Are You Kidding Me with This?

In Musette, the final note is a D, which I’ve typically been playing on the A string because, well, that’s what the music would seem to indicate and that’s all I’ve known how to do.  I was thrown for a wonderful loop during my lesson yesterday when, the second time playing through the piece, Teacher said, “OK, now this time through let’s do that final soft D with a harmonic.”

Harmonics are something I’ve read about – I even tried to produce a sound a while back.  The idea, on a violin, is that there are places above the fingerboard where you can lightly touch the string and bowing will produce a soft but full note.  I wrote a little about timbre a while back – that’s the element of music into which discussions of harmonics belong – on one level they are properties of all sound; any sound is composed of a base frequency of vibration and multiples of that base frequency.  On the violin, we can accentuate the multiples of a frequency with this soft-touch-of-the-string-in-just-the-right-spot technique.  I’m sure I didn’t say any of that quite correctly.

The point is, I thought something like harmonics would be waiting for me many years down the pedagogical road.  When Teacher first said the word, “Harmonic,” I literally thought to myself, “Oh, you must not know what she means by that.”  But it turned out that, indeed, we were talking about the same concept.

After my intro to harmonics, she had me put my instrument under my right arm, hook my left thumb over the neck, and start waving my fingers a bit.  This is a vibrato training exercise.  Now, good tone on the violin requires vibrato – in a big way.  But, though I wouldn’t have thought vibrato to be quite as far down my particular pedagogical road as harmonics, I would have thought it to be a ways off.  It’s true that this exercise is just a preliminary – I don’t think I’m going to start producing vibrato for a while.  But it’s clearly coming up!

And, finally, I started a new song, an excerpt from a Weber opera called Hunter’s Chorus.  Teacher said, “I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’m going to give you a little bit more here today.” Indeed, as I wrote yesterday, my songs are coming along, but I just feel that I never have time to work them all up perfectly.  I think I’m realizing that I probably never will; I will have to choose which ones to work up as, for lack of a better word, “show” pieces.

In my martial art we have sequences of movement called kata – they are simulated battles, and we’re acting out one side of the fight.  It’s an art form, to be sure, and we practice each one for as long as we continue practicing our art; our kata become an integral part of our art.  We never let a single one of them go.  The very first kata I learned in my first few lessons is one I work with to this day.  We develop relationships with each one – over the course of my 10 years of practice I have worked with 24 of them.

I believe, after 9 months into the violin, that I’ve worked on about as many songs as I have in my kata repertoire.  I guess I need to stop thinking of songs as kata – it will be much easier for me to leave them behind that way.

After the lesson as I headed off to work I went over all we’d done; here it is the morning after and I still can’t quite believe it.

Thanks for reading.



  1. […] way back at the beginning of Suzuki Book Two with a little Bach number Suzuki calls Musette – I was shocked at the time.  But indeed I’ve been working with that little harmonic moment for a while now, and this new […]

  2. […] mentioned before an analogy to my karate training – we learn new kata, or sequences that simulate battles, as we […]

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