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.

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.

Good news and bad news

I think all this work with scales and arpeggios is making me considerably faster with the violin.  For example, I returned to the Kreutzer etude #2 and found that I could fairly easily slur 8 notes to a bow.  That’s the good news.  Unfortunately, while Danielle watched me play the Kreutzer, she noticed my left hand fourth finger curled up in a rather childish way.  Here’s what I’m talking about:

Do you see the pinkie?  After it plays, it curls up against the third finger, as if it’s afraid:

Yeah, well apparently that’s not a good thing, and here comes the bad news.  The fourth finger there should hover above the strings ready to splash down at any second.  Remember when I mentioned that thinking about some things throws other things out the window?  Playing fast throws intonation out the window, playing in tune throws making any kind of good sound out the window, etc?  It turns out that hovering that little pinkie above the strings throws EVERYTHING out the window.  It’s deceptively difficult, and as such I don’t even have a video of it yet.  It’s that ugly.

Practice room paranoia

One of the drawbacks to using the Colburn practice rooms are these little vertical windows on the doors.  You see, when walking the halls here, you hear music from every direction, and when you walk by a practice room, you can peer in and see the talented musician making beautiful music.  Unfortunately, when I’m in there, I get a little paranoid that someone’s walking by, catching a glimpse of me hacking away.  Sometimes I’ll even stop and look out that little window, just to make sure the coast is clear:

My fears, of course, are ungrounded, but it’s easy to be self-conscious when surrounded by this much talent.  Luckily, many of the Colburn students are very interested in my progress.  I chatted with a couple of them in the cafe today and mentioned I was making a little more progress with the finale.  Unfortunately the last few notes aren’t perfectly in tune, but here goes:

It gets really hard after that.

Pinky pushups

Two people have asked about a clarification of the pinky pushups since we introduced the concept in Advice from Colburn Students, so here is a video:

The idea is to keep it from locking out straight, which if you apply the right pressure, can be difficult to do.  When I say “that’s what you don’t want to happen,” the pinky locked out:

That exercise if for the left hand.  Another 2 exercises Danielle has me doing are for the right hand:

At the end, Danielle fawns over my pinky.  Now, this is the other pinky than the one we did the pushups for.  As you can probably tell, both pinkies are very important in violin playing.  It’s vital to keep them healthy and well-conditioned!

Arpeggio again

So I return to the finale, that A-minor arpeggio followed by an A-major arpeggio.  I only slur 6 notes together instead of all 12 like Danielle wants me to eventually play, but it’s a step up from the 2 last time.  Also, Danielle showed me how to bridge with my first finger:

This helps to play faster and cleaner because the first finger stays down on both the G and D strings during the entire arpeggio:

Not the worst thing in the world, but I don’t really like my hand position there:

See how my left hand looks pretty scrunched?  It should be more relaxed and spread out.  Check out Danielle’s hand position:

I’m working on it.