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Lost in Yost at what cost?

May 22, 2008 at 11:17 PM

I’d often wondered about the Yost shifting studies. I think the first time I heard of them was a throwaway remark reported in DeLay`s biography that just went `For shifting, there is always Yost.` One tends to take something mandated by such a great teacher as critical but I also think it is possible to be mislead by the absence of tone of voice. Did she mean these studies are crucial to all and sundry or was she rather resignedly saying that if one has a student who is clueless about he fingerboard and shifting this is the kind of medicine that need sot be taken as a shock treatment? Or something in between?
I’m going to give them a daily work out for a fair time so I can really evaluate the pros and cons but I cannot say I am honestly too impressed right now. I think the approach to violin teaching and learning has shifted quite radically over the latter part of the twentieth century as much greater applications of expertise from all kinds of fields concerned with the mind and body have crept in. The importance of using the mind has really been thrust to the fore (it isn’t a new idea) and standardized via the work of Galamian the teachings past down by teachers such as DeLay, Fischer , et al. As a result I think there are now better sets of exercises and better mental approaches to practicing which can be applied directly to them.
When I look at the Yost as it stands a few small alarm bells go off. It’s the same pattern repeated over and over but moving to progressively higher positions each time. The instruction is to practice each bar ten times slowly. Of course patterns are important and these are fine but I no longer believe the mind is particularly stimulated by relentless repetition of this kind without change at very short intervals. As both Flesch and Galamian have said `if you can do it then you shouldn’t be practicing it.` The purpose of practicing is to present a series of puzzles to the mind which are relentlessly increased in complexity once each challenge is mastered. To my mind, this does not happen here. The instruction to retain the keys also contributes to this lack of fresh stimulation.
The other danger, once when gets into er `boring` exercises is that the quality of sound often suffers and playing this same bow stroke over and over the bow arm may well begin to acquire a certain stiffness. One would do well to beware this . Stop regularly and shake everything.
In order to make this more in tune with modern practice methods I think one really would have to disregard the instructions and add a whole variety of different bowings and rhythms。On the whole though I can’t help feeling the Galamian scale book covers what one needs in this area as well as one needs. Dounis Artists technique seems to a much more comprehensive and interesting approach to shifting around the instrument. Drew`s book also covers this stuff in interesting and varied ways. So far, if pushed for a real hard core repetitive book to work on shifting I think I would probably recommend the sevcik exercises done with a wide variety of rhythms and bowings.
The book originally only cost one dollar so after my two cents I hope everyone enjoys the other 98.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 22, 2008 at 11:48 PM
Sure, one needs puzzles for the mind. But also, one needs drill and repetition. For example, kids need to drill their multiplication tables. In the U.S., this is often forgotten in their school curriculum, we're so busy coming up with "clever approaches."

Also, violin students need to drill scales and other patterns, with many repetitions. Not that I'm advocating Yost. I actually can't stand Schradieck and Sevcik and just don't do that stuff. But some major repetition of patterns is important, whatever they might be. It's kind of like exercise. If you would rather go running than go swimming, then of course, go running. Just keep in shape.

I'm not sure about that quote, once you can do it, you shouldn't keep practicing it. What was meant there? I think I understand it, but I also think it's a dangerous quote, in the wrong hands. It's clear to me that some students think that the minute they can eek their way through something, they think they KNOW it. It makes me think of my very young students, "figuring out" a piece, and then wondering why they are supposed to play it so many times. "But I know it!" Now that you've got it right, do it 100 times, and then you'll know it!

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 23, 2008 at 1:22 AM
Laurie, I agree with everythign you say. I know we are never going to egt away from repetition and drilling. Its crucial and in general I fuind peopel not willign to do it enough (in the right way;))
An example other than shifting is the finger patterns which I think over the least few decades have become widely accpeted as a series of patterns ot be repeated over and over.
As far as Galaian is cocnered, i think what he was saying is that once you have mastered a pattern in one way (which takes mental cocntrol) the mental stimulation goes and one has to woerk on the same pattenr with somethign changed. But I think kine shoudl not forget the basic premise that doing somethign once correcly is worthles sif one has done it wrong many times. My rule of thumb is 6 times (correctly) the number of times somethign ha sbeen played in error whcih can be an awful lot....I think Milstein took it to the extreme when he urged people to never repeat anything the same way;)
From Helen Martin
Posted on May 23, 2008 at 4:37 PM
Please say more about how things have changed in violin pedagogy. Do you think that the research of Edwin Gordon has made a difference?
Helen Martin
From Ray Randall
Posted on May 23, 2008 at 5:32 PM
ALL the top professionals I know constantly do the simple basics to stay in shape.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on May 24, 2008 at 12:14 AM
Yost and Sevcik are great but a little goes a long way. If you practice it mindlessly it is worse than useless but if you are carefully working on the myriad of details required to do it correctly it can be intellectually challenging and very rewarding.
From Eva Trigueros
Posted on May 24, 2008 at 1:11 PM
I acctually had a teacher who required every student to play the Yost shifting exercises. We used 3 books: "Exercises for Change of Position,
"The key to the Mastery of Double-Stopping" and
"The key to the Mastery of the Finger-Board"
All three books follow the same idea of using every possible fingering for a particular passage. He writes all the fingerings on top of each other so there's 5 sometimes 6 fingerings and it makes it seem very confusing.
The shifting book is boring!! I agree that repetition is good and necessary but just to get through a page of it could take hours if you do the 10 repetitions.
The scale book is even more tedious because you have to play scales on one string with the same finger (and all the fingers) which is something you wouldn't use often in actual repertoire.
I guess it is beneficial to practice shifting anyway you want to do it, I've found that you can apply Yost's "principle to anything without having to do the whole book. Repeating the shift, finding the position comfortably, playing the shift with different fingerings, etc. helps me a lot, but as far as sitting down and playing the whole set of repetitions in all the keys etc, I'm not sure that it really helps as much as applying the concept.
From Jason Bell
Posted on May 24, 2008 at 2:37 PM
The one problem I find with Yost is the destination pitches can vary depending on the key so all you learn is to hit the general area of the starting and ending pitches. For instance, say you wanted to learn 1st finger B to 5th position F#. Well, that's all fine and dandy but those pitches could be 2 cents above 0, anywhere to 10 cents or more above 0, especially on the F#. And if you have to change the F# to a G-flat in a piece of music, now your pitch has to be on the low side by as much as 10 cents. So now your destination note has a margin of error of +/- 10 cents for a total of 20 cents. No thanks. I don't want to learn faulty intonation just because I need to perfect my shifting technique. There are other ways of practicing shifting.

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