Some feedback on my playing and what to work on next

January 16, 2016 at 09:21 PM · Hi everyone! Alrighty, so here is a recording of a piece (g minor adagio, bach) I've been playing for a little bit more than a week. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yebmUieGIHE&feature=youtu.be

I think I have most of notes down, somewhat at least, so gonna start working with a metronome. I just want some feedback so I know what to pay attention when I'm practicing. I want to practice accurately and efficiently this time. Nobody else has heard this yet, except maybe my not so happy neighbors!

I've been working on my tone lately, and although I think I've made some progress, I think my tone is overall still kind of bland. When I hear other people play this piece, they tend to sound a lot more "interesting" if that makes sense. I've been taking some advice on this board, and just putting more weight on my bow. Anything else I can do though?

Also, I was wondering whether or not my interpretation sounds a bit rough or outrageous and just not very bach like. I attack the string pretty aggressively, especially in the second half of the piece. A part of that is just not enough practice, but some of it is just my style right now, or maybe my technique. Often times, what I hear in the recording is not what I hear while playing. Any other feedback would be great(I can also post the fugue later gonna record tomorrow, and if this audio is not very helpful, I can post a video too).

Replies (24)

January 16, 2016 at 08:11 PM ·

January 17, 2016 at 05:01 AM · Thanks for the advice Jenny! Yes, there are some intonation issues, and these are much easier to hear on recording than while actually playing the piece. I guess I will need to work on the piece much more closely on a note by note basis. What about the bowings though? How do people typically decide about these? I usually just try to set them up in a way that the chords are on down bows, but I have no clue as how think about them.

January 17, 2016 at 03:33 PM · Generally, bowing is up to you but while chords most of the time are down bows, especially in Bach you do not want to get into the habit of making all of them down bows. You end up breaking up the pieces too much redrawing your bow. It's not entirely uncommon to play a huge chord up bow. The Adagio is tricky since it's a very lyrical piece with some awkward chords thrown in all over. Your teacher can help your a lot with bowing and what to look for exactly for you, or you can watch some youtube videos and get an idea from others. Or, trust your own instinct and do them as you'd like at your own risk. Also, your bow placement doesn't sound sound too well, as you've got a many spots where the notes just kinds of do not sound even. This piece requires very precise, continuous, saving of the bow. Not every slur or longish note needs a full bow. That affects tone a bit as well.

The 2nd part of the piece really needs work for intonation, tone, dynamics, etc... It is not so strong. Are you still hanging out by the tip of the bow like you did for the other video on your channel? Learn to embrace the middle of your bow, flat hair. Also, if going by your previous video far as how your playing is, then I wonder if your left hand is too tense? (if so, would make me wonder about your right hand tension) It's tough to tell but are you doing any exercises for the left hand and doing them correctly?

January 17, 2016 at 09:12 PM · John A

Thanks for the feedback. I don't have a teacher actually but I don't like the bowings in the galamian edition I guess I'll try to experiment a little bit based on your guidelines. I think my left hand is getting better after doing some schradieck. It still needs a lot of work though. Are there any other great exercises? Yes, I know the intonation is pretty bad in the second half, I just wanted to get out a recording fast and get some feedback. I'll try to work on it, but I think it'll just take some time. I think my bow arm looks much better than in that video, at least visually, but I'll keep an eye on it.

Freida, yes, I tried to play it with the metronome today, and I'm aware of the issues. I'm just not all that sure about the best way to set up my metronome, or how exact the tempo needs to be overall. What settings do you think are optimal. The crunching is not entirely intentional, but I also want to sound "assertive" and not sure how to find the balance. I guess I'll try to be more careful.

Jenny

That's a good suggestion, I'll look at some videos

January 18, 2016 at 12:47 AM · One thing that helps me is when my metronome is LOUD. So I use an android app and connect to a bluetooth speaker. There is some intersting advice on Sassmannshaus's web site in the video tutorials on intonation that deal with using a metronome.

January 18, 2016 at 06:21 AM · Thanks Paul, those tutorials are great. I'll take at look at those videos more closely. Thank you for reminding me about my resources.

What is a more standard version of this sonata on youtube? I think every version I've listened to is very different in terms of tempo, phrasing, and sometimes dynamics. And if possible would someone elaborate a little bit on the saving bow part? I'm not sure if I entirely understand. so you save bow at the beginning so that you can finish the phrase on the same bow? Is it not correct to sway sometimes? I've seen a lot of people do it. I think I won't post the other movements for now and just work exclusively on this piece.

And should the breathing be choreographed? Like maybe write "breathe" on the music at certain measures? what about movements in general? I'm not sure it would be easy for me to just concentrate on breathing, unless everything is planned out. I think Frieda's comment gives me the sense that everything should sort of be planned and there should be no spontaneity, but you are still expected to have a uninhibited effect. And what about the melodic line?

January 18, 2016 at 08:38 AM · Hi Shawn, you've done a great job in one week getting the gist of things, but I agree with Frieda, work on rhythm and steadiness. Stop all vibrato and expression until you've got a handle on all the basic elements of the music. You can't be uninhibited and spontaneous without control, as you'll just be a slave to your unconscious habits. Start by working on the subdivisions of one quarter beat (or eighth pulse) at a time. Don't string together quarter beats until you know for sure you've got the correct rhythm for that beat. Work on all chords separately for now for intonation and connecting the note/position/pattern immediately before each chord to each chord, then connecting to what comes immediately after. For the left hand you're working on anticipating finger and shift patterns. For the bow you're working on finding the precise level for the elbow and 'grabbing' the strings for the chord, and finishing the chord on the proper string, i.e. where the tune is. Practice all chords in p over the finger board and make sure you grab and release to the proper pressure for that sound point. Once you can grab a chord and finish on the correct string with absolute clarity over the fingerboard, you can then start to adjust sound point for context. I think you'll benefit from doing some double stop and chord etudes. Without the chords, you can pay more attention to rhythm and voice leading. Without good rhythm and steadiness, you can't properly work on bow division (you can't really consistently work on any aspect of expression with the bow: phrasing, dynamics, density/colour, sound point.)

January 18, 2016 at 07:49 PM · Very nice point Jeewon,

I think still I have a lot to learn before I can play these pieces at a respectable level. I think it makes sense that the tempo and rhythm is very important. I'll work on timing and steadiness as well. Anyone know of some good double stop etudes, or just some exercises that might expose some of my technical weaknesses present in this recording?

Jenny yes, that sounds pretty logical and makes sense.

January 18, 2016 at 09:08 PM · I am sorry, I am not reading all the answers. I just want to contribute. Hopefully something new.

First of all, the Adagio has to be very rhythmic and also you have to count quarters not eighth-notes.

You should also work on your bow, taking the chords more smoothly and sustaining them more. It has to do with good finger control- especially at the frog. Try to start from the string, not out of the air. The chord at around 59 sec. is without the g-string and you have to go to the f-natural on the e string as fast as possible, since its slurred with the next note and therefore melodic.

Overall intonation is ok considering the fact, that this piece isn't really easy. But you are slightly off many times, but without better bow control, it will be hard to correct intonation in those chords.

This piece is harder than everyone thinks, it needs very good rhythm to really make sence, try to be more precise with that. I can't tell you any technical exercises as long i don't see you playing. Good Luck

January 18, 2016 at 10:44 PM · Yes Simon, I'm starting to realize how tough this piece is rhythmically. I have a really hard time keeping track of all of these dotted notes and 32nd notes. I really want to count by quarters, but it seems like it easy to get sloppy and use rubato. If I took away the metronome I highly doubt that my rhythms would be anywhere close to what it's supposed to be. Are there any short cuts, or is this just the way it has to be?

Jenny, I will take a look at those

And anyone else who wants to reply, but intimidated by reading the rest of the post, I really wouldn't mind if you skip through them.

January 19, 2016 at 12:01 AM · are there shortcuts? Yes, one shortcut is, figuring out the right rhythm and not playing it different anymore. When you get a steady beat in quarters you have won. No matter how slow you play it. Actually there is not much room for different tempo choices in that movement. if you play it too fast the 32 and 64th notes will get impossible and not sounding well. If you get too slow, the chord progression will be unclear.

So first figure out the right rhythms, maybe with singing it, be very very precise about it. Don't listen to other recordings, most do the rhythms wrong aswell. There are some freedoms you can take later, but you have to understand the idea of the rhythm. In your version some 64th notes are slower than the 32th, that should not happen. For example the first slur mmust be steady and in the end very quick from the bow, getting into the chord. This applies to all runs, steady but with direction, always under control and on the beat. Later you can take freedom between the quarter beats, but with very much care and never touch the ground pulse, its all written out! Even the ending, you don't need much ritardando, its written!

I hope that helps!

January 19, 2016 at 01:37 AM · Marking beats in the score is a good way to help visualize how the rhythm fits, but I'd also suggest you do the math, speak the rhythm, walk the beat and speak or tap the rhythm, write out a tricky passage on staff paper and work out all the subdivision according to 32nds, 16ths, 8ths, quarters, rewrite it to simplify, i.e. turn quarters into halves, 8ths into quarters etc.. In my experience, this movement is the first piece that truly challenges a student rhythmically (Lalo for quarter triplets v. duplets,) and it's very useful for that purpose. So don't take any shortcuts; go to first principles and internalize it. With a metronome, set it to subdivisions, and to the metre, but also set it superdivisions, i.e. set it to half notes and make sure you fill it with the rhythm you're working on. Take it one beat at a time. If your brain hurts, walk away, take a break, come back and figure it out. Then do two beats, then a measure, two measures, etc. There's no better way. Use a clean copy, 1 each, for various things like rhythm, breathing, physical and musical and mental release points, etc., any habit you're trying to overwrite, really. With IMSLP it's so easy to do.

When you're ready, post a video if you have time. Just watched your other Bach video and saw some things you might work on. If you'd like I can just comment on what I saw in the other video. There's always a lot to learn. In a perfect world we should be able to sight read the piece we're learning and simply work on interpretation and performance skills, but then we probably wouldn't be here posting and having a grand ol' time talking about it. I don't think this piece is beyond you in any way. You just have some gaps to fill in your technique. Now you can use this piece as an etude and deconstruct it to death. Or you can use actual etudes and exercises to develop the technique you need in order to facilitate learning Bach (or any rep you're dying to play.) It all depends on your goals. It's because you wrote, "I want to practice accurately and efficiently this time," that I would strongly suggest you fix things rather than play through when you practice. The single most efficient and effective way to improve is to deal with problems as they arise, to learn how to practice deliberately.

January 19, 2016 at 01:59 AM · Wow Frieda, thank you, that was very specific. I was trying something a little bit different that wasn't really working this morning. I get the impression that I'll still struggle for a while on the rhythm and tempo in this piece.

Simon, yes that makes a lot of sense. I have this bad habit of just memorizing the piece I want to play on the first day and only looking at the score occasionally, and playing by ear. I think in addition to all the other stuff, this exercise has helped me look at the score more closely. Like, I wasn't even aware that the chord you pointed out was wrong! I also didn't know which notes were 32nd and which were 64th.

Hi Jeewon, yes! If you have the time, it would amazing if you could comment about that other video. I'm not so proud of how I played that piece either because I worked on it for a while(way longer than this) and it still sounded bad(maybe worse than what I have so far in this piece), but I think it sorted of acted as a "etude" for me in a way, and taught me a lesson about practicing efficiently. I think that video does a good job of exposing my weaknesses. I've attempted to solve some of those on my own to varying degrees of success. I'm okay with either option, but I prefer the ladder: to use some etudes to fill some gaps so that I can play this piece.

I know that I have many technical issues, and it's useless to be in the dark about it, trying to find a needle in a haystack and try to solve everything on my own. When I took lessons a while ago, my teacher was aware of my technical problems, but he was good at making me compensate for them to get through youth programs, orchestra auditions etc. However, since I actually didn't do any etudes like ever(except Kreutzer 2 and 7?) after I took time away from the instrument, my problems became more exposed than ever. In hindsight, I wish I skipped all those meaningless things to just work on my technique exclusively and not worry about all this now. Also the only bach I played with a teacher was the E major Preludio I think, and that piece is way more straight forward(not necessarily easier) than this.

I plan to start taking lessons again pretty soon(in 3-4 months? After I get my college degree), so my main goal on the violin right now is to be able to play something to an okay to not bad type of level so that I can find a good teacher to take me. Anyone here think that goal is realistic? If it's not I'll just wait longer than 4 months to do it. I want to digest all the great advice here before I post a video of the adagio though. Also, even if you are new at the violin, or never played this piece before, and you are reading this post, you can still comment :). I'm okay with vague or subjective feedback too, as long as it's constructive and not too rude! Like "I think parts of it were kind of noisy" or "maybe you should try to relax more" would be helpful for me to know, or "blahblahblah violinist played it this way, maybe you could try that" type of thing. Of course, given the choice, I would prefer technical and advice on objective things.

January 19, 2016 at 07:02 PM · Nice playing Shawn. Damn, that's a hard piece. Maybe I can try that one in a couple of years.

I heard quite a bit of tension in your playing, I'm sorry to say. Even though your intonation is not perfect, and you kind of struggled to produce vibrato on some of your double stops, I really don't think your left hand is your problem. As others have said, and whenever I work on solo Bach, bow security is key, and the most important factors are distribution (which is going to involve optimizing speed, sound point, and weight, those are not really separable from the "planning" that you do for how much bow you'll use), and then there is finding the right "planes" for double stops and chords. My teacher taught me that what happens with the violin is that insecurity in the right arm has a strong tendency to be transmitted to the left arm in the form of tension there, from the forearm all the way down, and I think you might be experiencing that. I generally have to watch that whenever I'm working on something that is right at my limit.

I think lots of good teachers would be happy to have such an eager, motivated, and positive student. There may be some who only work with conservatory-level students, but do you really need that at this point?

January 20, 2016 at 02:03 AM · Hi Paul, yeah sometimes I'm so used to the tension that being tense seems normal. I guess it did not even occur to me that it was possible to vibrate on some of these chords until you pointed it out, and tried it just now with a more relaxed left hand. I tend to transmit tension through both hand I think, and yeah it's tough to hear intonation when the bow arm is not that good. But releasing tension is often easier said than done. My violin is clearly not the issue, but sometimes I like to fantasize about playing a better instrument.

So far, playing with the metronome feels extremely awkward with this piece, and I'm not sure exactly why. It just doesn't sound the way I want it to in my head, but it's probably necessary. And no, I don't need a conservatory level teacher at this point, just someone who will help me develop my technique, but I just want to be able to do some of that on my own to an extent first. I just want to get better as fast as I can, so I can play all the pieces that I want to play.

January 20, 2016 at 05:17 AM · "...doesn't sound the way I want it to in my head" which is why you have to figure it out--to reprogram what's in your head. Rhythmic errors are one of the most annoying things for teachers to deal with in lesson (and guaranteed immediate disqualification from any professional orchestral audition,) because it literally is just laziness. Like I said, if it hurts your brain break it down, do the math.

I strongly suggest you figure out the rhythm without pitch (speak, clap, tap, whatever you prefer,) then sing it, then play on open string separate bows, then finally add the pitch and play all longer values, subdivided in staccato. Break down long passages into shorter patterns. The rhythmic cells are not that difficult, it just seems weird sometimes when you string a few together. Do the math on paper. Mark the beats over rhythmic groupings. Work out a syllable system and speak the rhythms. Or just speak the same syllable for the rhythms and clap the beats. As with most things the hard way is the shortcut. Until you know the rhythm, and you're more comfortable playing with ease, avoid playing through passages. Print out a copy and cut it up into measures and work on one measure a day without your fiddle. Or better yet, get some manuscript and copy one measure a day to work on rhythm. On the fiddle work only on intonation with equal valued notes, and chord changes (arpeggiated and broken) until you've got the rhythm down pat.

I.

Watching your Largo video, the one word which sticks in my mind is 'held.' It takes effort to hold our arms in mid air, or to hold our breath. So to minimize effort, we need to keep moving, keep breathing; we need to prepare motions and follow through.

At the beginning (develop a more relaxed 'get ready' sequence) your hand looks rigid when you flip the bow. Your pinky doesn't respond to the weight of the tip. This is also true when you bow normally. I don't see your fingers responding to the motions of the arm and bow. You need to develop dynamic balance in the hand, as opposed to static balance (think see-saw rather than table,) which pivots about the thumb/middle-finger ring.

Here are some movement exercises you might try for rotations, pivots and their ranges of motion:

Do the flip exercise, but be aware of gravity. Palm up, arm extended in front of you, feel the weight of the bow against the index. Wave the bow and feel the pressure increase and decrease against the index. Don't fight it. Receive the stick as it presses into the fingers. Rotate counterclockwise and feel the pressure decrease as the bow goes vertical. Feel the pressure increase against the ring-finger and pinky as you go palm down. Don't press with the pinky, but simply resist the weight of the bow. Wave the bow around and feel the 'spring' of the pinky.

Feel the various rotations in the arm. Palms up, flip only from shoulder rotation with supinated forearm, which will get you from 3 or 4 o'clock counterclockwise to 11 or 10 o'clock. Flip only from the forearm with internal shoulder rotation, which will get your from 11 o'clock about 6 o'clock. Repeat but pivot only from the fingers at each 'hour.' E.g. at 3 o'clock you should be able to pivot the bow between 4 and 2.

Bend your elbow to 90 degrees, upper arm out to playing position, and repeat the flipping. Whenever you attend to your bow hand and can't feel your hand being moved, do some variation on the above flippy-wavy, and finger pivot exercises.

When you play on the fiddle you need to use various combinations of rotation and pivoting in various contexts. It's more complex because we add elbow flexion/extension to the mix. But you need to organize bow division according to the balance point and coordinate rotations and pivots to get an even sound.

Place the bow on A-string at the balance point, roughly at lower third. Around the balance point you can use the weight of the bow for a decent tone. Move up bow toward the frog, without any counterpressure from the pinky, and pretty soon the sound will start to crack. If you pivot the bow horizontally with the fingers slightly (tip toward scroll, screw toward bridge) the bow will track closer to the bridge and the sound won't crack as soon. Feel the sideways resistance of the string.

Repeat lower 1/3rd, but add counterpressure with the pinky keeping the same sound point. Repeat but assist with slight supination from the forearm. Repeat but assist with slight external rotation from the shoulder. Figure out a combo which is most comfortable for you for a given sound point, dynamic, tempo/speed of bow.

Then work on upper 2/3rds. With no internal rotation, pronation, pivoting, the sound will start to dissipate as you approach the tip. Experiment with various rotations. It looks like you want to pull down with the wrist with even pressure across the fingers on a down bow near the tip. That's fine, but make sure you're not 1) squeezing the stick, 2) raising the bow with wrist extension and jamming the wrist. Try to keep the wrist as neutral as possible (the wrist needs to remain 'springy') and hang the weight of the forearm off the fingers. Try playing with various finger combinations and see what that does to your wrist: 23, 14, 13, etc. Typically, most pedagogues will want you to pronate and pivot onto 12. Experiment. Note that as you approach the tip, the fiddle is holding up the bow, and even the arm, in louder dynamics. Get a trustworthy friend to hold the fiddle at various levels and see how well you can track the bow. With the fiddle at belly level place the bow at its tip. As you raise the fiddle to playing position maintain pronation and internal rotation. Allow the fingers to pivot and twist. Don't 'airbow' on the strings. It takes too much effort. Use gravity. Bow into the strings. Save suspension in bowing for pp and special soft, whispery moments.

Do lots of long detache strokes with lower third, and upper third before you do grand detache with full bow. Use Kreutzer 2, or any detache study or piece. Use gravity. Up bows need to be vigorous (you're often sluggish getting to the frog.) Release on down bows. Of course on G string this doesn't apply as much. Also apply to slow, sostenuto scales (no vib. for arm action exercises.) To really feel horizontal 'resistance' in sostenuto, work yourself up to the 1 min. per bow exercise. Pay attention to the quality of muscle action. On faster whole bow strokes, feel how shoulder rotations can help release tension through the elbow. On a down bow, as the elbow opens beyond 90 degrees, raise the elbow slightly (internal rotation, flexion.) On slower strokes feel the hand travel in an arc (curve of the bow.)

When doing such exercises, always take some time to cycle through the muscles groups for quality of motion. Make sure there's good alternation of triceps and biceps or pecs and delts. You don't need to brake with the antagonist to change direction, simply release. Pause between bow changes to make sure you stop by releasing the active muscles, before changing direction. E.g. down pause/release; up pause/release. Then down-up pause/release, etc. Then up-down pause/release, etc. Then down-up-down pause/release. Up-down-up pause/release. Etc. Feel the groups of bow changes as a unit, a single impulse. Do this on open strings, scales, etudes, repertoire. Later in real rep. you practice by grouping notes, bow strokes, finger and shift patterns, at first applied groups for exercise, then according to musical groupings: note groupings, phrasing, direction, etc.

More later...

II.

String crosses are disorganized and look a little laboured. It's difficult to tell for sure, but you might be holding the shoulder blade retracted (squeezed in.) Let the shoulder blades glide freely when you raise your arm. Retract and protract shoulders to feel their range (add a shrug to roll the shoulders.) And settle on a loose neutral position. Feel a slight pull down and back with the blades as you begin to raise the arms, but don't squeeze them down. Most of the raising of the arms happens at the shoulder socket initially, but the blades need to be free to rotate with the arms.

Big crosses:

At tip, play all four open string up bow, down bow; exaggerate the crossing motion

At tip, play martele open G, up, 1 inch of bow; cross to E, play down

Cross at the end of each stroke in one smooth motion:

At tip, play martele open G, up, finish on E string

Play E, down, finish on G string

Keep head off of chin rest and release left shoulder, and feel how they respond to the bow motion. Also cross at mid bow and at frog.

Notice you can lead with various parts of the arm in a cross. You can cross with just the upper arm at all parts of the bow, though that can be less efficient in certain contexts, but offers most power.

At tip you cross with the whole arm, but you can lead with the forearm or the upper arm.

At mid you can cross from the upper arm, just the forearm, or from the wrist and finger (with less forearm motion)

At frog you can cross with upper arm, forearm, wrist (wrist only yields crooked bowing,) fingers only (with less wrist motion)

Currently you prefer to cross mostly with the forearm especially to the G string. Even in whole arm crosses, the forearm tends to lead, as if the upper arm was fighting the forearm. It's a good strategy to raise the forearm to cross to the G string, but the shoulder blades and upper arm need to be free and assist in the motion, and not restrict the reach, especially if you need to cross quickly. It's useful to learn how to lead with the upperarm, so you don't end up dragging it across, even if you end up finishing with the forearm. When you do use the upper arm it's often laboured and uncontrolled (sometimes the action causes a tensing reaction from the neck and trapezius-shrug.) Most crosses should be done from the upper arm in legato, so you can regulate the weight transferred from the upper arm.

Work on Dont Op. 37, Nos. 3, 9 for exaggerated upper arm exercise. Anticipate with the upper arm. Stop before each string cross and cross first with the upper arm and let the hand follow. This will feel awkward. Keep head off chinrest whenever possible. Make effortless string crosses. Also look at Nos. 4, 7, 13. Revisit Kreutzer 7, play at tip, mid, frog; also do up,up,down,down. Remember to finish each stroke on the new string. At the frog also cross by pivoting fingers with assistance from the wrist (let the rest of the arm follow the fingers.)

January 20, 2016 at 06:16 PM · Wow...I'm very lucky to receive this type of feedback. Thank you so much for this extensive analysis. I don't know what to say, I don't understand everything yet, but I will be sure to study this and refer to this post often while practicing.

January 20, 2016 at 08:06 PM · You're most welcome, hope it makes sense Shawn. Let me know if you have any questions. I'm throwing a bunch of information at you all at once and leaving it for you to organize and prioritize. Ideally a teacher would structure all of this in a logical sequence over several months so you can focus on one thing at a time and not be overwhelmed. I'm trying to give you a critique of your technique, but also exercises which I hope will give you a new way to frame the problem. Instead of just trying to make things better, get a better tone, less tension, cleaner sound, it's often better to just reframe the problem, for bowing in this case, by getting your arm and brain to experience new, free movement.

So far I've outlined ways to move large muscles for the most part. I think that should be the priority for now. But as with most things on the violin every skill depends on so many others, so after a time, it's useful to see what affects what, zoom in and zoom out so to speak. I've hinted at pivoting motions for the fingers which will help with direction of the bow, applying weight and suspending weight, and string crossing.

I'll elaborate on how to use pivots for Bach chords and voicing since it applies to the Adagio. But to apply these pivots you need to train your arm to really get to know the level of the strings.

III.

At the beginning of the Largo, you place your arm into playing position, hold there for a bit, and when you start to play your hand touches down tentatively without your arm. That tells me your arm doesn't quite know where the string is.

Aside: instead of hovering, then touching down, which tends to seize your bow arm, for a gentle down bow, take a silent up bow in the air, in tempo (subdivide a moving line in your head to help set the tempo) and play the next down bow. Always, already be in motion. That's an example of a preparatory motion, which I'll get back to later.

Pretend the bridge is a circle and draw a radial line intersecting each string. That's the vertical path of each string. Place your bow on each string so the hair is perpendicular to the radius, and that's the plane of each string. Train your arm so that it can feel the level of each plane. Another way to feel the proper level for the elbow on each string is to 'salute' each string without the bow. With hand as in a salute, palm toward the scroll, touch each string with the inside edge of the index, where you make contact on the bow.

Vertical Touch Down:

Place the bow on the A plane at the frog. Extend your arm fully above the string, following the radius, and back down. With each repetition find the exact level of each string and land gently. Repeat with other strings. Repeat at middle and tip. Note the G radius is actually vertical (more or less depending on the tilt of your fiddle) and the other strings are more horizontal, with the E radius diagonally up to the right.

Repeat with the three double stops: GD, DA, AE. Land on both strings precisely together.

Repeat starting with bow at your side. Extend your arm right and make a big circle over each string and land gently and precisely.

3D strings:

Because of the curve of the bridge you can play at various angles on each string. Think of each string as having 3 edges. You rarely actually play on the top edge of each string, as your bow is always curving to cross some where. Even on a single string, to play deeply into the string, it helps to play on the left edge on a down bow and on the right edge on an up bow. You can take full advantage of this on the G and E strings, where you can actually bow through the 'C' bouts.

When practicing smooth string crosses, it's useful to count each cross over 4 counts, crossing smoothly and continuously over each count, and touch the next string precisely on the count of 1. You can also apply various rhythms to time crossing precisely. More on this later.

In Bach, where you're required to play a single stop to double/triple stops back to single, you have to be keenly aware of which edge of the string you play on. Look at Kreutzer 36 and 39. In 36 the first note can be played on the top of the A-string, but by the second note the bow should approach the D-string in preparation for the double stop. You can make such fine tilts in angle with a vertical pivot in the fingers, and make bigger crosses with the arm. That's another reason you need to differentiate where you generate a string cross from, whether in your arm or hand. In 39, as in Bach, the moving lines need a tad more pressure, so after playing a double stop, you can pivot back to the A. Where you centre your elbow depends on context. In this case, I'd leave it on the A level until measure 2. In measure 3, pivot to add a bit more pressure to the moving line on D-string.

In the Adagio, it sounds like you play the chord bottom to top, but there are many places where you need to leave the bow on a lower string. E.g. m1 half bar, you need to grab all three strings but remain on the D string; m2 stay on A-string; m2 finish the phrase on the Bflat on A-string. This happens throughout.

Practice playing a triple stop (open strings to make it easier) near the fingerboard (to make it easier to grab 3 strings at once) and grab 3 strings with some pressure from the fingers. With a colle motion from the fingers and hand, 'pluck' the 3 strings with the bow. To sustain one string after the 'pluck' place the elbow at the level of the string you want to sustain and pivot the fingers to grab the other strings. violinmasterclass.com has a pretty good tutorial on colle. Take a look at all the videos at some point. Here's a dicussion on colle from a while back.

In the Bach you can arpeggiate the chords slightly, but make sure your elbow stays on the level of the string you want to sustain. Either play a triple stop, or roll slightly by pivoting with the fingers, but stay on the string with the melody. You can also use the pivot to keep your elbow on the D-A level and reach to dig out the bass note on the G-string.

January 20, 2016 at 10:53 PM · Thats what people call "in depth" I think! Than you for sharing all that information. It is very valuable for all of us!

January 21, 2016 at 12:39 AM · Yes I think it will potentially help many others on this site!

January 21, 2016 at 03:36 PM · You're welcome Simon. I'm just kinda spewing this stuff here so please let me know if anything sounds crazy or makes no sense.

Shawn, once your bow arm is freer and more comfortable tracking the string, you'll want to think more about how to control it's trajectory. You can practice straight bows if you want. But instead of thinking of some abstract, external goal, it might help to think about a more reflexive action (e.g. reaching for a cup; drawing a line on an imaginary white board on the plane of each string, etc.) and pay attention to what you're doing to prevent that. What you want to do is inhibit unnecessary motions which interfere with your already existing reflexive action. The controlled part of bowing, which is not so reflexive, has to do with bow hold* and hand (wrist, base-knuckle, finger) motions. And so I want to tie trajectory control to pivots in the hand.

*Aside: I guess some might argue picking up a pencil with the finger tips is the most natural way to hold the bow, as it's reflexive. And there is merit to that. But that yields a bow hold with the very tips of the fingers which is not so useful to modern playing style. Following that logic, the most natural bow hold would be what Flesch called a German bow hold, though I'm not convinced his labels are very historical. To get from the reflexive hold to a functional bow hand is a pretty big learning curve. I reserve judgment on whether violin bow holds can be reflexive.

IV.

In the Largo, often your bow is at a harder sound point on the G-string and moves to a softer sound point as you cross to the E-string; you want the opposite, since the G-string is thicker, E thinner. That might also contribute to some of your 4 part chords being harsh. Part of that is your upper arm being too active at the beginning of a down bow from the frog--there's still some upper arm swiping going on (that's an example of an interference; imagine touching a dot with your right index finger on an imaginary wall to your left, parallel to your G-string, then touching a dot in the middle of your right 'C' bout; that's the proper trajectory for your arm crossing from G-string to E-string.) But you can also solve a lot of sound point problems with a more sensitive bow hand. You can use a pencil or dowel for the following to start.

Vertical Pivots:

With the bow on A string at the balance point, do some vertical pivots, as in Kreutzer 7 before. To tip to the lower string, your fingers curl as their base-knuckles extend (open below, flatten on top;) the thumb folds into the palm and hooks, more or less depending on length. To tip to upper string, the fingers extend as their base-knuckles flex; the thumb pushes away from the palm. You may need to assist with the wrist, depending on the size of your hands. At the tip you'll need assistance with the wrist; let the forearm follow. At the frog, you can tip to lower string by splitting off the action of the index, i.e. instead of curling, it extends, points away from the other fingers. The base-knuckles remain slightly flexed. Not everyone does this--many just curl the fingers and use the wrist to cross, and let the bow be crooked (pointing toward the left shoulder.)

Horizontal Pivots:

To point tip toward scroll curl ring and pinky fingers towards you, and straighten index. It helps to curl the middle finger and push with the thumb, twisting with the middle-thumb ring. To point tip toward bridge curl index and straighten ring and pinky. Practice these pivots without drawing the bow.

When you bow up to the frog, finish with the bow pointed toward the scroll. Don't worry about straight bows for now. Just focus on pointing. When you grab a quadruple stop from the G-string, point the tip to the scroll to grab a softer sound point for the G and as you draw the bow, pivot the fingers to straighten out so you end up with a harder sound point for the E-string. Don't worry about clean sound until the action feels comfortable. This way you can start with a full sound with no accents or edge to a big chord. Of course if you want that edge, then never mind.

Later when you work on changing sound points, the pivots can work with the hand and arm seamlessly (not everyone does this.) To maintain sound point for a full sound, on an up bow point the tip toward the scroll, feel the ring finger pull towards you, and on a down bow, point the screw toward the scroll, feel the index pull towards you. Remember the edges of the string.

The horizontal pivot is also important for moving the bow in the direction of the bow. In the colle motion, rather than moving the bow horizontally, the hand moves over the stick as the fingertips move the bow below, in the opposite direction.

The above pivots are active movements of the fingers and thumb, and can help with range of motion training for the fingers and hand. As with all motions on the fiddle, the same range of motion for any given joint or set of joints can be active or passive for different purposes.

To feel the relative passive motion, simply move the stick with the left hand and allow the hand and fingers to be moved. Or, stop the motion of the bow on the string by adding pressure with the left hand; i.e. move the bow with the right arm, but stop it with the left hand so it won't move, and allow the fingers and hand to be moved by the motion of the bow arm.

For the Adagio, when you want to get to the bottom of a quad chord quickly, find the D-A level with the elbow and reach the G-string by pivoting vertically to dig out the bass note. If you want to grab a softer sound point, also pivot a little horizontally, don't pinch as hard (or at all,) and raise the forearm (the weight) as you flex the wrist for more of a brushed chord. Arpeggiating the chord makes it sound softer too. All rolled or broken chords should be slightly anticipated (like a grace note) so the main melody note in the chord arrives on the beat. To do that you have to cheat the previous beat by the equal amount (unless you're trying do a ritardando for emphasis.)

Chord Studies:

The most prominent chord study is Dont Op.35, Nr. 1, usually studied before starting Bach Fugues. It can be used for a variety of bowings, arpeggiated, broken, solid (the Rostal/Schott edition shows variations; look at Sevcik Op2 below if your edition doesn't have variations.) Also great for the left hand.

To work up to it, take a look at the following:

Polo 30 Studies: Nos. 18, 30 (The Polo is a great double stop book in general)

Sevicik Op. 3, Var. 39 and 40, see also Op. 2, Part 5, No. 37, Part 6, No. 38

The whole of Op. 3 is useful, as is Op. 2.

To take controlling vertical pivots to an extreme, study Kreutzer 13, but with the following bowing at the extreme frog, over the fingerboard in pp. Up-up dn-up dn-up dn-dn, etc. Lead with the fingers, follow with the hand. The forearm should only pump up and down to get out of the way. The normal bowing at various parts of the bow should also be done.

Having said all that about building sensitivity within the hand, you might notice some people have a pretty rigid hand in general, regardless of their bow holds. Everyone tenses the hand quite a bit to play fast full bows, loud hard string crosses especially on doubles stops, and loud playing in general, but how do you do it without crunching in normal to soft dyanmics? You need a very responsive wrist and upper arm. And you just ignore anyone who tries to make you play with a straight bow(!) I alluded to this in talking about playing at the extreme frog above.

Currently you use your arm in a way that requires springs in the base knuckles. Try adding a spring in your wrist, which requires a spring in your shoulder socket as well, to allow your elbow to flip up and down, making your arm do the wave to absorb shock.

To sustain a single note after a big chord without crunching, drop the wrist upon contact with the string, while at the same time raising the elbow. Do the reverse on an up bow. Instead of pivoting with the hand and wrist, just do the wave (straight-bow-Nazis will nash their teeth, rend their garments and maybe even foam a little at the mouth .) Of course you can do a little of both. Attend to what feels effortless. Experiment.

January 23, 2016 at 01:29 AM · "the fingers extend as their base-knuckles flex; the thumb pushes away from the palm. You may need to assist with the wrist, depending on the size of your hands. At the tip you'll need assistance with the wrist; let the forearm follow. At the frog, you can tip to lower string by splitting off the action of the index, i.e. instead of curling, it extends, points away from the other fingers. The base-knuckles remain slightly flexed. Not everyone does this--many just curl the fingers and use the wrist to cross, and let the bow be crooked (pointing toward the left shoulder.)"

I'm having a little trouble visualizing, anyone know what this looks like? What does it mean when the base knuckles remain slightly flexed? Are you supposed to feel some tension there? What's a good way to get a feel of whether or not your pinky is doing it's job? As you approach the frog is it okay to let the wrist dangle a little bit, like what happens when you relax?

January 23, 2016 at 04:17 AM · Hi Shawn, I'm using the medical definitions for joint movement.

flexion: a bending movement around a joint in a limb (as the knee or elbow) that decreases the angle between the bones of the limb at the joint

extension: an unbending movement around a joint in a limb (as the knee or elbow) that increases the angle between the bones of the limb at the joint

So flex doesn't refer to the quality of muscle tension, as in, "I'll puuump you uuup!" But there can be some tension depending on the forces applied. Tension is not a bad thing in and of itself (you'd be all floppy without it,) just not so helpful when it's excessive. Maybe I should have said, "remain slightly bent."

Here's what it looks like:

Julia Fischer, Brahms Double

Notice in the first softer bow change (1'38") there's no flip, just slight movement of the joints in response. She flips for the second louder bow change (1'41") after which she wants to pull a dense, sustained note. (Also notice the change in bow speed. Variety.)

A lot of violinists flip the index on a bow change at the frog. The degree to which it flips depends on the amount of pivot, which depends on how much the base knuckles open during the pivot. Here's a list, off the top of my head:

Players with prominent index flips when changing bow at the frog:

Julia Fischer, Itzhak Perlman, David Oistrakh, Oscar Shumsky, Shmuel Ashkenasi, Arthur Grumiaux, Leonid Kogan, Kyung Wha Chung, Michael Rabin, Ilya Kaler, Pinchas Zukerman, Shlomo Mintz, Gil Shaham, Christian Ferras, Erick Friedman

Players with less prominent flips (due to bow hold. Had to double check these players):

Ruggiero Ricci, Erica Morini, Midori, Ginette Neveu, Joseph Szigeti, Jacques Thibaud, Josef Suk Jr., even Nathan Milstein

Most people let the hand 'dangle' from the wrist at the frog. It's like the wheels and suspension in a car when you hoist it up. At the frog, when you lift the weight off the forearm, the hand and fingers, the suspension, drop with gravity. If you keep the weight on, there will be less 'dangle,' but the suspension, the springs of the fingers and wrist, will still be working.

The pinky is doing it's job when it counterbalances the tip of the bow at the frog. I think a lot of teachers overemphasize the need to keep the pinky curled. It's stronger when it's straight. So for fluid playing, you can let it curl. But when you have to transfer force, it needs to be quite firm. (Some people keep it quite rigid, for which you need a flexible wrist. Others place it flat on top of the stick as in a cello hold. Most keep it somewhat curved, but flexible.) Watch the tip as you change bow at the frog, up/down. If you want a smooth bow change, the tip should not dip. If it dips, it'll create a bump in the sound, which is fine if that's what you want. You can even raise the tip for smooth changes. Similarly, when you want to start a smooth down bow, raise the tip as you make contact with the string, then sink in. Another context in which you need a firm pinky occurs when crossing lower to upper strings using the upper arm. You need to feel the motion of the upper arm connect with the pinky tip, so there is no break in the kinetic chain.

I've been meaning to wrap up my little verbiage with smooth bow changes, suspension v. traction, and follow through motions. Maybe I'll get to it next week. Have a great weekend!

January 23, 2016 at 07:29 AM · Oh okay, that makes a lot more sense. My gosh, Jeewon you are like a machine! Really articulate and precise way to explain it.

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