86/100 Nee Nah Nee Nah; Strings and Semitones

On the piano, tones and semitones really aren’t an issue – there they are, all laid out in black and white. The physical relationship isn’t a big deal on wind instruments either – you just use the fingering for the note that is printed in the sore – if you know it.

But for a violin, viola, or in this case, a Grade 8 cellist playing in treble clef, it becomes a very different problem. You have to have a very clear sense of the tonality of the passage you are playing, and the relationship between each note, in order to climb up, and then back down, in a convincing manner.

I was working through such a passage this morning in “Adoration” by Felix Borowski – it starts three minutes into this youtube version¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rrXgADsesA

Here’s the score, but for a violin, so it is an octave higher than the cello version:


The part I was working on is from bar 51 to bar 55.¬†It is basically a decorated scale in A major, but the intervals vary between tones and semitones. For a pianist, it is just a matter of reading the notes carefully. But for a string player, if you don’t get the semitones and tones spot on, you will not end up where you hoped to be!

So, as a starting point we sang chromatic scales to the sound “nee”, and major scales as “nah, nah, nah, nee, nah, nah, nah, nee” to identify the tones and semitones semitone and tones. Then we worked out what the intervals were, and sang the passage using “nee” and “nah” appropriately. This proved a successful strategy, and the passage now has (almost) reliable intonation. Now for the bowing…

holly divider

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