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Mendy Smith

Restless Experiment - Episode 1

January 27, 2012 at 3:43 AM

Every year around this time I seem to go through a process of tweaking my setup and posture. This year's process is more of an overhaul than a tweak.

It started by getting a new Berber style chinrest. I've had this tendency to let my viola slowly slip down my chest until it was nearly to my navel, so this half center-mount/side-mount chinrest seemed a good idea. And while I was at it, I decided I may as well try one more SR that I hadn't tried before - a Mach 1. All of this just a day or two before lessons.

Lesson day turned into a discussion of the pros and cons of "hardware". If I really want to learn to play with no tension, the best way to learn is to go 'commando' (no SR or CR) and and be hyper-aware of every aspect of body-mechanics at all times. We decided to take the middle-road and give the new CR a shot and have some non-SR time in practice at times to see what happens. She helped me find my "sweet spot" where the viola was nicely balanced on my collar bone. My intonation was off and I got lost on the fingerboard in 2nd position, but it felt comfortable. After 30-something years, it would take some time to adjust to such a radical change.

Tonight during practice, I ditched the SR for one of my etudes. It felt surprisingly comfortable, until I had to down-shift. It felt as if the viola would do a face-plant at every down-shift though it never did. All it did was become wobbly until I finished shifting. The other thing I noticed was some ache/tension in the left thumb as it was holding the viola up and the non-tension in my neck/chin. The Berber CR helped keep my viola in its "sweet spot" even without a SR.

I found that I have to move my elbow around towards the right more than before to be in-tune. This also helped when shifting up into the nose-bleed positions. What felt uncomfortable was playing in 1st position on the C string. I'm hoping that as I get used to it, this will feel more comfortable over time.

After my etude practice, the SR went back on. If I can learn to down-shift without it, I may well ditch the thing permanently. Time will tell. Stay tuned.

From Emily Hogstad
Posted on January 27, 2012 at 4:54 AM
Do keep us posted!! I switched to a center-mount rest on my violin a few months ago and after some difficulties getting used to it (including difficulties shifting down), I LOVE IT. A lot of issues with straight bows vanished, and it's also so much easier to keep the left elbow under. Now I'm contemplating asking my luthier if he would consider putting a center-mount on my rental viola... I also use a Mach 1 rest, but have been doing so for ages, and can't remember a time without it, so I can't tell you how that affected my playing. So anyway, fascinating blog, am really interested in how this pans out for you...
From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on January 27, 2012 at 5:08 PM
Ok but how do you do vibrato? I tried to ditch my SR once, and like you, had problems with the down shift, but when I added vibrato, it was a disaster!

---Ann Marie

From Mendy Smith
Posted on January 28, 2012 at 1:39 AM
I don't know, I haven't tried that yet... I'm just trying to figure out the whole balance thing right now.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on January 28, 2012 at 4:34 PM
I ditched the SR at age 47. It took two years to get comfortable downshifting but it turned out to be the most liberating thing I have ever done. Surprised you found a teacher in Houston that would recommend no SR
From Mendy Smith
Posted on January 28, 2012 at 6:36 PM
Corwin, my teacher plays in Mercury Baroque... she has two viola - one setup modern, the other baroque.

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