Playing Fast

September 3, 2012 at 06:45 AM · Hi,

I was just curious about this particular topic. Looking at the most advanced violin repertoire (Paganini, various cadenzas), I noticed that there are some passages where extremely fast playing is required (i.e. a three octave scale in 32nd notes at 120 bpm). I'm almost advanced enough to start learning that kind of repertoire, but the fastest I can play three octave scales/arpeggios with good intonation and accurate shifting is 16th notes at about 160 bpm. Now, as I practice to get to higher speeds, it seems that the amount I have to practice to achieve even a small improvement in speed is approaching infinity. That leads me to this question: is it that there is a secret to achieving such speeds? By the way, I do not take private lessons, so the problem might be a subtle one in my technique or something like that.

Replies (23)

September 3, 2012 at 07:58 AM · The road to elitism resembles an exponential curve, in regards to effort.

September 3, 2012 at 02:25 PM · Your last sentence is key...it's possible/likely that you have to make too-large motions with your fingers because of hand/arm position to make faster playing possible. And, of course, any unnecessary tension will reduce your velocity.

Slow practice in rhythms, good technique, relaxed body, and time are needed to scale the heights (which, like reaching the top of the mountain) take longer than the foothills to achieve.

September 3, 2012 at 02:30 PM · I've been focusing a lot more on scales now that I'm mature enough (in my late 40s!!) to realize how important they are to practice every day. When I started this routine about 6 months ago, I could not play even a G major scale in three octaves really at any decent speed evenly and in tune, and now I can. Certainly not 32nd notes at 120. I think one of the keys is that when you practice slowly, you should yet try to approximate the motions that you would use when you play quickly so that you can learn the efficiencies that you will need at the higher speeds. Slow practice helps but you also have to push the boundaries at higher speed, especially working the shifts and the string changes.

September 3, 2012 at 02:46 PM · Another approach might work: playing rapid passages is not the same as "playing slowly only faster". For years, I tried to gradually increase my speed. It took too much time and effort. I didn't like the results.

I now think playing fast is a qualitatively different thing. I learn a rapid passage at or close to a target tempo. It's not perfect, but I get better results in less time. Minimimizing finger motion as mentioned above and efficiency of movement is equally important. A toddler does not learn to walk in slow motion, an olympic runner does not train at 25 percent of top speed, so why should you? Try this approach with the last five measures of Paganini moto perpetuo-- the 4 octave C major scale.

September 3, 2012 at 11:40 PM · Get a copy of "Practice" by Simon Fischer. Part 1 is called "Fast Passages" and I think contains some of the ideas that you are looking for. Below is a very rudimentary list I once made. It wont make much sense unless you read the book:

Fast Passages

1. “Play at half speed, because it gives you time to think” Ivan Galamian. As well as phrases or passages, practice bigger sections under tempo as well – even whole movements at a time.

2.Speed Up Using a Metronome. a) Start at a slow comfortable tempo and speed up in small steps. b) 10 steps forward (increase by 10 beats/minute) then 5 steps back. Eg. 60,70,65,75, 70 etc. c) Start at a medium tempo. Increase by 5 if you play it well; decrease by 5 in not. e) alternate slow and fast while gradually increasing the tempo -

3.Fast Runs: Controlling the speed. Strengthen rhythmic control in fast runs by practicing speeding up and slowing down. Make these even. Use: Slow – Fast – Slow. Fast – Slow – Fast. Fast- Slow. Slow-Fast.

4.Low Fingers. The easiest finger action comes when the fingers hover above the strings, ready to fall onto their notes.

5.Holding Down The 4th Finger. Depending on the shape of the phrase, it is sometimes possible to hold the fourth finger down on an adjacent string while playing with the other fingers. The greatest benefit comes from holding down on the lower strings.

6.Practicing extra close to the string. Practise by exaggeration, play with such low fingers that they barely clear the strings at all when they lift.

7.Stay close after a shift. Be particularly careful to keep the fingers close to the string after an ascending shift. Arrange the fingers in their correct spacing during the shift. Arrive on the note with the other fingers already hovering above their notes.

8.Fast Fingers. The speed of dropping or raising fingers not the speed of the passage (you can use fast fingers in slow passages). Play through at very slow tempo while dropping and lifting the fingers very fast. Wait until the last possible moment before moving each finger. Listen to the ‘ping’ as the fingers drop onto the string.

9.Fast spiccato repeating the notes to increase co-ordination.

10.Blocks. Raise or drop groups of fingers together.

11.Co-ordination. Good co-ordination means that the finger completely stops the string before the bow moves – the fingers lead and the bow follows. Improve by placing the fingers a fraction of a second too early before the bow has finished playing the previous note. “Overlapping” – with the previous bow. Gradually shorten the ‘extra’ note.

12.Loops. Play groups of notes forwards and backwards making loops. Generally 3-7 notes in a loop. Eg. With 5 notes. Play 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2. Four notes forward, two notes back. Five notes forward, three notes back. Three notes forward, one note back.

13.Adding One Note At A Time. Give you the opportunity to consider each note individually. Especially good for runs and scales.

14.Groups. Practice in beat groups with a short pause in between. Feel each group as one action made with one mental command. Carry on over to the first note of the next group to build continuity.

15.Drop outs. Drop out notes are the notes which in a group of notes that should be even are played shorter and more quietly than the surrounding notes. Play the opposite with pauses.

16.SLURRED PASSAGES. (Separate Bows – staccato – accented legato). Three step method to help every note in a slurred passage speak clearly and equally with the others. a) Separate bows. Detache. b) Staccato in one bow (not flying staccato) c) Accented legato (in one bow).

17.Rhythm Practice. “What counts is not the strength of the muscles, but their responsiveness to the mental directive.” Galamian.

If you are interested in improving the speed of your scales then you should also look at his book "Scales". The Galamian acceleration pattern for three octave scales is thoroughly investigated and pages 126/7 in particular have been of great benefit to my students.

September 4, 2012 at 08:30 AM · Martin: thanks for that list! You aren't teaching in Toronto are you? :)

September 4, 2012 at 01:08 PM · The trick is to train your muscles so that each run becomes automatic. (This is one reason we practice scales and etudes, but the real reason we practice those things is for when we get to tricky runs and cadenzas and such.) There's simply no substitute for woodshedding it with a metronome, being aware of how your body and your instrument respond differently at different speeds.

Set your metronome for the lowest speed and play the passage. It will be so slow you may consider giving up the violin. Trust me, just tough it out. Once you are certain you can play the passage perfectly, move up your metronome a click or two. Again, only advance to a slightly higher setting when you've played it perfectly.

As you get faster, you should only move it up one click at a time. In fact, you may find that you have to back it down two or three clicks (or more) and work it back up as things fall apart at high speed. But the principle is the same: never go to a faster tempo unless you can consistently nail it at a slower tempo.

The ultimate goal is to be able to play even faster than the performance tempo, so that you can be relaxed under pressure and know you can handle it.

This sort of practice is tedious, but in my experience it is necessary for perfecting tricky passages.

When you come back to it later, you can start at a faster tempo (perhaps 60 instead of 40) and work it up again. After several days of this the music should become automatic and you will then be able to play expressively, which you cannot do if your fingers can't reliably find the notes in time.

September 4, 2012 at 02:25 PM · slower is faster. Always works!

September 4, 2012 at 02:32 PM · Hi John, assuming you've already figured out some good fingerings, have a good sense of pitch for the passage, did some slow tuning, and worked a bit on shifting and coordination with string crossing, I think the most efficient way to develop speed for fast runs is to work on groups of notes in the following manner:

1. Work with groups of 2, then, 3, 4, (5 if you want,) 6, 8, and so on, as much as you need to iron out the kinks, and depending on the length of the run, slurring all the notes of a group into one bow

2. Play short-long patterns, making sure the short note is coordinated precisely with the beat (with and without a metronome); precision at this step cannot be overstated and many students don't pay enough attention to whether they actually have control and coordination of their motions

3. Eliminate the 1st note in the run, then the 2nd, and so on, until you have gone through every permutation of notes within each group for the given number of notes in a group. E.g. if you're working on groups of 3s over the following scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G, you'd play (short-short-long) GAB, CDE, F#G, then, ABC, DEF#, G; then BCD, EF#G, again, making sure that both the left hand and the bow fire precisely on the beat, whether according to a metronome, or your inner beat, and playing the short notes 'fast, fluid and even'

4. Gradually increase the tempo until you approach your goal; the slower you go, the longer the pause between groups, the more you have time to prepare; but even at faster tempi you can always just rest in between groups for as many rest-beats as you need to prepare the next group, provided of course you resume precisely on the next beat; make sure you prepare once, and execute; get out of the habit of making 'false' starts if you do that; prepare (during the long note, in your head: the interval pattern, the shift/finger pattern, a good final position which is prepared for the following group, the feeling of light and even finger pressure, the feeling of fluid (not rigid) fingers contracting and expanding, the flow of the arm through the group, landing your bow arm level on the new string if there's a string cross at the end of a group)before you play, especially when working details (later cue words can trigger preparation so you simply recall the perfect execution rather than a detailed analysis of what to do)

5. All that matters is what happens within the group, and that you play each group on the beat, not how you join the groups together, so don't be in a rush to join groups/beats together; smoothness, eveness, and flow between groups are taken care of automatically by the permutations, and working longer and longer groups; in 4. above you prepared the execution before it happened; as you play, pay attention to what you actually do within each group; pay careful attention to your finger pressure and final positions; make sure you didn't press on any finger too hard, so you don't get stuck within the run; make sure at the end of each group you're prepared (in both position and finger pattern) for the next group, since the final position of the current group is the starting point for the next, and merely an intermediary in the context of the whole run; repeat each group as necessary, making adjustments each time until you're satisfied (or your just fried) before moving on

6. Of course after a little while, you'll be able to identify where your 'sticking points' are (usually between 2 notes, over a shift, or a string cross, finding a good intermediate position to launch the next pattern, feeling and preparing extension patterns in high position) and can focus on those weak spots; you won't have to practice the whole run until you're preparing for performance mode

7. Finally, make sure you distribute your bow properly for the phrasing and virtuosic effect you want to achieve. Once the whole run is fluid and absolutely in your fingers and string crossings, play under tempo in staccato to help distribute the bow. Once you've got an idea of the distribution you can then execute with bravura

Check out this thread to see if you can improve smoothness. The smoother your arm moves (i.e. without a jerky start/stop motion) the smoother your fingers can glide along; ideally you want your arm to flow smoothly and continuously through the duration of the run, which is made possible by the contracting and expanding of the hand and fingers. If you fluidly slide your lower finger through higher fingers when ascending, and higher through lower when descending, the smoother you'll shift and the less you'll pound the fingerboard. The better you anticipate string crosses by approaching the new level while playing the last notes on the old level, the smoother your crossings will be.

Do a little bit every day (doing too much at a time can be discouraging, especially at first) logging your speed so you can see your progress; think "progress, not perfection." When you're in your performance preparation phase it helps to use cue words before difficult passages to help you trigger everything you've prepared in an instant (rather than having to go through the analysis as you did in the working phase,) "flow" or simply "relax", or something specific like, "drop shoulder" whatever helps you release apprehension, helps you breathe, and recall your perfect brain map of the passage. To take your preparation to the nth degree, spend some time visualizing perfect executions of each difficult passage every night: visualize the score, audiate the passage, the harmony, feel the tempo and rhythm, feel your arms and fingers moving perfectly, prepare in your head as you've already done many times in note-group practice, speak the cue word and execute perfectly in your head; then spend some time imaging a spot (or longer passage) before the trouble spot, play through in real time (or slow motion), speak the cue word, and play perfectly.

Other types of fast passages have similar issues, but obviously the specifics depend on the context. In general you use added rhythms to get rid of hesitation, coordinate the left fingers with bowing, achieve better flow (through the short notes, while still having time to breathe a bit on the long notes); slurred patterns to make left fingers and string crossing even; rhythmic acceleration to physically and rhythmically speed up the fingers and bow; metronome acceleration to instill proper sense of tempo; work on hand posture, arm position for both positions on the fingerboard and which string(s) you're trying to reach, hand frame, sound point, bow distribution, bow position (where you're playing in the bow,) etc. to refine motion.

Hope it helps.

September 4, 2012 at 05:24 PM · Following up on the terrific post by Jeewon Kim -- bravo Jeewon.

I believe that the concept of grouping is crucial for fast playing -- in fact it is crucial for just about any kind of playing.

Returning to the comparison of music to language -- we initially learn to recognize the letters of the alphabet. Pretty soon we start to combine letters into words and after a while we stop reading individual letters. then we form words into sentences, and paragraphs, etc.

In fast playing we need to think in groups and our hand needs to work in groups. There are two types of groups -- musical groups and violinistic ones. We need to utilize both types. A musical grouping could be as simple as four sixteenth notes in a group, or three notes of a triplet, etc. We need to train ourselves to take in the group as a whole with our mind and also our fingers.

Violinistic groups -- all the notes in one position could be a group, or all the notes on one string, or all the notes within one bow -- we need to search for the grouping in which we can play the whole group comfortably and fluently as a unit -- fast. Once we achieve that we can start connecting the groups, until the entire passage flows smoothly as a unit, but meanwhile we are still thinking and moving our hand and fingers, group by group. Sometimes we need to search for a fingering that allows us to group the notes conveniently.

In truly violinistic music, usually by violinist/composers, the musical grouping is the same as the violinistic grouping -- Kreisler's Preludium and Allegro comes to mind. In fact, that's a great piece to study in order to develop your facility with grouping.

September 4, 2012 at 05:29 PM · Agreed Roy! Your ideas would take us naturally to finding the best musical groupings, according to harmonic rhythm, voicing, and phrasing too, the musical meaning of the passage. And as we go back and forth between polishing the technical aspect and working on the musical, we rework things, the passage gets better, we crash through plateaus. Often problems simply resolve if we follow a musical grouping, especially physical issues, as we learn to really move and breathe with the music.

September 5, 2012 at 04:40 AM · For me, personally, I have always found the figure 8 thing and similar techniques to be counterproductive. I have always been able to play fast quite easily (depending on the passage, of course) The things that have helped me and my students the most have been 1: small finger movements 2: thinking in groups 3: stay loose 4: light finger pressure 5: light bow pressure 6: search for fingerings that favor fast playing

September 5, 2012 at 05:32 AM · I think all you're conscious of when playing fast is flow. Everything else needs to be working automatically or something will go wrong. It's kind of like Jedi precognition if you will. You see what's coming up (whether on the score or in your mind's eye) and it unfolds the way it should. That's why note grouping is so useful; it's much easier to do the Jedi thing in smaller chunks of the passage, until you can stitch those pieces together. You can also train for precog by always scanning the score ahead of what you're playing, like in speed reading, capturing groups of notes and patterns, rather than individual notes and fingers, as Roy said above, which is especially useful for when you have to cram, when there isn't a lot of time to learn a tricky passage before you have to perform (a.k.a. working in the real world,) and the same skill you use for sight reading.

The only reason I would mention figure 8s or crescent bowing is as a corrective measure for a bow arm which doesn't track well, which hasn't found it's groove yet; they're inefficient for speed. Pedagogically, you aim for a straight bow, i.e. train the arm to coordinated along a path at right angles to the string; in reality, and you see this quite frequently on the concert stage, the bow often swings around the body in fast bowing. But I do think it's useful to choreograph fast passages for tricky bowing, planning how to creep up and down the bow to be at the right point in the bow (particularly in mixed bowing passages, going from on to off, finding the best bounce point for the tempo etc.), bow distribution, anticipating arm motion in string crossing, practicing open string patterns, when to cross from the upper arm v. lower arm/hand/fingers, planning sound points for drastic dynamic changes, etc. I guess that's just what right arm practice entails, but making yourself aware of that can speed up the process of speeding up.

Edit: on second thought, if you make yourself aware of what you're doing in the moment (inadvisable during performance, unless something's going wrong and you're trying to make adjustments on the fly) I guess you'd be aware of movement like: even swinging, opening and closing at the elbow, coordination with wrist and fingers (unless your technique precludes such coordination, in which case there'd be a more pronounced swinging around the body,) a certain firm/looseness--the fingertips have a firm connection with the stick, but the fingers themselves are quite loose (unless you're gripping a little for sudden bursts of motion for dynamic effect or articulation) such that it's almost as if the stick is swinging the fingers--hard to describe. Also for sautille you can make yourself aware of the arc of the stroke, look at the tip to see if it's dipping for sautille, or lifting for spiccato. Sometimes, it's easier to play a slow sautille stroke, lower in the bow at a slower bouncing point for certain passages, instead of spiccato, which the tempo might indicate, or when the tempo makes it ambiguous (Magic Flute overture comes to mind) in which case you might look at the path of the tip to remind yourself.

Edit 2: are you thinking of stuff like this John?

September 5, 2012 at 02:55 PM · Hi John (Cadd,) I think it depends on your lineage whether you explicitly learn about training the fingers/thumb of the bow hand. The other stuff about the arm is necessary for bowing control. There's a simplicity about your string metaphor that certainly has it's advantages. I'm from a lineage that develops maximum articulation and control from the fingers, analagous to how the tongue and lips articulate speech. Such technique not only allows for a very quick pinch/release of the string for certain types of sfz, or fp, or very sharp definition to the start of strokes, but also very fine control over the undulating motions which control softer articulations and sudden colour changes, what some people call 'parlando.' You can hear this kind of hand technique in Shumsky or Staryk or Primrose, and can read about it (a version of it) in Capet, though I don't find his writing all that clear. Though less visible, similar control within the hand is, I suspect, at the heart of the Galamian school as well, and probably originates in the Franco-Belgian school. Learning how to coordinate fingers/hand with the arm also makes bowing more efficient, since the whip-like motion through the joints amplifies small motions at the elbow or the shoulder. But of course the final result isn't only about efficiency. So you definitely have a bigger palette of sounds with finger control, but some people can do amazing things with less.

From a purely technical perspective, I think learning fine motions helps with overall bowing control, makes it faster to acquire. We all start with stability, grabbing the stick so we don't drop it. But if we don't quickly move onto balance and mobility, that intial grab gets ingrained and turns into rigidity. If you look at Dalton's Primrose book, there's a bit Primrose does about how the student prepares to play, wherein he picks up the bow and jabs the button end into his thigh as he adjusts the fingers to get his fingers into playing position. That's an example of an early habit that ingrains stability before mobility. Instead, you can coordinate the thumb and fingers to always feel the balance of the bow. Here's an alternate routine to help ingrain mobility:

1. Pick up the bow at it's handle and hold it in your palm (using only the right hand,) as if you're holding the hilt of a sword. The stick is in the crook of your curled fingers, the bottom of the frog is in the thumb-side palm of your hand, the thumb rests loosely over where the hair meets the ferrule and touches the tip of your forefinger lightly.

2. With the tip pointing forward away from you, hand gripping lightly, feel the weight of the stick by wagging it slightly up and down, and with palm facing up (I say 'palm' just for convenience; if your thumb-nail/hair-of-bow faces up, it's a little more comfortable with less supination/inward rotation.) Feel the handle pivot in your hand; feel the button end move into your pinky and ring finger (p&r) and the weight of the stick on your forefinger (f) as the tip wags down; feel how weightless the bow feels as the tip wags up; grip a bit more with the middle finger (m), curling it around the stick, where the bump of the frog meets the stick; wag again and notice how the stick pivots around the curled middle finger. Repeat with palm facing down and feel the difference. Repeat with palm facing down and tip pointing to the left (bend at the elbow.)

3. Repeat the above, but instead of wagging the bow from the arm, move the stick with your fingers. With palm facing up, tip pointing forward:

a) flex f, wagging the tip up and relax; feel the button end move into p&r as you flex f

b) feel the weight of bow at the button end; flex p &r and wag the tip up and relax; feel the bow sink into f as you relax

c) do b) and c) simultaneously to feel the coordination betwee f and p&r

d) with the new control over the fingers, turn the tip clockwise, then counterclockwise, drawing circles in the air; feel how the thumb interacts with the fingers

4. With palm facing up, tip pointing forward, weight of stick falling down into f, and up into p&r, roll the stick to the left with m. The tip of m grips the stick at it's pivot and the baseknuckles open up so the stick rolls away from the palm, the bottom of the frog rolls away from the thumb-side palm and faces up, the thumb opens away from the palm in response. Repeat several times.

5. With the stick rolled away from the palm, the thumb is poised to take its position. Curl the thumb gently and place its inside tip on the stick opposite the middle finger (longer thumbs may want to be opposite m&r, in which case the fingers are a bit higher up the handle.) Practice quickly changing between the 'sword hold' and the 'bow hold'.

6. With the new flexible and mobile bow hold, practice wagging the bow up-and-down and side-to-side and drawing circles in the air with the tip. Now you can also practice thrusting the tip forward and back from the wrist and fingers. This thrusting motion is the basis for all finger/hand motions, across the string, along the path of the bow in bowing technique. Notice how the thumb swings open and closed from its intercarpal joint near the wrist. So when the tip is thrust forward the thumb is closed against the palm-side of the middlefinger; when the tip is retracted (using the whole hand at the wrist, with wrist flexed) the thumb opens and the space between the thumb and middle-finger and metacarpals of the middle-finger approximates a semicircle, not a full circle. This exercise works the full range of motion for the thumb, and works the proper coordination between the fingers and the baseknuckles, and their coordination with the thumb. Notice the fingers will move the stick in the direction of the bow as they curl and extend (thrust and retract,) if you angle the base-knuckles relative to the stick (pronate the forearm, lean the hand) and vertically if you make the base-knuckles parallel to the stick.

7. Now you can simply point the tip to the left, place the bow on the string and work on bowing from the hand and fingers. Notice that to keep the hair on the strings as you bow from the hand, the forearm must follow the hand, i.e. as you thrust the tip to the left, the wrist flattens as the tip-of-the-forearm sinks, as you retract the button to the right, the wrist curves as the tip-of-the-forearm rises. Of course at the tip of the bow, where the wrist is already extended, the wrist extends further as you thrust the bow, and flexes flat as you retract the bow (more or less depending on relative length of arm.)

8. After you get used to hand and finger motions, you can use them for bowing from the hand or you can incorporate them into motions of the arm.

a) Down Bow: move from the arm keeping the fingers curled, thumb flat against the palm, wrist flat; stop the bow before you reach the tip, then finish the stroke with the 'retracting' motion of the hand, i.e. throw the fingers straight, open the thumb, flex the wrist

b) Up Bow: move from the arm keeping the fingers extended, thumb extended and open (semicircle,) wrist flexed; stop the bow before you reach the frog, then finish the stroke with a 'thrust' of the hand, i.e. thrust the stick by curling the fingers, closing at the thumb and extending the wrist

Practice with dotted and double-dotted rhythms in both staccato and legato. Remember to keep the hand leaning into the stick.

Gradually blend these hand motions (remove the stop between arm and hand) with the arm (long or short strokes) and you get a smooth whip like motion, or a coordinated paint-brush stroke. For fast playing, the motion at the fingertips gets amplified through the joints, so you can use more bow and get a bigger sound with less motion at the elbow or shoulder. You can also practice long-short-short rhythms so prevalent in violin rep. by use the arm for the long stroke and the hand/fingers for the short strokes. String crossing also becomes smoother and more efficient with the whip-like (or wave-like) motion in the vertical plane, especially useful for bariolage; keeping the base-knuckles more parallel helps for 'wavey' string crossing.

Using coordination within the hand, you can also control vertical lifting motions for off string playing, and pivoting motions for fast string crossing at the frog. Training the hand this way also helps with feeling suspension in the fingers as they hang with the bow in the air, and helps with sinking the hand onto the string as if on cushions (Galamian's springs of the fingers.) Learning to spread the fingers along the stick (without letting them slip) helps to stabilize the bow without getting rigid. Internal oppositions of the fingers and thumb help to feel pull and push, and compress and release, adding to control. (Check out Primrose's, "look ma, no thumb" bow hold to help with coordination between fingers.) Use Sevcik Op.3 to master full bow hand/arm control.

September 5, 2012 at 10:13 PM · And finally, if you are playing in an ensemble or orchestra and can't play it cleanly in tempo, do no harm & don't pantomime! You can fool the audience's eyes, but not their ears.

The most common problem are those fast runs of passing tones that won't be missed by most in the audience anyway. Figure out what notes are important and leave out the others.

10 notes taking up a quarter note in time at about 120 is an example. Add to that some accidentals in the run and you need a union man. Play the first note of a run and then as many of the last notes in the run as you can play in time and in tune.

Another simplification that I use is with large position jumps. If I am up in VII position and a low note requires me to jump down and then back up I often stay in the high position and play that problem note up an octave so I can easily continue playing in tune.

As a member of 2 orchestras that often has a few passages of music beyond our violin players capabilities I have worked out all kinds of simplifications over the 40 years I have been playing. I'll bet that, at least secretly, some of you have done the same and can give other examples!

September 7, 2012 at 01:31 AM · Wow, what detailed contributions, everyone! Certainly much to think about and to apply to violin playing. For those asking for specific examples of the kind of literature I am thinking about, Paganini Caprice 5 and the end of Saint-Saëns Intro and Rondo come to mind.

September 7, 2012 at 03:54 PM · Hi John Cadd, what's offered at colleges wholly depends on the teacher (though some schools have separate technique classes, I don't know how general or specific they are.) Some teachers don't deal much with technique, I suppose the assumption being the student should already have a solid foundation by the time they reach college, and/or they want the student to figure out how to achieve the muscial ends being asked of them. Other's are adamant that all students change to their way of playing. And yet some are more sensitive to the individual problems the student faces. Didn't somebody mention something like that in Mastery, regarding Sevcik and Auer? I think it had to do with Sevcik being able to take average students and transform them into excellent violinists, whereas Auer tended to work on an artistic level with students who were already technically established. So I guess, caveat emptor, know what you need from higher education. But I think if you look around, you'll always be able to find someone whose willing and able to give you a solid technical foundation, if you find yourself lacking.

~~~

Hi John Caner, when it comes to specifics, it's hard to say what needs tweaking without seeing the individual's challenges to the passage. But in general, before you tackle such pieces I think it's fair to say you need to be able to do certain things fairly comfortably. E.g. before you try Paganini 5, you should be able to play 4 octave apreggios fluidly and accurately, esp A maj and min; you need to be able to play rapid scales, especially on the E string, with 12-12...21-21, 123-123...321-321, 1234-1234...4321-4321, in higher positions; also pieces like Kreutzer 23 will help with fluid, rapid finger action; also you need to be able to be fairly comfortable finding interval patterns across strings, for which you should play some Gavinies, Dont Op.35, 2 for contractions and expansions of the hand (also Rode 3, 8, 10, 18 for example) along with or in preparation for the presto; for the bow, the previous etudes are great, but you might also want to master Kreutzer Op. 8 in sautille, and also the Moto Perpetuo's by Ries, Novacek and Paganini. These will all help with the Saint Saens as well.

The note grouping exercise works well with fast separate bowing. But I would make the following adjustments. Make sure to always finish a group on the next beat. I.e. if you're working on groups of 4, in the Agitato of Paganini 5, play A-C-E-C, B, starting the group precisely on 1, and placing B precisely on beat 2, afterwhich you rest for however many beats you need to prepare and fire the next group. Start each new group on the last (5th) note played. This helps ensure you're spreading the 4 notes evenly over the beat, i.e. play rhythmically, coordinating left and right. Also you can do permutations of the group, but I think it's just as good to simply overlap on the odd notes (unless you need to work on pushing the up bows more.) So in Pag 5, for groups of 4 do: as before, ACEC,B; BDED,C, etc.; then do (omit AC) ECBD,E; EDCA,G, etc.; then do groups of 8s, and overlap, etc. In the Saint Saens, you'll obviously want to also do groups of 3s and 6s. Be able to play the complete passage you're working on in a heavy, scrubby, extremely short (no more than 1 cm of bow) detache, at the best bouncing point for your bow, on each string, before you start working on sautille. Practicing spiccato is not useful for fast sautille passages.

All in all, there's a lot of cool stuff you can do before, or along with, the pieces you're interested in, and they can only help you learn them well. Good luck!

September 8, 2012 at 03:08 AM · hey playing fast ? It is like a NASCAR driver. He only has fast and stop !I learned from a Mr Clark way back in the 70's. Wolf-heart and all the rest.But when it came to improve more like my rocket fingers juts took over and it is a blur of sounds so wonderfully awesome . Hmmmmm? To play a soft slow tune is hard as trying to sing and play at same time .Some players do both a real tricky triz.all the best , Mike C

September 8, 2012 at 03:19 AM · Maestro Sonne nailed it.

September 8, 2012 at 01:13 PM · My teacher always says "Don't just play the notes; THINK about each note!" So I would play it slowly, one note as a time, and even as the tempo increases, don't think of it as a run, but a group of notes where every note is important in its own way, and they should all speak.

September 8, 2012 at 06:13 PM · Perhaps the time to work on speed is when one has acquired the bow control to play Kreutzer #1 or Spiegel im Spiegel, for example, well.

September 8, 2012 at 06:27 PM · I have it on good authority that a major Symphony used Kreutzer #1 for sight reading in auditions. Allegedly, I was told by an audition committee member that few could play it well. We're talking top-of-the-line Conservatory graduates here too.

When word got out they were using that they shelved it until it fades away, then they will haul it out again. LOL.

Bow control, shifting, precise couinting, intonation, and tone quality up and down the strings is what that's all about. An excellent Etude.

September 8, 2012 at 08:33 PM · Post deleted - I figured it out ... :)

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