Flesch Urstudien

November 30, 2005 at 05:13 AM · Greetings,

anyone using the Flesch Urstudien got any thoughts, feelings or ideas they would be willing to share?

Cheers,

Buri

Replies (44)

November 30, 2005 at 09:09 AM · As toilet-paper was my suggestion after the first playthrough.

I have changed my mind a bit since then.

The first practical part is excellent as a lefthand warmup.

1A

I use it with a variation (stolen from Wieniawski) to make it more interesting.

The variation is to change the pitch of the quarter note, so the first bar is

not a-g-a-g as written,

but rather a-g-ab-g-a-g-ab-g

and the second bar

is b-a-bb-a-b-a-bb-a.

It is an excellent way to loos up the joints in the left hand. The important factor is relaxation. ex. bar 3.

c(relax)-b(relax)-c#(relax)-b(relax) and so on.

November 30, 2005 at 12:59 PM · I haven't used it, however I have read through it and it seems very sound in a theoretical sense and in the way that it methodically warms up your hands, and also covers all the scales and pretty much every bowing and fingering pattern that you are likely to find, and all within 30 minutes.

I'm still at a stage where I am learning a number of scales, and making myself sure of intonation, so I have a different focus in my warm-up and technical sessions. However, I think that this would be a very good asset for me for when I head out into the real world.

December 1, 2005 at 07:41 PM · Flesch really did write this as a work which compresses fundamental technique into a brief amount of time for the travelling violinist. I think in this respect it's great, but Flesch himself did not advocate for it to be book of etudes so to speak-I agree. It's really fine for maybe when you go on vacation or for someone who doesn't have time to devote to practicing hours a day (working-parents, non-music professionals). But as a substitute for say his Scale System, absolutely not.

December 1, 2005 at 08:04 PM · Flesch did compile a great series of Etudes in 3 volumes, this I highly recommend, many rare etudes/caprices within.

December 1, 2005 at 11:00 PM · Greetings,

I think your right Chris. I have bene playing around with it for a couple of weeks even though I od have (just) enough practice time. I found it did imprve my technique to some extent, probably because of doing things a litlte differently. Lots of good ideas in there.

But I kept having the same thoughts I often have with these kibnds of works (cf Turkanowsky) that in an effort to cover eevrything they tend to fall into a gap between actuall study and technique preservation. I have tentatively concluded that the Dounis Daily Dozen does the jobnearly as well (from a left hand perspective-don`t like the bowing so much) with far less sweat.

But given just an hour for technicla work I`d rather do a routine like:

Bowing (Casorti maybe) 10 minutes.

Flesch Scales twentyy to thirty minutes.

Paginini Caprice no8 since that has plenty of passages for slow scale work. I usually change all the thirds to 131313 then 242424 before doing the conventional fingering work.

Cheers,

Buri

December 1, 2005 at 11:38 PM · Hi,

I also having been looking into this work as of late. Flesch designed it for two things. Technique preservation is it's usual intention, but originally it was a tool for identifying errors in movement.

I think that it can work in circumstances where time is scarce since it works on all basic movements. However, it will not work if the individual has errors in movement in his playing, though it can help one identify them. I think that it should only be used by a professional violinist with a completed technique in times of need only.

Maybe more thoughts later...

Cheers!

December 2, 2005 at 01:12 AM · Anyone ever hear Flesch play? Not too hot in my opinion. i've heard many students play better, it is strange people listen to his advice. Just my two cents.

December 2, 2005 at 03:38 AM · I haven't heard a recording of Flesch for many years, but I remember liking his playing, especially the Pag. caprice-I believe it was #20?.

December 2, 2005 at 04:19 AM · Greetings,

there are a couple of moverments of a Handel sonata on a disc called masters of the bow (perhaps Biddulph) and he stands up very well in the Bach double with Szigeti. Not sure if you can get that anymore.

Cheers,

Buri

December 4, 2005 at 05:07 PM · Hi,

As I am cramped for time, I have decided to try these for a week, in the manner prescribed by Flesch. I will post thoughts later on in the week.

Cheers!

December 4, 2005 at 09:10 PM · I have to again express my skepticism over Flesch. I do have his recording of the Beethoven Concerto. It is flat out bad. I don't think really any of his students were that special either. In his day he had the political clout to push students of his like Ginnete Nevue who as we all know was no Oistrakh. His editions are really amateurishly edited. Take a look at his Paganini caprice bowings and fingerings they are completely unrealistic and useless. Obviously these fingerings are from someone who cannot play them. To give you an example look at the 21st caprice and the 4 octave A major scale. He put in these illogical fingerings for this scale. No one in his or her right mind would play this scale with a succession of 1212121212 combinations as he prescribed or look at the 4th variation of the 24th caprice. Again no idea how to finger, he put in shifts for almost every other note. If anyone were to play that fingering at full tempo it would just sound like a glissando. The best editions and advice come from those that can play, don't listen to non-players.

December 4, 2005 at 09:43 PM · Sol, I started a whole thread like that on Flesch and got killed.

On the other topic, I too would stress not taking advice from non-players or people you've never heard play. So and so "talks a good violin" or instrument of your choice, as we used to say. There are many fakers who speak completely convincingly.

December 4, 2005 at 09:32 PM · Flesch's genius is very hard to dispute. He was one of the most amazing teachers/performers/arrangers ever. Arguing with that is just hogwash...

December 4, 2005 at 09:49 PM · I agree completely Jim. I'm sorry to hear some people on here couldn't see that about Flesch. The fact is he was not so good at playing the instrument. His scale methods were inefficient, and his fingerings for concert pieces were clearly bad and came from someone obviously with a lack of performance understanding. I bet most of his biggest supporters in the violin world for the most part haven't heard him play. A guy in his position with all the teaching appointments at top music schools had the talent come to him. They already could play well, let's just put it this way he did not teach beginners. The same thing could be said about many other "great" teachers who would never play concerts.

December 4, 2005 at 10:49 PM · Sol--You wouldn't happen to be talking about Delay would you?

I had no idea Flesch recorded this much:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B000009JI7/qid=1133736440/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/102-2153871-5887317?v=glance&s=classical

Perhaps I'll get this and have a listen. My guess is he couldn't have been a "non player" if he recorded this much. He obviously played something.

December 4, 2005 at 10:58 PM · In fairness, I don't think he recorded til he was very old. Age doesn't affect everything though. I haven't heard him in a long time.

December 5, 2005 at 06:35 AM · I think it was Milstein who said Auer's students essentially humored him, and then did their own thing. You never know to what degree that kind of material is true and what's just an off the cuff remark. Amazon has at least one clip of Auer. He must have been 100 years old though.

In Art of Violin, does anybody know who the teacher is listening to Boris Goldstein? It looks like he could be a teacher anyway.

December 5, 2005 at 09:23 AM · Solomon, Do YOU have any clue about what you are saying?

Solomon:

I don't think really any of his students were that special either.

Mattias:

Norbert Brainin - Best quartett plyer ever?

Ivry Gitlis - Most eccentric virtuoso ever?

Szymon Goldberg - Best Mozartian during the 20'th century?

Ida Haendel - The greates female violinist today, and yesterday?

Josef Hassid - perhaps not Flesch that should take honour for this but still his only teacher.

Louis Krasner - Master of the new Viennese school

Georg Kulenkampff - superb violinist

Ginette Neveu - as you mentioned

Yfrah Neaman - Great pedagogue

Ricardo Odnopossoff - Superb virtuoso

Max Rostal - needs no introduction

Hansheinz Schneeberger - Best Bartok player?

Henryk Szeryng - one of the greatest violinists during 20'th cent.

And now I am just mentioning a few...

Solomon:

"Ginnete Nevue who as we all know was no Oistrakh"

Mattias:

No, she was no Oistrakh. In my opinion and many others she was greater than him during this period.

Solomon:

"look at the 21st caprice and the 4 octave A major scale...[snip]...No one in his or her right mind would play this scale with a succession of 1212121212 combinations as he prescribed..."

Mattias:

It is not my usual fingering, but I just tried it and found no trouble what so ever to play it in tempo. And Elizabeth Gilels, Andrei Shishlov, Lucien Capet, and Galamian have the same fingering printed suggested in their scalebooks.

Solomon:

"or look at the 4th variation of the 24th caprice. Again no idea how to finger, he put in shifts for almost every other note. If anyone were to play that fingering at full tempo it would just sound like a glissando."

Mattias:

Ah, you mean the 4,3-3,2-2 fingering, the same as Menuhin, Heifetz and many other uses?

Solomon:

The best editions and advice come from those that can play, don't listen to non-players.

Mattias:

True, and Flesch has excellent editions, since he was an excellent player.

December 5, 2005 at 02:22 PM · Mattias said: "Ricardo Odnopossoff - Superb virtuoso"

Odnopossoff is really great. I have a recording of him playing the Devil's Trill among others. It is the best recording the this piece I have ever heard. His trills are incredible.

December 5, 2005 at 03:01 PM · William, he has a great recording of the Joachim Variations in e minor for violin and orchetra. He truly was a great virtuoso.

December 5, 2005 at 04:00 PM · My. we have got off-topic! I use Urstudien as a wonderful warmup before practising, and always as a silent warmup pre-concert. It can strain muscles if overused, and Flesch himself gives a clear warning about this. One of my teachers,. Szerying, swore by this book, and I do the same, and recommend it to my students.

December 5, 2005 at 04:09 PM · Looks like an endorsement from the co-principal of Academy of St Martin-in-the Fields, at least theoretically

December 5, 2005 at 04:37 PM · A more extensive list of Flesch's recordings can be found here.

http://www.carl-flesch.de/

December 5, 2005 at 04:46 PM · Thanks for the link. And I was correct. It was the 20th caprice that I heard years ago. :)

December 6, 2005 at 02:32 PM · Hi,

Back to the original topic... I have been toying with the Flesch, and here are some thoughts on them... I think that Flesch’s purpose for these, that of going through all basic movements of the hands and getting them in working form as quickly as possible is fulfilled by these.

I have some questions about two of the mute exercises in part 1. To me, the variation of the first exercise seems unnecessary, and excessive practice of this could lead to the bad habit of some violinists of lifting a finger as soon as one is put down. The other, is the stretching exercises – what is the purpose of these? If someone here can enlighten me, that would be great.

I find that the second part, with all the phases of bowing is useful. Even the last étude, though not designed for regular practice might actually be beneficial if done so since it is really compact and effecient and quite challenging.

All in all though, the Urstudien seem to take for granted the fact that one who uses them has a finished technique with no errors in movement. Only then can they be done correctly and be useful. Secondly, I can see that Flesch was right in his own comments – that they are used in case of need for lack of time and not as a substitute for more normal technical work. The first part for example does the movements, but does have the flaw as he points out, that one cannot control intonation.

For myself, I am tempted to use them in case of need with perhaps the omission of the variation of the first mute exercise or a variation of it based on something in Basics. The extension exercise I am not sure of, though one may explain to me how it is to be realized and its purpose and usefulness. To it I would have to add an exercise that I use and need for my own personal purposes and because of my own issues. Lastly, I do not think that it is necessary to do the 3-4, 3-4, 3-4 fingering in the last of the scales. That was done because of Flesch own unusually weak 4th finger, and one without that problem would do fine with normally fingered scales for all of them.

Cheers!

December 6, 2005 at 10:52 PM · Greetings,

Mattias my boy, I have one more for your list. About thirty years ago there was an interview in the Strad by Broninslaw Gimpel. He was a typical example of a prodigy who lost it during adolescence. He siad that by the time he was 17 the `talent had got smaller as the boy got bigger.` When he went to Flesch for help he `could not even play a g majopr scale in tune.` Flesch sure as heck did a good job of putting him back together.

Christian said:.

>To me, the variation of the first exercise seems unnecessary, and excessive practice of this could lead to the bad habit of some violinists of lifting a finger as soon as one is put down.

I don@t feel this is likely to happen personally. Sometimes the use of lifting fingers that are normally left down is helpful in releasing tension. I sometimes work on thirds in this way.

>The other, is the stretching exercises ?Ewhat is the purpose of these? If someone here can enlighten me, that would be great.

I have always been dubious about some of these kind of stretching exercises and similar ones on the Dounis books. The structure of the hand is not really designed to stretch equally between all the fingers. I think technique should be tailored around the natural tendencey to stretch of the first and fourth fingers. However, I think these exercises have some value in creating a strong mental concncetion with the fingers . IE the hand is completely relaxed and only the mind is trying to vizulaize some kind of expansion and extension between the knuckle joints. Over time I think this has a powerful effect on advancing technique.

>I find that the second part, with all the phases of bowing is useful. Even the last étude, though not designed for regular practice might actually be beneficial if done so since it is really compact and effecient and quite challenging.

Yes. I think the last bowing exercises are wonderful.

I think I would use the 34 fingerings, but why stop there? If you are playign around with shifting then why not do a couple of 1212 scalesa and 2323 while you are at it?

Cheers,

Buri

December 7, 2005 at 12:15 AM · The worst or second worst teacher I have personal experience with has former pupils in half the major orchestras in the U.S., which is an equivalent thing to that list of virtuosos. Try again :) Circumstances.

If he's warning you to go at it easy, it's bound to be powerful stuff!

December 7, 2005 at 01:32 AM · All the cool violinists are doing it, tehe.

PS

Check out my profile, I put up a few mp3's for violinist.com to listen to, enjoy ;-)

December 7, 2005 at 01:46 PM · Hi,

Thanks Buri. I had not thought of it from that perspective. Maybe I need to get used to it, or there is a hole in my technique...

Cheers!

December 7, 2005 at 02:15 PM · Dear father, Yes, Gimpel became an excellent violinist with an lovely sound. Thanks for reminding me! (so you have not lost all memory due to your old age? :) )

December 10, 2005 at 03:19 AM · Hi,

Well, I did my trials with these, and in the end found them great. I did a couple of alterations to the routine, omitting the variation of the first exercise and the strectchin, and instead added two things for my own use that I need to overcome my own weaknesses. But, I found that it does what it says. In around 40 minutes, it did wonders. I will hold onto this. For sure. I think that it may the answer to what I need since as I am often cramped for time and I don't want to lose my technique and need it in top order so that I can play. With the small changes I did, it will do it. The only drawback that I found is that the bowing exercises did not contain of the string stuff, though the finger stroke scales could be done with fingers and a collé. But, nonetheless it is thorough. To those who spoke against it, I would look into it first.

Important to point out also, that those students who did go to Flesch, like Szeryng, Haendel and Totenberg for example all played amazingly well into old age, not something that common with most violinists from most schools. I don't think that is purely an accident.

We owe to Flesch the first scientific teaching tools of the violin. His Art of Violin Playing has served as a basis for all other works after it. I don't know... Serious food for thought in my very very humble opinon.

Cheers!

December 10, 2005 at 04:04 AM · Greetings,

Heifetz also used them,although he refrred to them as the Flesch trill studies.

Cheers,

Buri

December 17, 2005 at 08:50 PM · Hi,

I have been using the comnination above for a while and what a world of difference it makes. I can feel it. I would recommend this work to anyone in short of time. Take little time and the effects on one's technique is fantastic.

Cheers!

December 21, 2005 at 06:20 AM · Re.: stretching exercises

Such exercises build strength and flexibility, which in turn builds speed, stamina, independence of fingers, and the potential for sensitive fingers (or tendonitis, depending on how it's done). Perhaps these become more important for smaller hands, or for hands with a great difference in length between 2nd and 4th fingers. I once watched in amazement as my 5' colleague with hands no bigger than 6" (from wrist to tip of middle finger) performed Il Palpiti. She had certainly done her stretching exercises well.

A cursory list of benefits:

1) Being able to open the hand easily along the string reduces (should reduce) pressure into the string. Useful for Devil's Trill, scale passages in thirds and fingered octaves, double stop trills, fingered octave trills (false harmonic trills)

2) Strength and flexibility in sliding fingers aids in fine control, i.e. tuning thirds, fingered octaves, tenths, shifting in multiple stops

3) Useful for extensive double/triple/quadruple stopping; Bach, Ysaye, Paganini, etc., also useful for the next Urstudien ## IE, IC (subsequent studies build on previous ones)

4) 1-4 extensions are often aided by 'feeling' the 2nd and 3rd fingers: e.g. a 1-4 tenth = 1-3 octave + 2-4 octave; strong sliding or hand-opening muscles help to tune min/maj tenths - strong middle fingers help to balance the strain of stretching, so 1-4 doesn't have to bear it alone - strength (along the string) leads to flexibility leads to control; even parallel 1-4 octaves are made easier when one is aware of finger patterns in slow practice - the sliding-finger exercise helps to block finger patterns on one string (which is essentially the same as blocking chords)

5) Independence of fingers: Ernst

The motions omitted in section I of the Urstudien are finger contractions and finger replacement.

December 21, 2005 at 07:36 AM · Hi,

Thank you Jeewon - that was quite enlightening.

Cheers!

December 27, 2005 at 06:25 AM · You're most welcome Christian. I just looked at the exercises IB (I was speaking of stretching exercises in general in my previous post) in the Urstudien, and I'd forgotten how extreme some of the stretches are. Since I'd mentioned release vs. tendonitis, I thought I'd add a few tips that Flesch might have included.

1) Always open the hand by reaching fingers 1 and 2 back (toward the scroll) from fingers 3 and 4. In other words, open the hand like a guitar player; the thumb opposes somewhere near/between 2nd and 3rd fingers, depending on size of hand.

2) Keep the stopped fingers as released as possible (without letting them slip).

3) As with all sliding (shifts included), release the finger before the slide (so that it glides along the surface of the string) before placing again at the target note. Slide continuously, rhythmically, filling the alotted time for the slide.

4) Keep the wrist aligned through the back of the hand, especially when stretching 4th finger to a higher pitch. Release the first finger to aid the 4th, if there is too much strain. For smaller hands, use the 2nd finger as if it were the 1st while sliding on the 4th. Free the elbow, so that it swings freely under the violin and in to the body, to aid the 4th. Don't fight this elbow motion by forcing the shoulder/collar forward - release the shoulder to neutral. If the shoulder area becomes tight with the elbow in, open the whole left arm more to the left.

5) For smaller hands, perform the whole exercise in a higher position OR bring the stopped notes closer to the moving finger, and/or remove the (one of the) adjacent finger(s) altogether.

6) Never overdo, as Flesch clearly states.

I don't think this is the best exercise for those new to stretching. (Actually none of the published stretching exercises are - does anyone know of good introductory stretching exercises in print?) Perhaps they should just be simplified for starters. e.g. Do the IB, but only hold down certain fingers within the octave frame of the hand; next step, do the IB as written, stopping only one (then two) of the printed whole notes at a time ... or something to that effect ... until the hand is stronger.

Done properly (with good alignment and balance, proper release, in small doses but regularly) I still believe stretching exercises can improve left hand technique dramatically.

The next step, which Flesch doesn't include - possibly didn't know about - to build independence of fingers, is lifting and sliding (also left hand pizz. and lifting) at the same time, as in Dounis op. 12, Section II.

All the best,

JK

December 28, 2005 at 01:55 AM · JK:

In your lst msg, you ask "does anyone know of good introductory stretching exercises in print?"

Fischer's "Basics", pgs. 93-97, cover the section "Widening at the Base Joints". There are some exercises using contrary motion of double stops to widen the stretch between 2 fingers, then some 2-finger slides (1 finger stationary). The next section "Hand position", pg 98-103, has some exercises for reaching back from the 4th finger.

I've used these and found them simple and helpful.

Cheers,

Larry Samuels

December 28, 2005 at 04:55 AM · Thanks Larry. Those look quite interesting. Though I must confess I don't understand why Fischer wants the hand stretched that way (fingers stretching apart at the baseknuckles, with the fingertips nearly parallel to the baseknuckles). It seems to me that it's more useful to stretch the fingers along the string - not sideways - so that the fingernails are lined up along the string and the base knuckles are angled into the neck. You get a further reach between finger tips that way. Also, thinking of the fingertips spreading along the string helps us to keep our attention on the notes they play - which is the real goal of stretching anyway. If you widen the base joints as he suggests, the pinky curls in backwards toward the 1st finger - the first finger touches the string on its left side, the fourth finger touches on its right side. Is that actually what he wants? "... fingertip placement ... caus[es] the hand to widen at the base joints" [Basics, p95] I'm not convinced that this does anything other than increase the range of motion in a way that is not used in left hand technique.

Thanks for pointing it out.

JK

March 17, 2010 at 12:41 AM ·

I believe Flesch had a good deal of self interest but was so cocky and unwilling to work with others his work can be quite isolated and not as complete as he presents it to be.  Granted, I have spend my time in several of his tomes over the years because he really tried to honestly record what he knew and that in itself is quite valuable.

I have found a short work by S. Joachim-Chaigneau  called New Values in Violin Study that includes 20 Essential Daily Exercises based on years with Joachim (since the author was his wife) and endorsed by both Fritz Kreisler and Lucien Capet.  It is out of print by I would be happy to send a PDF to anyone interested.  The warm-ups do not overwhelm the hands (though they are challenged) and are calculated to work in a physically profitable way.  It also addresses issues of both hands at once and has a beautiful introduction explaining musician health.

I have worked in this little book for several weeks now and find it advantageous.

March 17, 2010 at 01:37 AM ·

Hello Kelley,

I´d love to have a copy of the S. Joachim-Chaigneau PDF.  You can send it to me at roysonne@aol.com

Thanks in advance

Roy Sonne

March 17, 2010 at 04:57 AM ·

I would love one too! fiolmattias@hotmail.com

March 17, 2010 at 08:35 AM ·

Hello everyone,

Back to the original topic ... thanks for bringing up the question of Flesch's Urstudien, Buri.

I have been using these each day now for the last couple of years. I use them as a way of warming up. I have known of them for years, but became intrigued when I saw an old film of Heifetz posted on UTube ... he using them (or at least the first left-hand exercises as part of his warm-up). I had read once years ago that he used them to warm-up, and whoever reported this said that Heifetz' tone improved and became immediately warmer as a result.

At any rate, I had always had problems with a weak left hand action, especially fourth finger. The Urstudien, combined with learning and becoming conscious of Drew Lecher's wonderful schema of hand positions and endlessly practising using repetition hits, plus taking on board Simon Fischer's comments about keeping the base joints open (and much beside), as well as the excellent instruction by Clayton Haslop and by Steven Redrobe, have, I am glad to say, transformed my left-hand technique.

The Urstudien bowing exercises I also find very useful.

Flesch explains his reasons for producing these exercises, and like the Sevcik exercises, they need to be used in great moderation ... they are gymnastic in nature, and so are best taken in small regular doses. No doubt, there are many similar methods, and all have their valuable aspects. For my part, the Urstudien have proven useful.

Regards,

Kevin

March 18, 2010 at 12:10 PM ·

Jeewon Kim

You are absolutely right of course. One could not possibly play with the hand kept in the position you refer to – where the base joints are widening and the contact-points of the fingertips create the fan-like spread, which means that the pinky ‘curls in backwards towards the first finger’ as you say.
But the First Commandment is ‘Thou shalt not fix’ – i.e. hold yourself unnaturally in any fixed position. Everything must be working from a point of balance and flexibility, and constant rebalancing. All of this of course working in an entirely instinctive, unconscious way.
Even good posture cannot be fixed in one position once you have found it. For example, having found a good, lengthened posture with your head balanced on top of your spine rather than being ‘held’ there, you should not then try to hold yourself in that position. Instead there is a constant flow of imperceptible self-adjusting movements on either side of the balance point.
The same applies to every other area of the body. There is no one, fixed place for the left thumb in any position. There is a neutral, middle place from which it starts and to which it may return, but in between it performs countless instinctive readjustments. There is no one, fixed, correct bow hold, or position of the left upper arm, and so on. Everything must be mobile and free, and working from a state of balance.
When it comes to the exercises for widening at the base joints, the point is to go against the tendency which so many – most? – players have, of contracting the hand. There are too many facets of the left hand which don't work at their best when the base joints are not free, to mention here, but the point of the exercises is only to find new ways of opening the hand and gaining softness and flexibility. The point is that in so many cases the hand is held in the fixed position of being contracted. This is no good, and to hold the hand in a fixed position of expansion would be no good either.
When we are practising exercises we discover new sensations in the hands and fingers, new ways of reaching for a note or of widening the hand; new tonal colours, vibratos, new satisfying sensations in the bow and in the bow hand, and so on.
Afterwards, when playing music, you have to forget (almost) about all these things and ‘just play’. Otherwise of course, too much conscious technical control gets in the way of actually making music.
But because of the instinctive search for ease and comfort, the new sensations gradually ‘seep’ into your playing without you having to think about them.
In something like widening at the base joints, you simply discover more choices about how you can go about things, and it is only natural that over time you begin unknowingly to select these new physical sensations in the moments that they are called for. It takes only a short time for them to become part of your playing.
Have to say I love teaching the base-joint exercises because after demonstrating them my hand feels so good afterwards. And when I've been through a period of not practising but not playing much either, and my left hand starts to feel out of shape, I do a blitz on these exercises and can never quite believe how effective they are, and how quickly I feel back in shape.
As for the Urstudien, I was taking a student through them only the other day. I think the finger tapping section is perfect, and you can take it further using accidentals. I must say though that I am not a great fan of the Flesch bow arm or bow hold - at least as he describes them - so pages 11-15 are the only ones that I use or recommend to students.
SF

March 20, 2010 at 08:24 AM ·

Mr. Fischer,

For many of the reasons you mention, I am more convinced that widening the base joints by tilting the upper finger on its right side should not be used to open the hand even as an exercise, that the hand should be trained to open with good alignment along the string, pivoting about the middle finger, each higher finger overlapping the lower, except possibly as an isometric stretch (i.e. using only the muscles of the left hand, never aided by the right hand or any other device) away from the instrument, although stretching the fingers by pivoting them counter-clockwise, opposite to playing form, gives a superior stretch, in that it stretches without placing undue tension on the tendons.

The hand is designed so that the fingers fan out from the ring finger, which means that with the fingers curled, all the fingers easily tilt away from it, but even the pinky is more agile on its left side than its right. Also having the pinky curl inward decreases the interval, which is why it is best left extended, more or less depending on proportions, and should only roll onto its right side, if at all, when being placed by itself for a wider vibrato, for those with very thin fingers - unless one has large hands.

Your point about nothing being fixed and constant balancing is well taken, and if by ‘fixing’ you mean ‘hold rigidly’, I’d agree it is to be avoided at all costs. In performance it is true that many forms are fleeting and automatic (all the more reason to ingrain good forms.) But we do hold certain positions or forms all the time, the concept of which enables repeatability and in turn greater accuracy, and which are by no means the most neutral positions. For the left arm external rotation at the shoulder, supination of the forearm, and pivoting of the fingers are all forms which are held, and not neutral for the arm. So I would suggest that there is one form which is correct for a given individual for a given task, e.g. certain rotations at the shoulder giving ‘levels of the elbow’ for each string. In the same way, there is one default form, or posture which is correct for one’s hand given its proportions, in the octave frame.

The habit of contracting the hand rigidly always involves placement of the lower finger, for which your exercise of leaning the lower finger away from the upper provides a solution. I only take issue with your exercise of leaning the upper finger away from the lower, a motion which increases rigidity, and perhaps more importantly, impedes extension at the base knuckles. As you say “[t]here are too many facets of the left hand which don't work at their best when the base joints are not free,” but this way of widening the base joints prevents the hand from “gaining softness and flexibility.” Why let such a sensation seep into one's playing?

“The point is that in so many cases the hand is held in the fixed position of being contracted. This is no good, and to hold the hand in a fixed position of expansion would be no good either.” I would revise your statement to say that it’s no good to hold the hand in either state in a rigid way. The key is to learn to hold a contraction or expansion in a way which leaves the hand free to do its job. A rigid contraction is most likely caused by an unyielding lower finger which pushes against the upper instead of freely leaning away, even collapsing on its left side onto the fingerboard if necessary, and/or a tight thumb which presses in opposition instead of pivoting against the finger with leverage. A rigid expansion is most likely caused by widening the base joints laterally instead of opening the fingers along the string and pivoting the axis of the base knuckles about the second finger while leaning the fingers on their left sides, and/or a tight thumb which is freed by bringing it under the neck and back toward the scroll. Both impediments may have as their root cause a false body map in which one tries to wrap the pinky side of the forearm around the thumb side, which is not structurally possible, instead of properly rotating the radius (the hand portion of the forearm) about the ulna (the elbow portion of the forearm.)

I find that a good posture of the hand, while not necessary for every task, enables agility and accuracy, makes returning to the instrument much easier and greatly shortens the warm-up time necessary to find one’s groove.

As for the Urstudien and any such exercises, I would argue that they do more harm than good if practiced without proper alignment and form.

JK

 

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