Environment and Atmosphere:
Coaching is chamber music. I listen to the group with my heart as well as my ears.
I take the emotional temperature of the group. Pre-formed? Nervous? Experienced? Getting along?
In how much detail does the group want to work? How can I increase the engagement and energy level of the room?
How do the individual members respond to criticism? Do they welcome or resist it?
How much time will they have to practice before the next session? What is a reasonable expectation for improvement?
Can I find the key to each person? What is the most helpful thing I can give him or her individually?
Attack is not conducive to learning. If a person becomes defensive, I back off. I watch for cues in the body language. I try to find another way to help.
If I sense people are getting tired or grouchy, losing concentration, etc. I will deliberately tell a story or joke to lighten the mood.

It is good for me to have background knowledge of the piece. Often players already know many details of the work’s birth and the composer’s life.
Where this information is particularly useful is imagining it into the music – telling a story that makes sense with what we know of the composer and the kind of stories he likes to tell. I can help by setting the piece within the pantheon of composers and chamber music repertoire, talking about the historical era, or finding parallels in art and literature.
We are all human and we can all find ways to sense what the composer might have been feeling.
All technical suggestions should follow from musical concepts. If I can communicate an understanding of the different characters and emotions of the work, and then make specific requests for articulations, dynamics, phrasing and body language to enhance these characters, it is easier for players to grasp the whole and to remember why they might make particular choices.
So much of chamber music is simply listening. Slow work (work on intonation, work for balance, harmonic work, matching strokes etc.) is essential for learning to hear.
Slow rehearsing is ideal for developing both listening and playing skills. By having people play in pairs, taking turns to listen, watch the score, and make suggestions, I can teach rehearsal technique for use at home.

Woodshedding: Technical Perfection

June 14th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 06: Learn Rapidly | Practicing - (Comments Off)


Left Hand:
Intonation first
Practice slowly and legato. Match open strings. Find fourths and octaves. Listen for the ring. Use the drone for difficult keys (such as those with flats in them).
Plan your finger patterns. If the passage is fast, “hover” when ascending and have fingers already waiting when descending (even though this will not be perfectly comfortable at slow tempos). Always work in the grid.
Anticipate string crossings – left hand arrives before right; sound the doublestop.
Slur across shifts; play the note before the shift, slur to the note after the shift, repeat that note and slur as you return to the beginning note. Release before you move. Also practice hitting high notes from nowhere. Is your left elbow in the proper alignment? Where does your thumb need to be?
If you are playing moving notes under a slur, practice high lifts and drops; then play through with electricity in the fingers, but keep the fingers close.
If you are playing separate bows, you do not need as much action in the finger; be gentle. The rule is: for the start of the bow or on a string crossing, the action is in the bow, and the left hand relaxes; when the left fingers articulate under a slur, the bow is quiet and the left hand is active. You can reduce much tension in the left hand this way.
Remember that fast playing is light playing on the fingertips; slow playing transfers weight from the arm (just a bit) and feels deeper, and vibrato helps enormously to keep things loose. Do you have a footie?
For high notes, find the balance and the C shape; alternate popping the finger and releasing to the open string.
Play scales releasing to open strings or harmonics to reduce tension and gain speed.
Practice the necklace technique – play one beat plus one note really fast; repeat; play the next beat plus one note really fast; repeat; then string the two beats together. This is particularly helpful for coordinating bow and left hand in fast passages.
Practice in rhythms – long, short short short long, etc. Keep the bow arm relaxed.
Practice with the metronome and line up the left hand exactly. A good technique is an even technique!
Right Hand:
Sounding Point and Relaxation

Watch your sounding point, especially on bow changes. (A mirror can be useful for this – watch the shape between the bow and the bridge.) In general, keep a steady sounding point.
Practice in the part of the bow you will be using. Mark it if necessary (LH for lower half, eg.). Try to use the same amount of bow as well. Use the correct part of your arm.
Keep a steady sounding point when working on technical passages. Make as beautiful a sound as you can. In general keep a steady bow speed; keep your arm smooth and avoid jerks or lunges.
When working on a melody, consider bow angles needed to avoid false accents. Mark FA (frog away) or FI (frog in) if you notice a blemish in your line.

Put yourself on a metronome diet; practice with subdivisions, marking them if necessary.
The necklace technique is also helpful for the bow.

Accent string crossings for slurred passages, but do this with speed, not tension. Practice legato doublestops, pivoting smoothly, for lyric melodies.
The character of the passage will ultimately determine whether you want clear bow changes or smooth, but usually when learning a technical passage, clear is better.

Write in dynamic shapes (microphrasing), especially in Bach. Even adjectives describing character will help.
Make the phrase first with just the bow, then with just the vibrato, then with both.
Mark difficult passages with a star in the margin. When you have five minutes just do the stars!
Analysis and problem-solving are the heart of your work in learning a piece. The pace at which you can learn will depend on how difficult the piece is in relation to your technical level. If most of the piece is at the very top, or beyond, what you are easily able to sightread, you should expect to spend many hours of slow work before playing it up to tempo. Take whatever time is necessary to work on each page of music. Slow is better; even though it feels at first as if you are making no progress, if you are really practicing with understanding, things will start to snowball, and you will not only sound better, you will have an unshakably solid technical foundation.