William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

What Role Do Dynamics Play In Energy on the Violin?

Learn how dynamics are the driver of energy in violin playing

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick talks about the concept of "energy" on the violin and how to deal with it.

Released on April 1, 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 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 MusiShare in Irvine, California.

Well, have you ever considered that the way we are thinking about dynamics might be limiting? That the concept of a dynamic as playing louder or softer might not be a good way to describe the process of making a sound louder or softer. Once in a lesson with Miss DeLay, she suddenly stopped while walking back to her chair, looked at me, and said, "You know Billy," it was a long pause. She liked long pauses, "dynamics are energy." She stood there for a moment and then walked away. Miss DeLay really loved the effect of pauses.

Upon sitting she gave me a sheet of paper which diagrammed this idea of energy. Once again, I thought that she had flipped as it seemed really, really obvious what she had written. It wasn't until much later that I realized that what seemed so obvious was in fact not, because in reality we didn't follow the concept.

So why don't we explore this idea further. Why don't we look at the kinds of changes this kind of thinking could provoke? Instead of talking about loud and soft, what if we spoke of more or less? I mean thinking of forte as more and piano as less. For example, we can have more vibrato along with more bow speed, along with more pressure, or weight as I prefer. Or we could have less vibrato, along with less bow speed along with less pressure. Do you see how this is working? So it's important to understand that all mores and lesses align themselves perfectly. Okay?

So how many of you when seeing a forte press or squeeze more? And when seeing a piano you do it less? See what I mean? It's like it's ingrained in our DNA. But, how can we change this?

Well, with young children I ask them what their three favorite colors are. I then divide the distance between the fingerboard and the bridge into three areas and assign a color to each area. For example, let's see, what about red, green and blue. Blue becomes piano, green mezzo-forte and red forte. What would that sound like?

Let me let you see that. Our blue;


Our green;


And our red;


Why we got piano, mezzo-forte and forte. With this, our thinking about dynamics as energy has started. You see, if one starts to understand that sounds on the violin are made through the manipulation of pressure or weight, speed and point of contact, which we just set up through this little exercise, then one is on the way to exploring more or less. One is on the way to exploring energy.

But there is more as you may as well include elements of vibrato, for example. To do this one should equate less with slower and more with faster. One could even work with left hand touch or articulation or shifting, if we thought in this way. For example, let's look at the second theme of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, which I believe requires a soft touch or slow touch to the string and thus would need a slow vibrato with slow shifts.


You see. I used the slow vibrato.


A touch that was very light, and the shift . . .


. . . was very slow. And so that's how we explore the potentials of energy.

Okay, so that's it for this video. If you have a comment or question or a special request, please feel free to post it below. And as Shlomo Mintz once wrote on a note to my students in France years and years ago, he said, "Practice! Practice! Practice."

Have a good day.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Linda Ford * VSM MEMBER * on October 20, 2018 @10:29 am PST
Very effective lesson. I'll incorporate this idea. Thank.
Margaret * VSM MEMBER * on April 15, 2015 @5:31 am PST
Thanks William. Very enlightening. Do you have any advice on shifting to different strings while playing. Margaret
William on April 15, 2015 @11:09 am PST
Hi and thanks for watching! If you go back and look at "Discovering Figure Eights on the Violin" you might find the answer to your question... Hope this helps!
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