Mozart Should Not Sound Like Brahms:
Essential to being a fine musician is the ability to produce sounds appropriate to different styles, emotions and composers. The works of Mozart are masterpieces which often benefit from a particular sense of ease and effortlessness. Think sun, bubbles, high energy, celebration, and operatic joy!

Bow Speed:
In general faster bow speeds often convey a lighter, sunnier, more classical quality, while slower bow speeds communicate tragedy, stubbornness, difficulty, and suffering. Faster bow strokes are also useful when intensity and energy are key.
Beginning downbows with the frog angled slightly away from the bridge will help speed the bow and also lighten the frog, avoiding the gritty quality produced by playing near the bridge. Likewise, maintaining the frog away will help the sound production at the tip, because the bow is lighter at the tip and needs the heavier sounding point. (Remember, frog away from the bridge = tip into the bridge.)
The mixed bowing exercises found in Ivan Galamian’s scale book are useful. Familiarize yourself with the different feelings of sticky, resistant, slow bows vs. quick, free, traveling bows. In particular, exercises that alternate quick full bows with very slow bows will be challenging and rewarding.

Special Strokes and Smaller Muscles:
The flexibility of the wrist and fingers is vital to the lighter quality we associate with Mozart. The “Mozart” bowing, 2 slurred and 2 separate done in middle of bow, is used throughout the repertoire.

Phrasing:
Always know where you are in the structure of each movement.
Microphrasing at all times is recommended. Be clear about where you are aiming; show high points with both bow and vibrato.
Often crescendos in Mozart are best done by adding bow speed rather than arm weight.
Natural phrasing, up and down with the line just as you do in Bach, will give an organic quality to your playing.
Be aware of sequences; start them at a lesser dynamic and build them so that they make a larger line.

Vibrato:
Vibrato which is faster and narrower will work best with your lighter bow, but take care it does not become tense or constricted. Sculpt the rise and fall of harmonic tension in your line with your vibrato.

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 to keep the arm functioning well, and our sound may become stiff and thin.

 

The first bone of the arm is the shoulder blade.  When we move our elbows, our shoulder blades also move. The movable shoulder blade (and therefore elbow) are an important part of the sound; engaging this area is what it means to “play from the back muscles.” When this area is accessible, our sounds become fuller, warmer, deeper, and louder; chords are also easier, because we have the full weight of the large back muscles. There will be a circular movement of the upper arm, turning inside the ball-and-socket joint. The elbow will also make small circular motions. To encourage this movement, use your left hand to turn the upper portion of your right arm. Notice how the turning results in your right elbow circling down and up. Can you feel the motion of your right elbow all the way back into your right shoulderblade?

 

The second important area is the forearm itself. 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. The small circular motions of the forearm give smoother bow changes and a more liquid, creamy quality to the sound.  They also help in string crossings, particularly in fast passages. To develop this range of motion, place your right arm on a stand, with your elbow resting just beyond the left side of the stand. Now play Kreutzer #13 in the middle of the bow. Your upper arm will remain still while you cross strings using the forearm motion. This is one of the most useful capacities to develop in your bow arm; it will help you with fast barriolage passages, spiccato, and détaché.

 

As the forearm rolls, there is a resulting change in the hand balance which we call supination and pronation. The give of the hand into the bow facilitates these tiny adjustments. If we grip the bow too hard or are unable to bend the thumb, little or no forearm rotation is possible. There will be holes at the bow changes. We will not have enough variety of color or dynamic.

Creating your Gorgeous Tone in Legato

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Right Side - (Comments Off)

Imagination, Visualization, Emotion:

Your sound is your soul. Expose yourself to wonderful violinists so that you may learn what is possible; but — your sound must be uniquely your own voice. What do you hear in your mind’s ear?

Physical Facts:

All sounds will be a mix of bow speed and weight/pressure. Choose your sounding points:

Nearer the bridge = more tension/resistance = more weight = slower bow speed

Farther from the bridge = less resistance = less weight = faster bow speed

The angle of wood to hair also affects clarity and warmth. Although at the frog the hair should be slightly angled, experiment with flatter hair from the middle of the bow to the tip, especially in concertos.

Find strings that suit your violin.

Bow Arm:

Think of your hand, arm and entire body as a set of springs. If anything is locked the sound will be stopped, as water by a dam. Keep all joints open. Avoid strain or forcing.

Carve, caress, slide, pour, sink, curve – never hit or strike the violin!

Execute the bow smile. Land in a flattening curve, never with an abrupt vertical descent. (Airplane exercise)

Flexibility in the bow hand and wrist, facilitated by the proper relaxation of the thumb in combination with the proper hand shape, is essential for beauty.

Left hand:

The relation of the fingers of the left hand to the string can affect the sound greatly. Make sure your tips have a feeling of cushion; in lyric playing, play on the pads, not on the bone. The first joint should flex easily. Do not overpress with the fingers or clench with the thumb. The softness in the tips and first joints will especially help sound and intonation in multiple stops.

Vibrato is a key component to your sound and will help loosen your joints.

The arch shape of the fingers can give clarity and focus to your sound. Flattened fingers are fuzzier and warmer.

 

Calm Shoulders

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side | Right Side - (Comments Off)

Avoid the drawstring effect

Many violinists crunch their shoulders up and their heads down into the violin. This shortens the muscles of each arm and greatly affects sound and left hand facility. It also isolates the arm from the shoulderblade, which is the first bone of the arm.

To avoid this, try the following exercises:

Stand and play with your head against a doorframe. You may feel you have to press backwards with your head in order to maintain contact. Now step away and feel the same backwards, upright position.

In a straight chair, sit with your back against the back of the chair as you play. Maintain contact.

With a partner, take turns holding each other’s heads back. (This is really easy if you have a ponytail!)

Draw an upbow, allowing your head to travel in the same direction as the bow. Draw a downbow, and move your head slightly to the back of the chinrest, in the opposite direction from the bow. Can you feel the slight tug of the string?

Loosening the Head on the Violin

Settle your head into the chinrest gently, balancing the violin with the relaxed weight of your head.

Incorporate Karen Tuttle’s breathing exercises into your bowing: each time you breathe out, allow the head to settle towards the back of the chinrest gently.

As an exercise, play downbows holding the violin with your left hand as you move your head around; play upbows with your head gently relaxing into the chinrest as you take your left thumb off the neck of the violin. Are there moments in your music where you could do one or the other, to release muscles?

Interesting Dilemma

Holding still helps your nervous system sort out the fine movements of your hands and arms, because the variables are fewer; but moving releases muscles and combats rigidity. Moving also is often more exciting for the audience. Think of a modern day performer such as Joshua Bell and compare him to videos of Heifetz and Oistrach.  My own experience is that it is generally best to move lyrically during singing lines and slower music, with swaying being preferable to the crunch, to keep the shoulderblades as stable as possible; but it is almost always best to have calm shoulders, a stable violin, and a centered balance which allows your weight to drop through both your feet during fast passages and string crossings. It is also usually true that a stable violin produces a stronger tone.

Try fast passages with your violin scroll on a stand, on a ledge, or against a towel on the wall. You will find that shifts and string crossings are much easier when you do not have a moving target!

Bow Hand Exercises

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Right Side - (Comments Off)

The following exercises will develop flexibility in the right hand, leading to deeper and more beautiful sonorities and a much greater ability to sustain.

Bow only:

Windshield wipers: hold bow with tip pointing to ceiling; move from elbow only.

Bow climb – vertical & horizontal: try to keep bow stable as you crawl with your fingers.

Thumb & mid-finger roll: downbow and upbow. You can also do this with the bow; try to keep your tone even, while hair goes from flat to side and back.

Pinky push-ups: balance bow horizontally with thumb & pinkie. Hold your forearm with your wrist pointing up so that the movement happens only inside your hand.

 

Add & subtract fingers:

1} Divide bow in ½ – start upbow; hold each half with thumb and 3 fingers.

Divide bow in 1/3s – hold each 1/3 with thumb and 2 fingers.

Divide bow in 1/4ths – hold each ¼ with thumb and corresponding finger.

Put all fingers on– vacuum each bow – seamless bow changes.

 

2} Start upbow with thumb and index finger only. Travel ¼ bow; add next finger. Continue to frog. Make sure that all fingers reach out and around the bow, especially the 3rd finger. When you end at the frog, all your fingers should be on the bow a whole step apart, and the third and fourth fingers should be curved.  Draw a downbow, subtracting fingers one at a time with each ¼ bow.

 

Supination:

Lean deeply onto pinky, even allowing it to go over the bow. Notice how this releases the index finger, which slides towards you as you lean. Notice how your thumb has to bend and its contact point has to change; notice how your fingers are square on the bow; this is called supination. Try supinating at the frog when you want a deep rich sound. As you draw a downbow, come out of supination and begin pronating just above the middle of the bow.

 

 

Give of Hand into Bow:

Squishy Spider:  Make a tent with your hand upon a flat surface. Release knuckles directly down while keeping wrist and forearm unmoving.  Do this pronated as well.

Opposites:  Hold the bow with your left hand and put your right hand in its normal place and position.

1} As your left hand pulls to the left, your right arm will pull to the right (your arms are pulling apart). Allow your right knuckles to release; the space inside your hand will flatten, your fingers will curve so the bow moves closer to your palm, and the index finger will slide back towards you. Keep your wrist and forearm unmoving.

2} As your left hand pushes to the right, your right arm will push to the left (your arms are pushing together). Allow your right knuckles to lead; the space inside your hand will enlarge and your fingers and thumb will straighten.

3) Do these actions on the string. You will have to reach your left hand behind the violin (to the left of the neck) in order to hold the tip.

4) Play a sustained downbow and upbow, feeling the string resist the pull of the bow in each direction. With each downbow, allow your knuckles to release fully; with each upbow, lead strongly with your knuckles.

 

Integration:

Play a sustained downbow, beginning with fully released knuckles and supination; gradually roll across hand into pronation, straightening fingers and thumb.

Play a sustained upbow, beginning in pronation, with knuckles leading; gradually roll across hand into supination, bending fingers and thumb.

For the smoothest changes at the frog, try to supinate by the middle of the upbow; then simply remain in this position as your arm moves the bow across the frog. Relax your thumb. Strong finger motions on the bow changes will lead to bumps, whips, jerks, and blemishes.

For sustaining in the upper half across the tip, be sure to lean into the thumb; do not think of pressing up with the thumb, but feel its cushioning quality. Extend your fingers into pronation, and keep your wrist supported, not collapsed. It may help to allow your index finger to travel over the bow at first, á la Heifetz; this will help you feel the weight transferring from the inside of your arm into the bow. Then try to get that connection without a big change in your bow hand position.

The Roll/Role of the Thumb

June 4th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 03: Rhythmic control | Right Side - (Comments Off)

Straight thumb

A straight thumb results in straight stiff fingers and a relentless, overly tight bow hold. It also prevents the flexing of the wrist.  This lack of small shock absorbers in the wrist and fingers will greatly affect the perfume, nuance and quality of sound, particularly in softer dynamics and classical works such as Mozart, Schubert, and Bach. Carl Flesch famously said that all artistry resides in the small muscles of the bow hand and wrist.

Natural strength and shape of the hand

There is an ideal size and shape for your bow hand which will take advantage of the natural function of your hand and allow a constant conversation between your thumb and fingers.

First make a ring between your thumb and second finger; space the other fingers with whole steps in between. Don’t put your thumb through the bow – find the “captain’s chair” (the little bump on the nut) and bend your thumb as you seat it there.

Galamian believed that the thumb should always be bent at the frog to allow for the maximum space between the thumb and index finger. Put your thumb outside the bow and play at the frog; notice how full the tone is, even though you don’t have much flexibility or control. This is because the space inside your hand is ideal for its strength and therefore your hand can transmit the weight of your arm efficiently. Now replace your thumb in its proper position on the bow, but try to keep the internal space of your hand as large as possible.

The action of the thumb is sideways, not straight up: as the thumb pushes, the third finger answers.

Draw long bows, rolling the bow from the side of the hair to flat hair using only the thumb, not the wrist. Keep an even, good tone.

Thumb counterpressure

Subtracting thumb counterpressure at the frog will allow smoother changes; adding it during downbows when nearing the tip will increase contact and avoid diminuendo. (Exercise)

11.3 pounds is the difference in thumb pressure between frog and tip!

Supination

Supination can be done in the middle to lower half of the bow, but is especially valuable at the frog.

To supinate, roll onto your pinkie. The thumb and fingers will bend, the pinkie will curve, the knuckles will relax slightly, and the fingers will be square on the bow. Your index finger will slide toward you, releasing the front of the hand.

Notice the change in the contact point of your thumb – there will be a second dent created.