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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hover Balls, Coloring Books, and String Skin

In recent articles, I have discussed the challenge of teaching and practicing with speed demons. When I first encounter a speed demon, I also encounter other typical playing difficulties, such as the inarticulate articulation and the wispy bow. In these other articles, I discussed ways of handling speed demons, and I will provide links to these previous articles at the end of this article.

I first seem to notice these articulation issues somewhere around Long, Long Ago in Suzuki Violin Volume 1, although these issues can occur at any time. I monitor my own playing closely for this issue as well. Just about the time that students start to develop some ability to play easily and with longer bows, the problem seems to arise. Although I teach staccato since the first lessons, I have to watch closely that the student does not discontinue staccato playing where indicated in the music. Songs that are to be played with staccato articulation wind up being legato, as students try to play faster to emulate the performance recordings. The students have not yet developed the ability to hear the staccato when it is played quickly by a professional. There are so many levels of staccato, or different consonants as I call it, and beginning students have not yet developed the skill to hear these different levels at this stage. So in early book 1, I often have to deal with the issue of non staccato playing when it should be staccato.

Along with the techniques and suggestions I wrote in the previous articles, other teaching methods I use with speed demons to tackle the inarticulate articulation and wispy bow are the hover ball, coloring book, and string skin analogies. Here is how I describe the phenomenon of the hover ball.

Hover Ball

When we throw a baseball straight up into the sky, we know that it will return to earth. When I ask students why this happens, they understand that gravity is the force that pulls the ball's return down to earth. We know too that the ball does not just hit a ceiling in the sky and then scud back down to the ground. There is a moment in time when the ball "hovers" in the air before it begins its descent. If we were to recall our last ride on a roller coaster in an amusement park, we would generally agree that there is a suspension in time after the ride's ascent and just before the ride begins to descend when we feel as if we are floating in air for a brief second. I call this suspension in time the "hover ball," because it resembles the way that a ball hovers momentarily before beginning the gravity free fall.

Coloring Book

Similarly, most students will readily identify with the coloring book scenario. My students understand what it means to color "within" the lines. If I were to tell a student that the student was coloring "outside" the lines of the note, the student would understand what I meant by that description.

I tell my students that notes have a "personal space" between them, almost like a thin skin that separates them. Similar to the hover ball and the coloring book line, the notes have a slight "space" between each other. The bow creates this space when it pushes the string back and forth between down bows and up bows.

When I ask my students to listen and notice the end of one note and the beginning of another note, the students begin to coordinate the right and left hands together better. The students begin to clean up the messy articulation that I previously heard. By asking my students to listen closely to the sound they make and try to discern whether the bow is coloring outside the note “lines,” my students tend to naturally slow down their playing speed so that they can really listen and make the necessary adjustments with the bow and fingers.

String Skin

Once I have a student really listening to this aspect of his or her playing, I then discuss how strings are made, that they have a core that is wrapped with another metal “skin.” Then I ask my student to consider whether he or she is brushing the bow over the string “skin” similarly to a person’s brushing his fingertips over the skin of the arm, or whether the bow is really grabbing onto and moving the string “skin,” as when a person grabs hold of his arm and actually moves the skin back and forth.

When I ask for this method of playing, my student’s tone immediately deepens and increases in volume. Thereafter, all I have to do is remind my student to make sure his or her bow is moving the string skin.

Here are the links to the previous articles about speed demons and the "rushing" issue:

Speed Demons

Speed Busters
The Power of the Stopped Bow

Please leave a comment if you have another teaching or practicing idea to address this issue that you would like to share.

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