I’ve given myself one year to master the violin.

As an adult beginner, I should be playing Twinkle Twinkle; instead, I'm playing Paganini's 24th caprice.

In Dover Delaware

So I’m here in Dover Delaware at my Air Force Academy buddy Mike Mariotti’s wedding.  This is the first time I’ve traveled with the violin.  It’s a bit of a pain since it has to be carried on, but I did get to talk up the blog at the airport to another violinist from LA named Lisa.  I’m not sure how much practicing I’ll actually get done this weekend, but my ten minutes today was better than nothing I suppose.

Danielle warned about putting in a lot of hours only to follow it up with little to no practice.  Apparently, this isn’t good.  Oh well, such is the situation.  Tomorrow is the actual wedding, but I may get some time in the morning.  If I can actually record something, then that will be a bonus.


The whole third variation

After posting the theme about a week ago, I’ve only posted things like scales and the Kreutzer etude, so today I wanted to post a portion of the caprice.  I thought about trying to get variation 2 up to tempo, but I was a little too afraid of the grace notes, so I passed.  But variation 3, what’s so hard about a few octaves?

Here’s where we get into a plus of having this blog.  Besides the first passage, which I posted about a month ago, I hadn’t played any of this variation before.  Danielle played the whole thing, so I knew what it sounded like, but not where the fingers went, what notes there were, etc.  Now, I take forever to learn anything new on my own because I’m really slow at reading music.  I can do it, but I have to figure it out note by note and then figure out which finger needs to go where on the fingerboard.  Then I have to worry about the rhythm, which I usually end up messing up anyway.  How is this a plus for the blog?  The blog literally forced me to learn this so I could play it and post it–something I spent about four hours on today (although I didn’t practice thirds – don’t tell Danielle).  Without the pressure of posting, I probably wouldn’t put myself through this torment.

And octaves really make my pinkie hurt.

Here’s variation 3:

Every note is a double stop, so playing this variation involves shifting the first and fourth fingers up and down the G and D strings.  I tackled this in two ways.  First, I practiced playing octaves in general.  Here, the octave scales helped and some Sevcik exercises helped as well.  Second, I learned the notes of the variation with the first finger shifting along the G string only.  Here’s the first finger only starting at that high A:

Once I had the notes relatively in tune and the rhythm not horrible, then I added in the fourth finger and played the double stops:

Again, like everything I’ve put on here, it’s not perfect but I’m fairly proud of that four hours.  It takes a little too long to find that high A (I think I actually play a G#), the rhythm isn’t perfect, and the octaves themselves at times are not quite full octaves (more like a 7th, if such a thing exists) but I’m happy with it.

The next step was to play it with vibrato, which I did next:

Not bad, huh?

Danielle’s 2 Month Report Card

Here’s the skinny.  First off, there have been major improvements in intonation, as seen by his ability to play a 3 octave scale without transposing keys halfway through.  Seriously – this is a skill that I used to take for granted!

Also, there has been a major breakthrough in his concept of rhythm and pulse.  He can now play along with a metronome!  (Especially when it is taped to his scroll.)   In all seriousness, though, his pace is starting to pick up and he is covering more ground everyday.   Little by little I have been adding  tidbits to his daily routine that give a preview of what is to come in the Caprice.  He hates practicing thirds right now because it’s using new muscles and makes him a little sore, but he knows it’s good for him.  Pretty soon I’ll introduce some easy left hand pizzicato exercises.  All the while, even in this way-less-than-ideal learning situation, we are consistently coverings basics like shifting, intonation, and pulling a good sound out of the violin.  The fact that we are simultaneously learning one of the hardest pieces ever is just a small side project.  Yes, that was a joke.

One of the things he has done religiously everyday which seems to do wonders for his overall tone is long slow whole bows on open strings.  And I mean sslowwww.  He actually enjoys this and commented that it helps him to get his bearings before diving into other exercises.   Two months have flown by and each day that progresses, it occurs to me how much work is still left to be done.  For a second I have a flash of anxiety, but then I remember how amazing my husband is and how hard he is working, and my doubts turn into  pride and optimism.

As for a grade, I’ll be kind and give him an A-, but hopefully that will add some pressure that he’s going to have to keep it up!

Scales + octaves = not in tune

So I’ve been on a scales kick lately and I thought to myself how fun it would be to post a video doing octave scales.  This was one of those times when I played it, got tickled pink, and then looked at a less than enthusiastic Danielle.  You see, playing an octave scale involves a bunch of shifting, and when you have to switch strings, it involves moving both fingers at once.  This is a little tricky, so I got it to the point where it wasn’t too painfully slow to move to the next two strings.

For me, that was a victory.  Another victory was not having it too horribly screechy.  Win, right?

Yeah, well, apparently I’m not in tune.  What’s hard here is there are two fingers to keep in tune.  The first finger needs to be on the right note, and then the fourth finger needs to be exactly one octave higher than the first finger.  My main problem is that pesky fourth finger–it’s typically too high.  As you move up the fingerboard, the distance between fingers to keep an octave keeps getting smaller.

Oh, and I was practicing thirds some more today and they’re coming along slowly, but a little better.  Why do double stops have to be so difficult?  Danielle played the Bach Chaconne at a recital on Saturday and man, is that an awesome piece.  The double stops there are what make it, so it looks like I should probably practice them.  But don’t worry; I’m not thinking about tackling the Chaconne any time soon.  Playing that piece too early, according to Danielle, would be sacrilege.


Tonight, Danielle performed at a special recital put on by New West Symphony to showcase her new CD.  After she performed, she gave a little question and answer session.  I hear her play so often, sometimes I forget how great of a public speaker she is.  Here is a video of a talk she gave before she soloed with Santa Monica Symphony a few months ago:

Tonight, one of the patrons asked about her teaching and in particular about whether or not she believed in the Russian method, or starting a student with scales and etudes, and not just jumping into a difficult piece.  Of course, this blog came up.  I wouldn’t exactly say that Danielle is going traditional Russian style with me, but we do a considerable amount of scales and arpeggios.  Sure, I am jumping into a rather difficult piece, but it’s happening while I’m doing all that fundamental stuff.  That’s why I have to practice 2 hours a day.

Here’s a video from a lesson Danielle and I had tonight after the recital.  We did a bunch of scales.  I don’t think I’ve posted a C major scale yet (the ones I’ve put up so far have been A major scales but Danielle has me doing C Major to cover the more difficult, but important, 2nd and 4th positions).  Here I slur 4 notes to a bow and then go right into 8 notes to a bow.  Also, different from previous scales, is a little turnaround thing that Galamian had his students do to make the bowings work out:

The sound gets a little dicey, but the intonation isn’t bad.  Danielle’s getting to be a pretty big stickler about intonation.

Another blocking exercise

Let me make a quick last note about the theme before I go on to bigger and better things.  Every measure, if not easy is at least predictable and is fairly natural for the fingers to play fast.  The second-to-last measure, however, is a much different story.

That first measure there is the one I’m talking about, and it’s a little tricky to pull off.  The first note is an F, which is played with the second finger on the D string.  Then there’s that 1/16th rest followed by a D sharp which is played with a low fourth finger on the A string.  Next is an E, which is played with the first finger on the D string, a half step lower than the F.  Then we go back up again to play another E an octave higher than the one we just played, which is also a fourth finger on the A string, but it’s a high fourth finger, meaning the finger just slides up a half step on the fingerboard.  The next two notes aren’t too bad, as they just progress down from the high E.

The next thing that’s hard about this is the rhythm, which is tricky for the whole theme.  Before, I just muddled through it, trying to just throw my fingers down as quickly as I could (sorry about the video’s orientation):

Here’s where having Danielle is a huge advantage.  In order to play this faster and cleaner, she showed me a nice little blocking exercise where I practice moving from the F – D# to the E – E, playing them as double stops.  Much of the violin is practicing “target practice” of having your fingers find the correct places on the strings as soon as possible.  Here’s me doing the double stops and then the last two measures of the theme, albeit not up to the tempo I previously played the theme:

Using this blocking technique, it makes playing this succession of notes much more natural.  Now I just need to play it up to tempo, and the theme will be pretty much wrapped up!  Well, except for playing it cleanly, with a good sound, and in tune that is.

So here’s the entire theme

I really don’t know why I’m stuck on getting the theme up to tempo, but I just am.  One of the most important things for me to practice right now is to play things slowly and try to make them perfect, and trust me I do that also.  A huge concern though, as I’ve mentioned before, is to be able to play things fast.  Since I have to play this thing in 10 months, I don’t exactly have time to dilly dally, so that’s where I’m coming from here.

First off, my rhythm sucks.  Perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but it’s certainly not great and the theme has sort of a tricky little rhythm.  It’s basically an 1/8th note followed by a 1/16th rest then a 1/16th note in the first beat, then four 1/16th notes in the second beat, then that pattern continues.  Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  The hardest part is knowing when to play that first 1/16th note after the rest.  It’s supposed to be right before the next beat, and the beat starts with the second 1/16th note.  Does that make sense?  It’s supposed to look something like:

BUM <rest> bum BUM bum bum bum BUM <rest> bum BUM bum bum bum BUM

Timing when to play that “bum” right after the rest is pretty hard.  Also, I tend to speed through the four 1/16th notes and make the <rest> too long.  Metronomes help, but when the going gets fast, it’s difficult for me to even tell if I’m with the metronome.  Another metronome problem is that infernal noise box right next to my ear drowns out the sound of the metronome, so it makes it even harder to tell if I’m with it.  Danielle devised a little solution to that last problem.  This is not a joke; she was quite proud of herself and actually wants to invent this contraption.  I’m practicing the Kreutzer:

I’ve been working with the metronome on the entire theme and also targeting just the 1/16th notes, trying to get them as even as possible.  It’s certainly not perfect.  Here’s me playing the theme:

So the first part doesn’t sound too bad, but it gets a little rough around the edges later on.  Oh well, room for improvement isn’t entirely a bad thing.

Introduction to thirds

A third is two notes played at the same time (a double stop) that are two notes apart, like a C and an E.  I guess it’s called a third because it spans three notes, C-D-E.  Now, you saw me playing octaves earlier, which is also a double stop.  So thirds should be no problem, right?

Here’s Danielle playing some basic thirds.  She’s playing the C-E with her first and third fingers and then plays D-F with her second and fourth fingers:

That doesn’t seem too hard, huh?

Now, that, believe it or not, wasn’t even as bad as I remember, but it feels horrible and let’s just forget about playing the actual piece yet.  The reason thirds are so hard is because, well I’m not exactly sure.  I think it has to do with stretching the third and fourth fingers over the string you need to play on.  Remember octaves?

There, I don’t have to switch fingers, which is nice, but the fourth finger doesn’t have to stretch over anything, since it plays on the lower string.  Plus, it’s difficult to switch fingers from first and third to second and fourth.  Either way, octaves were a whole new level of pain, and now thirds, to me anyway, are even worse.  Unfortunately, every couple of days I get something new that comes along and reminds me that I’m sadly still a beginner.

When people ask me (quite often since I hang around Danielle) if I’m a musician I haven’t been quite sure what to say in the last couple of months.  Danielle is hesitant to bestow the title of musician on me yet, as it’s a little like saying I’m a vegetarian since I haven’t eaten meat since last night.  She wasn’t even sure what the threshold would be when I transition from non-musician to musician, but that threshold has now been identified.  When I can play thirds proficiently, then she will consider me a musician.  That’s something to look forward to at least.

A faster theme

Well, the opening of it anyway.  Danielle just taught me thirds, which come up in variations 6 and 8.  As it turns out, thirds are hard (big surprise) so I’m not quite ready to show you those yet, but I figured I could pump out the theme again almost up to tempo.  It was a bit more challenging than I thought it would be:

Unfortunately, I haven’t practiced that second part enough to keep that pace.  Danielle told me to use the metronome to build speed.  Start at a certain tempo and continually go faster when I play it perfectly at that tempo (I use perfectly loosely here).  Perhaps I’ll be able to get the entire theme up soon.  Also, I’ll have an introduction to thirds!

Three bits of information

I would like to take a quick moment to announce that Danielle has her first CD coming out!  After winning the Sphinx competition in 2008, she soloed with various orchestras and was given the opportunity to have a commercial CD with naxos.  It’s a collection of violin music from a contemporary American composer named Lawrence Dillon, who she picked when she learned of this opportunity.

The CD will be for sale on the Naxos website and will be in stores soon.  Or, it can be purchased from her directly or at Metzler Violin Shop for $20 and half the proceeds go to her camp.  Which brings me to…

Danielle’s music camp:  Center State Strings.  I won’t prattle on too much about it, but she started a summer camp in Three Rivers California last summer.  The website is www.centerstagestrings.com.  A very nice video was made of last summer’s camp.  It’s 15 minutes, but extremely well done.  It wasn’t embedding properly, so here’s a link to the video.

As for the third bit of information, I found another interesting violin-related blog out there.  It’s called The Fiddle Project and she’s trying to build a violin from scratch.  Certainly worth a look.