Sequencing and the Myth of Coordination

This article discusses the concept of sequencing in music, arguing that what is often referred to as 'coordination' is actually a deliberate and sequential order of actions, and this understanding can improve the way musicians practice and perform.

With David Allen Moore · Los Angeles, CA

Epiphanies can come at the strangest of times. A few years back I was enjoying dinner with Larry Wolfe of the Boston Symphony, and he made a casual non sequitur that stopped me dead in my tracks (I don’t even think we were talking about bass playing at the time).

“Coordination is an illusion. You put your finger down, then you move the bow.”

Could it really be that simple? Obviously not, I thought, but this offhand remark fired off something in my brain that transformed my understanding of coordination, or at least how I process the semantics of the word “coordination”. 

Coordination is usually understood as the process of doing multiple actions simultaneously (e.g. coordinating the bow with the left hand), but I think this definition is better reserved for instrumental activities that involve movements that are complete processes on their own. For example, coordinating left and right hands on piano or drum set is very different from a string instrument since each hand is complete in its own actions and does not require the other hand in order to function (as opposed to the requirements of the music itself). 

This way of understanding coordination has more in common with program coding than with treating your body parts as if they were some sort of biological ensemble that needs to play “together”. It allows you to visualize the order of actions in a progressive sequence similar to the dance step pictured above. There is infinite variety in the actual timing and order of the sequence, but start with the conscious awareness of always having the left hand down before moving the bow.

An example of an exercise to work on this might be to take a passage that has a consistent string of notes (e.g. Mozart 35, 4th movement), and deliberately anticipate each new note by half of its rhythmic value. 

Essentially this would mean subdividing an eighth note passage in 16ths and changing the left hand note on the “up beat 16th”. 

Once this becomes more fluid, move the anticipated note closer to its normal position by placing the left hand on the “up beat 32nd”. 

Sequencing leading with the bow can also have beneficial musical and technical effects. Experiment playing the same passage changing the bow on the “up beat 16th”. Issues with coordination are rarely consistently off in only one direction. Sometimes using this method of shifting the order of operations can illuminate where you need to direct your attention. 

“Dotted” rhythms are frequently used to facilitate bringing a passage up to performance tempo. In those instances the bow changes and note changes would still be consistent with the original passage regardless of the practice rhythm that is used. This application of sequencing is designed specifically to address issues of timing. 

Sequencing can be broadened to incorporate more nuanced and advanced concepts depending on the level of the player. A beginner might think something along the lines of “L-R-L-R…” etc. A more advanced player would be aware of the various stages of movement. For example, accounting for preparation and follow through in both hands as part of the order of operations. Scott Dixon of the Cleveland Orchestra has a fabulous way of visualizing this 3-part sequencing. He describes the left hand as being an awkward party guest that arrives early and stays late. 

“Oh. You said LEFT hand.”

The expressive potential of sequencing opens up a whole array of musical possibilities, and we will explore this in the context of shifting in a future Fractal Friday article.

Check out more Fractal Friday writings here.


About the Author

David Allen Moore, 4th Chair Bass of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2000, was previously a member of the Houston Symphony. He is an internationally sought-after Guest Principal and has performed with the Helsinki and Israel Philharmonic.

Moore is the author of Fractal Fingering, a required text at notable universities. He joined the USC Thornton School of Music’s full-time faculty in 2010 while maintaining his position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also teaches at Domaine Forget in Canada and DiscoverDoubleBass.com. His students hold positions in orchestras globally.

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