Fast arpeggios in Saint-Saens Concerto (Fast Arpeggios in General)

Edited: May 7, 2019, 12:31 PM · Hey all! I'm currently working on the first movement of the Saint-Saens Concerto no. 3, and I'm having trouble with the fast arpeggios at the bottom of the first page. The notes figured out when playing slow, and when I group the notes together to work up speed, everything sounds great. The problem is the shifts. The edition that I'm using has a 1st finger to first finger shift and then a 3rd finger to 3rd finger shift at a later part. The exact fingering of it I guess doesn't matter. My question is how to work up speed with these shifts so that they don't sound like a big shmear? (This could apply to any arpeggio which is why I say that the exact fingering doesn't matter) Thanks for the help.


Replies (10)

Edited: May 7, 2019, 12:45 PM · You should experiment at a slower tempo with the speed of your shift. You can shift faster between notes, which means starting the shift later, and you might try aiming for shifting at the last moment, which means you will have to play around the timing of the start of the shift. You may also be pressing too much during the shift, and not lightening your finger to the minimum pressure needed. Faster doesn't mean aggressive, so fast shifts still need to be really relaxed.

Also, if you aren't practicing your arpeggios regularly and working the speed up, this is a good time to start. I remember a masterclass a few years ago with James Buswell where a student was kind of slopping through the Saint Saens, and he stopped her and asked her to play a three octave B minor arpeggio, and she seemed pretty peeved after illustrating his point by playing it out of tune.

May 7, 2019, 9:58 PM · I definitely agree with working daily on regular arpeggio series like in the Flesch book -- these are critical for this piece and many others. Make sure you work through all of them as even the diminished ones pop up a lot.

As for the Saint Saens, the first arpeggios are actually some of the easier ones comparatively. You can practice them a few different ways:

1) Blocking positions - Play all the notes in the initial position, shift, and stop on the note after the shift. Do this for all the shifts. Basically, you are blocking each transition from position to position. Start slowly and gradually increase speed.

2) Add a note strategy - play just the first 2 notes, then the first 3, then the first 4 and keep adding notes until you can get all the way through. Of course, this gives you more practice on the beginning of the run, which you must compensate for in other strategies.

3) Groups - Play three/four/six notes (however many notes the arpeggio is grouped in) at tempo and then add a rest. For an arpeggio in groups of 3, you would play 3 notes, rest, next 3 notes, rest, next 3 notes, etc. Gradually decrease the length of the rest until it disappears.

4) Dotted rhythms - Classic practice strategy. Play the whole passage in a long-short alternating rhythm (first note like a dotted 8th, second like a 16th). Then flip it and do short-long.

Edited: May 8, 2019, 2:10 AM · hi Brock, I have this fingering. in general the one-octave arpeggios on a single string, as you can find in Sevcik or in Flesch should be in your fingers. of course this passage is more than one octave, so we have to do an extra shift.

the initial 122 fingering which still risks the "smear" effect you talk about can be avoided by simply staying in third position at the end of the previous line. keep up the good work!

Edited: May 8, 2019, 3:42 AM · Relax your right hand, particularly bow grip for a start.
May 8, 2019, 7:41 AM · In such situations I play the c sharp (second note) with the third finger to avoid the "glissando" (if assuming third position ahead of time is not possible or not desirable).
Edited: May 8, 2019, 10:53 AM · Hi,

Brock, if you are hearing too much shift, that may be caused by a couple of things...

1) There may be too much left hand pressure. Releasing the finger pressure and making sure the shift is light is important.
2) You are not shifting as the same speed as the bow, or adjusting the speed of the bow to the shift. - For smooth shifts (and this is a trick from Heifetz), the bow speed and the arm/shift speed have to be the same. The bow speed should remain constant in runs like this during the shifts. The most common error is to slow down the bow for a shift, so keeping the bow speed constant and matching the speed of the shift to the bow eliminates this.
3) In slow practice, you are not shifting in time. Often we take extra time and slow down for shifts in slow practice (usually affecting also with a slowing down bow speed) and when correlated to fast playing, this sounds as sluggish or heavy shifts. So, in addition to the first two, making sure that the shifts are in time in slow practice is important. If you want to take extra time for intonation practice, a trick from Carl Flesch is to shift in time in slow practice but stop on the note and listen for the accuracy.
4) Excess bow pressure. If there is excess bow pressure, it often by sympathy will result in a tense left hand making shifts sound heavy. One trick to helping in this regard from Pinchas Zukerman is that to release the left hand, you need to release the right one.

Ideas for diagnosis. Hope this helps...


May 8, 2019, 11:15 AM · That spot: 1) if you are doing the 1-1 shift to A#, be aware that the interval distance is a major third, you are not going to regular 3rd position, but a half-step higher. 2) in general, shifts that exchange fingers are safer, more accurate than shifts on the same finger because you are releasing the hand instead digging into the fingerboard. 3) suggested fingering, that might be too clever for real-time performance; move to second position somewhere in the previous measure, like 1st finger on the G#. The 4th finger B will sound a little weak. Then , starting on the low A#: 3-1-2-3-1-2(or3)-4- then go down the same way you went up. Stay in that high 2nd position to finish off the run. It is technically just a F# dom. 7th arpeggio, but the printed fingerings in your scale books probably won't help.
May 10, 2019, 5:32 AM · Joel, I always find your comments very instructive, but the G# in the previous measure you mention is a G natural ;-)

Did you see that I suggested just staying in third position in the previous measure? I think the entire first measure, until the second-last note (E), can be simply played in third position. And, what do you mean by finishing off the run staying in second position?

Brock are you reading this?

May 10, 2019, 10:28 AM · Oops, my error,--I need new glasses. jq
May 10, 2019, 5:53 PM · It might help if you, during practice, held the C# before the downshift a little longer. Or put an accent on it. The slurp might be coming from starting the downshift too early, and not giving the C# enough time to sound properly.

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