Lora Staples - beginning violin and fiddle expert

How to Play Brahms' Lullaby - Part 4

Going deeper with the Lullaby by Brahms - Bowing and Fingerings

In this fourth video, Lora continues teaching tips for approaching the famous Lullaby by Johannes Brahms, this time focusing on bowing and fingerings.

Released on March 25, 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

I am Laura Staples and I'm here today for Virtual Sheet Music and we are continuing to examine the Brahms' Lullaby.

We already had three videos on this piece where we examined the three ingredients of tone production - bow placement, which is your sounding point, bow speed, and bow weight. And we examined each of those separately, as much as we could because they're so inter-related. And when we were doing that, I told you I was deliberately ignoring bowings and fingerings. I was doing exactly what's printed and keeping things in first position. But now I'm ready to dress it up a little bit. So I'm going to show you the few changes that I might make to the bowings and some fingerings and I'll tell you my logic of why I would use what I'm using.

So this piece begins in your edition of your music with an Up, Up, Down, Up, Down and that double up-bow just, it inhibits my breathing and I don't feel as free to do it. There's nothing wrong with that bowing. I just feel like I can shape the phrase better if I have a little more freedom with my bow hand. So any time there's two eighth notes with dots and they're hooked, I'm separating them. General rule. That doesn't change much in the first phrase, Bar 1 through the downbeat of 11. It just changes one thing. Instead of starting [music], I'm going to start Down, Up, Down [music]. That's the only change and then it straightens itself out actually, so we don't even have to worry about anything that follows. A lot of times, when you change one bowing, it changes everything after it and so you have to make adjustments. But that's a clean change.

So Bar 2, I would simply play Down, Up, Down. But then, things get a little hairier with my choice of bowing, because in Bar 11, we start a new phrase and it has those eighth notes with dots. And I really want to be consistent so I have to get back to a down-bow to do that again, because Bar 11 ended on a down-bow [music]. I just have to do a bow circle. I have to retake my bow so that I can do another down-bow. That's still not too big of a deal. Okay? So Bar 10 [music], I had to do a quick bow retake. I don't love that I have to do a bow circle there, or retake my bow, but I really like my bowing of Down, Up, Down. It gives me enough freedom that it's worth the trade-off to me.

So Bar 11, the pick-ups to Bar 12 are going to be, [music] and then we've got dotted eighth notes after dotted eighth notes. So [music] I'd like to try that phrase with you, so that you can experience it and feel it for yourself but there's one break to my pattern. In Bar 14, there's two quarter notes that are marked with dashes. I also separated those. So any time you see hooked, hooked eighth notes or even the Luray marking on the quarter notes, we're going to separate them. Okay? Try it with me. Starting pick-ups to Bar 12. Ready? Slow [music]. Now, separate [music]. Separate [music]. Separate, separate [music].

Okay, and on those last two quarter notes at the end of Bar 18, I put a little portato on those, [music], even though it's not marked. And I think you could do it either way. That's my personal preference. Okay. So that changed a lot of the bowings in that phrase and that's just how I personally feel it. And so that's how I would perform it. Doesn't means that's how you have to and it doesn't mean that what's marked in your music is wrong, by any means. As performers we get the guidelines from our sheet music, but then it's up to us to have good musical taste and to have a musical opinion and to put our own little individual thumbprint on what we play.

Now, there were some obvious issues in that passage, which brings us to the topic of fingerings. Let's just go to the biggest issue, Bar 18. Those grace notes present a huge issue for me, because I don't want to play a big open A, [music] and yet, if I try to play a fourth finger [music], then those grace notes are horrible. So the logical solution is to be in third position right there. And, incidentally, I like to just shift right up on that A so you're going to shift to a second finger right there. So the two eighth notes before, come on a Down, Up and then [music]. So can we start the two eighth notes before Bar 18? [music] Shift, Up, Up Down. Let's try that. Ready? Go [music]. Okay. So that's one of the fingerings that I would use and that's why, because open A is ugly and because those grace notes make it impossible to use a fourth finger. Not impossible, but very awkward. Okay?

I would start the beginning in third position, because I want my warmest, most covered sound that I can possibly muster for the opening of this Lullaby. And first position A string isn't my most beautiful sound. So I want to be up in third position on my D string. So if you know third position or if you're working on it, this is a really good place to consider using it. So [music]. You have to have an awesome fourth finger right there on that C Sharp. It takes a little work, plus you want vibrato on that for sure. You don't want to neglect that note. That's one of my favorite tug notes, remember [music]? All right, so that passage, that whole thing would be in third position and then I would shift down for the F Sharp in Bar 6. So after my tug note [music], I shift down right here, [music] and then I'm good. First position is fine.

Now in Bar 11 we can continue in first position. In fact, we have to because of that grace note in Bar 12, [music]. We have to play an octave, E, E, very rapidly and it's not going to work if you're in a different position. So, 1, 1, 1, 4, [music]. Now here I'd shift and that's no big deal. You just shifted to that same note in Bar 18. It's a good easy shift. I would shift there because of the grace note that's coming up, [music], in Bar 16. G Sharp, B. Otherwise, [music], it falls on a string crossing again, which we should be able to do, but why make it harder than it has to be? I'd do it in third position.

All right, so starting in the beginning, I'd play in third position until Bar 6 and then I'd shift down on the F Sharp. Then I'd stay in first position, even in Bar 11, [music], and Bar 12 but right here, that's Bar 11, 12, 13, 14. Bar 14, I'd shift and then I'd shift back down and shift up for Bar 18 [music]. And then we begin the next phrase, which we'll discuss in another video, which is the same melody, just up an octave. And there's a magic position that works very well for that phrase. So I'll show you that in the next video. I'll see you there!
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Heidrun Kath * VSM MEMBER * on March 25, 2015 @5:24 pm PST
Hello Lora, thank you for suggesting and encouraging liberties in regards to bowing in your latest Brahms Lullaby video. Could similar liberties be used in the Beethoven Romanze in F in e.g. bar30,separating the tied 32 notes, and in bar 34, separating the tied legato notes, and especially at the end of bar 82, which I find extremely hard to tie those 6x32 notes; can you do that without compromising the character of the piece too much?
Barbara on March 25, 2015 @11:46 am PST
Is there a free copy of the Brahms' Lullaby on the Virtual Sheet Music site?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on March 25, 2015 @11:57 am PST
Hi Barbara. Unless you are a Member, the answer to your question is no, I am sorry. We currently have just our own high quality version of the Lullaby (with audio MIDI, Mp3 and Mp3 accompaniment files as well as interactive sheet music) which is available for only $4.99 to non-Members, and for free to Members:


Please, let me know if you have any further questions. Thanks!
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