This week we will continue with variations dealing with staccato, flying spiccato, bow distribution, and some asymmetrical bowings.
Variations #10 and #11:
These next two variations continue with the issues of alternating staccato and legato, plus bow distribution. In Variation #10 I reminded Iestyn about his left arm level and vibrato while he was playing. Using “sign language” can help heighten awareness while playing without stopping the “performance”. Even though these are right arm bowing exercises, it is important to also pay attention to the left arm as well. Students can get into bad habits – or they can correct bad habits – since there are so many repetitions of the variations. In this case, I was reminding him that there is a twist motion from the back when going to the lower strings. And the thumb changes position on the back of the neck. My “rule of thumbs” is: when you play on the A-string, the thumb should be under the C-string; when you play on the C-string the thumb should be under the A-string. And of course it should be round, under the 2nd finger, and not pushing up onto the fingerboard to prevent tension. Non-verbal cues can be very useful in reminding the students about their left arm while they are focusing on the right arm.
Variation #12 can be interpreted two different ways: up-bow staccato (also known as slurred-staccato or hooked-staccato) or as flying spiccato. The students will usually do the first way, since they have seen this stroke in Feuillard No. 32 already. Sometimes they will have encountered a piece that uses flying spiccato, and will have played that stroke as well. But it is important that they can differentiate between the two styles:
Up-bow Staccato: low contact point, middle of the bow (usually), first finger on the bow, heavy sound
Flying Spiccato: high contact point, lower part of the bow, fourth finger, light sound
This variation looks at first like it might be similar to the previous variation, and that one can do either up-bow staccato or flying spiccato. However…
These variations all continue with the previous issues, except that they add an asymmetrical bowing pattern into the mix. These are tricky to execute without distorting the rhythm or accenting the single note. The solution is to use a small amount of bow on the single note, since the more bow you use the more it sounds accented. In addition, it is important to use very little bow weight for the single note, and possibly use a higher contact point or change the amount of hair on the string by rotating the stick to have less hair on the string for the short note. It depends on the kind of sound you want, and as always depends on listening and adjusting.
In the video of Variation #18 I again motioned for Iestyn to move his elbow higher on the lower strings.
Variations #19 and #20
For #19 and #20 I ask the students to play with a “lilting” sound in order to present a different concept for playing these variations. In the Baroque period this practice of unequal lengths or varying intensity of notes is called notes inégales; in jazz it is called “swung notes”.
Notice that Iestyn checked his first position before the final playthrough of #19 in this video: the first finger with the string above (Perfect 4th) and the fourth finger with the string below (Perfect Octave). I ask that the students check the intonation before each playthrough in order to solidify the hand position. This way they get good intonation ingrained in their ear – otherwise it may be more random. With all the repetitions of these notes this is a good way to establish a good baseline for intonation. However for these videos I have usually cut out the checking process to save you from listening to that every time – but, be assured, the students check the intonation before every variation!
Notice also that I worked with Iestyn here on eliminating the sound of the shifts between first and fourth positions. While this is not the primary goal of these variations, it is important to call attention to the secondary issues that come up, especially when the students are successful in solving the bowing problems. However, as always teachers have to weigh what is important and what is not important at any given moment in a lesson. We usually have to let go of the less important issues in order to focus on the main topics. It is always a question of priorities.
One other thing to note: in these videos you usually don’t see how many times I ask the students to repeat a given variation in order to bring it to “conclusion”. Sometimes that is frustrating to the students. At the end of #20 I reminded Iestyn of Einstein’s quote about excellence.
Next week we will continue our exploration into those notorious dotted-rhythms!