I have a confession to make – I never really practiced anything by Ševčik growing up. Almost my entire playing career I stayed away from his etude books. The handful of instances I gave Ševčik a chance turned into really grueling, boring, and mind-numbing practice sessions. I felt (and sounded) like a zombie going through sequence after sequence of shifting. Before long, the Ševčik books were out of sight and out of mind for good.
It’s no wonder I had such a miserable time – most students practice Ševčik incorrectly and go on autopilot, which can stunt musical and technical growth. Only recently, after more than 2 decades of playing the violin I really began learning how to approach Ševčik in a strategic way.
If you prefer a video version of this post, just scroll past the text.
Mindfulness & Bite-Sized Portions
The most important thing when approaching any Ševčik exercise is to bring mindfulness to the table. Mindfulness, by definition, is awareness of the present moment. Of course, this is an important concept for any type of deliberate practice, and we need to emphasize it especially for technical exercises such as this Opus 8.
Once we begin to practice attentively, it becomes apparent that there is rarely a reason to do an entire exercise, or several complete exercises from Ševčik’s books in a single session. To add Ševčik to your warm-up routine, pick a handful of measures to repeat several times with full present awareness and deep listening.
Set a Goal
The key to success with Ševčik is to have a concrete goal behind any exercise you choose. The goal can be something generic to technique, or something very specific in relation to your current repertoire. Here are a few examples of shifting goals (out of infinite possibilities):
Today I want to pay attention to my left thumb when doing descending shifts from 3rd to 1st position.
I noticed that in my concerto I could really use more security whenever the distance of a shift is more than 3 positions apart.
I really want to explore how to get smoother finger exchange shifts.
Find Matching Exercise to Goal
Depending on your mission, find an exercise in Ševčik Op. 8 that will most closely resemble the feel and/or type of shift you want to practice. All the exercises are written in C major, but at the beginning of the book Ševčik recommends for them to be transposed and/or have different bowing variants. It’s very helpful to transpose an exercise to the same key of a passage you’re practicing from your repertoire.
Using Repertoire as a Guide
For instance, let’s say you’re practicing a passage in A major, which has a specific shift that constantly feels insecure or inconsistent. First, identify the type of shift and the distance between positions. (ex – The shift is 3 positions apart, ascending, and involves the 3rd finger).
Now, find an exercise in Op. 8 that most closely resembles this shift. The book is organized by distance between positions, rather than specific position number. In this example, go to the section in the book that focuses on shifts 3 positions apart, find a section that involves shifting with the 3rd finger (if there isn’t one, you can modify an exercise that’s most similar), and zero in on a single measure that matches the string you’ll be performing the shift on. (If the shift in your repertoire involves crossing strings, ask yourself – on which string is the actual shift executed?) Transpose the measure to whichever key your passage is in (add accidentals as needed).
One Measure at a Time
In Ševčik shifting exercises, it’s most effective to repeat a single measure several times before adding on to it. Ševčik encourages this in his instructions in the very beginning of the book.
If at any moment during practicing these you notice yourself losing the sense of curiosity, deep listening, or mindfulness, it’s time to put Ševčik away and either take a short break or work on something else.