“Show Your Work”: Sequencing Pt. 2

This post delves into the concept of 'showing one's work' in the context of shifting in musical performance, introducing an exercise for practicing 'finger replacement', and emphasising the importance of understanding and controlling the movement between pitches for both technical accuracy and expressive musicality.

With David Allen Moore · Los Angeles, CA

As a young math student I was always frustrated by the constant admonition to “show my work” along with the solution to any problem with which I was presented. What does it matter if the answer is correct? What if I can just do it in my head? Is this just another burdensome anti-cheating strategy? The myopia of youth and my lack of aspiration to pursue future studies in mathematics blinded me to the wisdom and universal application of this strategy. The idea was actually less to show your “work” than to show your THINKING. How did you arrive at this solution? If the solution was incorrect, where did your process break down? Maths are reassuring in that there is always a correct or incorrect answer, but some of the same principles can be applied to instrumental performance.

I will examine this concept in the context of shifting. All too often when I hear a student struggling with accuracy or connection in a shift it will quickly become apparent that they are not fully aware of the finger(s) used in the shift or on what bow (old or new) the shift occurs. We will focus primarily on left hand mechanics in this article. In preparation for showing how this manifests in the context of a scale, I would like to introduce you to an exercise from François Rabbath’s New Technique Vol. 2. This etude involves playing a series of unisons to practice the technique of “finger replacement”. Each pitch should be performed without moving the thumb behind the neck. The repetitions of each note are played without releasing the string. Aim for consistent pitch and an undisturbed bow stroke. If performed with absolute accuracy it should sound the same as a scale played in half notes. Be patient with this first exercise. The uninterrupted unison will be disturbed by the slightest deviation in pitch. Mastering it fully is a lifelong endeavor.

Now let us put this into the context of a scale on one string with a duple fingering (2 notes, shift, etc.). In this example, the sound of the shift should be an audible gliss with a finger replacement just at the moment of arrival of the new pitch. Begin with the gliss lasting for almost the entire duration of the note with the shift. Gradually delay the start of the shift while still allowing for maximum connection between the notes and maximum sustain of the note preceding the shift. Regardless of the speed, make sure that you really hear, feel, and experience the space and movement between the two notes in the shift. All too frequently, we move between pitches without knowing exactly how we got there. This should also increase the experience of the space between notes as a MUSICAL distance and not just a physical one. As the speed of the movement approaches performance tempo, gently lighten the contact between the string and the fingerboard so that the movement between the pitches is effortless, and only the desired amount of portamento is exposed. One of the goals is to create the desired connection between the notes with timing alone. I would also recommend beginning this exercise pizzicato before adding in the bow in order focus entirely on the left hand movement.

Scale-like passages are one of the most common sequences found in the repertoire. It is this type of high-to-low finger shifts while ascending and low-to-high finger shifts when descending that are frequently misunderstood. The timing of the bow changes will add another expressive and musical dimension. Experiment with being intentional with the timing of the bow changes. For example, choose to change to a new bow on the arrival of each new note allowing the portamento to occur at the end of the old note/bow. Alternately, change the bow before the shift so that the expression happens at the beginning of the new note. Try one way up and one way down. Reverse that choice. Alternate between timings every other shift. The idea is to not only master the concept technically but to experiment with new sounds and expressions that will help develop your individual voice and musical aesthetic.

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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