Sunday, February 12, 2017

A String

The last week, before my violin lesson, I was getting sort of frustrated by how bad I sound on the violin.  It was like, every time I hit the A string, I wouldn't set it vibrating right off, so there'd be this scratchy nastiness.  And then it would "catch" and start vibrating, and sound less nasty.

Still, the scratchy nastiness was frustrating.

So when I started my lesson, I told my teacher about my frustration with the A string.  And I tried to play a note on the A string, but it came out sounding pretty well.  Argh!

Strings had me play my piece, and I did okay, but again with the scratchy nastiness.  Except Strings being Strings, knew what was happening, and could explain and help me solve it.

The scratchiness tended to happen when I crossed to the A string, especially from the E string (which is a fifth higher).  As Strings explained, you have to bow each of the strings slightly differently.  The higher strings, you bow more lightly, and a bit quicker.  The lower strings, your arm feels heavier, and you can move the bow a bit less quickly.  So, there's a point where on any string, the bow "grabs" the string just so and vibrates it.  Voila!

But when I was crossing (that means switching strings), I had played the E string appropriately lightly, but that lightness doesn't work on the A string.  And I was unconsciously adjusting, but only after I'd played a note (or two, or three) on the A string.  And then when I crossed down, I had the same problem on the D string (but I was spending way less time on the D string with this piece).  And up again, I'd be too heavy on the A string, and make a slightly different scratchy nastiness.

So, for example, if you look at the Gavotte I've been working on, the starting B is on the A string, and then the jump from the D to G puts me on the E string, and then back down to the A string.  That's where I'd have the first scratchy nastiness.  As you can see (at least if you read music in a basic way), there are a lot of string crossings in this piece from the A to E and E to A.  (At my level of violin playing, I can play up to the E at the top of the music staff on the A string (by using my pinky.  From the E up, is on the E string.  Deciding when to use the pinky E vs the open E string E seems to be about what makes sense in fingering.).  I was having a lot of opportunities for scratchy nastiness, and pretty much making a lot of scratchy nastiness out of each one.

Strings gave me two exercises to work on for crossing down to the A string.  One is to sort of hold my bow in a fist, which makes the arm feel heavier, and makes it easier to get the weight right when I cross down.  (But clumsier in other ways.)  The other is to hesitate just before crossing, and think about the heaviness of the arm, and then cross to the A string.  That moment of hesitation is enough to get the weight right for me (mostly).

Do you know about TwoSetViolin?  They've got a youtube bit about how it feels when your teacher solves your problem.  It was like that. 

It's fascinating, because real string players are constantly making these fine adjustments, but as a beginner, I really have to slow down and think my way through things.  I mean, I was sort of aware of the different arm weight feel, and was doing it okay with scales and such, but when I was focused on my piece, I wasn't doing it.

After my lesson, the next day, I worked through book 1 and part of book 2, paying close attention to the arm weight on crossings, and it was so fun to hear how much better I sound.  (I also did my scales, technique exercises, and worked on my new piece a bit.)

The next day, I finished working through book 2, still focusing on the bow feel, and it's so much better.

I think about April of last year, I found some sheet music on the web.  One was the "Ashokan Farewell," which you probably have heard if you've seen the Civil War documentary.  (It's a recently written piece, though, and not from the period.  But it's absolutely beautiful.)  The other was "Turkey in the Straw."  "Turkey in the Straw" was my Father's go to piece when he pulled out his violin if there were songs to be sung, kids to be entertained.  He and my great Aunt (a professional organist) would play by ear for Christmas carols and such, but "Turkey in the Straw" was always in the mix.  So the piece is special in my memory.

Anyway, I found those, and I could sort of muddle through "Ashokan Farewell" a bit, but "Turkey in the Straw" was totally beyond me.

And then yesterday, for some reason, having practiced my stuff, I pulled them back out, and boy, I could really hear a difference.  I could play them both, slowly, yes (which makes total sense for "Ashokan Farewell"), but play them.  I'm going to add them to my practice a bit.

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