When you play a solo, even with an orchestra, you are apparently responsible for tempo. Does anyone have suggestions as to how to keep that tempo constant or at least within one's possible range? The temptation to speed up is almost unbearable - and if you do how do you get it down again?
I suppose some are born with an internal metronome - but can the rest of us do it?
Here is my take on your questions from my perspective as a soloist and past work as a concertmaster for soloists...
When you play a solo, even with an orchestra, you are apparently responsible for tempo. Does anyone have suggestions as to how to keep that tempo constant or at least within one's possible range?
The answer is yes and no. You can work out the general tempo with the conductor, and in general it is best for the soloist to be as steady as possible. If you want to do something, it is best to save it for major points or transitions. The problem is that an orchestra has a lot of people and if they try to each adapt to a rubato it will be a mess. It is harder for an orchestra to slow down than speed up, and once they speed up, they rarely slow down, part of the reason being that it becomes easier for the winds in breathing. Remember that rhythm is in the right forearm for détaché and in a combination of left hand finger action and right forearm in slurs. For me, in a détaché, I focus on keeping the speed of my right forearm constant. The best way to work on keeping things in control is to practice slowly. Like a famous violinist once told me "if it's not slow, it's not practice." That said, sometimes, you have to follow the orchestra, depending on how good the orchestra is. Sometimes a wind player will play a solo that is completely in their own tempo rather that of the orchestra, and if you force yours, the result is that things pull apart as the winds will not be able to follow and the strings will push the tempo with you. Then, you will be stuck with a faster tempo than that you may wish. So, I find that the best solution is to approach it kind of like chamber music between you, the conductor and the orchestra.
The temptation to speed up is almost unbearable - and if you do how do you get it down again?
Sometimes it is, but resist temptation and keep in mind that you are working with the rest of the orchestra. If things do speed up, look for a strong point, a point of transition, or somewhere with steady beats and accents where you can bring it back. Look at the conductor to let him/her know what you are about to do and be sure that you are clear in your mind and body language when you do.
I suppose some are born with an internal metronome - but can the rest of us do it?
Yes and know, but anything can be learned. Again, the key is slow practice focusing on knowing how you produce things and keep those steady. Knowing that one of the biggest keys to rhythm is remembering that rhythm is in the right forearm will help you in achieving greater stability. In a détaché, focus on steady rhythm in the forearm and fit the left hand into the bow. Focus on equal lifting and dropping of rapid notes in the left hand in legato passages. When playing, don't play a run, but a succession of each individual note that make up the whole. That will also help in being more controlled.
Hope this helps...
It sounds ironic, but practice the piece in
Here's another thought. Before you start, make sure you feel the beat at the tempo you want, strongly inside you. Oh, and also subdivide whenever practical when counting too.
Christian - that's terrific, but will take me a bit of time to fully absorb.
Charles - could you expand a bit on the rubato practise method.
Fortunately the piece has several entries where the orchestra does very little and I can easily reset the speed. However, the big problem is knowing in your mind what tempo to re-establish. I've tried a couple of things. The first is to try to establish some independence from the orchestra by playing the piece (memorized) while loud unrelated music (classical radio) is playing on the radio. That is an amazing exercise. The real situation is, however, even more difficult since one has to resist an ongoing tempo that is very close to the one you want to establish.
The other challenge is sensing my speed in my head before my entry. For that I tried two tricks. The first was using ballroom dance music since that's pretty burned in after years of competing. Unfortunately none of those match the desired speed. The next was to searched my mind for old pieces or phrases that naturally dictate the tempo I want. This seems to be working better - in this case 'row, row, row your boat' not only dictates tempo but also fits nicely as a tetramer.
Great post, Christian.
Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to "personal tempo tendencies " as well as tempo perceptions both in terms of how they affect one's own playing and chamber music groups. Do you know what your tendencies are? My tendency is to play anywhere from on to ahead of the beat and to rush when going to notes of smaller subdivision... and the end-result is that I can dig myself into a hole accelerating into a tempo that will get the better of me. I've known that for a while now but I've also noticed that I tend to perceive subdivided notes as being faster than they actually are. When I started using the metronome as part of my sight-reading practice I was surprised that if I made a point of playing notes slower than I thought they should be when the going got tough, I was actually still with the metronome. I'm looking forward to using that to my advantage in group music situations.
Definitely work with the metronome, know your tendencies, and experiment with going against them.
In terms of getting the orchestra to follow you, the conductor is often the best tool you have. Make sure you have good communication both before & during the performance.
I suggest playing drums or bass in a band.
I am being serious too. We violinists are quite bad when it comes to rhythm and we NEED to get the beat into our system. I have just had a most painful half a year practicing to eliminate my 10ms latency. It was in my system so bad, I could not feel it. It became obvious only when I heard the recordings: I had a system latency in my brain.
It's as hard to overcome as out of tune singing (singing slightly lower). If you are prone to it, its REALLY a pain.
Buy a cajon and groove. It will make your internal clock more stable. Only then you will be confident enough to "play around" with the tempo with authority. And we need that for playing solo with an orchestra or a group.
Many great suggestions already.....
Are we talking about Violin Romance No. 2 (Beethoven)?
It yes, it is worth to remember that the piece was written for violin AND orchestra. Both partners in this musical dialogue are equal, alternating the roles, asking and answering, leading and following, etc. etc....
In a way, this sort of extrapolation of chamber music into another setting, but the basic premises of music making still remain. In other words, both parties are responsible for tempo.
Just for fun, take a look at the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgX52zpsFhQ
At first, I could not get it. Why would a soloist stand in the middle of the orchestra, instead in front of it? Then, it struck me that violin is not against the orchestra, but embedded in, and embraced by it.
I like that idea very much Rocky. that way you can really play within the sound, not beside it.
BTW you need to see my current violin... ;)
Great suggestions by Christian.
Definitely work with the metronome. Play your piece with the metronome at several different tempos from too slow to too fast. That way you get the feel of each tempo and you also learn where you're solid and where you're tending to push or pull.
The other thing I'd suggest is that you practice with a pianist. Find the most professional accompanist you can, and pay for a couple of sessions.
Remember, there is always give and take between soloist and orchestra exactly as in chamber music. The difference is that an orchestra is not nearly so flexible as a chamber music partner, so you will have to follow the orchestra much more than you would if you were playing with piano. However the basic tempos are up to you.
You've got to establish your own internal sense of the tempo. I suggest not only playing with the metronome, but recording yourself WITHOUT the metronome and then attempting to set the metronome to the recording. That will very clearly show you where you're getting off.
I find that when I'm nervous, my internal metronome is usually running a bit fast, probably because it's in some way subconsciously tied to my heart rate. Just in case, for performance preparation, you need to be able to still control a tempo that's faster than what you actually intend, so err on the cautious side when choosing your tempos.
You can also rely on the conductor to some degree. Give them your tempos and ask them to follow them. Also, in sections where you know you have a tendency to rush, tell the conductor NOT to follow you, but instead to keep a steady beat, and then follow the stick yourself. The rhythmic pulse needs to be very clear or you will lose the orchestra.
One of my teachers memorably told me that playing with an orchestra feels like dragging around a herd of elephants. This is an apt analogy.
There are probably things that just come from experience, too. I watched, along with my teacher, a video taken of a sight-reading rehearsal that I did with my community orchestra, and he could point out places where I had lost the orchestra and it was nonrecoverable (i.e., I needed to follow them even if they were doing something I didn't want them to) -- but to me, I can't hear what's different about those places versus other places where there's a slight disjointedness for a moment but it resyncs shortly.
some people have mor e of an internal metronome than others but it can be developed. One way of doing ths I prefer to the metronome (which has other values) is to count aloud while you practice. YOu might find it useful to go back over what Clayton Haslop says about this as he is very big on this.
Another importnat aspect ofthis question is how we practice. I would suggest that when we practic emost of the time we are paying attention to intonation, tone and technique but not integrating everything we do wit rythm. This is a disaster because of all aspects of playing, rhytm in many ways the most fundamental in veyr subtle ways I will get to in a minute. What I am refriing to above is constantly thiniking of an underlying pulse of quavers or triplets or whatever when we are practicing even quite short notes. One should go further and experiment with thinking of differnet types of rythm while playing slow melodies and seeing how this affects the interpretation. It does so in very profound and importnat ways. Thinking about underlying rythm should be emphasise din practic eand perfrmance practice.
Second, although Christian refers to the right arm leading rythmically I think this is not the whole story. The bow arm must be made rythmical because it must , for example change string at precisely the sdame moment that the composer wrote the change. that is a musical proble. But ther eis an undelrying problem of technica rythm on the violin too. That iswhen we are placing a finger the action is move-note, but when we are releasing a finger it is note -move. IE we hear the new note and then the finger begins its movement awayin earnest. Placing a finger down with technical rythm is not much of a problem. However, releasing a finger at the precise rythmical moment the next note is required is often just plain wrong, even with some quite good players. This is often where passages become out of control and working on this one area may solve your problems.
The othe rkind of technical rythm is that the bow moves t an adjacent note far easier than a finge rso very often it is ahead of the left hand. So in fact, in a string crossing the left hand leads the bow and not te other way aroiund. IE in an ascending scale the new note on the next string is prepared and then the bow follows. This must also be worked on veyr slowly and carefully or one will never be able to play rythmically irrespective of how good our musical rythm is,
Lydia wrote: "You've got to establish your own internal sense of the tempo. I suggest not only playing with the metronome, but recording yourself WITHOUT the metronome and then attempting to set the metronome to the recording. That will very clearly show you where you're getting off."
I think this is exactly the issue - I can play with a metronome without any trouble but its the internal clock, knowing what speed to start at that's the real challenge. To make matters far worse, I think the piece really has two tempos: a slow one during the soloist part, that in essence expresses love and a faster following one for the orchestra that expresses 'interest' (more on that anon); if the soloist plays too fast they loose the romance and if the orchestra plays too slow it sounds disinterested, even pedantic.
Starting the piece is OK, I can now do so fairly reliably. However, re-establishing the slower tempo on re-entry is VERY hard. This is essential because the piece has a long series of 1/32 notes which are a potential calamity pit! The difficulty in slowing the tempo is actually not due to 'drag the herd of elephants' (nice analogy) but because you have to feel the correct speed in your head while the orchestra is playing.
I realize that two tempos might sound strange but I can't see another way to really perform this successfully. Indeed I have noted the same tempo changes in recordings by famous players.
I've been doing exactly what Lydia suggested: recording and with a metronome in tap mode to sample the speeds I'm playing at. But the crucial point is knowing the correct re-entry tempo - that needs a trick...
Hi Elise, hope I'm not duplicating suggestions, but an often overlooked method of training with the metronome is to use a 'super-division' of the beat, if that makes sense. This is especially useful for making sure your beat is not too fast. Set the metronome at one click per measure (or half measure) and make sure you are precisely with the click on the next measure. Of course you can do this with steady quarters, eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, various mixed bowings and rhythms on scales or open strings, then with the rhythm of the measure on open strings, then various slur patterns with the notes (whatever makes sense.)
Other ways to practice with metronome: 1) various subdivisions of the beat 2) clicks on the off-beat 3) mixed rhythms per beat, etc.
ps... congrats Mme Solista?
thanks Jeewon - but the real challenge is knowing the tempo without the metronome. Suppose you were playing a solo and had to enter with a new tempo and without the assistance of the conductor; how would you establish that speed in your head - while the orchestra is playing at some other (usually faster) tempo?
Hi Elise, it might help if you gave us a specific example (mm numbers of a piece.) The 'super-sizing' the beat exercise will help train distributing the rhythm, spreading it out, a.k.a. not rushing.
Imagine, then sing the melody of your entry in the subdivision you're planning for--then play the 'fast' subdivision section to check your tempo. Do this enough and you will start to 'feel' the subdivisions whenever you imagine that entry. Of course you can also do this with your instrument, but the more you practice mentally, the quicker you'll internalize tempo and rhythms.
You might also plan the tempo relations for the different sections. Feel how the slow section feels at half the tempo of the fast section (or how the fast section feels at double the slow tempo, assuming the metre is the same.) Another way of thinking of this is to find a common subdivision, regardless of metre. Once you clearly know these simple tempo relations, you can then see how much you want to speed up or slow down the next section relative to the relation you've established. Sometimes it makes sense to simply follow the relation you've discovered.
It's useful to play just the beginning, and all subsequent important entries ad nauseum, daily (and also mentally.) When working with a pianist, find the best collaborative pianist you can afford, someone you can learn from. You don't want a pianist to merely 'accompany' you, follow your every whim.
You're getting into the realm of mental practice and score study, which is awesome, but takes as much time and effort as getting the notes and all that other preliminary ;) stuff. Some teachers insist score study precede work with the instrument, but it quickly becomes apparent how important it is to do score study concurrently.
Edit: Having read a little more carefully, I see you're saying it's difficult to transition quickly. The above still applies. The more you practice internalizing whole measures of new entries, the easier it becomes to capture in a single upbeat. It will help to memorize and play the orchestral tuttis. Play all the tutti endings before your entries to feel the change in tempo (play as much of your new entry as is necessary to feel the new tempo, until you can capture it in a single up beat.) During rehearsal/performance with pianist or orchestra you can sing along mentally. Physical gestures (your communication to the conductor/concert-master) is a separate, but related issue. A good habit to develop is to move rhythmically, especially when your bow is in the air (i.e. preparatory arm motions) and also to breathe rhythmically. It always helps to exhale before you inhale--simple but often forgotten under the gun. Exhale on the down beat ending of the tutti, so you can inhale on the upbeat of your entry. Or the reverse--sometimes I find it more useful to exhale before an entry, especially a slow or quiet one. Breathe in the character of the new section. Sometimes it's useful to give a subdivided upbeat to signal an entry. E.g. breath on the beat, make a subdivided preparatory motion with your head and or bow-arm. Even if you don't give a subdivide cue, feel the subdivision with your cue. All of these skills can be practiced with a good pianist, and/or a quartet. The clearer you are with your gestures, the more 'in sync' you are with fellow musicians, the more ensemble playing becomes unconscious and as natural as breathing. But to express your internal rhythm through your external gestures still requires lots of mental practice. If you can already feel it (as some people can) then go with it. If you can't already feel it, choreograph and plan every minute detail, until it becomes second nature.
Buri: you are right about the rhythmic issues in preparing the left hand on two strings for slurs in sometimes in détaché as well. I went to the problem that is most central first for many players which is the lack of kinetic feel of rhythm in the bow arm.
Elise: again, just in my experience, but I find that the general tempo is a feel. I think that one must not over-think about it. If there is a major transition, for me, I breath in the pulse that I wish to play combined like I said with an upbeat that has a lateral bow movement with the same bow speed that I will use on my stroke, which put my whole body into it. Also gives the conductor and the orchestra (or pianist or colleagues in chamber music) a good idea of what I will be doing, which they can feel kinetically and match. In your own practice, you can memorize this kinetic feeling by practicing it, so that when the time comes to play your entrance after an orchestral tutti you can just do it.
Step the beat while you play! You can do this with and without a metronome to help you establish a sense of pulse in your body.
Elise, you say you can very well play it with a metronome, but I think, you being the soloist, this goes without saying anyway. The point is, yes you can play it through under metronome regime, but have you actually *done* it enough times? Here, enough is something like umpteen-plus-one times? Because that's probably the only way to get the metronome inside you. And, yes, congrats to Mme soloist!!
In re-reading this thread, I realized that you may have a simpler solution: Give the conductor the metronome marking for your tempo at each entrance. Rely on them to re-set the orchestra to the correct tempo, and take that tempo yourself.
When I practice alone, I think in my head the couple of bars of accompaniment that precede an entrance, as I transition from section to section. That gets me in the habit of always knowing what my tempo is relative to what's immediately before it.
If there are a couple of specific places you are unsure of you can ask the conductor to help you out. Most conductors will know what to do and will be happy to oblige. (I think.)
At lessons this week, my teacher sang a bit of a well known tune that is at the tempo of the piece we were going to sight read. Maybe you just need the equivalent of a tempo mnemonic.
we have aome ideas repeating and some new. I tried a mnemonic but the trouble with that is under the heat of the moment you say it faster! thus, as mentioned above I think, 'row, row, row your boat' is perfect but my mind either slows it down or speads it up, still thinking I am maintaining tempo. But...
Jeewon wrote: "Hi Elise, hope I'm not duplicating suggestions, but an often overlooked method of training with the metronome is to use a 'super-division' of the beat, if that makes sense. This is especially useful for making sure your beat is not too fast. Set the metronome at one click per measure (or half measure) and make sure you are precisely with the click on the next measure. Of course you can do this with steady quarters, eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, various mixed bowings and rhythms on scales or open strings, then with the rhythm of the measure on open strings, then various slur patterns with the notes (whatever makes sense.)"
I'm playing with this now - I think its the 'obvious' solution that you never think of: use the fastest run as the timer in your head. TIn this case its 32nd notes. I think it works: you tap the tempo in your head 'dadadada, dadadada, dadadada, dadadada' that gives you the timing for two full beats. With this method you know the speed is not going to be faster than you can play and you can think of all the other billion things that may go wrong :D
I think its brilliant. Let you know how it goes..
BTW there are some terrific suggestions and helps up there to improve tempo management and develop a natural tempo instinct, I just don't have time right now to answer them all.
The reason is I just bought a 'new' violin.... ;) :D [Pic on FB...]
Yes, absolutely use the most difficult thing as the timer in your head. You may not even need the superdivision; just hear that tricky bit in your head and what's around it and that will be the tempo you want. (For safety, though, you always want the tempo you choose to be under the tempo that you can physically play something at. And you want to also push beyond your comfort zone in practice just in case the worst happens and the orchestra picks a tempo that leaves you in the dust.)
There's some good advice on here already. Excellent points by Christian, and Roy's suggestion on finding a capable pianist before meeting with an orchestra is very good. I've always rehearsed concerti with piano, before soloing with orchestra. This helps a lot in the learning process.
I'll add that I think a good starting point is to learn a piece with the metronome in the beginning stages. Ruggiero Ricci told me he learned a piece like this. He would only take rhythmic liberties, in the music, after he could play with accurate rhythm using a metronome. I don't believe anyone has a built in metronome. Certain people do have a better sense of rhythm, true, but it can be developed, just like relative pitch recognition.
Also while playing with an orchestra, or other musicians for that matter, try not to do any sudden tempo changes (especially when it is not marked in the music) whether it be suddenly stepping on the accelerator, or putting on the brakes. I've been in orchestras and chamber groups where musicians or conductors have done this (I call it musical whiplash), and usually the result is poor ensemble.
If you want to speed up or slow down a phrase or section, I think doing it gradually is a lot more enjoyable for both the audience and the musicians you play with.
Thanks Nate. The conductor in this case is rather hands off (he says he never sets tempo with a soloist playing). This may actually be a good thing - I now understand why many famous soloists play pieces without a conductor at all. In some ways they are an uncontrolled factor; much better that the solo and orchestra play as a unit. I'm going to approach it as if I am playing first violin in a quartet - obvious tempo guidance. Also, as mentioned, it has several entries where the orchestra plays very little indeed and must listen to the soloist. At these points I will endeavor to reset the tempi - crucial for me because any tendency to speed up is going to fry me a few bars later.
And Lydia - I hear you about safety factors. I'm trying to get it at least 10 metronome points (~10%) above my ideal speed and could possibly do it faster in a panic (survival mode!).
Hi Elise, glad to hear it's working. Just to clarify what I've written a bit, everything is really about subdivisions, just at various metric groupings. For the same reason we need to practice changing from singles to duples to triples (to quads, to quints, to sixes, etc., e.g. Galamian's rhythmic acceleration on scales) using a metronome to make sure the subdivision of our beats are steady, we use a 'super-division' exercise to make sure our measures, or phrases are steady. By thinking in smaller (subdivisions) or larger (superdivisions) multiples of the beat, we not only make our sense of rhythm more steady, we gain better control over manipulation of tempos, whether in rubatos or for accelerandos and ritardandos, or changes in tempo altogether. As with note groupings, metric groupings can also help delineate the phrase, or add another dimension of motion to the phrase. E.g. in some cases emphasizing every beat in a passage can make it seem slower to the listener, whereas as emphasizing larger beats (every measure, or every other measure) can make the passage seem to flow and go by faster, all at the same metronome marking.
Interesting Jeewon - do you have a trick to get fast notes even - I'm doing some 1/32nds and my teacher has pointed out that I am rushing some, but the trouble is I don't hear it; I think I'm playing them fine. Slowing down helps of course but it does not solve the problem back at speed.
Hi Elise, I think the most direct way of making such a passage even is to use various slur patterns with added accents on all the bow changes.
E.g. for 0,1,2,3,4,3,2,1 repeated
Start with long-short/short-long patterns to coordinate and strengthen weak fingers
Groups of even 2s: a) 01,23,43,21, etc. (where all notes between commas are slurred, and each bow change is accented with the bow and the left hand, i.e. lifted or placed suddenly with the bow accent) b) 0,12,34,32,10, etc.
Groups of 3: 012,343,210,123,432,101,234,321,012, etc.
Groups of 4: a) 0123,4321 b) 1234,3210 c)2343,2101 d) 3432,1012
Also do groups of 8, 16, 32, if it makes sense to do so. Using this method, you don't even have to start at a slower tempo. In fact I'd use pretty fast tempos. If an error is made, just pause between groups and execute it mentally until you have a perfect image, then play the group perfectly once. Then string the groups back together. (Of course for very fast passages, smaller groups are pretty hard (or impossible,) especially when working on the weak beat patters.)
At first, you're mostly worried about aligning the accents in left hand and bow (with a metronome.) Later you'll hear where the offending notes are, at which point you can go back to short/long patterns, or think about what other problems might exit, such as string crosses or shifts. If it's a string cross, think of where you can leave your elbow level, or prepare the elbow level to aid the hand &/or fingers in crossing. If it's a shift, make sure you don't land on final shift notes with too much pressure (in fact aim for the opposite, i.e. land with 'harmonics' pressure.) If you can get to a point where you can switch groupings at will (esp. between 2s and 3s, and 3s and 4s) at the same tempo, then you know you're absolutely even in the fingers and have control between left and right.
If you are rushing in areas than you may have an issue with the way you are practicing. We generally practice 1-2 hrs. a day 5 times a week, which is find, but for trouble areas and new techniques it's not enough. A better way to practice is 3 times a day: 15 min. in the morning, 15 min. in the afternoon and 1-2 hrs. in the evening. Of coarse this schedule isn't practical during the week, but it can be done on weekends. In those 15min. time slots you just need to practice the trouble areas, that's it!!!(important). Mark the bars that are troublesome, then repeat that bar 3-6 times then move to the next marked area.
With this style of practice the trouble areas are learned away from the rest of the piece. Practicing troubled areas with the piece can sometimes reinforce the wrong.
For entries, practice counting for TWO bars, with metronome, and then come in and play 3-4 bars, stop, repeat :|| 3or 4 times then change settings and do it again. It's also good to do this without the metronome.
To hear exactly what you're getting off, record yourself and then use a slowdown playback. Every hesitation or rush should be audible if you do that.
For the 32nds, do them with a metronome at a very slow tempo, dropping the fingers quickly and deliberately and totally evenly, and ditto snapping them up on a descent -- i.e., this is slow practice but with fast motions. Speed this up one metronome notch at a time. Don't allow yourself to cheat any notes. Make sure that if you use any open strings, that those notes are held long enough (in a fast passage you'll have a tendency to cheat them), and that any string crossings are perfectly coordinated. You may find it easier to tell where things are not perfect if you try to play the passage spiccato.
Practice the 32nds in rhythms and patterns. Kreutzer #2 has a zillion such patterns if you aren't acquainted with them. The usual ones are a long-short dotted rhythm, short-long dotted rhythm, long-short-short-short, and short-short-short long. Practice chaining -- the first two notes fast, the first three notes fast, the first four notes fast, etc., adding on one note each time. Do backwards chains, too -- the last two notes, the last three notes, etc. Make sure that you practice across groups as well -- notes 1 through 5 (slurring into the next group), notes 5 through 9, etc. You have to force your brain to think across the boundaries of the groups.
My teacher likes to emphasize that more than anything else, you have to be very clear with the pulse -- even if you are totally rhythmic, if the pulse isn't clear, the orchestra doesn't have the right "feel" to follow. The shape of the musical line needs to be such that your accompaniment knows where it's supposed to go. (This applies to playing with a pianist, too, so if you rehearse with a pianist, find out where they're not instinctively following you.) You can botch the passagework and still maintain complete clarity about where the next beat falls.
Rocky, re Gordan Nikolic's performance of the 1st movement of the Tchaikovski, that is the first time I've seen a soloist playing from that position in the middle of the orchestra. Very effective it was, too, especially since Nikolic is a tall man and towered above everybody sitting around him. During interludes when he wasn't playing he took the opportunity to look at the players and be part of them - a bit more difficult for a soloist up front.
For the benefit of those who haven't seen this video, the slightly out of the ordinary layout of the Vigo 430 Orchestra - hardly more than a chamber orchestra in size - reading from the conductor's left, it was 1sts, 2nds, the soloist, cellos, and violas next to the audience. The soloist was in front of the conductor in a space between the 2nd violins and the cellos. Basses to one side behind the cellos and violas, and brass and woodwind lined up behind the soloist.
BTW, did you notice how Nikolic's glasses were sliding down his nose during the concerto as he was getting more and more energetic in his playing, and then at about 14:02, evidently fearing the disaster of them falling onto his violin, he snatched them off and dropped them on the floor in front of the conductor, who picked them up. That must be another first!
This is the most helpful thread in so many ways. Thank you to all the contributors.
I'd agree with the suggestion to run it with a pianist. Do you have one you could ask?
Thanks for those tips Lydia - fortunately the /32s in this are pretty straight so the main problem is sustaining each equally - but I'll use your suggestions.
re piano. I have and its useful - but its much easier than the orchestra. The problem is a good pianist accompanist adjusts to you instantly so you get spoiled! But it certainly helps with entries and if the pianist is critical then they point out where you get out of hand.
Warning! Funny things can happen if the pianist doesn't have a page turner in attendance during a performance.
I was playing Beethoven's D major cello sonata in a concert. Halfway through the first movement the pianist came to an unscheduled halt. After a brief consultation we restarted, and the sonata proceeded to its conclusion without further incident.
What had happened was that the pianist had inadvertently turned over two pages at once, realised her mistake and turned back three, thereby getting hopelessly lost. Oops!
So I got to try the new methods out tonight during rehearsal. It worked pretty well - but the most important change was that I stood next to the conductor.
That must sound like a 'duh' but maybe it really tells you how totally green I am!
palm-face (haven't seen that term in a while...
I know this won't help with your immediate issue, but for long term help with rhythm sense, try this book: http://www.amazon.com/Integrated-Practice-Coordination-Rhythm-Sound/dp/0195317084/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383709263&sr=1-3&keywords=alexander+technique+rhythm
I read it- it helped. (Although it would help more if I practiced more ;)
thanks Eugenia - I'll take a deck (old English midlands slang!).
what I learned last night is that you have to be very mechanical about tempo. It really is like playing chamber music but with you vs 70 people (now I understand the elephant analogy all too well)! The point is that the conductor is often out of the loop as he can not change the tempo fast enough to keep you all together. As mentioned above I really do wonder if it would be easier without him.
Where's Peter - I know he would have at least 10 stories of how things work better conductor-less in response!
Absolutely.... connecting with the conductor as much as possible is your best bet. One advantage of playing the violin is that we can be mobile. I've often observed in concerts with folks like Hahn Shaham and Vengerov if the levels start to pull apart, they'll do things like stand closer to the conductor, face the conductor more so that the violin is pointing right at them & get themselves into the conductor's field of vision.
that's what I was trying last night - though I admit it was more for me to see him but I think it worked both ways.
The question then is: do you play to the orchestra or the conductor?
"The question then is: do you play to the orchestra or the conductor?".
Tricky one, that ! Some conductors are great accompanists that can tell what you are going to do even before you thought of it yourself. Others just HAVE to be the boss. RESIST the bossy type.
Try to work out the nature of each passage in the piece. If a section is your melody, with an accompaniment by the band, the players will probably follow you regardless of the conductor. The thing there is to keep your nerve.
At other times, you will be required to play "passage work" that decorates the orchestral writing. Here, you "sit on" what the band plays - follow THEM, in other words. With luck, here, the conductor will be holding them together - if not, there's not a lot you can do !!
I think you are a trained scientist. You will have heard of semi-conductors. They abound.
There are players who habitually keep in tempo by tapping a foot. Try to avoid doing that - it becomes annoying.
The question then is: do you play to the orchestra or the conductor?
It depends on the place or what is happening, but most often it is a bit of both. Once the conductor is aware of you and what's going on, then several possibilities arise. The conductor can try to match his beat to yours and communicate it to the orchestra in a more incisive manner, looking at the section that is problematical and making them aware of the need to adjust. Some conductors work like chamber musicians in this regard, some don't. It also depends on the nature of the beat. Sometimes, if the tempo is slow and the beats are far apart and you have fast note values, it can be good to make the orchestra aware in a subtle fashion (you don't want to get at odds with the conductor, so you can turn their attention to your left hand in fast legato, or bow in faster détaché by turning a little to the orchestra or whatever) to help them as well.
All of this is sort of split seconds decisions and depends on the situation. Also, do be aware that there is a spatial acoustical phenomenon in an orchestra, where the strings are close to you and the winds are far away and the sound from the back of the stage needs time to get to the front of the stage where you meet up with it (or it with you) at the conductor's podium. The best therefore, is to work in conjunction with the conductor, while being aware of this, so that you are flexible and adjust as well. A good concertmaster can help as well by participating with you and the conductor in communicating this with the orchestra.
But in all of this, one must never forget that the sound meets at the front of the stage and then goes to the audience, so in my experience, any music making, especially with orchestra, is always a collective compromise where everyone tries to be together with the give and take necessary to make it happen.
P.S. Foot-tapping is actually a very injurious habit, especially in ensemble playing, in that you fall in your world of rhythm instead of the one around you. I have seen freelancers dismissed from ensembles by conductors for doing this, so it is really best avoided even in practice for the risk that the habit may creep up at an undesirable time.
Many years ago at Bristol's Colston Hall I saw a piano soloist getting the treatment from the conductor when he ignored the baton and started racing away in one of the Chopin concertos, leaving the orchestra gasping in his dust. The conductor finally resorted to audibly tapping (or rather stamping) his foot to get the errant fellow back under control, which he eventually did.
I don't remember who the soloist was - a young man - but he certainly wasn't a "name"!
The orchestra needs to listen, but the conductor also need to pick up on what you're doing -- or anticipate what you're going to do -- and communicate it to the orchestra. But you need to make it easier for the orchestra to follow, too.
If you are going to change the tempo at the start of the section, you need to be precisely at the new tempo that you want from the first notes of it that you play. You re-set the tempo; you do not slip into the new tempo. In other words, if you want it faster, start it faster, don't *get* faster. (Unless there's an accelerando, of course, in which case the orchestra needs to follow but you also need to be clear when the tempo becomes stable again.)
Similarly, you need to maintain a sense of pulse. I find this to be difficult, personally. My teacher tells me that the pulse has to be absolutely clear in my own mind, to start with. But it also has to be communicated. For instance, long notes need to have a direction so that the pulse is maintained. There may need to be subtle emphasis added to certain notes so it's clear where the beat is, or space, or something else that conveys that musical sense of where you are.
For a demonstration of this, listen to a Fritz Kreisler recording. He takes a huge number of liberties, but despite all the rubato, you can always tell where the beat is going to fall.
In a concerto it is the responsibility of the orchestra members to follow the conductor. If you think there is a difference between what the conductor is doing and what the soloist is doing you must follow the conductor. Loren Maazel told us that again and again in the Pittsburgh Symphony. And if you think of 50 or 60 people trying to follow a soloist in their individual ways ..... Utter chaos!
Roy: perhaps you have not played in an amateur orchestra? You start with chaos and then try to find order out of it. For many that means playing to the soloist as often the conductor is not exactly sure where much of the orchestra is. In such an environment the song of the soloist can be a (the only?) unifying factor!
Its different down here in the trenches... :D
one of those posts where I wish we had a 'like' button!
Many a slip twixt cup and lip, even in the finest orchestras.
As to Roy's "you must follow the conductor. Loren Maazel told us that again and again" all I can say is "He would say that" !
A conductor's level of involvement is never constant. Much of the time is spent wafting away, "letting it all happen". Disciplinarian intervention at moments of crisis is often too little, too late. If the band listens to the soloist, members can often anticipate what the conductor will do if and when he/she wakes up !!
Ah, knew it, Peter pretending to be David :D
I think one of the biggest factors for an amateur orchestra is that, well its amateur so you don't have a lot of time to get really familiar with the music. That means you have to stare at the notes and can not look up at the waftings of that person on the podium. However, you can follow the person on the other podium who is making a noise - so the soloist 'wins'.
One reason why this piece may be particularly difficult then is because there is little overlap between the orchestra and soloist parts. Thus, its hard to figure out where the two noises match. I certainly find that from my end and I can feel some of the orchestra groping from theirs, even in passages where my playing is (think) very clear.
thus, the conductor has a crucial role but I'm not sure if its actually possible to fully pull it off.
thank you for the link! I admire the soloist for raising up the occasion and performing another concerto. Yet, I can't understand the authoritarian attitude of the conductor in this case. Whoever's fault in miss-communication it was, it is brutal to put a soloist under such a pressure. What if her performance went wrong?
Back to the trenches of community orchestra..... one of my main challenges sitting in the 1st violin section is a situation when my visual input from conductor does not match audio am receiving from the (different parts of) orchestra or the soloist. I would argue that, as baroque players would confirm, the conductor is always a bit late and the best practice is to listen a lot first and then follow the conductor. Of course, the conductor is cat number one, and all of this is off the record, between us mice.
Rocky, it would have been interesting to have been the proverbial "fly on the wall" in the green room after the Pires concert - which, if nothing else, demonstrated that you never wholly forget a piece that has been learned thoroughly. Under the right conditions it can be retrieved - apparently note-perfect in this instance.
We don't know the full background of the incident. However, it was a lunchtime concert, which perhaps implies a built-in time limitation with little opportunity for coping with a major musical disaster in the available time frame. It is also possible that there was no preceding rehearsal - not an unknown situation for a busy soloist contracted to play a standard repertoire concerto with an established orchestra. In that case the confusion may have arisen out of a misunderstanding, or from a communication problem (typing error in a letter or email?) between the parties.
I think I'm getting the hang of this. Using the trick above (mentally clicking the fastest passage at my favoured speed) I set the tempo in my mind. I then gesture this to the conductor and (since its my entry) start to play.
I then ignore the orchestra! Its such an amazing calming feeling to play with the orchestra following you, rather than worry at all about what its doing. Same thing for the second passage which is also cued by the violin. After that the tempo is well established and my only real challenge is to make sure I don't speed up. There are a couple of places where I have to listen and make sure we are together because of a ritardando but mostly the secret of soloist tempo seems to be run your own boat.
Last night was the last rehearsal before two pre-concert performances (in senior homes) - which should be great as low-stress trials. Then one more rehearsal before the concert.
That's great Elise, and in the midst of all this... be sure to remember to have fun.
I have been watching your thread with interest (not APR), but have not had anything to add to the great advice you have gotten.
Please give reports on your Senior performances and the Big Concert(tm). It will be interesting to see how things turn out for you!
Note: all my performances are senior performances. :-)
Oops! Button bounce => double post.
A friend of mine, jazz singer and pianist, performed in one of those retirement homes.... between two of her songs, an old lady stood up and shouted "That is not right!" .
Expect the unexpected!
How's it going, Elise?
I've started the rehearsals for my performance with orchestra (Glazunov concerto). I wish I felt more prepared, but that's really my own fault for not having been able to put in enough practice time.
Yes Elise, how's it going? Inquiring minds want to know! :-) If I'm not mistaken, you've already had one concert? Hope you're happy with your performance.
Wow Lydia. It's great that you're performing the Glazunov. Hopefully you'll post about it?
Yup, one warm-up concert at a Senior's home. I was far from perfect but it really went well - lots of positive feedback - and most important the conductor was smiling at the end ;)
That was my first performance with orchestra since age 12 - and the most amazing thing was that I did not have performance anxiety. Lots of things helped, including the amazingly appreciative audience - but mostly I think it was because I've studied the piece so hard I don't really have to think about where my fingers go. Thinking is still necessary but its about key points - things that have changed recently, spots where I have to be careful about intonation or timing etc not about the piece per se.
And, to bring it back to timing, I have a new method now that really works. Its a slight variant on the suggestion above of thinking of how fast you want to play the fastest section - in this case 1/32 notes. The problem with just mentally tapping them is that under the heat of the moment you are liable to be able to do so much faster than you can in the studio.
Thus, my solution is to carefully select the letters I chant and then repeat them as fast as is . Thus, I can do tatatata (1/8th note) much faster (~95) than, say, hahahaha (about 80; please don't laugh! Or at least when you finished laughing continue... :) ). I was after 85 and that is nicely achieved with mamamama (yup, it also allows me to call my mother for help).
Rediculous? It works reliably for me so maybe not so silly. I will probably create a set of such to allow me to set just about any tempo (obviously, using the same for other note types as appropriate).
Next up next Tuesday then two weeks before the actual concert...
PS please do find me on facebook - elise Stanley - you should recognize the pic....
Lydia: when's your performance date? Good luck with G - I hope you'll upload on youtube. I probably will, however it turns out. Its all a learning experience anyway...
Elise, I love your method, which is unique. :-)
My concert is December 15th. Three more rehearsals with orchestra to go, and I continue to be concerned that I'm not really adequately prepared (on the assumption that under stress, I will play as badly as anything not perfectly practiced allows).
Oddly, my problem with tempo is that I still haven't settled on how fast or slow I really want things to be. I haven't gotten to the point where I consistently hear some sections of the concerto in the exact same tempo.
My teacher has been having me practice with an accompanist who will be deliberately (and sometimes dramatically) be too fast or too slow at each entrance, thus making me get used to doing a reset of the tempo to what I want it to be, in a way that sounds musical and is followable. It's a great exercise.
Lydia, may I suggest you not worry too much about it this way but rather practice it quite a few notches faster than you would ever want to play it and substantially slower.
That way when the orchestra goes off at its own pace you know you cannot go wrong.
I look forward to hearing of your great success,
I've tried to do as Buri suggests, be able to play it about 15% faster than my intended speed. Any faster and I'm going to have to be brilliant :D
I think the real secret is to be 'selfish'. Make your entries accurately (they are crucial of course) but then play it your way and don't worry about the orchestra. You have enough to think about and its really not your responsibility - its not a solo, its a trio, you, the orchestra and the conductor. As in a quartet, you just have to have faith that they will do their parts. But its really not being selfish at all since you give the others a clear indication of what the tempo is - and hence, security. The biggest calamities in my humble experience arose from me trying to make everyone else happy.
On speed, if you still don't feel comfortable then why not take it on the slow side? The big advantage is that you can put much more 'meat' into it; think about expression of each note and phrase rather than just worry if you are going to get all the notes out without screwing up (for me that would be a guarantee of performance anxiety).
I'm not really worried about the maximum speed, so much as I'm concerned about the tempos that feel right to me. I hear the first movement relatively briskly, for instance, but the third movement relatively lyrically. But the Glazunov has an unusual number of tempo changes, and they all have to cohere in something that makes sense. So if a section starts too fast, for instance, there might not be enough "room" for the accelerando (what's marked "animando" in the music) without pushing the tempo beyond what makes sense for the music. Some transitions have to be gradual rather than abrupt, etc.
My teacher points out that whether or not something sounds in control is actually not a function of the speed itself, which is an interesting observation. (Assuming of course that it's technically sufficiently solid not to fall apart at higher speeds.)
that's a great point by your teacher - and you can 'feel' it when you practise - one feels like rushing through a crowd and the other jogging loping through the park! :)
Fast with 'ease' is a signature of great playing where it seems the passage just flows by.
It would be interesting to try to catalogue the stages of learning something hard for there are many starting from playing each note to where the passage flows out of the hand. I don't think you don't actually grasp this until you have to prepare a piece for a major event (recital, audition etc) AND you have a lot of time to do it. I've learned so much from the Beethoven - not least of which is that my previous concept of having 'learned' a piece was literally just scratching the surface. And even now I feel I am ready to really start to learn it - the nuances between the notes, the individual words and phrases and what I want to say with each passage and the whole piece. Give me another year....
"Merde" for this evening, Elise. Hope you have a blast!!!!!!!!!
thanks Christina :) I'm trying to treat it as another rehearsal...
I thought it went pretty well - but I heard after that apparently I still had tempo issues :( Not the speed of the piece but slight inaccurate entries and shortened long note durations.
Its something I'vebeen prone to. So I've got two weeks to fix this. Up to now I've worked most on getting the notes and fixing intonation issues so now I have to work harder on ensembling with the orchestra. Two main strategies: there's playing with a recording - fortunately there are a number out there so I can find one with a simpliar tempo and music-minus one once I get the orchestra part firmer in my head.
My teacher tells me that I should normally play entrances at the tempo of the orchestra, even if that speed is radically wrong (assuming that this is a hand-off as opposed to the start of something new). And then the tempo should be adjusted, which can be done in the span of a measure or two.
Similarly, he says that long notes should be sustained with a sense of pulse, so that they audibly lead into something (or in the case of a hand-off back to the orchestra, sustained until the orchestral entrance).
I'm two rehearsals (out of a total of four) into my Glazunov adventure. Everyone in this (community) orchestra is still finding their way through the thicket of accidentals. The work is turning out to be tricky to put together -- lots of accelerations and ritards (generally marked "animando" and "calando" in the music), and little stretches and so forth.
thanks for the tips Lydia - I think I mostly need to identify the break-points. I've got a couple of different pianists coming over to work with...
I hardly slept last night - finally got up and after a couple of hours plucked up courage to listen to view my video.
What a relief. It wasn't that bad at all - apart from a nervous start I was with the orchestra virtually all the way. However near the end I rushed a bar of 1/32 notes and got a bit ahead and off. It seems the critique I got was on that section alone. At least I know where the work is needed...
I've got a couple of different pianists coming over to work with...
Great! Looking forward to hearing how that goes.
Sending good vibes your way!
Thanks Roy - I guess I still have performance anxiety - the inability to reproduce in public what you can achieve in the studio. The only solution I know of is to practise more...
There was something in this thread that seemed odd but must be relatively common especially with amateur orchestras -- conductors who start off your concerto at the wrong tempo. If there is a sufficiently long introduction then I would suggest you teach the conductor a system of simple signals that can be used to let him know the tempo is high, low, or just right. You are holding one finger across the finger board -- fine. Two fingers -- slow down. Three fingers -- speed up.
I guess I still have performance anxiety - the inability to reproduce in public what you can achieve in the studio. The only solution I know of is to practise more..
Not really the whole picture. I have never been too fond of Galamians advice to prepare everything 140 percent because you lose that extra percentage due to nerves. The quote was probably somewhat out of context and in many cases has some truth in it, but at the end of the day I'm not buying into it.
It presupposes one is going to play worse due to nerves which is frankly not ncessary.
there are two kinds of nerves. Those that screw you up and those that inject fire and joy into your playing. When I was back in college beta blockers we're being popped like smarties and you could always spot those played because there playing was somewhat blank.
One of the key factors in preparation is to play in the venue. Make sure you are not caught unawares by the view when you walk out for the first time.
then you need to visualize yourself playing in front of an audience as you mentally perform the work feeling -all- the sensations in your body that playing that work generates. If your mind goes blank at some point on the feeling then that is a pa you don't know. If you think you are the nervous type then recreate those nerves over and over again with your imagination until your brain ever tidally gives up and says in essence 'ok I'm sick of being nervous . it's too tiring' and gives
Then when you walk out on stage there'd is only one though uppermost in your mind which you hang on to like nothing on earth.
-I am here to give these people a present. I want to give them a wonderful Christmas present so they leave sharing my joy in music.'
There's not actually that much else to it.
Looking forward to hearing of your success,
thank you buri - your post is a gift...
sometimes when I play in public I can feel myself going through the motions - its almost like an out of thebody experience - and its also when I play my worst.
I play my best - typically at performance-neutral places such as airport terminals (not kidding) when I feel I am connecting with the people listening. I should know this as it was the same with dancing - if I felt someone was enjoying my dancing I had no nerves.
I guess its a self-preservation reaction. I cocoon myself to protect me from judgement - and in so doing lock out not only the viewers but also my instrument (or dancing). I think I know the solution: to identify someone in the audience that is truly enjoying listening and then play to them. The trouble last Tuesday was that the residents of the Senior's home in my view were, well, rather 'mentally distracted' so I could not create an emotional connection. I think I have a fix for this - one of the cellists (who I can see when playing) has been enormously supportive; I am going to try to play to him.
And thanks for the wishes, we have one more rehearsal and I am going to give that my best....
I have performance anxiety, and nerves always make me play far below the level of rehearsal. I am mentally relatively calm, but my hands become cold and shake, and I can feel my heart rate go up. However, I also tend to overthink when I perform, which leads to the classic "what was I going to do here? oh crap!" mistake.
I do quite a bit of public speaking as well, and similar nerves affect me there, but it is, quite honestly, nowhere near as demanding as playing the violin, and the physiological reactions have little bearing on my public-speaking stage presence.
I very much enjoy the preparation leading up to a performance, but I don't particularly enjoy performing. (I blame my parents for this; my mother forms the voice of my inner critic.)
Have you ever tried Alexander technique. It is a marvelous way of getting control of these things.
Hi Elise, using your chanting exercise, another aspect you might explore is bow distribution. Often we move our bows automatically, but I think it helps to connect right arm motions to the rhythm (which 'fills' the bow,) essentially developing rhythmic super-divisions in the bow arm. At first it's a good idea to simply distribute the rhythm evenly, i.e. if you play 8 even notes, use 1/8 bow per note and convert all longer note values to the subdivision, e.g. in place of a dotted quarter play 3 eighths. Play in staccato, then parlando, then legato, feeling the fingers distributed over the bow (synchronized by your chanting, or metronome.) Once that feels coordinated, distribute the bow unevenly according to the phrase. In general, for a run, it helps to give bow at the beginning, save bow in the middle, and spend the rest for the end (more or less, according to the character of the run.) I think sometimes when there are a lot of notes to play in one bow, our brain tries to 'squish them in' for fear of running out. Distribution not only helps delineate the phrase we want, but trains the brain to trust in the bow arm. Best wishes on your performance!
Hi Lydia, I recently came across the work of Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist. Her simple but profound idea, that mindset determines our actions and reactions, gets at the crux of problems with learning and performance, and I suspect, should be the foundation of mental training. I'm no expert, but the idea that mindset should be the root cause seems to obviate the need for analysis and makes cognitive/behavioral seem like bandages for symptoms. Still reading the book... it's a bit repetitive, but her findings are compelling.
Good luck on the Glazunov! Such a challenging piece!
Thanks Jeewon, the amazing mysteries of bow division need a topic of their own - getting away from the (naïve) concept that equal notes require equal bow lengths.
On the tempo - I find that all the work has paid off and that I am now pretty good at mentally selecting the tempo without tricks (though since I lack confidence in this still I may still do so for the performance). This is another learned skill that has come out of this crazy project...
Hey Elise, glad to hear of your progress!
As it turns out, the 'mysteries' of bowing aren't that mysterious either if you know what to look for.
Dress rehearsal went really well :):) :) This time I pledged to myself to focus only on the note I was playing and let the rest take care of itself.
Oh, and I tapped my foot. I know I shouldn't but I did and it worked :P
also I speeded it up a bit - interesting how speeding up can make so many passages easier...
My experience has been to have the orchestra, or whomever you have accompanying you, follow your body movements. You can give off certain signals just as a conductor does, but by using different subtle, or not subtle, movements. Let your accompaniment know what your movements are so they can learn them during rehearsal.
"Oh, and I tapped my foot. I know I shouldn't but I did"
For shame ! But then stamping the foot as in a temper tantrum would be worse.
Waggling the big toe inside the shoe should be QUITE enough.
Dress rehearsal the week before the concert for me...
The community orchestra I'm playing the Glazunov with seems to have maintained an... inconsistent understanding of the key signatures, shall we say. Moreover, some players are seemingly deciding to split the difference when they are unsure if a note has an accidental attached or not.
This is making my own intonation precarious, both on individual notes and sometimes for entire sequences of notes when something throws my ear off and I then become slightly too sharp or too flat. In these cases, I may be in tune with the orchestra (and the passage actually sounds in tune), but it is out of tune with my open strings, for instance.
Anyone got any advice? (My teacher said, somewhat dryly, "Do what you can.")
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October 31, 2013 at 06:17 AM · practice with a metronome?