How to marry self expression with technique.
May 09, 2012
"I want to work on technique so that I can be more expressive with my playing." Music to my ears! This was the statement a high school student made following our most recent violin recital.
At first I was marveled with her insightfulness: a young student made the connection between technique and self expression. I had falsely assumed that young students tolerated technique until they could get to the part of the lesson where they could play their song!
Adult students come from a different point of view. They work diligently on technique to the point of "sounding technical" and lacking in self expression!
The question is - how do we successfully marry self expression and technique?
The three pieces that bring it all together are: emotions, knowledge of how music is constructed, and violin specific technique.
Knowledge of how music is constructed:
Key Signature: Besides the obvious difference between how Major and minor keys sound, keys with more sharps sound brighter and keys with more flats sound darker. We could encourage the color of the tonality with how we stroke the bow or perhaps with some slight pitch bending with our fingers.
Time Signature: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 etc. all have different feel. You can also vary the feel within a time signature. For example 3/4 Waltzes have a strong weak weak pattern whereas 3/4 Sarabandes have a weak strong weak pattern.
Pitch: How is the composer using pitch? Scale-like going up or down would lead us to crescendo or diminuendo. Repeated notes call for the musician to do something...anything! Why did the composer put that accidental there? Accidentals are always an indication of something interesting.
Rhythm: Why did the composer pick these rhythms. Is it a busy song with many sixteenth notes or serene with half notes and whole notes? Which rhythms belong together as a group like letters form words? Is there a rhythmic pattern?
Bowings: These are often indications of articulation. What articulation means in music is how we pronounce the music. Is it smooth and legato or heavily marked and accented.
Violin Specific Technique: We can basically summarize that as violin hand and bow hand! Training the two hands to do the specific tasks required is the same as training for any sport. How can we move our bodies in the most streamlined way to bring about the desired effect? What does it take to play loud and slow, or quiet and fast on the violin? Can you stay relaxed and still play an aggressive staccato? Training so that you have a wide variety of violin tricks mastered with ease frees you up to command them at will.
With all this background - let's return to the question: How do we successfully marry self expression and technique?
You have a piece of music. You've analyzed how it's constructed and what the composer's intentions are. You've figured out the violin technique this particular piece requires and have practiced those techniques as close to mastery as you can at this point in your life. It's now time to bring it to life.
Many people have different names for it: "singing" "in the zone" "dreamlike" "meditation". Here's how it plays out in my mind. In my imagination I'm singing but instead of my voice it's my violin's voice. While I sing the music I'm also feeling the emotions of the piece and I tap into the role of storyteller. I'm sharing this music and acting out with emotion. Behind the scenes there is an underlying sense of tempo & rhythm and thoughts about the fingering and bowing and what techniques serve the moment.
The study of technique - vital to our self expression! The more techniques you know the more variety of sounds you can create.
As you study technique - don't neglect the study of music and the feeling of emotions. Without this - what would your technique serve?
While I seized the moment with my high school student and loaded her up with technique to practice, I also took a phrase of music and we disected it together. We identified patterns, notes that go together, and bowing articulations. We decided that the patterns showed us when to get louder and softer. We found how a repeated piece of music actually had 2 different endings. One ending sounded like a question and the other like the answer. Then we talked about which techniques to use that would help bring out all that we identified.
As I'm writing this I now realize what we should do at her next lesson. Go into performance mode and pour on the emotions!
by Diane Allen
and Auditory study of
where the notes are
on the fingerboard.
First through eleventh positions.
with Diane Allen
Bow Arm Boot Camp
Violin Master Class
Brain Gym Introduction
Violin, Teaching, and Parenting Topics
|Diane Allen | All Rights Reserved.|