The Opposing Techniques of
Hans Letz and Ivan Galamian
Letz had the conception of a 'light', "chamber
music" kind of sound. The idea of chamber music was really
in a chamber - a chambre (French). The chambre
was probably a salon of a rich person who could afford to
hire a small group of musicians to play in a private salon
for an evening of special entertainment for a select and
elite audience. It was a more delicate approach to a sonority
that would be pleasant in a relatively small place.
Letz also insisted on a German bow hold with
a high wrist at the frog.
He avoided flat hair bow, and emphasized
a very small use of vibrato.
In order to avoid a rough sound at the frog,
one was taught to lift the right wrist and turn it slightly
clockwise as you approach the frog so that the wrist was
taking the weight off at the frog and the bow was tilted
so that only part of the hair was in contact with the string..
Of course if you lift the wrist and let the hand hang, there
is no pressure, thus no scraping, but there is also no control
by the fingers or the hand in that’ wilted flower’ position.
One doesn’t turn a doorknob to open a door with the hand
in that position.
I discovered that if I used my strong back
muscles to lift the weight of the arm at the frog, I could
play a light pianissimo at the frog with complete “door
knob position” control. Thus I could play from the
E string to the G string at the frog by just twisting my
hand (opening and closing the doorknob). The motion
is technically called supination and pronation. The
bow stoke is controlled by suspending the bow arm from the
strong back muscles. To feel that back muscle “lift,” try
1. Place your arms in front of the chest,
the elbows bent at 90 degree angles and fingertips nearly
2. Lift your arms keeping that arms/hands
3. In same starting position take a medium
4. Same thing but this time, take a very
deep breath and let your arms rise up as you breathe in.
I teach my students to use their right arm
in what I call a “Position of Force” in order to achieve
complete control in rotation of the bow hand That is, if
I make a fist with my right arm as if to push something
with much force , and then rotate that arm clockwise and
counterclockwise, as if turning a doorknob back and forth,
I arrive at the hand/wrist/forearm position that gives me
the most amount of control where it counts , that is in
the bow arm fingers, hand and wrist.
Galamian used a solid "gutsy" sound
that projected well in a large hall. He insisted on
a solid right hand bow grip and strong sound, using more
flat hair position.
He explained how to produce a much warmer
vibrato on notes long enough for vibration. He used a larger,
slower wave of sound.
Vibrato is an embellishment of the sound
that imparts an emotional color. This enhances the
music. An ordinary sustained note that does not vary is
very plain and without warmth. Vibrato can be considered
as a wave of changing intonation where the note to be vibrated
is played, descends in pitch slightly, returns up again
to the note, and continues this undulating movement for
the length of the note. The distance from the top and the
bottom of the wave may vary between an 8th to a half of
a tone below the note.
A round, rolling vibrato requires a soft,
plaint pad, as opposed to a finger that is comparatively
firm for clear articulation. Lowering the left hand can
place the fingers in a lower, flatter and softer attitude,
more or less on the fingerprint. This positioning of the
flat finger on the string for the vibrato is the same as
the finger position the cellist uses to create vibrato.
The cellist uses the more fleshy part of the finger.
The vibrato is created by
the finger rolling, oscillating, not sliding, back and
forth on the string. The motion, from the point on the
string that marks the intonation of that note, is always
down in pitch and back again to the original pitch of
the note. The sound replicates the natural vibrato of
the human voice. As with the human voice, the amplitude
and the speed of each wave is dictated by the emotion of
the singer/player...slower for calmness and faster for
There are two techniques
used to produce this rolling of the finger on the
1. The motive force is the arm:
The movement of the forearm, passing through a straight
wrist, moving the hand back and forth
while the finger remains, oscillating, on the string.
2. The motive force is the
The hand, in a movement as if 'knocking at the door,'
moves the hand back and forth through a
flexible wrist, thereby rolling the finger back and
forth on the string.
As a musical line develops
and changes in intensity, the vibrato should also
simultaneously, in the same way, becoming an integral
part of the phrasing. I have devised a
preparatory exercise in order to imagine and then to
control the type, shape and intensity of the vibrato
that, ultimately, will enhance the musical line.
1. On any single note,
place the finger that produces the best, round vibrato
2. Play the note with a small, round vibrato and begin
to think and to sing to yourself the
musical phrase to which you wish to add vibrato.
2. Without changing the pitch of the note, mentally
'sing' the phrase, continuing the vibrato on that
same note. As you 'sing' (think) the phrase, you can change
and shape the vibrato to correspond
with the intensity of the melodic line in your mind.
This procedure will help
you define more clearly the kind of vibrato you wish to
use to color any specific phrase. Aside from
varying the speeds and pressures in bowing a phrase, the
most important tool used in expressing the emotions of a
phrase is the vibrato.
The vibrato does not
basically change the original music, but rather it adds
color to the music in a way that is similar to the
addition of maquillage (makeup) to a face...not changing
the essentials but heightening the effect.