I had a blast giving a master class for the students of Deana Badgett. I started lessons with her when I was four until 6th grade. Returning to her studio to teach just weeks before I travel north to continue graduate studies was very meaningful, almost poetic.
The last student I taught that afternoon was Helen, a 15 year old violinist working on Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major.
Helen performed the exposition from the first movement with a beautiful singing tone and obvious technical control. She had a coherent idea of the form of the piece and was working to convey intelligent musical ideas.
However, I felt her playing contained inefficiencies in the execution of what she wanted.
The following inefficiencies were keeping her from moving to the next level of stylistic performance…
- not stabilizing the body on two feet
- gyrating the upper half of the body from the ribs
- performing with eyes closed
In order to iron these wrinkles out of her playing I (1) identified them one by one, (2) gave her focus points to correct each while playing on open strings, (3) steadily ramped up the difficulty of playing while asking her to maintain the accurate focus points.
This approach seemed to work extremely well, and she was making strides in her ability to perform with a steady foundation. Having only worked on this for about 25 minutes, however, the steady foundation was taking the majority of her mental energy.
With the last 5 minutes I asked Hellen what her typical warm up routine is, in order to identify a way for her to embed this work in her practice at home.
To my horror, Helen told me she generally “warms up” on Dont and Mazas etudes (in preparation for regional and state orchestra auditions), and then moves on to sight reading practice and concerto preparation.
When I asked if she did any tonalization or scale work, she sheepishly admitted she didn’t. At this point I knew she needed an intervention
I’ve already discussed how important a warm up routine is; in fact, the fifth post on this website was a close study of the way I use a morning routine to work on quality tone.
What we needed to set up for Hellen was not a technical exercise or a new sequence of repertoire, but an easy way every day for to consider her quality of playing in its purest form.
In the master class I walked her through Yost’s broken chord sequence. She’ll have it learned in a few days, and then the real work will begin.
As Yost’s chords become easier and easier to play, her brain can move on to much more important matters: tracking stats (contact point, bow weight, bow speed, bow tilt, bow angle), listening to sound qualities (on different strings, in different parts of the bow, with different weight), and find her core, sounding point tone.
After a few months of hard work playing Yost’s simple chord sequence every day she might just discover a sound that she recognizes is undoubtedly her own. Everyday she’ll seek out that tone, meditate on it, and relish in it.
With a quality of sound she knows intimately (aurally, intellectually, somatically), Helen can do two things.
- she can infuse other parts of her playing – repertoire, scales, etudes – with that quality tone
- she can study and correct inefficiency in the way she produces that tone. If the goal is to work on a solid foundation (as we were in the master class), the perfect place to practice that solid foundation is during her Yost sequence
I told Helen how important this sequence has been in my personal development. It is the single thing at UT that I believe impacted my playing the most.
Having an opportunity to warm up on the same thing everyday sets up my practice to be productive and healthy. It turns on my body, my mind, my ears, and my soul. The Yost sequence is a tool designed to transcend notes and to open up the pure playing of the violin for study.
Make sure that you set up an opportunity for your students to study not just notes, but their playing of those notes in every practice session.