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Increasing Speed on Fast Arco Passages

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Pete G, Feb 21, 2003.

  1. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    For those of you who teach (or could), what suggestions do you have for improving a player's ability to play fast licks with the bow?

    I'm thinking about passages like the opening of the Fourth Movement in the Tchaikovsky IVth; the Presto section in the Fourth Movement of the Dvorak VIth; the Russlan/Ludmilla overture; and most of the Mahler Vth. I'm sure each of us has a little list of favorites like these.

    There is another thread under "Technique" on improving speed in pizz playing, and some of the suggestions there probably carry over -- especially the need for relaxation in both hands.

    But does anyone have any concrete and practical suggestions -- drills, practice routines, etc. -- for raising one's personal "speed limit" when playing symphonic passages with the bow?
  2. jaybo

    jaybo Guest

    Sep 5, 2001
    Richmond, KY
    Make sure to relax, breathe, and anticipate. Don't let the fast passages jump on you from nowhere. As far as increasing speed just make sure you always practice scales with a metronome. It may even be useful to make a chart showing your progress. Just be sure to remind yourself that it gets harder and harder to reach a new threshold as you get better and don't get discouraged.
  3. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    Thanks, Jaybo.

    I think another part of it is how one views and thinks about the musical line.

    There is a tendency sometimes to view and approach each note individually as a separate challenge, and of course to an extent that's not wrong.

    But I suspect that if a player reads lines of music, especially fast passages in a scale or arpeggio, the way we read words -- not as individual letters, but rather as words or even phrases -- part of the mental barrier would drop away.
  4. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    As our Ed said once, if you can't play it slow, you'll never play it fast.
    So, take the passage down to a doable meter, no matter what it is. Practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent. By working slowly, doing the same fingerings and crossings every time, your body will memorize the execution. Only when you're secure, start ratcheting up the metronome bit by bit, never outpacing your ability to execute.
    Also, maintain the performance dynamics. When playing slowly, many have a tendency to bear down more than is called for at the faster tempo.
    When you reach performance week, if you're not making the tempo, get back to me. There's one more dirty little secret.
  5. YES! If you try to learn fast things at tempo you will be frustrated and your body will also make compromises, generating bad technique. By learning slowly first, you will eventually not only be able to play the passages fast, but also correctly.
  6. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    Pete G's words ring awful true, and I told the same thing to a student the other week - to see scales and arpeggios as "words" rather than as individual "letters". The funny thing is, I learned it away from the bass. I was wondering why, even though I was thoroughly familiar with the Hebrew alphabet, my reading was still slow. I realized I was still reading a letter at a time, and there's only so fast you can do that. In the pretty much the same epiphany I realized that musical phrases work the same way. Glad to know I'm not nuts, or that if I am, there's other loonies out there.

    Specific teaching techniques... isolate the left hand and right hand movements. Play the part with a slurred bowing to encourage smooth, even shifting with the left hand, isolate the string crossings a la Zimmerman to practice the right hand techniques. After doing this, I found I was trying way too hard to play fast with my right hand and now I can scale back to just doing what must be done and that has helped a lot. That and lots of slow practice. After practicing Mozart 35 at 60-80 bpm, I found I could take it suddenly to 110-120 and still hear improvement. It's amazing how well muscle memory works in that regard. You instinctively want to play at the absolute threshold of speed that you can manage, and there's much to be learned by doing it, but there's even more improvement to be gained by playing at an easy tempo until it gets even easier. It's almost spooky - like finishing a marathon faster by walking instead of running, it doesn't make conventional sense.

    As far as repertoire... you can use anything, really. Even etudes that the student has learned before, but at an increasing tempo. I've been using an exercise attributed to Luigi Rossi (Bottesini's teacher) as a kind of whetstone to sharpen various bowing techniques, particularly spiccato. But, for my two cents, nothing encourages clean fast playing like Mozart.

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