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Dexterity


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I'm an adult beginner (I started vioin at 40) and have been working consistently for about 9 years. I don't have the time to put in a lot of practice time but I work at it almost every day for 45min - 1hr. I am at Suzuki level 6 or 7 (though I am no longer working in the program). I thoughly enjoy every minute I get and feel it's very special 'me" time.

However, I am plagued with a lack of the dexterity I need to perform fast passages cleanly. I have a very good teacher who has worked with both my bowing arm and my left hand to improve my tempos, but I am not satisfied. I don't want to blame it on age so I am looking to exercises that I can do away from the violin? (ie while I'm watching my kids at sports or driving them all over) or is my age and genetic make up going to be forever a hindrence to improving as much as I'd like

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If you are practicing everyday, your fingers are getting lots of excercise. Maybe you can stretch fingers to keep good range of motion. Some people practice a few scales on a viola to stretch out fingers. You don't want to do anything drastic and cause an injury. Some people use glucosamine and chondritin as suppliments for there joints. Also, speed is best achieve with the least amount of physical effort. This might be more of a macho problem, but if you press fingers down lightly and keep left hand more relaxed things will speed up. If your bowing is quick and clean, your left hand will follow the lead.

Mike

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My last burst of improving violin playing took place during a 5-year period between ages 39 and 44.

I would start with 30 minutes of brisk studies. Hrimali scales, arpeggios, Dont, and Paganini Caprices. Boy did that hurt! But the pain would ease after 30 minutes and then I would start practicing the music I wanted to work on.

If I did not dedicate the first 30 minutes to that loosening up regimen then there was no improvement.

The improvement was slow at that age compared to my teen years, but still there was improvement.

That was 34 years ago. No improvement any more, just trying to slow the decline. Well-- maybe I do play more musically now.

I would think that you should be able to continue to progress through all the music in the 10 Suzuki books and on beyond that.

Short bow strokes for fast notes are a big help!

Good Luck!

Andy

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Speed in a given instance is a result of multiple factors, the particular factors which are slowing you down need to be isolated and addressed.

I am happy to be corrected in this, but I think the main factors are: preparation (fingers in the best place for shortened and simple movements), aim, and raw speed (just how fast can your fingers move at all, and can you fulfill the other two factors while staying relaxed enough to maximize your raw speed.)

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Thanks everyone for your ideas.

Andrew, I hope I'll be playing for a long time. You are a great inspiration. I guess one advantage to starting from stratch at 40 is that I am still making great strides forward (I figure I play as well at a decent jr. high student now!)

I may, however, have to be content not being a quick fingered person -- I probably wasn't at 14 either.

Mike, I think you are absolutely right about a quicker left hand following a confident bowing arm, though I am still wishing for a miracle exercise.

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A couple of other books you may wish to look at are the Schradieck School of Violin-Technics, book 1 - it deals with dexterity. Then, there is the Sevcek Trill Studies and the Carl Flesch scale book. All of these should be practiced agonizingly slowly at first, with a metronome and a drone played by a tuner.

It's slow work - but it really helps for hand-shaping and jumping around the fingerboard.

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Let me add a little more.

A real eye-opener is the CD-Sheet Music CD-ROM for Violin Studies. It's pretty much got everything that anyone needs. Definitely worth the ~$20 it costs for thousands of pages of music.

The advantage of Etudes and other study pieces is that they enable the player (or preferably your coach or teacher) to select exercises that will strengthen your weaknesses.

I think that the Suzuki books, or other self-study music can result in life-time improvements (up to the level the books comprise), but sometimes one has a weakness that needs to be corrected. That's when use of exercises comes in.

I'm talking about people who will be satisfied to be amateur string players; orchestra, chamber, and some solo work for friendly audiences - maybe even some paid gigs, like weddings, etc.

My advice is not meant to train virtuoso instrumentalists. That's a whole different level of dedication and ability - way beyond me.

Andy

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The only other bit of advice I could offer is to find some people to play with

- a community orchestra or group of like-minded players

who would like to play some chamber music regularly.

This helps in at least two ways - the repetoire itself will bring you

new technical challenges each week - not things you think you can manage

but things you have to work on to make the music work in ensemble.

From this respect chamber music is better again than orchestra.

Each player's part is vital and rewarding and you have to get things up to tempo -

you get a better feel for the music quicker than just practicing on your own.

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Here's a little story...

A year or so ago I started an experiment.

As I drive around I place my left hand at different positions on the steering wheel and I do my finger exercises. The different angulations of the hand cause the fingers to have various ranges of movement. Some clearly work muscles that go to sleep easily.

Anyway, I have found that my third (ring) finger now behaves strangely. As I cross from open string down to 3rd finger in first position, the silly finger always lags behind. It's as if the exercises have produced an imbalance in muscle tone-strength of this finger, but not the others.

And now the climax...

I read some years back that Robert Schumann invented a device to strengthen the muscles working his fingers. It was crdited with ruining his playing because of a porblem with the 3rd finger!!!

Coincidence or cocktail story???

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If your purpose is to just increas basic dexterity to improve playing so that you can keep up in a community orchestra etc, there a few basic things to start with. First of all, the most important thing is scales and arpegios. If these are not solid, don't waste time on anything else.

All scales and arpeggios, from G to F#, 3 octaves, from slow up to 16th note triplet speed at a beat of quarter note = 60. This covers the whole instrument. As you work your way up, vary the fingers you use to start on and vary where the shifts are, not each time at first, but after you learn it one way, learn it anotherm then mix it up.

While you are practicing this, concentrate on minimizing motion. Keep fingers over the string, arched and in proper position, so that they just drop into place. Keep the fingertips close to the string and minimized finger lifting of unused fingers, esp the fourth and first fingers. Don't think of putting one finger down at a time, but holding the hand in such that all the fingers are in the correct place for the passage coming up - grab a handful of notes at a time - feel the key by the way you position your fingers. Then relax. Observe any of the greats, even in the most supersonic passages, they appear to exert no effort at all. That is what you strive for and what gives you agility. Never panic or let yourself tense up.

Always, alway, always use a metronome if you are anywhere near a beginner. Poor rhythm and unstable tempos are the single biggest problem with amateur players. Dexterity requires smoothness and machine like precisiona nd poor rhythm gets in the way.

Then move on to etudes. Here concentrate again on minimizing movement, and keeping fingers down as much as possible, grabbing notes by the handful - it reduces the mental load and increases the chance of playing in tune.

Always look for patterns of scales and arpeggios. Eventually, you will start to recognize and 'feel' passages in music even that you are sight reading.

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