When I was a student in Philadelphia, Pa., I was a member of Max Aronoff’s Technique Class. The class met weekly in the Concert Hall and consisted of advanced string students and a few professional orchestra musicians who were Max’s ex- students (and whom the rest of us students idolized).
Whatever our status, Max’s penetrating analysis of our individual playing was a given. He was great at remembering, organizing and confronting any technical difficulties with the greatest patience and persistence. Because his teachings were structured and often repeated in the same form, his students could not help but remember them. Besides, there was always the thought that one might suddenly be called to demonstrate an exercise to the rest of the class …
Max had a number of ‘diets’ that were not at all related to food. These diets were special courses of action which one diligently applied to gain mastery over a technical challenge.
One of the first ‘diets’ that I learned was for left hand agility and 4th finger mastery. Once learned, the 3 patterns are to be combined and repeated up the C/G (G/D) strings in ascending positions until one reaches the octave of the first note.
Now try linking the patterns together ………
Not only are these exercises great for the left hand but the bow is practicing smooth string crossing.
This is a demanding ‘diet’ but the results are well worth the discipline.
While watching an old video that an adult student had given me, I came across a unique, warming up exercise that Jascha Heifetz used in his own personal practice. It occurred to me that this would make a great exercise for my students. The Heifetz rendition was a bit random and fast paced so I decided to simplify some of the main concepts before introducing the exercise.
I demonstrated the exercise to approximately 8 students. The following week, we all began our lessons with our ‘Heifetz’ warm up. I mirrored their efforts in the background.
Much to my surprise, at the end of two weeks of teaching the exercise to my students, I noticed such a difference in my own finger strength and articulation that I have made it a permanent part of my left hand warm up.
Since some of my students are learning basic rhythm, I have adapted the original exercise to include subdivision of the basic beat. And for myself, I have exaggerated the stretches to improve my reach on the fingerboard.
Feel free to use your own favorite finger patterns. I hope that Mr. Heifetz would approve …
It had been a few years since I had last seen my teacher, Jascha Brodsky, and it was great to just relax, have a cup of coffee and catch up. Our conversation eventually drifted to pedagogy when suddenly, he became very animated. He said he had just witnessed the best lesson he had ever experienced in his whole life.
Mr. B. was very good friends with Ivan Galamian and had been invited to sit in on a lesson that Galamian was giving to a new pupil at the Curtis Institute. According to Brodsky, the student came into the studio with his violin, bowed politely and said that he had prepared the first movement of the Bruch Violin Concerto in g minor. Galamian nodded, introduced Mr. B., sat down and asked the pupil to begin playing whenever he was ready.
The student, after tuning a bit self consciously, played to the end of the movement. Here, he paused and looked to Galamian for some comment and further direction. There was an uncomfortable silence. Galamian finally spoke, “Whenever you are ready… again, please.” Again, the student played through the movement from start to finish (the first movement lasts about nine minutes). Once more, that pause and, “Whenever you are ready … again, please.”
One can only imagine how the new student must have felt as he played through the movement a third time in front of the master and his guest. But play again he did and this time, when he ended Galamian rose from his seat and walked slowly over to him. Galamian asked him to raise his violin once more and then he pointed to the rosin which had fallen from the bow onto the fingerboard. “You see this? You would sound much better if this were not there. Move ze bow closer to the bridge. Thank you, Good day.”
Why do you think that this was such a great lesson? Surely Galamian could have easily spent the whole lesson on interpretation, on bow technique, etcetera. But Mr. B. thought that Galamian was very wise, less is more, the student would never forget Galamian’S few pointed words of advice. Playing the same selection continuously for the entire lesson in front of a critical audience was also a most valuable personal experience for the student.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, Online Violin Lessons
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!
If one were fortunate enough to study with well known violinist and teacher,Raphael Bronstein, one heard many, many times during the lesson, “No, no, Z note! Z note! Z note before”!
As New York professionals, we used to laugh and tease each other with this well known quote from lessons with the master.
But what a difference this advice made in our playing!
When we became aware of exactly what Professor Bronstein was trying to do with such persistence, our performance changed dramatically for the better.
What is ‘Z note’?
‘Z note before’ is first encountered in our shifting from one position to another. Because we are never exactly sure of where our finger will land in the new position, we tend to shorten the duration of the note before the shift
Professor Bronstein would insist that we consciously lengthen ‘Z note before’ ever so slightly or perhaps even accent ‘Z note’ with the bow. Increasing the left hand finger pressure on ‘Z note’ was another option that also helped. If we were able to really focus on ‘Z note before’,the shift magically became so much easier. We began to feel better, sound better, and even finally identify when we were ignoring ‘Z note’
We gradually became more sensitive to other examples of ‘Z note’. How about ‘Z note’ before the string crossing? ‘Z note’ before the bow change? ‘Z note’ before the sudden change in dynamics? ‘Z note’ before the dreaded fourth finger? These new possibilities all opened up more technical control and gave us increased ability to shape the musical phrase the way that we wanted.
‘Z note before’ … three very powerful words.Professor Bronstein’s simple formula continues to give us the ability to take control of our basic performance anxiety and create better music.