Printer-friendly version
Karen Allendoerfer

Letting it all hang out

July 27, 2010 at 12:03 PM

 I don't know what I've gotten myself into with the Rockin' Fiddle Challenge.  I'm supposed to be learning a Mendelssohn quartet and moving to the 3rd movement of the Franck.  But what I really want to practice, for some reason, is "Sweet Child O Mine."  When I have time to practice, that is.  Our new au pair arrived from Germany over the weekend and the old one left yesterday.  With a party, sightseeing, and explaining how the dishwasher works, I haven't been able to take the fiddle out for more than half an hour at a time.  (It feels strange to write "fiddle" instead of violin.  I don't see those as interchangeable words.  But for TRFC, fiddle is what it is).

Last Sunday there was a mini-challenge.  Record the introduction, the first 3 sections (1st 24 measures), to "Sweet Child" and post it to the Dueling Fiddlers' FB page by 11:59 pm Sunday night.  "Mini" is kind of a cute, sweet, harmless little prefix.  Minibar.  Minnie Mouse.  Mini-challenge, not so much.  

The first eight measures, which I posted about previously, weren't too bad, especially in retrospect.  While that part was in the dreaded 2nd position, it didn't have a "grab," or fingered octaves, or strange jumpy double stops.  Adam's comment to me for that section was to be less careful, to "let it all hang out."

It is the mark of a gifted musician and teacher to be able to tell that about a stranger from one slightly grainy, tinny YouTube clip.  Because I've heard that sort of comment before from people who know me and have heard me play week after week.  As a child/teen I found such comments frustrating because they seemed to be about me as a person as much as me as a violinist.  I would internalize the comments--"too square," "too careful"--and think about them and become sad about it in odd moments when I wasn't even playing the violin at all.  But somehow this time, whether it's just the maturity of age, or the constructive, helpful way the criticism was offered, or the fact that I know this isn't about me, really, unless I want it to be--it's just a YouTube clip on Facebook, after all--it didn't land on me that way.  Instead, I want to keep playing the piece, keep getting better.

So I entered the mini-challenge.  It was 11:52 pm when my clip was finally uploaded to the right FB page.  Scrolling through the other entries, many of which are amazing, I have to admit that mine does not stack up very well relative to most of the others.  It's not putting myself down to say that, it's just a statement of fact. I could make a list of everything that's wrong with it, just to show that I can, that I'm not oblivious or ignorant.  But instead of that, I would like to make a list of what is right with it, and what I plan to do to make it better.

What's right with it:

1.  I am making progress on letting it all hang out.  I'm just going for it, especially the double stops in the 3rd section, rather than freaking out about how out of tune it is.  

2.  I make it through this intro part from beginning to end, at a tempo that I could perform it at, if I cleaned up other aspects of the playing.  My fingers aren't really there or sure of themselves, and I need to seriously slow it down in practice, but I'm not halting and stumbling.

3.  I am starting to hear each section as a different character.  The 1st 8 measures in particular are almost repeated but not, they start on different notes, first a C, then a D, then an F.  Listening to the original GNR version, I hear this section being played on electric guitar.  Climbing some freakish stairs, ascending into the piece.  Repetition with a twist, kind of like parenting a "sweet child" on some days.  

What to do?

1.  Memorize.  In the better entries, the players generally did it without music.  I am someone who plays better when I play from memory.  It's just hard for me to get to that point, especially with double stops.

2.  Keep listening to other people.  Nearly every entry to the mini-challenge has something in it that I haven't thought of before.  Some people make the same mistakes I do.  Some make different ones, or ones that I would have made if I'd gotten that far.  I can learn from those mistakes.

3.  Slow it down and listen to the double stops.  Then work with the metronome to gradually speed it up.

4.  Play with the bow closer to the bridge.  Also lengthen the strokes.  When they are too short, they sound dorky.  

5.  Isolate the transitional measures and make the transitions smoother

6.  Think about and develop a character for the second section, which still is a bit of a jumbled mess in my mind.

7.  Do a little bit of the fingered octaves every day.   I was not used to stretching 2 to 4 and reaching an octave.  I can easily keep the 1 down and extend the 4 if I don't have to also keep the 2 down.  But the first day I worked on that stretch, my fingers hurt afterwards.  My teacher has warned me not to overdo extensions.  The 2 still has a tendency to get pulled sharp, even when I play it slowly, but over time it seems to be getting easier, and it doesn't hurt anymore if I work on that part a couple of minutes each practice session.

8.  Have fun!  Playing this piece is addictive.  

From Tom Holzman
Posted on July 27, 2010 at 3:28 PM

Karen - that is awesome!  You are an inspiration to all of us.  Keep up the good work.  One thing I can see from how you are playing is that you are picking up some skills with double stops that will be quite valuable for your classical playing.  Cool!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on July 27, 2010 at 5:40 PM

 Go Karen! This is so cool, both for you and us. Fun to see your progress. (And I enjoyed the link you gave us last time to another player doing the same thing - don't know if I mentioned that on the last blog.)

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 27, 2010 at 6:30 PM

 Terez, here are some of my favorites:

Bailey, she's got a lot of energy and drive, and a big sound:


Patrick, he is 10, knows the whole thing by heart, and has great intonation and confidence:


Eduardo, he has a great bow arm:


There are so many good entrants.  I don't know how they will decide between the top 50 or so.

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on July 28, 2010 at 1:34 AM

that's a way of  a good destructions from the norm Karen, I mean 'norm' as in classical repertoire.


Keep on fiddlin'!

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine