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Simon Fischer's New DVD.

October 13, 2010 at 5:42 AM

well, as part of the `master Japanese or die` program of the last year I have regularly been watching DVDs of Japanese TV dramas for up to eight hours at a stretch.   From this I have concluded the following:
1) Tissues are expensive.
2) My botty hurts.
3) Matsushima Nanako is the most beautiful woman on the planet.
4) My cat –really- hates TV drama.
So what better way to vary my learning/life experience than studying the long awaited Simon Fischer DVD on the secrets of tone production.   I know there is already a thread on this but I haven’t done a blog for so long.....
I think the question in some people’s minds is something along the lines of `is it just a rehash of `Basics,` in which case do I need to buy it?` kind of thing.  
It’s not an unreasonable question so let me backtrack a bit. When I first got my hands on `Basics,` it didn’t take me long to realize that this was a major new contribution to pedagogy in the same way that the books by Flesh and Galamian were. For the first time, the art of violin playing was truly systematically demystified under the fundamental heuristic of `proportion,` and not surprisingly , this is very much a theme that Simon returns to in his DVD.   It was interesting for me to study Basics in depth because on the one hand it was a truly joyful experience and on the other I felt rather bitter that –not one- of the teachers I had studied with over the years had ever articulated violin playing to me in a way that was maximally efficient and helpful.   I do believe that it is the responsibility of the teacher to talk in clear, simple and practical ways about how to solve specific problems on the violin rather than leaving it to chance,  but such teachers really are few and far between. Becoming a violinist for many is a `hit and miss` affair with very few ever truly realizing their actual potential. That is why I have suggested from time to time that the major music institutes should have a teaching exam based around `Basics` with specific problems presented that are covered in that work.    For sure, not everyone would like to slog through `Basics` from beginning to end during four years at College but I think it would produce a whole generation of better teachers and violinists,  in my book at least.  
So who do I actually recommend `Basics` to?
Certainly every teacher should study it in depth.   For sure professionals and college students. However, there is one area where I have always been a little more hesitant:   the beginner. Obviously a child can be prescribed exercises but does not really need the work itself.   It is in the area of -adult beginner- that negative feedback tends to occur.   An adult beginner is, on the one hand,  capable of great analysis and thoughtful work but on the other,  the art of violin playing still needs to be mediated by experience that adult learners don’t have and there are also some adults who have clearly identified their own learner style and found it incompatible with `Basics.`   It boils down to a question of what to focus on and it doesn’t matter how well organized `Basics` actually is, the reality is that the art of learning the violin is so vast and diverse it may be discouraging or misleading to some adults. (I don`t use `misleading` in a perjorative sense here. It`s just that the adult may choose to focus on certain areas which are not required at a given moment.) The DVD in my opinion solves this problem in two ways.
First, it presents the absolutely fundamental exercises, thereby giving adult beginners (and everyone else) a clear area of focus and purpose. Secondly it presents the information in completely different modalities with the result that people can-see- exactly what needs to be done and process the data in a way better suited to them.   For sure,  it`s  the same as `Basics` in a very narrow sense but in other, more meaningful ways,  it is a wonderful supplement for teachers and a crucial stepping stone for adult beginners in particular before they go on to tackle `Basics` in depth.
There is another aspect of this DVD which is outside the purview of `Basics` and indeed best presented on DVD. Simon takes some trouble to get across in a very passionate way some rather fundamental knowledge and awareness of the instrument which is all to often ignored by teachers the world over.   It sounds a bit abstract but it concerns the nature of the violin as an object of great beauty that resonates, vibrates and  has a perfect voice that needs to be searched for. As Simon points out, some schools of playing call this magical resonance `Tonus` and it is rarely found in students or even professionals playing for that matter. Although the tone exercises provide a route to this magical violin sound one needs to feel/understand  the concept before beginning one search for this wonderful thing. The DVD puts it across beautifully in a way that can clearly set adult beginners on a well defined path towards a glorious  sound right from the beginning.   It is something that we professional teachers need to think about and discuss a great deal more.
On top of this, although he doesn’t belabor it, Simon actually presents a step by step program for finding the beautiful sound. This particlar series of steps is not actually overtly emphasized in Basics so one could argue that it is somewhat new material if one is smart enough to embrace it completely. The steps Simon describes are as follows:
1) Listen.   (A topic covered in a meaningful and important way in the DVD)
2) Feel though the fingers what the bow is doing in tandem with the string.
3)   Look at what you are doing.(Also covered in detail)
4)   Talk about what is happening in simple language (also covered.)
-Anybody- who adopts this deceptively simple looking framework as the basis for their practice is going to make –major- improvements very rapidly. As such it is a very important pedagogical tool! I even wonder if Simon may have actually underplayed it a little...;)   Actually I would also add a prior step before the listening which is `imagine` which I am sure Simon would also do. It`s just not quite so relevant prior to the bowing exercises prescribed on this DVD.
So, all in all,   the verdict is pretty much what one would expect. Another great contribution to the field of violin pedagogy that will benefit everyone but to my mind also fills a niche for those players who, for whatever reason couldn’t quite get from Basics the maximum benefits.
Bravo Mr. Fischer!
PS If you make the next one eight hours long please can you feature Matsushima Nanako, even if she is only turning pages for the piano player.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 14, 2010 at 2:21 AM

Thanks, very interesting review!  Perhaps this DVD = one of my next violin item hunts...

Good luck! Trying to master japanese and violin is quite a challenge ; )  But, if ever too many tissues start to tear up your budjet, don't forget that violin/music is still the internationnal language...    


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 14, 2010 at 11:28 AM

 I dunno about that.

When I play Xenakis people still look at me blankly...

From Roland Bailey
Posted on October 14, 2010 at 4:11 PM

Looks like I found my Christmas present for me!

From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 14, 2010 at 7:46 PM

One of my adult students really likes Basics, though I have others that would rebel.

I'm interested in getting the new DVD.  I'm also really interested in SF's Scales tome, but no word on when that's coming out. 

Since you're not dead, I'm guessing the Japanese is better?

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 14, 2010 at 10:49 PM


well, a lot of the Japanes e i  have learnt from TV dramas is best used if you run a fish shop or are a yakuza. Unfortunately the latter seems to demand chopping off fingers at regular intervals which does not help the violin playing.



From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 14, 2010 at 11:28 PM

Bravo Mr. Fischer and Bravo Buri! Wonderful to see your blog again. I was wondering if you knew the DVD was out, but how could you not? Silly me!

Anyway, on top of what you said, I also find it's great that Fischer made a special point to ask students to work on technical stuff musically. So often we see violin teachers (or 'clinicians') take a detached approach to work on technique and students get the impression that being analytical, you should first learn the notes and then learn to play it expressively. I have the luck to work with a wonderful teacher who believes that you must learn each note in the musical context and do so even when you play scales.

How’s your Kanji going? I find the best place for learning a foreign language is at workplace or in an educational institution that you will be routinely tested among the native speakers. I hardly ever watch shows because I’m afraid without interaction I’ll pick up expressions that may be too dramatic or inappropriate in real-life situation. The down side of my approach appears that I'm pop-culture-deprived. I'm not good at making small talks with native speakers and often find their jokes not funny.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 15, 2010 at 1:27 AM


thanks Yixi.  The advantage of TV is that one has to speed read the subtitles.  I have cracked about 2500 kanji  so I can read all the impressive looking handouts I have been wondering about at work for so many years.   Alas, they have turned out to be rather dull...




From Yixi Zhang
Posted on October 15, 2010 at 5:59 AM

2500 Kanji?! Wow! You are scaring the Japanese and Chinese all at once! And watching the subtitle for spead reading is just brilliant!

From Ray Randall
Posted on October 15, 2010 at 6:35 PM

Shar and Amazon have never heard of this one yet. Guess I'll have to wait until it's in the States.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 15, 2010 at 9:55 PM



you ca order it from Simn`s website*



From Mattias Eklund
Posted on October 16, 2010 at 6:01 AM

Thank you Buri! So I suppose you like it? :)

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 16, 2010 at 9:18 AM


You saw through me again....

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 17, 2010 at 6:53 AM

Thank you, Buri.  You reviewed the DVD in such a positive way that I want to run out, buy the book, and suffer the consequences.

P.S.  I think that your English writing has improved while you were learning so many Kanjis.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 17, 2010 at 7:07 AM

Buri, I just looked at Simon Fischer's website for which you gave the URL, and I'm really impressed.  Simon communicates technique and, even more important, concepts so clearly that I almost forgot how difficult the subject is.  He communicates very well, never talking down to the reader.  I believe that studying his video will make me a better player and a better teacher. 

I just have a few questions:  What is the price of the DVD in US dollars?  What are PAL and NTSC, and which one do I use?

From Marianne Hansen
Posted on October 17, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Hi, Pauline,

Google and the website gives the information you are asking for.

PAL and NTSC are encoding systems for television -

39.95 pounds is roughly $64 -

From the website:

PAL - UK, Europe, Australia
NTSC - North America, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and parts of South America.
If you're unsure what your video standard is, please contact your local cable or broadcast company.

From Anthony Barletta
Posted on October 18, 2010 at 3:42 AM
I’ve been studying the violin for nearly six years now and have amassed an impressive collection of instructional books, DVDs and CD-ROMS. Some of these have been useful, even excellent, but this one has instantly become my favorite. Mr. Fischer’s DVD delivers on what it promises, and more, and it promises a lot. The principles and method of instruction are crystal clear, and I found it immensely helpful to see the exercises performed by students of various experience levels, making the same kinds of mistakes that I would no doubt make on my own. Armed with these simple exercises and the demonstration of how to perform them correctly, it would be difficult to ever again settle for less than a singing, resonant tone. As good as “Basics” is, reading the exercises in a book cannot compare to the DVD experience. Kudos also to Mr. Paul Owen, the site manager of simonfischeronline, who emailed me after seeing one of my posts on Concerned that my DVD had not yet arrived, he immediately sent another - along with a gift CD for putting up with a delay that I had happily chalked up to the vagaries of international mail. Customer service like you dream about.

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