Glissandos -- those tender-sounding finger slides into certain special notes -- may disappoint you the first time you try them, but keep trying. Chances are, the bow lost a little of its sound, the rhythm got a little rickety, and the pitch got lost in the shuffle. When you try it again, make one of those things a little better, while keeping a sense of wholeness; one unifying thought will keep us on track, look at the big picture, and focus on the music. When you think musically and naturally, it’s also a good time to take in each detail and deviation, and get rid of them one at a time.
Names and Feelings
The two major types of glissandos -- otherwise known as slides, portamentos, and "schmaltz" (Yiddish word for chicken fat) -- are known commonly as "Heifetz" and "Kreisler" slides, named after the artists who used them so well -- Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler. (BTW Does anyone know the derivation of "schmaltz" as a word for glissando? I don’t think it was Sarasate, and would be surprised if it were Joachim. Ivry Gitlis?)
Here is an example of how to slide from a first-finger B on the A-string to a third-finger F, in third position on the A string, using the two different kinds of glissandi:
Some slides are so intimate, they don’t even travel from one note to another. They start on one string, like first finger on B in first position on the A string, then with a slight diminuendo, you slide with the third finger on the D string, same pitch in third position. Such a slide has no melodic impact, but takes your breath away with its harmonic one. With the right amount of diminuendo, it could aptly be named a shy slide.
How Glissando Technique Motivates Us
While you’re practicing your slides up and down the fingerboard, you may notice that your bow arm takes a back seat. The minute you notice it, take action and put your priorities first with the bow. Make it smooth and liquid. If the bow has issues with its path, find one that fits and feels organic.
The glissando enriches the effect of the left hand, and consequently it needs an equally rich sound from the bow. While this kind of expression is used sparingly in orchestra, you can experiment to your heart’s content in the privacy of your practice room. Experiment with dynamic changes by swiftly dipping into your string, like throwing yourself onto a trampoline. Such actions, and their reactions, will motivate your left hand to feel musical, not just mechanical.
Music and technique are one. If one stops motivating the other, something is off.
Smooth Slide or Bumpy
It’s very common for the first attempt at glissando to have a uncooperative finger, one that doesn’t want to move at all, let alone a longer distance. This could mean that the finger trying to move by itself, instead of moving as a result of motion from the arm. What we actually want is for the finger to move with the arm, and the arm to move from the elbow. The finger should move as a passive reaction to what the arm is doing, just like the toes go along for the ride when we walk. When the finger tries to move independently, it will be dragged kicking and screaming, and just sort of putter up and down the fingerboard.
How much pressure should you actually apply to the fingerboard? That would vary according to the player, and a heavy pressure by one person would work fine, but be totally unacceptable to another. In other words, don’t change your basic nature. Light, medium or heavy can be fine, as long as the finger makes a smooth movement. Nothing should stop it, and it should land decisively on the final pitch.
Even if the rhythm is a little off, make sure the slide has a decisive, confident quality. If you’re not sure what it should feel like, then start instead by thinking about what it should sound like. Then, keep experimenting until the technique produces the sound you want. When the ear trains the hands, it can make our technique soar. You will have arrived at the proper technique for glissandos without words being used. Then you can explain the technique in your own words.
Another Reason Why Rhythm Is the Most Important Factor in Music
You can’t rush the glissando, but you need to know when to start and when to end.
First thing is to be confident where the beat is and have a beautiful bow sound in motion. Now that you’ve taken care of the preliminaries, be ready to slide without any hesitation. Don’t be afraid to slide with oomph. Better to start out with too much slide than not enough. Sound is no less a commodity than marble, and like Michelangelo, the next step will be to try again and carve it away until you get just the right sound. (Well, maybe suede or velvet would be a more apt metaphor, and shaping instead of carving, but you get the idea.)
I can’t talk about rhythm very long before relativity enters the picture. Glissandos are no exception. If your glissandos tend to shoot by more like Roadrunner than Baryshnikov, there’s a good reason. We would expect to move our finger in the slide at the same tempo we are playing. If your fingers are moving a certain speed and your bow is moving a certain speed, wouldn’t you assume the slide would move the same?
Music, however, has several speeds all going at once, with great attention paid to the master speed. So a nice, juicy slide is going to have its own speed, and most of the time it’s slower. Know when the beat starts and when it ends. Whether you call it a beat or a pulse, it has an arc that resembles a rainbow. Conductors demonstrate that visually all the time, and the more we internalize it, the better our rhythm becomes.
The glissando -- it's a tiny rainbow within a rainbow!Tweet
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