This section is dedicated to different resources on performing and teaching, as well as little snippets of writing I did, mostly to capture ideas I have. Feel free to look around and maybe find something interesting or useful for yourself. These topics are about things I have found useful for myself in everyday practicing, and in no way you should agree with everything here. I believe that everyone is finding their own way in approach to music and playing the instrument.
I want my students to understand as early as possible that the higher purpose of playing the instrument is making music, and we need to approach that goal on many different levels.
We start with developing our technical skills to be able to actually play the notes, we work on the quality of sound so we don’t get distracted by poorly executed melody or passage,
and we try to express our musical ideas on an instrument. This is a complex task and it requires a complex approach. The technical part and the quality part are important, but from
the very beginning we want to get an idea of what our musical intentions are going to be.
What is the character of the piece and how you feel about it? Just by looking through the score or your part, what will you do technically to bring out the character and feeling of this music? When we learn the piece, at some point we get an idea of that piece in our head as a whole, we should know how we want it to sound. We practice so we get closer to that ideal performance that we are creating inside our head.
“I created a vision of David in my mind and simply carved away everything that was not David”.
But, before we get to the part of carving imperfections out, we need to master our skills. Playing string instruments is one of the hardest things you can do and it requires hours of practicing even after understanding what is it exactly you need to do. Those hours come after hours required to understand what it is exactly you need to do in the first place. Understanding the physics of playing is very important on strings instruments because the concepts of mass, tension, speed, direction, force, gravity, and inertia are all the things that affect the sound. In my opinion, the string instruments are the most complex in terms of the sound production. And, because of that, they give us so much more freedom and control in terms of sound color, dynamics, and articulation. Sometimes when students play the instrument, they forget about the physical world we live in, they play with their brains and forget about their hands. When practicing, we need not only to listen if we get close to that perfect performance that is in our head, but also how it feels when we play it. If you want to use more bow, you want to know how it feels to use more bow, what muscles are working differently when you do that.
I think a lot about the basics of playing string instruments and how actually hard they are. One of the simplest things we learn to do is to move the bow from the frog to the tip with the constant speed and the sound that is the same no matter what part of the bow we are at. Ups, not that easy: as we start moving the bow, it weight changes, so we need to adjust how much weight we apply to the bow. The constant speed of the bow means that the the bow moves in the one direction back and forth with the same speed… it also means that the shoulder, elbow, upper and lower arm, the wrist and the fingers are all moving differently, and gradually change the direction and speed of the motions. That is just a one example, but it illustrates pretty well why we need to build mechanical skill to move the bow up and down in the right way almost automatically without overusing our brain while playing even the open string. Understanding more complex concept of that motion, however, allows us to control it better, to carve out unnecessary or excessive movements we might do with our right hand.
Back to the music, why all of that would be important to us? The reason is, that the sound on string instruments is produced by moving the string. Most of the time we do it with the bow; and the quality and the color of the sound depends directly on the speed of the bow movement, the point on the string, and the force applied to the string through the bow. All of our musical ideas in terms of sound character, dynamics, articulation, and even the timbre of an instrument can be translated into relationship of these three components. Our brain is an extremely well-built thing, though. It is capable of processing many complex tasks bypassing our consciousness as long as it understand the general concept, the goal. If we have a clear idea of how we want to play the piece, and if we are able to hear the difference between our playing and that idea we have, we either start to make all the adjustments needed to make real version closer to ideal version, or, if we don’t fix it for some time, our brain will just ignore those differences, pretending that there aren’t any of those at all.
What is my point here? After many years of studying, I think that finally I got the answers to my own questions of how the musical ideas I might have can be achieved on an instrument I play. I described just one thing, related to the right hand mechanics, but thinking about it helped me a lot in teaching, effective practicing, and playing the instrument in general: playing music on our instruments is physical, it is a very real thing, and we can either spend hours and hours by simply repeating over and over something we need to improve, and to get closer to our ideal performance (and our brain, being that awesome, will help us to improve even without our active participation in the process), or we can work together as one thing – the music, the body, and the mind, fully aware of each other, trying to reach the extreme goal of music making.
Here is a preview of things I am working on for my students. One of the first pieces you will get to play as my new student without prior experience on violin or viola (after you feel comfortable enough moving
the bow and playing open strings),
is 'The Rooster'. Here you get a chance to practice it with the accompaniment. Be sure your violin (or viola) tuned to A-440, and wait for 2 measures of piano entrance.
By the way, unless you are fast enough to click play, click on the music to zoom in, take your violin and the bow, and all of it under six seconds, it is better to print out the music ;)