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Julian Stokes

The Rabbit Ate My Cake

June 15, 2011 at 9:01 AM

A lot has happened since my last writing. A lot of heavy life stuff. But through it all I have kept fiddling. At the end of some days, when practice time comes around,  I am so tired I feel I need matchsticks to prop open my eyes but playing the violin always refreshes me, wakes me up and generally makes me feel good.

So all's well then? Not entirely. I don't know whether my critical faculties have developed since I was a child but I find myself dissatisfied with the way I render what, to my  mind, should be the simplest of phrases. For example: we're working on the ABRSM Grade 5 book, first piece, Tambourin by Gossec. That first quaver followed by two semiquavers - always came out so messy and ill-defined. I would hang on the first note too long and scrunch up those following. And messing up the first notes in a piece sets the wrong sort of tone, plus it is a repeated figure so there's plenty of opportunity to get it wrong over and over.


It suddenly struck me. I am a words person. Whenever I make up (compose sounds too grand) tunes I always do it in conjunction with words - a musical phrase fitted to a verbal phrase.  So, I started to set words to the troublesome phrases, remembering that the sillier the mnemonic the easier it is to remember. Hence: "The rabbit ate my cake".  In fact the whole piece is now cast and based on the pursuit of rabbits, except for a middle section that deals with human rights and rich lawyers.

Now, with my newly penned lyrics running through my head, not only do I find timing easier, but dare I say intonation improves as the words drive the notes drive the words.

Extending the technique to other pieces has helped me identify and solve problem areas with phrasing, where my head (tune memory) says a set of syllables will fit and the music says they will not, I am forced to really examine what I am playing and find a phrase that really fits. Then the music flows.

Whether I stick with this for ever or whether it's just a  temporary technique on the road to musical enlightenment we shall see. For now it works.

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