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Violin Lessons: Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake "White Swan" Pas D'Action

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This White Swan solo from
Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake contains two very
distinct characters.
There's also a big issue in this solo of
There's the tempo that we might like to
play, and there's the tempo that
is required by the dancers, because this
is afterall a ballet.
And when you perform with dancers, the
tempos for both these sections
are quite a bit slower than a violinist
would pick on his or her own.
So while it might feel the best to play
something like this.
Or in the other
those tempos don't
seem to be realistic when
there are dancers involved.
So you have a bit of a decision to make,
[SOUND] and
this goes to the question that I'm often
Do you play things in an audition exactly
like you would play them in the orchestra?
And my usual answer is yes.
I don't believe that you have to [SOUND]
play a special way for this audition and
then change what you do.
I mean, I think you make intelligent
choices, especially about dynamics.
We often play in orchestra an extreme
pianissimo that's just not practical or
advisable in an audition, unless you're
asked by the committee,
because it doesn't often show a quality
sound on the instrument.
Tempos, usually, I say play how you would
in the orchestra.
In this case, you may wanna make a
compromise, as I would in an audition.
Here is the tempo as I've
played it with dancers.
And for the, the andante,
the, the major section.
It's very,
very slow.
And is it possible to make shapes and a
beautiful sound that way?
It's possible, it's very difficult, and
it's only gonna get more difficult in an
So my advice is that I don't think
anybody's gonna begrudge you playing
a more comfortable tempo if it results in
a more satisfying sounding solo.
As long as you're aware that it's, it's
not a flowing solo,
it's, it's a solo really of repose.
In both sections, actually, because you
can hear that major section
takes its character from the rests, and
what happens during the rests in a ballet?
Jumping by the dancers, and so you have to
feel that lift off and the landing.
That's ruined if you, if you really run
through it.
So what you wanna do is pick your tempo
that you can play, and
then use that gravity of the sound to your
advantage to,
to really bring out every shimmer in the
sound, in the slow section.
And to really feel that lift and drop in
the allegro section.
So the, actually the entire solo is marked
with a mute, but
traditionally the mute is taken off for
the middle section, section.
So, that's what you'll see me do.
Take a little care to select your mute.
This is probably the only selection in an
audition that's gonna have a mute,
so you can select the mute based on its
sound, really.
You don't have to select one that you
would actually use in orchestra
that's easy to put on and take off.
I happen to like the sound of this mute,
and it's easy to put on and take off.
But you can experiment with a wooden mute,
which gives quite a distinctive sound.
I wouldn't recommend a practice,
a heavy practice mute that just takes too
much of the sound away.
But look through your case.
Borrow from friends.
See what material works best for you.
Pick it for the sound of this excerpt.
I do like to
stay on the D
string for
quite a while
It goes along with the muted sound and
just very, you know, lot of pathos there.
And it goes along with, with movements of
the dancers, as well.
In this solo you'll want to really kind of
milk the half steps.
In other words you're using expressive
The leading tones should be quite high.
Or quite low if you're descending.
The only caveat is that they to reappear.
[LAUGH] If you have the same note twice in
succession like here, just as I stopped.
There I'm playing the F
with two different fingers.
The second time I'm sliding back down into
it with four.
If your intonation is very expressive,
then you can hear I,
I failed to hit the same F.
And that's gonna be very noticeable since
those notes are close together.
So you be in control of your pitch.
Put those leading tones close to the, the
resolutions, but make sure they match.
You take off your mute before, before the
major section.
Now the character in the runs, even though
we're goosing the tempo a little bit,
it's still not really fast enough to be
totally comfortable like if it was
the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.
There just really aren't enough notes in
these runs, so you need to use variety in
how you pace them.
If you were really to play them straight
in this tempo,
here is how they would sound.
Very boring,
so don't do that.
You can, the, the most common way would be
to lengthen the beginning of the run.
Or even the first note, and then speed
through the rest.
You can do that all on the first note
or more, I think what, what wears a little
better, and what you can use more often is
to do it gradually.
So the beginning of the run is slower.
And then the end of the run is faster.
What you can't do is fall into a pattern
where you're doing the same thing all the
Another way to build variety is simply not
to accent
the last note of every run as we've been
I think the first couple are nice.
I, it really goes with that character, but
it's really
up to you.
You can lead the whole orchestra because
all that's going on with you,
besides the dancers are.
So any conductor worth his or
her salt will be looking to see which
direction you're going.
And they'll be directing the
accompaniment, to go down or
to support you.
Those straight 16ths should be straight,
They have character.
Now get up to the highest
part of the solo.
It's worthwhile to do some reaching just
to, to solidify the intonation.
It's important
to leave the first finger
down there on that E.
That way you save a shift and
you know you're gonna come back to the
same E.
So pick a tempo.
[LAUGH] And one last word about the slow
section, in an audition,
as you may have experienced already,
whenever you get nervous, somehow the bow
seems to travel a little faster than it
used to and saving the bow isn't as easy.
It's worthwhile to practice it a couple of
times with what I might call
safety bowings.
That's where you simply build more bows
into the line, because it's,
if you get nervous and the bow starts
traveling in audition,
it's something you're gonna have to do
You, you won't have a choice.
And so it's better to have at least
practiced it to see how that might feel.
That way you're not changing
bows out of panic, you just,
that switch flips inside you and
you realize, okay, hey, it's not,
I don't have my slow bow today.
So, I go to plan B.
If you don't have a plan B, then it feels
like a panic and
then you hope the sound is gonna work out
all right.
So once you've picked your tempo, you've
planned your two sets of
bowings then relax and enjoy the sound of
these two characters.