Lora Staples - beginning violin and fiddle expert

How to Play Brahms' Lullaby - Part 1

How to approach the famous Lullaby by Brahms - Bow Placement

In this first video of a multi-part series, Lora approaches the famous Lullaby by Johannes Brahms. Everything starts with "how to place the bow on the strings."

Released on March 4, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi. I'm Lora Staples, and I'm here today for Virtual Sheet Music. I'd like to discuss with you the Brahms Lullaby. The reason I've chosen that to discuss with you today is because it is a wonderful... It starts out as a simple tune, but we can really dig deep and we can examine all of the secret ingredients that go into making a simple tune magical. It's not enough for us to do everything that's written. We can do all the right bowings, all the right fingerings, and all the dynamics, and it still isn't going to have the magic.

So what we're going to discuss today are some specific things that you can add that will make this tune magical. We'll try to examine it layer by layer in different videos so that you can separate each layer out and work on it separately. Later, you can stack them all together and combine them, and you'll be amazed at the difference it makes in your own playing.

Okay. We're talking about expressive playing, tone color, phrasing, musicality, and there are some obvious things that each hand can do that helps. The left hand, the most obvious thing that everyone notices is the vibrato. That's your best expressive tool with your left hand. But we can also be really creative with our fingerings. We can choose a better tone color by shifting up higher on the D string instead of staying in first position on the A string, for instance. Vibrato and fingerings are two of the biggest, most obvious tools for the left hand.

For the right hand, the most obvious tool is our bowings and choosing a good bowing and doing the right bow articulation. Most students stop there. They get a good bowing and they get a good fingering and they work faithfully on their vibrato, but it doesn't stop there. There are some other secret ingredients in the sauce, and that's what we're going to examine today.

I'm going to deliberately keep my bowings simple and my fingerings simple. I'm going to stay in first position. I probably won't play open strings. I'll probably play my fourth finger. But you're allowed to use open strings if it helps you, because this isn't in the key of E major which might give a few of you problems. Feel free to use open A whenever you want to, for now.

In this video, what I'd most like to discuss with you is... It's hard to just discuss one. There are three ingredients to your tone production, and they are bow weight, bow speed, and bow placement. We know what bow weight is. We know what bow speed is. You might not know what bow placement is, and that's simply the area that you choose to contact the hair to the string.

Many teachers teach that there are five basic placements: number one being close to the bridge, right next to the bridge, number five being right next to the fingerboard, number three being right in the middle, then two and four being in between one, three, and five. There are basically five lanes to your highway. All right, that's bow placement.

These three ingredients, they always are present. You can't play violin without those three ingredients. What most people don't realize is when you change one ingredient, you have to compensate by changing the other two ingredients. That's where the skill and the imagination comes in where you have to know what ingredient is required to be at a certain level, then you adjust the other ingredients accordingly. I'm just going to give you the answer right now, because eventually you'll be able to find the answer on your own.

The beginning of your Brahms Lullaby, well, it's a lullaby, so it's a gentle, flowing, waltzy melody. The dynamic is piano. That tells us a lot about the character that we're trying to capture. You're rocking a baby to sleep, and it's in a soft dynamic. Your sounding point or your bow placement, if you're close to the bridge, that's your louder placement. If you're far from the bridge or over by the fingerboard, that's soft. So just memorize that. Loud, soft. Where are we going to want to play the beginning of this Brahms Lullaby? Out here, yeah.

Although I don't want to get into the other two ingredients too much today in this video, we have to get into them somewhat. Because you have to know that if you're going to play out here, you can't play with heavy bow, or it sounds like that. That's a common mistake that beginners make. If you're going to be out here, you have to play with much lighter bow, almost a floating bow stroke. If you're closer to the bridge, it's a whole different ballgame, and that's for another video.

In addition, bow speed has its own little rules as well. Out here loves fast bow speed. It can handle slow bow speed, too, as long as it's light. But it loves the fast stuff. Since our sounding point is going to be out here somewhere, we want light bow and fast bow. Okay.

Closer to the bridge does not like fast bow strokes, because you lose your traction and you lose your tone. Here's a slow and heavy bow stroke. Now, if I use too fast of bows, it's just torture. We lose our traction and we get that ponticello sound. You see that you have to adapt the other two ingredients for whatever ingredient is being dictated by the music.

A good general rule of thumb for bow speed, and we'll get into this later, is play with as much bow speed as you can get away with. Always use the maximum amount of bow for what the other two ingredients will allow. That's a really good starting point for you.

Okay. We know we're going to be out here somewhere near the fingerboard. I think lane five clear out here is a little too far, a little too much. So I'm going to ask us to play in lane four, which is just about right there. If you are playing for a great big auditorium full of people, then you might even go to lane three, because it gives you more volume and a little more projection. But we can easily do lane four right now, and it's a good lane to master.

I would like to start with an E major scale, because that'll get us in the E major mood of this piece. We're going to do a simple one octave scale in lane four. We're going to use kind of big bows because it sounds better that way. Here we go. First finger on the D string. Ready, go.

Okay, yeah, four sharps in E major, and we've got high threes. So we've got a half step between three and four.

Okay. Now what I'd like to simply do is play from bar 2 to the down beat of bar 11 in lane 4. Just focus on staying in lane four. That's your first priority. It would be a bonus if you can use big bows or lots of bow speed as well. Here we go. Here we go. We start with the double up bow. One and two and three and one and go and...

Okay. If you were to practice that, get used to where the notes are, that's half the challenge. Practice that in a mirror, which means you'd have to memorize the melody. If you can watch yourself in a mirror, it really helps to control what lane of the highway you're playing in.

Okay. Work on that ingredient alone, and then in further videos we're going to dig deeper into this tune and develop some of the other ingredients of the secret sauce. I'll see you in the following video.
Automatic video-to-text transcription by DaDaScribe.com
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Barbara on June 23, 2015 @12:26 pm PST
I would like the sheet music of this video (Brahm's Lullaby Part 1 ) and also the Brahms Lullaby part 2. Are these available to me by e-mail? Thank you. barbm1151@comcast.net.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on June 24, 2015 @1:25 pm PST
Barbara, you can find our high quality sheet music of Brahms' Lullaby (the exact music Lora is talking about) by following this link:


I hope that helps.
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