I'm lucky that my husband and brother-in-law (who's living with us temporarily) were born to musical parents and are used to listening to real practicing, or else I'd have been thrown out of the house last night. I worked on the same four measures of the Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso for half an hour. (Measures 4-8 of the Più allegro section, in case anyone's curious.) The passage starts and ends on the same C#, so I was able to make a nice little loop and go through it over and over and over...
Not just blind repetition, though. That was how I practiced in childhood, but no more. The best thing about my current teacher (oh, how I wish I'd had someone like her when I was young and had TIME) is that she's really taught me how to practice so that I actually improve. I know now that to play in tune, I need to 1) know what the notes are, 2) know where to put my fingers to play them, and 3) actually put my fingers in the right places.
My first problem is that I can't easily identify notes that are written four or more ledger lines above the staff. So I first had to go through and figure out, "Ok, that's a B, that's an F#...". Then I had to figure where all the whole steps and half steps were so I'd know exactly where to put my fingers. Finally, I had to work on actually putting my fingers where they were supposed to go. It's only in this last step that repetition is useful. If you don't know what you're trying to do, doing it over and over again isn't going to get you there.
That said, I'm now managing to play those four measures in tune at about 1/3 the speed that they're eventually supposed to go. I'll keep at it, and I hope the speed will come. I keep thinking of that scene in "The Red Violin" where the little kid plays to a metronome that's sped up gradually until he reaches his goal.
I've said that my violin lessons are like therapy. I almost always come out of them feeling optimistic and inspired, and last night was no exception. I started off immediately telling Virginia that I thought I should do some scales and etudes for more focused work on certain techniques, like accurate shifting. We talked about how I could make up exercises by improvising on difficult sections in my piece, and I'm getting better at that, but she understood what I was looking for and assigned me Kreutzer 11. I'm supposed to play around with it too, like doing it in different positions and reversing the phrases.
I'm not using the Flesch book, though, and may not. We talked about how there are only four ways of playing a major scale (corresponding to the four different starting fingers) and once you have those patterns memorized, you're set. It's mind-boggling (appalling?) to me how I've been so highly trained in analytical thinking, yet can't seem to apply these methods to my violin playing. How I wish I'd had teachers in childhood who had taught me how to think about violin instead of just playing and hoping for the best.
I was so psyched after my lesson that I practiced for 20 minutes last night after getting home, which is a first; I never practice on the day of a lesson, but that might just change. What did I say in my last entry about finding more time to practice? It's there to be found, I just have to look around in nooks and crannies for it.
Pauline made the comment in my last entry that "Communication between teacher and student is very beneficial." I would go a step farther and say that it's not just beneficial, it's essential. Fellow V.com member Jessica Smith, whom I consider very wise, even though she's half my age ;) told me during my teacher search that it was important to find someone I felt "safe" with, someone I wouldn't be nervous making mistakes in front of, and someone with whom I could be honest. Within minutes of meeting Virginia at my very first lesson, I knew we'd click. I'm not embarrassed when I mess up in front of her; I see it as an opportunity for her to discover my weaknesses and find ways to help me. And it's ever so nice to be able to admit things like "I tend to avoid even positions" and have her understand and gently remind me of their benefits, rather than scolding me and telling me I should get over it.
I've never really liked teaching (violin, physics, or anything else), personally, but I know my happiest moments doing so were when my students expressed appreciation for what I'd given them. So if you love your teacher as much as I do, make sure you tell him or her. I certainly do.
I'm about a week late in posting this, but I am now the proud owner of a $1600 Jon M Lee bow, a gorgeous, light Vuillaume copy. I'm happy. It's nice to support a local maker who is a really nice guy and is right here in town should I need anything done to it in the future. My special thanks to...
- Clare Chu, for shopping with me and sharing her vast experience
- My husband, for encouraging me to buy whatever makes me happy, even if it was twice what I'd originally planned to spend
- My teacher Virginia, for giving me her opinion on what bow she thought served me best, rather than what she personally liked best
- All the folks at V.com for their advice and support!
And now back to my regularly scheduled practicing:
I've decided to ask Virginia to assign me weekly scales and etudes. So far the practice has been just to work on one piece at a time (currently the Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso) and create etudes out of difficult passages. But I think I need more focused study on technique, as it seems insufficient (and a little boring) to play the same four measures over and over as an etude.
Some of you serious (and maybe not-so-serious) violinists might be appalled that I don't do regular scales and etudes, but keep in mind that I only get in maybe three hours a week of practice, if I'm lucky. So it's a matter of figuring out how best to spend those three hours, and if I have too much material, that's not good either. But maybe if I have more stuff to work on, that will actually entice me to figure out how to find more time to practice. (Too bad the Harry Potter Time-Turner pendant that I got for Xmas is only a fake, I could REALLY use one!)
Anyway, I'm bringing to today's lesson my Carl Flesch scale book which I bought ten years ago for a teacher I ended up dropping, and the Kreutzer etude book I didn't even know I had. I was going to tell Virginia that I was willing to buy it, but in the meantime, I had Wolhfahrt II. As I dug for it in my pile of neglected music, I found Kreutzer...clearly bought many years ago, from the look of the cover and age of the paper, but completely unmarked. I wonder where it came from?
A colleague of mine once said that education is expensive. He wasn't talking about tuition, but rather the fact that once you know how to distinguish quality, you're compelled to pay for it.
The conversation was in reference to wine, but I find the remark quite apt when it comes to this bow-buying adventure of mine. I think I'm still converging to a decision, but it's not happening nearly as quickly as I'd expected or hoped.
Today I went back down to Kamimoto Strings over my lunch hour (half expected to see you there, Clare ;) ) to see if they had the Spiccato Adjustable CF bow, which I'd read good things about. They did, and I tried it, and it was slightly nicer than the Arpege but not enough to justify the $1400 price tag. Then, since I was there anyway with time to spare, and the store wasn't crowded, I decided to up my price range to $1500 to see what it would get me. Apparently the shop carries bows by only one maker, Jon M Lee (who may be the owner; I'm not clear on this), and he was actually there today. He gave me a $1200 bow which I liked, an $1800 which I didn't, and a $1600 which I loved. It handled well and sounded fantastic in the full range of my instrument, which no other bow I've tried thus far really does.
So now I'm thinking about whether I like this bow enough more than the previous $800 front-runner to pay twice the price. I'm sure Emily and Pauline will tell me to go for it. :) I'd set my limit at $800 because that was about twice the price of my current bow, and still below the value of my violin itself. But maybe those aren't the best metrics. Is it stupid to have a bow worth more than your instrument? I thought it was, but given that I'm going to upgrade my instrument in a couple of years anyway, maybe it's not. $1600 feels like a bit of a splurge, but not to the point of being irresponsible.
And then, because I consider myself a thorough person, I feel I really ought to go back to Ifshin in Berkeley and see what they have in this price range. But it's a pain in the rear to get up there, and unless I take a day off work I'll have to go on a Saturday when the shop will be packed, etc. etc.
My husband gave me a $100 Macy's gift certificate toward a nice coat for Xmas, and when I went to redeem it, I found what I wanted in less than 30 minutes. Why can't bow shopping be this easy??
I haven't even looked at my violin in the last two days because the whole bow shopping experience has stressed me out so much. I'm definitely one of those people who's happier after a decision than before it. And after three consecutive days of endless bow trials, I felt I needed to give both my ears and hands a rest. Here's a rundown of what I've been up to since my last blog entry:
Thursday night: Asked my non-musical friend and her mother to do a blind comparison on the Spiccato Arpege CF bow I have on loan from Kamimoto Strings against the Guy Jeandel wooden bow from Ifshin. Both of them liked the Arpege, even in the upper register where I find the sound too dull.
Friday afternoon: Returned to Ifshin to try out their Coda Classic and a few other wooden bows. They also gave me the Jon Paul Bravo, which is a significantly cheaper CF bow. Surprisingly, I had a hard time telling the difference between the Coda and the Jon Paul, and decided I actually liked the tone of the Jon Paul very slightly better. I decided to return the Arcus Veloce and take the Jon Paul on trial instead. Despite being barely half the cost of the Arcus, the Jon Paul is easier for me to handle, and isn't nearly as ugly.
Friday evening: Spent most of my violin lesson evaluating bows with my teacher. She pretty much agreed with me on which ones produced the best tone and which ones seemed easiest for me to handle, which was encouraging but not really that helpful. Ultimately, I have to decide for myself which factors are most important for me.
So, here are the three finalists:
Jon Paul Bravo (CF), $260
Spiccato Arpege (CF), $590
Guy Jeandel (wooden), $795
I like the handling of the Arpege probably the best of the three, and it sounds gorgeous on the G string, but I just don't care that much for the tone in the upper register; it's dull and doesn't sing at all. I'm still quite fond of the Guy Jeandel; it's the one bow I still have from the first of my three shopping trips. If I decide to go with wood, this will definitely be the one. The Bravo is just average all around; it's better than the Arpege in the high range and not as good in the low range, and doesn't handle quite as well, but it's quite a bargain for its price and might serve me well for a few years until I do decide to upgrade my violin. Surprisingly, though, I find its low price a bit of a turn-off; it's almost as if I don't trust myself to know what I need so I want to use price as an external, though invalid, gauge of quality.
I promise tomorrow I'll try them out again and hopefully come to a decision soon. Blegh.
In the meantime, here's a funny story my friend told me. She and her boyfriend were shopping for my Christmas present and thought they might get me one of the Joshua Bell CDs on my Amazon.com wish list, but they didn't have Internet access so they called her boyfriend's brother and asked him to look it up. He apparently couldn't pronounce the name of the composer, but he spelled it, and said it was with the London Philharmonic, and that Josh was wearing a brown coat over a blue shirt.
Anyway, they couldn't find it (I got "The Village" on DVD instead, which made me quite happy) but I was quite curious as to which CD they'd been looking for that had a name that was difficult to pronounce. I was thinking, "Prokofiev? Wieniawski?" not remembering exactly what I'd put on my list, so I went back to check for the album in question, and it was the Sibelius/Goldmark! What's so hard about pronouncing "Sibelius"??? And the orchestra was the Los Angeles Philharmonic, not the London Philharmonic.
I'd make a snide remark about people who don't know anything about classical music, but Sydney seems to have that area covered. ;)
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