This past year Theresa Villani, a wonderful cellist and cello teacher, wrote and asked if I had any exercises for bowing on open strings for one of her students. I had a few pages of an incomplete book, which I was happy to share. She wrote right back and said "Please make a book out of these!" (Incidentally, that's how a lot of books get started; share your ideas on this page.) Then, another teacher wrote and asked for a book of open string studies for violin and viola and here we are!
A few thoughts on how to use both these exercises and the studies in Open String Bow Workouts for the Viola, Book One:
1. Playing open strings really well is hard! They look easy (at least at the beginning of the book) but this is deceptive. Because the sound is so exposed, I found myself getting super picky with the sound I was producing.
When you play these exercises, work on fluidity in bow changes, relaxed wrist and fingers, and getting the string vibrating with the least possible motion from my hand.
2. Playing open string bow studies is a great way to isolate the bow, especially when you are struggling with note-reading. Myanna has been using Open-String Bow Workouts with some students who have trouble reading notes. Since there are just four notes in the entire book, the students could work on bowing without worrying about reading notes (and as an added bonus, their reading improved!)
3. Playing open string bow studies can help violists at every level. We've used this book with students who had just started playing a few months earlier and also with intermediate and very advanced students. It helped them all, in different ways.
The beginning students used the book to discover what the bow can do. Pure bow technique, such as string crossing, rhythm, and slurs can be taught using this book.
The intermediate students used the book to listen more and improve their tone. At an intermediate level, it's easy to focus on the left hand and forget about the bow. Playing an Open String Bow Workout at the beginning of every lesson has helped our intermediate students build better bow control and tone.
And the advanced students played the slow exercises at an Adagio tempo and the fast exercises as fast as possible to expand the range of their bow technique.
4. Playing open string studies can really help your tone improve! When I started playing open string studies myself, I was skeptical; how much could it help? But the difference I heard in my playing and felt in my bow hand convinced me that open strings can be one of the most effective ways to practice bowing. And adding just one page a day to your studies can make a difference over time.
To celebrate the release of the new book of Open String Bow Workouts, we are offering the above mini set of (all-new) viola open string studies for free!
When you play these, focus on correct form and how you're holding the bow.
Keep the bow arm shoulder, wrist, and fingers as loose and relaxed as possible. The thumb should be gently balanced on the bow; never squeezing.
Listen for the smoothest, most even sound during each note and keep the bow moving at the same speed while you change bows so there is no variation in sound.
For more viola studies that help you play with better tone, check out this book:
When a teacher mentioned that her student wasn't allowed to play O Come Little Children because of religious reasons and asked about an alternative piece, I wrote this piece as an option that still teaches many of the same techniques: string crossing, slow and fast bows, etc.
O Come Little Children, in Suzuki Book One for Violin (or Viola, or Cello), is also a Christmas carol and some teachers may be looking for a substitute when students or parents request it. Or, Spring Melody (below) can be used as a supplemental piece in addition to O Come Little Children when students need more work on these skills. Beginning violin, viola and cello adult students can enjoy this free piece as well!
Spring Melody - Free Sheet Music for Violin
Spring Melody - Free Sheet Music for Viola
Spring Melody - Free Sheet Music for Cello
I love the fact that scales are such a great vehicle for learning different skills on the viola! Scales can and should be much more than just playing notes in order in a particular key in a particular set of places on the viola; they can also be used for learning rhythm and bowing skills.
Today in the blog, we're going to focus on using a simple C major scale to work on viola bowing. Now, the possibilities here are endless. I could start writing today and never ever reach the end of variations I could make with this scale. But there are other books to write and so I will stop at 15 pages for this little booklet. Of course, I'll probably come back every once in awhile with another blog post on scales; scale variations are a bit of a passion of mine!
Scales are helpful because they are so predictable. You know what's coming and the notes (at least in these scale pages) are fairly easy. But that doesn't mean you should turn off reading and play from memory just yet; I have some breaks in the pattern built into these scale pages to help keep your attention while you play.
Scale variations are a perfect way to multitask. Variations are a great way to train your left and right hands to be more coordinated and also a great way to make your practice even more efficient; you're working on multiple skills at once!
Feel free to make variations on the variations! Boredom lets you turn your brain off and can be the opening for building bad habits! Viola technique should never be taken for granted; every minute of your practice should be spent actively trying to improve. Varying the exercises can help you stay focused. I play different pages of scale exercises every day (that's one reason why I had to write so many books!) These variations can be played on any scale but they're simplest on a 2-octave scale that starts on an open string.
A storm was headed our way...
with a projected 6-12 inches of snow! We packed the rented Ford Expedition with books and displays (thanks to amazing glassmaker John Koutsouros!) and headed out early Wednesday morning. My mom (Judy Harvey) was going to fly but we knew the flights would be canceled so she came along for the ride.
The ride was rough for a few hours but around the time we hit Virginia, things started looking sunny.
We stopped for lunch/dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant.
El Restaurante Ixtapa deserved every good Yelp review it got;
the fish tacos were to die for.
When we pulled into the Hyatt Regency Atlanta,
we were absolutely exhausted and ready to sleep. However, there were only two single beds for three people. The Hyatt Regency Atlanta said they couldn't bring in a cot because of the fire codes and suggested that one person sleep on the floor. (Bear in mind that none of this was told to us at booking.) You never know what you'll get when you travel!
Anyway, Myanna headed out the next day to get an air mattress. And an air pump. That didn't work because it needed a car cigarette lighter for power. Hmm.
Judy came to the rescue with an unorthodox solution!
Conference setup day!
It's a mammoth task to unload a "tank" full of book boxes and displays, drag it all up to an exhibit hall, and set it up. This year was better because we had a proper cart.
Glamorous booth set up...
Finally set up.
Almost ready to open.
Beautiful hotel elevator ride
The conference was amazing!
We met many wonderful teachers and the booth was humming with activity. I loved the chance to interact with musicians from all over the country and talk string technique. From cello shifting to violin scales, we had fabulous conversations and (happily for our aching arms and backs) came home with empty book boxes.
If you are thinking of attending at ASTA conference, definitely try it out; there were so many great sessions and just the coolest people ever. Hope to see you next year in Albuquerque!
Cassia Harvey can't ever find or play enough exercises. She searches for rare and out-of-print studies and etudes in her free time. If you know of any, please let her know. Seriously; it's an obsession.