Author Archives: BaylaK

Pronation in the Left Hand in Lower Positions

August 7th, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 02: Intonation | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

PRONATION IN THE LEFT HAND IN LOWER POSITIONS

Bayla Keyes

The natural structure of our hands encourages us to take advantage of the springs which live in the sides of our fingers, and which operate best on an angle. The schools of beginning violin which teach a child to have their left fingernails facing them, even going so far as to paint little faces on the nails, are absolutely correct in their instruction. In recent years, however, I have noticed a decided trend away from this ideal position. Players with short upper arms or pinkies are being taught to bring the base of the fourth finger closer to the neck of the violin by twisting the entire forearm to the right, thus bringing the fingernails into an angle which is perpendicular to the string.

If the fingers are perpendicular to the string in lower positions, with the fingernails facing to the left of the violin, there will be several adverse effects:

  • The left arm itself will be torqued; much tension at the elbow will be induced, eventually manifesting in injury.
  • The sound will have a somewhat unattractive and pinched quality.
  • The thumb will squeeze.
  • The action of each finger will be felt as a hit instead of a bounce, resulting in tension building in the base knuckles.
  • The ability to stretch between the fingers, most needed in lower positions, will be limited.
  • The ability to shift rapidly to higher positions will be compromised.
  • The vibrato will be either narrow and unpleasant or wide and uncontrollable.
  • The physical sense of intervals will be obliterated, because the fingers cannot maintain spaces between them when moving up and down.

This is an illustration of the undesirable square posture:

 Pronation 3

To avoid these negative consequences, the fingers of the left hand in the first through fifth positions should be placed on an angle, with the fingernails facing in the same direction as the string and towards your face. I call this pronation of the left hand. It can truly be said that pronation of the fingers in lower positions to a great extent determines the comfort and success of the left hand.

These are illustrations of the desirable pronated posture:

Pronation 4

Steps for Ideal Left Arm and Hand Alignment

First Step: Without the violin, raise your left arm into playing position with the palm facing you.  Use your right arm to shake your left forearm so that it will be as loose as possible. Allow your hand to rest directly on top of the forearm; do not twist or cock the wrist. If your imaginary scroll faces a mirror, you will be able to see that your forearm runs in a straight line from the base of your middle finger all the way to your elbow and your fingers are at a right angle to the neck of the violin. This is the most natural position for your left arm, but of course your fingers are not able to reach the string.

Second Step: Relax all the knuckles of your left hand and use your right hand to melt the base of the fourth finger of your left hand closer to the imaginary neck of the violin. Relax your index finger and thumb, allowing them to fall back; you will notice your radius rotating to the left, and your thumb will feel loose and open. Do this several times. Remember that as the thumb and first finger drop back and the third and fourth fingers melt forward, the palm will face you and the wrist will remain directly above the forearm throughout. Do not twist or cock the wrist. Do not turn the forearm.

Third Step: With your violin in playing position, repeat the above steps. (If your neck gets tired, rest the scroll on a shelf.) Use your right hand to gently melt the base of the fourth finger of your left hand closer to the neck, allowing your fingers to straighten, until your knuckles no longer protrude and the top of your palm is entirely touching the side of the violin neck; hold for a few seconds and release – your hand should immediately return to its relaxed position perpendicular to the violin, with its heel farther away. I call this ironing the knuckles. Throughout this exercise the left forearm remains relaxed and passive; the turn is initiated by the right hand.

Fourth Step: After you have ironed your knuckles a few times, iron them forward one last time and release slightly, curving the fingers and placing them on the string. If your knuckles are loose enough, you should be able to place all four fingers on the string with your palm facing you and the wrist centered over the forearm, neither cocked nor twisted. You will notice that the hand itself has comfortably rounded in; the heel of the hand is close to the neck and the index finger has dropped back slightly towards the scroll.  You may also notice that your fingernails are not facing you.

Fifth Step: Hold the violin with your right hand and keep your left hand position stable. Starting with the fourth finger, slide each finger up a half-step; at the end of the movement, your finger should be leaning slightly on the inside, and your fingernails will be facing you. If your left hand fingers cannot do this at first, use the right hand to train the left. The muscles will become stronger quickly. Do not press!

Sixth Step: Lean on the left sides (the insides) of your fingers; feel the springiness. Cultivate your awareness of this springiness by doing the sliding exercise frequently. Place each finger on the side of the neck and practice sliding it up and down, leaning slightly into the neck as you perform the movement. This will help stretch open the tissue between your fingers.

Seventh Step: Make a whole step with two fingers on the string in their correctly angled, pronated position. Lift the higher finger, keeping the space between the fingers open and keeping the lifted finger slightly curled. The lifting finger moves like a little railway car on a straight, though angled, track. You should be able to clearly feel the amount of space between the fingers at all times. When the finger returns to the string, it returns to its angled position, landing on the inside of the finger. If you cannot do this at first, use the right hand to train the left; the muscles will become stronger quickly. This ability to raise the finger in an accurate and repeatable fashion, continually sensing the space between your fingers, will directly affect your intonation!

As your left hand becomes accustomed to its new pronated position, you will notice great improvement in your sound, vibrato, and shifting; you will have less feeling of strain; and you will be able to work on your intonation with lasting results, because you will be able to feel your whole steps and half steps more acutely, without squeezing.

The Slur and Stop Exercise

August 6th, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 02: Intonation | Goal 04: Virtuosity | Left Side | Practicing - (Comments Off)

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THREE OCTAVE SCALES – THE SLUR AND STOP EXERCISE

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.                                         

Developing Your Expressive Vibrato

August 4th, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

DEVELOPING YOUR EXPRESSIVE VIBRATO

 The use of vibrato is one of the most important elements of our sound. Vibrato increases the beauty and resonance of our sound, and like a singer’s voice, must be tied to the ebb and flow of musical tension. Below are three of the best exercises for developing the movement of your hand and arm in vibrato.

Amplitude and Release: the Dounis Flicker

Place the hand in fifth position, so that the heel is touching the body of the instrument. Totally relax the hand and wrist. Make one flick forward, as if from an electrical impulse, so that your hand comes closer to the violin and the first joint of your finger bends. Immediately relax the hand back. Repeat this, always making sure to relax the hand completely between flicks. Notice how you can control the amount your first joint bends and straightens; if you are trying to develop a wider vibrato, allow as much movement as possible; if you are trying to narrow your vibrato, control the size of the movement. Next reverse the direction, so that the long note comes in the upper direction; the short note should release backwards completely, almost as if your hand is swooning. Continue adding flicks as suggested below. Remember to wait between flicks as long as necessary, so that the hand is completely relaxed and the vibrato impulse feels almost involuntary. In this example, R = Release or Relax and F = Flick.

Developing Your Expressive Vibrato Insert

Continuous Vibrato: Pulsing

Put the metronome on eighth equals between 70 and 84. Play your scale or passage, pulsing four times per eighth note. Pulse forward to the beat. Do not allow the vibrato to stop or vary when you change fingers, when you cross strings, or when you shift.

Vibrato Between Notes: Bayla’s Four Part Special

  1. Choose a doublestop (e.g. a major seventh). Start a downbow non-vibrato and increase the vibrato into the next bow change, so that at the upbow you have moltissimo vibrato. Gradually decrease the vibrato so that by the frog you return to non-vibrato. Watch your hand (in the mirror if necessary) to make sure the vibrato actually continues and connects across the bow change.
  2. Now, keeping both fingers of the doublestop on the string, draw a downbow on the lower string and change to upbow on the upper string. Do the same continuous crescendo and diminuendo of vibrato.
  3. Lift the upper finger and bring it directly over the same string as the lower finger. The finger should be so close that it almost touches the string. Feel the doublestop in the air as you repeat the vibrato crescendo and diminuendo; put the upper finger down just as you begin the upbow, without any interruption in the flow of the vibrato.
  4. Keeping the lower finger on the string, draw the upper finger away from the violin so far that it almost touches the pegs of your scroll. Do the vibrato crescendo and diminuendo; during the crescendo, gradually bring the upper finger in close to the string, feeling the doublestop in the air as in #3 above. The vibrato should reach its peak just as you put the upper finger down. Leave the finger down as you diminuendo.

Do this exercise with every combination of fingers, but emphasize going from lower to upper fingers as well as from fourth to first finger. In your repertoire, if you hear any stops or holes in your vibrato between notes, apply this exercise.

RELEASES AND CIRCULAR MOVEMENT

There are specific releases and ways to move which will allow us the widest range of possible vibrato speeds and widths with the least amount of work and tension. Understanding how our bodies work best and learning how to feel and maintain as much physical looseness and relaxation as possible will help us tie our vibrato to our heartstrings so that we can instinctively express the feeling of every chord and note in our music — the ultimate goal!

One obvious killer of a free vibrato is overpressing with the playing finger. Another is clenching with the thumb. Less obvious are the tiny circular movements which if inhibited will create blocks to the vibrato.

Loosening the Thumb

The thumb can be one of the prime preventers of expressive vibrato. On a scale of one to ten, the thumb should never be pressing into the neck more than a three, and the thumb should never squeeze up in response to the playing finger.  My favorite thumb exercises are:

  1. With the left hand in playing position, hold your left thumb with your right hand to stabilize it and tap each finger down against that thumb. The thumb should not move. Repeat without the right hand. The thumb should not move.
  2. Simon Fischer Basics p. 218 # 284 (notice how the movement encourages forearm rotation)
  3. Simon Fischer Basics pp. 146-148 (I call this the thumb spa)
  4. Place a cloth against the wall at an appropriate height for you and place the scroll of the violin against the cloth. (You will have to lean into the wall slightly to keep the cloth in place.) Now play your passage or scale, taking the thumb entirely off the neck. Repeat, allowing the thumb to rest gently against the neck. Move away from the wall and play the passage or scale again.
  5. Play a slow scale. On the downbow, support the violin on the vee created by your thumb and the base of your index finger; gently take your head off of the chinrest and move it around. On the upbow, settle your head gently into the chinrest and take your thumb off. Try to maintain a beautiful sound and vibrato. Are there passages in your music where you can take turns or alternate holding the violin with either the head and thumb?

Forearm Rotation

Remember that the vibrato motion itself is not linear but instead a kind of oval. Make a clockwise motion with your left arm (see Simon Fischer Basics p. 214 #277); allow the hinge at your elbow to open and notice how your forearm is now rotating. Although the motion is slight, it is hugely important.

Spiraling

Circles are always more natural for our body to create than lines, and this is especially true in vibrato, when we want every muscle and joint in our left side to be as open and loose as possible. If we think of vibrato as a linear motion up and down the string, the more we try to vibrate, the more we will start to tighten; but if we find the natural circles in each joint we can generate a spiraling effect which will allow the vibrato to pass through into our fingertips as if it were electricity passing through liquid.

Without the violin but with your arms in playing position, make figure eights as you shift your weight from leg to leg. (See Connecting Upper and Lower Body.) Exaggerate the movement of your hips and allow this same circle to move into your upper arms; you can also feel tiny circles in your shoulderblades. As you become more aware of the circle in your left upper arm, allow the forearm to relax and begin to circle in the opposite direction – as your upper arm moves to the right, the forearm moves to the left; as your upper arm moves to the left, the forearm moves to the right. Now release the wrist and allow it to circle in the opposite direction from the forearm. Your entire left side is making a spiraling wave!

Bayla Keyes

 

Finger Patterns

August 4th, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 02: Intonation | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Finger Patterns 1

Finger Patterns 2

Finger Patterns 3

Yost Shifting Exercises – Learning Your Fingerboard

August 4th, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 02: Intonation | Left Side | Practicing - (Comments Off)

YOST SHIFTING EXERCISES

The wonderful violinist and pedagogue May Lou Speaker Churchill, for many years Principal Second of the Boston Symphony, included in her student packet an abbreviated version of Gaylord Yost’s shifting exercises. I often assign this as a summer project, or when a violinist does not seem to know where he is on the violin. I have included charts so that you can conveniently check off the positions and keys which you have practiced — it is easy to forget which ones you have already done! I have the following suggestions:

Say the names of the positions, both the one in which you are starting and the one to which you are shifting.

Stay in one key and keep your finger patterns either hovering above the string or on the string, changing the pattern at the instant of the shift. For extra learning, say the names of the finger         patterns before you place them.

Use the key of your current concerto.

If you know you are insecure in a certain area such as fifth through tenth position, work this area first.

If you are having trouble with a shift in one of your pieces, do the exercise with that particular pair of positions and in that particular key. Say the names of the positions!

 

Yost

Yost 2 PNG

Yost 3

Yost Chart 1

Yost Chart 2

Yost Chart 3

Yost Chart 4

Yost Chart 5

Yost Chart 6

Yost Chart 7

Yost Chart 8

Yost Chart 9

Yost Chart 10

Yost Chart 11

Yost Chart 12

Yost Chart 13

Yost Chart 14

 

Remember that in shifting, releasing the finger you are leaving is as important as knowing the distance you are going to travel. If you are shifting from first finger to third finger, for example, the first finger should release to harmonic level, barely touching the top of the string, before you begin moving, and it should not squeeze down into the string again ever — even though it will arrive in the new position, it will not be pressing, because you are shifting to the third finger!

Bayla Keyes

 

 

“Big Hand,” Collé, and Martèlé for Clarity and Projection

August 1st, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Right Side - (Comments Off)

“BIG HAND,” COLLÉ, AND MARTÈLÉ FOR CLARITY & PROJECTION

BIG HAND

The shape of your bow hand is fundamental to the type of sound you want to create. For clarity, articulation, and projection of a direct sound, a firm (but not rigid!) large hand (I call this “Big Hand”) is best. It will efficiently and effortlessly transmit the weight of your arm and back into the string, leading to a large, clear, focused sound.

If you experiment by holding the bow with your thumb on the outside of the frog, playing only at the frog and using very little bow, you will notice that your sound becomes automatically big, clear, and bold. To create this hand shape with a regular bow hold at the frog, bend your thumb, placing it so that it faces the frog. The bow will rest on the inside corner of the thumb (which while holding the bow is actually uppermost). Your second finger forms a ring with the thumb. Place the other fingers so that the pads of the first joints are on the side of the bow away from you; the pinky finger may rest on top of the stick, but ideally it still curves. Maintain spaces of a whole step between all fingers.

The space inside your bow hand when you are at the frog should be as large as possible. Do not allow the base joint of the index finger to drop toward the bow or toward your thumb.  Supination (rotating the forearm outward) will roll your weight onto your pinky, freeing the index finger so that its contact point is farther out; this allows an even bigger shape inside the hand.

One of the lovely paradoxes of this bow hold is that you should be able to drop your arm weight right into the string, producing the fullest possible sound, without your hand tightening or losing its springs. Learning how to hold this shape in your hand without stiffening is crucial.

As you draw a downbow, your fingers and thumb extend. As you arrive at the tip, your thumb will have straightened and rolled onto a different contact point, more toward the outside of the thumb. With the upbow this process is reversed.

THE CATCHBOW

A pinch at the start of a stroke gets the string to speak immediately. This pinch is followed by a release, so that the sound will not be pressed. This “catchbow” requires a good sounding point, a good hand position, and an immediate release of pressure, thereby making it possible to move the bow more rapidly. The combination of diction and generous use of bow are ideal for concertos and other repertoire requiring brilliance and power.

Ivan Galamian believed that every bow stroke should begin with a slight catchbow. The fact that you start the sound crisply and immediately and therefore must be at a good sounding point is a huge help to many violinists who suffer from “banana bows.” I especially recommend practicing concertos and repertoire with piano with this technique, even in lyric passages. Be careful not to do the pinch by contracting your entire arm; it must come just from the fingers — the arm remains relaxed.

COLLÉ EXERCISES

The movement of the fingers in collé is rapid. To develop this movement, begin with the bow on the string, fingers extended; pinch the string and curl the fingers rapidly, lifting the bow out of the string. Galamian called this stroke pizzicato with the bow! Then start downbow, fingers curled and on the string; extend rapidly. Be sure to let the string ring.  Practice upbows and downbows in all parts of the bow, but particularly in the middle to upper half. When you feel proficient, progress to alternating downbows and upbows. I particularly like doing scales with a two-octave leap: start upbow on the E string and then downbow on the G string – then for a real challenge, do the opposite!

If you have trouble doing this stroke, check to see if your fingers are pronated on the bow. If they are too square, you will not be able to attain the sideways finger movement necessary for the stroke.

The ability to produce a good collé is one of our most important skills. I use Kreutzer #s 4, 6, and 7, as well as scales, for working on this stroke. Paganini Caprices with upbow or flying staccato such as #s 7, 20, and 22 will develop your ability even more.

MARTÈLÉ EXERCISES

The martèlé stroke is related to the collé stroke, but it requires more bow and therefore more arm movement. Start each stroke with a slight pinch; then release and move the bow rapidly – the collé movement will help you accomplish this. Do at least one of your scales daily with a martèlé stroke; begin with the middle half of the bow and progress to full bow strokes. Proficiency in martèlé will help you use greater amounts of bow as you learn how to keep the path of bow straight. It will also help relieve overpressing.

 

THE SECOND GREAT CIRCLE: SCYTHING TOWARD THE BRIDGE

BOW, HAIR, STRING, AND BRIDGE

Violinists typically think of applying pressure down into the string, in order to get it to move maximally. However, the process of sound production is somewhat more complex. The movement of the string underneath our bow agitates the bridge; then the movement of the legs of the bridge is transferred into the entire top of the violin and through the sound post to the back of the violin as well. It is therefore more precise to think of applying pressure in the direction of the bridge, in order to create the most movement there.

Applying pressure with the stick of the bow angled slightly away from you, so that the wood presses toward the bridge, rather than directly downward into the string, can produce a warm, beautiful, rich sound. The wood when angled in this way has a feeling of softness and give, but if you make sure to keep all the hair in contact with the string, you can apply enormous pressure without ever scratching or straining. I call this scything with the bow, because the circular motion you are making with the bow resembles that made by a scythe when used to harvest crops.

A clear advantage of using this sideways curving pressure is that you will be less likely to trap the string underneath your bow. The string needs to spin and circulate underneath your bow. If you press straight down, you can all too easily pin the string, restricting its movement and removing many of the overtones which add depth and quality to your sound.

THE FEEL OF THE HAND AND ARM

Use your left index finger as a substitute for the bow. Place your bow hand on top of the index finger and apply pressure directly downward. You may notice that there is a tendency of your right shoulder to come up and forward as you press down. You may also notice tension throughout the right arm, especially in the wrist, the upper arm near the shoulder, and the pectoral muscles at the front of the armpit.

Now place your right fingers around your left index finger and apply the pressure in a sort of curve in the direction of the bridge. Because you are curving toward yourself as well, you may notice how your right shoulder is opening back and your right shoulder blade is naturally tucking down and under. Your shoulder will feel freer and more open. You can feel the work in this pulling motion coming from the strong muscles in the back of the shoulder, rather than the weaker muscles of the front.

Especially on the downbow, this pull also encourages a natural engagement of the fingers on the bow. You will not be straightening the fingers and pushing down, but instead gathering the bow with the fingers, encouraging them to relax and curl into the bridge. Not only does the bow hold feel looser, it also feels paradoxically stronger; your fingers feel secure and fleshy on the bow stick.

Now try the above on the bow and violin. What is the type of sound produced when you think of applying pressure straight down into the string? What happens when you curve toward the bridge instead? For most violinists scything will create a deeper and more sonorous tone. This kind of sound is often ideal for romantic and lyrical expression. There is almost no limit to the amount of sound you can produce in this way, so long as you keep the hair of the bow in complete contact with the string and the wood of the bow pressing sideways through the hair and into the bridge. What I particularly like about this method of sound production is that when done properly, you will find it almost impossible to scratch or overplay!

MUSICAL USES

Scything is especially wonderful when you want a warm sound, and since this sound can be both warm and huge, it is extremely useful in concertos and in any situation where you want to project without strain or edge. Here are some pieces to which you can apply scything:

  • Beginning of first movement of Tchaikovsky Concerto
  • Beginning of second movement of Bruch g minor
  • Outer sections of second movement of Brahms Concerto
  • First movement of Brahms G Major Sonata
  • Beginning of first movement of Sibelius Concerto
  • Beginning of first movement of Barber Concerto

Scything may not be the best choice when the sound you want to produce is direct, brilliant, heroic, or even angry. Catchbows and slightly flatter hair, when the wood is more directly above the hair instead of being angled, will be better for this type of expression. Flat hair, which is what Ivan Galamian recommended for maximum sound production in the upper half of the bow, produces a brighter, more direct tone. Even a détaché sounds different when done with flat hair as compared to slightly angled hair. Here are some pieces to which you can apply flatter hair:

  • Beginning of first movement of Saint-Saëns b minor Concerto
  • Brilliant fast passagework such as in the last movements of Sibelius or Tchaikovsky Concertos
  • Beginning of first movement of Lalo Concerto
  • Beginning of first movement of Brahms Concerto
  • Middle section of second movement of Brahms Concerto

Have fun experimenting — learn how to scythe in your lyric melodies, and switch to flatter hair for brilliant or more aggressive passages!

The First Great Circle: Playing Through the Violin

August 1st, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 05: Ease | Right Side - (Comments Off)

THE FIRST GREAT CIRCLE: PLAYING THROUGH THE VIOLIN

PARADOX

The best sounds and the longest lines are produced when we can draw the bow in a line, usually quite parallel to the bridge so that the sounding point remains steady.  However our bow arms work best in circular motions: our shoulders are ball-and-socket joints, and our elbows are hinged to allow the rotation of the forearm. If we are concentrating only on the straight line of the bow, we may inhibit the natural circular motions needed for the arm to function well, and our sound may become stiff and thin. I call these natural and desirable circular motions the smile bow.

SMILE BOW

AIRPLANE   A great exercise for developing the smile bow is one I call the airplane landing.  Before starting, drape a cloth across the midsection of the violin, under the strings. Begin with your upper arm rotated entirely outward so that it is actually touching your face. The tip should be so far to the right that it is pointing to the floor. Now rotate the upper arm to trace a giant circle, beginning a downbow from a point as far as possible to the left of the violin. As you circle in for a landing on the G string, curve into the string so that you are incredible close to it before you land. Land without stopping the slow steady motion of your arm. Think of your bow as an airplane. Before an airplane lands, it levels off, and its touchdown is very gentle.  Never hit as you land — don’t make your passengers spill their coffee! At the end of your downbow, draw the frog upwards and gently pluck each string (G, D, A, E) with the tip of your bow. You should end with your bow in the air, off of the violin, with the frog high in the air and the tip rotated downward, facing the ground. To perform an upbow, continue from this position, drawing the upbow from a point as far as possible to the right of the violin. As before, circle in for a landing, curving gently into the string without stopping. At the end of your upbow, gently pluck each string (E, A, D, G) with the metal of your frog; you should end with your upper arm touching your face, ready to start the downbow again. If you are not comfortable coming from above the string, or if you often hit the string when starting a stroke, this airplane exercise will be marvelously effective. Practice landings in all parts of the bow, on all four strings.

DEEP CIRCLES UNDERNEATH THE VIOLIN   For the deepest sonorities (think chords, Brahms, and concertos) your smile bow should trace a circle far under the violin. Stand with your violin in your left hand, but hanging downward under your right armpit. Now with your bow make a slow and giant circle in the air, starting far above and descending far below where your violin normally is on your left side. You should feel quite relaxed, and there should be no change in the slow speed of your arm during this circle. After a few of these air circles, gently but quickly place the violin on your shoulder, without stopping the slow circles of your right arm and bow. The violin will intersect your circle; the bow will land on the strings of the violin; but you should continue to feel as if you are playing deep circles underneath the violin. Land once and return the violin to its position under your right arm. Your bow should continue to circle slowly, largely, and without stopping. Repeat.

What is most prominently and noticeably circling during this exercise is your upper arm. However you can also see your elbow drawing circles in the air; if you can, try to feel your right shoulder blade circling as well. This is what it means to “play from the back.” When your bow lands, the weight of your whole arm and upper right back is relaxing into the strings. If you were to stay pressed into the strings the sound would buckle, but the beauty of the smile bow is that it will lift you out of the string before the sound can be pinned and crushed. Try playing chords while feeling and envisioning this giant circle. Feel your whole back and arm releasing into the strings. At the end of your downbows, feel your frog lifting to the balcony; at the end of upbows, your tip.

FOREARM HINGE   Another important circle is created by the forearm. Try holding your ulna bone and rotating your radius. You’ll be startled to see the range of motion possible without ever having to move your elbow, and without your ulna moving. To feel this circle, stabilize your right upper arm with your left hand and swing your right forearm. You can easily see the smile created by this motion – it is as if you are tracing the bottom of a hammock! These small circular motions of the forearm give smoother bow changes and a more liquid, creamy quality to the sound.  This ability of the forearm to move at its elbow hinge is very important in classical repertoire such as Mozart and Schubert, and it also is crucial in string crossings, particularly in fast passages and barriolage. To practice passages using this motion, stand so that the back of your upper right arm is flat against a wall (D string level is best for your elbow) and practice Kreutzer #13 without allowing the upper arm to participate. Feel your arm opening and closing at the elbow as you draw the bow; also feel the tiny circles of rotation. After this, step away from the wall and produce the same arm motion, keeping your elbow level stable while using a free, even exaggerated forearm movement; use lots of bow.

PREPARING YOUR BODY TO RECEIVE THE WEIGHT OF THE BOW AND ARM

We often think of producing sound simply by moving our arms to press the strings into the violin, but we should remember that the quality and richness of our sounds will be greatly helped if we have springs and openness in our bodies. Remember the deep circles underneath the violin? If we think of those circles as continuing through the violin and into our chest, abdomen, and torso, we’ll realize that those parts of our body must not be rigid and stiff.

TREE GIRL   One of the most beautiful, sonorous tones I ever heard was produced by an incredibly thin young girl. The tone could not be explained by arm weight, because her arms were the size of twigs. Her posture, however, was remarkable – her entire back was rounded forward so that the violin appeared to be wrapped inside her chest and body. It was as if she were a tree with a violin enveloped within. If you experiment by playing with this (admittedly terrible) posture, you can learn to feel as if your arm weight is going through the violin and directly into your chest and belly, and you will hear a big change in your sound. After doing this exercise, return to your regular upright posture, but imagine that you are still carving a C shape into your chest and belly.

SCRUBBING INTO THE BELLY   (Karen Tuttle Exercise) Another excellent way to get the feeling of playing through and below the violin is to bend over, place your bow on the D and A strings, and make a loud, rapid détaché stroke. Push the wood entirely down as you feel your force going straight into your gut. Continue scrubbing as you straighten to playing position; continue feeling the force going right into your gut. If your sound changes, start over — you have lost the connection into your belly!

 

 

 

Double and Multiple Stops

July 31st, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 02: Intonation | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Left Hand Technique for Double and Multiple Stops

GOAL #1: Perfect Intonation for Maximum Ring

For ringing intonation, practice by checking every possible note with open strings. Play with a solid tone so that you can tell whether octaves and perfect intervals agree. Listen for the overtones. Eventually you should be able to feel the sympathetic vibrations when a note is in agreement with your open strings, even without checking directly.

Thirds and sixths will most often sound best using just intonation. If one of the notes agrees with an open string, tune that note to the open string and then adjust the other note to it.

Some intervals will be hard to negotiate – for example, a C major chord which uses notes that match both your open G and your open E has a built-in contradiction, because the C and G will either need to agree with the G string and therefore be too low to sound good with the E string, or the C and G will need to agree with the E string and therefore be too high to ring with the G string. Minimize the problem by tuning your fifths more tightly. Then choose the open string most important to your key.

GOAL #2: Voicing the Melody Note

For voicing in melodic double stops, align your left arm so that the melody note finger is supported. To find a perfect alignment, play the melody note by itself and adjust your elbow and wrist so that there is a straight line running down the back of your forearm from the middle of your hand to the middle of the elbow. The wrist should not be cocked. You will not always be able to attain this ideal position, but once you have this feeling of balance, you should be striving constantly to get as much of it as possible.

Practice slowly, playing all voices in the left hand but only bowing the main voice. If a note does not sound well, adjust your alignment until it does.

A simple exercise for getting a feel for your best alignment is to play the fourth finger on each string. Notice how the elbow swings forward and the hand rises slightly in order to support the fourth finger on the G string. Notice how the elbow swings under the violin and your hand lowers slightly when your fourth finger is on the E string. Facing your scroll toward a mirror, watch the line of your forearm as you play each string. Listen to the sound you make when you are aligned vs. when you are not.

GOAL #3: Comfort and Relaxation

Have loose first joints and relaxed, welcoming pads. Your fingers need to be able to slide across strings and between positions in an easy and legato manner. The square shape which results from playing on the bone or absolute fingertip is exactly wrong for doublestops!  Practice with a beautiful sound, encouraging the left hand to relax. You should always be able to feel the strings circulating under your fingers. (References: Dounis doublestops from Artist’s Technique, Fischer fingers leading shift from Basics)

Release each note and multiple stop, just as you release the bow.

Never press more than absolutely necessary. The main voice should have slightly more pressure than the accompaniment.

Learn fingertip placement so that half steps, tritones and minor sixths are never squeezed. (Reference: Fischer Widening from Basics)

Whenever possible, pronate your fingers (turn your fingernails towards your face, not to the left) to encourage the thumb to relax. (Reference: Fischer Thumb spa from Basics)

Divide and conquer – in the most difficult quadruple stop passages, practice two notes to two notes, playing legato.

Learn the different positions for easy vs. difficult chords:

In an “easy” chord, the bottom finger is on the bottom string – 5ths, 6ths, 7ths, 8ths, 9ths, and 10ths. Place the lower finger first and allow the left hand (left index contact point) to lower. The elbow will be slightly under the violin.

In a “difficult” chord, the bottom finger is on the top string – tritones, 4ths, 3rds, 2nds, and unisons. Place the lower finger first and allow the left index contact point to rise. The elbow will be slightly forward, to the right of violin.

In fugues you will often find chords that are a marriage of easy and difficult. Organize the bottom finger of the difficult doublestop first whenever possible — this is not intuitive,  but it really works!

Work on your independence of fingers with stretching and doublestop exercises. (References: Śevĉík Opus 1 Part 4, Dounis Artist’s Technique and Daily Dozen, Kourguof, Fischer Widening)

The more difficult the chord, the more you must find a way to enjoy it and make friends with it. Ideally works such as Bach Fugues, Paganini Caprices, and Ysaÿe Solo Sonatas should feel and sound wonderful all the way through!

                                            Bayla Keyes © 2018              

Karen Tuttle Breathing Coordination

July 31st, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 05: Ease - (Comments Off)

KAREN TUTTLE BREATHING COORDINATION

The great viola pedagogue Karen Tuttle developed a system of breathing with the bow which she called Coordination. The genius of her teaching was to incorporate frequent muscle and breath releases during every bow. The muscles continually release, allowing the string to circulate freely under the bow. Your sound becomes open, rich, and never pressed, even in the loudest dynamics. This method can be used both to eliminate muscle tension and also to enhance musical expression.

This technique is most easily learned with slow bows at first.

         Before beginning a downbow, breathe out gently or say Lah-eee-Lah,” encouraging your stomach (really it’s your diaphragm!) to descend on the eee

As your stomach descends, everything softens: your shoulders, elbows and chest release down slightly, the head releases back slightly as the neck relaxes, the torso settles into the legs, the pelvis drops under as the lower back lengthens, and the legs bend slightly.  Releasing in this way before bow changes will allow your elbows to circle very slightly and naturally.

        Inhale in the middle of the bow, noticing the natural slight lifting feeling.

        Near the end of your downbow, breathe out gently or say “Lah-eee-Lah,” encouraging your stomach to descend. Notice how your arm weight deepens organically, without a sense of effort.

By breathing out near the end of your downbows, you will prevent the lifting of the shoulders and violin that often leads to tension in the upper half.

       Draw the bow an upbow.  Inhale in the middle of the bow, noticing the natural slight lifting feeling.

       Near the end of your upbow, breathe out gently or say “Lah-eee-Lah,” pushing your stomach down. Notice the small circle your elbow makes. Notice especially the softness in your chest.

Practice very slow open strings and scales with the breathing releases near the ends of the bows. As you become more comfortable with this, you can begin to incorporate the breathing into slow or lyric material. Sing your passage and vocalize the “lah-eee-lah;” then play it, breathing out or sighing before bow changes.

“Lah-eee-lah” can be used as well to energize the end of a long note or tie — long notes in romantic music often need to increase into the next note.