Tong Keat has an M.A. in Violin Performance from MTSU in Tennessee. He is the founder of Just Violin, a free resources site for violinists.
A New Approach
The left-hand and right-hand techniques for violin playing were often addressed separately. In a nutshell, the right hand/the bow arm, is responsible for producing tone, varying dynamics, and managing rhythms and articulations, whereas the left hand is responsible for the accuracy of pitch and doing vibrato. Kato Havas, however, believes that for violin playing to become an expressive form of creative art, it requires a unifying control and coordination of all physical and mental aspects.
Her book, The Twelve Lesson Course, is a series of instructions and exercises for both beginners and advanced players to achieve the concepts that were presented in her New Approach to Violin Playing, which aimed to eliminate all forms of obstacles and anxieties faced by violin players.
"The violinist is that peculiarly human phenomenon distilled to a rare potency - half tiger, half poet."
— Yehudi Menuhin
The Twelve Lesson Course
When holding the instrument, Havas placed great emphasis on achieving the sense of weightlessness by swiftly "tossing" the instrument onto the shoulder. In the playing position, both arms are "hanging" in the air as the result of the support derived from the back muscles. This can be illustrated with an image of a see-saw with the arms on one end, and the back muscles on the other. Balanced posture becomes fundamental to good violin playing. Likewise, bad posture is often the root cause of many difficulties experienced by violinists of all levels.
Using the concept of see-saw again, all bowing actions have their motivating balance in the back of the body, particularly the muscles connecting the shoulder blade to the spine. The upper arm is primarily responsible for initiating the movements. The down-bow should be a forward motion where the arm, with a few exceptions, should be completely straight forward from the shoulder at the tip of the bow. The forward motion from the arm also supplements the decreasing bow weight in a down-bow.
The up-bow is once again initiated by the upper arm, with the motivating balance in the back muscles. A swift "scooping" action from the upper arm inward against the body will help to raise the forearm and hand to bring the bow to the frog. This whole-arm movement creates the momentum to counter the increasing bow weight towards the frog.
The fingers of the bow hand, particularly the thumb, functions like the tip of a paintbrush. While all bowing actions involve the arm, it is the fingers that ultimately give the sound its subtle shade and color.
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Havas saw the left hand as an essential aspect in producing good tone, on top of its role in managing intonation and vibrato. She believed that the quality of the tone depends on the "touch" of the fingers, like the piano. A proper left-hand position allows the base joints to "throw the fingers forward" while the fingertips remain light and sensitive to adjust for intonation. The quick action from the base joints prevents stiffness in the contact and, at the same time, allows for spontaneous and natural vibrato to follow.
Havas believed that the left-hand actions should always lead the playing while the bow responds. Through the use of intermediate fingers (a term used for notes that are fingered but not played), violinists can develop a sense of security for intonation and allow for better coordination. Apart from that, Havas also emphasized on cultivating "inner hearing" by singing or hearing the note and relating it to the sensation felt in the base joints of the fingers before producing it on the violin.
According to Havas, all musical pieces are built on scales, and scales are built on intervals. It is important for violinist through ear training, to play each note not only in tune by itself, but also in tune according to the intervals before and after the note. Understanding the "tonal coloring" of each note within the scale is important to beautiful violin playing, and scales should never be treated as merely a finger exercise.
Explanations and exercises on a list of bowing techniques, including legato, detaché, martelé, and double stops.
Repertoire for two violins to practice on the concepts learned in the previous lessons.
© 2019 Goh Tong Keat