Am I Ready for the Sibelius Violin Concerto?

January 19, 2017 at 07:50 AM · Hello everybody,

I'm a junior in high school. Recently, I finished the first movement of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto in D Major (less commonly played than the G Minor Concerto) and am currently learning the second movement, the Scherzo, "for the sake of learning". But my teacher proposed the Sibelius concerto, the Mendelssohn concerto, and the Barber concerto (if I didn't want a hard concerto). I was really surprised when he proposed the Sibelius concerto because I never thought I would be able to play it before I graduated high school. It is so technically challenging and beautiful but it is daunting nonetheless. I am just wondering whether I am ready to take on the Sibelius concerto and if not, are there any other options that work with my repertoire progression. If I were to play the Sibelius Violin Concerto, I would really want to play it well and with high quality and not poorly so if you don't think I am ready, I will not be offended at all, I am simply just wondering whether I am ready to play this piece of music beautifully and with quality.

Here are some of the pieces that I have recently played:

-Violin Concerto in A Minor No. 22, First Movement (Viotti)

-Tambourine Chinoise (Kreisler)

-Symphonie Espagnol, First and Fifth Movement (Lalo)

-Violin Concerto in G Minor, First and Third Movement (Bruch)

-Violin Concerto in D Major, First Movement and learning the Second Movement (Prokofiev)

Replies (57)

January 19, 2017 at 10:37 AM · I would tend to think, that if you feel that strangers online who have never heard you know better than your teacher, then switching teachers may be in order, if at all possible.

January 19, 2017 at 01:23 PM · What they just said above!

January 19, 2017 at 02:40 PM · This is a discussion you should be having with your teacher.

There's also the question of why your teacher isn't having you learn the entirety of Prokofiev No. 1. The scherzo (2nd movement) is more difficult than the 1st movement, but the 3rd movement isn't really any more difficult than the 1st movement. Before having the rest of the repertoire discussion, I'd ask your teacher about this.

Mendelssohn is going to be significantly easier, and Barber even easier than Mendelssohn. Sibelius is a step up in difficulty. Does your teacher intend to teach those concertos in their entirety or just give you a single movement? (I remember from my childhood that some teachers will teach the 3rd movement of the Sibelius in isolation as it was perceived as not as difficult as the 1st movement, but I think it's better for students at that level to learn entire works, and therefore for repertoire to be chosen in which they could do so.)

Actually, looking at your repertoire list above, I just realized that your teacher does this all the time -- punch out movements from the whole concerto. For major repertoire, this seems like a mistake. For instance, there's no reason why you shouldn't have learned the 2nd movement of the Bruch along with the outer movements. You miss something in your education if you only do fast movements.

How well are you playing the Prokofiev? Did you find it difficult? What about the pieces that you played before? Does your teacher habitually teach works that seem too difficult for you to play well? (If so, I'd think hard about switching teachers.)

January 19, 2017 at 07:52 PM · Sibelius is arguably the hardest violin concerto out there. Well, it is definitely one of the hardest. By the time you get to Sibelius, you should have covered a large portion of the standard repertoire. And Lydia is absolutely right: every time you play a concerto or really any multi-movement piece, you need to learn all the movements for full artistic development. What else have you played besides what you have listed? Any solo Bach? You are right to want to play Sibelius well, but based on what you have played I do not think you are ready. Again piggybacking off of Lydia's comment, I am really surprised your teacher gave you a choice between an intermediate concerto, a slightly more difficult concerto, and a really, really hard concerto musically and technically. The above advice about your teacher is also very good. You don't lose anything by playing less hard works and then playing harder pieces, but you do lose something when you go from a piece that is probably too hard to a piece that is easy for you. I would say go with Barber. You'll play Sibelius someday.

January 19, 2017 at 08:16 PM · Yes, my teacher usually makes me play the first and/or third movement of each concerto and you guys are all right, I should be learning the whole concerto for full artistic develop and I will talk to my teacher about that.

To reply to Lydia, I actually LOVE the Prokofiev, it is amazing and I enjoy playing it everyday. This is actually the first solo I performed and got full marks from the adjudicators. My teacher recommended doing the second movement for technique but doesn't expect me to perform it at a recital or anything like that but I would definitely want to get it to that level. The only part I somewhat struggle with in the Prokofiev in the first movement is the end of the first movement with the intonation of the very high subdivided triplet notes and putting that last section with the piano is actually much harder that I anticipated.

In response to Helen, I have played the D Minor Partita (excluding the Chaconne) but that's about it. I actually really like the G Minor Sonata so I might ask my teacher about that one. I also played Mozart's Rondo from the Haffner Serenade and looked at Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for a couple of months but I never really got to play that at a recital/performance/in front of judges.

January 19, 2017 at 08:16 PM ·

January 19, 2017 at 08:21 PM · And the reason I am asking strangers online is because my teacher very quickly proposed some options at the end of our lesson and unfortunately, I will not be talking to him for about 2 weeks because he is away for vacation so I wanted to get a good idea about everyone's experience with the Sibelius Concerto and to hear everyone's opinion just based on my recent repertoire. I actually haven't been playing violin for as long as other students who are my level (started privates in 7th grade) so I just wanted to gain some perspective from others.

January 19, 2017 at 08:21 PM ·

January 19, 2017 at 08:57 PM · Zachary, you must be a very hard worker! Your teacher has already told you he believes you're ready by offering these choices. Do you believe in yourself? He may be wondering. You could do more of the same for years and still feel the way you do now. Nothing really prepares you for quantum leaps. You just gotta jump and meet the challenge. If after a few months you and your teacher feel you're up against a brick wall, what's the worst that could happen? You shelf it. Take a step back. Come back to it later. If at that time you need to whip out something for an audition or recital in short order you've already got quite a list of rep. you've built up over a relatively short time frame to polish and use. So what's the opportunity cost? Not much, because of all you'll learn by tackling a great concerto. I say, have faith in your teacher. Learn what believing in yourself is all about by stepping up and working even harder. Confidence is one of those intangibles you have to build brick by brick from scratch, by yourself. No one can teach it to you. And yes, your adjudicators can smell fear and sense confidence and feel the difference. It's a big deal, so lay the next brick!

January 19, 2017 at 09:51 PM · I think it's absolutely a mistake to only teach the outer movements of a concerto. My teacher when I was a teenager also did that, and in doing so, I missed the chance to see the works as a whole (playing them is not like just listening to them). Even more importantly, it meant that I missed out on much of the vital development of lyrical, expressive playing. And if you ever get a chance to perform these works outside of the context of a student contest, you'll need to know the whole thing. I might have ended up winning fewer student competitions learning concertos as a whole, but I'd probably have become a better violinist.

Learn the rest of Prokofiev No. 1 and then ask your teacher about repertoire again. The scherzo is a great workout for both left and right hands, and the third movement is beautiful and nontrivially difficult.

Also, I'm not convinced that the choices should always be concertos. I think you benefit as a player from doing a mix of repertoire -- solo Bach, short virtuosic showpieces, technically-less-difficult sonatas (or easier lyrical encore repertoire), and yes, concertos.

January 19, 2017 at 10:21 PM · Thank you so much Jeewon!!! That was really encouraging and really meant a lot. Your words of encouragement was really just what I needed. For years, I have been a little fearful and not very confident in myself but taking a step back, in retrospect, I can really see from how far I've traveled in my musical journey. Once again, thank you so much Jeewon!!! (the world could use more people like you (: )

January 19, 2017 at 10:26 PM · Thanks Lydia, I will definitely ask my teacher about the third movement and maybe even start performing the whole concerto (although I've never performed a whole concerto in one recital/concerto before...). The third movement is absolutely beautiful and I am really looking forward to learn it if my teacher lets me!!!

January 19, 2017 at 10:30 PM · Just wondering, has anyone actually played the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No.1 because it is not very commonly played. Just want to hear you thoughts about this concerto!!!

January 20, 2017 at 12:57 AM · I'm not a teacher, but if you can jump from Bruch to Prokofiev and play it well, then maybe Sibelius will be a natural progression for you. What an interesting repertoire list.

As far as the Prokofiev goes, the first is in the running for my favorite violin concerto. If you haven't listened to Tedi Papavrami's on Naxos, that is my favorite version I have heard.

January 20, 2017 at 01:09 AM · "What an interesting repertoire list." I agree.

If you think about it, it's pretty strategic. Probably as close to a straight line to a big romantic concerto as you can take. It's almost as if the concerto movements (along with Tambourine Chinois and fragments if IRC and Dvorak) were used as technique builders to this point. You don't necessarily take a linear progression of increasing difficulty to find the shortest path. What's next? Lyricism. Mendelssohn and Barber aren't a step backwards, but rather a stepping stone toward expressive work. Sibelius just kills two birds, or probably 5 or 10. Looking forward, after Sibelius, I would put money on Mozart or Beethoven.

Good luck Zachary!

January 20, 2017 at 01:53 AM · To reply to Christian, my teacher actually asked for my input and I proposed the Prokofiev and he said it would be a challenge but I managed to pull the first movement off in about two and a half months of practicing it and I was successful because I had so much passion for the piece that practicing was never boring or out of unwillingness. My teacher is actually Russian so I have the Oistrakh edited version and I really like Oistrakh's interpretation of this concerto. Have you ever played this piece? If you do, do you have any suggestions that you might want to share because I will be playing this piece for a competition in about a month and I want to make sure that I can play it to the BEST of my ability.

To reply to Jeewon, I never thought about my repertoire list like that!!! Thank you for the insightful and positive input!!!

January 20, 2017 at 01:56 AM · Zachary, what quality of instrument do you have? If it's not far off a vso, I can quite understand your teacher not giving you slow movements to study!

I note you are a junior in high school. This may explain why your teacher suggests Sibelius, where, in spite of its difficulty otherwise, tenths are something of an endangered species, rather than something like Paganini, or even Brahms, which abound in tenths.

January 20, 2017 at 02:17 AM · To reply to John, my violin is very high quality, I am not sure the price of it because it was gifted to me and it was handmade by a famous violin maker in China. It's probably worth about a couple thousand U.S. dollars but I have not gotten it appraised yet. And about the tenths, you are correct, they are VERY hard despite my large hands but I have played tenths before in the third movement of the Bruch Violin Concerto. Despite the Sibelius not having tenths, it is still an EXTREMELY DIFFICULT concerto and I respect it so much, therefore, if I were to learn this concerto, I would want to feel like I am absolutely ready but there are many mixed opinions in this thread so I will definitely discuss this matter with my teacher when he gets back from his vacation and see what he thinks.

January 20, 2017 at 02:46 AM · I am baffled by Barber, Mendelssohn and Sibelius being grouped together. One of these things is not like the others.

The secret to tenths is to have your hand in the correct position for the fourth finger, reaching your first finger back, rather than to start from the position of the first finger, trying to stretch forward. Another way of thinking about the same thing is to consider where your left thumb is. If you can't reach the tenth, try moving your thumb forward.

January 20, 2017 at 02:54 AM · To reply to Mary, yes that is how my teacher taught tenths to me also and it works much better than if I try to stretch my fourth finger out! And the Sibelius was just a suggestion but I'm probably not going to play it because I feel like I will not play it well enough. How about the Dvorak Concerto because I've looked at that with my teacher before and read through it and practiced it for a couple of weeks?

January 20, 2017 at 03:23 AM · It's not that baffling. If Zach had not chosen the Prokofiev, he would've likely been steered towards Mendelssohn or Barber, toward a more lyrical piece (assuming Bruch was used more for double stops, chords, bigger sound, articulation and some passage work.) Since he took it on successfully, despite the jump, he's being offered a similar, if bigger jump; or, since he's worked hard on the Prokofiev, the choice of a bit of a respite.

Re. tenths, more than the thumb, it's about the forearm being in a position which favours the pinky rather than the 1st finger. Moving thumb forward does nothing if the forearm doesn't shift toward the position of the pinky.

January 20, 2017 at 03:36 AM · I was picturing the arm moving with the thumb, not the thumb by itself. Sorry for not being clearer.

January 20, 2017 at 03:38 AM · To reply to Jeewon, I know that playing the Prokofiev at my level is unprecedented but my teacher was willing to teach it to me and I was willing to practice. In fact, I was just practicing the second movement, do you have any suggestions for the sul G shifting (like from 1st position to 5th/6th/7th position and then rapidly shifting back down)?

And thanks for the helpful tips on tenths Jeewon and Mary!

January 20, 2017 at 03:47 AM · I learned Prokofiev No. 1 as a teenager, and though it's not my favorite concerto to listen to, it's definitely the concerto I've most enjoyed playing. (I've done it twice with orchestra, and by and large it's the piece I can play in my sleep.)

It's not a great competition concerto, because of its slow opening, and the nature of the end of the movement (assuming you're only playing the first movement for it). The opening requires a great deal of control as well, so you want to make sure that you can manage to pull that off when you're nervous.

Even if you don't have a great instrument, there's no reason to avoid slow movements. Certainly anything you can play Prokofiev No. 1 on, you can use for the slow movements of all the other stuff you've learned.

January 20, 2017 at 03:59 AM · To reply to Lydia, you are so right about the slow opening and the nervousness because the first time I played it in front of others, the nervousness really impaired the slow opening. The end is very difficult to coordinate with a piano or an orchestra but I have been preparing this piece for about 2 months and the piece I played before was the third movement of the Bruch but there was a winner last year who played that piece so it wouldn't be logical to try this competition with that piece. Thanks for the tips! And just wondering, did you play the whole concerto with the orchestra or just a movement?

January 20, 2017 at 03:59 AM · Actually, Prokofiev No. 1 is an unusual choice repertoire-wise but it's not out of line with the sequence you've done -- assuming that you played the previous repertoire well. By and large if you have a secure and agile left hand, there aren't a lot of special terrors (no tenths, no big stretches other than one annoying unison, very few double-stops).

The big back-and-forth sul-G shifts in the Scherzo have to be absolutely secure, and they're made somewhat more tricky by the open G and therefore the necessity of making a leap of faith without being able to use a finger on the string as a guide. Play scales on the G string, including 1-finger scales. Try the 1-finger scales shifting back to first position after every note. You need to solidify your mental concept of the distances.

January 20, 2017 at 04:00 AM · I played the whole thing. It's only about 20 minutes -- one of the shorter concertos in the repertoire.

January 20, 2017 at 04:02 AM · You have to learn 5th and 7th positions with all fingers as if they were 3rd position. 5th is roughly when the thumb hits the crook of the neck. A luthier once told me that a well proportioned neck will have a similar distance between thumb and first finger in first position (with the thumb pushed back to the crook near the scroll) to the distance between the thumb in the crook near the bout and 1st finger on the 5th note. Even if it's not accurate you can do a straight shift from first to 5th, gauging 5th by the thumb hitting the crook of the neck. Of course 7th is the octave harmonic.

Those positions (and the high 11th position harmonic) should be practiced in some kind of shift exercise until you know them like 1st position. You should be able to find them with any finger from any position. They are your guideposts along the fingerboard.

So you might do A to E on G string an back. At first just do these with arm shifts. But for fast passages you can start to shoot the fingers and hand first, practicing a pivot shift. In an arm shift the arm simply folds in on itself toward you. In a pivot shift the arm pivots, i.e. as the hand shoots to a higher position, the elbow flips out and to the left (even if very slightly) and the opposite from a high to low position. Pivot shifts are preferable for fast shifts especially into very high positions (as are more crawl like shifts in high positions.) You can combine all these shifts depending on the passage, your fingering, etc.

Can you give measure numbers if you have a specific passage in mind? Are you thinking of Rehearsal 28 and 29? Remember to find all your guide fingers also.

Do stuff like this:

Dounis Artist's Technique See I 1. and 2.

Yost Exercises for Changing of Position

Create shifting exercises out of passages modeled on ideas from Dounis and Yost.

January 20, 2017 at 04:14 AM · Yes, I was actually referring to just rehearsal 29 because of the slurs between the dotted sixteenth note and the thirty-second note make the shifts have a distinct sliding noise. I will try out the pivot shifts. The Oistrakh edition has this whole passage on the G String which is fine by me but it's just the sliding noises are really annoying and hard to get rid of when I'm practicing.

January 20, 2017 at 04:15 AM · And do you also have any suggestions for rehearsal 35 with those fast triplet notes because it's really confusing and how should I practice them?

January 20, 2017 at 04:27 AM · All that repertoire is well beyond me but students that I've known have all done Bruch, Lalo, and Mendelssohn before Sibelius. Two out of three isn't bad I guess.

I agree with Lydia that it seems weird to blow off the middle movements. Please don't do that when you get to the Tchaikovsky. :)

January 20, 2017 at 04:31 AM · For shifts from open strings use a guide finger on an adjacent string. So at R29, as you play open G, place 1E on D-string and shift to B on D-string. After awhile you won't really need to place the finger but it helps train the shift. So the shift exercise is really all on the D string: 1E-1B, 1E-1A, etc. 3 after R29 I would do a 5th pivot shift Bb-F and extend to 3 for the A etc. Make sure you release all pressure during the slide, i.e. use harmonic pressure during all slides. (Do the reverse rhythm also: i.e. 32nd followed by dotted sixteenth; also do even sixteenths just to focus on releasing pressure during slides.)

What's your fingering at R35? Once you have your fingering use 'chunking.' Play first triplet (at or near tempo,) rest, next triplet, rest, etc. Then play first two triplets, rest, next two, rest, etc. Then omit first triplet, play next two triplets, rest, next two, rest, etc. Do this until you do 1 measure at a time (then overlap half measures,) then two measures, etc. until you're able to do the whole passage. Of course also play very slowly continuously to listen for chromatic tuning, string crosses, shifting etc.

January 20, 2017 at 04:42 AM · At rehearsal 35 the first five measures are sul G (including that nasty high B) and the chromatics for the last couple measures are all written in. That's a great idea to practice each individual triplet, I was trying to do that but I didn't know if that was going to be effective. The last measure is pretty nasty too. I'm going to try that out! Thanks so much Jeewon! And just wondering are you a teacher or a music student?

January 20, 2017 at 04:44 AM · In response to Paul, I DEFINITELY will not skip any movements if I get to the Tchaikovsky... before I graduate from high school. :)

January 20, 2017 at 05:05 AM · You're welcome! Currently I'm just freelancing around town. I used to teach privately and assisted my former teacher, but haven't taught in a while now.

For playing in high positions look for 'anchor' positions from which you can pivot and crawl. This will depend on your hand shape and fingerings.

January 20, 2017 at 05:36 AM · R29's sul G is a Prokofiev intention, I believe, not just an Oistrakh edit. The timbre is part of the passage, as are the slight noise to the shifts. (By contrast, the shifting in R28 should be clean. You will hear this distinction on pretty much all of the recordings of this piece.)

At R35, the D-B-D triplet is done as a pivot shift, with the 1st finger on the D. All practice techniques for fast passages are applicable here, including trying it with the notes spiccato in order to really force your left hand to be even.

January 20, 2017 at 05:43 AM · Of course it is impossible to know if you are ready for the Sibelius from our perspective, but I will say this. I would love to play the Sibelius, it's a goal of mine. And I think that I would be able to play it if I wanted to, but that doesn't mean I should start working on it now. There is so much more to violin than playing the most difficult repertoire. I started working on the Mendelssohn long before I was prepared for it technically, and now I still have issues playing the piece because I learned it incorrectly. But only you and your teacher can know what you need to work on.

January 20, 2017 at 05:59 AM · I completely agree about the double stops, that has been a huge focus for me since I started college. 3rds scales are the reason I can play Bach. Besides double stops in music, practicing them can help you in so many ways because it forces you to improve your hand frame.

January 20, 2017 at 01:41 PM · To reply to Freida, yes I have played the Sarabande and I will definitely ask my teacher about the G Minor Partita. I have done etude work on octaves like Kreutzer etudes. The Sibelius has so many octaves so if I were to play it I would for sure practice my octave A LOT.

January 20, 2017 at 01:45 PM · To reply to Lydia, so there are supposed to be sliding for the R 29 section? But I'm assuming not too much slide because of the fast tempo. I am slowing working on the R 35 sections and I will practice it with separate staccato strokes to help with the evenness. Thanks for the suggestion!!!

January 20, 2017 at 05:15 PM · So I gave it a whirl with my fiddle this morning (hadn't read through this in decades(!) and it was kinda late last night :) and I don't think you have to be too obsessed about strictly playing this sul. G. I'm assuming you don't have your teachers markings yet, and I suppose he might overrule that sentiment. For instance, in my part (don't know who edited--never give too much credence to editors marking, not because of the editor, but rather the publisher!) 3rd measure of 28 sul. D is introduced, so in 4th measure you can play grace notes A#BC# followed by B on D, which means you can do a similar sul D 4th measure after 29. For this passage, once you have your fingering, mark in all your guide finger shifts and play the passage with only guide finger shifts (imagining the interval to the target note of the real shift) until it's solid. Then and only then, add the actual shifts until solid. Then and only then, add the other notes surrounding the shifts until solid. Then and only then, add the rest of the notes. Don't spend time playing the in-position notes until your shift patterns are solid.

Similarly, at R35, don't worry too much about playing sul G. A lot of people play 4th measure of R35 across the string (I'm pretty sure Oistrakh crosses there.) Stay on G only if your hand is big enough to reach the 6th D-B with extension. You could just cross to sul D after the C#DE and play the D-B sul D using 0-4. The passage is too fast to worry about it too much and the colour is meant to change in the passage anyways, e.g. 3rd measure of R35, play the first half of the measure crossing to D, second half sul G, and you get this kind of animalistic wailing effect on the echo. I think this passage is too fast for spiccato practice to be of any value. If you have trouble with evenness, e.g. R35 010123434321 what you want to do is practice with added accents like so:

Set mm60, and do a rhythmic acceleration

Duples: slur two and two, accent every bow change with a left hand accent (you can help with a bow accent.)

^01 ^01 ^23 ^43 ^43 ^21, where ^ is accented. Do a left hand accent by vigorously lifting previous fingers, not by slamming the current note.

Then do: 0 ^10 ^12 ^34 ^34 ^32 ^1(0)

Triples: slur three and three, accent bow change with left hand accent

^010 ^123 ^434 ^321

^0 ^101 ^234 ^343 ^21(0)

^01 ^012 ^343 ^432 ^1(01)

then slur 4 and 4, 6 and 6, 8 and 8, 12 and 12 (going through every permutation as before,) and I think you're pretty much at tempo. Of course after a while you don't have to pay too much attention to actually lifting, but rather feel the impulse of alternating fingers. It's the independence you program into the fingers that will make such passages even and well articulated.

P.S. Don't know why people think it's such a jump from Prokofiev to Sibelius. Other than scope and scale, it's really not.

January 20, 2017 at 05:22 PM · Hi Zachary,

I have not played Prokofiev, but would love to do so once I get to that level. Maybe I'll be seeking your advice out in a few years. I'm battling Wieniawski 2 right now.

Good luck at your competition!

January 20, 2017 at 05:33 PM · Jeewoon, it is so nice to read your post. Alway so much insight and helpful. The way you get to the exact measures of the repertoire and give advice on *exactly * how to play the passage. It is amazing!

January 20, 2017 at 05:35 PM · Thanks David, too kind!

January 20, 2017 at 07:44 PM · Thanks so much for the suggestion Jeewon! I will try that out when I get home from school

January 20, 2017 at 09:27 PM · Hey everybody just wondering should I make a separate discussion about the Prokofiev Scherzo?

January 20, 2017 at 09:52 PM · An interesting thing to think about: Leopold Auer famously made some of his students play pieces that were way harder than they were used to as an experiment he liked to do. When they would struggle for some time, he would then say something along the lines of, "I guess you just weren't ready then.", often shortly before the student was supposed to perform the piece. Then, in each case, the student would seek to prove Auer wrong, and would always succeed, playing the piece excellently a short time thereafter, and growing in leaps and bounds. I think he even describes Mischa Elman's specific case in his book, with the Tchaikovsky concerto. Obviously this wouldn't work for all students, and the students would have to have a bit of a rebellious streak within them, but it is nevertheless something to ruminate on.

January 21, 2017 at 02:43 AM · You could, Zachary, but you're getting a fairly lively discussion here anyway.

By the way, I do the grace notes after [28] on the D string as Jeewon suggests. However, I do [35] sul G. At quarter = 144, there's enough time to get the D that way (and I don't have hands big enough to extend for it); even at 160 it's doable. If you're going to play it faster than that, you might want to cross though.

January 21, 2017 at 09:08 PM · How do you all recommend practicing the runs in the Scherzo, especially the ones at the end of R29 and the end of R35. Any plausible fingerings?

January 21, 2017 at 10:54 PM · Don't psych yourself out on those chromatic runs. Every run in this concerto actually lies well in the hand. For the end of R35, a 1-2-3 pattern will work fine going up that run.

There's no run at the end of R29?

January 21, 2017 at 11:07 PM · Thanks Lydia! Sorry I meant at the end of R38.

January 22, 2017 at 03:12 PM · Aloha Zach! Here I am wide awake at 4.22a local time waiting in my hotel room for a call from Island Air about luggage which United failed to connect to them last night thinking about shifting in fast runs. Oh United! But I don't need to be anywhere now so...

Nathan Cole has a great tip for fast ascending runs. Hope he doesn't mind me giving it away :) Practice it backwards. Play the final note. But don't go searching. Hear it. Nail it. If you miss, hear the correct pitch, imagine the correction. Nail it. Repeat until you can get correctly however times in a row you decide ahead of time, 5x, 10x (reset count if you miss.) Once you've got it. Play last 2 notes rapidly, practicing in similar fashion. Once you've got that, play last 3, etc. This process gets you to identify the tricky bits and makes you work on them (as opposed to working the easy bits, hesitating at all the tricky shifts.) It teaches you the best final and intermediary positions you need to hit accurately with your arm, hand and thumb, guideposts along the scale you can use for your fingers to flow through. It shows you the actual shift pattern you need to nail, the 'skeleton' of any run, on which you can float the rest of your fingers.

E.g. at end of R38, your fingering might be 1 on C#, 1 on F#, 1231234, as Lydia suggests. But your shift pattern depends entirely on your proportions. C# is clearly 5th position (remember thumb at crook of neck trick) but most people can reach F#GG# by pivoting the hand forward, before shifting to A#. So your shift pattern for your arm might be 5th (C#) to (A#) 10th positions. But the final position doesn't have to be 12th (high C#, did I count that right...) since you maybe able to pivot the hand the rest of the way from 10th and reach the top. Indeed some people with big hands can simply hook their thumbs at fifth and just crawl their way to the top. The ingenious thing about Nate's backwards method is that it trains your final position first, so you don't get stuck practicing from below.

If you're practicing from bottom up, once you've got your shift pattern, practice it, and only shifts, until you can nail it in your sleep, before adding the rest of the fingers. Practice it in rhythm by singing the other notes (imagining them as you get faster.) Use near harmonic pressure for the shift pattern notes so you don't 'brake' the flow of the fingers at each arm/pivot shift. Also, feel like your arm is 'floating' beneath your fingers, in constant motion to the final position, so it doesn't stop at each position. You don't want jerky stopping from the arm anymore than braking action from the fingers, but rather one smooth, flowing motion from the arm so your fingers are simply crawling their way to the top.


P.S. so getting back to Sibelius, are there any runs there which don't 'lie well in the hand?' Lydia, you must have very fleet fingers :)

January 22, 2017 at 06:23 PM · I haven't learned the Sibelius yet. :-)

On thought, for Prokofiev No. 1, small hands might be something of an advantage; it might make all of those chromatics, where you're often putting down a sequence of notes a half-step apart with 1-2-3 or even 1-2-3-4, a little bit easier. In practically all other repertoire, small hands are a disadvantage though.

I always thought that the practice in the Prokofiev of getting cleanly-articulated notes was wasted, until I was playing for a teacher at SF Conservatory, and she pointed out one wrong note in the middle of the 3rd-movement section of weird scale runs. Apparently some people do in fact pay attention to every single note.

But I have heard a professional soloist play this work where all the passagework just blurred together (to the point where I would say that they were hitting the beginning and the top note of the run and ignoring everything in the middle) -- the average audience member just sees "ooo fast" and is impressed.

January 23, 2017 at 01:25 AM · Just as a side note are there any etudes that you all recommend that helps with the first movement of the Prokofiev?

January 23, 2017 at 04:58 AM · What in particular are you having difficulty with?

January 24, 2017 at 11:57 PM · The articulation in the sixteenth note passage. (section after the quarter note pizzicato passage)

January 25, 2017 at 11:28 PM · The passage at [13]?

The first measure is off the string, a heavy spiccato right at the frog; as long as your fingers are coordinated with the bow it should sound clearly. I assume this measure is not the problem?

The two-note slurs of sixteenths in the next measure are sul G -- the first note of the following measure is a harmonic D. I choose to go to the D string on the second beat of that next measure, and I play the Ds as D-string harmonics. Those slurs are played with a compact but increasing amount of bow to get the crescendo. Sixteenths should be totally even. Extensions and shifts have to be fast and clean. No need to deliberately separate the bow between the slurs.

I assume the beginning of that slur sequence is straightforward, and your real problem is the second part of the measure where you have to extend the 4th finger up to Eb and then to E, and then do something with the F that preps you to get the D? Articulation here is no different than the rest of the passage -- the 4th finger needs to snap down into place precisely. I would consider doing oscillations on 1st and 4th fingers -- do A-Eb as if you were trilling between them, and then A-E the same way. You want that to be even; do it with a metronome. (And don't do it for too long; you don't want to over-fatigue your 4th finger.)

For the big shifts in this piece, 1-finger chromatic scales, downshifting to the base note after every pitch -- for instance, start on Bb on the A string, and then play C, then Bb, then C#, then Bb, etc. Then do the same sequence starting on B, etc. Do 1st through 3rd fingers this way. Make sure you always nail the pitches -- don't allow yourself to slide or adjust.

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