What are the most important skills for solo Bach?

May 27, 2022, 2:05 AM · Have you ever stopped to think about just how many different skills come into play in a solo violin piece? I have, and I usually end up regretting it when I’m on stage performing that same piece. “OK, this moment is all about contact point, shifting, and intense vibrato!” Not the healthiest way to perform.

And it’s not just the big concertos or Paganini Caprices that bundle various challenges together. Even the “lowly” Suzuki pieces (which I grew up playing) demand precise coordination and imaginative practice techniques. Just ask my two violin-playing kids, now 9 and 7, who constantly roll their eyes and tell me, “I can’t do this with my fingers while I’m doing that with the bow!”

I’ve been thinking about fundamental skills quite a bit lately, since I’m about to lead a large group of violinists and violists through Bach’s E-Major Preludio. You can join in the fun this coming week if you’d like: more details at the bottom of the post.

Bach Preludio

The hand we’re dealt

I’ve taught mostly adults over the last ten years, and I’m constantly reminded that everyone comes to the violin with different gifts. Nobody has every single gift (though we can safely say that Heifetz came pretty close). And depending on what you think about the concept of talent, you might say that nobody starts with any gifts at all: that we have to work to develop every skill we add to our case.

I find it more fun to imagine that we’re all dealt different hands, and that the cards in our hand can change value over time. For example, in a game of “Texas Hold‘em” Poker, a pair of 3s might look worthless until the first turn of the community cards reveals two more 3s! In the same way, I’ve seen students discover that they’ve been sitting on a valuable skill for years without realizing how far they could go with what they already have.

Of course, some skills have prerequisites: double-stops are a nightmare if the individual fingers aren’t set correctly; off-string strokes can’t develop properly without a straight and consistent detaché. One of my great pleasures in working with adults is to help them unlock an entire branch of violin technique that had previously been closed off.

The fundamentals of the Preludio

So when I set myself to break down Bach’s amazing (and virtuosic) E-Major Preludio into its most important skills, I knew that every player would come at them from a different perspective.

If you’ve never played the Preludio before, then navigating those famously wicked three-string bariolage passages will likely seem impossible at first. Yet depending on what cards you bring to the table, you may be able to master the stroke in just a couple of days!

And while that may be the most well-known challenge in the piece, it’s far from the only one. You probably encounter most of these tasks every day without even thinking about them. Here’s a partial list of the fundamentals I’ll be going over next week:

Left hand

Right hand

Difficulty on the violin comes either from combining two or more challenges (smoothly crossing strings while placing a left-hand finger in advance) or from asking yourself to do something in less time (faster tempo).

Actually, it’s a lot like preparing a meal. Ask me to make you one dish and give me an hour to do it, and you’ll eat well. But ask for a couple side dishes too, and cut my time in half? You’ll get a microwave bounty!

Therefore the practice room is all about “chunking” tasks: making our brains believe that we’re doing just one thing (that contact point-shift-vibrato move from the first paragraph) when we used to have to think about three.

The memory question

Then there’s the fact that so many of us are obsessed with playing from memory. I hesitated to include memory strategies as part of next week’s work, but in the end I know it’s a subject of great interest to a lot of violinists and violists.

And I can’t deny that when I’m forced to memorize something, I do learn it more completely. I often learn it “horizontally” (note to note), “vertically” (the harmonic changes) and “structurally” (where each phrase or section fits into the big picture). I might even learn it visually (where the notes are on the page)! That way, if one system fails in the heat of the moment, hopefully another one is there to back it up.

Plus, I actually find memory work stimulating and rewarding. I’ve found that while I’ve been gifted with good “horizontal” memory (sing me a tune and I can play it back for you), I have to work on the other kinds. And that work ultimately gives me a richer understanding of the piece. It helps me see the music from the composer’s point of view: as a narrative, with a plot and characters.

Bach to Basics and a week’s journey

My ideas about how to break down this incredible piece get put to the test next week, when more than a thousand violinists and violists will follow my five-day plan to learn and refine the Preludio. It’s a free challenge I’m calling Bach to Basics.

I’ll be appearing live for an hour each day, Monday through Friday (May 30-June 3), though all five sessions can be viewed later. We’ll be working from violin and viola parts that I’ve marked with my fingerings and bowings, as well as my collection of daily assignments.

I’ve tried to design next week to be a fun challenge for a wide range of playing levels. If you’ve never played the Preludio (or any solo Bach), you should be able to get your hands around the piece and pick up some new abilities in just a week’s time. If you’re already a Bach veteran you will, I hope, add some tricks to your bag that will help with all your Bach going forward.

To download your materials (the welcome packet includes some preparatory exercises that you can get started on right away), just visit here to register for the free Bach to Basics course:

Register for Bach to Basics

Replies

May 30, 2022 at 04:10 AM · Re ~ Nathan Cole on "Bach to Basics" ...

With due respect, it is very difficult to 'teach' in writing, so with this prime fact acknowledged, I would like to let Mr. Cole know an original 1 of just 7 Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class artist

pupil's and one seen in our 7 individual Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class Films made at USC, On Campus, in then titled Hancock Auditorium, has stopped by to share a few thoughts about the 'Preludio' of Johann Sebastian Bach's Third Partita in E Major following the Great C Major Third Solo Sonata last movement Allegro, which in point of fact, is an intriguing idea which The Master Composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, possibly experimented with essentially linking 2 Allegro Movements back to back yet separated via new Titling of the 3rd Partita in E Major & its rare marking opening first movement, 'Preludio', which is still in an Allegro vein! If one did present a full Half of the 6 Bach Sonatas and Partitas in concert this would pose a significant technical-musical challenge performing the second half of 6 starting with the Second Partita in d minor & traveling through to an epic pyramid Chaconne which is apt considered The Grand Peak of 'The Holy Bible of Violin Playing' & often performed alone minus its 4 preceding Mvt's which start the Second Partita's opening Allemande 'Welcome' from another conversation yet invite one in to a newer d minor 'house', aka, key signature minus bad omen's!

Having just stumbled upon a Quote of Composer, J.S. Bach, on a Post-It in my Opening Page Second Partita in d minor I think it fortuitous in lieu of my sharing of some Musical Attributes of Bach's Music from the Composer's mouthed and deeply felt words uttered long ago:

..... 'The final reason of music should be none else but

..... the Glory of God and the recreating of the Mind ...'

All stated clearly and beautifully above, we are challenged while still invited to unlock the secrets of the most spiritually admired and revered Composer yet can not search the vast musical landscape if we haven't the skills to began navigating vocal quartet writing for one solo violin!! If we tried to parallel navigation of the fingerboard and the Bow to traverse the still untold subtleties of J.S. Bach's on purpose hidden messages requiring a technical 'toolbox' of immense dexterity In Sync, it might be the mirrored same as one trying to win a high stakes international Championship Tennis Match in the famed Roland Garros Stadium in Paris facing GOAT, Rafael Nadal, legendary Master of Clay armed w/Tennis Serve plus unlimited volleying approaches to every individual opponent yet forced in a nano second to adapt one's basic 'It Works Technique' to a new and swifter opponent coming back at Master Shots while returning the thought by all unreturnable responses back at one with a

dire temporary confusion amid sudden personal doubt of 25 years success with almost no match losses yet struggling to find our balance both mentally & physically to attempt a major change in approach foregoing all offense shots to avoid them rickashaying right back to cause a string of lost points in final scoring and a spirit of nothingness after a lifetime of 'Great Tennis' and an unchallenged reputation.

Thusly, we must endeavour to seek new ideas amid those yet to be found approaches to unknown terrain, aka, the 2nd Partita Chaconne of Bach although we know not travelled well roads of a Stern, Szeryng, or Ricci on 'the board' excepting having listened to those mentioned on disc or a brief screen of

video with fiddle and bow moving near seamlessly together & entering Chords of 2 or 3 and even 4 strings simultaneously, and minus any noticeable scratch or thunk by heavy Frog Bow trying to enter politely yet untrained in the mannered world of a Milstein brushing on the strings as a hair brush brushing ever smoothly through hair minus any noise or thunks at the Frog and bubbled bowing bounce due to true misunderstanding of 'How Do I really hold my Bow!?' without a rude entrance on 2 or 3 plus even 4 strings not disturbing undisturbed 'furniture' {aka, fingers} already settled in 'the room', aka, on fingerboard fingers furniture brushed by a Bow on several awaiting softly strings??!

The Only and truly Only Violin Artist to achieve this whom I knew 24 years most well studying advanced Bowing in All of Bach's Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partita's plus the Violin Concerti of Bach, was none other than my private mentor, Nathan Milstein, who whilst playing looked similar to a fish swimming upstream in water with enormous ease minus any flapping of awkward movements which were completely in a smooth sync with the breathing water gills of a fish as though the Milstein Bow was navigating up or downstream in water minus any obstacles in its natural habitat while somewhat rounded minus any angles whatsoever!! In fact, one day at Chester Square in London,, SW1, Belgravia, I watched Nathan Milstein play/Bow as a fish in water minus any hint of jerked

tension, thinking NM has a bow arm which rounds under rather than goes straight!! Much of this was NM at birth 'ready made' or DNA installed yet it's physical owner found it around age 8, & quietly followed the natural path of his physique knowing not how unique & revelatory it was & would become to his love of and pursuit of Unaccompanied Bach!!! The Unaccompanied Bach Sonatas and Partita's liberated young Nathan Milstein from a 'taught to straight bow prison' he happily never knew, nor heard of or was at any time told of by Stolyarsky & finally, Leopold Auer, who in his innate wisdom, left the young athletic violinist who loved to read all Chopin Piano Mazurkas, quote:

"for my amusement", alone!!

Not having offered much of anything other than true blue clues How to Bow minus interference with the forthcoming Nathan Cole 'Bach to Basics' Project, it is my sincere hope to broach this time honoured discussion of bowing in all combinations of 2, 3, and 4 stringed chording minus Scratch which Is Possible if in the 'torture chamber' of Nathan Milstein's Chester Square music room at least twice weekly for minimum 3 & 1/2 to 4 + hrs each visit with an inner resolve to change that which hadn't worked yet w/instinctive trust it could/would under esteemed guidance of 'The Master of The Bow', which was needed when 'the pupil was ready and the mentor showed up'!!!

Wishing Nathan Cole a productive and exploratory 'Bach to Basics' Forum, I remain ~

Yours musically from Nathan Milstein's self proclaimed on first acquaintance ~

'Guinea Pig Heifetz Pupil & whom I can now violin experiment'

~ As from Violinist, Elisabeth Matesky, in Chicago ~

Submitted on Monday, AM May 30, 2022 {#1}

Fwd dg

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