Saturday, October 22, 2011

Creating speed and a strong, reliable left hand position

I have recently received a number of questions regarding the frame of the left hand and the position of the first finger.  I thought I would share one of my favorite exercises which sets the hand and the first finger, increases dexterity ... and strengthens the fourth finger as well. 

As violinists, we search for a comfortable playing position.  Since many of us lack that 'perfect hand', we need to find and mentally set our our basic position so we are able to reach all of the notes with the greatest economy of motion.  I believe that the fourth finger, being the smallest finger, must be set on the fingerboard for this to happen.

Try the following exercises and see if they help you.  I have adapted Sevcik's School of Violin Technique, Opus 1, Part 1, # 1, by adding a silent 4th finger to stabilize and mentally clarify the inner and outer frame of the hand.

To begin, place the fourth finger on the E string.  Play the four notes on the A string slowly, I suggest you repeat that first measure 4 times, adjusting the intonation and feeling any stretches between your fingers.  Remember that the bow plays only the notes on the A string while the fourth finger remains silently on the E string.
  The following rhythms should then be repeated 2 times each.  Remember to release any tension in the thumb at the end of each measure.  The fourth finger remains on the E string.
  If there is difficulty with the second finger stretch you may want to begin with a C#. 
 More advanced players can experiment with other finger patterns.
This exercise strengthens the pinky isometrically while the first finger is 
extended backwards to reach the B or Bflat.  
By the time one reaches the third measure, the fourth finger moves to the A string and is able to play effortlessly as the hand is now balanced with the fingers over the notes.

With practice, hopefully the hand will soon 'remember' where it is supposed to be.

For more practice tips, visit, Online Violin Lessons

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Zimbalist and the One - Minute Bow ...

How long can you play a Down bow?  How about an UP bow?  
No fair stopping on the way ...  

When I was a student, it was reported that early each morning,
Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., would open the doors of the famous Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and begin his daily morning practice on his violin. 
By the time the students had arrived, he was well into his scales with his one - minute bow per note.
Needless to say, even 40 second bows are less than satisfying to hear and the sounds of his humble practice were the first sounds to greet the students as they arrived.  There were some humorous remarks exchanged between students but never anything that reached the master's ears.  
what a lesson they all learned ...

A bit of history ... Zimbalist, noted Russian violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher was the director of the world famous Curtis Institute from 1941 to 1968.  Only the finest and most gifted students from all over the world are accepted at the Curtis Institute of Music.  
Zimbalist was one of Leopold Auer's outstanding pupils, had concertized extensively and had the reputation of being a very strict and demanding teacher.  If you didn't maintain Curtis standards, you were out ...

Although Zimbalist officially retired from playing when he was about 60, he played the Mendelssohn Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra to celebrate his 80th birthday.  It was a concert we will not soon forget.  Obviously, his one - minute bow worked.

So how can we begin to learn this one - minute bow?  Or even the 40 second bow...

  • First of all, you need to set your metronome at 60.  
  • Next, place the bow very close to the bridge ... begin to move as slowly as you can.
  • Sustain the same speed of bow throughout the entire stroke. 
  • Holding the bow firmly, try to keep the same pressure at the point of contact throughout. 

Be patient with your sound, maintain your focus and be aware of what is happening as you count each second.

Enjoy your disciplined, steady meditative approach, and know it brings results!