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Karen Allendoerfer

A Recording is Worth 1000 Words

October 3, 2010 at 11:03 PM

 In my last blog, I posted about starting to learn the violin solo part to Tchaikovsky's "Mozartiana" Suite #4.  Just for grins (and inspiration, and so you know that this is in fact a lovely piece), here is a YouTube video, done by a professional (who I do not know, but if anyone knows who he is, feel free to post more about him).  In addition to the speed, dexterity, and lovely tone, you gotta love the ponytail:

I started working on it in earnest a few weeks ago, and at the time, once I was able to get through the whole thing without having a total meltdown, I video-ed myself too.  (No ponytail, but there is a vintage doll house in the background).


When I watched this recording at first, I expected the usual intonation and phrasing issues, which are certainly there.  But what I didn't expect were the bow distribution issues.  I use too much bow on unimportant notes, and too little bow for complicated runs.  I run out of bow when I shouldn't.  I tend to want to stay in the center and am uncomfortable at either end.  

Since this recording, I have also run through this solo with the orchestra 1.5 times (the second time we didn't make it through the whole thing because of rehearsal time limitations).  And I found, to my chagrin, that I have a serious case of the bow shakes.  I'm used to my left hand getting stiff and my vibrato and intonation suffering because of it when I'm nervous.  But all this other stuff, I thought I had under control.  Isn't bow distribution something my 11-yo daughter is supposed to be worrying about?  Aren't I beyond this?  Apparently not.

My hypothesis, which has informed my plan moving forward, is that the two problems are highly interconnected.  A big reason why I lose bow control at inopportune moments and start shaking, is that I'm in the wrong part of the bow in the first place.  Or rather, I'm not adequately aware of what part of the bow I'm in, and why.  

Now, finally, I am beginning to understand (if dimly) the point of an exercise Laurie recommended >2 years ago on this blog (Scales, Sheepishly).  In particular, she recommended the following:


Set the metronome on 60 and do:

Half notes on every note
Quarter notes, slurring two to a bow
Two to a beat, four to a bow
Three to a beat, six to a bow
Four to a beat, eight to a bow
Six to a beat, 12 to a bow
Eight to a beat, 24 to a bow (that's three beats, the one outlier for the right hand)


I admit, after that blog I probably did this exercise about twice before getting bored and moving on to something else.  But watching my recording inspired me to try it again, with the 3-octave D-major scale.  My teacher thinks the exercise is helping a lot.  (I want to give it a bit longer before I record again.)  And I no longer think that doing it is boring.


From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 3, 2010 at 11:29 PM

A few things:

For bow distribution practice, you can take a piece of chalk and make tiny marks on the side of the bow (the side facing you while you use it, of course) and use those marks as guideposts.  For example, if you are working on an 18 note run, use the marks to divide the bow into three parts.  You can work on cramming six notes into each of those three parts of the bow. 

(Some teachers put tape on bows.  I prefer tiny chalk marks, as they are easily changed and a little more, uh, dignified.  Whatever works though...)

Also, you might want to consult with your MD about beta blockers.  Whatever "controversy" or "stigma" surrounds their use, they allow many special and wonderful musicians to have great careers.  Just a thought.

Last, oh my goodness.  What an awesome dollhouse in the background!  I had one as a child, although not as McMansiony as that beautiful toy.  Seeing that brings back many happy hours with my own tiny home.  (BIG smiley face here!)

Keep up the good work.  Keep at it.  And let us know how it goes!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 4, 2010 at 3:36 AM

 Thanks, Anne!  Both for listening and providing such helpful feedback.  

I'm also still at the stage where I'm weirded out by how it sounds in the church (where the rehearsals and performance are) vs. there at home in the rec room.  I figure if I get to rehearsal early and just sit there in the chair with the bad lighting and play it about 5 times in the space where I'm going to perform it, maybe I'll get used to it.

The doll house was mine.  I even made some furniture for it, which it still has.  My kids have played with it a little bit but not as much as I did.  The roof lifts up and some more little dolls live up there.  And the living room has a piano.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 4, 2010 at 3:37 PM

 I loved watching both recordings - and yes, the ponytail was interesting, and a delight, and he was a mesmerizing player to watch. 

I find it so interesting, too, to read your comments while watching your footage. It's great; it's like getting into your head while its happening, or getting into a teacher's head, b/c as a beginner, I myself can't pick up the nuances you cited. Reading your comments here, getting to watch your bowing, was like a little lesson for me. So, thank you!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 5, 2010 at 1:38 AM

 Thanks Terez!  I watched it again today and was relieved that it wasn't really that bad.  It gets worse towards the end as more and more notes have to fit into one bow.  The Italian soloist does some really interesting and flashy stuff with his bow, that has me wondering when/if one gets to start doing that.  I'm assuming you have to be able to do it "straight" first, before you can start adding flourishes.  But when did he start lifting and retaking his bow like that, and why?  Did he do it when he was a teenager and his teacher yelled at him, so he had to do it surreptitiously at home for a while until he was old and independent enough to do as he pleased?  Or is it a technique that improves your sound, that they actually teach you?

From Christina C.
Posted on October 5, 2010 at 4:27 PM

yup..... I was dong Flesch but my teacher suggested that approach ( the Galamian method, more or less) to address bow-division issues. We've recently moved on to a different scale system to focus some left-hand issues but once I've gotten the hang of this one I'd like to see if I can figure out a way to incorporate the 2 systems so that I'd be touching on need-work aspects in both hands at once just by doing scales & arpeggios.

ps-  I added a 3-to-a-bow as a 3rd step as it really helps with triplet sub-division (& who doesn't need a little extra work on tripletss?). It's harder than 6 to a bow & what works for me is to hear the 6 to a bow in your head & sub-divide those.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 5, 2010 at 5:33 PM

 Do you "hear" it in your head, or "feel" it in your hand and wrist?  To me it has very little to do with hearing, it's kinesthetic.  It's imagining how much bow you have left, and where your hand has to be in space, for the amount of time the notes are going to take to play (maybe that's where the hearing comes in?)  And it gets further complicated by wanting to use more or less bow on a given note for emphasis or dynamics.  

But yeah, who doesn't need more practice with triplets 8-)

From Dion Ackermann
Posted on October 5, 2010 at 10:04 PM

I saw Heifetz play like that but he touched his nose. 

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