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Play the Violin Like Stephane Grappelli

Play the Violin Like Stephane Grappelli

The footage of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt playing in the 1930’s is a very rare piece of video indeed, one of only a handful of film recordings of the Hot Club De France (Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s original swing Jazz band). The song is J’Attendrai (I Will Wait) a popular tune of the day and played in the ‘Hot’ Jazz style. This is the only example where the audio and video match, so what you’re seeing is what they are actually playing.

So what do I love about this clip?

Stephane’s playing is confident, rich, sweet and a little cheeky! Even when he’s sitting on a bed smoking he can play with amazing intonation and tone. What’s interesting is to see how his technique has developed over the years, if you watch later footage of his playing he seems more relaxed with a loose, almost ‘folkie’, feel. In this clip, recorded some time in the 1930’s, you can see he is still employing a more ‘classical’ or at least slightly more traditional technique (probably from a few years before when he was learning the violin).

So what makes Grappelli, and this clip, so great?

His intonation (tuning) is awe inspiring, I don’t think I’ve every heard him play out of tune (no seriously he’s that good), he’s developed the most amazing ear for intonation, all down to his musical development (which we’ll come to later). Watch his left hand closely, his elbow is under the violin, wrist and right hand straight with his right hand slightly angled forward and right hand fingers over the finger board coming down on the strings on the finger tips. The right hand and thumb are relaxed at all times. With out this he’s nothing.

The bow arm is equally impressive, at 3.17 you can see the elbow and left hand and wrist level, particularly when he goes to the heal of the bow. Just like his left wrist his right is loose and flexible. Watch how he uses the whole of the bow too (later he quite often stays in the top 3rd), putting the bow on the string before he pulls a note. Not to mention the free syncopated swing feel he gets, but that’s a whole other lesson!

Another feature of Grappelli’s playing that I love is the sweet vibrato he gets, particularly on the high notes, you can see it comes from the hand and arm and is short and fast, just teasing the sweetness out of the instrument.

The lick he pulls at 2.07, just at the end of the main tune is fantastic, I’ve been trying to play this in my own Hot Club band for years! It’s a combination of syncopation, slides, pull offs, flair and incredible Jazz intuition that has stumped me.

How did he develop into this?

The formula for becoming this good shouldn’t come as a surprise, it takes an amazing amount of practice and effort! However, I believe in short it comes down to these 5 simple factors that anyone can do –

1) Practice, practice and more practice – Grappelli started off playing on the streets of Paris, busking for money and then, when he was old enough, moved onto Jazz Bands, cinema bands, Jazz clubs and camp fires with Django, sometimes playing all night. They say you need to practice for 10,000 hrs before you become a genius on an instrument, I think he must have easily clocked this up in his youth.

2) Listen/ watch and copy – in his biography he mentions many times that he watched, got tips/ lessons, and listened to many other musicians, not only Jazz but classical players and copied what he saw.

3) Have some lessons – obvious really but does help! I believe he studied at the Paris conservatory for a time.

4) Learn some piano – no doubt this would help with his intonation and understanding of chords/ keys with his Jazz improvisation.

5) Listening to music – he would have been surrounded by Jazz music and classical music at the time, this meant that he new the music he played before he tried to play it himself. This is crucial for developing intonation and also focusing on the 20% that needs improving (80/20 principle) when practicing anything.

So hope this gives you a little taster of Grappelli, I will write some more about him on my website as he’s such a massive inspiration. Remember down load some fun violin sheet music with mp3 backing tracks here – http://www.funkyviolins.com/violin-sheet-music/