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.

Add one to the list

Well, sort of.  Like every other variation, I don’t exactly play the fourth variation here up to tempo or even mostly in tune, but there are some good parts…like the fact that I play the whole thing!  That’s pretty huge.  Whenever I play an entire variation, I feel like I’m on Iron Chef, plating one of the courses.  “You can’t plate too soon” according to Bobby Flay, and I feel the same way here.  If I can play through an entire variation, that’s a good thing–I’ll worry about making it perfect (or at least not that horrible) later, but for now, let’s plate it and learn more!  Because there’s quite a bit of this piece I haven’t even looked at yet.

So for now, I’ll add one to the list – variation 4 I can play all the way through!

It’s a little rough, but I have all the time in the world, right?

Wrong, unfortunately.  I’m now under the 5  month mark – scary!  As a side story, I opened my violin case a few nights ago and my violin was, well, different.  I instantly knew something was wrong as I picked up the mysterious instrument in my case and turned it over in my hands.  I didn’t know who in the world’s violin it was, but it certainly wasn’t mine!  My mind raced through all the possibilities like Danielle playing a trick on me to someone running a huge sting operation to steal violins and replace them with cheap instruments from Target.

As it turned out, Danielle had taken my violin because, as a birthday present, she got me new pegs–these ones with little gears on them that make tuning much, much easier!  The funniest part of the story is that I was actually pretty excited about it and couldn’t think of a better birthday present (maybe an ipad would have been better, but what can you do?), but every musician I’ve told this too has said that they’d be pretty pissed if their significant other gave them an instrument-improving gift for their birthday.  I feel like a little kid, excited to get new stuff for my violin.

I suppose that’s probably a good thing when it comes right down to it.

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Danielle’s Army

I don’t know why, but I’ve always disliked getting haircuts.  I like the result, of course, but for some reason I don’t like to actually sit through a haircut, and I certainly don’t like paying for one (which is why my mom cuts my hair a lot of the time).

So my hair has gotten long lately and I knew a haircut was on the horizon.  What did I do?  What any normal cheapskate would have done:  asked Danielle to cut it.  She, of course, didn’t really want to because she interestingly enough likes my hair longer.  So I did it myself, or started it anyway.  We have these clippers that I think are mostly for facial hair, so I took them to my long, red mane.  Danielle couldn’t take it so she began to help with the scissors and clippers.

Let’s just say that mistakes were made.

Long story short, my hair is what’s now very short.  How short?

Yeah, it’s short.  Probably too short, but it’s OK.  It will grow.

For now, though, I’m in the Army.  Danielle’s Army.  And the enemy?  Bad sounds, poor intonation, improper rhythm, with an unfortunate terrorist threat of not practicing due to laziness.  Fortunately, General Belen is leading the way.  And when it comes to the violin, she makes Patton look like a cuddly little teddy bear.


Let’s put some pizz on the situation

About four months ago, one of the variations I was most afraid of was the 9th – the one with all of the left hand pizzicato.  Left hand pizz (I originally spelled it ‘pitz’ but Danielle nixed that) is a very cool technique that sounds super cool.  Of course it’s incredibly intimidating as well and that’s why I’ve put it off, but Danielle put a stop to that as well.  For some of you not familar with how left hand pizzicato sounds, here’s a little taste:

Danielle began teaching this piece by just teaching the notes and then progressing into the actual pizzicato.  A couple night ago she gave me a lesson on this variation and you’ll see here how it progresses.  We start with just the notes, then we move to the pizz.  I had practiced the pizz technique on my own a little bit (to her surprise) but I play it as Elbert would call ‘scrambly.’  So we move on to playing the notes again but in a long-short-long-short rhythm that’s supposed to help when trying to play the proper rhythm.  As it turns out, it’s really hard to vary the rhythm like that and I got a little frustrated (which I don’t show you, dear viewer).  We plowed on and it turned out a little better.  After this, we move on to the actual variation.  This is just the first part, not quite all the way to the repeat, but almost:

I’m not going on the record to say that left hand pizz is easy, but compared to some of the other stuff (thirds come to mind) this variation was a pleasant surprise.  I’m going to try to knock out the rest of the variation soon so I can play through it all.

I have learned the rest of the fourth variation by now as well (which I’ll play for you in the next couple of days) so here’s a quick rundown of how much I’ve learned:

Theme – entire thing

Variation 1 – until the repeat

Variation 2 – entire thing without the grace notes

Variation 3 – entire thing

Variation 4 – entire thing

Variation 5 – not attempted

Variation 6 – thirds attempted, not really in tempo

Variation 7 – not attempted

Variation 8 – not attempted

Variation 9 – until the repeat

Variation 10 – not attempted

Variation 11 – not attempted

Finale – until the repeat

It does seem like I have a considerable amount left, but it also seems like I’m learning stuff much faster than before.

Honestly, I might just do it.  Well, I think I have good chances anyway.


what the #$&*% is going on? from Danielle

My husband’s skills on the violin are like magic.  I don’t mean they are magical in a beautiful artistic way, I mean they are not based in logic.  He can play these crazy arpeggios that go way up high in the stratosphere of the violin, practically sightreading them, slowly but PERFECTLY in tune.  Then seconds later I’m hearing all kinds of varieties of simple notes in third position.  ??????   The inconsistencies are mind boggling!  Sometimes I think he is purposely screwing with my mind.

It’s like a child that can’t feed himself without smearing mashed carrots all over his face, but then he can somehow balance a saltshaker perfectly on it’s corner.

Video evidence coming soon.

More to come…….


Let’s give it a go with chromatic scales

I actually wrote this post several days ago, but Danielle read it and didn’t like the way it sounded, and she’s right in a way…it does sound a bit sad.  Nonetheless, it does point out an inherent difficulty in this project and is an important topic.  Don’t worry, our marriage will survive the violin!  (If anything it makes it stronger if you can believe it).

Original post:

Apparently, chromatic scales are just like regular scales except every note played is a half step.  Paganini toys around with chromatic scales in the fourth variation, and unfortunately they’re really high.  Also unfortunately, it’s not the highest variation (the highest variation has to be written with a little dotted line because they can’t fit notes that high on a regular treble clef.  I can’t wait).

Danielle introduced me to variation four a couple of months ago and I’ve been toying around with them for a bit, but she hasn’t officially worked with me on them.  If you remember, Elbert worked with me a little bit with the chromatics (I’m not even sure that’s correct lingo) during our lesson at Luzerne, but that’s it.  So the other night, the same night when she worked with me on the octave variation, she finally helped me with them–and it wasn’t pretty.

And I’m not talking about the playing, although that wasn’t pretty either.  You see, many people are astounded we’re doing this little project of ours.  Oh, and it’s not because Paganini is so difficult or because I’m a beginner.  It’s because they can’t believe a wife could give her husband lessons on something as frustrating as violin without one of the parties ending up dead or being served divorce papers.  This was one of those nights.  I actually cut a video of a few clips of us arguing, but watching a couple of minutes of us fighting isn’t as funny as I thought it would have been, so I’ll spare you.  Didn’t I write a post about not pushing back?  Remember when I mentioned it was hard to push someone so close because they just push back?  I know, I know.  I’m getting better, but late night lessons when we’re both tired already are just bad news.  The other unfortunate part is with our schedules, late night lessons might be the only times we can work them in.

Well, this is a relatively G rated video anyway.  You might notice some parts cut off at weird times; it’s because the fireworks started right afterwards:

See what I’m talking about?  The two clips in the middle of me running through it that just sort of cut off abruptly?  I’ll let your imagination take it from there.

As far as my playing, this variation is probably the best example yet of the importance of proper bow division.  The first part requires playing 16 notes in one bow.  It’s really easy to play the first four notes with half the bow and then have to squeeze in the following 12 with the other half.  As you can imagine, sound suffers considerably.  Remember the lesson with Anna when we worked on the finale?  Bow division is important there too and she stressed saving bow at the beginning and then using more as it went on.  Same is true here, but it’s more essential as the notes are higher and pickier.

Update:  I usually don’t write a post and then wait a few days before posting, but I have the luxury of a little update here.  I’m progressing quite nicely with this variation and I actually have the entire thing memorized!  Well, except for this one measure that Danielle couldn’t remember the fingering, but it’s just about another one in the books.  I’ll post it soon and hopefully keep learning more of the piece, as I really have to get moving.