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.

Feeling the rhythm

When I first started playing Paganini, I had a lot of trouble with the theme and the (what I thought at the time) crazy rhythm. As I played more of the Paganini, I got into really hard stuff like spiccato, octaves, and thirds, but most of this hard stuff was just a bunch of fast sixteenth notes. The Bach is easier without all of the violinistic trickery, but the rhythms are now a lot harder to get. I remember with the Paganini, I used the metronome when learning the theme (and hated the metronome…a lot) but really haven’t touched it anytime lately. Of course, this probably wasn’t a good thing, but when just doing a bunch of sixteenth notes, it’s easier to get lazy. Now, that has all changed. The metronome is back out and I’m struggling to get all of the rhythms down.  It’s funny, playing rhythms for normal mortals like myself is extremely difficult.  People like Danielle (aka musicians), especially musicians who’ve been playing nearly all their lives, can’t truly comprehend how hard the timing is on music like this.  I especially hate it when you have a little sixteenth rest or eighth rest at the beginning of the beat and have to wait through the beat and start playing in the middle before the beginning of the next beat.  It’s hard to time it right.  For me, at least.

A technique Danielle and I started doing is her playing the notes of the piece with me playing open As along with the rhythm. We tried this with some of the later stuff, but I unfortunately didn’t know the notes well enough, so we went back to the beginning. Well, I messed up a bit here too:

When watching that, it’s surprising how crooked my bow was. I’ll have to work on that.

Anyway, I find it very hard especially when going from fast to slow notes. For example, an early part I’m having problem with is this part:

Especially the tie. See where the tie ends in that sixteenth note? Apparently, I’m not supposed to play that sixteenth note but treat it sort of like a rest. It’s not technically a rest but there needs to be a clear articulation there, not a slur. Of course I always forget to stop, but I’m getting better.  When you look at the passage up there, it doesn’t look too bad, and it’s not (other than the ties) but near the end of the first page, we have this:

You got a few 16th notes, 8th notes, quarter tied to an 8th, sixteenths, etc, etc.  This kind of stuff is so hard for me (to play it correctly) and I really believe for anyone without a lot of musical training, this stuff just doesn’t come naturally.  Each day plowing away with the metronome should make it easier over the course of time.  So Danielle says anyway.

OK. Got it.

So the Bach is coming OK, I suppose.  I haven’t really been videoing myself much until the other day after Danielle and I had a lesson.  It was a fine lesson and I had been working pretty hard the few days before it.  So I get the idea to tape us playing together, since this piece is a double concerto after all.  I began taping right after our lesson–when she starts practicing a little bit of the Wieniawski Polonaise (this is her practicing, not performing).  I convince her to play with me on camera and she agrees.  We play, I think it went really well, and I was very excited to watch the video.

Long story short:  my battery ran out and I didn’t get what I wanted.

My original idea for this particular post was to whine and cry about how the camera turned itself off and how I lost all the great footage, leave you with that, and then once again not post me playing the Bach.  Then I thought that would be lame.

So I did what any red blooded American would have done:  I got out my mo-freaking violin and played that mo-freaking piece.  Well, part of it anyway.  And Danielle’s not around, so it’s just the 2nd violin part, but no biggie, right?  This is actually the exact half-way point of the first page, out of three pages.  So it’s 1/6 of the first movement of this concerto.  Not bad, one sixth down (sorta):

So I got something, although I messed up a little at the end there.  It’s a shame because that part is so cool and a good flashy place to stop, but whatever.  I’ll get it in the future.

Cat out of the bag

OK, so I haven’t posted in a while.  This is, of course, the best time not to post anything since I have every excuse in the book with Thanksgiving, travel, and whatnot.  So I have all the excuses I need, except that they’re innocent as to why I’ve been a little hermitic lately, I’m sorry to say.  To be honest, I haven’t posted anything because I didn’t really know what to post.

Right about now you’re saying “why don’t you post some of the Paganini?”  Oh.  Yeah.  Er, about that.  Oh, Pags, why do you have to be so darn difficult?  I’ll just come out with it:  Paganini is too hard!  Yeah, yeah, all of the nay say-ers out there turned out to be, well, right.  (Where is RF when you need him?)  And also, wait, what?  No, don’t worry, I’m not quitting my little journey.  I’m letting the cat out of the bag.  If I was quitting, I would have titled this post “throwing in the towel.”

What cat is this, you ask?  About a week and a half ago it became obvious that I wasn’t going to debut Paganini come February, so Danielle and I went into bailout mode.  We had options.  An obvious thing I could have done is cut the thirds and chords and anything else remotely on that level of difficulty like the grace notes of variation 2 and that one variation that goes so high the treble clef can’t even handle it so they had to draw in that little dotted line:

After the trimmage, I would have a nice little incomplete ditty to show off my violin prowess.  I could have done that, and to be honest, something of that nature was what most of you were probably expecting.  The thing is, I want to play the whole thing!  Perhaps I could have learned the whole thing and then just screeched through it horribly, but hey, I played the whole thing!  Victory, right?  So let’s go with option 3:  I can play the whole thing, but let me have one more year.  No big deal, right?  Heh heh.  Everyone?  No biggie?  Yeah, I know, this experiment was supposed to be for one year, but how many experiments end differently than they began?  Lots of them!  Just ask the guy who invented the post it note.

So I’m giving myself one more year to learn the Paganini caprice 24.  Oh c’mon!  Don’t be that way!  It’s still pretty good for someone who’s played for two years to play a piece like that.  I’ll just be honest here.  I’m hitting a wall that’s just making violin not fun anymore.  Some of this Paganini stuff is so hard that I want to break my bow over my violin and then break my violin over the little shattered pieces of bow.  But that’s not the only reason for this decision.  If it was still possible then we still might give it a shot, as miserable as that might make me, but we’re reading the writing on the wall.  Given just a couple more months, there’s no way I’m going to have the whole piece memorized and if I forced it, some of the stuff wouldn’t simply be unpolished, but downright ugly.  I’m thinking of your ears here, not my embarrassment.  (I’m also thinking of my embarrassment)

But wait!  There’s an upside to all this.  I’m not getting out of performing, giving myself one more year to think of another excuse next November, giving myself one more year, etc, etc.  I’m still planning on playing come February, the only question is, what?  Hey, the title of this blog is “Vaughn vs Violin” not “Vaughn vs Paganini” or “Ryan vs Nicolo” or whatever.  And in the end, my goal is to still play the Paganini, I just need another year.  If you asked for another year, I’d give it to you…

So what should I play in the meantime?  Although twinkle twinkle would have some comic value with my tag line, we wanted something still challenging, but that I could realistically learn in the next couple of months.  The Kreutzer etude was an option, but we wanted something with a little more pizzazz.  We went, then, with, drumroll please…

The Bach Double Concerto!  The first movement of it anyway.  It’s funny; playing this piece has all of the reverse advantages and disadvantages as the Paganini.  Where Pags was ridiculously difficult with virtuoso trickery at every corner, Bach Double is much slower and more lyrical.  The up side to Paganini was that it’s so fast I didn’t have to really worry much about vibrato, which I have to do much more in the Bach Double, but hey, it turns out I’m pretty good at vibrato, so let’s just give it a go.  Other new challenges are things like playing with someone else and piano, so we’ll see how that turns out, but now I get to play something with Danielle!  So that’s a huge upside.  And still, let’s keep it in perspective here.  I still haven’t played violin for a whole year, and the Bach Double is by no means your typical beginner piece.

So there you have it.  We’re going in a slightly new direction, but just remember that even though I couldn’t play the Paganini (at least not yet) doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have tried.  I’ve learned the first few lines of the Bach so far and let me tell you, going from Paganini caprice 24 to Bach Double is like a large breath of fresh air.

Although Danielle tells me that because this piece is easier, other things like intonation had better be that much more perfect.  We’ll see.

The Hot Canary

So I didn’t end up getting a whole heck of a lot of practicing done this past weekend.  Danielle and I stayed in a hotel in Visalia as she soloed with the Tulare County Symphony on Saturday night.  Whenever we travel, her practicing takes precedence (obviously) and it’s a little too easy to slack off.  I probably could have practiced a little more, but with Danielle concentrating on her solo and not policing me more, well, you get the picture.

I’m getting back on track, but the chords are really hard.  My fat fingers keep hitting the other strings causing really bad sounds.  I’m working on it.

Danielle, though, played fantastically.  She played the Mendelssohn concerto and afterwards gave an encore of a piece she’s been working on for a while now – The Hot Canary.  This piece was written by Paul Nero and arranged for violin by Florian Zebach.  Have you ever heard of Florian Zebach?  He was an extraordinary virtuoso and had a violin variety show in the 50s and was more famous than Captain Kangaroo.  He made many recordings and was on TV.  It’s funny how some people are lost in the annals of history while others are remembered well and fondly.

The original arrangement was meant for violin and piano.  Danielle had it arranged for violin and orchestra and this was the first time she played it at a concert.  I think you’ll agree that the piece lives up to its name:

It’s quite remarkable how much like a canary a violin can sound.


Enough said.  Yeah they’re tough.  Yeah they make your hand hurt.  And in variation 8, you get to play it as part of a chord!  Woo hoo!

OK, so I haven’t done this in a while, so I’ll show you the music:

See how there are three notes in one for all of those?  That’s a chord and it means more than one string has to be played at once.  Playing two strings is no problem, but it’s really hard to play three strings at the exact same time on a violin, so we don’t.  We play the low two notes on two strings and then immediately after play the upper two notes.  The middle note ends up getting played twice.

The problem with playing this variation becomes immediately obvious:  the first measure has thirds!  Remember, if I said anything was going to get me in this project it would be the thirds.  So before tackling the piece as a chord, I play just the first two measures, thirds only:

Coming back down IS hard.  Coming up is also hard, don’t get me wrong.  Double stops in general are very difficult because my chubby little fingers are all over the fingerboard and if one touches the wrong string then the violin has a cow and screeches horrifically.  Getting a good sound with just the open string is hard enough, and now I have to worry about now grazing the string with another finger?  It’s just one more hazard to avoid when playing these things.  Also, while octaves make my hand hurt, thirds REALLY make my hand hurt.   The more I play though, the better they feel.  Of course, that’s until I play the entire chord.

Luckily, the chord part you have to add is just the open e string.  For the first measure anyway.  Here’s me not quite getting through the first measure, but I get a pretty decent sound for the two notes I do play:

This variation is going to be a beast, although it is pretty satisfying when even a few notes are played well.

This is what I was talking about

Let me prepare you for the video you’re about to see, because trust me, you need preparing.  Not preparing in a good way, as in you’re going to fall down in disbelief that someone so violinistically green as myself can play so beautifully and in tune, but just prepared for the pain and torment I’m about to put you through.

The last few days have been about one thing:  get through variation 1 without it sounding ridiculously painful and unbelievably god-awful.  So, on the upside I suppose it’s not that bad, but it’s not in any way good.  Why, you ask, am I so negative recently when the whole point of this blog was to get ruined by that devilish Paganini anyway?

I blame variation 7.  I’m not saying I rocked out variation 7 like someone who’s been playing since the age of 4, but it’s certainly a much easier variation than some of them, and I was much more comfortable with it.  Going from that to variation 1 wasn’t fun to say the least.

Oh well.  Enough whining.  Get out your earplugs; here it is:

Notice how I have to shift around really quick?  That combined with the quick grace notes leading into quick spiccato makes it, do I even need to say it again?  Yeah, it’s a pain.

Well, it’s something

So apparently, variation 1 is really hard.  I started it several months ago and got to the repeat, but passed on the rest of it.  That is, until now.  I’ve been in this mode recently (and for good reason – I have exactly four months left!) where I’m trying to learn as much new stuff as possible.  Here’s the rundown of the stuff I technically have memorized, not that I can actually play any of it very well:


Variation 1

Variation 2 sans grace notes

Variation 3

Variation 4

Variation 7

1/2 Variation 9

1/2 Finale

That’s roughly half the piece right there.  Of course, I’m now two-thirds the way through my year here, so you’d think I should be two-thirds the way through the piece, right?  Although I would rather report more progress, I’m not necessarily worried about it.  I’m learning things much faster these days and my goal is to have the entire piece “learned” in two months from now.  At that point I’ll hopefully begin playing in Danielle’s class much more and really try to sharpen things over the next two months before my, er, performance in late February.  Assuming everything stays on track.

As for now, though, I’ve been learning variation 1 for the last little while and it’s, what’s the word I’m looking for, really freaking difficult.  I know, I know, I say every variation is really difficult when I run across it, but this one is particularly tricky.  It has the trifecta of hardness:  it jumps all around the violin, it has these fast grace notes, and then it has the spiccato (yes it’s back; I’ve put off mentioning it again after I misspelled it a few months back, hoping you’d forget about that little mistake).  There’s actually a fourth difficult thing, and that’s transitioning from spiccato to regular playing.  I tend to bounce.

Wow.  So I have this little routine when I post something on here.  I’ll record what I want to record, take it off the SD card, load it on my computer, and then actually write the post while I’m waiting for it to load.  Right after I wrote the word “bounce” above, I actually watched the video of me playing the first variation.  I have to say, I’ve been pretty forthcoming with my violin playing, but this is the first real time I’m actually embarrassed.  It’s not good.  At all.  It’s really, painfully slow and not even good for being slow.  Wow.  Really depressing considering I haven’t posted for a week or so trying to get this to the point where I can actually play it.

Sad.  Just sad.  Anyway, I’m actually not going to post it.  Yuck.  I know this is uncharacteristic of me, as I’m usually underly-bashful about displaying myself and my screeching sounds, but even I have to have some standards.  And this doesn’t meet them.

Perhaps I can put something up involving the first variation soon.  Or I just may move on.  For now.