Dotzauer Day 10: On the use of the metronome in practice

5 April 2018 Standlake


‘Keep time! How sour sweet music is when time is broke and no proportion kept! So is it in the music of men’s lives. I wasted time, and now doth time waste me’ Shakespeare Richard II Act V Scene V


Bearing in mind what I learned about bow changes yesterday, and my issues with the 4th finger in 1st position, I start off again with a D major scale, in the second octave. I have brought with me the first Suzuki book, as I have in mind that in a year or so, when I am again clearly conservatory level, I might like to train to teach this way. I am interested to see that in their preliminary exercises, they recommend that you ‘For half a year, at least, continue with the practice of stopping the bow on the string after each note to get a clear sound’. This is another solution to my bow change issue, in terms of initiation gunk. It truly works. I think I will keep both solutions (See Day 9) going for the time being.


Today is that day that I have decided to tackle the Dotzauer using a metronome. I have avoided this before because of the risk of the sound of it blocking out the detail I want to hear in my playing, and because it can act as a distraction, and cause of tension. It is not always best to practise with a metronome; it can lead one to thoughtless repetitions, where one only concentrates on keeping with the tick, and a fruitless and slightly stressful quest for speed, which might be better achieved by other means. It does have its uses, however. It is good discipline for making sure that everything is firing at precisely the right time, good for making us aware of when we cut or lengthen time without good musical reason, and for a string-players, especially good for practising proportioning the bow. You really do have to regulate using the correct amount of bow in the correct amount of time. You can’t cut corners.


I start off at crotchet =60. The first thing I notice is that that there is not enough rosin at the tip. I sort that up, and attempt to get through the first section of the study. After working in such detail as I have over the past few days, it takes quite a bit of resolution to keep myself going to the end of the fourth line, without stopping to make corrections, but this was part of my exam training; keeping on, even when I am  not happy with the sounds I am making.


The struggle I have to keep the first line forte shows me how rarely I ever do play forte. Given the small range of dynamics in this piece, I need to make sure I get a clear contrast with the second, piano line. It is useful to play these two one after the other. It is a completely different thing to play a semibreve whole bow in forte than it is in piano. In both cases I am not only trying to use the whole bow, but to check that it is free of lurches and wriggles.


The first movement of the first Bach sonata gives me the opportunity to consider intonation. I am trying not to obsess too much over every individual note, but instead follow Gerhard Mantel’s advice to play whole phrases, and then go back and correct the intonation. He writes: “ Only at the very beginning of learning an instrument or of starting practising on a work, notes played out of tune should be corrected immediately as they occur. In a more advanced phases, notes should be corrected only in the repeat of the passage. It requires a certain mental stability to to leave a tone just out of tune as it is, without correction. We must then define the error, and then use this information to play the tone in tune when repeating the passage.” (Mantel, Practising Etudes, p. 36)


This involves a degree of reading ahead and hearing ahead, so that the fingers know what they are trying to nail. I find it helps to aim for a certain feel when trying to land on shifts in tune, a technique I picked up, when on Michael Goldschlager’s advice, I read Timothy Gallwey’s ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’. So much good advice here about using the imagination, and observation, to help one focus, and to silence inner chatter.


One thing I discover that I am doing that is definitely counterproductive for good intonation is pressing the fingers down hard when playing forte. I suppose one does this as assort of ‘whole body response ‘ (where else in the body am I using too much pressure when playing loud?) to the need for more sound. It seems counter-intuitive to play with softer fingers when playing forte, but it is desirable.


In the Boëllmann Allegro I am having difficulty nailing the shifts in this passage


because I don’t really know how it should sound. I decide to resort to another technique, that of singing the phrase in solfa, so that I am clear about exactly where I am in the scale set of the melody in question. This works wonders for my intonation in general. In my work with children’s choirs, I am well aware that if you ask them to sing a passage in solfa, it improves the intonation. I don’t know why I don’t use this knowledge more often.


Later on, working on Couperin, some cheeky children, peering through the mucky window, give me a chance to see what might go wrong with my playing, if I am slightly nervous. Quite a lot, as it happens. As usual, it’s playing in the lower positions that gives me the most intonation problems. I wonder if this is in fact because I don’t have that edge of adrenalin that I have when I’ve playing in upper positions.


After two hours of playing in the cold Information Room, I’m stiff and sore, but there will be no swim today, as I am going to play piano quintets with a good friend from Oxford, a composer, her twin sister, and two of her friends this evening. I hope I am up to it. I will write about that tomorrow.




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