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Mining for prunes

October 26, 2009 at 2:38 AM


Aside from prunes does anyone have a secret addiction?
I have to confess I really love DeBeriot`s music.   It all started a few years back when I recall reading that a noted teacher used DeBeriot`s method books as his main study material.  I thought that was a lilt odd at the time given that although 9 is purportedly a rite of passage to bigger works IE love it and drop it,   the rest of the material is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Kreutzer, Rode and Don’t.  Over the years I have been exploring his material and have been very satisfied with the results.  And for people who want a small break from the old faves it is a route well worth taking.
As an aside I would mention that the uncritical use of etudes because they are famous or in a particular sequence (next one please) is a no no as far as I am concerned.  One has to approach each new work thoughtfully and decide how it will affect the whole plan you have for the student in question.  This caveat aside let us suppose you decided to do Caprice no 3 from his book of six Caprices (you can download free from IMSLP) it might serve as an alternative or preview to the similar Kreutzer etude in which a large number of 16th notes are slurred within a single bow stroke.
One would then have to make some decisions about how to mine this resource and in what order.   What exactly do I mean by this?
Well, I believe that a good etude is a huge laboratory in which the student and teacher can explore together many different aspects of technique.   Of course one has a basic objective in mind but by applying a whole range of possibilities the aim itself may well be achieved more quickly, with greater felicity or even in some cases actually changed as one realizes that an apparently simple work has actually got more subtle and important goals.
However, let us assume that in this case the objective is basically a fairly fast left hand with sustained legato bowing.  A very laudable aim. (The same skill is required in for example the Wieniawski 2nd concerto in the section using up bow staccatos: whole bars of 16th notes are played in single bow strokes and so on.)  In essence we are talking about independence of the left and right hand which will develop all aspects of the player as a bonus.
Having talked this over with the student one might begin by setting some realistic goals for the first week of practice.  It seems to me that one needs to consider three categories: left hand, right hand, and combined.  So the integrated goal is :
`perform at a moderate tempo , in tune, with good bow distribution.`
One could then discuss with the student how to achieve these goals.
Example for left hand:
Repetition hits; keeping fingers down; preparing fingers for string crossing; a few rhythms; fast fingers/slow tempo; trill the shifts.
Example for right hand:
Establish bow speed on single open string before beginning etude; practice with no left hand; practice with no left hand stopping the string crossings; practice working through to the other end of the bow in bars where there are only four notes in a bow stroke;   start up bow/start down bow; practice I separate bows; use different bowing combinations and play in various parts of the bow; play with various accents within a long bow stroke.
Obviously a lot of the previous work involves combining but one might perhaps put in this slightly fuzzy category: independence work (sustained long tone on g string and finger left hand for entire etude);   play with a whole variety of dynamics within one bow stroke;   practice with no left hand weight at finger tip, then 25% , then 50%, then required amount; turn it into a study for left and right hand pizzicato. Practice sautille, various types of spiccato and flying staccato etc. Play it as slowly as possible with no vibrato.
Obviously the teacher has to use  judgment in helping the student experiment with how they practice and when to stop!  But I think it is worth encouraging this kind of technical exploration of material from an early age so that the student is always able to keep in active mind in private practice.

From Royce Faina
Posted on October 26, 2009 at 2:53 PM

What I find interesting, is that much of what you mention, is what I worked at to accomplish Schradiek Book 1 1st Etude!  Not just play the four measures of 16th notes in one bow, but make it sound beefy, not whimpy!  Fortunately it dawned on me to use the contact points towards the bridge which meant that I could slow the bow stroke down, and with a bit more weight get a nice full sound.  Sounds easy!  I'm looking forwards to what my next teacher will have me do, perhaps Kreutzer?  I hope that I'm prepared?


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 26, 2009 at 1:57 PM

Very true, I like your technical way of thinking! People forget this very often.  Secret addiction? Musically I have two but I think you all know about them:  sound since I'm a real maniac and complexed person with this... (I save you all from details : ) Second additction: listening to Oistrakh's music! Of course, be sure that I do Iove to listen to the most violinists possible even with this addiction!


From Christina C.
Posted on October 26, 2009 at 6:33 PM

Any chance you'd be able to help me, Buri? I've been looking for a Beriot arppeggio etude that goes all over the fingerboard... it's in b-minor. Does it ring a bell?

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 27, 2009 at 3:35 AM


Christina, I don@t think its in the books on IMSLP.  I will keep looking,



From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 27, 2009 at 3:41 AM

Lots of good stuff as usual. I’ve got summary in point format (I can show you if you are curious) and put it up on my music stand because I can’t remember a fraction of it if I don’t; out of the sight, out of the mind.

Teachers always complain that they have to repeat to students again and again about some very simple things before students start to remember them. But I think if one takes lessons once a week, then you are building the memory of whatever self-taught 6 days/week.  You may have taught yourself something exactly what your teacher wants or you may have failed to teach something that your teacher doesn’t like. But apart from these rare lucky moments, everything your teacher tells you to do is in fact things for you to unlearn -- things that you’ve taught yourself during the week or way back when. To expect the student to learn something instantly after being told once and remember afterwards is a very funny thought to me.
So back to my earlier point, what helps me is to make the instruction as accessible and easy to remember as possible.  Some big name violin teachers in China like to put instruction/rules into short verses so that they can be chanted again and again. I guess this approach is consistent with a very old tradition of Chinese teaching in general. Kids in very early age were taught to chant classical poetry and essays before they were taught to read and writing.

Some random thoughts.


From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on October 27, 2009 at 1:36 PM

To piggyback off of Yixi--this is why it is so important that we teach our students how to practice, and how to discover and apply concepts for themselves.  Most of their learning is done apart from us, and I believe that even their best learning can be done apart from us.  We show them what they need to know, and why, and how, but most of all I think we teach them how to teach themselves!  This has been a learning process for me as I am a very hands-on teacher, and there's a place for that, but I'm discovering the possibilities even with my beginners when I make the goals and the process clear, and then allow them to take ownership of accomplishing it.  I've been amazed what they have achieved!

From Royce Faina
Posted on October 27, 2009 at 5:05 PM

I always seem to have benefitted the most with a hands on teacher.  But I also liked a teacher to teach me about other violinists, what and why they did what they did and the back ground of peices.

From Heather Meisner
Posted on October 27, 2009 at 8:36 PM

“Keeping an active mind in private practice…”

Yixi’s and Kathryn’s points also jumped out at me – learning how to practice, remembering basics to apply always while practicing, clear goals – I’m a bit lost with this right now and feel like my practice time is often wasted or unfocused.  Maybe sometimes this is taken for granted as something not needed to actually teach, do many people just naturally practice efficiently?  I think I will have to ask for this specifically, and hope I don’t sound too much of a goofball...  Yixi, I would be very curious to see your summary of points, if you wouldn’t mind?

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 27, 2009 at 10:11 PM


Heather. The point you are making is , in my opinion,  the one most central to the development of a violinist.  Even after I left music college I still felt nobody had taught me how to practice although I knew some random tehcniques.   It`s shameful that such a situation can exist and it is true that a suprising numbe rof profesisonals can`t practice that well either....

The basic problem is sensory overload.  What does one actually identify as needing practicing. This must happen before the application of any techniques at all and this is where we are mianly at a loss.

Fortunatley there is one book to my knowledge that offers and approach that resolves the problem.  This is by Burton Kaplan and is called something like `The artistic development o Musicians.`  I can never remeber the name but it is dea deasy to find at Shar or anywhere else.

The book argues that one should firts locate areas to practice by global listenign in four areas:  expression,  intonation,  rythm and sound (I think I got this right...;))   One plays a passage and identifies whic of thes eis sotrongets and weakest in ranking. The procedur eis repeate da number of times until it is clear that ,  for example,  the rythm is a problem.  The next step is to lsiten again focusin only on rythm.  One is now sufficently focused to be able to identify the precise spot where the rythm goes wrong.   It is only at ths stage that one can begn thinking about applying practice techniques to the problem becaus ewe know exactly where the problem is.  It might be a shift or a string crossing or whatever but it has been clealry located.  

This appraoch does much to eliminate wasteful and confusing practice.   Yu won`t get it jus from my description so I really recommend you get that book.



From Christina C.
Posted on October 28, 2009 at 1:55 AM

thanks Buri. You're right, I had looked through everything that was available at IMSLP with no luck.


thanks again, I really appreciate it... it seemed like an awesome etude.

From Heather Meisner
Posted on October 28, 2009 at 6:41 PM


Thank you Buri, that was described so well and identifies this kind of vague frustration I itself, hearing this is a great help.


I have heard of Burton Kaplan and that he has written some excellent books and resources - it's sometimes hard to know what to choose with so much out there on so many violinistic subjects.  Usually end up choosing nothing.  Hmmmm, I have a wish list around here somewhere and think I will add this.  Much appreciated, Heather.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 28, 2009 at 8:21 PM

Heather, I emailed you my summary of Buri's instruction and let me know if you have difficulty receiving it. I'll resend if this happens.

From Heather Meisner
Posted on October 29, 2009 at 8:16 PM

Thank you Yixi - this is great!

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