Wintertime in Russia
I’m often asked by my youngest students…what’s that on your string in between the bridge and the tailpiece? It’s a wolf eliminator, I say…
What is a wolf? Here is an article describing the wolf and several remedies. The unfortunate truth is that many fine instruments have a wolf. One of my former teachers is convinced that the best cellos always have one. Ughh!
While rare, violins too, sometimes have a wolf. My instrument has a horrible warble during certain times of the year on C. It’s most prevalent on the A string. It drives me crazy.
In order to make the most of your practice sessions - whether you’re working on a Twinkle Variation or the Brahms Violin Concerto - the most important thing to remember is to isolate the problem.
Once you’ve selected a spot to work on that needs some cleaning up, the next step is to determine what needs attention - is it a left hand issue or a right hand issue? If it’s both, then pick one and start working on it.
RIGHT HAND BOWING ISSUE
It’s hard to generalize and make blanket statements because there are many different types of bowing issues that we face as string players.
- Slurs - Break it up and play it with separate bows. Once that gets easy, switch to hooked bows. After many repetitions, return to the original slurred markings.
- String Crossings - Play with hooked bows rather than slurs. If that doesn’t clean things up, put a pause in between notes during the string crossing. Remember that the right hand must move first in order to get clean playing! My favorite game to play with young kids is “red light, green light”.
- Hooked Bowed Rhythms - Play scales using the rhythm(s) in question. Scales should be practiced every day. I often use them to work on problematic techniques from my repertoire.
LEFT HAND ISSUE
- Pizzicato - the easiest way to isolate the LH and forget about the bow is to take it out of the equation. This works better in some passages than others, but it’s a start.
- Detache Bowing - When in doubt, get rid of the slurs and hooked bows.
- Metronome Work - Turn it on and slow things down. Find a tempo that it’s easy to play the passage without any mistakes. It’s so important to not practice wrong notes - then you won’t waste time trying to unlearn something. Then go through either Wipeout (5 repetitions) or 10 Pennies (10 repetitions) and start clicking the metronome up a few clicks each time.
- 2x Metronome - This is tricky to explain and is easier to just demonstrate. I like to find a comfortable tempo and then speed the metronome up by say 50%. For example, if I wanted to play a series of notes at 60 clicks/min, I’d turn the metronome up to 90. Instead of playing a note every click, I’d play a note on the first click, then place my fingers for the next note on the second click. This forces you to move your LH before your RH and will clean things up. It can be frustrating at first, but stick with it and things will get much better!
This is just a short list of some ideas, but I hope they will help during your practice sessions. I will try to add more suggestions later!
I don’t always gravitate to articles or media focusing on extrinsic reasons for arts education. It’s something that I should try to correct as it would probably get more young people involved in music. I’m certain that all of my students and their parents know the importance of the arts and value them because of their inherent beauty. We practice and practice - play and perform in hopes of creating something truly wonderful. We do it because it feels good and makes us feel alive. It’s good to know, however, that there are many other benefits to our minds and bodies beyond nurturing the soul.
Check out this video and please let me know others that you come across. We must be ambassadors for the arts!
Fine Woodworking Pieces With an Emphasis on Hand Tools and Traditional Practices
Here’s my woodworking blog where I will catalog projects
When dealing with something subjective like music it’s difficult to make definitive statements about what is right or wrong. Even so, I often find myself listing “rules” to students. We all know that rules are made to be broken, but I’m going to try to compile a list of things I work to incorporate into my own playing as a sort of default. I try to impress these “rules” upon my students in the hopes of ingraining them into their playing.
The number one thing we have to remember is that music is like a river - not a swamp. It must move.
We must always remember that music should either sing or it should dance.
When practicing a section of a song, don’t ever end on the last note of a measure…you must play over the barline!
This will help to give the music forward motion and bring it to life. So if you’re working on measures 1-20, play 1-20 plus the first note in bar 21. The music will thank you.
Often while I’m teaching students throughout the week I will hear something that sparks an idea or takes me back to a particular lesson that I had with one of my teachers. Sometimes the lesson is an appropriate venue to pass that lesson or thought along to the student and sometimes it isn’t…for instance, if I’m working with a 5 year old they don’t need to hear about how notes are generally grouped together, etc.
It is my hope that writing a blog will serve as a catalog for thoughts on teaching and music in general. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that it will be useful for parents of young children and also for my older, more advanced students.
Most of my students know that I’m an avid woodworker and I will also be starting a blog to provide a place to keep track of the pieces I complete and notes about them. I invite anyone who is interested in furniture and the like to check it out!