Saturday, March 25, 2017


Violin Matters          



“Without a solid foundation, you will have trouble creating anything of value”

Often questions arise in the minds of the student. Why am I still doing studies / etudes/ scales? Why is not the teacher making me do the concertos, sonatas?

What does musical exercise/ study or etude do? Each exercise concentrates on one aspect of technique. For instance if it has to do with the right hand (bowing) – it may be legatos. The exercise will focus on legatos –for the whole bow, the upper half or the lower half. So once the exercise is mastered, one has a reasonable control over the legatos.

Exercise on staccatos – may focus only on the short note to be played and full stop and wait before starting on the second note. One learns this technique SLOWLY and then speed it up with regularly increasing intervals. The single bowed staccatos are different from slurred staccatos. So the exercises could be different.

Left hand application of the exercise is similar, it may have to do with the position of playing first or second or higher positions. The I to III positions are mastered before the advanced student progresses to  high positions. Each exercise is specific and caters only to that aspect of playing.

As for the left hand techniques – shifting of the positions, string crossings, the double stops, the vibratos, left hand pizzacato, harmonics with double stops, etc, each can be practiced separately and then applied to the repertoire.

Now coming to repertoire, composer would have, depending on the complexity of the musical piece, employed various techniques which one would have individually studied in the  studies earlier on. It is important to scan the music, and while attempting it slowly in the beginning, identify the troublesome spots. Then analyze each difficulty and go through it  in detail.

If necessary, revert back to the technical study, practice it all over and then come back to the repertoire.

In case of attempting a difficult piece, it is important to:
  • -          Isolate the difficult part and work at it  in small segments |( one or two bars if necessary) and analyze why it is difficult ( section A)
  • -          Work at the solution , slowly for a short while
  • -          Go back to some other section of music ( section B)
  • -          Come back to the troublesome spot, now with its solution and practice this again ( section A)
  • -          Practice some other section of music ( section C)
  • -          And come back to section A again – and gradually speed it up to the required tempo.

This has worked largely for other colleagues as well as me. It is easier to do this rather than playing the music from top to bottom over and over when each mistake is made.

Short bursts of working at difficult sections with analysis, repeated in small sections saves much of wasted time and is retentive in memory easier than otherwise.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Violin Matters


Open string vibrato is useful in some of the selected areas of violin playing.

The usual string vibrato where the finger is placed just below the note and moved to the correct note – back and forth is based on frequency modulation.

The open string vibrato is based not on the frequency change as there vibrato finger is not on the string involved. It works by amplitude modulation

There are mainly three techniques for doing vibrato on the open strings. They are:

1)      If you wish to do G open string vibrato, place your third finger on the D string (G note) and do the vibrato on the third finger, but play the open G string. This is with the note one octave note higher doing vibrato. You can also do this technique for G, D and A strings vibratos

2)      You can also do the open string on D, A and E vibrato with the fourth finger on the lower string and do the vibrato in a similar manner. Here the note is the same but the vibrato is on the lower string.

3)      Last method is to do any of the  four strings – namely G,D,A or E by playing the open string, but vibrato with the wrist in the air ( without touching any note) 

4)      There is a fourth vibrato – ‘ the bow vibrato‘ from the 16th century. It is demonstrated by the shaking of the bow in the direction of the bowing (up or down) in the same direction. It was described in the 16th century by Ganassi in 'Rigola Rubertina' when vibrato was introduced in Renaissance music as a musical ornament. It sounds like a stammer – not a tremolo where the bow alters direction. It is at present, an uncommon bowing technique.

In general the overtone sound effect is similar to the bowed vibrato, though the intensity is reduced due to the sympathetic vibrations. The character of the open string vibrato can be altered by the type of open string bowing and the type of the vibrato on the adjacent string - rapid or slow.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Violin Matters                   



TILTED (partial)  HAIR

Violin bowing is one of the most intricate aspects of violin playing.

It is personal and every expert holds the bow and plays in his / her own characteristic way.

Clearly this shows that there are many ways to skin the cat.

There are controversies covering each aspect of bowing.

What this blog attempts to cover is only if the bowing should involve the edge of the hair or the whole hair on the string.

Carl Flesch mentioned this and bow tension in the Art of Violin Playing. 

Flesch observed that violinists who used the Russian bow hold had a tendency to use a looser bow hair and flatter hair, while those who used a Franco-Belgian bow hold tend to use tighter bow hair and tilt the bow more.

The arguments for both sides are presented. 

Each violinist needs to decide and adopt what to do based on the dynamics and tone.


Hair Tilt

Paul Stoebing in his book on ‘The Mastery of the Bow and Bowing Subtleties’ has mentioned three fundamental rules of bowing. Rule 2 is “Play with the edge of the bow hair, the stick itself being slightly turned towards the saddle and the peg box”

Paul Stoebing's 'The Mastery of the Bow and Bowing Subtleties'

He goes on to explain, “Play with the edge of the hair, but modify the amount of hair touching the string according to the part of the bow employed. At the extreme nut change, with as little hair as is compatible with a comfortable wrist position and tone quality, increase imperceptibly the amount of hair towards the middle…..”

Ivan Galamian in his “Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching’, mentions,“…Moving up -  the bow  from the square (middle section) towards the frog, the stick of the bow should tip gradually and slightly towards the finger board. 

This tilting accomplishes three things: (1) it preserves the straightness of the bow stroke as the frog is approached, since the arm is foreshortened a the hand gradually drops from the wrist ;(2) it removes the inner edge of the hair from the strings, thus compensating for the natural increase of bow weight; (3) it contributes the correct type of bend and flexibility to the wrist action.”

First of all tilting the bow does not necessarily mean that all the hair is not played on the string! This is because the hair is loose and can twist to lie on the strings depending on the pressure applied even if the bow is tilted.

Just as a painter uses different shades of brushing and dilutions of the color, the amount of touching the strings can produce very soft, melodious, transparent sound to suit the phrase.

Right hand – figure of eight choreography is used by many violinists with forearm pronation may involve some degree of tilting of hair.

Right hand - Figure of Eight Choreography
Pic from William Fitzpatrick with thanks.

Ray Chen the virtuoso goes to the extent of bowing with similar bow tilt at the frog and the opposite tilt at the tip of the bow to get the appropriate effect of tone.


All Bow Hair on the String

All the hair of the bow should lie on the strings from frog to the tip. 

This gives a rich, full tone.

People who play most of the time on the edge of the hair play only a percentage of the hair with a tilt of the bow to 45 or 60 degrees or even more. Less hair, less energy in sound.

Also when the edge of the hair is used by the tilted bow, this results in the breakage of the hair.

Playing full hair gives full, rich, robust sound which projects to the back of the concert hall.

Flat hair produces louder sound and more articulation; the fewer amount of hair, the sound is smoother but quieter with less articulation.

Playing all hair on the string, it is still possible to play softer and with altering dynamics of the phrasings by lessening the weight of the bowing on the string.

Flat, full hair technique was used by Erick Friedman, Aaron Rosand, Mischa Elman.

Anyway, as one plays the higher positions, one needs to play full hair with proximity to the bridge or the sound is going to be thin.

Strad Magazine (Jan 2012) "The Motion of Emotion".

"Many people consider straight bowing (keeping the bow at an angle of 90 degrees to the string at all times) to be the gold standard. 

Crooked bowing - they would argue inevitably leads to an inferior sound by introducing longitudinal vibrations in the string. 

However, in practice we can observe many violations of this standard, and the bow can be considerable slanted even in the performances of renowned players. 

Does that mean that their performances must suffer, and that they could produce a better sound if only they could keep their bow at a straight able? In most cases the contrary will be true."


There is no one magic answer to this issue. 

Situation depends on whether it is solo playing in the hall where the sound has to carry to the last seat.

It is good for one to familiarize with both techniques – knowing that the flat hair playing is a solid one. 

I started with the tilted bowing – but now changed over to the fuller hair for most of the legatos. 

But where the phrasing dictates different coloring and shading, bow tilting has to be done.

There are aspects not covered in this blog such as tightness of the bow, the bow holds for the right hand or the type of strings used (gut or synthetic). 

Recordings and live performances are difficult to compare as the mike placements and management by sound engineers can play a significant role in the modern music era.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


VIOLIN MATTERS                            


“If the edges of the sound hole are uneven and there is no clear ringing tone of the adjacent strings- it should raise an alarm bell”


'Sound post' is a cylindrical rod of usually wood which is placed inside the body of the violin . 

It is positioned inside the violin at a level adjacent to the bridge near the E string .

The Soul 

Sound post is placed between the front plate and the back plate of violin supporting the arch of the violin. 

It alters the tone of the violin and is often referred to as ‘the soul’ (ame) of the violin.

Ideal position of the sound post inside the belly of the violin is 1-3 mm behind the bridge position and 1-3 mms inner to the right foot of the bridge.

Fig 1. Position of the sound
(From Andrew Filmer with thanks)

Moving the sound post towards (1) the bridge gives a louder and harsher sound.
Moving the sound post away from the bridge (2) gives a mellow and lesser volume sound.
Moving the sound post to the left (3) or to the right (4) will increase focus on the adjacent strings.

Not only the position but also the make of sound post is important – the grains meaning the lines along the tree growth should  be at 90 degree angle to the grain of the instrument. 

The touching ends of the sound post should also be carved to the shape of the breast of the violin so that the contact is full and complete.

Sound post is generally erect, but can be slightly at an angle

Adjusting the sound post is just not physical, but the tone of the violin should be heard, felt and appreciated to a better one. 

Each violin is different in its temperament and only general principles of the sound can be laid.

Its position can be altered inside the violin via the sound holes with a setting tool by the luthier.

 Fig 2. Sound post setter tool


  • My violin makes a clear ringing tone on the open strings of G and D. 
  • But the clear ringing tone was absent on strings A and E.  
  • To find out the exact nature, I took a picture of the sound holes of the violin from the front which looked apparently normal.

Fig. 3. Apparently Normal Looking Sound holes

I also palpated the body of the violin and found the edges of the right sound hole were at uneven depth. The inner edge of the right sound hole was raised compared to the left sound hole as though the sound post was keeping the front and the back plates of the violin apart.

Pic. 4.  Left Sound Hole - Edges Even.

Pic. 5. Right Sound Hole- Edges Uneven and Apart


So I took this up with the luthier to readjust the sound post.

He confirmed my findings and readjusted the post to an inner position

The front and the back plates of the violin body were no longer under tension.

The edges of the right sound hole became more even.

The price of the pudding was that the sound returned to the A and E string – louder, clearer and what is more , the ringing tone of the open strings A and E had returned!

"There is more to it than meets the eye!"

By the way my age-old bridge had a minute crack on its back surface and we replaced this as well and the sound was far superior. 

So it is important to know that the sound depends on factors far more than just the sound post!!

So keep looking for causes to improve your tone - not only in your playing, but also in the violin!


       “If the edges of the sound hole are uneven and there is no clear ringing tone of the adjacent    strings- it should raise an alarm bell”

Sunday, February 19, 2017



The last mile refers to a gas chamber situated not a mile, but about 30 feet away in Texas State Penitentiary where Melvin Mars the foot ball star is being readied for the death penalty.

At the eleventh hour, he is saved from death as someone else confessed to his crime which was killing his parents and burning them!

Amos Decker is the police detective with  ‘hyperthymesia’ condition with a perfect memory and total memory recall. Decker leads the story with the FBI team weaving through a plot of hidden agendas, federal and police accomplices.

David Baldacci is a renowned Italian born, American lawyer turned writer  aged 56, with at least 33 thrillers , not to mention many others works for children.

He always brings in description of sports or physical fitness in almost all his novels. 

His heros are generally middle aged men who are larger than normal but have been physically fit in the past. The female officers of law are fit, agile women who outsmart the men – and the present story is no exception to this rule!

There is always a take home message from almost all his books about how to remain fit. 

For instance in this book, Mars the prisoner keeps himself physically fit by doing daily for 20 years, in his prison cell –

  • ·         200 pushups first with fist, then on finger tips and finally in backward dog position with his head touching the floor on each pass,
  • ·         300 deep deep squats,
  • ·         Yoga and Pilates for strength, balance, movements and flexibility &
  • ·         1000 stomach and core reps.

I have found Baldacci’s recipe for fitness always fascinating! If only we could do a fraction of these every day, we will all be a lot healthier!

His earlier books ‘Absolute Power’, ‘Total Control’  (disappearing executive in technology conglomerate- wanting the best for his family) and  even ‘The Winner’ ( the corrupt and prefixed lottery system)  have involved a lot of research and intriguing details.

Though ‘The Last Mile’ was released as late as 2016, I found the book not so very well researched on the finer details. 

I would have liked to see more of finer descriptions of people, places and events.

But the story keeps you interested in the book enough to finish it at one go.

Monday, February 6, 2017



'FALL OF THE GIANTS'  by the Welch author Ken Follet is a historical novel which depicts role of the aristocrats and the working class of the early 20th century (1911 to be exact) both vertically and horizontally.

Vertically because the story involves the coal mining community in Aberowen a Welch town , the coal mine and and the aristocrats of the last century. Horizontally it moves along generations and world war 1.

My own trip to the largest coal mine in the world showed that the Indian mine is 1000 metres deep where the actual miners work. I knew what ‘pitch black darkness’ meant and the importance of lights in the pits.

Follet starts his novel with graphic account of how the make-shift lift takes a young miner, a boy at that, down to the depths, ragged by his seniors who give him a lamp which goes out and leaves him in pitch black darkness!

Simultaneous narration of the owners of the mining town - the exotic Fitzherbert and his Russian wife Bee. Story weaves around the love and hate between lower and upper classes.

Explosion and fire in the mine – with death of many. The puny response of the mining owner to the fire!

True love blossoms not only between the aristocrats and the poor ; adultery,betrayal and denial also co exist among them.

The story goes on to world war 1, the trenches, treachery of the army officials, the stupidity of  the top government bureaucracy in going to war.  The officials despite the death of thousands of young men of the lower social order still proclaimed the (needless) war as a success!

This reminded me of how even after a 100 years, governments still manage to pull wool over our eyes saying how a change is done for our good , when only us, the commoners are made to suffer, leaving the rich to benefit immensely from the exercise !!

The social rights and woman empowerment with voting rights for women are focused in great detail.

The need for the common folks to stand up for what is right and fair - reminded me of 'jallikattu' movement in Tamilnadu!

In the end, the children of the miners who grow up to be bold, decisive young men and women lead a better life and become popular compared to the rich folks who are exposed for their greedy, selfish attitude. 

So there is a morality in the book after all and a source for joy in life.

When my son had bought the large book, I wondering how I’d be able to read it – but this novel depicts life in general and in war, giving hope for us all. 

Thank  you, Pravin for lending it to me!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

ADE KANGAL ( 2017) Tamil Movie

ADE KANGAL (Same Eyes)

ADHE KANGAL  ( Same Eyes)- Tamil movie released on 26 Jan 2017 with new casts. Initially what appears to be a triangle turns out to be a thriller.

Director has paid attention to young new actors who appear to be modern commoners we meet every day!

Blindness and woman empowerment are showcased  well.

Hero is blind initially, but successful as an entrepreneur with culinary skills.  Apart from this he plays no major role.  Most of the movie including the kicking and killing! is dominated by woman power!

Modern woman's mind is revealed aptly when Sadhana rejects the suitor quite abruptly when she finds his mind wandering; she appears practical even when it comes to marriage.

Deepa is also shown in a tough role with independent thinking and plotting while on the run.

The most jovial chap of course  is Constable Panju who makes the whole movie so deliciously palatable. A real 'paavam' police constable from Kanyakumari plays his innocent, comic role to the hilt till the very end.

The style of narration and story line reminds one of Soudhan -  the Hindi TV series of true police diaries!

It is reassuring to see good quality, modern movies in Tamil with novel thinking and showcasing of women empowerment by directors with minimal songs and no fighting!