The Slur and Stop Exercise

August 6th, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 02: Intonation | Goal 04: Virtuosity | Left Side | Practicing


Bayla Keyes

This exercise will give you practice in maintaining the frame essential for fast playing so that you can land more accurately, training your ear to hear intonation across fast scales, and alternating finger pressure between fast and slow notes. This is possibly my favorite exercise!

Put your drone on the tonic. Go through your scale slowly, omitting the Galamian turns. Use a solid and clear tone so that you can hear overtones. Stop on every note which makes a perfect interval with the drone – i.e. the first, fourth and fifth degrees of the scale. Listen carefully to each perfect interval and adjust if necessary; then back up to a few notes before and try to land on the note exactly, without having to adjust.

Feel the center of your hand in your fourth finger, not on your first finger, for this exercise. Balancing on the fourth finger, keeping the hand open, and keeping the fingers directly above the string in the formation in which they are going to play when ascending, or on the string in formation when descending, will improve your speed and accuracy greatly.

Do not allow the placement of any finger to affect any other finger. Even the slightest rolling, sideways motion, or movement of the wrist or hand will greatly lessen your ability to feel the half-step and whole-step spaces between your fingers. Your fingers move up and down as if on little railway tracks. Keep them slightly curled even when lifting. 

Next, go through your scale again, slurring as much as possible, changing the bow as needed, and using rhythms in the following patterns:

Groups of Two:

LONG short LONG short

short LONG short LONG

Groups of Three:

LONG short short LONG short short

short LONG short short LONG short

short short LONG short short LONG

Groups of Four:

LONG short short short, LONG short short short

short LONG short short short LONG short short

short short LONG short short short LONG short

short short short LONG short short short LONG

Make the long notes very long and the short notes so fast that they are a complete blur. Remember that the long notes will have a deeper contact — you can vibrate them if you like — but the short ones will have so little finger pressure that they will almost feel faked.

When a long note is the first, fourth, or fifth degree of the scale, TUNE IT to the drone! If you don’t land on it exactly, back up at least one group and try again. You can also use this exercise to tune the third, sixth, and seventh degrees, using either equal-tempered or expressive intonation; in this case you would put your drone on the third degree of the scale. As you practice, you will begin to hear the relationships of these families across the scales (1-4-5 and 3-6-7) even when you are playing fast.

If you land incorrectly on a long note, figure out what your hand did or failed to do. There is always a reason for poor intonation. Did your hand crumple? Was your fourth finger too far away from the string? Did you feel and form the correct pattern before playing the fast notes? Did your upper fingers pull your first finger up? Did you adjust the contact point of your index finger for each string? Did you keep your hand open when shifting up and down? Did you remember the angle of the wrist for higher positions? Did you bring your thumb under the neck of the violin at an early enough point in the scale? Is your thumb relaxed and your wrist neutral, still, and loose?

Good intonation is not a game of guessing, rolling, or groping; it is the ability to feel and replicate precise measurements within your octave frame, combined with the kind of concentrated listening across groups of notes that this exercise will cultivate.                                         

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