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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: Magic Patterns

This practice tip is about building up speed in difficult passages but in a manner more advanced and complex than the earlier practice tip I posted about building up speed through the use of thoughtful chunks. I call this technique "magic patterns" and use it mostly with my advanced students. Currently here in Texas there are several auditions for students coming up that require the performance of several fast etudes, and my advanced students are struggling to build up speed.

Here are the 11 magic patterns in a nutshell:

Magic Patterns (11)
Each pattern in a measure is a separate pattern to be applied to the passage being worked on. The above patterns apply to passages that involve a multiple of four notes (16th notes, 8th notes). There are three requirements:
  • Keep the same fingering.
  • Keep the same bowing.
  • Play correctly, no mistakes. If there are mistakes, then the speed must be adjusted or the length of the "thinking pause" in the pattern execution must be lengthened.
I think of the above Magic Patterns as a floor, and each particular pattern will reveal a weakness in the floor that may need an extra nail hammered into it. A weak finger or a slippery shift may be causing a problem the student was not aware of. Maybe a bowing does not quite catch the string at a good contact point. The magic patterns will uncover all the problems one at a time. Some patterns may seem trickier than others, and this sensation may vary from passage to passage.

When a student has struggled through the entire exercise of applying the magic patterns, I ask them to play the passage as originally written. The students always acknowledge how much easier the passage feels after being massaged by the magic patterns: "It's magical," they say. And it is.

I then take two brand new rubber bands and show them to the student. We compare the color and the length of both bands; they are the same. I set one band aside and take the other. I stretch out the second rubber band eleven times, which is the number of magic patterns the student completed. After completing my stretching exercise, we compare the two rubber bands again. The stretched rubber band has a different color and is much longer than the first rubber band.

"One's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." -- Oliver Wendall Holmes

I explain to the student that when we made the passage harder by applying varied rhythms and increasing the complexity, we stretched the student's mind. When the student returned to the passage as originally written, the student found it to be much simpler and easier to play.

I seldom have to repeat my magic pattern exercise. Once through a difficult passage and the passage then becomes "mine." Occasionally in extremely difficult repertoire, I may have to apply other patterns. If the passage is separate bows, I add slurs and mix up separate and slurred bowing. If the passage is slurred, I play without slurs or spiccato. The goal is to find ways to play the passage differently and to make it even more difficult.

To increase speed, I practice with the patterns, include larger thinking pauses, and speed up the moving notes as quickly as I can.

I use similar patterns for passages in 6/8 or other multiples of threes.

Happy practicing!

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