The third etude in Dont’s Op 37 poses its primary challenge to the bow arm: long, sweeping bow strokes that flow from the E-string, back to the G-string, and up to the E-string again, all under one stroke, with many string crossings along the way. To play this etude smoothly and with a good Allegretto feeling, it is necessary to combine the intricacies of sting crossing at the various parts of the bow with an overall feeling of freedom and forward motion in the long bow stroke.
First, however, as with most etudes, it is necessary to secure a comfortable left hand position and solid intonation. This will be a foundation upon which to gradually build up the tempo and apply the bow techniques.
Left Hand and Intonation – A Solid Foundation
According to Galamian’s Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching, Galamian recommended practicing this etude with a slow, martele stroke at first, with a separate bow for each note. This is an excellent way of preparing the left hand, as it gives a chance to anticipate and set the left hand in the pause between notes. Special attention should be given to the extended fourth and first fingers, which should always be played by reaching only with the extended finger (never by adjusting the hand or wrist).
Left Hand Anticipates the Bow for Smooth String Crossing
Smooth string crossing is primarily a matter of bow technique, but there is also a string crossing technique for the left hand. As much as possible, the left hand should anticipate the bow so that the string sings immediately when touched by the bow. Whether one actually puts a finger down on the string or merely guides it above the note in question depends on the particular example.
In measure one, the 3rd and 5th notes of the piece can be set in advance, effectively making the left hand play broken thirds. Because this requires the fingers to be slightly steeper than usual (so as not to block the higher string), it is better to delay the left hand anticipation in this case – still setting the finger before the bow activates the string, but not excessively early, which could lead to unnecessary tension.
Anticipating the 8th note of the first measure, however, does not create any difficulties, and the first finger should play this “E” as soon as it’s job playing the previous “A” is done.
The 10th and 12th notes of the first measure follow an open string, making it impossible to set them in advance. In these cases, the finger should hover above its upcoming note, ready to drop without any further adjustment.
In summary, the left hand should anticipate the bow whenever possible, but any anticipations that cause tension should be avoided. It should feel as if the left hand is fluid and soft, easily flowing a step or two ahead of the bow.
String Crossing at the Frog, Middle, and Tip
When playing at the tip of the bow, the bow arm must make a dramatic movement to cross strings – to move from the E-string to the G-string at the tip, the bow hold must move almost two feet! This movement is best executed from the forearm because it is so large. At the frog, however, the very same string crossing requires only a few inches of motion from the bow hold, and this small motion is best executed by the fingers. At the middle of the bow, the wrist is best suited to the moderate movement.
The exact motions of fingers, wrist and arm for these string crossings are not only subtle and precise, but also personal, and they can only be taught in a private lesson. Any interested student should ask his or her teacher about these string crossing techniques, and be sure to master them!
It is very helpful to practice string crossings on open strings, first working only in specific thirds of the bow – use the finger technique in the lower third, the wrist technique in the middle third, and the forearm technique in the upper third. After mastering these motions on open strings, it will be much easier to apply them to the Dont etude. By studying the techniques in isolation (with open strings) and in application (in the etude), it is possible to make these smooth string crossings second nature – once learned, they feel so comfortable and natural that the bow arm will want to cross strings in this way practically without any conscious effort from the player – this should be the goal!
Final Touch – The Flow of the Full Bow
Once the left hand is secure enough to play this etude at a tempo that allows the marked bowing, and once the precise strings crossing motions have become comfortable and fluid, the finishing touch for this etude is to find a flowing, smooth feeling of the bow. The upper arm gracefully moves up and down, following the large arc of the strings crossings, and the up- and down-bow motion is free and expansive.
The local details of left hand technique and note-to-note string crossing must be smoothed out by practicing in the ways previously discussed, otherwise they will feel like “bumps in the road,” interfering with the flow of the bow.
Once the etude is learned to this level, the player will start to notice the interplay of the local string crossings with the larger-scale arc of the upper arm. The upper arm is large and cumbersome compared to the fingers, wrist, and even the forearm, and should only move to follow the general string level – i.e., never for a single string crossing. For example, in measure 1, the upper arm begins on the A-string level, gradually flows to the G-string level, and then gracefully drops to the E-string level. This is all under one down bow!
Making this smooth and graceful is the primary work and joy of this etude. The precise motions are very personal; however, for any violinist who learns this etude to the level necessary to appreciate its delicate balance of precise, local motions and large, flowing sweep, it will be a pleasure to search for this wonderful feeling of freedom!
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