In a sense, the Dounis theories of string playing are hopeful to all who aspire to become great players. It is the bridge from simply accommodating our seemingly inexorable limitations as artists to unlocking our native and unlimited potential. In this first part of the “Dounis method,” George Neikrug tells his story and gives his reasons for writing a book. In doing so he reveals what Dounis was like as a person, his method of teaching and philosophy, all of which transformed his own artistry and musical life.
2 Excerpts from the Book
Excerpt 1 - The Reason for the Book
In 1939 after studying with various teachers including Diran Alexanian and Emanuel Feuermann I had reached an impasse in my playing and felt that my further progress on the cello would be impossible unless I found the solution to my problems, both technical and musical.
I had heard interesting things about the teachings of Demetrius Dounis so I contacted him for lessons as a last resort before making my peace with mediocrity. My meeting with him was the beginning of the most important musical relationship of my life.
I received an enormous body of information that I had never believed to exist, encompassing every element of technique and expression. Much of this was contrary to the existing body of orthodox knowledge.
Here was a teacher of one’s dreams, who could provide solutions to any problem both mechanical and musical and prove that there was no limit to one’s potential.
After a period of fifteen years of study with him, well into my years as a professional cellist, his death in 1954 left me without the guide that I could always consult whenever I had a problem.
From that day I had to rely on the mountain of information he gave me and strangely enough it seemed that I learned even more, when I had to depend on finding my own solutions. I always think of how he would answer my questions so in a sense I have been continuously studying with him.
Using his principles I am continually discovering more effortless ways of doing things physically so that I could concentrate solely on expression.
The purpose of this book is to preserve this body of knowledge to help a future generation of cellists playing and teaching.
Excerpt 2 - Contracting the Fingers
Another aspect is the ability to contract your fingers before position changes in fast scales and arpeggios. This can be accomplished in slow practice by feeling a slight push up of the last finger before every shift which contracts your hand so that the new finger is touching the old one just before the shift. Think of a hypothetical person who has one long leg and one short one. When he or she steps on the long leg the short one is lifted. This is something that will happen automatically when you play fast if you practice it slowly. Do not attempt to think about it when you play fast—it will happen automatically in such a minuscule way that this cannot be seen. The speed of the shift in running passages can make the same articulation as the finger that moves up and down. There is an exercise of great benefit in the Dounis “Artistic Technique” for violin. If you practice shifting in the following manner you can create the impression that you are playing everything in one position like piano keys.
Here is an example using the C major scale on the A string.
Play the shift as two grace notes to the next note do the reverse going down. Try this on any passage even arpeggios.