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Helen Brunner: Teaching Sautille, Resonant Notes and Phrasing

Laurie Niles

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Published: June 22, 2005 at 5:35 AM [UTC]

I thought I would compile some of the little teaching tricks I've learned this week at the Colorado Suzuki Institute, so, in no particular order:

I didn't think one could teach sautille (you know, fast spiccato) to a group of ten-year-olds, but Helen Brunner had a good trick for helping it along. She helped the kids find the “balance point” of their bows, which is the place best suited for a jumping bow. Most people initially think that the “balance point” of the bow is in the middle, but because of the weight of the frog, it is really more toward the lower half of the bow. To help kids find the “balance point,” she had them all put their violins down and hold out their left hands. Then, they balanced the bow stick on their three middle fingers, and the finger in the very middle ends up being exactly at the balance point. This should be the place in the bow that bounces best. It's a nice exercise, as the “balance point” is just a little bit different from bow to bow.

Another thing Helen talked about all week was the difference between “resonant notes” and “expressive notes” on the violin. This is something I was aware of, but never particularly good at describing to students: certain notes on the violin ring very nicely when they are perfectly in tune. If they even a fraction out of tune, they do not ring. The “resonant notes” on the violin are E, A, D and G, and when one plays any of those notes (say, a D played as a third finger on the A string), the corresponding open string will resonate in sympathy with the note. To play one of the “resonant notes” in tune, there is only a 2 mm margin of error for the finger. That means your finger has to be within a 2 mm area, or the note will not resonate; and it has implications for vibrato. Vibrato on a resonant note should be narrow enough to stay within that 2 mm area.

“Expressive notes” are all those notes that are not E, A, D and G. Expressive notes have a margin of error more like 5 mm, and so a wide vibrato can and should be used with these notes. The vibrato makes up for the fact that the notes (B, C, F, etc.) are not going to be vibrating in sympathy with any open strings.

She also talks about phrasing in terms of “the power of three.” In music, patterns and sequences are often given in threes which either increase or decrease in dynamic. “Dynamics” are less about volume than about energy level, so she describes the three energy levels as a “star” (far away, weaker light), “moon” and “sun,” which is the strongest. You can start with the star and increase to the sun, or the other way around.

Since we are learning pedagogy for quite a lot of Baroque music, she emphasized that there are only two basic “tempo” markings in Baroque music: Presto (fast) and Largo (slow). Other words that we tend to automatically think of as “tempo” markings are actually more expressive markings. For example, “Adagio” means “at ease;” “Allegro” means “happy,” “Andante” means “walking.”

Another fun trick was something she used for describing passages that repeat but have different endings. Very often in Bach, there are identical passages in different parts of the piece that end in different ways. But, because sections of the music repeat, the child may be confused if the teacher calls them the “first ending” and the “second ending.” (For example, the child may ask, “This is the fourth time, shouldn't it be the “fourth ending”?) So instead, Helen calls the first ending the “cat ending” and the second the “dog ending.” That way the labels work throughout the piece, and there can be several cat endings and dog endings without affecting some numbering system.

So there are a few tricks for you teachers, parents and students out there. I'm here another week, so I hope to share more. Happy teaching!

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 22, 2005 at 6:07 AM
I'd like to see someone demonstrate differences in energy level sometime.

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