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Mendy Smith

What Moves First

April 25, 2010 at 1:59 AM

Over the past few years, I've become much more comfortable playing works that explore the length of the fingerboard.  At first shifting above 5th position was physically painful until I learned the trick of moving my arm up and around the body of the viola.  Shifting back down was nearly impossible.  I can now make it up and down the fingerboard pain free. 

However, I discovered that I learned a bad habit.  I had been leading my shifts with my fingers, rather than the whole arm and hand, resulting in spotty intonation on a good day.  During lessons this afternoon, I worked on leading the shift with my arm rather than just my fingers.  There were some odd moments when both my mind and body froze completely and I remained stuck where I was on the fingerboard while trying to figure out what should move first.  After awhile, I started to get the hang of the movement. 

I've heard a few times that it takes many repetitions to learn a new habit.  I have this sinking feeling that I have thousands of repetitions to go....

From Royce Faina
Posted on April 26, 2010 at 5:15 PM

Good For You!!!!!!!  Your blog is what I have been doing this semester and what a great feeling it is to be able to play in the higher posisions!  Also stretching that pinky and other fingers!!!!  The music one can then play, Oh My God what a wonderful leap of progress! And a great feeling of acomplishment! I bet you certainly feel that too!

From simon lyn
Posted on April 26, 2010 at 8:40 PM

 Hey Mendy - how are you keeping? Nice to hear about all the fun stuff you're doing.

I've heard a lot of 'rules' over the years with fingers, thumb and arm all leading in some circumstance depending on start/end position and shift direction. I have enjoyed Simon Fischer's shift experiment where you (if you use one) remove your shoulder rest and balance the fiddle between the collarbone and V between thumb and forefinger (some folks play this way anyway). Can feel a bit insecure at first if you're not used to it tho. Keep the shoulder absolutely relaxed and try to play a passage containing shifts real slow with a focus on keeping the scroll still.

It can be quite enlightening because quite often with these constraints the finger/thumb/arm combo is forced to make the right movements at the right moments.

The other thing I wanted to mention is watching the speed and manner of the shift. Getting exactly the right pitch is a precision measurement job that's driven by the ear. I remember watching industrial robots in various manufacturing facilities - they would make 98% of their move at high speed, the final few millimetres were slower and more careful, and the result was efficient and predictable accuracy. So I think of shifts like this too. We often over/under-shoot the landing pitch because the approach is less controlled. It's probably worth trying this out in slow motion, choose a larger interval and travel *almost* all the way quite quickly, then ease into the final few millimetres.

Knowing when to stop is the final step and I feel that whereas we can effectively use visual and tactile clues about where we are located on the fingerboard, the final call is made by the ear - if in that last moment the finger and bow pressure is minimized, only a small amount of bow is expended *and* we are listening intently we can land accurately, smoothly with a feeling of continuity in the sound. 

Best wishes!


From Ray Randall
Posted on April 26, 2010 at 11:03 PM

My superb teacher says practice shifts up and down slowly, like riding in a taxi-enjoy the ride. Get the arm and hand used to shifting slowly to the exact destination then slowly speed it up. It works.

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