Cut-and-Paste Music Analysis

I’d been studying the Bach Double Violin Concerto from Suzuki Book IV for several months, slowly and arduously bringing it to life with my fingers and bow-arm, when I realized that it sounded to me like a long and tangled piece of spaghetti. I couldn’t make sense of its musical thread, and I didn’t (still don’t!) have the musical experience or theory education to figure it out. The visual patterns in the score didn’t make sense to me either – they all seemed so random. Then I thought, “Hey! I went to Kindergarten! I know how to cut and paste!”

I made several copies of the score, got out the scissors and tape, and went to work looking for patterns and pulling them together.

Because my teacher first worked on developing my detache stroke, I looked for all sets of sixteenth notes that used detache, and created this page (5 of them, actually. There’s a lot of detache in this piece.):

Next, he worked on honing martele stroke (usually involving a string crossing, and sometimes 2, which adds complication), and I created this worksheet (showing page 1/2):

Eight-note scales show up in the piece (Only 6 times, only 1 is ascending, and they are all unique. Did you know this?):

As do triads of various types (in an extended run if they are 16th notes):

And there are half-notes requiring vibrato (all of which have similar entries and exits):

These 5 worksheets gave me the opportunity to isolate specific techniques that I needed to develop, and practice EVERY occurrence of them. The white space around each bit of music helped to isolate the bit, and prevented playing beyond it simply because more music was there, thus solving a persistant practice problem. Placing sequential bits in sequence allowed for building up a phrase one beat at a time.

There is also a worksheet that identifies shifts, so I can learn exactly where they are, and make sure that I practice each of them.

Those are the sheets that help identify and isolate playing technique. The next group of sheets involved identifying musical elements so I could start to feel the structure of this concerto.

I started by identifying the opening and closing gestures, and every place they occurred. Notice that the opening gesture is used only twice in the piece, the second time in modulation to the dominant, and it is still early on in the piece (m 14). The initial closing gesture of a phrase (m 8) appears 5 times, spaced throughout the piece:

But there is an alternate opening gesture that first appears in m 26, and is used throughout the rest of the piece. This 2nd gesture has two different rhythmic continuations. Pulling all this information together in one place, without the distraction of other aspects of the music, allowed me to study it, compare and contrast, and learn exactly what is what and where is where, which increases my familiarity with the piece and learn its architecture, which helps me not get lost in the playing of it.

After openings and closings, I looked for sequences (3 pages). Practicing them in isolation helps my fingers master their varying patterns:

There is a single larger sequence (the opening phrase) that repeats and modulates:

And a couple of larger sequences that repeat verbatim:

All of this looking and questioning and thinking and identifying, and cutting and pasting, took a couple of days. It was a couple of days very well spent, as it gave me an entre into understanding the musical structure and flow of the piece, which I would not have had otherwise, and it gave me a tool for isolating and mastering technical elements in practice. It gave me the possibility of moving beyond presenting this piece as simply a sloppy plate of spaghetti.

Last word: If you want to try Cut-and-Paste Music Analysis for yourself, DO NOT COPY what I did. It won’t help you. Ask yourself your own questions: What do I want to know? What is confusing to me? What patterns can I find? Only through your own process of discovery will you find enlightenment.

Copyright 2018, All rights reserved.

Chamber Music, Intimacy, Joy

With a bungling beginning, oh the first attempt was awkward. Even painful. We didn’t know if we’d be able to learn it. But we did! Everyone was so committed and worked so hard. I am so proud of my trio. We learned so much, individually and collectively: Haydn’s Divertimento VI for String Trio.

Along with the music, I learned that the core of chamber ensemble work is exposure, dependency, and responsibility.

Exposure, because, as the only person with your part, you will be heard, in all your glory and all your failing, first by your partners, and then by your audience. Everyone will know exactly what you can and cannot do. Unlike real life and the masks we wear and deflections we wield to hide our imperfections, there is no hiding in a chamber ensemble, from anyone.

Dependency, because without the full and best contribution of each ensemble member, the music will fail to exist, and the efforts of one’s partners will have been wasted.

Responsibility, because others are relying on you to do everything you can to help them do everything they can so you can all bring your music to life.

All of this exposure and dependency and responsibility requires a high level of trust among group members. Trust that everyone will strive their fullest and contribute their best. Trust that everyone will support each other in this striving.

Trust, in turn, requires personal intimacy. Intimacy expressed in knowing members’ strengths, accepting their weaknesses, encouraging their growth, and appreciating their contribution in accepting, loving, non-judgmental fashion. Intimacy that allows the creation of a supportive, nurturing environment in which to work together.

In return for commitment to intimacy and trust, you receive joy. Joy of music. Joy of belonging. Joy of friendship. Joy of support. Joy of work. Joy of growth. Joy of sharing.

It had been told to me that playing chamber music is among the most intimate of experiences. I had never understood what that meant. Now I do, from playing with my trio. It is an intimacy found in a sonic realm, through the caressing of another’s sound with one’s own, that can be found in no other way. And when infused with trust and joy, chamber music adds a deeply fulfilling level of personal intimacy to life.
Copyright 2017, All rights reserved.

Best Trio Ever!

Here are 10 reasons why I love my trio:

Everyone loves their instrument, and music, and learning to play.
Everyone is dedicated.
Everyone takes private lessons.
Everyone practices on their own.
Everyone comes to rehearsals prepared.
Everyone works hard.
Everyone is reliable.
Everyone is kind and friendly and interesting and fun to be with.
Everyone brings musical experience into the group, and shares what they know.
Everyone listens to each other.
Everyone supports each other.
Everyone helps each other work out tricky parts.
Everyone focuses at rehearsals.
Everyone is easy and flexible with scheduling meetings.
Everyone respects our coaches and applies what is taught.
Everyone wants to get better, and to perform at our best.
Everyone is excited about working together.
Everyone brings joy and wonder to music and to life.

We started 3 months ago. Cello and viola are accomplished musicians on piano and french horn, but we are all adult-beginners on our string instruments, and this is the first small string ensemble for each of us. My violin teacher agreed to coach us on Haydn’s Divertimento VI. Our first lesson was about feeling a scale together, in tune, watching each other and breathing together. Just the basics! Our first attempt to play the piece was painful. However, after one lesson per movement, and 2 guest coaches on musicianship (Appoggiatura = tension/release = drama/calm = strong/weak, and it’s all over the place! Or, which instrument has the beat when? Rhythm is important! Or, where is conversation happening, and when do you play off each other?) we are playing the entire piece through, comfortably and musically. Our 4 performances will be the test of what we have learned and accomplished.

The most important aspect of a chamber ensemble is how the members respect and appreciate each other, to what degree they work together and get along. In this regard, we are lucky. For a random grouping of adult students, we share common work ethic and aspiration. Practicing and learning together some 6 – 8 hours a week over 10 weeks, we worked hard together, enjoyed each other’s company, and take pride in our joint achievement.

From my partners I have learned what joy it is to play in a small ensemble, and what wonder the making and sharing of music brings to life.
Copyright 2017, All rights reserved.

Hard work? Work hard!

Does learning violin take hard work? As a simplification, yes. More than that:

Learning violin takes patience, to accomplish years of study;
Learning violin takes time, to carry out hours of practice;
Learning violin takes diligence, to stick with practice;
Learning violin takes imagination, to envision eventual capability;
Learning violin takes vision, to set goals;
Learning violin takes self-awareness, to set priorities;
Learning violin takes concentration, to filter out distractions;
Learning violin takes focus, to stay on task;
Learning violin takes self-discipline, to meet goals;
Learning violin takes confidence, to spurn pessimists;
Learning violin takes courage, to encounter challenges;
Learning violin takes temerity, to believe in eventual success;
Learning violin takes playfulness, to enliven exercises;
Learning violin takes insight, to understand the value of repetition;
Learning violin takes curiosity, to explore technique;
Learning violin takes inventiveness, to create solutions to problems;
Learning violin takes inquisitiveness, to expand knowledge;
Learning violin takes creativity, to develop musical interpretation;
Learning violin takes forgiveness, to see beyond mistakes;
Learning violin takes calm spirit, to dissipate frustration;
Learning violin takes intellect, to analyze complexity;
Learning violin takes attention, to perceive details of coordination;
Learning violin takes acuity, to critique growing capabilities;
Learning violin takes sensitivity, to hear subtleties in sound;
Learning violin takes precision, to create meticulous sound;
Learning violin takes rigor, to meet technical demands;
Learning violin takes sociability, to play with others;
Learning violin takes respect, to work with teachers;
Learning violin takes assertiveness, to find opportunities;
Learning violin takes listening, to broaden musical knowledge;
Learning violin takes dedication to creating music;
Learning violin takes joy in knowing accomplishment.

copyright 2017, All rights reserved.


Not a lot about studying violin frustrates me. I could think of only three things. Mostly, I can’t do anything about them, except introspect, and keep plugging away.   I get frustrated by life interfering with practice time. When a flat tire 200-miles from home wipes out Saturday’s practice, solving the tire problem wipes out Sunday’s practice, a car oil leak wipes out Monday’s practice, a sick relative wipes Tuesday’s practice, a last-minute trip to the doctor wipes Wednesday’s practice, and all I am left with is Thursday and Friday to prepare for Friday’s lesson, this is frustrating. I think of the child whose path is cleared for practice every day, and oh how I wish someone would do this for me. Oh well! It is the adult responsibilities of life that interfere with adult learners’ progress.

I get frustrated by my own failure to trust the process of practice. I have a tendency to over-focus and work beyond the daily crest of improvement; to grind my way down the path of deterioration, deaf to consequences. I forget to stop on the upswing, allowing 10 repetitions to be enough. The body and mind need a night’s rest to assimilate the day’s work and create a launch pad for the next practice. It’s a personality trait that violin demands I address.

Occasionally, I get frustrated by slow progress. I know of some who learn rapidly, and feel tinges of jealousy. Not that I can do anything about this. We are each blessed with unique characteristics that provide each with unique strengths and weaknesses. As much as I might wish otherwise, my neural-makeup is slow to change and grow, particularly regarding fingers that continually trip-up and sight-reading that continually stalls-out. I can only count my blessings that, with effort, and one synapse at a time, it does evolve, if I just keep plugging away.
Copyright 2017, All rights reserved.

Early Morning Musings, with Coffee: Inadequacy, Joy, Neurology, Plasticity

 Inadequacy. A horrible feeling. Yet I embrace it, in my violin life at least. When I feel good about my practice and playing, I get complacent and progress ceases. When I feel inadequate, that my sound and music could better express what I have to convey, then I look deeper and try harder to improve my technique, developing physical ability that connects to inner musical ideas. It’s a difficult road and a long slog.

Luckily, inadequacy is accompanied by joy. Every step forward, however miniscule, is a step closer to that elusive goal. I pair these feelings, allowing inadequacy to propel me forward in my daily work, allowing joy to celebrate accomplishment, but wallowing in neither. Getting lost either in self-pity or in self-congratulations are death to the violinist, in that the emotional self-indulgence distracts from the labor of forward momentum.

 If I could describe my inner neurology, I would catalogue the insufficient neural connection between my sight and hearing to my left hand. I can read and hear melody, however my left hand is ever-so-slow to finger the idea and stumbles piteously along the way. When my left hand is getting a melody, it commandeers all available neurons such that my bow-arm lacks guidance and sound quality deteriorates to crunch, crunch. The good news is that the more I diligently and thoughtfully practice, the more the more connected and coordinated my left hand becomes, freeing neurons to direct my right arm to produce beautiful tone and expressive sound.

The better news is that is that advances in the neurological sciences detail how the adult brain is far more plastic and open to growth than previously believed. We are so used to, and so taken with, the easy growth and advancement that accompanies childhood learning, that adult learning tends to get discounted. What I am discovering is that adult learning happens in a different way than childhood learning, but that it does happen. This idea serves as a foundation for aspirational goals that I cling to, worshiping at the alter of mastering skill through developing my inner neurology. One dendrite, one synapse at a time.
Copyright 2017, all rights reserved.