Aaand.... we're back: String crossings 101!

Ball State started classes today. I can hardly believe the summer is over and it's back to work! But so it is, and today was a very busy and eventful day! My summer was amazing, and I may even blog about some of the experiences I shared with James around Europe in the future, but right now, it's back to business!

I knew that with frequent traveling and constant adventuring for four weeks, bringing my viola did not make sense. Gasp! I do believe it's the longest break I have taken from playing in over ten years. And though I was having amazing experiences, I actually did miss it! I had a few "Phew!" moments during my travels when I was happy to realize that I am doing with my life what I truly believe I ought to be-- I don't feel quite like myself when I'm viola-less. While a long break was a nice change of pace, it was also strangely disquieting to not be able to practice or play.

But now that I am back home and school is in session, it's time to get my chops back in order. A lot of things are actually still okay, but then there are the little things. For example-- my body has apparently forgotten how to cross strings smoothly! When I first picked up my viola a few days ago, a LOT of things were shaky. I've worked out a lot of those kinks in the last week, but the string crossings are still messier than acceptable. Having had an incredibly full day today, I am only now starting to practice for the day, and I am very much focusing on string crossings.

So, how does a violist make a smooth, noiseless string crossing? You must focus on the balance on the bow within the right fingers. I find that if my fingers are lazy, my string crossings are noisy. If I maintain a certain level of awareness in my fingers, I have more control over the frog, and then am more able to maintain a smooth sound as I cross strings. The elbow is also of great importance-- its height must reflect the string on which the bow is playing, and it must smoothly prepare for crossings. I like to focus on string crossings while playings 3-octave scales. Mogill #11 is an excellent whole body warm-up! But try not to get sucked into the habit of always starting every exercise with a down bow. This evening-- after some long tones and slow left hand warm up-- I was playing one measure per bow (12 notes slurred), starting on a down bow. Once the scale was in tune, my shifts were accurate, and the string crossings were noiseless, I would then play the scale starting on an up bow. It's amazing how such a small change can completely change the physics of the exercise... but that's how you learn what your arm and fingers need to do to keep an even, beautiful sound, no matter what string or bow you are on.

It's back to scales for me, and then perhaps even a little repertoire. But having had so much time off, I am allowing myself more frequent breaks, and an even more rigorous warm up routine than usual. It's nice focusing on the details-- I am more in control and more productive when I work to fix one problem (such as string crossings), rather than trying to relearn all of the repertoire I need to perform in the next months. The notes will come, and much more easily when my foundational bricks are back in place.

Happy practicing!