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A meander on efficiency and scales

December 8, 2008 at 6:12 AM


Q: You mean I can still improve considerably without the torment of 4-5 hours a day?:DI would like that.
A: Oh yes. If you didn’t consistently improve on an hour a day something would be wrong. However…
 Q: But does  that work  if you're thinking of a solo career ?
A: I doubt it. In general a soloist has had quite an extended period of fairly intense practice before perhaps heading into a more maintenance orientated state.  And in order to maintain technique one never stops. Soloists have such perfect technique that I think there is a point where they can reduce actual practice and focus on a more music oriented growth but there is certainly still fundamental technical work going on. There are exceptions who are notorious for not practicing that much such as Shumael Ashkenasi but these are few and far between. Genius is a special case at times. I am very wary about what to say to talented people who are `thinking about a solo career.` It is very easy to put people off or be destructive, but in general I honestly feel that in this day and age if you are `thinking about a solo career` then it is too late.  These days career s start so young and the standard is so astonishingly high that soloists are soloists by default from a very young age. There are exceptions but they are few and far between. I also question the actual meaning of the expression and why any one would actually want what I presume they mean.  Of course we all love playing concertos with orchestras , until, like Arnold Steinhardt we find that you have to follow an orchestra rather than vice versa and that conductors won’t give you rehearsal time.  Or that it is a lonely life without a great deal of money after everyone is paid off.  Many, if not all of the great soloists around at the moment are teaching (at least after a certain point- don’t think Mr. Ehnes is yet…) and or playing chamber music whenever they get the chance.  So many of those with enormous potential who have won international competitions that previously would have launched a solo career are becoming front desks player sin top orchestras. It’s not that’s there’s anything wrong with the dream of being a soloist but it is potentially dangerous in blinding one form the utter joy of chamber music and playing in a good orchestra. Not to mention the complete love of my life- teaching (and prunes of course.
>And, speaking of maximizing the efficiency of the time used, would it be ok to just replace scales sometimes with some Sevcick and Schradieck work? I am starting to hate Flesch.
Well, sevcik and schradieck also include complete scale systems;) I can understand you starting to hate Flesch.  I can only be bothered to work through the set for a couple of days a week.  But the fault is much mine as Flesch. If you want to substitute something though you might consider Dounis Artists Technique.   
>:( . I know those scales are complex and really useful , but it just takes me so much time to finish the 4 pages (?) of a Flesch scale , when I can hardly wait to play something nice. Playing scales for me is a tiring , long , and boring experience , and thinking that I have to repeat this experience again ....and again... and again....Isn't there a way of mainting and improving technique , that is not so long and know...:)
The actual problem is your approach in general I think. Its very understandable. We are told again and again that scales are the fundamentals (absolutely true) and that Heifetz practiced them for four hours a day and that (tacit perhaps) the more we practice the more brilliant we will be.  However, the truth is that we should be working on the violin with full emotional, spiritual and mental focus at all times.  Typically however, scales become a duty that weighs us down and because of this lack of involvement at various levels mistakes creep in that actually slow down our progress sin the long run although in the short term there may well be an increase in certain areas of technique.    For the average person, as opposed to Heifetz, the word `long` and mental efficiency are incompatible. This is not to say that one should not spend a good amount of time on technique but rather that within that one should be constantly challenging the mind and changing materials as well as balancing out with a good dose of music.   This was the beauty of the Galamian scale system: if used correctly one becomes so involved in the changes in rhythms and bowings that times passes in a very quick and yes, enjoyable (sort of way) with commensurate rewards. I actually think the Flesch is very inefficient unless used in an equally imaginative and interesting way but how many players honestly do?  
In fact, one of the simplest ways to make scale practice more interesting is to combine the two systems.  
Fopr example, take the Galamian book and open to page 26 which is six note rhythm patterns. Keep the book open on the stand. Now play through a three octave Flesch scale using the first rhythm pattern. Without stopping go into the scale again using the second rhythm pattern, then the third until you have played about ten rhythms.   Move the mm up and repeat the procedure. After things are going fast mix in six note bowing patterns as well.  Accents too…
I don’t think the Flesch double stops are actually fully efficient. Much better for me are a) scales using the same two fingers 13131313 for 3rds for example then 242424224 then the real deal.  Also apply to sixths and b) they do not include shifting in double stops which is –really – important. That is why I prefer the Dounis Artists technique. Notice that Agopian`s book `No time to practice` places a lot of emphasis on this.  So does the less well known book by Turkanowsky.   Not to mention Drew Lecher’s book which at risk of boring the pants off everyone contains all the necessary elements of technique (I suppose…) in such a way that they are maximally efficient and can be done in very small does before switching to another area of technique.  Yes, you could replace Flesch with this volume, but you’d still end up doing scales.;)   There is no escape.
 >And if there are any tips of how to have the same efficiency with less time of practice, please, that would be helpful.
Actually you have to practice with more efficiency if you have less time.;) The most important thing is contained in the idea `Think ten times, play once.` If you cannot hear and visualize what you are going to play then stop.  Blind repetition is the artistic death of the majority of violinists. Yep. I will stand by that.:(
Second, have clear goals. Without them concentration is substantially less. This has been proven over and over again in sports psychology. It is a key point made by Galloway in his book `The Inner Game of Tennis.`

From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 2:14 PM

I finally got a hold of the Ysaye scales.  I plan on working through them this month.  Do you have a copy?

From Tasha Miner
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 2:51 PM

Buri, I wish you were one of my teachers.  You rock.

Awesome post.  Very helpful for me, or anyone else in a slump.



From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 3:29 PM

there is nothing more true that your sentence about blind practice! What I find sad, very sad, with the violin is that being a soloist is the dream of many people (which is normal) but , because of this, there is so much people who's life is destroyed when it doesn't work. There is much pain and suffering with this idea.  I also blame some innocent teachers who don't know the real facts and say to their good students that they will be great soloists!  I know such stories!  Creating false hopes is bad but if you tell the truth, you pass for a pessimist and a children's dreams destroyer!  Even if one doesn't want to be a soloist, what I often say on postings is that if ones like very much the violin and just want to be a very good musician, it takes time that the majority of the working people/students don't have. I mean a few hours of scales, studies and pieces each day to be top nutch... 

But the beauty of the instrument outwieghts for the suffering that comes along with it and this is why I and many people still play!


From Larisa Mihaela
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 5:02 PM

Wow , Buri . Thanks. I wish to have had you as a teacher.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 7:09 PM

Larisa, we could arrange this with youtube and it would make a side job for Buri! (Joke)

Anne-Marie lol

From Karin Lin
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 7:10 PM

Thanks, Buri.  I totally agree with you about how scales are boring because one does then without engagement as something to be gotten over with.  I finally realized this and told my teacher "practice is only boring when you don't understand the point of the exercise" and he said I was absolutely right.  I still don't practice scales as much as I should ;) but at least I do so productively.

From Jim Glasson
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 8:07 PM


 I love this post. Very well said and written my friend.

You wouldn't wanna' come over to coach me a bit would you? :)

From Ray Randall
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 9:28 PM

With the modern computer systems Buri probably could give lessons to anyone anywhere via videos sent to him on the internet and vice versa.

From Paul G.
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 10:21 PM

I think we should wait for Buri's input before we start special ordering private lessons;)

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 8, 2008 at 10:33 PM


thanks for all your kind remarks.   Maybe one day we can meet up in Japan and have a good ol jam session.   It`s amazing what a strong response I got from what I thought was a rather poor and hurriedly written blog.  iTs a measure of how deeply scales touch the psyche of us poor violinists rather than any quality on my part.

For what it@s worth I think there are a lot of good wyas of practicing scales in Simon Fischer`s books ,  and i don`t mena just the ones under the ehaidng scales.  One can adapt many of his exercises to use on scales.  However,  at the end of the day I still feel thta until one reaches a rather high level of technique scales represent a combination of complex techniques and as such should not really be the firts thing ne practices.   In otehr words,  we are stuck with technicla work -and- scales.   Although in the cas eof the Galamian system starting with two octave scales and one string one finger is not such a bad ide ain my book.

I don`t actually have he Ysaye scale manual (is there one?) but I do know a little about his fingers from the scale manaul by Barbara Barberae (?) which includes his fingerings. One thing he does which  like is go up the e string rather than the more ttypical a string ascent of today.

Don`t forget Dounis Daily Dozen is also still one of the best technical wam up books around for the left hand.  I don`t get too excited by the bowing component.



From Bill Busen
Posted on December 9, 2008 at 3:34 AM

Blind repetition is the artistic death of the majority of violinists. Yep. I will stand by that.:(

You'll have to, because I 'm going to quote it for the rest of my life.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 9, 2008 at 4:26 AM

in that case I am going to have to lie down next to it!

Posted on December 9, 2008 at 4:23 AM


It's funny; as a lad I hated practicing scales. Now, they are a passion. The Alard book is greaaaaaaat. I had a copy done on the old thermofax copier which just faded to oblivion. I went searching for the book, long out of print. Found a mint copy in Boston for $80.00....Immediately I went to Staples and had the scale sections (about 14 pages) professionally copied on some nice stiff, oversized stock with spiral bindings. I should sell them, I don't think copyrights are an issue after so many years..LOL... Anyone else out there who uses  the Alard scales???

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