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Michael Divino


August 5, 2010 at 6:19 PM

 BREAKING NEWS!!!!! I heard from a friend who's spending his summer at Tanglewood that Hilary Hahn (playing Sibelius w/ Boston SO this weekend) is developing her own etude book.  epic!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 5, 2010 at 7:36 PM

Move over Kreutzer!  Take that, Sevcik!

From Michael Divino
Posted on August 5, 2010 at 9:30 PM

 That would be EXTRA amazing.  

Posted on August 6, 2010 at 10:55 AM

That's wonderfull!!! It is a pity that there are so few musicians/composers today...

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 6, 2010 at 5:19 PM

 Very interesting indeed...I have a feeling we will hear more about this...;)

From Jefferson Dixon
Posted on August 6, 2010 at 6:20 PM

Great news!!!!

From Michael Divino
Posted on August 6, 2010 at 7:13 PM

 Could you imagine!  I'm excited.  If you couldn't tell. Laurie, do you know something I don't?

From Ray Randall
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 1:18 AM

On the other hand she got where she is playing Sevcik and Kreutzer. I can't imagine anything except a rehash of whast's already out there now.

From charles johnston
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 12:25 AM

 Hi- Why in the world should anyone care about  a new etude by Hillary Hahn? She's not really an instrumentalist of the stellar rank (Heifetz, Milstein, David Nadien), so what do you think you'd really learn? You don't learn to do spiccato by doing spiccato etudes; you learn it by understanding exactly what you have to do.  One can learn quite a few really good pieces in the time it would take to learn the Rode etudes. How many times do you think you'll be asked to play a Dont caprice? It is merely a widespread myth that etudes are a necessary or useful. (I am not talking  about Paganini caprices, which are very helpful. But then, of course, you can perform them.) I'm sure this comment will provoke outrage among those who have spent their lives working on etudes to no avail, but that doesn't change the facts. NO ONE who could play whom I've known or studied with has ever recommended a single etude. The only ones who favored etudes were the ones who couldn't play. Everyone I know practices excerpts from the literature. If I want to play, for example, the 17th caprice, do you really believe that  spending time practicing some student etudes will help me play that piece better than if I had spent the same amount of time practicing the caprice itself? I have never heard Ms. Hahn play any of the caprices, but I did hear her attempt to play Milstein's Paganiniana at her Carnegie Hall Debut. To be kind, it wasn't good. Enough said. Bring on the vituperation.  Charles Johnston

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 2:49 AM

 Charles, I would have to disagree. Practicing spiccato helps spiccato. Etudes simply give you an extended opportunity to do so. It makes sense, though, that if you don't believe in etudes, you wouldn't get excited about new etudes by any artist. But for those who do find benefit in etudes, I'd argue that Hilary knows what she's doing, since she can perform live, for example, stuff like this.

From Michael Divino
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 3:01 AM

 I will not get dragged into who is better, etc.  I will say, that Hilary is my favorite violinist.  I will take advice from anyone who can play circles around me. 

From Joseph Galamba
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 4:04 AM

 Didn't many performers (e.g. Heifetz, Kogan, Shumsky) insist that their students study etudes?  I've also heard an interview with Midori where she talks about doing her etudes (in the mornings)

From charles johnston
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 5:10 AM

 Hi- A couple of logical points:  It depends on what you mean by "practicing spicatto". If by "practicing" you mean playing whatever version of spicatto you have, over and over again, your spicatto will not improve one whit, whether you "practice" scales, etudes, or pieces. The only way to practice spicatto or anything else for that matter is with the mind. That is what Auer meant when he said, If you practice with your head, 2 or 3 hours a day are enough; if you practice with your fingers, no amount of time is enough." You must either figure out or be taught how it actually works. Once you know how to do it, you simply do it. The improvement comes not from hours of mechanical practice, but but from ever deeper understanding of the mechanism. In spicatto, where does the horizontal motion originate? In the fingers? the forearm? the shoulder? How much motion produces what kind of sound? What produces the vertical component? How are the two related? Exactly what do you have to do to change the kind of sound you are making to be appropriate to the music you are making? Are sautille and spicatto essentially the same, except for speed, or are they completely different strokes? If you work this way, there is no limit to the improvement you can accomplish. On another point- Why practice Kreutzer no. 2 when you have the Moto Perpetuo and the 5th caprice, both of which can be practiced spicatto as well as sautille? What about the last movement of the Wieniawski d minor, and so forth? I simply do not understand what it is about the word "etude" that confers upon it some special magical power to improve things. With regard to the point that they give you "an extended opportunity" to practice spicatto, there is no paucity of extended spicatto passages in the literature, so why waste time on junk? "If you don't believe in etudes" is the operative phrase in the sentence about finding excitement in new etudes. Religious people "believe" what they were taught, even in the face of contrary evidence (eg. the creationists). There is not a shred of evidence that  etudes are more helpful than appropriate pieces in technical development. The fact that many fine violinists practiced etudes and recommend their use is no evidence at all for their special efficacy. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy. Along the same lines, the fact that Heifetz insisted on scales and etudes does not imply, entail, or require in any way that they are especially useful in technical development. Milstein was strongly opposed to scales and etudes but was nonetheless able to play at a totally different level than Ms. Hahh. David Nadien is totally against scales and etudes, and his playing is easily at the Heifetz level. These two examples alone (and there are countless more) demonstrate beyond argument that etudes are not necessary for technical development. Of course the worst thing about etudes is that no one ever seems to insist that they be played musically. Thus one becomes accustomed to playing without being musical. One becomes inured to mechanical playing. It's a disaster.   Charles Johnston

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 1:13 PM

 Hi Charles, first of all, it's "spiccato" not "spicatto." 

You are saying that you don't play etudes, that none of the teachers you respected apparently recommended that you play etudes, etc. I wouldn't imagine you to be an expert on them.

There's more than one way to learn; if you and a few of your mentors find that diving straight into the rep to practice technique works for you, then go for it. That method puts things straight into a musical context, and I can see an argument for that.

But for others (ie a great many extremely accomplished violinists and pedagogues), scales and etudes help them get the feel for certain techniques that require extra work and practice. 


From charles johnston
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 3:09 PM

 Hi- Apologies for the misspelling; careless of me. I practiced all of the standard etudes ad nauseum when I was a child. I don't know what you mean by "expert", but I certainly spent as much time on them as most under a Galamian product who was a Juilliard graduate. She could play the etudes, but her playing was utterly unmusical.  After I returned from Yale and joined a professional orchestra, she was seated behind me. I was made assistant concertmaster. She was fired at the end of the first season; I was not. The etudes had done me  me no good whatsoever (nor her either, apparently).  Another logical point: The claim that I am not an "expert" on etudes is an ad hominem argument and is thus ipso facto invalid. The fact that a player believes that etudes have been especially helpful does not make the claim true. I'm somewhat puzzled by the fact that you make no attempt to answer any of my arguments, particularly those involving using understanding rather than rote practice and the ubiquity of excellent practice material in the literature. Maybe you don't think this is an appropriate forum for serious, detailed discussion, and you may be right. It is, after all, your site.  Charles Johnston

From Alayna Faulkenberg
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 5:42 PM

well...anywho...I am excited about the possibility of Hilary Hahn's etude book. I immensely enjoy her clean and accurate playing and the bravery with which she attacks things like the Schoenberg Cto. Hope the book comes into existence, so it can join the pile of etude books on my shelf and stand :)

From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 7:55 PM

Mr. Johnston makes several good points. Honestly looking back on my own experience, I felt I learned more about how to use the bow from Kreisler-Corelli-Tartini Theme and Variations (I forget the correct way to say the title and give credit) than I did from re-learning the whole Kreutzer book with a very fine violinist as a teacher.

If I remember correctly in an interview, David Nadien said when we went to study at Mannes he learned a lot of little Kreisler pieces instead of the usual technique books.

Back the original blog, I am curious to see how accessible Hahn's etude book might be. How exactly would it be any better than what already exists and who might find it useful?

From Claire Luu
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 8:24 PM

Hilary Hahn is both brilliant and modest. I've heard her perform live, recorded and also listened to her interviews. I can not imagine that anything she produces could be less than thoughtful and focused. I'm looking forward to her publication. Anyway, just because violinists have played the same old studies for the last hundred years why does that mean we can't have something fresh to add to the next hundred??

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 9:14 PM

I agree with Charles that you must understand something in your mind before you can play it.  However, once your mind understands it, you have to train your fingers, wrist, arm, etc. to play it.  There are muscle skills which must be learned and "over-learned" so that you develop muscle memory.  It's the same with workouts for your body at the gym.  You train your muscles and patterns of muscle movement by repetition.

I believe that studying etudes is necessary and useful, but I am often confused about them.  For some, I can see a goal, for example, strengthening the fourth finger or learning new bowing variations.  BTW, these have been invaluable to me in improvising at jam sessions.  My problem is that I can often look at and play an etude, but I don't understand what I'm supposed to be learning.

From Ray Randall
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 10:48 PM

To play this piece that Lauri put here I bet dollars to donuts Hilary definitely studied the silent exercises from Flesch, "The Urstudien." No way can you duplicate those in any repertory.

Posted on August 7, 2010 at 11:39 PM

I am no expert on this topic and, as an amateur, I have not attended any school of music/conservatory.

There appear to be two schools of thought here: One which believes that technique ought to be learned by way of scales and etudes while the other appears to believe that it ought to be done via repertoire which is representative or contains the/that particular technique (or techniques).

I don't know which one is best, but I can vouch for the fact that the playing of scales and etudes has helped me improve my technique.

The Violin Site appears to advocate both schools. For example, about fingered octaves,

"You could also use Paganini Caprice #17, Wieniawski Concerto #2 or Sibelius Concerto."

The Violin Site appears to provide, both, the etude approach (Kreutzer #4) and the repertoire one. "Staccato is Italian for articulated distinctly, with a separation between notes.
you could also use Wieniawski concerto No. 2, Hora Staccato by Dinicu-Heifetz."

There is a YouTube (R) video out there of Ida Haendel narrating how, when asked by Heifetz about scales, responded that she had never practiced them and that Heifetz had assumed that she, being a pupil of Flesch, would have played/mastered them as a means of developing technique.

JimH (a vcommer) has mentioned something similar here.

"From Jim Hoyle
Posted on March 21, 2006 at 07:33 PM
I've heard her play La Folia and Beethoven(?) with the Northern Sinfonia, and Britten with the Halle. She looked slightly bored in the latter and seemed to be enjoying looking round at the audience during tuttis, perhaps to make human contact or just for anything of interest that might catch her eye. But always powerful playing with lots of drive.

She also gave masterclasses at my college - in one, which was public, she made a point of relating how she had never pratised scales, ever; how she had once played to Heifetz and /he/ singled her out as a shining example of the benefits of practising scales, which, when he asked her to confirm it, she was forced to deny! At the questions I asked her if she thought she could have been a better violinist if she had - of which I am now ashamed (cheeky young whippersnapper). "

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 8, 2010 at 1:31 AM

 I don't think it's a matter of either/or, really. The reason you play the violin is to play music. The reason you develop technique is to play music well. If your technique needs more development in order to make certain repertoire possible, then etudes are very helpful. 

Or you can simply start with the Paganini Caprices! 

From Michael Divino
Posted on August 8, 2010 at 2:35 AM

 ^^ agree. 

Posted on August 8, 2010 at 3:10 AM

>>Or you can simply start with the Paganini Caprices! <<

and give up violin playing in frustration! I cannot, but agree that a technical foundation is a must. The equipment to play advanced pieces (scales & etudes, make up your own if you so choose!) should be present before one attempts complicated pieces.

Reminds me of the advice that I was given that one cannot tackle advanced Math or Calculus unless and until one has mastered the concepts that advanced Math is based on. Unless one has a solid foundation, it will be extremely frustrating trying to hit a home run with the Paganini caprices.

From charles johnston
Posted on August 7, 2010 at 11:05 PM

Hi-  Ms. Lerner, I very much appreciate the fact that you  actually took the time to read what I wrote and give a thoughtful response. A couple of points: I certainly agree that some repetition is necessary to "nail" any new discovery. The question is: what is the nature of that repetition? Again, mindless repetition is not only useless; it is harmful. The important word here is "mindless". The purpose of repetition is to increase one's kinesthetic awareness of the particular process involved. It doesn't take very many repetitions to have a clear kinesthetic picture of what you need to do and what NOT to do. The problem here is that one has to be able to develop such awareness. There are many paths to it, and I have concentration exercises to develop it, as well as processes from standard learning theory which are extremely helpful. Once you have developed this awareness, it's always available to you. What is required is not a lot of repetitions, but great mental discipline. Without that it's hopeless.  On another matter: The idea that "strength" must be developed in the fourth finger can be very harmful. If "strength" were essential to fine violin-playing, how could the 11 year old  Menuhin do such a masterful job with the Beethoven concerto, when the concertmaster had to tune his violin for him because he hadn't the strength to turn the pegs? Easy use of the fourth finger depends on the correct angle of placement of the finger on the string and a very loose base knuckle. The idea of "strength" is tightening. If you still want to develop some kind of useful strength, practice the left-hand pizzicato sections of the 24th caprice, the Dance of the Goblins, the Sarasate Caprice Basque, and the third movement of the 2nd Paganini concerto. This will be very helpful in learning how vibrato works. Be sure not to overdo it and damage the fingertips.    Charles Johnston

From Jude Ziliak
Posted on August 8, 2010 at 6:01 AM


I primarily want to address the crucial assumption you've made, which so far as I can see is baseless: you assume that Hahn's (alleged) book will be similar in concept either to the Sevcik/Schradieck/Yost model or the "etude-caprice" model of Kreutzer, Rode, Mazas, etc etc etc.

There is no basis for this assumption. From the information available, her plan might be closer to a practice guide along the lines of the Flesch Urstudien, or a set of highly targeted brain-teasers like Dounis's books. Or, better yet, it might be something genuinely new in structure.

Say what you like about Hahn's playing-- I have my own bones to pick with her-- but she's a concertizing violinist who performs at a consistently excellent technical level. That alone raises the possibility that her book could offer insight into how she maintains her technique on the road, which would be valuable. Moreover, only ONE of the standard etude books was written by an active performer (Rode; Wieniawski's caprices scarcely count as etudes, and I'm not counting Paganini since you don't either). This makes her a completely distinct source of information from the pedagogues who wrote most the standard material.

I find your question as to what we could hope to learn from Hahn since she's not on the level of the performers you elevate a little bit silly. Dounis, after all, was not an active performer, and despite anecdotal information that he played very well, we have no solid information about his playing-- at all. Conversely, we know that many of the finest performers of the last two centuries have not been very good teachers, forget about composers of studies. What did you hope to prove with that remark?

From Mattias Eklund
Posted on August 8, 2010 at 7:37 PM

VJ - You should't take Jim Hoyles word to littirary. Hahn do practise scales regurlary, perhaps not for hours a day but she still dues, and I doubt that she played for Heifetz.

From erik liu
Posted on August 10, 2010 at 12:22 AM

seriously?  why would anyone care about something like this?  like you said, all-state has come and gone.  so all your hard work finally paid off, basically.  so why are you still practicing??  you do realize that you're never going to play in all-state again, no matter how hard you work now, right?  we all know full well that playing etudes don't help at all.  the people in all-state are going to be the ones that work solely on scales, excerpts and assigned etude.  i have never taken an etude that wasn't assigned for all-state seriously, and I daresay it got me a lot farther than how you're approaching it.

From Michael Divino
Posted on August 11, 2010 at 4:48 AM

 Yes, etudes suck now apparently. 

From Ausar Amon
Posted on August 11, 2010 at 4:34 PM

 Hello Charles,

I see you studied with David Nadien. Does he still teach? I would love to hear about your time with such a great violinist. Is it true that he advocates an impulse vibrato even on fast 16th notes like Mr. Heifetz. What are his thoughts on bowing? Does agree with the Milstein approach that almost everything comes from the shoulder?



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