July 1, 2013 at 3:55 AMGreetings,
It is this volume which has confirmed in my estimation that Simon Fischer is the most important pedagogue/writer of the late 20c and onwards. I base this claim to some extent on the content of his works but more on two possibilities he has created. The first emerged with the publishing of his book `Basics` something like ten years ago. At that time Simon had a reputation of course but there was nothing to indicate in the blurb how radical or important Basics was going to prove. I believe I was one of the first people to order it and I can claim in some small respect to have helped in it’s promulgation as I advocated its use to all and sundry, on and off the web. I have argued over the years that it should be a set work at Music Colleges where the teaching exam would require a candidate to clearly demonstrate an exercise or two from a given section to address a specific problem selected by an examiner.. Sadly this has yet to happen. With The Violin Lesson a new possibility has emerged.
Although it is still true, in my and many others opinion, that learning the violin properly requires a teacher, I have noted in past blogs that the bar is slowly being lowered. The proliferation of internet videos by competent instructors has helped a great deal. In this book Simon has presented a philosophy of the nature of the violin and how to approach it that has made the instrument yet more accessible to all and sundry for which he is owed a great debt.
So what’s it all about?
Those people familiar with Simon`s work know that the key word is `proportions.` By applying this concept to every single aspect of violin playing (of which there are actually not that many) one can systematically evaluate and change one’s playing without waiting around passively for a teacher to tell one what to do. There is no aspect of playing which cannot be worked on in this way. As Simon stresses in the book, -anyone- can choose –any- aspect of their playing and improve it by working on its proportions at the simplest level. This raises another important aspect of Simon`s work: he has I think demonstrated conclusively that all levels of violin playing from complete beginner to top professional are based on the same most fundamental actions and their proportions. Thus, the fastest way to improve, whatever your level, is to practice fundamentals. Not only etudes, scales and concertos, but the fundamentals that these are built on so that learning them is no longer a struggle but straightforward and enjoyable. This is not to say we don`t practice the former , and if you want to know about how to work on them then look no further than `Practice` and his scale manual. But it is through exploring the foundations of playing and manipulating proportions that a final recognition of the fact that anyone can improve on the violin if they so wish, has been realized.
The Violin Lesson contains so much more on top of this. Simon`s study of Alexander Technique informs much of what is going on; charming and highly relevant, thought provoking anecdotes form great pedagogues and perfomrers and Simon`s own original thinking permeate the work. Among my favorite Simonisms is the following suggestion.
Do you want to know how Oistrakh played that marvellous passage from the Sibelius which we see in `the Great Violinists Video? You know the one? He slashes out the most perfect whole bows the planet has ever seen. Well, as Simon so brilliantly points out we can systematically and objectively examine exactly what Oistrakh was doing. The distance from the bridge is objective. The temp is objective. The length of bow is objective. All we have to do is find out what weight is required to make a sound using those factors and we are playing as Oistrakh played. Isn’t that an amazing thought!
Another one I really liked concerned the rather neglected attention to how the fingers are contacting the bow as you play. Simon devotes a fair amount of space to discussing the neglect of the third finger. His suggestion that we imagine that each point that contacts the bow is a button on some kind of machine and press these randomly to see how that affects the sound and ease of playing is amusing and –extremely helpful-.
Whereas Basics was basic, Practice was application and scales self explanatory it is through `The Violin Lesson` that we finally get the big picture with all the details thrown in. I can’t really review it more than this because I’m still wandering around in it trying stuff out, having fun and (hopefully) improving.
Anyway, you’d better go and buy a copy.
It will be interesting to read Mr. Fischer's new book--I hadn't realized he studied AT with Walter Carrington, whose books I am very indebted to, thanks to my AT teacher's recommendation.
This is a good example how I feel Fischer’s books at its best – they should be required textbooks or reference books for serious violin students who have teachers who believe in Fischer. We usually have so much to deal with in each lesson and it is easy to gloss over something important; not everything teacher points out registers well with the student. Students are constantly self-teaching between lessons and that’s why good textbooks like Fischer's should be mandatory.
Buri, regarding learning violin without teacher, do you think Fischer’s books sufficiently address the issue of ear training for the self-taught? I’m asking because I believe having good ears is probably the single most important ability enabling a violin student to progress because, based on my own experience as a student, so much, too much time wasted in learning due to our inability to tell a particular sound/phrase we produce is poor or out of tune or both.
By the way, after having read your last post I ordered the Violin Lesson. It arrived last week, fast delivery for a very reasonable shipping cost.
Paul, I've got his earlier books and his DVDs, yet still find this book a worthy addition. Given my reasons above and for the price comparable to an in-person lesson with a good teacher, I think you should definitely get it.
This last point is the big challenge facing all players. I believe Simn`s books greatly aid in the transition.
best of luck in your endeavors,
I often wonder how much physics has been utilized these days by violinists and whether violin teachers should be encouraged to work with physicists more often.
Last year I went to Beijing to watch the Menuhin Competition and had the chance to spent some quality time with Kerson Leong (1st Prize Junior winner of the Menuhin Competition Oslo 2010) and his family. I learned some extremely valuable advices on violin playing from Kerson’s father, a non-musician physicist. He talked about resonance and violin playing from a physicist point of view, including how to pull the bow to produce the best sound and how to feel at the tip of the LH fingers the tiny vibration to play in tune (the kind of glowing sound you get when you spot on).
Me thinks a lot of violin pedagogues can be demystified when we get to work with someone who has in-depth understanding of resonance and can articulate the science of violin playing in simple and straightforward manner.
I've been told many times (even aggressively) that the violin is 300 years old, so there is nothing new to say about it. Nice to know others see it differently.
I also know that physics and maths can illuminate much about playing (e.g. smooth bow change, fingering patterns, balance, tone) but not everyone appreciates the idea (especially if coming from someone who wasn't given a violin on their third birthday).
BTW "modern physics" invokes quantum physics, relativity and the like.
I'm in a position where I can't afford lessons. But I also have a strong desire to learn the violin. It was discovering Basics that convinced me self-teaching was practical.
As Buri says, Fischer provides a framework for analysis that demystifies the whole process, and always guides you towards the next step. Now I have a basic grasp of Fischer's principles I never feel stuck - there are always open-ended vistas of practical experiments I can make to get better. The only problem is prioritising!
Even for those with a good teacher, I suspect that the best players discover much for themselves in the practice room. Anyone who digs into Simon Fischer's work will surely accelerate that process. The ability to identify and solve one's own problems is surely the most empowering skill for any musician.
With the help of Simon's insights (and the wide range of material on the web, including Buri's old blog here) I've reached a level where I can play with decent tone and intonation. I get great enjoyment from the instrument and can sit in on sessions with good players without disgracing myself. I attribute much of that to Simon Fischer.
I have an issue with Fischer's books (i have Basics and Scales) if used for self-learning purposes without a teacher prescribing target excercises and scales. Perhaps its that I haven't applied a lot of effort in soaking it in mentally. but here is my qualm: i have two of his books (Basics and Scales) and the material is very dense and seems almost encycopedic. however, there is no plan that one can work according to, linearly (or in any other organizational pattern). the material is presented in a democratic manner. for a self-learner, organization and priority of addressing certain issues are, i think, crucial.
i just so wish that there was at least a tentative plan implied by the organization of Basics that would give a structural backbone further to the thematic one present (bow technique, finger technique...etc.) it has been noted above that the amterial is overwhelming - especially for a self learner who does not have sufficient critical awareness of where s/he stands with respect to violin technique development. in contrast, mr. fischer's DVD is extremely and immediately helpful because it presents the material in an episodic and non exhaustive manner. it doesnt overwhelm and wow does it help. and its not just tone production. the excercises necessarily improve bow control, bow division, a feel for the bow in all its parts (frog, middle, tip).
i know that one plan cannot suit all but at least it would be a tentative one for those who are not yet able to konw what is weakest in their technique denominated by what is the most basic of the basics.
i hope i'm not making a mess by saying the above but i would really love to delve into this literature but with a sense of confidence. especially that i'm soon moving and will cease having a teacher for some time and therefore it would be a perfect time to be a fischerperson as well :o)
is this Violin Lesson book an answer to my qualm? does it lay out a heirarchy that Basics doesnt seem to me to do?
While you are thinking about that you can enjoy this beautiful arrangement of the Fibich "Poem."
I get overwhelmed easily because I tend to bite more than I can chew. For this adult ESL violin student who holds a full-time job beside knitting and cooking every day, I can get stressed out just by looking at these big English books sitting on the shelves. But this is how I cope: I keep reminding myself these books are the Bibles for violin: they are not for my reading purpose but I have to chew them, one bite at a time. Maybe I’m just too lazy to read everything within my reach but this works for me. I usually look at the books during the breaks between practice sessions like this:
Read one page of preface. Stop. Process.
Does my playing sound too wimpy? Look at the section on bow hold or arm weight. Try it out. Process.
... und so weiter.
Buri’s ticking off method is a great one. Will try that!
Just first to note that I suppose that part of the reason i would have been overwhelmed (well for one more week) would be that I have to practice the material my teacher gives me and then Basics and Scales. i showed the books to my teacher; she didn't provide much comment. she - and i notice this is true of other teachers- feel only/most comfortable teaching from material that they themselves have been taught irrespective to whether there may have been pedagogical advancement. anyway, i don't blame her for not trying to incorporate the Fischer material - it is what it is.
However, perhaps I have been intimidated by the abundance of material and - as you say- i should not let that dictate my attitude towards the content of these books. Regardless, i would like to elaborate on the reason for feeling intimidated.
one of the issues is that when i start an/any excercise, i don't know when to drop it and pick another one. for example, the excercises prescribed by mr Fischer in his DVD....i do them DAILY. not all of them, i've actually yet to know what the last excercise is. but other than the first (hand travelling over the bow) and the last, i practice the other excercises every day prior to pieces or etudes. i also transform one of the excercises so that instead of working heel or midsection or tip seperately all the time, i could organically link all these parts on the same soundpoint (going up then down) and then travel to another point. this reall makes me sense the transition of bow parts.
other excercises (might be in Fischer or elsewhere, i cant remember) i do for vibratos and taht i picked up here or intuited/ copied directly (i cant remember) are for vibrato. fingertip tapping without leaving string (from harmonic to the pressed note -1,2,3,4 per beat), then knuckle joint excercise (1,2,3,4) then normal wrist vibrato (again 1, 2, 3, 4)
so, all in all, it takes me around 20 minutes to do all this everyday with slight rests in between because they actually take nerve-centric effort. my vibrato is much better than before. my bowing is much healthier and my control and awareness of the bow in its parts and its whole is much better.
but here is my other question, if i add more excercises (which Basics with its sheer expanse of material compels you to) , i would have to either add more time (which i might not have for excercised - beyond those 20 minutes? therefor less for scales, etudes and pieces)or drop excercises that are proving to be very helpful.
I know I'm being narrow minded. perhaps, i should choose a few excercises that should be more permanently part of the practice routine and other excercises that go in a round i.e. practice them for a week or so, then replace them, come back to them later..etc.
would it actually be possible to distinguish, within Basics, between excercises that are best practiced near daily for a long long long forever-ish time and others that can go in a round? in other words, can we distinguish between a "Basics of Basics" and a merely "Basics"?
BTW Yixi, (at the risk annoying you ;-)) you do realise that your statement
"Buri’s ticking off method is a great one. Will try that!"
EDIT: "The Manual" by Drew Lecher that is.
I was just using humour (well, trying to!).
For anyone who didn't get it, "ticking off" can also mean "to annoy" or "rebuke"... :-) Don't change it.
Sorry Buri, I don't mean to tick YOU off by hijacking your blog too much, maybe only a little. Back to the topic, have you tried Fischer’s two little books: Warming Up and the Tone?
For those who want something smaller in volume, these two might the way to go.
The purpose of the bigger to,es is to slowly get a grip on teaching yourself.
I wonder whether we can create a Basics support group to give even more spur.
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