It is virtually impossible to describe what is actually happening when someone plays every note in tune on the violin, but it shouldn’t stop us from trying. There are several components, including the ear, an acute sense of space, and muscle memory. The way they interact, all the while staying interdependent with the bow arm, lies in the realm of what we think of as talent.
Talent is a double-edged sword, but there is no doubt that its worth is beyond question. It showcases the essence of both music and technique. And each of us can identify it and nurture it. The exploration will surprise us, because the results feel so good. I’ve always felt that it was significant that Suzuki established the Talent Education Research Institute. He set the standard that each individual pursues and develops the talent that is within him.
Checklist for Organic Fingers
Out-of-tune notes happen because several things may go wrong:
Finding and Fixing the Interval Template
The way we remember where to place our fingers is similar to how a quarterback throws a football. The athlete is keenly aware of slight variations between this angle or that angle. The spatial subtleties occupy a part of the brain that can catalogue very minute differences.
One of my "aha" moments took me years to figure out because it was such a vague feeling which couldn’t be easily explained: It involved muscle memory and how we perceive it. On one level I “knew” where the intervals were, but on another level I hadn’t internalized them. Until I really compared the right interval to the wrong ones, I wasn’t 100% sure. My mind needed some cataloguing.
When something vague becomes concrete, you know you’re making progress. It dawned on me that a whole step in first position is very predictable in how it feels, and becomes more and more unique as I compared it to slightly sharper and flatter variations of it. In other words, a tiny area with no physical demarcations or frets was transformed into something replete with fail-proof boundaries. Finally, the dissection of space that a pitcher or quarterback feels was within my grasp. This is what I mean by "organic fingers."
What we learn in first position stays with us the rest of our lives. When it’s done with a strong and knowledgeable confidence, it is a reliable template for all other positions. The feelings and proportions between fingers are the same in all the positions as they are in the first. The only difference is they’re a tiny bit smaller. Hence, the hand has the feel of an iron glove, which is very useful in its consistency. All we have to remember is the exact intervals. It doesn’t take much effort to move smaller distances in higher positions, because the hand, which is already too big for the fingerboard, has already learned to be smaller in first position.
What We Can Learn From the Sport of Bowling
Music is so full of soft edges, elliptical contours, and ethereal beauty that we need to remember the right angles of rhythm and the laws of the violin’s planes. When it comes to the precision of our left fingers, it all comes down to the fingers entering the fingerboard through the “slot” that’s meant for each particular finger. Like bowling pins, in which the apparatus that controls them is a well-designed machine descending from above the pins, our hand, wrist, and arm need to set up the perfect placement of the fingers.
You’ll know things are working correctly when every interval, half-step or huge, requires an adjustment of the support foundation. Elbow, wrist, knuckles and palm enter into a lovely dance to get the finger ready for its slot. Keep an eye on your ring or watch to see how much movement is taking place. The third finger, so it’s so welded to the second finger, takes the most maneuvering. No one said it was easy. But it’s elegantly doable.
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