Changing up rhythm and metre are great ways to get that fast passagework down, writes violinist Susanna Klein

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Dotted rhythms are a great tool for drilling fast passages, but you can level up and do more complex rhythm practice. That’s because playing fast is very different from playing slowly - physically, neurologically, and psychologically. Keeping hands coordinated  in the fast lane is tricky. Read last week’s article 6 Tips for practicing fast passages to find out about the important principles of fast playing. Then, let’s play detective by using rhythms in practice. 

Before we dive in, here are the mantras for practising in rhythms:

  • Concentrate on the ‘trio’ of fast: close, loose and fast

  • Aim for your best sound and make it super clean

  • Observe: which fingers are striking or lifting late?

  • Listen to the longer notes for sound quality and pitch

  • Aim for bouncy, light finger action

  • Correct, refine, and adjust within small units before adding additional bars

  • Enjoy the playfulness and the challenge. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be effective!

  • ‘Seal’ your learning by following up rhythm practice with the original 

Our original passage, for demonstration purposes, is: 

example 1 original


Try these above-and-beyond rhythms. These finger twisters can feel very unnatural at first. Persevere -  it will pay off! 

1) Two fast one slow

These are my favorites from the Galamian 4 note rhythm patterns (from Contemporary Violin Technique, Volume One, Part 2). You will be rearranging simple time excerpts into a ⅜ time signature. Try each permutation at least twice in a row, and then go back to the original. 

example 2 Galamian

2) Re-beaming

Shift the metre so that different notes ‘live together’. For a passage that starts on the first beat, start an eighth note earlier. Put in rests that allow you to listen keenly.  New groupings create automaticity in the brain and hand. 

Example 3 rebeam

3) Groups of six

Another re-beaming option is to arrange your notes in groups of six. The landing note at the end serves as the next jumping off point, i.e. it is repeated.

Example 4 groups of 6

Once you feel comfortable with the first permutation, rotate the starting note, for example like this:

Example 5 different 6

4) Slurred quintuplets

Five-note groupings make notes flow, and slurring creates continuity. After this, the original will seem a lot easier. 

Example 6 fivetuplets

Next, shift your starting note over by one note, and continue to do so until you have done all permutations.

example 7 more fivetuplets

If speed is on your wishlist, don’t forget to work in some fast practice in your scale work. Even though I am usually a fan of going ‘the speed of no mistakes,’ I have found that going a little hog-wild (every once in a while!) can help get the mind and fingers to be less resistant to the endeavor.

Looking for more tips? Check out last week’s article 6 tips for practising fast passages and my ‘speed’ playlist on YouTube: 13 Ways to Practice Fast Passages 

Susanna Klein is associate professor of violin at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of the Practizma Practice Journal and creator of the Practice Blitz YouTube Channel. Her mission is to empower musicians in the practice room.

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