March 2010

Excessive scales?

March 15, 2010 21:39


thanks for posting this great stuff about Vadim Repin in a recent blog.  A marvelous player who is/will be a very powerful teaching force in my opinion. 
I do  respectfully disagree with one of his points and am sufficently moved to write a blog on the subject.  I not only think it is unnecessary to practice scales for two hours per day, but I actually think in many cases it could actually be if not harmful at least a less useful way of spending time than doing other aspects of playing.
This might sound a bit strong/opinionated but if one takes a look across a broad spectrum of violinists then two hours of scales is quite a long way from the norm.  And when things are outside the norm one should raise questions.  To give some examples before I go on,  DeLay recommended one hour of scales within the context of five hours practice;  Flesch spoke in terms of less than an hour within an even more truncated regime; Midori concentrates on upcoming repertoire for however long it takes;  Ilya Gringolts wrote on this site that his professional soloist and high level colleagues practiced in his view an average of 1 and half hours per day and so forth.  Frankly I think it the experience of most of us to consider an hour of scales more likely.
So who does do two hours or more or indeed why might it be necessary or practiced in some cases?   I suppose the ultimate scale practicer and advocate was Heifetz who was known to regularly practice scales for four hours a day.   Erick Friedman suggested that it wasn`t so much that he needed them technically as that he was `a volcano` inside and that `he needed them to stay calm.` Temperamentally one can look at the unique voice of Heifetz and see this. There are similar players. Consider then Repin himself and his technical/instrumental make up as discussed by his teacher Vadim Bron. Even as a child Repin was able to practice with concentration and approach his art in a very technical way (in a non derogatory sense). He is a very analytical artist and no less great for being so.   Compare then with his stable mate and contemporary Maxim Vengerov.  I seriously doubt Mr. Vengerov practice scales for two hours a day. Yet, just as a personal opinion , I consider him technically superior to Vadim Repin (when he is not messing around;).
What then of the question of students and artists of whom two hours scales might be less than constructive?   There are two aspects two this question. First,   one has to balance musical and technical aspects of practice. And I`m very sorry, but whichever way you cut the cake scales are always going to be at the `technical practice` end of the spectrum.   Now, for many people too much technical work can actually be musically deadening. It shouldn`t be so, but my experience is that it is. Sevcik is the most dangerous example, as presciently warned by Flesch. But scales have the same potential.   One slips more and more into the automatic groove and mistakes start to get practice in while the temperament gets practiced out. 
The second issue is that one may well be wasting time. There are other things to do which-are- as important and necessary. If scales are  the only technical work then is one covering a range of daily bowings exercises? I suspect Mr. Repin is, but then he has a very deep technical know-how. For the average , promising student, scale work is going to focus primarily on the left hand. That is pretty much a fact of life. It is very hard to get a fifty fifty split between bowing and left hand work while practicing scales in spite of claims to the contrary. Then there are etudes and other technical exercises. The talented players who do only scales often do minimal etude work and that suits them. It is not, in my opinion suitable for a majority. Thus, the diligent student who tries to follow Mr. Repin`s advice is looking at a daunting amount of technical work that is governed by the law of diminishing returns. An hour‘s scales? an hours unaccompanied Bach,  Paganini Caprices?  Kreutzer or a cocnerto is,  in my book, a much more balanced diet.
In sum, the only question I pose somewhat tongue in cheek is to wonder if Mr. Repin is actually just trying to make the point that scales are a fundamental part of any serious violinists practice by exaggerating the amount of time needed on them? No problems with that, but it is advice to be seriously questioned rather than followed blindly.


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