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Was this accidental? Or on purpose? Most people believe the correct way to start playing Paganini’s Caprices is to begin with Caprice No. 1 and finish with Caprice No. 24, since that’s how they were published. But the order of the published Caprices is simply the order the pages were in as Paganini presented them to the publisher. He didn’t have them written down, so he sat down and hastily wrote them out. For Paganini, the Caprices were a song circle of etudes for his secret practice regimen - and thus violin lessons for us! Apart from using the correct technique, it’s important to practice the caprices in the correct order that Paganini originally intended. Caprice 12 is the gateway to playing and mastering the rest of Paganini’s pieces. It allows the violinist to grasp the concept behind Paganini’s technique; otherwise, the violinist will feel uncomfortable with the positioning and won’t recognize his/her prior mistake.
Begin your circuit training with Caprice No. 12. Then play 12, 14, 23 19, 8, 17, 4, and 11 – IN THAT ORDER!
If the pieces are learned and practiced in the correct order: 12, 14, 23, 19, 8, 17, 4, 11 - and played with the correct fingering, it will be immediately apparent to an advanced player that these new fingerings are consistent and important. The full song circle of Etudes can be memorized and played easily once the player gains awareness of this new technique. Note a hint to the secret and a helpful memonic detail: the 8 Caprices in Book 1 in their proper order begin with alternating bow strokes – downbow on 12, upbow on 14, downbow 23, upbow 19, etc. Each group of 8 Caprices has a different pattern, and there are exactly half that begin upbow and half that begin downbow! I want to emphasize that it’s important to practice ONLY in this order: 12, 14, 23, 19, 8, 17, 4, 11. You don’t have to play them all, but do not finish 19 and then return to 12, but rather take a break before playing the series again. This way the technique will be imprinted into your mind.
Are you a beginner, or are you a teacher with beginning students? It is important that a student learn good technique from the beginning. Simply choose a portion of each Caprice to learn – even a few bars. It will more fun to listen to and play than “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”! When Paganini was a young boy, he hated to practice. He showed great promise at a young age, even the most famous musicians recognized his talent. But his father, understanding that raw potential was insufficient, forced his son through beatings and starvation, to master musical exercises. As Paganini grew into his late teenage years, he realized there would have to be a different way to play challenging pieces by memory with less practice. With this goal, the lazy boy was encouraged to great works:
The 24 Paganini Caprices!
Greetings! My name is Gregory Shir. I am a violinist and violin maker.
As a professional violinist, I have always been fascinated by Paganini and how he was able to master the most difficult pieces – and by memory! I wondered: What was Paganini's secret? I was sure it involved the correct technique. I knew that with proper technique, even an average violinist should achieve this high level of skill. But the original published manuscript of the 24 Caprices has little information about bowing and no fingerings. After 30 years of experimentation and practicing traditional scales and technical pieces for four to six hours daily, I realized I had been using the incorrect technique to play the Paganini Caprices. Thus, I discovered a newly formulated fingering method of playing the violin which I call the "Paganini Technique". This method enables easier memorization with less practice. This rather intimidating music contains many exciting arpeggios and dramatic melodies to make practicing the violin fun and efficient. Each Caprice contains a lesson to learn.
Here in Caprice VIII is an opportunity to learn a Paganini Technique approach to scales:
While the original Caprices had no fingerings indicated, the Paganini Technique fingering formulas are very specific, and very consistent. They work every time! Less important in the new technique are the bowing and dynamics; the bowing follows naturally from the proper fingerings, the dynamics are a matter style. This allows for artistic flexibility and personal choice in performance.
Here’s another tip: in the first position always use the open string when transferring from one string to another. “When he came to a pause for the introduction of a cadenza, at rehearsal, the musicians would frequently rise, eager to watch his performance, but Paganini would merely play a few notes, and then stopping suddenly would smile and say, ‘ Et cetera, messieurs ! ’ and reserve his strength for the public performance.” Paganini did not share his technique with anyone else. He had no students or disciples, he wrote no “violin school” books, and yet the history of the violin is often chronicled as “before Paganini” and “after Paganini”. The lack of this technique has put these pieces out of the grasp for many violinists. The fact that these pieces are rarely played in public by memory is a testament to their difficulty. No one was able to discern the secret behind their techniques, until now. Now. Have you been practicing?
How does the Paganini Technique help you purchase a violin?
Paganini's famous Guarneri violin, "El Cannone" is locked away in his hometown of Genoa and played solely once a year. Is this treasured Instrument truly the one that was carried around in coaches and horseback and played strung and unstrung? (Paganini famously cut his strings for effect.) Though it’s hard to accept, like many other famous brand name violin investments, it is possible this was not Paganini’s working violin. There has always been a major industry of violin makers who copy Strads and Guarneris so the audience will believe in the magic of a name brand. Even Paganini owned a copy of his famous Guarneri. It’s widely known that Paganini played a duplicate of El Cannone, created by a notorious forger, Vuillaume. Paganini gave it to Camillo Sivori, his young protégé, just days before his death. That violin, the "Sivori", is now on display with the original.
But you need to find an instrument to play, not to shelve.
I think we all agree that a good instrument is easier to play. And when we are ready to invest a large sum of money, we ALL will ask the advice of experienced players and people who have owned or become familiar with a variety of violins. The value of a violin - besides name brand recognition and sound (which is a matter of taste and perhaps adjustment of the hardware such as sound pin, bridge, finish, etc. for resonance) - is its playability. Playability? Many violins are playable in first position - the bottom half of the fingerboard - and those are often referred to as "student" or "learner" violins. As you go up the fingerboard to fifth position, you are getting into Paganini Caprice territory. In higher positions, it's very important the violin be proportional on each string - your fingers should naturally find their way as the distance between pitches logarithmically resizes. If you're young and agile, you can make leaps and stretches to compensate for aberrations in your violin's design. If you change fingering or play two notes in a row with the same finger you might get by. But you want your technique to last a lifetime. You don't want to have to memorize the exceptions for every piece. Three years from now when you try to play that piece again you will stumble unless you remember on bar 8 and 9 you slid with that fourth finger. The Paganini Technique is the guide to the difficult fingerings. Play at least the first eight in the cycle - learn them in order with correct fingering and as close to speed as possible. You will stumble at certain places. Circle those measures. Then take your Caprices to a good music store and try them on different violins. You will hopefully find a violin or two that fits your fingers when you play. It may or may not be the most expensive violin in the store, but the notes will be under your fingers where you need them to be, and THAT's value. So, learning the Paganini Technique can save you a bundle on buying an instrument - AND improve your memory!
©2008 Gregory Shir
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