Western violin techniques

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SrinathK
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#1 Western violin techniques

Post by SrinathK » 26 Jun 2016, 19:36

Greetings rasikas! I'm starting this topic as apart from CM and HM, I've been hearing a lot of Western classical violin too and the very best of what I've heard is simply too incredible for words -- their bowing, tone, swarasthana shuddham, their acoustics, their instruments. Now it is true that since the last 100 years and more, the violin as it is played in the west is now tailor made for gold polished renditions of compositions (on the extreme end of kalpita music) while the Indian violin tries to find the balance between kalpana and kalpita, eschewing techniques that don't really serve our music. But there is so much to discover in Western violin that is invaluable to any student of violin.

One of the regrets we have is that the playing of our greatest violinists hasn't been captured on video as often as it should have been. But we are lucky enough that at least the video tapes of these great maestros are available.

First of all, the ability to generate the kind of sound on the melodic line -- It's all in the bow and the vibrato

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50SMNJyx5II
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tenI_FyFeZ0

I should add that their instruments (a Strad and a Guarneri) are of such high caliber that they are sensitive to even the slightest variations in bowing pressure, speed, tilt, contact point and the angle of the bowstroke.

And this : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFVGZ0aQIbM
The intensity created on the slow second movement of the Mendelssohn, I've never heard anything like it.
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Rsachi
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#2 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by Rsachi » 26 Jun 2016, 21:30

Thank you, Srinath.
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SrinathK
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#3 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by SrinathK » 27 Jun 2016, 08:45

Now here's a tidbit -- these violins, the kind of sound they were designed for and the manner of playing them for a concert hall all reflect the time tested qualities of the "ideal" voice -- the old violin makers designed violins to suit the characteristics of the ideal voice and all the upgrades carried out on those Strads, Guarnerius and Amatis (bridge, strings, neck, bow) were all meant for playing for larger and larger audiences.

A) Natyashastra

Sravaka - Projecting or carrying power
Ghana - Strong, clear tone without instability -- specifically it could also refer to "wolf notes".
Snigdha - Power without harshness
Madhura - Pleasingly sweet even in the highest frequencies
Avadanavan - Well balanced, isn't excessively or exclusively loud or weak. It could also refer to the ability to vary the tone from softest to loudest
Tristhanasobh - Melodius in all 3 octaves (make it 5 octaves for a violin)

B) Sangita Ratnakara:
Tara (sweetness in the high octave notes)
Anudhvani (Rich on account of harmonics)
Madhuryam (sweetness)
Raktih (attractive)
Gambhiryam (full bodied, powerful)
Mardavaih (beautiful)
Ganata (rich)
Kanthih (smooth and bright )

They are also free from the various defects of poor voices, such as nasality and unbalanced harmonic content, harshness and feeble presence (All the tonal colours in the world are pretty much non-existent when the sound is struggling for basic audibility, all one ends up hearing is a feeble little meow. :lol: ). If you need to show how many kinds of timbre you can generate, you first and foremost need a big sound.

As this thread will show, the tone of these violinists and their instruments tick off every box on the list of desirable vocal characteristics.

Apart from this, in my opinion, the best players always have this ability to make their instruments sound like they are producing their tones via all the vowels of the alphabet -- the ability to create that experience of hearing an "akara" or an "i-kara" like in an alaapana -- in fact if you ever seen videos of some masterclasses, you will see that sometimes while teaching and trying to communicate a particular point, they sing and vocalize the phrases they are playing in terms of these syllables as they are seeking a particular tone out of every note and phrase they are playing.

We already do this for teaching percussion ourselves and the reason for that is what we vocalize is what we translate to the sound produced on the instrument and vice versa, but the same can even be done for a violin and it is limited only by the imagination and how "kiddish" you want to appear. Children have a better gift for mimicking sounds in imaginative ways and that's why many musical qualities are picked up earlier in childhood.

As this thread evolves, I'll share increasingly outrageous feats of technical virtuosity with explanations and videos.
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SrinathK
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#4 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by SrinathK » 28 Jun 2016, 12:47

Ok everyone, I feel I've got ahead of myself in a thread that belongs in the Music School section. Therefore, let's start off at the very beginning of violin technique.

First of all, before doing any playing at all, one must master the basic principles of holding the bow. So I'm sharing this video which I found to be quite useful on basic bow hold practice :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBXFdJ3rJFc

Observe that the very first exercise involves holding something small and light like a pen (not gripping) and that the hold always starts with the thumb and the middle finger, following which the other fingers just fall into place. The individual variations will be different for each hand and it is necessary for an individual to adjust a little till one is fully comfortable.

There are two basic bow holds -- the Russian and the Franco Belgian, while the older German hold is now outdated. More on that a bit later.

In the context of CM, violinists like VVS, Ganesh Kumaresh and RK Shriram kumar are closer to a Russian with a pronated wrist while violinists in the Parur school as I have observed are more Franco Belgian with a few traces of German. TNK's hold leans more towards the Russian, though not as pronated. Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu was one of those last practitioners of the old German hold.
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SrinathK
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#5 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by SrinathK » 29 Jun 2016, 23:09

Ok, continuing on, now it's time to practice on a real bow. That's more challenging than the pen, because the bow is much longer and heavier.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmgpb6WPhsI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onAtrRu_3So

Now a few notes :

1) The video shows an extreme curvature in the little finger, which is not actually the case in practice, in normal strokes the fingers are straighter. But to pick up the bow off the string and make it stay in the air, the fingers do need to curve to that extent to pull against the weight of the bow. The little finger MUST make contact with the stick when lift the bow off the strings for control. This video also teaches the Franco Belgian hold.

Here are some examples of both Russian and Franco Belgian bow holds with the bow on the string : https://sarahwallinhuff.com/bowhold-comparison/

2) In general, shorter arms and hands would do better with a Russian type hold, but for taller people with longer arms, this grip will force one to raise the elbow and cause discomfort. The Russian hold is also superior in the upper 3 quarters of the bow especially near the tip while the Franco Belgian is superior in the lower quarter of the bow, especially near the nut. The Franco Belgian hold is also superior and much easier for chords. The Russian is a bit easier to learn as a beginner it's quite easy to support the bow against the forefinger, the Franco Belgian requires the fingers to work more actively, so it's harder to gain control and that secure feeling. More on these differences later.

2) A bit of convex curvature in the thumb is desirable, at the most the thumb may be loosely straight. If the thumb goes into hyperextension, it will lock up the wrist.

3) Some bad habits -- a) the "bird claw", where the first finger is stretched out so that it's far beyond the others

b) The "bull horns hold" where the 1st finger and little finger don't get along and try to spread out to the extreme sides, while the middle and ring fingers are together.

c) A little finger that's too straight in an attempt to forcibly touch the stick.

All these end up locking the wrist and creating excessive tension on the tendons. The best violinists always use variable bow holds, where the wrist & fingers are free to flex and extend, relax or stiffen, pronate and supinate as required for a particular bow stroke at a particular point on the bow. For what those terms mean, check out this pic : https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/23 ... 2b140f.jpg

That is also why the German bow hold went out of favour. It resulted in a very low elbow too, which in CM actually results in your shoulder joint doing the work of moving the bow sideways in a seated position.
Last edited by SrinathK on 30 Jun 2016, 01:39, edited 1 time in total.
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SrinathK
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#6 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by SrinathK » 30 Jun 2016, 00:45

4) In CM, this picture is a good example showing slight differences in bow holds in an identical bow stroke : http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Oodfk8xbd6E/U ... diviji.jpg

Kala Ramnath uses an extreme Russian style bow compared to Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, whose is a bit in between a Franco Belgian and a Russian (but more towards the Russian). A greater number of Indian players play with more pronated wrists, possibly because of the need to play more in the upper half of the bow, and also because as children, they may have practiced with bows that are much longer than their arms. http://www.odisha360.com/wp-content/upl ... 00x199.png

5) Sometimes at the tip, smaller hands may find the little finger leaving the stick. This is natural and one should not force the little finger back on to the stick by locking it straight -- that immediately locks the wrist. The hand's anatomy itself is its own best guide.

Update : 6) The seated posture of CM results in a drastic change in the angle of the violin and the bow tilt while the arms and shoulders are still vertical. From my experience, without the aid of gravity the Franco Belgian hold has issues keeping the bow on the strings without continuously pressing in with the first finger (even while standing this is necessary to force more power at the tip). The Russian works much more easily because it naturally makes the bow dig into the strings through horizontal force, but then when you get to the last 20% of the bow, there's too much pressure and if you don't flex the wrist and shift the balance towards the little finger, it will scrunch the sound out of existence and your hand will hit the bridge (this problem can happen even while standing). Perhaps that explains my observations on the bowing practices of Indian violinists.

Western violinists prefer the Franco Belgian hold partially because of teaching practices and because it's better for chord work where light bowing action is needed, and you don't have that trouble in the last 20% near the nut. Also their standing posture comes with a risk of laterally raising the elbow in the naturally pronated Russian hold which could cause shoulder impingement problems. A pronated wrist requires a raised elbow which internally rotates the shoulder and bowing is one movement that takes internal rotation to it's very limit. This is bad in the long run when you have to play on the lower G and D strings. It was precisely this kind of injury that caused started bothering Jascha Heifetz in his 50s and forced him to go for shoulder surgery in his 70s and caused Yehudi Menuhin's bow arm to destruct over time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5sNYB1Q6aM

The only solution is to tilt the violin to the right to avoid raising the elbow to shoulder height, which is not that easy with most chin rests. With an FB hold one can keep the elbow down to avoid this problem. Indian violinists do not face this problem because of the seated posture which means there is no need to laterally raise the arm. Plus the violin can always be tilted to the right (TNK does this also to put more power down on the G string).
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SrinathK
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#7 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by SrinathK » 03 Jul 2016, 12:52

So now that we can hold the bow, the next lesson is to learn how to hold the violin. The standing posture introduces some unique challenges that aren't there in a sitting posture. In the standing posture, the left hand is responsible for supporting the violin and there should be absolutely no "vice" like clamping with the neck or shrugging that left shoulder up. Also the violin should not be placed over the shoulder, the shoulder should be free to allow it to bring the arm around.

Then the second most important thing here is how the left hand and fingers should fall on the fingerboard.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onAtrRu_3So
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ai9JB1eBqdw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfsQCUSCfWc

There is one other thing to note, choose a good chinrest that is height adjustable and not on one side of the violin, that will force the head to lean too far left. It's also good to have freedom to rotate a violin a little to the right to avoid laterally raising the elbow above shoulder height on the lower strings

Indian violinists in the seated posture sometimes put their fingers a little more parallel to the fingerboard then their western counterparts, as the gamaka requires a lot of vertical sliding.

Also a majority of great violinists are not in favour of using a shoulder rest at all.

Probably the best example was Milstein : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaNYFMNQ1MU -- he never clamps down with his neck and in fact sometimes he can take his jaw off the rest and still keep playing -- stability triumphs "grip". He used to stun some of his students by playing with the violin against his chest, and one of them even admitted he would have dropped his violin had he tried.
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SrinathK
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#8 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by SrinathK » 03 Jul 2016, 12:56

A lot of these technical difficulties don't come in the seated posture at all, for Indian violinists it's better to remove the chin rest too as it just gets in the way. There's also no issue in tuning the violin, whereas when you're standing you need a special grip to hold the violin while you turn the pegs.

But the seated posture has it's own challenges. If the violin is too low and too horizontal (like how some old school violinists used to hold it), it gives very limited space for the left arm to go under the violin for playing in higher positions (something that isn't that serious an issue in Indian music since we normally don't play up so high).

If the violin is too vertical to the point where you try to make it touch your neck, the bowing posture for an adult becomes extremely, extremely awkward and you have to raise the arm far too much. Only children and very short people hold it that way because they are very small compared to a violin.

Personally for my height, I've found it most convenient to keep the violin below the collarbone, on the upper chest, and I'm free to adjust it around as I play (occasionally if I feel it slipping I adjust and press into it just a bit with my torso). When I was a kid, I held it so vertical it was under my neck and left marks on it, but as I got taller, my arm got longer and I had to eventually bring it down to an angle where my bow arm is most comfortable. M S Gopalakrishnan is a very good example of an ergonomically correct and aesthetically pleasing seated posture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXfgeLbRM8k

No variation of the seated posture of an Indian violinist will however give you as much space to bring your arm under the instrument to reach higher positions as the standing posture ever will, but it totally removes the need for the hand to support the violin, leaving it free to play gamakas at will.

In my opinion, the great MSG devised a radical idea to get rid of the whole issue of playing in high positions while seated by taking his left thumb off the instrument altogether ( :o :o :shock: ) so that he need not bother to bring his arm underneath the violin altogether -- which I've seen him do live. Now THAT is the equivalent of driving a bicycle with no hands on the bar. Anyone who does that in a standing posture WILL drop the violin. :lol:
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SriKrishnan
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#9 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by SriKrishnan » 02 Oct 2016, 20:48

Thanks Srinath, for sharing the Videos and your analysis.

Eager to know your views on the other great legends Lalgudi, TN krishnan, N Rajam & VVS.

Regards,

Sri krishnan
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shankarank
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#10 Re: Western violin techniques

Post by shankarank » 02 Nov 2016, 20:35

Some violinists are taking a stand ;) by using the stick stand ( don't know the technical name of it) to support the lower end of the violin so they don't need to bend down.
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