June 14, 2007 at 10:33 AMI recorded myself last night playing the Bach Allemande from Suite #1. The sound quality from my camera is terrible, there's a kind of weird buzzing noise on the A string that I don't hear in person. But all that aside, I was surprised and disappointed at how limited my dynamic range was. I think I'd been so staruck by my new instrument that I was letting it do all the work. I guess I just thought it magically knew what to do :(
So I played the piece again, really concentrating on the dynamics. Not much better. So then I really exaggerated them, or it felt like that, and finally that seemed to make a difference on the recording. It sounded more interesting, less mechanical, and not nearly as exaggerated as I felt when I was playing. Again, I'm brought up short by the difference between what I think I look and sound like while I'm playing and the evidence of the camera and recorder.
It felt somewhat of out of control to play the dynamics like that. And it was quite tiring, but mostly in a good way. I only played half the movement, less than a minute, but I felt it in my muscles. I think this is a good step towards more expressive playing, but I'm kind of all over the place. And the feeling of loss of control is scary to contemplate in a performance context. I wouldn't think that's something to shoot for. I'm having a little trouble fitting this into practice goals for the week: just keep playing it like that until it doesn't feel exaggerated and unnatural anymore?
I probably wouldn't have been as quick to believe the recording if it didn't reinforce things I've heard in the past from my teachers, such as my having a tendency to play everything between mp and mf. Or a difficulty with applying bow pressure *and* moving the bow fast at the same time.
Quite often, when I feel that I'm playing naturally, I'm playing with bad habits that I'm not aware of. Shift is one example. I shift by ear for years since I was a kid. Now my teacher wanted me to plan my shift (i.e., to give exact timing, to think ahead the target and other fingers in relation to the one that is hitting the note, the thumb and shape of the whole LH, and sometimes the wrist, etc.) It feels very unnatural to me to do the shift this way and I still want to go back to my old ‘natural’ habit after a few weeks of practice. But I know the only way to improve my shift is to do all I can not to go back to do what was used to do. I'm not suggesting you have bad habits, but if you believe something can be improved, I’m sure you’d agree that one’s own subjective feeling of naturalness is not always reliable without some external verification. I’m sorry if this sounds like nagging, Karen, I think getting lesson once in a while from a really experienced teacher will give you leaps and bounce (is this how people say about great progress in English?):-)
The paradox between a relax and let go vs. a more technical approach is evident too. I think (but don't know for sure) that relaxing and letting go is something I have to earn after doing some technical woodshedding. Otherwise if I just start out with relaxing and letting go, it sounds lazy and unfocussed. It's as Yixi says, what feels "natural" is sometimes just what's easy. But it is wonderful, after a week or so of suffering through exercises, to just let it come out. That's the place I have to get to.
I think dynamic is closely related to tone production. According to Galamian and others such as Fischer, three chief factors affect the tone: a) the speed of the bow stroke, b) the pressure the bow is on the strings, and c) the soundpoint (where the bow is between the fingerboard and the bridge). Buri was talking about a) bow speed and he seemed to suggest that bow focusing on bow pressure too much could be problematic. I was focusing on c) soundpoint, which requires different speed and pressure at different lane in order to make a ringing tone. For instance, if your bow is very close to the fingerboard, then no matter how fast you move the bow, you won’t likely to get a ‘ff’ sound. Whereas, if you can get “f” by playing a whole bow at the soundpoint exactly between the bridge and the fingerboard at 70bpm, you may only need a half as much bow to play the same loudness if you put the bow very close to the bridge.
I hope Buri would agree with me that the problem with focusing on pressure is not so much that pressure is not important for dynamic, but it is only one of these three chief factors and that it can be improperly over stressed by some teachers. You can see how this can easily happen by, say, working on Kreutzer1. If you play it by staying at one soundpoint all the way through and try to get the dynamic, you have to use pressure only because the piece doesn’t allow you to speed up the bow. But it is illusory to think this is the only way to change the dynamic because a lot of time you don’t need to save the bow like this so that bow speed factor can kick in instead of pressure. Also if you change lanes (soundpoints), you’ll get to choose the speed and pressure accordingly to get the sound you want. This is what I was talking about that you can get a very dense ‘f’ sound by draw the bow slowly next to the bridge, instead of moving the bow fast near the fingerboard. Try this and see the difference in tone and you’ll know what I mean.
I probably haven’t done a very good job explaining, but if you could, take a look at Fischer’s Basic if you can get it from your local music library or music store. It has great explanation and exercises.
For example, if I am trying to play ff and am therefore applying intense pressure close to the bridge with a lot of bow, the bow can fly off the string, and/or scrape and scratch. I like my new viola bow (a Coda aspire); it is easier to handle than the one I was renting, but it is still heavier and more cumbersome than my violin bow and I'm still working with it and getting used to it. (And I can't say that I handled the violin bow with perfect aplomb either).
I'm working on this most directly with the Hook Sonatina because it has simple repeated passages at different dynamic levels. It's a lot harder with the Bach.
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