Left hand looks
This post is deprecrated. I’ve recently discovered a superior tactic for navigating quick, prickly passagework, here.
In small string ensembles, a great way to stay sync’d with the other musicians is to stare down their left hands during the more hairy moments.
You’d think that looking at the bows would be best, but for some reason, the finer motor skills in the left is what signals the most information.
Now, I’m not one to look at my own left hand during playing. It’s just too damn busy and distracting. I typically just look at my bridge-area, and sometimes just close my eyes just to concentrate a little extra.
However, I’ve discovered that looking at my left hand at particular times has huge benefits.
Twisted little passages
From time to time, a piece of music has a gnarly section where coordination of bow and left hand is downright cruel. They don’t come up often, by any stretch of the imagination, but when they do, you’ll know it.
If you listen carefully, these moments resemble rapid little tongue twisters, where coordination is always a tad off, no matter how much slow practicing you take on.
At the start of the Bartók solo violin sonata finale, the right hand plays rapid staccato, which is easy to play cleanly. However, towards the end of this run-of-notes section, the bowing is flipped from down-up, to up-down in order to accommodate the next section.
I’ve tried everything to get the inital up-down section to be coordinated, but every time, there is a moment where the old down-up muscle memory just plum fights this sudden shift in bowing. What results is some hacky sounding violin playing.
(It’s interesting to note that this up-down passage quickly repeats, and by the second time around, my bow-arm is already conditioned for this upside-down bowing, and there’s no longer any coordination issue.)
What solved this issue for me, was to stare down my left hand. For some reason, just like when playing chamber music with other string players, my coordination was locked in. Incredible!
The eyes don’t lie
When I think about how this all works, it makes sense. Although us fiddle players rely on our good ears to do the heavy lifting, some parts of playing are simply sporty. In situations where there is a sudden shift in muscle mechanics, using our spacial intelligence system to get things right is the prudent thing to do — even though it gets neglected often in violin playing.
Great technique is such a knack. It’s never boring discovering what works and what doesn’t, and I wouldn’t trade this learning process for anything in the world.