Okay, two situations I need advice about... 1) I have a new student, Eileen. She's brilliant, a hard practicer, but she's got a LOT of tension. We've been working on her bow arm, she holds her wrist at a stiff 90 degree angle so that her hand dangles from it when it holds the bow. In other words, It always LEADS the hand, completely locked in place. HOW do I get her to loosen it up? We tried "air violining" to get the motion in place, and she seems to understand that-- I used the whole "petting the dog" thing-- but then when you get a bow in her hand, it's locked again. It makes a lot of other things difficult for her, needless to say, and I feel it's a huge brick wall for the musical work I'd like to do with her, especially controlling fast passages and making decisions about placement of the bow, etc.
Any thoughts on that?”
Try a few tricks—
1. Place an old flat eraser (or something else that is handy) on the back of the bow hand while playing on the A or D string (depends on posture and angle of violin top). She should maintain a coiled right hand, even stiff, then draw little crescent bows and gradually expand those into whole bows. This will require the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints to gain a free flowing action.
She needs to understand the relationship of the back of the hand and the bow — they basically never change.
2. With open strings initially, have her work on the Bow Planes, pg 4 #1-6, and incorporate the "Pulsed Legato" of Basics I, pg 11. She can hook the bows together, do separately and vary rhythms. With the Planes, she might do 3-4 minutes of 1a-1c and later in the practice or the next day do 2a-2c. This is only to be done as long as she retains focus and is aware of working to improve.
3. Before the above paragraph, she could also add counter-clockwise ovals in the air as when we prepare a down-bow entrance — 3 ovals maintaining the plane and level/degree of hair (favor flat) and then set the landing, noting contact point. When ready, while doing the ovals encourage movement of the thumb and fingers from their base joints. The hand should not flail around from the wrist and the bow’s path, plane and lines are to be maintained (quite difficult at first:-). Upon landing/placing on the string the fingers are to be in the coiled position and this is to be kept until the end of the down-bow stroke.
4. At the end of every line, measure if necessary, deliberately stop and adjust posture and positioning — this annoying interruption can work very well in correcting many problems.
“2) Bobby is SO hard on himself. He gets angry… He keeps telling me that he plays so much better when he's at home, and that he doesn't understand why he's not consistent, but that I've mapped out approaches to practicing in his notebook (I give all my students notebooks that I jot stuff in) and I feel it is falling on deaf ears. I mean, I think his will to succeed is so great, that that voice in his head is beating up so loudly he can't hear me or something. It's like he wants this over night, and to expect to be the level of a soloist in a year or less is killing his morale. I broke things apart for him again, we practiced "practicing," reiterating the points of repeating ALL components of an action (thumb placement, as well as finger placement, exact rep of motion, etc), memorizing or focusing on four NOTES at a time, instead of starting at the beginning and drilling a long passage, etc-- any thoughts on the matter? Oh, and I gave him Schradieck dexterity exercises to do when he gets really mad, because he tenses up as he gets progressively frustrated, and it forces him to loosen his left hand as he ups the tempo, and the mundane quality of it seems to calm him a little. :-)”
There is certainly no reason to get angry. Bobby must understand this. It is very different to demand improvement of one's self and sometimes be a bit frustrated.
That is when he must pull back take a few deep breaths and THINK. What am I trying to accomplish? What is the most efficient way? THEN calmly, methodically and thoughtfully…KILL THE PROBLEM BY MASTERING THE SOLUTION!!! :-) Actually, it is quite true, but when systematically done with composure and control — keeping in mind the character of the musical content — the feeling of successfully mastering a passage is one of joy and freedom, not oppression and brutality.
"…He keeps telling me that he plays so much better when he's at home, and that he doesn't understand why he's not consistent…”
This is often quite true and a bit false. When the student plays at home they are not judging what the teacher is about to say — that immediate pressure is gone and therefore not a huge distraction. I sometimes say with a smile, "Prove it." Having them do it again is sometimes all they need.
Other times, it highlights the obvious — when playing for the teacher, they are observing instead of doing. At home, they/we are into it and doing all the right stuff. In the studio or recital hall, they/we are in essence seeing if it will work — “let's see how it will go.” Will my fingers and arms succeed…without my being focused and doing anything, just observing. This equals failure and total frustration.
Most of us say we are doing exactly the same thing at home, but we are fooling ourselves. It has often amazed me, when I will duplicate the student’s error — even in a passage I know cold — how I get exactly the same result. If I imitate the point and type of tension and/or the mindless moment (when there is absolutely no thought, direction or character to the phrase) I get precisely the same problem. Often the student and I will laugh together, as they recognize it immediately.
Never imitate an error to be cruel, but do it with humor and such. It is a bit of fun and clowning for the benefit of the student.
…back to Bobby, he does need to be aware that things do take time and as he dedicates himself and his efforts remain focused he will accomplish the desired goal.
"…I broke things apart for him again, we practiced "practicing," reiterating the points of repeating ALL components of an action (thumb placement, as well as finger placement, exact rep of motion, etc), memorizing or focusing on four NOTES at a time, instead of starting at the beginning and drilling a long passage, etc-- any thoughts on the matter? Oh, and I gave him Schradieck dexterity exercises to do when he gets really mad, because he tenses up as he gets progressively frustrated, and it forces him to loosen his left hand as he ups the tempo, and the mundane quality of it seems to calm him a little. :-)"
This is all good, but remember the music and the sound are what we live for and thrive on. Keep them a priority and the reason and requirement of the technical work. Increase/decrease vibrato, bow speed, tension/release, dynamics — all using the technique to master and bring out the music.
Shrad always puts me to sleep:-)
Hope this helps —
I have been working on flat hair and am doing fine with long, slow bows, but when doing quicker bows with any fingers down, I have this scraping sensation and fuzzy/scratchy sound which is driving me nuts.
I have recently changed strings and I keep the strings clear of rosin residue. I have been trying different amounts of arm weight but that isn't helping. Any advice?
RE: Scraping Sensation and fuzzy/scratchy sound
The scraping is inevitably from a couple sources:
1. The wood of the bow is coming in direct contact with the string.
Usually the stick is hitting the string on the far side (fingerboard) of the hair, but at times a player will lower the right wrist toward the floor with the down-bow stroke.
The wrist, elbow and shoulder joints must hinge and flow smoothly along the required plane of the bow stroke. Having begun the down-bow with the upper arm from the shoulder, concentrate primarily on the flow of motion in the wrist and elbow maintaining the plane of the stroke’s motion.
2. The bow is skidding off its track and therefore point of contact is lost.
Having done the stroke slowly with good success is no guarantee of its quality being kept when doing faster strokes. Work smaller amounts and various sections of the bow, but realize theses are then individual strokes and have their complete Crescent path — very slight curve. When lengthening the bow stoke, adjust the Crescent Bow to be in proper proportion.
Examples: Set metronome at 120 with the beat equaling a quarter note.
1. Draw smaller quarter beat bows varying the parts of the bow. Then make them 2 and more beats each by slowing down the bow and moving nearer to the bridge — maintain weight of stroke and degree of hair in this. Do not increase quantity of bow.
2. Maintain the bow speed and thereby increase the amount of bow — sustain the bows weight and keep the contact point, simply lengthening the arc of the Crescent Bow's path.
As you add more beats you will arrive at the whole bow — about 6 or 8 beats each.
Keep using whole bows as you subtract beats — maintain achieved quality. (All this time you have not had to constantly adjust the Metronome — our Personal Assistant, and slave driver:-)
Careful, the transition down to 2 and especially 1 beat per whole bow is when most lose control. Then simply slow down the metronome substantially, making it easy to achieve the desired quality. Follow this with slight increases of the metronome continually using the whole bow.
Initially do the above with open strings and then apply to your work with 4ths, 3rds, 8vas, 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, 10ths, arpeggios, scales, etc., etc. — piece of cake:-)
The above will also take care of the fuzzy/scratchy sounds as they are caused by distortions, twists and turns in the Bow's path along with lost point of contact.
Contact variables of the bow hair to the string — the 1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number are brought together in order to accomplish the desired dynamics and character of the music and maintain clarity and focus of tone and pitch.
Hope this helps —
Everything affects everything.
Also see other articles in my “GPS” Series regarding the bow.
So you want to traverse from one position to another.
The simplest move is to pull the hand via the closing of the left arm toward the body. That’s it.
Practice slo-mo (slow motion) with a very light touch, maintaining the shape of the left hand, but adjusting it’s size — smaller higher and bigger lower. The lower fingers will ‘shrink up’ toward a higher finger, when shifting up on all but the 1st finger and, vice versa, the lower fingers will expand (open) away from the higher finger when shifting down.
One of the secrets of great shifts is maintaining the ‘face’ (fingernail) of the shifting finger. Keep the contact evenly balanced on both sides of the string being played. When playing on one string do not roll over to the lower string side.
When going into higher positions, anticipate the soon needed lifting of the hand over the top by having the thumb flow behind the shift and come under the neck so it is in position to continue support of the instrument. It will look like a hitchhiker’s thumb. DO NOT GRAB THE NECK IN THE PROCESS.
Move very slow and very deliberate and be very observant.
Maintain your wrist form in the lower 3 or 4 positions — depending on the string being played combined with hand/arm/shoulder size. The movement of fingertip, hand and arm must be simultaneous.
Slo-mo into the pillow/note and allow no whiplash/wobble upon arrival. Initially use no vibrato and simply achieve the purest pitch imaginable. As these are sped up, the silky smoothness, balance and flow must be maintained even when playing lightning fast at speeds over 800 notes per minute.
When vibrato is added, the first move will be one of descending pitch and return. Also do this slo-mo to maintain balance and clarity of action. Subsequently, this can be easily sped up to desired effect — season to taste:-)
Hope this helps—
P.S. For more details and different types of shifts, see my previous articles on Shifting in the earlier GPS 2 Shifting articles.
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