Fast passagework, such as we find in the Rigaudon of Kreislers Sicilienne and Rigaudon, or Paganinis Moto Perpetuo, tests many basic left-hand skills. To develop clarity of articulation and reliability of intonation in such passages a thoughtful approach to practice is important.
Check your left hand fundamentals. Make sure that you have:
Fluid string crossing with the left arm (arm steering)
Finger before bow or at least finger ready in time
Check especially that the 3rd or 4th fingers are ready in time when crossing to a lower string
Fluid shifting actions
Reliable and consistent fingerfall
Examine the effectiveness of your practice of fast passagework. The following ideas will increase effectiveness.
Our ears and the way in which we use them to listen are vital to the success of our practice. At times they are so trained to critique our playing that it can be useful to turn them down in order to concentrate on one particular aspect of our playing such as finger action. It is standard in many warm-up routines (Yost, Fischer, Dounis) to include silent fingerfall exercises.
Practicing silent fingerfall is also useful in the repertoire, for instance when working on the rhythmic clear articulation and evenness in 16th notes in descending slurred passages such as the opening bars of the Spring sonata by Beethoven.
Practise difficult passages from memory to allow the mind to focus on the sound and physical patterns. Make these passages priorities from the beginning.
Practising with mixed rhythms is one of the most important ways to improve accuracy and clarity in passagework. When practising in rhythms make sure that:
The dotted rhythm is crisp enough to challenge your coordination (the short note should be very short)
In the break you prepare the next finger (and the string crossing if there is one)
You maintain a clear firm sound and do not use too much bow
Find and practise patterns in the notes. The left hand needs to work in patterns since there is often no time to tell individual fingers where to go.
Insert rests, or leave out certain notes, in order to focus on others. This gives time to diagnose problems and program solutions. Robert Gerle has an excellent summary in The Art of Practising the Violin, Practise Fast as Well as Slowly, pp14-17.
We usually practise slowly to diagnose a problem and then to program the solution. However this is of limited use if we do not also practise with the relevant performance tempo in mind. For fast passagework use a metronome and practise small units at half tempo to program, then play at tempo to check whether the programming has worked.
Practising scales with a metronome and varying the number of notes per beat is also effective. See Sassmannshaus (www.violinmasterclass.com) for an excellent demonstration of such scale practice. See Rhythm Patterns in 3-8ve Scales
Remember the bow
Just as in our intonation practice we need to play with a clear enough sound (if we cannot hear ourselves then we cannot play in tune!) we need to practise our fast passagework with a clear sound. Make sure that the bows point of contact is stable, the bow friction is even and that you do not use too much bow.
Practising passagework with demanding bow strokes such as sautillé can be helpful. This is because there is little leeway for errors in coordination or evenness of fingerfall.
Practising a passage with a mixture of slurs and separate bows is useful. Play with two notes slurred then two notes separate. Then reverse this bowing every second bar. Try one note separate and three notes slurred. Again, reverse the bowing every second bar.
The challenges of changing between slurs and separate notes relate to friction of the bow on the string and bow speed. Make sure that on the separate notes you use enough bow with enough friction.
Many pedagogues have written out numerous examples of mixed bowings for studies and scales. Galamian's scale system is one of the most useful. See Galamian Contemporary Violin Technique and his edition of Kreutzers 42 Studies
Try switching focus from one side to the other. This can have surprisingly quick results. For instance if the difficulty is shifting in arpeggios, try focusing on a bowing issue such as smooth string crossing.
Break difficult passages down into their various components and work on them one by one. Do an audit, for example, on Paganinis "Moto perpetuo". This could include:
Practise the sautillé on open strings at tempo with metronome. Is it reliable, even and clear?
Does observing the musical shape and dynamics upset your control?
Improve the left-hand action by repeating four notes slurred at tempo
Repeat one bar several times (create a loop), monitoring tiredness and the ease and reliability of fingerfall
Practise slurred passages with separate bows and vice versa.
Start a détaché passage on the opposite bow to normal (for instance, start up-bow on Kreutzers Study No.8), and focus on evenness
Practise backwards as well as forwards. Start with the last note and add notes or sections one by one
These mental gymnastics also help maintain focus in practice.
Facility - Mixed Rhythms and Mixed Bowings
Resources Repertoire and Bibliography
Scales & Arpeggios - Rhythm Patterns in 3-8ve Scales
Coordination & Practice - Introduction to Practice