Saturday, July 15, 2017

How to Practice Violin with a Healing Collarbone

     I had a mother of a young boy come to me the other day very concerned because her son had broken his left collarbone while on vacation and the doctor said that it would take months to heal. She is concerned about her son starting to play the violin while the bone heals.

It is easy to take a break from practicing an instrument but a lot harder to start back up again.  If learning music is something that you want to be a part of your education than avoid breaks.  

These kind of situations are great to build an attitude of perseverance and creativity because it is easy to just stop, take the easy way out.

So here are some tips that will help you keep practicing during the healing process:

1. Theory: flash cards are a good option to review and master the terms that a part of the pieces of music you are studying.  I recommend 2-3 minutes per practice. 

2. Sing: sing the fingerings or note names of the song. You may not think you have a good voice so it is uncomfortable to sing.  The important point to remember is that trying to sing will build intonation, rhythm, and tempo. 

Note to parents: your attitude to sing along with your child is crucial here, let them see you try to sing along with them. Your child may wait to hear you sing through the song before even attempting.

3. Sing & Clap: after singing through the song, add clapping.  Sing and clap the notes of the songs.

4. Violin with No Bow: finger the notes (play the violin without the bow) as you say the fingers or note names.  You may want to first play the violin like a guitar in rest position, pluck the strings over the fingerboard.  

6. Playing Position: go from rest position to playing position 3 times, gently placing the violin on the shoulder. You may want to get a small towel to place on the shoulder to cushion the violin along with the shoulder rest.

7. Bow Exercises: do bow exercises without the violin to work on the violin hand.  Here are some bow exercises to get you started if you do not have a list yet.

8. Bowing: play songs with just the bow, no violin, saying the fingerings or notes to improve your bow skills.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Practice Tips for The Two Grenadiers Suzuki Violin Book 2

     The Two Grenadiers by Robert Schumann. This is our second piece by Robert Schumann as we also played The Happy Farmer in Book 1. This is the first piece that is in a minor key, sounding sad, and where we use low first finger on the A and E string, it is a big step in our violin playing.

Here are some practice tips as you work through The Two Grenadiers:

The Two Grenadiers is in the key of D Minor for the first half of the piece, which means that it has 1 flat - Bb. For violinists this means we play a low 2nd finger on all the strings and low 1st finger the A and E string, except for the notes that have accidentals. The last half of the piece is in D Major which has two sharps, which we have in Musette. There is a switch to 1st finger on the tape, a regular first finger. 

This piece can be broken up in two big sections, the D minor section and D Major section.  Within those two sections we can also break the piece up in smaller chunks. 

Grenadiers. This is the word for soldier.

Più Mosso. Even more movement, which means that this part of the piece is faster than other sections.

Long-Short Hook Bows. Play a two-note hook with the first being longer and the second shorter.  You will see this with a dotted-quarter-eighth combination and a dotted-eighth-sixteenth note combination. 

1. Practice the long-short hook bow (dotted-quarter-eighth) on open strings.

2. Learn and play Finger Exercise No. 5A 7 times every you practice, to get comfortable sliding your first finger back for a low first finger.

3. Practice the D minor scale with long-short hook bow slow, medium and fast.

4. Listen to the c.d. or a YouTube video of the piece as you follow the notes. Listen to how the dynamics and bowings are performed.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Handel's Concerto Grossi

      Handel is known for his oratorios, but they were not at first that popular.  In 1739, to get the public to come to his operas, Handel started having special instrumental pieces in the intermission. This led Handel to start composing Concerti Grossi. Handel was inspired and wished to compose at the level of Corelli's Concerti Grossi and these are a part of the high point of Baroque orchestral literature.

These pieces are very exciting to listen to as Handel has the soloists going back and forth with the orchestra. You can hear great fugues, aria-like, dance, mournful, and vigorous movements keeps the joy coming as you listen.

Here is the Concerto grosso in D major, op. 6, no. 5, HWV 323 performed by Il Giardino Armonico conducted by Giovanni Antonini.

Practice Tips for Bouree in Suzuki Book 2

            Congratulations on getting half way through book 2. Here we have the second piece in the book by G.F. Handel.  This piece brings together bow technique that we have been learning since the first piece in Book 2.

Here are some practice tips as you work through Bouree and prepare for your half Book 2 recital:

Bouree is in the key of G Major, which means that it has 1 sharp - F#. For violinists it means that we play a low 2nd finger on the A and E string. Did you notice that numbers 1, 3, 4, and 5 all have one sharp in the key signature?    

This piece is comprised of three main sections, having an ABA1 form. A is line 1 and 2,  B is lines 3 and 4 and A1 starts with a pick up into line 4 going all the way to the end of the piece.

Until now we have played the Minuet, Gavotte, and Waltz. The Bouree is a lively French dance in an even time signature from the Baroque period. Below we will discuss how knowing this will impact our playing of the piece.

The Grand Detache.
One of the reasons that Bouree is the sixth piece in Book 2 is to practice what some people call the "Grand Detache." There are probably other names for this bow stroke, so do not be surprised when you encounter them. In the second line of the piece, there is a gradual crescendo from piano to about a forte. 

Listen to the great Suzuki teacher, William Starr, as he describes what we need to do: "Suzuki asks the student to lengthen the bow strokes gradually, raising the elbow as the bow moves to the frog on the up-bows" (To Learn with Love, p. 110).

So, the Grand Detache is the bow technique of playing with lots of bow quickly, in this case eighth notes (Check below for tips on how to practice this technique).

Very Soft. In Hunter's Chorus, we encountered ff (very loud) where we strived to play with as much bow as possible. Now, we have the opportunity to play pp (very soft) and crescendo up to forte. Remember that playing very quietly means to use small bow but still keeping the bow pressing into the string.

Long Crescendos
In part 1 and part 3 there is a big crescendo, giving us the opportunity to learn to use more and more bow over the course of an entire line. More specifically, pick-up to measure 21 starts with a pp then a gradual crescendo all the way to forte in measure 23. This is by far the biggest crescendo that we have worked on.

1. Practice the bow exercises with whole bow, tip and frog.

2. Practice the shifting exercises on page 29 with smooth slurs.

3. Learn and play Finger Exercise No. 5A 7 times every you practice, to get comfortable sliding your first finger back for a low first finger.

4. Listen to the c.d. or a YouTube video of the piece as you follow the notes. Listen to how the dynamics and bowing are performed.

5. Play the piece with no slurs to be consistent in the rhythm, since it is easy to rush the eighth notes.

6. For the big crescendo in part 1 and part 3 practice playing on all the open strings 4 notes 4 times. Play the first 4 notes quiet, louder the next 4 notes, and so on. Now, do the same thing for measures 5-7 and 21 - 23. Each group of four notes should get more bow so that the crescendo is clearer. You can use the same strategy for the measures with decrescendo.

7. Study what the Bouree dance was all about so that you can start understanding the style of the piece. One aspect of playing a baroque dance is to keep the song lively and not aggressive. We want people to dance to the piece.

8. You are ready for the Half Book 2 recital. Get your teacher, family and some friends together to perform for them 1-6. The more you perform the better you will be able to play the pieces.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Orlando de Lassus: The Boy With the Beautiful Voice

Historical Period: Renaissance
Nationality: Belgium
Born: c. 1532
Died: June 14, 1594
Major Works: Resonet in Laudibus, Psalmi Davidis Poenitentiales, 530 motets, more than 60 masses

What's Happening in History?

In the 1500s England was a powerful country. Henry VIII, who was the king, has divorced his wife and taken over control of the church of England. The big change for England to not be a part of the Catholic Church any longer was a part of a big movement in Europe call "The Reformation." Reformers like John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, and Menno Simons are spreading new ideas about the gospel through Europe. On the political side of things, Machiavelli is writing "The Prince", discussing the possibility of utopia, a perfect world. On the side of music there were some very creative man that composed extraordinary music for the churches and the courts. 


In every period of history there always men and women that "stand out." Orlando de Lassus (or Roland de Lassus) is one of the "big three" Renaissance composers, along with William Byrd and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.  

Orlando de Lassus, born in the Habsburg Netherlands, is one of the major composers of this time period to use the polyphonic (Latin for "many voices") style, which consists of many voices singing together in harmony. Some people consider Lassus as one of the most versatile and prolific composers of his time. He wrote many masses for the Catholic church in this style, as well as secular madrigals, French chansons, and German lieder. He was a specialist in taking popular songs or works by other composers and putting them into his own music. His masses and other music for the church are hauntingly beautiful. Keep in mind that at this time it was dangerous to be Catholic in certain parts of Europe with the Reformation taking place, but di Lasso remained Catholic through all the religious tumult.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Schumann's 1st Love Song for a Girl

     Schumann wrote the Abegg Variations shortly after his twentieth birthday based on the name of the girl, Meta Abegg, that he met at a ball. Schumann was paying tribute to the French center of piano virtuosity.

The Abegg Variations first appeared in November 1831. Schumann was writing in the Romantic period where it was all about unrequited love and getting all dramatic. It was a period in history where people lost the understanding of love, but people knew what a girl or a boy was.

The entire piece is based out of a five-note motif from the letters ABEGG, unlike the tradition of the time to base the theme on a melody off of another famous composer's work. Schumann develops this motif in the variations from slow and expressive to fast and flashy.

Here is Linnéa Benson playing the "Abegg variations" by Robert Schumann.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Always Seeking Inspiration

     As a professional music artist and teacher I recognize my need to constantly be inspired. Here is Beethoven 9 performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Riccardo Muti.