William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Discovering Scales in Pieces

How to apply scales to the violin repertoire.

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick approaches scales applied to musical pieces by featuring a passage from the beautiful Rondo' Capriccioso by Saint-Saens.

Released on May 6, 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, and welcome to virtualsheetmusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am the Henri Temianka Professor of Violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, which is located on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California. I am as well Director of the MusiShare Young Artist Program in Irvine, California. So, for this video, I thought we could find a scale in a piece that we might explore just a bit about practicing. You know, how to practice. But first of all, I'm reminded of what a nurse said to me as I was in the hospital due to an auto accident back in the '70s. She heard me practice, and then she looked at me and said, "I don't get it. Why is what you do so special? I mean, with your music, all you do is go up and down." Well, I did laugh, but I had to admit that what she said was, in fact, quite true. So, let's find an example of an "up" scale in a piece. Why don't we look at Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, from the scale that's just before the restatement of the theme. Here, let me play the passage for you.

Okay, so since it's a scale, maybe first of all, we could practice it just as we would a normal scale. That is, one note to a bow, two notes to a bow, four notes to a bow, etc. Here, let me show you what I mean. One note to a bow, two, four, eight, etc.

All right, so it's done, but it's not as clean or as in-tune as we wanted. So, now what can we do? Well, why don't we try going a bit deeper in discovering the patterns as they lay on each string? For example, on the D-string, there's that half-step chromatic shift or extension. Here we go. Whole-whole. Half, with a whole step before. Ooh. Half-step, whole-step, but I'm going to replace my third finger with my first. Here we go. Whole-whole-whole. Whole-half-whole, with a harmonic extension at the end. We can look at each one of those and isolate them and practice them repetitively, and then we can put it all together again. We could do ... You see where I'm going with this. So, you see, practicing this way, through the understanding of the patterns we use, can help us to organize our mind.

But, what else could we do? Well, there are rhythms. Of course we can use rhythms. Rhythms are very helpful, but we need to understand that they are most helpful in determining if the note held the longest is in the right place pitch-wise. For example, I'm checking for D-sharp, F-sharp, A, or I'm checking all of the other patterns that are there, which I'm sure you are aware of.

We could, as well, use a metronome chart to organize and take a vertical approach to achieving our desired goal, speed-wise that is. Have you seen one of those? You know, take a metronome and start it at 40. Let's say, four notes to a bow, and you'll go from 40 to 42 to 44 to 46 to 48, etc. until you get to the speed you wish to accomplish. And then, you might try going ten degrees over just for insurance. Yet another idea would be to do the first idea - one note to a bow, two, four, but to stop each time as if it were a staccato. That way, we could check our bow distribution. I've got a special, little bow that I use to explain this to students. Look at this. It's got eight marked spots with different colors. That way, if I wanted to do two, I would go to the middle. And you can see what's going on. Or four. Ooh, not as good. There. We can really figure out how to distribute the bow and be sure that our speed and distance are truly relating to each other. Now, this idea comes from a dear friend/colleague, Kurt Sussman's house. I saw his little bow, and I just had to have one myself.

Now, we could even do what I call, "Fingering-fege." Sort of based after solfege. And like solfege, it's a mental recitation, but of the fingerings that one is using. So instead of saying, "Do re mi fa so la ti do," we would be saying one, two, three, whatever that fingering is. Let's see, how would it relate to this? And you should not use your fingers to figure it out. Let's see. One, one, two, three. One - ooh ooh - one, one, two, three, zero, one, two, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, four. It's a cute exercise.

So, all of these ways are possible to practice these scales we find in pieces, but there are more. You just need to use your imagination to create them. You know, the sky is the limit. It's only limited by what you can imagine. I can imagine a lot, and I'm sure you can, too. But just keep in mind that our decisions about how to practice should be determined by the nature of the problem presented in the passage and how our skill set relates to that problem. There are no cookie-cutter solutions. And just how can you be sure you're on the right path? Well, follow your ears, be aware of your body and how it relates to the violin, and, above all, use your mind.

Well, that's it for this video on scales and pieces. I do hope it helps you to understand a certain point of view and helps you to practice even better. If you have a comment, a question, or a special request, please feel free to post it below. I look forward to hearing from you.
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