fretting over the intervals

I talk with my students constantly about visualization on the violin; that is, relying not only on our ears and muscle memory to help us  “find notes” but also on our eyes.  Muscle memory alone, even for the best of us, can often be a fairly crude way of execution.  I find that, as a general rule, this way of doing things is not only ineffective but also enveloped in a bigger problem.  

 If you ask a student  “How did you find that note?”  usually the response is a blank stare, maybe followed by some stuttering and usually ending in “I don’t know” or “I just know how it feels…sorta.”  Even students with perfect pitch, and sometimes especially these students, have a very unclear concept of how their fingerboard is set up.

The kind of visualization I’m talking about involves using a sort of special “x-ray vision” to see frets on the violin where there are none.  

Jumping blindly:  How students find a high G, A, or B up above seventh position on the E string with their 4th finger is a dead giveaway as to what kind of visual concept they have of their fingerboard.   If they find one of these notes, in tune or not, with their 1st finger flailing in the air and no “anchor” where it should be, then they haven’t a clue.  If it was actually in tune, chances are it was a lucky guess and is highly unreliable.  This idea of finding high notes using the 1st finger on the note a perfect fourth below your 4th finger is a basic concept..nothing new.  However, it has relevance here, for sure.

Using fingers as “tape measurers”:  Instead of inches or millimeters we speak in terms of whole and half steps.  Surprisingly, even some of the most basic intervals that lay between our four fingers are often executed without any idea of exactly what that distance is.   To play a 1st finger B flat on the a string and then a 4th finger E flat, we could just plop our finger down and adjust quickly with our ears.  I propose, however, that we use our 2nd and 3rd fingers to “fill in the blanks” and to help us measure that distance exactly.  It’s 2  1/2  steps very clearly that way.  

This, of course, was a relatively simple example.  How about something like a fingered octave scale starting on 1st and 3rd finger.  Again, we could just reach and hope for the best, or look at it as though it had frets.  Put the 1st finger down – then imagining that same finger in the same spot (fret) on the adjacent higher string, measure a whole step up to the 2nd finger and push that up  a half step.  Then place the 3rd finger a whole step above that and that’s it.   It’s a minor 3rd  plus a whole step.   And this can all be done before the bow even touches the string.  PLUS, it avoids my biggest pet peeve ever – when  a student “tests” a note by scrubbing around before they are ready to actually play (I’m sure I did this when I was younger, too.)  It’s a very bad habit – worse than nail-biting (I’ve really got to stop that..)

Much more on this topic to come….I’d love to hear any ideas you have on this topic first!

One Response to “”

  1. 1 Ben Hildner

    I still uses tapes–sometimes I put gold stars on my harmonic notes…its working pretty well for me lately 🙂

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