Understanding the main notes and correct metrical divisions of the beat. By Terry B. Ewell. Bassoon Digital Professor #92. www.2reed.net

Loaded YouTube and 2reed.net  on 31 Oct. 12

<music, opening bassoon solo in Rite of Spring>  

Welcome to these videos on the Rite of Spring. I hope that I can give you in these videos some ideas on how to practice this, how to improve your performance of the Rite of Spring. So, let’s get started.
The Rite of Spring, the way the melody is constructed, is comprised of three notes: C, B, and A.

<music : C5, B4, A4>

What you find in the opening is, well I guess you could call it an ornamentation of those notes. Keeping those notes in mind will really help you perform this. The “C-B-A” is later ornamented by a “D,” ornamented by a “D” in the melody. But basically the first three measures contain that three note motive.
When we get to number 1, which is the 4th and 5th measure, there you find a chromatic descending scale which is ornamented. Well, until the “Gb” of course! There you will find it is a little bit different and certainly the finger patterns are different.

Keeping in mind the shape of that melody, it is important that the grace notes added not receive the same weight as the main notes. Now in terms of the grace notes, particularly the ones in measure 1, we want the emphasis to be on the main note, not on the two grace notes that [proceed]. For instance, we don’t want

<music: B4-emphasized C5 B4>

we want

<music: B4 C5 B4-emphasized>

So at least in your mind, think of the grace notes coming before the beat, before the main note. And you need to place the main notes correctly, rhythmically.
The other grace notes—the grace notes with the slashes—I find need to be played a little more harshly. It gives it the Russian, Asian type of spice to this melody.

<music: G4 A4 and D5 G4 A4>

They are played quickly, but with plenty of emphasis. So they need to come out. In this case be sure to play them with enough force.

It is very important when you practice this passage to keep a metric relationship between all of the notes. They are written as 16th notes, triplet eighth notes, quarter notes, eighth notes; all of that for a reason. True it is cadenza like, there is a lot of rubato here, but actually when the orchestra enters (which is fairly soon in the solo) you will need to be following the conductor. So a lot of that rubato is within a very steady beat. Otherwise all of the musicians won’t be able to play together. So be quite aware of that. You have some rubato with the fermatas and the amount of time you hold those fermatas, but beyond that you will need to be with the conductor and the ensemble.

So I suggest with your first practice [session] is to leave aside the rubato, leave aside all of the ornaments, and just practice the notes metrically. You might want to take your metronome (mine looks like a flying saucer) and set it for 40 or 42 or 44. Something around that range. With the metronome set, let’s try to play the notes metrically in the first measure.

<music: opening of Rite of Spring>

See the transition from the 16ths to the triplet to the quarter note and back can be very complex. You need to practice this many times to make sure that the divisions are accurate. The second measure is straight eighth notes but then we follow on to the 4/4 measure, the third measure, with this quintuplet.

<music: measures 2 and 3>

So you have to practice the transition from the duples , the two notes, to the five notes. This is very complex. So a lot of your time will need to be first spent with gaining rhythmic precision. I understand that rhythmic precision with complex fingerings in the high register is really quite difficult.

When you are practicing this passage, I suggest you first practice the rhythmic divisions in small sections—just a beat or two. Always have your rhythmic segment go to the first note of the next beat. That way later on we can link them up.
So for instance, let me practice a small segment for you. This is end of measure 1 leading to the second beat of measure 2. I am practicing triplets going to duplets.


I was a little late on the second beat. Let me try that again. Let’s be precise.


Now I was early! Ok, so I have to practice that.


That was better.  So I am practicing that little thing. What if I take the triplet before that…In fact let me practice the four notes, the sixteenth notes with the triplet in the first measure.


That wasn’t too bad. Let me do that again.


Yes, I felt like I really had control of the transition there. OK, now I can join those two segments together. Staring in measure 1 and going into measure 2. There, that wasn’t bad. Rhythmically I feel that I am now in control of that.

Now after I have mastered the rhythm, then obviously add the grace notes. But the grace notes need to come within the context of those main notes.
Another segment to practice, for example, would be the transition from the duples to the quintuplet. Let’s do the end of measure 2 up to the second beat of measure 3.


Not too bad. Let’s try it again.


I have to listen to the pitch better to make sure it is all in tune.


Yes, that high B tends to be sharp.
So you can see the method I use to practice the rhythm. I take these small segments, practice them and make sure the rhythm is correct, then join them together. Joining together is called “concatenation.” Concatenation, joining together, that is your word of the day.

So within this passage, again, look at the rhythm [of the full notes] and then to that we add the grace notes by working that into your technique.