January 2010

Rethinking warming-up

January 13, 2010 15:29


Last year I used biking as my main form of exercise and managed to push myself to quite a high level of fitness.  However, I had this vague feeling after a certain time that I was sustaining rather than advancing past a certain point.   I noticed that although I could run up a lot of stairs I was still slightly winded at the top.   After switching to Aikido as my main form of exercise I was slightly amazed to find that this windedness (?) disappeared.  Of course Aikido is an energetic form of exercise but as a beginner I was only practicing six basic stances which involved shifting weight distribution and turning the body.   I asked my doctor/healer friend why this should have such a powerful stimulus on the cardio system and he told me that it the effect of mildly stressing aforesaid system while stressing the body in a variety of positions can be much more powerful than continuous motion in only one position.   I find this notion intriguing and to my mind it does relate to a lovely little story Mr. Haslop told against himself in one of his blogs. Having traveled a long way to study with Milstein he was always concerned with warming up until Milstein said to him `Why do you have to warm up? The violin is played with the mind.` (I think I have that about right…)
This is interesting because even if one is not in an utterly freezing room or has just parachuted in from the Arctic it is still widely assumed that some kind of warm up is necessary. Indeed I have written a much longer blog about the various aspects of warm up that are quite extensive.   So was Milstein just in a crazy minority or making some kind of deeper point?   To answer this question one might ask what the man himself did first and actually this is a matter of record.  In his `Way They Play` interview Applebaum notes that the great man uses a series of chords/chordal exercises to warm up.  So in fact he does (warm up) so where do we take this thread?
Well, someone said to me the other day `I thought warming up was basically playing some fast stuff,` IE scale type exercises or Kreutzer 11 or whatever.   On the surface this seems quite sensible but actually I have found as I get older that I can run through these kind of routines and yes, my fingers do get faster and looser but they don’t really –warm up.- Whereas, if I use an exercise like the Geminiani chord positions (aflat, f, d,f and the reverse) without bow in various rhythms and more importantly with various fingers raising or lowering in opposition my hands become remarkably warm within seconds.  And the crucial thing is I am not actually using very fast finger action. On the contrary, I am working with incredible mental intensity to guide my fingers at somewhat slow speeds , feeling the degree the string is being depressed or is raising the fingers.   I am so focused I do not allow any tension, small twitches or slightly off place fingertips to occur. It has t be perfect technique from the beginning.
What the difference is between the two is that I have been playing scales and fast studies for so many years they are essentially automatic.  This does not mean they are no value. On the contrary they are essential, but they are of –less- value for warming up than one might think.  What Milstein was, in my opinion, trying to tell Mr. Haslop was that where the mind goes the blood and energy will quickly follow, something that  becomes increasingly obvious as one gets older and sheer mechanical work becomes les sand less relevant, although it has its place.
The parallel with Aikido is obvious to me.  One is creating an on of pumping action with changes in weight distribution and just maybe for some people this is a more useful way of warming up than desperately running through scales with bow arm largely unprepared in a freezing room 3 minutes and 27 seconds before you have to play the Tchaikovsky concerto for a third chair audition with the Miami Philharmonic.

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The Buri Bow Burp

January 2, 2010 20:15


for good musical reasons every note in a group of four 16ths has a slightly different value although the difference may well only be at a subliminal level.   This value may be to do with length,  volume or articulation.   We are greatly aided in our understanding of this by old mother gravity which makes our down bows stronger than our up bows.   However,  in order to perfectly control this degree of nuance (which is more often than not ignored)   we have to develop our skill at playing exactly equal notes though practicing a huge amount of variety within our most simple exercises,  especially scales.  First Flesch,  then Galamian and Simon Fischer have shown increasingly clearly how one does this by manipulating the factors of rythm ,  accent and dynamics.  However,  I suspect that many players focus primarily on rythm without actually listening to the core sound itself simply because that is the natural instinct of violinists:  to pay more attention to the left hand than the right.  Somehow the brain likes it this way.

I would like to offer up a small exercise I invented as a New Year gift which if practiced with focus and keen attention will help to develop a better and more nuanced detache.   Its very simple and can be integrated into any scale practice (assuming you do scale practice ;).

Let us take the scale of d major and assume we are going to work on it with separate bows as straight forward 16th notes.   Step by step:

1)  Find the best contact point for playing the beginning d over and over again more or less in the second quarter of the bow assuming the one from the point is the first.  

2) When this is established with the best possible ringing sound  play four groups of four 16ths on this repeated d and then play a half note d which takes you to the point where one immediately repeats the procedure (1)  but starting up bow.  

3)  Go backwards and forwards between these two variations as described until you have equalized your sound on the 16ths irrespective of whether they start up or down.

4)  Carry on with this pattern putting an accent on the first 16th of each group.  This is where it gets dangerous.  The tendency is for a player to release the weight after an accent so what one gets is actually an accent followed by three mf notes rather than forte.  Work at sustaining the sound and keeping the accent within that context.

5) Once it is under control play the scale using that accent pattern listening very carefully for a sustained sound between accents.

6) When you are satisfied go back to steps 1-5   and repeat the whole procedure but this time the accent is on the 2nd 16th note of the group.

At a later stage one can begin adding more than one accent in a group or even one234 1two34 12three4 123four kind of things and then slurs but the basic exercise in step 1-5 is the foundation one can return to again and again.

I think this is vaguely original so I would like to have it christened `the Buri Bow Burp`   and have it appear in later editions of Basics as a microdot.

Happy New Year Everyone,


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