Isn't it funny how sometimes it takes unconventional means to make a huge leap in technique? This has happened with my bowing recently. It may also have something to do with focusing only on this one aspect of my playing, and putting "playing pieces" aside for awhile.
My first focus was on my bow arm, especially after having that pain in the arm a few weeks ago that didn't want to go away. So, I decided to put my whole focus on bowing for a day. Set-up, look in the mirror, adjust. Put the bow down, set-up and again, less adjusting. Put the bow down again, set-up - no adjusting! Great, now play the first four notes of a C major scale, stop, look at bow hold, adjust, etc etc etc.
After an hour or so of doing this, it started feeling more natural. It was amazing how much more control I had of the bow and what I could make that bow do! A whole new realm of dynamics opened up, the sound much more clear and crisp. Wow! All of that in just re-arranging 5 fingers! Who would have thunk?
I just finished my first lesson with my summertime "substitute" teacher. NO SHAKES! I was not nervous at all, which is a pleasant supprise. He is the typical "giant" of a violist, and has a great sense of humor. He started by having me play a simple scale. Then stop.... we have to fix that bow hold! (sound familiar?) To my horror (after a few un-succesful attempts to fix my hold) he came at me with a roll of painter's tape. You know, that blue stuff used to mask around mouldings and the like, and proceded to wrap my 2nd and 3rd fingers with the tape to put them in a curve. By golly! It worked! After 45 minutes with my fingers in this "spa wrap treatment", they remained nicely curved - for a few minutes at least.
This "unconventional" style was present throughout the lesson. From being poked with the tip of the bow, grabbing the tip of my bow and putting opposite force in the direction I was bowing, etc... But, when I got home to try these newly learned techniques, I noticed a big difference. I am now wondering if my regular teacher set me up with my substitute to fix this bow problem on purpose... Kinda like "bowing boot-camp". :)
My teacher is going to be away for most of the summer doing what he does best - playing viola. He's got a concert with the Pink Martini in Carnegie Hall, the Letterman show, then a month at the Grand Teton Music Festival. So rather than being left lesson-less for the summer (and letting bad habits slip into my playing), he has set me up with one of his colleagues in the symphony for lessons from now until the end of July.
I'm a little nervous building yet another student-teacher bond for the fifth time in the past year or two after moving so often (geographic-wise). It took me several weeks to be able to play in front of Joel without the "shakes" in the bow arm (always happens with somone new). But what the hay - each time I've learned to overcome my "stage fright" playing in front of someone new. The same thing happened when I started in the orchestra and my trio group. This teaching relationship is a known temporary situation to all involved, and who knows, it may build into a good 2 teachers to one student relationship(a viola teaching triangle?). Since they both agreed to this "passing of the student for the summer" strategy, it could be quite interesting learning experience of different playing and teaching style with no bad feelings for anyone.
My last lesson with Joel for the summer was so much fun! My advanced Calculus classes in college for many many years ago finally payed off when I learned to count to 6/8 consistently (with assistance)! We postponed shifting to 4th+ position on the Cing for the summer, and focused our last hour of effort on bowing, dynamics and vibrato. Apparently I got a good vibrato on the Ging without even knowing that I did it! I still have no recollection of accomplishing this amazing feat, though he swears it actually DID happen, so I'll have to take his word on it.
I got back in touch with my teacher I had in California last week. We are going to meet up and have coffee and a one-off lesson when I'm in the Bay Area later this month for the Oracle implementation at my day job. She just got married and is about ready to start her own studio. We are both eager to exchange news from the last year's life and musical events. She is the one who got me motivated to get my new viola and I'm eager to show it off to her!
I'm interested to see what the next few weeks brings my way.
Thank you to you all for pointers and tips on the bow arm pain. During lessons tonight, Joel and I work on my "grip" quite a bit and changed it significantly to prevent any "pinching" that may happen. I also switched to my lighter octagonal bow, vs the round one that I prefered. My teacher recommended looking into getting a violin bow to use with my viola instead of a "traditional" viola bow - lighter and shorter (I'm 5'2" so a shorter bow won't limit how much bow I can effectively use). Both of the bows that I have are quite heavy.
After re-working my bow hold, we proceded to the hour long lesson. NO pain!!! Although, Hoffmeister got a break (so there were no fast string crossings to risk any pain) but there was no-pain none the less unlike the last time I tried to practice. I also switch to a Wolf shoulder rest. I can adjust it so it is much lower on the collar bone, but higher on the shoulder to give my viola the right "tilt". That helped alot by reducing the clenching I sometimes did with my chin on the chin rest while shifting or doing vibrato. One side benefit to giving my bow arm a break for almost a full week and only practicing with my left-hand is that my vibrato made some significant strides.
Side note: My teacher is going to be on the David Letterman show the 14th of this month with the "Pink Martini". Great group! You got to stay up late and watch it (or record it on TIVO!).
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