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.

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

 

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.

 

Tai Chi Figure Eights

July 31st, 2019 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 05: Ease - (Comments Off)

CONNECTING UPPER AND LOWER BODY FOR A BEAUTIFUL SOUND:

TAI CHI FIGURE EIGHTS

 

One of the best ways to maintain a relaxed, strong, yet constantly releasing posture while holding the violin is to feel the connection clearly between the ground, your feet and legs, and your upper body. When you are in alignment and able to make your energy flow directly from your legs and lower body into your violin, it will be much easier to practice and perform many hours without tiring.

Stand with your feet parallel at a width directly under your shoulders. Your feet should be soft and relaxed, your knees slightly bent, your lower back in neutral (not arched – release your lower back so that your pelvis relaxes under) and your hips loose.

Push into the ground with your right toe. Notice how your body will react by shifting to the left and up.  Repeat on the opposite side. Continue to shift back and forth between your legs, alternating the pushes from your feet.

Now as you shift, instead of going directly across, trace a figure eight around your feet. Feel your weight as it passes from the front of your left foot backward around the outside, then around the left heel, then shifting weight, going diagonally to the right toes, then along the outside of the right foot into the right heel, then forward along the inside of the right foot and across to the left toes.  Do you notice how relaxing this circular movement is for your lower back? (To feel an extreme contrast, straighten your legs, lock your knees, and shift your weight from one foot to another, going directly across.)

Now return to the circular motions. Make the figure eight with your hips, allowing your left hip to drop back as you shift onto the left leg and then allowing the right hip to drop back as you shift onto the right leg.

Play air violin with this hip motion. Put your bow at the imaginary tip; shift your weight onto your right foot; drop your right hip back, shifting your weight onto your right heel. Push off from that heel; allow your right hip and entire right side to come forward, turning slightly leftward. As your weight shifts onto your left foot, allow your bow to travel to the imaginary frog. Let the motion of your body carry your bow; your arm should feel relaxed and passive.

At this point your weight is on your left leg and your bow is at your imaginary frog. Drop your left hip back, shifting onto the left heel. Push off from that heel, allowing your left hip and entire left side to come forward as you turn slightly toward the right. As you shift your weight onto your right leg allow your bow to open in a downbow to the imaginary tip. Now you have returned to your right leg and can repeat the circle.

Remember that the figure eight you are making, initiating in the feet and reflecting in the hip movement, has an overturn; this means that you will be in one continuous flow of movement. The overturns anticipate the movement of your bow. Start your air upbow after dropping the right hip back and beginning to move your right side forward; start your air downbow after dropping the left hip back and beginning to move your left side forward. You may be able to notice how soft and relaxed your hands feel. (To feel an extreme contrast, stand still and move your arm in upbow and downbow motions. Where do you feel the work?)

Repeat all the steps above with the violin. Try to feel the movement of your bow arm initiating from the hip. Your arms and torso should feel like one continuous flow. Do you notice anything about your sound as you draw the bow? Your ability to hold up your violin? The ease of movement in your arms? The release of tension in your back and shoulders? The arms begin in the lower back, and by moving in this figure eight you are constantly releasing those deep muscles, allowing your arms to work more freely and naturally. Put your awareness in your feet and legs, allow a subtle shifting and circling, and notice how much easier technique and expression become.

Your scales and arpeggios are the two most effective targeting tools you will have in building your technique. Be focused, be disciplined, and be creative. You need never be bored, and you should avoid being mindless. Concentrate on at least two of the following areas every day:

1. Intonation: using drone; with all possible doublestops; checking each note against open strings; ultimate listening; stop-and-go
2. Rhythm: using metronome; perfectly even left hand; at different tempos; necklace technique; using the acceleration exercise found on p. 5 of Ivan Galamian’s Contemporary Violin Technique Part I; using Galamian rhythms from Part II; in dotted rhythms
3. Evenness of tone: drawing bow with constant speed, especially at slow tempos; constant sound vs. changing pressure; smooth bow changes; no portatos; sounding point and bow angle
4. Beauty of tone: relaxation; breath; release points in feet, knees, hips, lower back, shoulder blades, neck, shoulders, elbows, right wrist and knuckles; warm vibrato; parallel to bridge; ideal sounding point; drawing the richest sound possible at all speeds; weight vs. pressure; melting and pouring
5. Shifts: release finger before going; wrist release; elbow release; thumb preparation; thumb relaxation; shift from patterned hand to (newly) patterned hand; going up, anticipate next 4th finger position; ghost finger exercise
6. Left hand: bouncing fingers; minimum thumb pressure; high lifts, gentle but quick drops for fast articulation; lighter to go faster; singing fingers for lyric expression; form and position; relaxed knuckles; movable elbow; vibrato through note changes; hand patterns; spacing in air; rapid blocking; balancing to 4th finger for fast balance, finger by finger for slow balance
7. Posture: checking in mirror; shoulders down and back; shoulder blades sliding down back; violin supported easily; alternating thumb and neck holds; head above neck and not forward; space at underarms; space between arms and torso; soft left arm; knees not locked; body balanced over pelvis, legs, and heels; leg base comfortably apart; shifting weight; vibrant body connected with the earth
8. Strokes: practice détaché, martelé, spiccato, up-bow staccato, etc. in different parts of bow, with different rhythms, in order to make them easier in your pieces

GOALS:
Play the 3 Octave Scales (Major, Melodic Minor and Harmonic Minor) without stopping. Speed: quarter note = 120, 140, and 160. Use Galamian turns at the beginning and ending. Start with G and go up chromatically. Finish with a G scale returning to low G string. One bow up, one bow down.
Play the 3 Octave Arpeggios (Flesch sequence). Speed: quarter note = 76, 100, and 120. One bow up, one bow down.
Play 3ds, 6ths, 8vs, and 10ths in 2 octaves scales, straight up and straight down. Speed: in eighth notes; quarter note = 60, 80, and 100. 8 notes per bow.

(The following sections have suggested practice times based on a daily working schedule of four to six hours. If you don’t have that much time, reduce the times accordingly.)

I. 3 OCTAVE SCALES – 30 minutes a day
A. Begin with Galamian, top fingerings first. Plan on learning three scales a week. Practice slowly at first; as the week continues, add the acceleration exercise printed at the beginning of the Galamian 3-octave scales. Memorize each scale fingering as you go. This will get easier as you acquire more scales. The first week you should be able to memorize all three G scales: G major, G melodic minor, and G harmonic minor. The second week you should be able to continue practicing the G scales and memorize the three Ab/G# scales. Continue in this way until you have worked through all scales. Make sure to review your earlier scales periodically, so that you don’t forget them. This program should take you twelve weeks.
B. After 12 weeks you will know all 36 scales. At least once a week, play through all 36 at a moderate tempo, using the Galamian order (i.e., begin with G, and go up by half-step, rather than using the Flesch circle of fifths). On the rest of the days, woodshed three scales (e.g., the three C scales). See suggestions above.

II. 1 Position Scales – 10 minutes a day, rotating block.
Use Galamian fingerings. Use the key signature of one of today’s 3-octave scales. Go up through at least 8th position. Pay particular attention to your left-hand alignment. Put the fingers down cleanly and clearly, without pulling the string sideways. Do not pull the string sideways with each successive finger. Relax your hand; practice slowly, with vibrato, at first, and later build your speed. Notice the finger patterns.

III. Scales on 1 String – 10 minutes a day, rotating block.
A. Use Flesch fingerings. Use the key signature of one of your current 3-octave scales. Make all shifts smooth and effortless. Keep intonation consistent.
B. Use Galamian fingerings. Use the key signature of one of your current 3-octave scales. Alternate fingerings on each day, but spend two days in a row on 1234-1234. As with your 3-octave scales, use the metronome for evenness. Make sure your thumb and 1st finger are never squeezing; release each finger before a shift; keep your wrist soft and relaxed. Let the fingers drop with elasticity and lift with electricity.

IV. 4-Octave Scales – to be added when 3-octave scales are fluent – 10 minutes a day, rotating block. Use Galamian fingerings. Pay particular attention to the beauty of your sound when you are up high; do not put too much arm weight into the string or you will overpower it. Play slow and fast. Work to keep the half-steps close. Keep the shifting curve smooth, and anticipate with your elbow as you go up.

V. Combination Slow-Fast Scales – 10 minutes a day, rotating block.
Without the Galamian turn, play through 3- and 4-octave scales using the rhythmic pattern of quarter, quarter, quarter, sextuplet. Vibrate the quarters. (You will need to play through the scale many times in order to arrive back at the beginning of the scale on the first quarter note again.) This is a good one to do with the metronome. You are working for absolute evenness and rhythmic precision; you are also working on slow vs. fast balance for your hand. If you have any bumpy shifts or poor form, this exercise will highlight them and help you fix them. Remember that in slow balance you balance the hand on each finger in turn; in fast balance (the sextuplet) you balance on the fourth finger.

II. ARPEGGIOS

A. 3 Octave Arpeggios – 15 minutes a day
LEVEL A. Use Flesch, and pick the key that corresponds to your scale of the week. Memorize each arpeggio fingering as you go. Practice slowly at first. Make sure that each and every shift is accurate, smooth, easy and inaudible. Practice the finger patterns using as many doublestops as possible, so that you are practicing many notes at once, rather than one finger at a time. By the end of the week you should be able to play through the entire Flesch sequence for your key. Continue in this way until you have worked through and memorized all arpeggios. This program should take you twelve weeks.
LEVEL B. Use Galamian, starting with top fingerings. (Notice that the sequence is quite different from Flesch.) Memorize as you go. Use different legato bowings each day, slurred and separate. Begin to speed up the arpeggios. Keep the shifts as light as possible, with no tension in the first finger or thumb. Watch your left-hand alignment in the mirror: does your arm come around smoothly? Are there any sudden jerks or interruptions in the flow? Does your left hand look uniform throughout, or does it collapse or change shape at certain points?
LEVEL C. Learn the Galamian bottom fingerings. Memorize and then try to run both Galamian fingerings. Work with rhythms to increase your speed. Use the metronome to ensure that you are even. Try running the arpeggios without allowing your thumb to touch the neck (you may want to prop the violin scroll securely).
LEVEL D. Play through all arpeggios daily. Alternate days between Flesch and the two Galamian sequences. Begin to incorporate spiccato and mixed bowings. Pay particular attention to the arpeggios for the dominant seventh and fully diminished seventh chords.
LEVEL E. Use the acceleration exercise found in Simon Fischer’s Practice, p. 147; use the metronome and work your speed up gradually, making the shifts as smooth and light as possible and all notes even.

B. 2 Octave / 1 Position Arpeggios – 10 minutes a day, rotating block
Use Sevcik Opus 1, Parts I and II, or simply use the Flesch progressions. G starts with open G, Ab and A start with 1st finger, Bb and all others start with 2nd finger. Go up through 8th position. Play as many doublestops as you can so that your fingers learn the patterns. Be careful not to pull the strings sideways (this means you must put the fingers down from a certain angle, especially in the upper positions). Pick up and put down the fingers with speed and clarity; cross strings with equal clarity. Anticipate going around the instrument by bringing your thumb under well in advance of the shift. Watch your left-hand alignment in the mirror. Does your hand contort and shift positions? Notice how this will affect your accuracy and speed.

C. 1 Octave / 1 String Arpeggios – 5 minutes a day, rotating block.
Use Flesch. These are big shifts and must be smooth; do not squeeze with the thumb and 1st finger. Make sure your intonation is consistent.

D. 2 Octave / 1 String Arpeggios – 10 minutes a day, rotating block.
For the advanced player. Use Dounis. Keep your left arm very relaxed so that you will not experience tension in these very high positions. Feel the weight of your whole hand in the upper positions as it falls through your finger into the fingerboard. Try to stretch all your fingers out in advance of the pattern. Pay particular attention to the smoothness of the motion you use getting from low to high positions; release going down and up. Remember to pick up and drop the fingers with speed and clarity.

Body Springs

June 14th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 05: Ease - (Comments Off)

The Three Principles:
Open Form (Alignment and Space)
Stabilization (Balance)
Circularity (Fluid Movement, Soft Muscles, Marriage of Line & Circle)

Building Connection from the Ground Up – Legs:
Tension in the legs will be transmitted like a virus into everything above. When you are balanced, the alignment of your spine will hold you up with a minimum of muscle effort.
Stand on your bare feet. Imagine you are a baby again with soft, pliable pads – there are no bones in your feet yet. Feel the pad under the ball of the foot, the pad under the outer toes, and the pad on your heel contacting the ground with gentle springiness. Do all three points feel the same, and can you feel your weight dropping into them equally through both feet? Bounce happily on your feet without picking them up. Walk slowly and softly, pretending they are suction cups as you lift, and placing them on the ground delicately.
Stand easily on your baby feet. Notice the space at the front of your ankles. What happens to that space when you bend your knees? Push with your toes, bend and unbend your knees slightly, and sway lightly back and forth on your feet to find the place where your ankles feel soft and open in front. Notice how when you are out of balance the ankles, feet, and toes will tense. If you have a practice partner, take turns feeling each other’s ankles. Find a way of standing that will allow the least grabbing.
Experiment by straightening your knees and locking them. What happens to your neck and shoulders? Now release the backs of the knees. Notice how your hips and shoulders let go. Jiggle slightly, first with the knees bent and then with the knees locked; notice what changes. Also try this with air violin, holding an imaginary violin and moving your arms.
Stand with your feet soft, your ankles open and your knees slightly bent; your feet should be directly under your shoulders. Feel your weight evenly on both legs. Now shift weight to one leg. Let the other leg remain in contact with the ground and keep your hips level. Shift weight to the other leg. Shift side to side and then circle around forward and back, feeling the inside and outside of your feet; try a circle 8 as well.
Return to the center and allow your weight to drop right through the arches of both feet. Feel the space between your legs; imagine it connecting to the ground as if it were a third leg. Allow your bottom to melt down and forward, releasing the lower back. Relax and settle.

Building Connection from the Ground Up – Torso:
Weakness in the center of the body will cause it to fold in and collapse, diminishing sound, decreasing strength, and setting up the arms for injury. Rigidity in this area will cause thinness and harshness of tone, as it will communicate stiffness to all the joints of the arms and fingers. The ideal is space, balanced support, and freedom of motion in the back. Think of opening the front of the body and stabilizing and strengthening the back.
As your lower back drops, notice how your swayback diminishes and your hips come more directly under your shoulders. Exaggerate the swayback and play air violin; then allow the pelvis to tip forward and notice the difference in how your arms move and how your neck and shoulders feel. This posture is healthy for the arms and will give them the support they need, because the hips and shoulders are closely related. Throughout the day, jiggle occasionally to check the alignment and openness of your legs.
To counteract the weight of the violin pressing down, muscles in the midriff of the body need to engage and lift. Imagine your side ribs as folds of a fan and feel them stretching open and up. Do side bends to release and elongate the spaces between the ribs. Feel your spine, especially the area of the mid-back between your shoulder blades, stretching up toward heaven. Do the same with your occiput. Notice how reaching up from the back helps the fronts of your shoulders and collarbone open and relax.
Your shoulder blades, while located in your back, are actually the beginnings of your arms. Utilizing them properly will enhance your sound, free your bow, and prevent the stooped posture that is common in string players. Let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Imagine a giant puppeteer holding strings attached to the back of your elbows. When the strings are raised, your upper arms will rise, while your forearms and hands dangle. Now flip the left arm over into playing position and play air violin. Notice how weightless your arms feel; this is because they are being held up from the strong deep muscles of the back, the rhomboids, between the shoulder blades. Let your arms hang straight down again and then lift the hands directly up into playing position. Even if you are at the same height as before, your arms will feel much heavier. Notice especially what you sense in the area between your upper arms and the sides of your body. Try the puppeteer version again for contrast.
Your armpits and indeed the whole area under your arms need to stay open, even when your bow arm is carving into the string. Imagine that you have small balloons in your armpits, and larger balloons around your waist and torso. Play air violin, carving down into the balloons with your elbows while simultaneously keeping the spaces of the balloons open. Notice the circularity of your elbow movements as you curve into those soft deep imaginary spaces under your arms.
Find the connection of your elbows all the way back into your shoulder blades. Stand with your hands in loose fists, held at chest height with palms down and knuckles touching; stabilize your legs, torso, and head so that they do not move; and move the triangle of your arms and elbows around the column of your spine, back and forth from left to right. Can you feel the shoulder blades moving in relation to your spine? Now take your arms into playing position, continuing to hold the traction between your elbows and shoulder blades as your stretch your elbows apart in space (I call this the starfish stretch). Let the blades go and feel how your shoulders collapse forward and up. Feel the slackness and emptiness in your elbows. The balloons are gone. Activate the shoulder blades again; squeeze them together and allow the elbows to be drawn away from your body. Notice how wide open your chest and underarms are when your shoulder blades stabilize your arms. Notice how symmetrical the spaces under your arms are, how light they feel, and how calm, alert and energetic you are. Notice how your breathing changes. Everything expands.

Building Connection from the Ground Up – Arms:
When the arms are unimpeded at the critical joints of the shoulders and elbows, nerve impulses are more efficient and a sense of ease and comfort will result.
Roll your shoulders gently back and around. Now add elbow circles. Do this slowly enough that you can feel your shoulder blades sliding across your back, towards and away from the spine.
With each hand, turn the opposite upper arm away from the body and towards the body. (This is a good exercise to do with a partner too.) Allow the forearms and hands to follow along passively. This gentle twisting motion will soften and open the tissues around the all-important juncture of your arm and body, through which many important blood vessels and nerves pass. Can you do both arms now, initiating the movement from your upper arms?
Play air violin while gently holding the front of your right armpit (the pectoralis) with your left hand. First play legato 16ths in the middle of the bow, leading with the hand, and notice the popping and jumping in the pectoralis; the right shoulder will also begin to rise as the pectoralis tightens. Now do the same but initiate the motion from the elbow (in effect, farther back in the upper arm). The forearm will still execute the motion but the circularity of the movement will prevent tension in the pec, making it much easier to keep the underarm soft and the right shoulder relaxed. Can you feel the circles in your right shoulder blade?
Play a downbow, allowing your arm to simply slide down and away from your body. See if you can find the gentle bounceback that will begin your upbow effortlessly. Now initiate the motion of the downbow from your hand; notice how you will automatically stop at the end of the bow and the upbow will necessitate a separate effort. Perform these two types of downbows again while holding your right bicep. Notice that a more circular motion will give you a fluid continuity from downbow to upbow, while the feeling of “straight across” produced by leading from the hand will immediately engender contractions in the bicep.
Contract your left bicep and execute an air shift. Can you feel the jerkiness and effort as you work against your own tension? Next do the same thing with a relaxed bicep. Finally, do the same thing but initiate the movement from underneath the arm, releasing the shoulder blade to allow the elbow to circle forward as you go into high position. Notice that the forearm and hand have the sensation of being carried.

Building Connection from the Ground Up – Neck and Shoulders:
When holding the violin we often draw our shoulders up and our head down, creating what I call the drawstring effect. This position cuts off circulation to our arms and brain. Your posture when playing the violin should be as near to an ordinary standing posture as is feasible.
Keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible; imagine them falling away from your head and neck. Soften the muscles around your collarbone; visualize your head as a boat rocking gently in the water of the collarbone.
Turn your head to the left, first by leading with your eyes and then by leading from the occiput, with your eyes trailing. Does your neck feel different? Is there a change in the range of motion?
Draw long bows in the air. Does your left side remain stable, or does it come towards the bow during an upbow? If you engage the shoulder blades it is easier to bow without collapsing the front of the armpits. Keep your head as close to vertical as possible; especially when drawing an upbow, avoid the tendency to crunch in and forward. (Is it easier or harder to move the bow in the air if you allow yourself to shift weight slightly, alternating left and right feet?)
Take your left hand and make a fist. Relax the full weight of your head onto your hand, resting on the chin. Talk (if you can). Now move your fist two inches closer towards your left ear, rest your head upon it, and try to talk again; notice how your jaw feels. Once again move your hand closer towards your ear. Once you have passed the hinge of the jaw you will be able to rest the full weight of your head on your hand, talk freely, and relax your jaw. Incorrect head position is responsible for much jaw tension and can eventually lead to temporomandibular joint disorders.
Now let the violin rest upon the left shoulder. Balance your head upon the chinrest gently; find the balance point behind the hinge of the jaw, let the weight of your head relax, and do not add additional gripping. Remember that the left hand plays a key role in supporting the violin too.
A balanced, upright posture, open and flexible joints, and using muscles as naturally as possible will all contribute to joy, effortlessness and ultimate freedom of expression as we play our glorious instrument.

The Movable Elbow: Left Arm Alignment

June 14th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 02: Intonation | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Connecting to the Shoulder Blade:

Put your left arm up in playing position. Reach back with your elbow, stretching out from the armpit. Can you feel the connection of your elbow into your shoulder blade? Now scoop around and forward as you shift to a high note. Notice how the space under your arm is maintained. What is the track of your thumb? Can you feel how you are initiating the movement from the back?

Keeping Openness:

As you shift, do not crunch your upper arm into your side and do not squeeze your bicep; instead try to find open spaces. Even as you shift up try to come around an invisible balloon in your elbow, so that it doesn’t squeeze shut. Imagine that your entire arm is making a giant “C” shape.

Finding the Balance in High Positions:

When you are in high positions, try to find the “C” shape; if your fingers are elongated they will be weak and unable to press the string down with its additional tension nearer the bridge, so make sure that your elbow has come around the violin as much as is necessary to allow the hand and fingers to find a good balance. An arch shape will be stronger than a flattened one. Check your base knuckles – they should be relaxed and springy, never hard. (Exercises: Tapping to the Left of the Fingerboard, Pancake Hand)

Moving for Chords:

Keeping your wrist directly above your forearm, place your fourth finger on each string in turn. In order to keep the alignment, the elbow must move as you change strings. Experiment with the best position of the elbow and notice how when you have the proper alignment it is much easier to vibrate and feel the finger relax into the string.
This elbow support has enormous consequences when playing multiple stops. In solo Bach, correct placement of the elbow will give the advantage to the finger (voice) you wish to bring out. Even the pressure of the fingers should not be equal; you should be able to feel to melody finger more deeply.

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.