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.

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.

Finale or arpeggio (or both?)

This morning, Danielle told me to learn the first two measures of the Finale.  Looking at the entire finale, my mind pretty much shut down:

But if we narrow in on just the first two measures, we see that it actually doesn’t seem that bad.

After further education, I learned that it’s just an A-minor followed by an A-major arpeggio, another learning aid for fledgling (and not so fledgling) violinists.  Learning it was surprisingly easy.  Playing it on the other hand:

I actually just slur two notes at a time because it seemed a little too fast for me.  As you can see in the music above, six notes should be slurred.  Now for the bad news.

Danielle just gave me this assignment; I had no idea how it was really supposed to sound, most notably how fast it’s supposed to be.  Also, she wants me to slur all 12 notes.  Wonderful.  Here’s Danielle:

Comparing her’s and mine, it’s not altogether clear that we’re even playing the same thing.  I think I have a bit to go on this one.

Scales as tools

There are two aspects of my playing that are particularly on my mind.  One is getting messy with my bow hand:  playing on the wrong string, too close to the bridge, too far away, etc.  The other is my ability to play fast.

A nice way to deal with trouble areas is with scales, so here are a couple of scale exercises with the A-major.

In this one, I force myself not to look at my left hand and only look at my bow hand.  I try to make it as clean as possible in the right hand, and I also try to build left hand trust.  Obviously you’re going to have to forgive the intonation:

It gets a little messed up at the top there, but oh well.

Here, I play single bows and try to go as fast as possible:

Yeah, I know.  It’s still not that fast, but it’s pretty fast for me!

As my Spanish teacher always said

In high school Spanish class, my teacher told us that when you had dreams in Spanish, you were significantly improving.  If this is true and holds for the violin as well, then if I have violin dreams, does that mean I’m getting much better?

The other night, I dreamt that one of the Colburn students wanted me to play in her recital.  She promised me that my part was really easy and was actually designed for a beginner, while the other violin part that she would be playing was of course much more difficult.  I went to rehearsal and it turned out that all I had to do was pluck the open E-string.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t even get that right and she ended up firing me from her recital.

I still have anxiety or inadequacy dreams relating to high school, the Air Force Academy, work, and grad school.  Add violin to the list.

Fast fears

As I practice and play in my own little world, it’s easy to forget how real violinists sound and look as they play.  Now, I’m not saying I should be playing at that high a level, but the speed at which the Paganini Caprice should be played is, to say the least, intimidating.  Even the theme, which I have down the best at this point, isn’t anywhere near tempo.

So I’m scared.  Mostly, I practice at a slower tempo, a tempo where I can hit all the notes and make it sound as clear as possible, but I also try to play faster – and it’s always a disaster.  Danielle says the speed will just come; I hope that’s true.

At this point, you’re probably tired of variation 2, but I promised I’d post a video of me playing the entire thing, so here it is.  I’m not ecstatic with this performance, but it’ll have to do for now:

It’s not that clean and certainly not fast enough.  I’m a little disappointed with this variation because I thought it would be much easier, but it’s turned out to be a beast.  Whenever the hand has to be really stretched out with the index finger and pinky (first and fourth fingers) on different strings all far apart, well it’s hard.

Danielle described the first and fourth fingers on the strings like a block.  She had me do this blocking exercise:

Not all practice sessions are created equal

As many of you know, Colburn holds a table tennis tournament every semester that lasts several nights and culminates after the final performance forum of the year.  It’s a lot of fun, and one of my additional duties as an RA is to help organize the tournament and order pizza for about 75 hungry student spectators.  (I’m also the official ping pong blogger www.colburntabletennis.wordpress.com)

After the table tennis action and cleaning up the leftover pizza boxes and 2-liter bottles, it was around 11pm.  This was the end of a long hard day of practicing, organizing, and homework.  Bedtime?  Nope.  I grabbed my violin and went to Danielle’s studio for a lesson.

I learned a new scale in the last few days, the three octave C-major scale, and she wanted to work on that first.  The C-major scale is a bit different from the A-major in that it starts in second position and moves to fourth position before going to who-knows-how-high position on the E-string.  She was a huge stickler about intonation, especially on the high notes.

Next we tackled variation 2 again, except I was really struggling with it.  I can pretty much play the entire thing, but at a very slow pace, and it’s not polished.  Here’s a look at the first part:

Now, when Danielle saw me playing this, she instantly cued into how I was going back and forth between the strings, noting how it’s pretty inefficient to move my elbow so much.  She showed me a new method to go between strings; here is a comparison between the two:

After she showed me this, I got a little mad at her that I had practiced for about 10 hours in the last couple of days using this incorrect method.  She said “10 hours?  How about practicing incorrectly for 10 years?”  Good point.

You’re probably getting tired of this tune by now, but here’s the variation beginning using the new technique:

Hopefully I’ll be able to perform the entire variation soon.  It remains to be seen how soon I’ll incorporate all of the grace notes.