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Corey Washbourne

The Earth through my feet

June 20, 2008 at 3:32 PM

Tonight was a shock for me. Well, so was last night too, but that was discovering the viola for the first time. No, tonight I found the powerful earthiness of the instrument, and it amazed me.

The viola shares three of the same string tunings as the violin, but their respective sounds are like the difference between Mercury and Jupiter. I thought that by placing my first finger on the G or D string, I should hear the A and E I've been hearing for a year on violin.

Instead, what I got was a feeling of full vibration going right through my chest and buzzing underneath my feet. The A on G was alive and throbbing through my bedroom floor. I felt I was not just playing viola, but that the viola was playing me, spreading its resonance through me.

I tried middle C as well. The resonance in this note is so thick inside the sound box, that I could feel a wave-like effect of the resonance moving with my bow. It was intoxicating!

After working on C major scale and a Wohlfahrt etude for alto clef sight-reading, it was time to break out the violin for 'normal' practise.

My god, I couldn't stop laughing hysterically. The violin felt like an absolute toy on my shoulder. I was looking at it through new eyes. To me, it now seemed small, light-weight, not as big as I had previously thought and I didn't have to work so hard to produce a good tone. Going through my scales and the Vivaldi sonata, I was laughing and laughing all the way, especially when my fourth finger would reach into the stratosphere and sharpen the note by almost a quarter of a semitone. It didn't feel like such a stretch anymore, and my left hand was much more relaxed than it has been in weeks.

Certainly, as mentioned in my first blog, the entire purpose of learning viola is to improve my violin playing. So how has it improved already?

Well, for a start, viola has stretched my hand, so playing first position with a relaxed hand on violin is easy peasy. Secondly, I've become aware of the smaller spaces between intervals on violin. This is because compared to viola, the violin ceased to be a large instrument in my eyes. The result is that my shifting has improved already, and I'm more conscious of not overshooting a note by as much as a tone. And lastly, intonation on the G string is improving. I have a reference point to learn and remember middle C (a note I've always struggled with on violin), and the A is so earthy and resonant, it's hard not to miss its distinctive vowel sound.

If the viola was any more earthy than it is, I might sink down roots and grow leaves each day during my practise session.

From Debra Wade
Posted on June 20, 2008 at 7:43 PM
Cory - Great Writing!

I've thought before about trying out the viola along with my violin and now I'm very tempted to go out a do it.

From Corey Washbourne
Posted on June 21, 2008 at 12:34 AM
Hey Debra,

There's nothing to lose with trying viola. The worse that could happen is that you'll suddenly start hearing every viola joke that ever existed ;p

From NeaL Brooks
Posted on June 21, 2008 at 1:13 AM
Or better yet, find a good quality 5ing viola, like I did. The larger body really mellows out the shrill of the open E string and the longer scale length adds definition to the G.
From Ted Naemura
Posted on June 21, 2008 at 2:08 AM
You got me at finger stretching.

What a great post. Thank you for drafting it. Your entry made me feel empowered (brave?) enough to sample viola quite soon.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 21, 2008 at 3:35 AM
Welcome to the dark side!!!

Isn't it a wonder how the viola, which is much closer to the range of the human voice than violin, can resonate to your bones?

Remember, once you've crossed over to the dark side, it is very difficult to turn back. :)

From Corey Washbourne
Posted on June 21, 2008 at 6:49 AM
Ted - I checked my handspans against each other again today. After one year of violin, my left fourth finger reached past my right fourth finger by about a centimetre. After about two days on viola, left fourth finger extends past the right by about two centimetres, and the second and third fingers extend past their respective right fingers by about a centimetre.

You can probably understand why the change caused me to laugh uncontrollably ;p

Mendy - The dark side is indeed a fantastic place to be. I should take pictures while I'm here.

I'm really enjoying the sort of massage I get from all the vibrations, but the biggest thrill is being able to feel the sounds in my body, whether they're spreading through my chest cavity, buzzing under my feet or, like the A on G, going right through my skull. I think it's a similar sort of thrill I experienced when I was younger, being able to feel the sounds of my Dad's drumming through my stomach.

It's going to be hard to go back to violin after these holidays for sure :D

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 21, 2008 at 1:02 PM
I had a similar experience to you when I first went back to violin after playing viola for a while, it felt like a light toy in my hands. Viola playing is helping my vibrato too, which tends to be too fast and tight.

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