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Rehabilitation for Violinists: Surviving the Coronavirus

Mike Lawson • String Section • April 30, 2020

With all the weird we have had thrown at us lately, the lack of making music with other people has been by far the most alienating experience.

Never in my life have I gone so long without being held musically accountable. My playing did not, initially, weather it well. Remote teaching cannot take the place of playing with other musicians and with students. I am becoming aware of just how much importance the accountability of other musicians and students have in my life and health; how much the orchestral experience means to my musicianship, and how much I need it all.

It is important for students. The question is: how do you remain at the top of your game without playing every day in school orchestra? School provides a regular, unflappable program of goals and tests and learning. Or so it was until the virus upended it and the world.

Here’s a systematic approach parsing a maintenance (or rehabilitation) routine into manageable parts with tangible successes. With minimal adjustment, these routines can be appropriately crafted to suit the needs of students.

Recognizing Realities

We still have the ability to improve. Speaking with other instructors and professionals, a common theme seems to be that perhaps our best years on the instrument are behind us and the rest of life is a battle against a widening of distance between our most dedicated and intense musical selves and being content with a “maintenance plan” that minimizes the inevitable. More often than not, if you can get past that idea that you will be “found out” and commit to finding what you need at this particular juncture of your life, you will be pleasantly surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us find our abilities to have matured within the application of our career. You will be your own teacher. The teacher is very skilled in zeroing in on what needs work and how to work on it effectively. Teachers aptly judge where to put emphasis of practice intent and focus. A teacher organizes themselves and their students well in terms of time management, goals, work ethic, and approach.

Am I a Concerto or a Sonata?

Knowing the answer to this will inform and help you choose materials most appropriate to use in the course of your own practice and is a fantastic guide for the rehabilitation of skillsets. It aids players in choosing which areas to focus on and which literature to pull off the shelf. There is a large pool of superb literature and merit in both styles of music that can be intensely useful for polishing skills and honing in on what needs work.

Each musician, in character, personality, and musicianship, falls into either the category of the sonata or the concerto. Sonatas are mega-hard musically. They require musical awareness of all things to do with the pianist (it is, after all, a duet in which the violin and piano share the musical dialogue in equal measure) and sensitivity to the context in which the music was composed, practiced, performed, and expressed. It requires nuance and versatility of a broad range of tone, colors, detail, mood, and a very high degree of effective communication with the body to share it all with the audience. You must know your own violin exquisitely. If these are your strengths as a musician and artist, you have what it takes to play a sonata.

To play a concerto is to be a virtuoso. You must possess adept skills to display the many techniques possible on the violin. A virtuoso is comfortable in personality and in showmanship. You have prodigious control of your bow to pull off the hardest music written for violin and be consistent and confident in doing so.

One skillset is not superior to the other; that is not the point. Determine which strengths you already have, and choose music and method that exploit the needs of the opposite. We practice to improve what makes us feel weak (what we can already do well does not require work).

Regime: Method Books

The following items are some standard materials for your regime; I have been using them as a guide for my own “rehabilitation.” These volumes have multiple exercises in them that, if chosen carefully, can be used with the advancing beginner and intermediate level student. Pre-shifting doesn’t mean “pre-technique.”

Kreutzer: 42 Studies or Caprices A detailed Kreutzer guide can be found on violinist.com.

Schradieck: School of Violin-Technics book 1 The obvious choice for finger dexterity, but also very useful for smoothing out the bow stroke in many applications such as string crossings (of the weaving variety) and bowing over shifts. Great for precision shifting work and a cool way to challenge bow distribution (i.e., how long can you make one bow last?).

Wohlfahrt: Foundation Studies for the Violin Book 1 (60 First Position Studies from op. 45, 54, and 74) Book 2 (42 studies in first, second, and third positions from op. 45 and 74).

Trott: Melodious Double Stops (book 1 and 2)

Dont Op. 37 24 preparatory studies (preparatory to Kreutzer and Rode Studies)

Mazas These are beautifully melodic exercises in bow usage and left hand versatility.

Bach Unaccompanied (solo) Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Even though most of these are in first position, they will challenge your left hand work like nothing else! The chord work and the bow control to execute these well will push any player from mediocre to high levels of musicianship!

Reference Books:

Fischerś Basics Everything you would ever want or need to know to play and/or teach violin! Very well organized and a good blend of text, illustration, and application excerpts/inserts.

Violin for Dummies Despite the unfortunate title, this is an excellent trove of text for the teacher as well as the student.

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