This is the start of our Challenge. I chose a photo that I took of the 26-mile sign near the finish of the New York Marathon (my wife was running, not me!) because this is more like a marathon than a sprint. Take care of yourselves during this training! We’re going to jump right in but we’re also going to take it slow.
Here is a welcome video for week 14 and the Challenge itself. It includes help on the material you’re going to be recording this week:
Next week, Week 13, we’ll take a detailed look at the audition packet and read between the lines a bit. For now, all you need to know is that we’re counting down the weeks in a measured but steady fashion. We’re going to be talking about “top line” and “bottom line” quite a bit. In short, your “top line” is the absolute best playing that you’re capable of, and of course your “bottom line” is what would happen on your worst day. Audition preparation is about raising both of those lines, but especially the bottom line. That’s because you simply can’t count on feeling your best on audition day. Things happen: illness, traffic, temperature, nerves… we’re going to work so that even when all of those things go wrong, your bottom line remains as close to your top line as possible.
Right now your bottom line, as far as this specific audition material is concerned, is pretty low unless you’ve worked on the material recently. And that’s just fine. Week 14 is about raising your bottom line in general. Just about every violinist has technical weaknesses, technical blind spots that have remained in dark corners for too long. I’d like to address just a few of those with some etudes.
Schradieck’s Book of Violin Technics starts with three pages of what look like simple patterns, but they’re wonderful for working out the left hand in an organized way. Heifetz said of these three pages, “You’re never too good or too rich to play them!” And he would play them within earshot of his students, every day.
The Kreutzer 42 etudes is the grand-daddy of all etude books and remains vital to this day. Etude #9 is a fairly stern test for the left hand and its action. Take this one slowly and work your way toward playing it evenly and smoothly. With both the Schradieck and this one, stop and take a break if your hand feels fatigued. It’s better to work these several times a day for a few minutes each than to do a marathon session and introduce tension.
The Dont 24 Etudes and Caprices is the natural extension to the Kreutzer book. Etude #6 is great for fast fingers, trill work and anchoring the hand in various positions. Make sure that you start each pattern with the first finger on the string when possible.
For the right hand we’ll examine your spiccato in preparation for the Schumann Scherzo. Find a spiccato speed at which you’re comfortable and consistent. Don’t worry too much about the sound just yet; you’re after one speed where you feel comfortable. Everyone has a “default”; find yours and write down the metronome number. Practice starting a series of spiccato notes in tempo with the metronome. You can do 2 notes to the beat, then 3, 4, even 5 if you’re adventurous! Then begin to expand your comfortable speed both faster and slower than the number you wrote down. The players who fall apart in spiccato excerpts are generally those who only have one speed! When nerves or acoustics interfere with that “good” speed, they don’t have a leg to stand on.
I would encourage you to begin looking at the excerpts in a very relaxed way, just playing through them slowly to see what you’re up against. YouTube is a resource that wasn’t around when I was preparing my first auditions. Use it! Make a playlist of your favorite recordings of these wonderful pieces, to get their sound and character in your ear. This will be indispensable down the line.
If you don’t already know which Mozart concerto movement you’ll be preparing, listen to your options for that as well. Play through a couple of different movements to see which one fits you best. You can still change your mind after this week if you like.
When starting this marathon, take it easy. If you’ve been used to practicing just an hour a day, don’t jump into 2 or 3 hours right away! You’ll have plenty of time over the course of 14 weeks to increase your time if that’s what you’d like. Begin with 60 minutes, or whatever amount of time you’ll be able to commit to each day.
Now, the only way to keep track of what you’ve been working on is to write it down. I’m pretty old-fashioned when it comes to this; I like a notebook and pen. The idea is simply to write down how long you worked on each piece or etude. Don’t try to rely on your memory for this. You’ll have enough things to work on as we get going, and you’ll be rotating them in and out enough, that it will tax your brain too much to remember day to day. Write it down. I even require it as part of your first assignment!
Here’s how I might break up a 2-hour practice day. You could do these in any order, by the way:
- 20 minutes scales and arpeggios in a few keys, separate bows, slurred, spiccato, vibrato and non
- 10 minutes Schradieck
- 10 minutes vibrato work
- 10 minutes Kreutzer
- 10 minutes break
- 15 minutes Mozart concerto
- 10 minutes Dont
- 5 minutes trill work
- 20 minutes relaxed excerpts
- 10 minutes Schradieck or Kreutzer
Your video should include the following:
- Show me the notebook you’ll be using as your practice log. If you must use something electronic, show me that!
- Play some or all of the first 3 pages of Schradieck, any tempo. How much and how fast depends on your current level. Take it easy!
- Same for Kreutzer #9 with special attention to your comfort level.
- Same for Dont #6.
- Some spiccato work with the metronome, showing several starts in tempo. Vary the tempo if you can.
If you’re not part of ArtistWorks, make sure to use the submission form to let me know that you’ve posted a video!