If you missed the recent Simon Fischer Masterclasses and open lessons, here are my organized notes with comments. Rather than write anything down during the class, I found it more useful to pay attention and organize my thoughts the day after.
I stayed for several open lessons and the early masterclass. Several of my students stayed for the second masterclass and discussed their notes with me later on.
I've admired Simon Fischer's publications (Basics, Scales, Double Stops, Practice, Violin Lesson) and DVD projects (Tone Production, Warmups) for several years. It's clear that his work is the most up-to-date, organized, generally accepted body of work of violin knowledge. Basics, Practice, the Violin Lesson, contain much of the same information, but geared towards different readers.
For my high school students, Practice and the Violin Lesson are the most approachable as resources.
I was looking forward to his classes at Baylor for several months, and I was so pleased that four of my own students and a couple of other San Antonio students were able to make the drive up to see the classes.
I'm paraphrasing everything, but the first comments Simon Fischer made at his classes were:
-I studied with some of the greatest teachers of the 20th century, but I consider myself self-taught.
-I like to borrow all of the great ideas from all of the violin schools.
-What is improvement? A (willingness) to change for the better.
-What is music? It's Rhythm, Tone, Intonation. You don't work on Rhythm, Tone, Intonation, and then somehow add music to it.
-Mr. Fischer also made a comment that as a young man, he was tied up in physical and mental knots, regarding excess tension and intonation issues.
He left the impression that there were several great teachers that spent very little time teaching the violin, even if they were very good music teachers.
A Lesson Conversation starter:
Every great teacher tends to create a very specific atmosphere and tone when talking with students. Simon Fischer's rapport was both jovial and laser-focused on problems at hand.
"You have such a beautiful tone, and sense of style in (insert piece here), and I bet you NEVER, EVER think about (insert topic here) while you're practicing."
(Topic) could be the angle of the finger, testing intonation with open strings, etc.
I really liked this approach to opening conversations with students, because the "I bet you NEVER, EVER think of such and such," assumes that students actually are thinking in the first place, and also places an expectation of additional critical thought and experimenting.
One student, performing the Khachaturian Concerto, had some significant setup issues. It was clear that beyond Fischer's dislike of the Khachaturian Concerto, there was worthwhile time to be spent on experimenting with the shoulder rest and chinrest.
The particular student had a very high set shoulder rest, which was throwing her bowing planes out of whack, and making G-String tone production quite difficult. Hardly a giraffe, the student looked much more comfortable with a lower shoulder rest, allowing the violin to rest on her collarbone.
Fischer also advocated for the use of chinrests with lips, over flat chinrests. He seemed allergic to one student's expensive Kreddle chinrest, as it had no lip at the end.
When I attended ASU's Paul Rolland Seminar last summer, there were some very similar comments made by presenters there.
The overall sentiment seemed to be: Find a great chinrest first, try to find a tall chinrest, if need be, and then find the shortest shoulder rest or other device possible.
Recently, I've been playing with a Sure Tone shoulder rest, and it's been a wonderful change from the Mach One, from anything Kun, from sponges and makeup pads. It doesn't squeeze or touch the back of the violin. Awesome.
Violin Playing School of the Void: There is no bow hold. There is no shift.
"There is no Bow Hold."
I remember reading Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of 5 Spheres," a book on the art of war as a rational and scientific pursuit.
Musashi writes: "There is no such thing as a man−cutting grip. Generally, I dislike fixedness in both long swords and hands. Fixedness means a dead hand. Pliability is a living hand. You must bear this in mind."
"There is no bow hold," is the understanding that all bow holds need to move and balance as one travels from frog to tip.
Fischer asserted that the "Carl Flesch" bow hold (what Flesch called the "new" Russian hold) is unfortunate because of the placement of the right thumb between fingers 1 and 2 (causing unnecessary tension) and an over-reliance on the the 1st finger as a pressure center.
From my experience, most teachers today advocate a "ring" between the 2nd finger's 1st joint and the thumb (the so-called Galamian bow hold, really from Capet), which I've always thought was the most natural, balanced way of holding the bow.
In Monday's class, Fischer advocated for a slightly different adjustment: Allowing the second finger to drift just slightly to the left side of the thumb.
(The thumb has only one place on the modern bow, and it's not the U-shaped parking spot where chewing gum is stored).
It was also interesting to hear him quote Lucien Capet in terms of the role each finger plays. The 3rd finger is the "Spiritual Guide" of the bow according to Capet.
In my own experiments with students this week, I noticed a couple of interesting occurrences. Students having difficulties forming round, arched 4th fingers at the frog, were much more flexible when their 3rd fingers were more active in a stabilizing role (pulling towards the body).
The slight change in leverage that occurs with the second finger ring moving slightly to the left brought about a clear increase in healthy tone production.
I personally didn't find it to be flexible enough for intricate spiccato and articulation work, but it's only been a couple of days.
"There is no Shift."
With at least one student playing Saint-Saens (B minor concerto and Introduction and Rondo), the subject of shifting came up. In many student's minds, there is a starting note, a shift, and then a goal note. So, in effect, 3 locations.
Fischer made the case that we should really only think about 2 loci. The starting note as one, and the shift and goal as the next.
Where does the time for the shift come from? Obviously from the 1st note.
The recently publication by David Jacobson, "Lost Secrets of Master Musicians: A Window Into Genius," also espouses a near identical viewpoint regarding shifts.
There is no shift. And then he went on to mention that he also had 50 shifting exercises and studies that could be very helpful as well.
"There is no Vibrato."
Simon Fischer didn't say this at his classes. However, it's a great addition to this conversation. Kato Havas wrote this in her violin approach,
and I imagine that it would be a fine addition the "School of the Void" violin school.
For Havas, there is no vibrato is like saying "there is no baby." Do you ever see a baby by itself, without its mother?
A baby has no independence from its mother. Vibrato is the same. There is no vibrato without a well-functioning left hand mechanism.
And, she asserted, a vibrato can and will spontaneously develop alongside a well-functioning, well-balanced hand.
Overall, it seems useful as practicing violinists and teachers to focus on very specific techniques. This language of "There is no _________" tends to put things in perspective. Of course, we don't want to be thinking about 100 different technique when we're playing, we want to feel like all of the little things are part of a cohesive whole.
This one, I've heard before somewhere. I suspect it's handed down from Dorothy Delay or Raphael Bronstein. I could be wrong.
"What is your concept of a D?"
Cue a look of consternation from any student you say this to. And that's what happened in the classes.
What a good way to phrase it though. It gets students thinking that there might be more than one right answer, and that intonation isn't so straightforward.
Really it means: How do you know, how do you really know if you're playing the note in tune or not?
My takeaway was that, at least in melodic terms (and the violin is usually a melodic instrument),
There's a somewhat simple starting point that students can use to guide their intonation choices.
Does it ring with an open string, and can it be tested with an open string?
G, D, A, E, Okay, no problem.
In Simon Fischer's book, "Scales," and in his classes, he notes that C can be found with perfect interval relationships to G, B in relation to C, F in relation to E.
However, even easier than that: B does resonate with open G and E strings. You can test it with a sympathetic touch tone, as
Barry Ross, in "A Violinist's Guide to Exquisite Intonation," points out.
The sharps and flats are trickier, and Fischer advocated against an Equal Temperament approach in favor of something that resembles a modified "Pythagorean" tuning. I say modified, because we're somewhat stuck on the violin with whatever tuning exists on the open string level: the G, D, A, E, and all corresponding ringing/tap tones.
As a general rule regarding half steps (semitones), if the note names are the same (C and C#, B and Bb), the half steps are wide, like magnetic repulsion.
Opposites attract, and half steps with different note names can generally be closer half steps. (C and Db, for example).
This line of thought leads to some thought about the ordering of pitches. The order of the pitches from low to high is really:
G, Ab, G#, A, Bb, A#, B, etc, but not G, G#, Ab, A, A#, Bb, B, etc., and also not equal temperament.
3) In many cases, thinking about intonation along these lines is extremely helpful and sensitizing, and I'm sure that there are many exceptions, especially when it comes to playing with a piano, with a string quartet, and in arpeggios and various double and triple stops (where Just intonation may be more helpful). How one tunes their open strings in the first place (5ths perfect or slightly narrower), is going to affect the whole system.
In many ways, this starting point is an entryway to thinking about expressive subtleties in intonation.
I also like Kurt Sassmanshaus' explanation of the way intonation works on the violin.
During the 1st masterclass class setting, Fischer told the first student:
"Stop moving! The violin is a moving target."
When the next student played, he said the opposite: "You need to move!" With that student he did both a swaying and bowing exercise, and also a twisting exercise. Both of those exercises kept the Right and Left hands in the same relation to each other.
The clarification was that movement itself isn't good or bad. Bad movement tends to be unnecessary movement, like dipping the violin.
Good movement tends to be efficient, and/or helps prevent excess tension.
Body parts that don't move at all, or move very inefficiently, tend to hurt violin playing.
One student was playing Chausson's Poeme, a piece written for Eugene Ysaye.
It's the closest thing we have to a violin concerto from Chausson.
Interestingly, Fischer chose this piece to discuss legato string crossings, something that Ysaye himself focused on in daily scale practice. If you search for Ysaye's Exercises et Gammes (Scales) (https://www.amazon.com/Partitions-classique-SCHOTT-YSAYE-EUGENE/dp/0543504433), the 1st two pages are dedicated to smooth string crossings.
Ysaye's basic exercise is:
Play the 4th finger D on the G string, start rolling the bow closer to the open D, play the double stop, keep rolling to open D, and so on.
It's an exercise that requires a fluid string change rather than a jagged one.
Simon Fischer had the Chausson student do something very similar to the Ysaye exercise. He also discussed several ways teachers and students think about string changes. The average student probably sees 4 levels of string changes:
The whole day was extremely inspiring. It was great to see the eyes of Baylor students light up, and to see my own students so engaged in an academic setting. In many ways, Fischer's approach seemed to have a lot in common with Paul Rolland and Kato Havas' approaches.
After prioritizing the physical and physiological, the next reasonable step was to address the science of violin playing in its relation to the music being made. All of the students that performed had at least one very explainable, improvable weakness, and it was clear that each student came away with at least one meaningful problem to mull over.
It looks like Simon Fischer does a conference in Michigan during the summer. Sign up for it!