...help with the crazy 16th notes in Saint-Saens Rondo Capriccioso

At the end of Saint Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso the sixteenth notes go fast and involve big string crossings and shifting and some nicely crazy chromatic business. All that can obscure the fact that there is fun counterpoint going on at the same time. If you listen to the countermelody in the orchestra part, it is an amazing experience. Plus, it will help you sort out all the “technical” problems and prevent you from rushing too.

Try playing this duet version of the ending with another violinist, but play really slowly at first, so you have time to hear what is going on! There is plenty of time to go fast later on.

help with tricky 16th notes in La Folia

When violinists tackle running sixteenth notes with some string crossings, sometimes they are frustrated because they can’t get comfortable and secure even after practicing the music for a while. For instance in La Folia you might have difficulty with the sixteenth note variation. Of course you have to spend a little time planning your fingerings and finger patterns, and make sure you understand the string crossings. After you've gotten those things a little organized though, it is efficient and more fun to practice the music with a friend or your teacher playing the bass line, so you’ll practice in a way that makes musical and rhythmic sense and makes the “hard notes” enjoyable to play. Download this arrangement for two violins and give it a try!

learning music fast

For violinists, one of the obstacles to learning music quickly goes unnoticed: When we’re reading pitches in first position we understand the note so instantaneously that it feels like the eye itself knows the name of the pitch, but when we see notes on high ledger lines we have to stop and think for a split second about what that note is. This little glitch in the brain hinders us.

It is pretty easy though, to get much better at reading high notes. You can use flash cards to get started. It won’t take you long to make a set that has all the notes on the first two octaves of the e string. Start by getting good at identifying E and A in all octaves. You’ll notice that a note on a space will be on a line when it is transposed up up an octave, and vice versa. When it feels easy and automatic to identify all the Es and As, add D, then G. When those are comfortable, add C, F, and finally B.

This is such a simple little thing to work on, but if you master high pitches you’ll understand intervals more easily and accurately. It will expedite learning new pieces, and will certainly help you with sight-reading.

interleaved practice

When I was a kid I learned that you should cement your progress as you go. Practice and figure out how to do something correctly, and then stop and try to do that exact thing, correctly, nine times more. One person even told me to put ten pennies on my music stand and move one over for each correct repetition. I was told I should not go on until I had really learned that one spot. That made sense to me then, and it still sounds logical. I thought I would memorize the correct way to play by reinforcing it right away, but this turns out to be incorrect.

Instead, practice the first thing for three minutes, then the second thing for three minutes, then the third thing for three minutes and THEN come back to the first thing, the second and the third and then a loop around again a few more times. You don't feel as competent while you are doing it, but you are learning much more efficiently.

It turns out this is so much more effective than practicing the first thing for nine minutes and then thing two for nine minutes, and then thing three for nine minutes.

Here is a scientist talking about it: http://gocognitive.net/interviews/benefits-interleaving-practice

music with words

I'm having a blast working on Kurt Rohde's opera Death With Interruptions.  It is based on a book by José Saramago, translated by Margaret Jull Costa. Because the opera sets ordinary English words I'm always running across little phrases from the opera in ordinary conversations. And when I hear them, I'm reminded of the way those words sound when sung with Kurt's amazing melodies, rhythms, and sounds. It is adding a whole new layer of enjoyment  to my every day life. 


Nikki Einfeld plays a ravishing character, death. She can't help falling in love with music and a cellist she is supposed to have killed. Nikki is a coloratura soprano and her voice is actually to die for.

The other thing is that the people I'm working with are incredibly nice and, naturally, I've been seeing them lots since we've been working together all the time. 

finger tips

If you play the violin eventually someone will bring up the idea of playing from the base joints of the left hand. Curve your finger so the fingertip is floating over the string. Then you lift and drop the finger by moving from the knuckle joint, where the finger joins the hand.

This is easy to say, but people sometimes find it difficult to do, which makes perfect sense: Apparently the fingertip is the densest site of nerve endings  in the body. You have really acute sensation at the point where the fingertip hits the strings. Back in your knuckle joint? Not so much!

Once you realize what is going on, though, you can put your attention fully on that sleepy knuckle. Hover the curved finger over the string and then enjoy activating the movement from the base joint of the finger.