April 2014

The Path of Least Resistance

April 14, 2014 15:06

Although I don't deny the value of Sevcik Op. 1 (it is a classic) and his ouvre in general I think this kind of work is misleading on occasion.

Sometimes the path of most resistance can be useful but at other times the ratio of effort to result is just wrong.

The quite understandandable misunderstanding sevcik tends to create is that if one covers every possible pattern that the fingers may make then when we meet them in music we will automatically do them. This is nonsense. There are actually a small number of fundamental patterns that the brain can learn easily from which slight deviations are simple because one has a clear framework , but this is not the same thing at all. the first person to really clarify this as 'modern' violin technique was Robert Gerle in a rather old book now called 'the Art of Practicing.' He demonstrated how learning I think 12 basic patterns lead to complete mastery of the fingerboard. The patterns don't just occur on one string. The spacing remains the same but the fingers are on different strings so one is able to play all manner of double stops using awareness of these patterns.

Gerle's ideas were taken to the next level by Drew Lecher who used to post blogs regularly on this site. In his Manual of Violin Technique, he demonstrated how one could focus on one single pattern (say, bcde on the a string) and do a whole range of fundamental exercises -using only this pattern-IE finger strengthening, velocity, vibrato, shifting, double stops and bowing exercises to name just a few.

By keeping only one pattern in the mind yet covering the whole gamut of technique for a few days or a week or whatever, the pattern is absorbed naturally and will be recognized automatically in pieces. One does of course practice on different strings...

The book also includes some of the most efficient and interesting double stop exercises I have ever seen. the level is completely at the discretion of the individual player. Lecher only provides the framework and the player chooses how far up the fingerboard they wish to go, what key or pattern they wnat to use, what kinds of bowing and so on. This is another reason why the approach is superior to things like Sevcik: you learn to think for yourself.
I often recommend this book to adults who are short of time. When Drew wrote this book it was largely with the idea in mind that working through the standard course of etudes , even with judicious selection, takes an awful lot of time that adults in particular may not have. Thus the book takes the essence of technique and presents unique exercises that should be done only for a short space of time working between pieces and all the fun stuff.
Not only is it incredibly efficient compared to the way one often ends up laboring through sevick (it really does correlate much better with how the mind works) it is actually a lot more fun.

Best wishes,

12 replies

The Absolute End of the Old vs. New Debate. (probably)

April 10, 2014 21:10

Definitely (not) the last word on old versus new violins.
I`m good with violins. As a youngster buying my first good instrument I lined up a wide selection of instruments in exact order of value without any reference to the price labels. Annoying to the parent who then had to get the expensive one. Then I got my first copy of Hill`s book on the `Life and Work of Stradivari.` Couldn`t really understand the text but every time I looked at one of those color plates I felt like I`d been punched in the gut. Still have the same feeling when I see a great violin including those by Burgess et al. It`s almost painful. So why would there actually be any real difference between a great modern maker and a Stradivarius? Well, here are some not so interesting life experiences of mine.

Visited Kyoto`s most famous white stone zen garden. Accumulated ki (chi) made my hands swell up dramatically.
Visited a tunnel in Okinawa where hundreds of Japanese soldiers committed suicide together. Atmosphere so painful it took days to get back to normal.
Visited my healer friends home and where no creature of any kind is ever killed. Air seems fresher, more alive than other houses.
Witness friends dog with cracked vertebrae healed by a week of energy transmitted through the hands. No touching. Before and after x-rays verify.
And so on...

So what happens in a concert? A soloist is an entity through whom music flows; someone who seems to have activated substantially more than 5 percent of the brain; someone who is so deeply in touch with the sounds of the universe that just one note can resonate within thousands of people at a time so they vibrate in tune with it. Someone who, by some arcane mystery, seems to have reached back into the past and pulled it into the present so that a dead composer returns to touch us with his energy and mutter `Shoot. Did I really write that?`
With all this magisterial energy flowing around does a violin really sit on its arse saying `well, I like being rubbed but actually I`m just here for the ride. You guys go ahead and enjoy your party?` I don`t think so. As a living breathing entity it makes like Bruce Lee and absorbs what is useful to its very core. So a violin that has repeatedly had this experience in the hands of Paganini, Heifetz, Kreisler, Ysaye et al. Has within it a life force that a great soloist feels and responds to, making them stretch themselves to find more. To see what is really there. Evoking in them treasured memories of past concerts and adding new ones.
Contemporary instruments have not yet been fully exposed to this ascension although they make very clear that is where they are going. So in 100, 150 years time the instruments of the great modern makers will be the Stradivari and Guarneri we all yearn for. Bit frustrating for the maker not to see the full fruits of their art which is why reincarnation becomes necessary. This explains why violin makers are instinctively not serial killers or bank robbers. If they subsequently reincarnate as dogs they will not be allowed in concert halls to see their children in full bloom. Way ahead of their predecessors I suspect...
If you don`t quite get this I can assure you I was told of it by by an all powerful deity. She is in the second row on the left of the photo , the one in the pink tutu.

2 replies

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