Stop Fumbling! One Simple Strategy for Cleaning Up a Passage (with video)

March 2, 2016, 3:18 PM · The great Juilliard violin teacher Dorothy DeLay famously said that almost any technical problem can be boiled down to two notes, and how to get from one of them to the next.

As usual, she was right! In fact, sometimes the way we practice actually causes those problems between two notes. Have you ever played a note out of tune, then slid around on your finger to get in tune? Have you ever shifted to the wrong place, then fumbled your way to the right place? Have you ever taken several bow strokes "in between" while you are trying to fix something that went wrong? Then you may have actually been "practicing in" your mistakes.

Don't despair, it happens to most of us, and at all different levels of playing. In fact, to a degree, this is simply part of the learning process. But it's important to identify these areas of repeated struggle so that you can get rid of all those misfires that your brain is sending your hands. Once you find the problem area, you must reduce it to two notes, then figure out what you are doing in between. Put a big stop sign between the notes, and get rid of any extra notes, extra noises and extra actions in between notes. In other words, stop, get organized, then proceed correctly. Once you are learning to get organized with your mind and hands, you can shorten the amount of time that you stop. When it comes to correct practicing, it's much easier to get rid of a few stops than it is to get rid of practiced-in fumbling, extra notes, etc. Below is a video demonstration, using a passage from Vivaldi Concerto in G minor, first movement, as an example. Happy practicing!


March 2, 2016 at 10:48 PM · Great stuff--but mind boggling when the frame is reversed and you're playing opposite handed. You're talented, but I didn't think you were ambidextrous too. :)

March 2, 2016 at 10:59 PM · I'm going to fix!

March 3, 2016 at 12:13 AM · I am **SO** looking forward to watching this over the coming weekend. Thanks for the article, which itself is informative!

March 3, 2016 at 12:24 AM · Okay now I've been flipped back to normal! :)

March 3, 2016 at 07:09 AM · Thanks for the helpful video Laurie.

March 3, 2016 at 03:20 PM · Thanks very much!

The Stop Sign is new to me, an adult(?) beginner.

It had never entered my mind that it is legal

to stop in the middle of a piece. Focus.

And then resume at tempo.

I had always assumed slowing the tempo was the only way to

handle uncooperative note sequences.

I can't wait to share Laurie's solution with my teacher!

March 6, 2016 at 06:22 AM · This approach reminds me of Suzuki's instructions on how to play Twinkle.The first phrase ends with an open E, which is followed by a D played with the third finger on the A string. Suzuki says to stop after the open E, put down fingers 1, 2, and 3 on the A string (to help you get the D in tune), and then start again and play the D. My students are always surprised that it's OK, even recommended, to stop in order to play something correctly.

March 7, 2016 at 03:10 AM · Indeed, I can thank many Suzuki teacher-mentors for this idea. It works like a charm. If you want to talk about Twinkle, there is also the issue of the string crossing. So it helps for the beginner to stop and get the order correct: place fingers, cross to the new string, play. Fingers first, then bow. This is what we do in "fast motion" as well, but sometimes people don't understand that the cause of messy-sounding playing can be traced back to these signals and actions getting mixed up and out of order.

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