E major Preludio for 40-year-old fingers

September 12, 2007 at 04:50 AM · Once upon a time there was a 15-year-old violinist who was learning the Bach Preludio from Partita in E. She loved this piece and worked it up to audition ready. She liked to play it fast and was rewarded by receiving a perfect score and A+ on a NYSSMA audition playing it.

Years passed and the violinist got a Ph.D. and had two kids. The poor violin spent too many years in the case. The then-40-year-old violinist rescued it, cleaned it, bought it some Infeld Reds and Blues and a new chin rest, and bought it a big brother viola so it would have some company.

Then one bright spring afternoon the violinist dusted off the old Preludio and started to play. Yikes!

How can I help this story have a happy ending? Three ideas so far: 1. E-major scales and arpeggios from the Carl Fleisch book. Every day. 2. Bowing and rhythm variations on the running 16th notes. 3. Studying the musical structure of the piece overall (something I didn't really do as a kid, I just plowed ahead).

I don't want to play it insanely fast, but still, it was so much fun . . .

Replies (26)

September 12, 2007 at 06:00 AM · set the metronome at a slow speed that you can easily manage and the notch up slowly everyday

September 12, 2007 at 01:24 PM · Keep in mind that your recall may be different than the facts, unless you have a good-quality recording of yourself then; many adolescents think they are pretty wonderful and invincible. Nothing works like practice, though doing the dishes by hand with nice warm water helps. Sue (57 today)

September 12, 2007 at 01:56 PM · Aha, do you recall what it took to prepare it the 1st time ? Don't expect shortcuts with your diminished capacity...yeah, at 40, capacities are diminished. Perhaps the zeal you have is to please yourself, whereas, previous zeal was a competitive one. You wished to please your teacher, your parents, and to show that durn NYSSMA judge just who you were, as well as receiving a chance for membership in the conference orchestra or string orchestra. (Was it still at the Concorde at Kiameesha ?)

Initial exposure to the neat bariolage bowing is also a great incentive and warrants lots of slow methodical athletic practice to get the elbow, wrist and fingers working together...Do you have this same incentive ?

Why not settle for the E Major concerto til your sure your profession, family and ego can take the shock of reduced attention.

(I've been a NYSSMA judge for over 40 years and realize you were a super talent in HS...belated congratulations !!!)

September 12, 2007 at 02:24 PM · Karen - one thing that my teacher usually suggests for practicing a piece with lots of string crossings (which the E-major Preludio probably exemplifies) is to practice initially using just open strings and no fingering for the parts that have the insane string crossings. I have found this advice to be good. Also, playing very slowly at first. That is Hilary Hahn's technique for beginning to learn a piece, and it is hard to quarrel with it.

September 12, 2007 at 02:19 PM · Karen, if you feel a bit overwhelmed with this piece, try tackling one short phrase at a time. You can make daily, and weekly goals. I also think that it is worthwhile to play through the whole thing slowly. And Tom's advice on the open string bariolage practice is perfect. Also, instead of Flesch scales, it might be more beneficial to do one position scales (fourth position springs to mind...) and make up your own little Schradieck-style exercises. Have fun!

September 12, 2007 at 03:20 PM · Anne's point about the scales is a good one. For most of the difficult passages you are not in first position.

September 12, 2007 at 04:57 PM · Karen,

There's a lot of really really good threads on the E major prelude to search through here on violinist.com. As a 42 year old violinist who recently performed the entire E major partita, working through Kreutzer 2, 3 and 13 really helped. But the previous threads were a goldmine for me. I also got a lot out of listening to the Milstein recording to hear which notes he emphasized. Obviously, there are a lot of ways to approach the piece, but hope that helps.

Terry

September 12, 2007 at 06:44 PM · "Don't expect shortcuts with your diminished capacity...yeah, at 40, capacities are diminished. "

There's no diminished capacity at 40 caused by age. If you want an age of diminished capacity, try 20. And maybe 80. The first man on the Moon was 38.

September 12, 2007 at 06:29 PM · O.K. I admit it. I am 61. But I can play it fast enough to really enjoy it. Not perfectly, but clean and enjoyably. For me the major problem is intonation and the solution is very slow, careful practice. For speed I do pattern work. I assume you have it memorized but if you don't then that is the next step. There is not really time to be reading and playing up to speed with any sense of mastery.

My last piece of advice is to really intellectually analyze exactly where you are having trouble and what the specific technical problem is. You can probably play most of it just fine but one or two troublesome spots can color your whole impression of how well you are playing it. Determine if it is string crossing, or shifting or articulation or what. Then do spot remedial work on just those specific problems.

Good luck...have fun!

The preludio is the first piece I ever played completely by memory on the top of a mountain.

September 12, 2007 at 06:47 PM · >Once upon a time there was a 15-year-old violinist who was learning the Bach Preludio from Partita in E. She loved this piece and worked it up to audition ready. She liked to play it fast and was rewarded by receiving a perfect score and A+ on a NYSSMA audition playing it.

Years passed and the violinist got a Ph.D. and had two kids. The poor violin spent too many years in the case. The then-40-year-old violinist rescued it, cleaned it, bought it some Infeld Reds and Blues and a new chin rest, and bought it a big brother viola so it would have some company.

Then one bright spring afternoon the violinist dusted off the old Preludio and started to play. Yikes!

Aww, what a great story. Sending best wishes and good luck that violinist's way! : )

September 12, 2007 at 09:25 PM · Karen, you are not alone. I had exactly the same experience with exactly the same piece. Only the ages (22, 51) were a little different, and I have never played it at an audition. It was horribly out of tune when I tried to play it recently.

I still hope daily practice (not the Bach Preludio, but Ševčík, Kreutzer, Flesch, probably what you are doing) will help me get there again after a year or two. I enjoy the practice, so I don't care how long it will take.

There seem to be many of us lapsed violinists around.

Good luck!

September 13, 2007 at 12:02 AM · Hi Karen -

I have an idea for loosening up your fingers. It depends on how much time you can devote to practicing, but always starting with scales/arpeggios, and then trying some Schradieck for a while might help. Schradieck in rhythms, too. It might take a while - Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg said in her autobiography that when she took 7 months off her fingers felt like wet noodles and they were limp and weak, and she just did technical exercises for a while until her fingers felt ...quicker and looser.

September 13, 2007 at 04:14 AM · Greetings,

as someone who has been through a similar process to you I`d like to add a few idle musings. There is no doubt in my mind that you can play things better now than when you were fifteen if that`s what you really want. What you do have in abundance now are critical and intellectual faculties. It is true that your reflexes may have slowed down somewhat but that is not so much a deteriroration of the body (unless you are a heavy drinking, non exercising drug addict) as an accumulation of bad habits and stress from your academic detour, which I am also familiar with. So it would you to really get the wrinkles out of your system with Alexander, Yoga and other low key but intense stuff- leave the jogging for the youngsters who are not cocnerned about fascia. Then , look around and find out what suits you and brings results in the shortset posisble time. I have found taht when I work with adults regular scales do not alwatys bring the best results. More efficient are the kind of one string pattern work scales described in Gerle`s Art of Practicing. He also stresses the imortnace of leanring thes epatterns and then taking passages from the repertoire. IE a very intellectual and thoughtful approach to creating your own technical regime which cna be changed as you see fit. Note for example with these patterns that the relationship between the finger sin the E major prelude is (almost) one sinfgle unchanging pattern until you get to the bariolage. That is the kind of intellectual point that could be very menaingful to you that you probably never thought of when you were 15.

Schradieck is very good indeed but don`t jsut paly it through thinking about tempos. To get a veyr strong conncetion between mind and fingers I would work very dilligently on simultaneous placing of fingers. It might be all of them in one block and that is greta but it is surprising how often one can find, if one looks relaly carefully, examples of where two fingers could be placed instead of one with a net saving in intellectual and physical energy sicne you only have to give the order to raise rather than ut down. I belive this abilty to keep a lot of finger sdown and inactive until movement is absolutely necessary was one of the greta `secrets` of player slike Heifetz and Milstein.

Finally, I suspect the appraoch taken by Mr Haslop in his aterials would probably be veyr useful to you.

Cheers,

Buri

September 13, 2007 at 11:46 AM · Peter Kent:

we've met before.

September 13, 2007 at 09:58 PM · Hello Karen;

I have 60 year old fingers trying to learn this piece and it's my first time through. Someone told me that adults just can't get fast. I beg to differ. I'm suprising myself how fast some of my other pieces have become over time. I couldn't do grace notes or trills very well when I started either.

If you can drum the four fingers of your left hand, that nervous jesture while you're waiting, then you should be able to place them down on the strings. I can't take credit for that observation, but it convinced me. Try doing that on the fingerboard. If you can rapidly move your fingers mindlessly, you can learn rapidly move your fingers with purpose. period.

What has improved my speed, besides knowing the notes and not feeling like my fingers are tangled/stretched, is bow techique. After getting the "rub the tummy, tap the head" sensation of the triple string crossings near the beginning, I'm able to play that faster than most of the piece.

It's so much fun, isn't it? I probably won't be able to play it Presto, but it's not because of age. It's lack of experience. I really didn't like the perpetual motion pieces, so my stamina-confidence and desire need to build up.

I am an adult beginner.

Mary

September 20, 2007 at 04:59 AM · I think many of us late starters/restarters are pushing the boundaries and disproving all the 'wisdom' about old fingers. I certainly play a lot better now than 20 years ago, because I've worked out systems, use Simon Fisher's advice and other good advice, and practice efficiently.

Let's knock all that ageism on the head.

September 20, 2007 at 09:59 AM · One way you can get your fingers to move faster and with more strength, is to move them solely from the knuckle joints. To practice this, raise your finger as high as possible before it goes down, ensuring you don't change the finger's shape throughout.

September 21, 2007 at 06:45 PM · I really recommend the Schradieck exercises for having fast, agile, and light fingers. You can practice them with all the notes as harmonics too, to get your fingers lighter. Practicing the open strings only (no fingers) to work out the string crossings will be helpful too (I think other people have already posted that idea.) And of course, none of these tips will be as helpful as having a good teacher observe you in person to give you technique and body specific feedback. Even one or two coachings with someone great could be quite beneficial.

September 21, 2007 at 10:15 PM · I second Terry's Kreutzer 2, 3 and 13 idea (especially 13). The Schradieck suggestions from Aasheeta and Catherine is good too.

The E major preludio also has the barriolage bowing to contend with--I think Peter said it well--I do notice my fingers, wrist and elbow when I play that part (and I'm not surprised to hear you were a super talent in HS). Block fingering makes several spots go much faster. You probably do that already . . . give yourself a couple of weeks and I bet you'll be up to speed.

Oh, and Neil--I think you just verbalized something I've been watching and trying to understand for a month or two. I was noticing in some faster passages of music I play, I tend to keep my fingers very close to the string, but that is not always helpful, especially when you have to cross over strings or general finger gymnastics with your left hand. In order to keep clean, I do better when I lift my fingers higher, but efficiently--is that where the knuckle idea comes in?

September 22, 2007 at 01:41 AM · I remember watching Milstein play it. Wow... I never had chops Karen, and my flexibility is improving by just doing heavy etudes, and scales with very strict finger dropping and hand shaping in place. My left hand articulation in fact, has struggled.

I recently just started pushing myself as hard as possible while keeping good form as above, so it might help to push a little past the inflexibility. I also use a mirror to keep myself honest--which lead to overuse problems diminishing towards non-issues as well. I just jammed 'hard' for 1:15 nonstop scale and etudes (with a little Suzuki).

September 22, 2007 at 04:38 AM · Greetings,

I always think Kievman`s advice is very good (Practicing the violin mentally/physically): no matter how much time one practice , half of thta time should be on music.

Idle thought,

Buri

September 22, 2007 at 03:22 PM · Everyone's advice has been much appreciated. Memorize, for example. And Schradieck--I've never done any Schradieck. I never did enough etudes, not even when I was younger.

But after reading over other people's impressions, I'm realizing that my problems are probably more mental than physical. For example, my right hand is still pretty good. I don't have any trouble with the string crossings or the bariolage, even in doing those much faster than my left hand can keep up with. The string crossings and bariolage are two of the major things that I find really enjoyable about this piece. (And about fiddling, too, but that's another thread).

What seems to be the problem is the left hand. It can't keep up with the right hand. Shifts and intonation after shifts are the biggest problems.

And then there's something else that I can't quite describe. My fingers could do the right thing if they got the right signal from the brain. But they don't; they get lost or stuck or bogged down.

And I was noticing something kind of interesting over the last weekend when I was at a work meeting listening to scientific talks. Often when I'm doing that, I have some violin or viola fingering/mental playing going on in the background of my mind. That has been going on so long that I don't really notice or remark on it anymore. But this time one of the talks was particularly boring, and I paid attention to it and noticed what it was. It was the Preludio. And it got bogged down at the same place I always get bogged down when I play. I got stuck and couldn't go on, even in my mind. I couldn't remember what came next and went into this loop where I was repeating a 5-6 line phrase over and over again.

So what I'm thinking is that I need to get to the place mentally where I don't get bogged down in my head. Then my fingers will follow--or at least follow more easily. That could be as simple as memorizing the piece really well. One of the places I get especially stuck is at a page turn in the music, for example. If I don't have to think about page turns, surely I'll be better off!

September 23, 2007 at 08:07 AM · I recommend watching videos of greats playing the piece, I too have been practicing the bach preludio and I watch videos of Nathan Milstein playing it (available on youtube), heres the funny part:

For weeks I was trying to work out why Milsteins first finger lifted his finger up at the start of the c-a-c-a x3 c-a-c-g x3 .. passage.. and why it sounded so different, and it dawned on me today that he was playing it on 3 strings(slaps head), so I tried it and the fingerings are not that different but the bowing is, and when I consciously tried to learn the new 3 string bowing it was very slow(the 2 string bowing took me a week or so).. so after a few minutes I had a moment where i just let go and decided to go for it, and I couldn't believe that my bowing was almost perfect, and I really believe watching the video helped me unconsciously remember how Milstein bowed it =D

September 23, 2007 at 02:18 PM · Karen--I was just reading some wonderful detailed advice last night concerning: think first, act second. I agree.

Also, developing this kind of focus as part of bringing both left and right aspects into balance is an exercise of it's own? And bringing that articulation up to what sounds like really competent bowing: (I'm jealous)

...might call for a little remedial as everyone gave paths.

...might call for really putting the basic articulations back to the most basic level and bringing them forward--not too awful to do--and a real good investment overall.

...might call for some confidence building and myth busting--believe in yourself in this.

So the bad part is having to remedial. But if you feel bad just think of me--I'll have to remedial for years and years because of injuries.

So yes, spend some focus energy on your southpaw for awhile and just see what happens. I'd also review gliding through string crossings, relaxed right elbow and those things that will really reinforce what you are doing with your left hand at the same time.

September 23, 2007 at 07:42 PM · "Oh, and Neil--I think you just verbalized something I've been watching and trying to understand for a month or two. I was noticing in some faster passages of music I play, I tend to keep my fingers very close to the string, but that is not always helpful, especially when you have to cross over strings or general finger gymnastics with your left hand. In order to keep clean, I do better when I lift my fingers higher, but efficiently--is that where the knuckle idea comes in?"

I was thinking of raising the fingers high for practice purposes really, when played a bit slower. I think moving the fingers from the knuckles not only strenghens the hand, but also helps to establish the hand shape before the fingers touch the string. Even at a fast tempo, I don’t think that the fingers move all that fast for this piece anyway.

I remember Buri posted something a while ago on another thread, which I thought was very helpful and would apply well here. If I remember correctly, he told his students not to play individual notes with the left hand, but to play (or think) chords instead. He explained this much better than I just did! Applying this principle to the piece, I think a good way to practice might be to tune any two adjacent notes that appear on different strings to each other as a double stopping, so that they sound in tune as part of the chord. You'll discover that the "sharp" notes need to be played relatively low to make the chord sound in tune.

September 23, 2007 at 07:10 PM · Neil--oh, I get it. That's what I meant by "block fingering." What's been on my mind lately is a different left-hand issue.

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