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Friday, July 15, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: Use the Sevcik Connection

In the past year I have been reacquainting myself with the materials put together by Otakar Sevcik, a Czech violinist in the latter half of the 19th century, early 20th century. Sevcik was appointed professor of violin at the age of 23 with the Russian Music Society in Kiev. He also later taught violin at the Prague Conservatory and Vienna Music Academy.

Sevcik's materials were staples in the technical repertoire during my formative years, and his comprehensive books are still around today. The books include studies in bowing, finger patterns, double stops, and shifting. They are valuable teaching and practicing tools. Although these materials may not be the current pedagogical fashion today, I believe that teachers (and students) might benefit from reviewing and considering the value of these materials.

There has been a renewed interest in some other technical materials written by Sevcik. These materials include analytical studies of various concertos or repertoire pieces. Currently these materials are being revisited and revised in translation. For more information, there is an interview published on violinist.com concerning the new editions of these analytical materials (http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20111/12018/).

Some of these materials may be studied now on the International Music Score Library Project website: http://imslp.org (Pretrucci Music Library), along with the other Sevcik materials. Although I have been purchasing my own personal copies of the analytical studies as the revised versions become available, I have spent a great deal of time immersed in Sevcik's gems of technical exploration of some of my favorite concertos and pieces (Brahms, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and Wieniawki's "Scherzo-Tarantelle").

As I studied these materials, I analyzed Sevcik's work to form today's practice tip. I believe that Sevcik's philosophy is all about making connections -- connections between intervals, fingers, notes, bowing, and rhythms. After identifying these connections, Sevcik devised exercises that physically focused on repeating the connections.

I have experimented with these ideas with my university students, and we have had great success. We identify a tricky little passage, and then we analyze how to turn it into a finger exercise. Then we repeat this finger exercise over and over. My goal is to perform the exercise at least four times (3 times is never enough, and 5 seems excruciatingly long to a young student; 4 is like Goldilocks and the Three Bears and "just right.").

Here is a simple example of how this "Sevcik" practice tip works. Consider "Allegretto" (song #10 in Suzuki Violin book 1). Students often have a spot of trouble learning the fourth finger pattern in the 4th, 5th, and 6th notes of the song -- F#-A (4 on D string)-G. If we were to use my Sevcik practice tip, the student and I would play those three notes several times. We would also play several permutations and combinations of these three fingers. For example, I would play F# and 4th finger A over and over about four times. Then I would play the A and G over and over four times. Then I would play the three notes up and down a few times. Then I would change the pattern and play each pattern a few times: F#-G-A-G, or F#-A-G-F#, or F#-A-G-A, or A-G-A-F#, or A-F#-A-G. The student and I have fun coming up with new possibilities and connections. After we have done all of these, I ask the student to play the passage as it is written. I am constantly delighted to see my student's face light up because the passage has now become incredibly easier.

I am willing to bet that there are very few folks out there who enjoy practicing. I have spent many years coming up with ways to entertain myself in practice sessions. Using the Sevcik ideas, I have discovered the kind of amusement that keeps my active mind engaged and diverted in a good way. If I have a tiresome passage of 16th notes, I might play the passage with an extension that repeats each of the four-note groups of 16th notes four times. In this way, I might extend a 16th note passage of 24 notes to a 16th note passage of 96 notes. Then because I play so many notes continuously, I do not have the feeling that I am "practicing," at least in terms of practicing as hard work. Instead, I feel as if I am "playing," even though I really am practicing very efficiently and effectively. And I am enjoying myself in the process.

I am teaching a summer strings camp right now, and I frequently employ these Sevcik practice tips during orchestra sectionals with great success. I hope you enjoy this practice tip as well. There are many places in the Suzuki repertoire that lend themselves rather well to the Sevcik practice tip. And wait until we get to double stops! Sevcik practice tips become really fun then! Oh, the combinations of Sevcik possibilities!