages in new and different rhythmic sequences — the player should appropriately inflect the notes’ character according to the pattern being played as the leading tones take on differing rolls.

Combine memorization and bowing variables and you have an unbeatable combination, not to mention keeping the mind and reflexes totally alert and keenly coordinated.

This last point is the main reason I do not advocate dead slow practice. It is truly dead and zombie-like. Mentally — as the player enters a dazed and dull mental state — and physically — as the player’s reflexes of nerves and muscles become lethargic, heavy, tiresome, and wearisome. This, of course, must not be permitted — I will address this specifically in a following blog.

2. “However, connecting one's slow practice work to performance tempo must be analyzed. In terms of intonation (which is a large reason for practicing slowly and my chief inquiry), one can hear the slightest pitch inaccuracy at a slow tempo and can adjust quickly. One practices in this way to correct and reinforce good habits. But what if things don't carry through to the performance tempo?... Have people found a way around this?; How can one's intonation work, especially, in slow practice carry through to performance tempo? Even if one is ‘overly secure’ at a slow tempo, the traditional method of notching up the metronome doesn't work securely and consistently for me!!!”

We can hear the slightest pitch inaccuracy if we remain awake:-)

What are the good habits to be “reinforced” in order to successfully master and perform the passage?

Speeding up the passage and loosing the accuracy we thought was achieved. With this I will focus on tempos that are to be greatly increased in speed.

The player is to constantly guide the proportion, balance, positioning with easy, continuous fluid motions required for the passage.

Scales and arpeggios are practiced for years and remain out of tune by even quite advanced players. It is within the above statement that they lack the necessary mastery. It is not difficult to achieve accuracy; it simply takes the correct approach.

The fingers must be easily and accurately thrown from the knuckles with the form/shape set before the throw. (I highly recommend “Repetition Hits” as the best and by far most efficient method to achieve this level of mastery.)

Upon contact with the string/fingerboard the finger must be totally stable — no roll or wobble to the ‘hit.’ This should initially be done without vibrato, enabling us to hear the absolute pitch.

If the passage is fast, including rapid string crossings and/or shifts, we must accommodate the future speeding up. When practicing a fast passage slowly, plan on the speed to be used and how it affects the balance and proportion — at higher speed generally use the tips of the pads a bit more and when a passage is more lyric and slower, use a little more of the pad/fleshy part of the finger, especially when adding a broader/deeper vibrato.

With shifts, make sure the interval immediately following the shift is being fully prepared during the shift. To accomplish this more easily, adjust the following finger before the shift, i.e., say we are shifting with the 1st finger and the 3rd finger will follow immediately with a major 3rd — open the 2 whole steps before shifting and later it will be done simultaneously within the shift.

If practicing enough variety with thoroughness in warm-ups — i.e., 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths (they’re fun and guarantee, along with 2nds, the house will be yours for a while:-), 8vas, 9ths and 10ths preceding arpeggios and scales —no problem with intonation will be had.

This last statement probably seems extreme……only because it is:-) Say per chance that in all likelihood one does not presently do the combinations above — no problem. Add 3rds, 4ths and 8vas. Only practice 2-5 minutes each with great accuracy — what counts is not how many you do, but how well you do them. DO NOT ACCEPT PLAYING THEM IN TUNE IF THE POSTURE, POSITIONING AND BALANCE ARE OFF — this will not hold in the technique when applying into repertoire.

Most, if not all, of our tension is due to imbalance and incorrect use of the fingers, hands, arms and whole body. Focus, focus, focus. Be the ballerina, dancer, gymnast or Olympic figure skater with all your moves — light, agile, strong, powerful, flexible and focused.

3. “Drew, when I work on a passage for intonation, I take it very slowly but with correct rhythm and no vibrato. Each note that is out of tune, I adjust quickly. After a while practicing a passage slowly in this matter, I no longer have to (make) adjustments. So…I start increasing the tempo. At a certain point, intonation issues arise. What do I do now? It feels like all my slow practice was for naught... ;( Even when I return to a slower tempo, the intonation again is insecure. I must be approaching this wrong?”

Join the club — we have all been there:-)

In adjusting are you simply rolling the finger to locate where you should have landed, and in doing so have the other fingers gone out of tune and/or left the string?

There must be no rolling and fingers should be kept down as much as possible, AMAP. This enables the hand and fingers to interrelate the measurements and balance points. Again, apply Repetition Hits to develop accuracy with balance and ease of motion.

If a finger rolls during this process it will learn a different measure. Sometimes we note that this given adjustment helps the hand and other fingers to achieve the goal — accurate intonation with impeccable balance — then embrace that change incorporating it into the passage.

When speeding up the section, we must maintain everything we have built into our execution or we become the executed:-) At the very first sign of faulty accuracy and/or balance, even the slightest loss of fluidity, back off the tempo. Establish the passage a little slower, rework varied rhythms, and begin the climb upward toward the desired tempo, again. This is nothing new to any musician as the climb is rarely an easy ascent.

Never fight and add undue tension in trying to achieve the desired outcome. Approach it with determination, patience and persistence. Do not struggle to go further than can be achieved in any given day and allow for the fact that we at times achieve a great deal, but have to rework it again the following days in order to attain what was reached that one time.

Think before playing. Sometimes a little renovation is required.

All must be balanced and fluid. Breathe and enjoy the challenge — dare I say even revel in the challenge, noting the slightest improvement. All advancements enter into other areas of our playing.

We are contributing to our technique, equipping us better for future repertoire.

Master varied rhythms, always!

To be continued…next will deal specifically with “Alive slow practice of slow passages.”

Sculpt the sound, shape the music.

Hope this helps —

Author of
Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

From Ray Randall
Posted on October 22, 2008 at 2:38 PM
Thank you, Drew. Your sound advice is always welcome and appreciated.
From Gerome Stewart
Posted on October 22, 2008 at 5:20 PM
I greatly apprectiate your insight and recommendations of this topic. It is one most people struggle with.
From Annette Brower
Posted on October 23, 2008 at 1:32 AM
I read an article once by Perlman and he said the worst thing you can do in practice is play too fast. For me, the "right tempo" is the tempo that I can practice that is. I always enjoy your blogs. Thanks for sharing.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on October 24, 2008 at 4:30 AM
As long as it is of benefit.

Thank you for your support.

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