Bach feedback

Edited: January 15, 2018, 10:31 AM · Hi everyone,
Long time lurker and infrequent poster here and feeling brave enough to share this link with you all as I'd appreciate some critique on my playing and some suggestions for focus. I know the intonation is rather varied and I am continuing to work on that. I don't have any performances planned, purely playing for pleasure!

Many thanks, really appreciate if anyone can spare a few minutes :)

Replies (22)

January 15, 2018, 10:26 AM · "Sign on to one-drive". (Deal-breaker, sorry.) Try YouTube.
January 15, 2018, 10:30 AM · Ah, thanks for letting me know. Uploading to YouTube just now - should be live at this link in 10 - 15 minutes
January 15, 2018, 10:39 AM · That's it up there now...
January 15, 2018, 2:59 PM · Hello Alex!

So my thoughts are:
* good tone and sostenuto throughout, not much to say about the right arm (at least not from me!)
* The notes are right, even if they are not always in exactly the right place (as you realise) - so well done, it's challenging music.
* rhythm is somewhat off resulting in a bit of what one might term "seasickness" - the beat appears to fall in a different place all the time, as if you were walking on a rocking ship. I think almost everyone faces this when they start playing the slow unaccompanied Bach. Usually the answer seems to be metronome practice and practice counting the beats out loud. (Don't just do this on performance pieces, practice it on Kreutzer 2 or something to get yourself used to it as well!)
* You could do with more of a sense of the harmonic progression and the long phrase in your dynamics. You do have some dynamics in but they do not particularly make sense to me. Have a look at Ben Zander's masterclass on the Adagio from Sonata 1 for some great insights into how to make this kind of music work:
* What's the thinking with what you are doing on the last note? I wouldn't retake for it, I prefer to almost relax into it; I think it's more of a sigh of "yes here we are again on the same D as we started" than a statement of "Now the piece is finished, you may stop paying attention" ;)

January 15, 2018, 3:29 PM · Hi Chris!
Thanks so much for faking the time to write your comments out for me - very helpful.
The rhythm does bother me when I’m listening back. I’ll be honest I’ve not played this with a metronome (and it clearly shows!!) so will take a step back and do that.
The dynamics / phrasing - will watch that video thanks and see what I can come up with. It sounds disappointingly one-dimensional which is not how I thought I played but that’s the value of videoing myself I guess.

The ending - that is interesting as I hadn’t ever considered finishing on an upbow / not retaking. Will play around with that and see. I read somewhere that the sarabande is meant to have the 2nd beat more emphasised so thought an emphatic ending appropriate but always open to suggestions.

Feels like a never-ending journey just for this single movement - will carry on dreaming of the Chaconne for now ??

January 15, 2018, 3:37 PM · I know the feeling about the never-ending journey - I played the Sarabande for an exam 18 months ago and felt that the more time I spent with it, the less I really understood it and the less confident I was playing it... ;)
January 15, 2018, 3:40 PM · And every time I play it it sounds different..... fun though!
January 15, 2018, 5:14 PM · Do you have a teacher? Just curious. You could use more vibrato. Your sound can be more resonant. Perhaps more bow speed is in order. Maybe your strings are too old as well. Could be more expressive. Minor intonation issues from place to place as you said.
January 15, 2018, 6:26 PM · It is very brave of you to be tackling Bach and to post a video. My advice would be to be very patient and take your time with this piece, and enjoy what Bach can teach you about the violin.

Intonation of the double stops as you suggest is the most important work ahead. You should work on this very slowly measure by measure until you know what you're listening for. At the same time spend time with scales, arpeggios and double-stop etudes (Sevcik and Kreutzer) that seem relevant.

You have to train your ears what to expect and your left hand will learn how to deliver. If your ears become accustomed to rationalizing out-of-tune playing, that's not good, then your left hand is not getting what it needs.

Maybe you work with a piano. Maybe with a tuning app on your phone. Maybe spend some time with recordings listening and then trying to match the pitches and the sound of the chords. But you have to establish for yourself what the chords are SUPPOSED to sound like.

You first need to get to the place where your ear can hear one note in tune, then two notes in tune, and your hand needs to learn what it FEELS like to play two notes in tune. And THEN the challenge is to make adjustments to tune a double-stop when it's not right, just you adjust the intonation of a single note when it's initially sharp or flat. This process begins very very slowly with your mind fully engaged, but once you learn it well, it happens almost unconsciously, as if your fingers do the adjusting themselves.

One trick is to concentrate on the bottom note because otherwise the ear naturally focuses on the top note and your hand doesn't learn why the double-stop isn't right.

I think the most important thing is attitude and patience. The mountain you're climbing is so enormous, I think it's best not to spend too much time looking up or down, just try to enjoy the journey along the way and you get there when you get there.

Even the great violinists and cellists take years, maybe a lifetime, to learn solo Bach. Christian Tetzlaff has written that he spent 7 years learning the Bach Sonatas and Partitas before he felt comfortable performing them, and then it was quite a few years after that before he was ready to record them. Yo-Yo Ma learned his first Bach suite one measure at a time. Casals was still practicing them daily in his 90s because he felt he still had things he wanted to play better. Bach does not lend itself to impatience.

At the same time there are rewards, and at times the learning can go faster. Your hand learns the feel of a chord, then the next chord can be learned a little more easily. I started with the A Minor fugue, spent the better part of a year teaching my left hand how to contort and stretch and eventually get comfortable and fluid with it, then moved to the G Minor fugue, and then I was pleasantly surprised that the C Major fugue wasn't nearly as impossible as it had looked -- in some ways easier to finger, though the sheer bulk of it is an incredible challenge in itself.

Anyway, best of luck to you. Let's see how this sounds in a year.

January 15, 2018, 10:18 PM · Thank you for the feedback. I have no plans for this work so have the luxury of being able to take time that is needed to pull it apart.
Ella - I had two lessons on this last year with a teacher but my job changed last summer and I now travel internationally which has made it incredibly difficult to fit everything in.
Thomas - appreciate the comments. It needs me to be more thorough in my practice sessions not to accept substandard intonation.
Edited: January 16, 2018, 5:56 AM · I find you left hand's fourth finger needs some extra work. Most of your poor intonation is stemming from forth finger placement. A b flat first finger to a E natural or A natural on D string or a D on g string; these combination are suffering.
I recommend transposing 4 or 5 easy pieces to d minor and add a c sharp or an e flat to them to stay with Bach and play them without any open strings to focus on the intonation of the forth finger.
You can also practice Hand drops to waist and the placing fourth finger -10-15 cents below 0, then O, then +10-15 cents above 0, once with an aid of a tuner, then several times without, because your sense of pitch relative to 4th finger placement needs to be retrained.

Slow the piece down and give yourself more time between notes, for example add an imaginary 1/8th rest between each note or chord, and record yourself playing this way and see if your intonation has improved.

January 15, 2018, 11:26 PM · Thanks very much Charles that gives me a good focal point as it is rather daunting trying to figure out exactly where my time is best spent to get the biggest return. I like the sound of the left hand drops to regain a sense of correct intonation.
January 16, 2018, 7:32 AM · I'll just make one suggestion and see if this solve some of the other problems. I am personally dealing with this one right now so this was quite familiar to me:

right hand pinky. It could use much more curving. Without curving it, the bow changes will sound very abrupt and really hurts the tone production. And I think it's straight because the index finger is way to deep into the bow, which caused your wrist to roll up. Currently it looks like that your hand is lobbing the bow like a pendulum, which prevents your bow hair from fully catching the string, thus relates back to the resonance and volume issue that others have already mentioned.

Good luck!

January 16, 2018, 7:42 AM · That is fascinating as I have noticed exactly the same thing now I’ve started recording myself in an effort to improve more. Spent my evening last night watching YouTube videos on right hand relaxation techniques and finger flexibility as it is clear to me that my wrist is stiff and that is sadly a heavily engrained habit.
I’ll try looking at alternative index finger positions, perhaps more upright, and balance the pinky on top of the bow more to help fluidity in string changes etc.
January 16, 2018, 8:59 AM ·
How the fourth finger is presented is determined by the elbow or shoulder movement; this is why the hand drops work so well, because they get the arm to swing forward so the fourth(which is lead by the shoulder) is in the correct position. If the fourth finger's knuckles are flattened when playing on the G string, than this is a sign that the shoulder muscles are not being use and the elbow is not swinging forward. What you need is a good teacher to help you through this, because this may be a long habit to break.

January 16, 2018, 10:39 AM · Ok makes sense. So basically both my pinky fingers need retraining! Better dig out my Fischer Basics book once I’m back home and as soon as various concerts are done and dusted I’ll get to work on some of these helpful suggestions. Thanks again.
Edited: January 16, 2018, 1:36 PM · To be clear I was referring to the left hand still; Frank was talking about the right. I guess the right's fourth finger's bass knuckle can be closer to the stick; having it that far can tighten up the hand a bit and maybe loose some power.

If your main focus is recording yourself, you may want to try lower tension strings and soft rosins so the sound is not so bright and the soft rosins help lessen bow noise so you can record with the mic closer, this gives the sound more depth and warmth. The farther the mic is, the thinner the sound becomes and you get that 'your in the next room sound'.

January 16, 2018, 2:25 PM · Thanks Charles. I'm only interested in recording myself to watch my own playing, not generally for public consumption :) but will bear that in mind. The strings are 5 months old but haven't had that much playing in the past couple.
Edited: January 17, 2018, 5:49 PM · Hi Alex, thanks for putting it on YouTube.

I enjoyed your playing, there is real enjoyment in your sound. For the chords, the lower notes sounded a little too clipped off to my ears. Yes they should be short, but not so short that we don't know even what notes they were. I agree with Chris Keating that you have a good sostenuto sound, but some of your longer notes in the first section seemed as though they were shortened ever so slightly because you were running out of bow. All of solo Bach depends on carefully planned and executed bow distribution. And that will become even more challenging as you look for more of the phrasing and conveyance of the harmonic progression that Chris was talking about in his comments (i.e., more dynamics please). This piece in my opinion is an opportunity for using expressive intonation and for example in the first section there is a high Bb. This note needs to be low ... it's a sad note. You were more successful in the repeat. While a richer vibrato might be among your violinistic goals, I personally don't think this piece needs to be drenched in vibrato. And that's good news because it's very hard to do on some of those minor thirds!

Some may say you need to groove your intonation super hard with scales and studies to get to the point where you can play double stops accurately. Yes, scales are good for you. But from listening to you I think this is an excellent piece for you to be working on at this moment. This kind of piece will "teach you a lot about your violin" (my teacher's words) and improve your whole sense of finger placement, whether for double stops or scales. You've probably noticed that already.

January 18, 2018, 3:05 AM · Paul - that is such a nice post to read, thanks. You're right - I have learnt so much about my violin and my playing through working on this. I actually set it to myself as a serious challenge having never really mastered double stops before and desperate to be able to 'competently' play solo Bach. As a kid I never practiced scales or studies and while I do somewhat regret that now, a combination of repertoire such as this and some scale work has helped my intonation no end in the past 12 - 18 months, although of course a long way to go still...

Interesting re the vibrato - I like the piece to be quite still (although definitely needs more dynamics than I've been able to put in so far) so will keep it this way and really try to focus on bow distribution and dynamics to improve the phrasing and expression that this piece requires.

Can't wait to get home and back to my violin to try all of this out!

Edited: January 19, 2018, 6:19 AM · *FeedBach

Lol sorry. Couldn't help it! ^°^

Edited: January 19, 2018, 8:56 AM · that Benjamin Zander masterclass referred to by Chris Keating (January 15, 2018) is very insightful! I love it how Zander demystifies compositions and also encourages us not to be too "religious" or "awed" about these musical compositions but really interpret them. it is also fascinating because in these masterclasses he shows what can be done once you have the purely technical aspects, i.e., being able to play the notes flawlessly with good tone and everything. at that point you no longer worry about the notes and then the real music starts developing. we amateurs can do that too but then we have to play less technically demanding pieces. otherwise we remain stuck in the notes forever and will never be able to follow any of Zander-like suggestions.

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