On Up Bow Staccato and Pyrotechnical Goodness!

I had a really fun and interesting experience with a high school student this summer working on her up bow staccato in the Wieniawski d minor concerto. She was a student from abroad, and in her first lesson, I asked her what she most wanted to improve this summer, and without hesitation, the answer was up bow staccato. She had been working on the concerto for a couple of weeks and had successfully learned most of the difficult technique. Each time she had a run of staccato, however, she had to slow down the tempo in the preceding measures to accommodate. She told me she could just not get it fast enough.

When we started to work, I asked her about the different ways she approached the staccato in her practice and we started to look for places where she was less aware—the timing in her left hand, the excess internal rotation in her right shoulder, how she was tilting her sternum downward at a critical point in the bow stroke in order to create more pressure, but was actually inhibiting her ability to move the bow easily, how too much pronation was actually cutting off her power from bigger muscles to create friction with less effort. We spent about 20 minutes exploring various pieces of her individual puzzle that seemed to be missing, and already it started to come together.

I felt like the exploration of something so precise and complex and even seemingly impossible was also a real trigger for her expansion of the violin more easily into her self-image…maybe that’s going a bit far, but it was cool the amount of musicianship that also emerged as she explored these other elements of playing that seemed to get lost in the initial narrowing of focus around this challenge. She came back to me the next day excited to demonstrate her newly discovered and brilliant staccato, which was one of the fastest I have ever seen—in fact, we then had to work on speeding everything else up to match it!!! Now her biggest challenge is to learn how to slow it down enough to control the speed when she needs to.

This lesson started a renewed fascination with how and why these challenging pyrotechnics have developed not only better and better players, but how they have influenced our repertoire. I’m thinking about developing a series of Feldenkrais lessons focussing on the wild feats of string playing as a means for exploring our relationship with our instruments and the music we play, and how we can use these challenges to make other elements of our playing easier, freer and know ourselves better…creating long term wellness. I’m interested in creating variations for all levels.

I would love to hear about your biggest challenges, videos of staccato, ricochet, bariolage, fingered octaves, double stops, vibrato, whatever! This can include challenges presented by clients. All of our individual variations with these challenges are super fascinating to me. Other instruments welcome, too!

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