Recently I was puzzling over why a student was playing in tune, doing all the written bowings, but still sounding pretty untidy. We were working on the violin version of Bach's "Gavotte" from the solo Cello Suite No. 6, otherwise known as the first piece in Suzuki Book 5:
The more I observed, the more it became clear: she needed a lot more precision with the many string crossings, double-stops and triple stops in this piece. But how do you practice that?
The key is to hone in on the bow, and to isolate what it is doing.
In most music, we play on single strings, and so we can think about four angles, or "planes" for the bow: one each for the E, A, D and G. We tend to become very familiar and comfortable with holding the bow at these angles.
But in something like solo Bach, which is also full of double- and triple-stops, we must add in three more angles where the bow would be touching two strings at a time: EA, AD, and DG. But we don't always account for this in our practice.
Fortunately, there is a very simple way to practice getting these angles exactly right: play passages from the piece, completely on open strings. Here is a little video demonstration I did, and then below I describe the process in words:
Of course, I say this is easy. But in reality, it takes quite a lot of mental and physical concentration. It might be shocking, the first time you try it, to realize that you actually don't know which string you are playing on, and when. It can be hard just to figure out what those open strings are! Then even when you do figure it out, it can be difficult to consistently play correctly, making a full and resonant sound on each string.
But practicing these kinds of passages on open strings will greatly increase your bowing accuracy, coordination and comfort. It's pretty magical, a little like practicing in rhythms!
Here's how to do it:
I hope you find these suggestions helpful, and I invite any other practice suggestions below in the comments. Happy practicing!
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