March 2012


March 7, 2012 08:50

I hope your students played great! A rhetorical question if there ever was one because I'm sure they did! :)
I had a question that I was wondering if you could answer. I find that I can play fast passagework (Praeludium and Allegro, middle Beethoven quartets being two examples) in my practice room, but can't seem to muster up the appropriate level of relaxation to be able to play things quickly in performance. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve my ability to play rapidly in performance? I don't feel like I have crippling performance anxiety, as long as I play long sustained notes or something without really speedy passagework.

Hi T,

Thank you for your wishes on the recital. The kids did great for their various levels of achievement—I was very pleased:-)

It is always difficult to answer questions with a degree of certainty not knowing your playing and how you handle the instrument. 

You state, "I don't feel like I have crippling performance anxiety, as long as I play long sustained notes or something without really speedy passagework."  This is a good indicator that your general set-up and direction of motion and balance are well founded.

Based on the above, it sounds as though you are seizing up/tensing up your left hand and/or bow hold when faced with the fast passages. This would actually include actions/reactions through your arms and even into your shoulders, neck and back—everything affects everything. When dealing with tension of any kind the ease of movement and balance must be constantly observed and developed.

Regarding the general aspects of ease of motion, try these little games:
• Walk when playing, turning both left and right, always maintaining the strings level to the floor, and even go to your knees and back up—all while playing very well. A word of caution, I do not go to my knees anymore due to age…:-)
•  I also have my students, and myself, wave the violin up and down, left and right, clockwise and counter clockwise circles, all while playing various speeds and bow strokes and shifting.
•  Bend and twist from the waist while playing.

Without sounding redundant, varied Repetition Hits could help you tremendously. They are akin to fine tuning an engine—it runs smoother, faster and easier with far greater accuracy, response and nimbleness. The quick light throw of the fingers from the knuckles in combination with a full release at the appropriate time is the secret. Do not practice these fast. They develop blazing speed only when kept at moderate tempos, giving us time to develop the release fully—the fingers simply hover over their next note with no residual tension from having played a note previously. Remember that we do keep fingers down as much as possible (amap), and practical.

1. Use the Open & Closed Hand Groups (in varied starting positions and strings), Scales, Arpeggios, 3rds, 4ths, Unisons and 9ths. With all double-stops, alternate the various fingers with Rep Hits and also hit 2 notes simultaneously. 
2. Constantly adjust, refining your balance and leverage points—these are crucial to both fast and slow playing. If time is short, do a number of the above studies in smaller segments—it is all about quality, not quantity.
3. Mix in Rhythms 1-8 (varied rhythms) and Variations 1-8 in Basics II. Use the metronome and subdivisions with the bow, i.e., 3 equal bow strokes on a dotted 16th with the 4th bow being the 4th 16th note in the group. Modify combinations for triplet or other written values by the composer.
4. Apply work above directly into the composition you are studying, e.g., if  a fast scale passage, work just as you do Major scales on page 76 #1a. Elaborate on the shifting in your passages by practicing first finger to first finger shifts—as in ascending fingerings of 1A-2B shift 1C-2D, etc. Additionally, practice the same shifts with 1A-2B shift 2D-1C and continue. Similarly, apply shift patterns for descending sequences.
5. Increase speed gradually during all of the above. This is where the metronome helps, as we tend to go too fast too soon.

Rhythmic variations are particularly good for String Crossings, as well. Have the Left Hand Fingers lead the Bow, remembering that both are taken to the desired location by the arms.
• Crossing to higher strings is assisted by gravity, conversely crossing to lower strings requires a more zestful move to compensate the resistance of gravity. 
• Practicing with accents for the string crossings, especially to lower strings, helps a great deal.

"……, but (I) can't seem to muster up the appropriate level of relaxation to be able to play things quickly in performance.”

It is all about being free to move at any speed and in any direction. This freedom/relaxation is often confused with a somewhat limp effort and feeling—"let it just happen”. Rather, the freedom should be one of high alertness, agility, dexterity within amazing proactive movements.

Two final points and I must end:
1. Be able to play the fast movements and sections at a higher speed then required or musically desired. 
2. In slow movements and sections be able to play half tempo beautifully.

It's just physics:-)

Hope this helps…

God bless,

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

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