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Interpretation vs Technique

April 18, 2011 at 6:07 PM

As a violinist, I have experience many (and I mean many) things throught my career.  In 9 years I have gone through the classroom of atleast 10 teachers. This may not sound to you as something terrible - but it is. Imagine it, one day your teacher tells you to double stops one way then next week your new teacher tells you it's another way! I've been through Chech school, Russian school, German/American school (something I don't understand) and the New school. If this experience has helped me with something, it's to be able to see what is best. An interpretation-based learing, or a technique-based education of the violin.

 I know the best is to get a 50/50 balance between interpretation and technique. But on a down-to-earth thorough meditation on the subject you realize it is unreal. It's impossible to get a perfect balance on what you will teach. Will you focus more on: how intune your student plays? Or on scales rather than pieces? Are you willing to let your pupil sacrifice his posture as long he gets a good sound out of the violin? What is more important?

If you have a great technique but a bad interpretation of say Bruch violin concerto, your performance is incomplete. But what if you play beatifully but have your arm and neck swollen? Maybe there is no answer to this question, but what do you think. What's more important? Please comment

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 18, 2011 at 7:54 PM

I am sorry that you have had so many teachers in your time.  That really does not give you an opportunity to appreciate how much help a good one, over a period of years, can give you in both interpretation and technique in the amounts that fit your needs.  There are no real rules about this, only questions about what an individual student needs.  I have had teachers who concentrated a bit more on one or the other, but all made an effort not to neglect either one.  Good luck!  There are no clear answers to your questions, only what works for your particular needs. 

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 19, 2011 at 4:47 AM


I found this a very interesting and important blog.  I am very grateful that you posted it.  Clearly you are an thoughful and dedicated violnist who is (like the majority of us) struggling to find the best way forward on a veyr difficult instrument.  I certainly sympathize with a senbse of disorientation from constantly changing teachers,  for whatever reason.

In a funny kind of way , a sfra a sI am concerned ,  the answer to the conudrum actually lies in the question posed.    It is true that we all have a strong tendency to talk about technique vs. interretation/musiclaity a lot of the time.  Often we are able to point to quite concrete examples of `technically good` violinists  who lack musicianship compared to `more musical players.`

Yet,  I am convinced,  in my dotage, that we have taken the wrong path in thinking in these terms.  There shouldn`t be this distinction between teaching/learning  technique versus interpretation and rigid adherence to this thinking is the rocky road to frustration.

We do,  of course, talk about technique as a means of achieving musical /artistic ends and should consider what this means.   If it is true,  there is no arbitrary distinction between the two things!   We have to have an artistic vision or interpretation in mind and we have to work on the means of achieving this.   The two are fundametally inseparable.   One misundertsanding that contributes to the unhelpful dichotomy is failure to recognize that a musicla objective is, whethe rw elike it or not,   a result of clearly measurable physical actions,  be they an increase in vibato speed,  a use of rubato (objective inflection of tempo) ,  differneces in bow speed and so on.

Indeed,  I would sugget it is often helpful tothink in musical terms when practicing `technique` IE scales and technical terms when seeking to express our inner joy.  Instinct is good and woonderful but instinct combined with knowing is a different level of art.

It is importnat not to get side tracked by issue slike `intonbation.`  Casals called intonation a mortal imperative and Szigeti (a maste rof it) state dthat without it ther eis no value in the playing.  Intonation is an absolute criteria.  It has little  to do with a division of technique and interpretation.  If you play out of tune you are not playing properly.  Blunt, but true I`m afraid.  Nor is there an increasing degre eof accuracy in intonation learning over the formative years. That is a myth. A competent teacher insists on relenlessly perfect intonation right from the beginning.  It is done using the necessary degre eof simpliity but even if they are using only open strings a student -must- be in tune. This is the moral imperative of the teacher!   Too many sloppy ones out there.

Later of course our interpretation may lead us to bend intonation.   That is a perfetc demonstration of how the two are inseparable.

A pox on this distinction;)




From John Cadd
Posted on April 19, 2011 at 9:35 AM

Just to chime in the intonation aspect Buri.I heard a simple tune on youtube by Tchaikovsky yesterday.It was apallingly out of tune.The comments were full of praise for the playing. Believe me it really was bad. Played on an orange violin with almost violent  vibrato which was too wide and pushed intonation out of the window.     It was Andante Cantabile played on a Gliga.A good example of going sharp with vibrato. One comment was  "Awesome". It might have been his brother. Is sound volume included under technique or interpretation? After the Gliga who knows.Same question goes for wide continuous , boring vibrato .    The phrase "continuous vibrato" is misleading.Nathan Milstein did not vibrate continuously .Watch a video with the sound down to see what that means.

From Diane Allen
Posted on April 19, 2011 at 2:02 PM

My students performed a recital this weekend. One girl always saves "it" for her performances. During her lessons she's very technical but at a concert she pours her heart into the music. Guess what happens? She makes technical mistakes because the intensity of her emotion changes the energy in your hands and arms. Shifts especially feel different during an emotional performance.

With this story in mind - one needs to always be focusing both on interpretation and technique simultaneously. The technique serves the expression.

On a personal note - I went all the way through a Bachelor's and Master's degree and at the end I could tell that my left hand wasn't functioning effectively. I found a teacher and specifically told her my frustration and we completely reworked the posture of my left hand. Once we got the results we were looking for this teacher kept up on extreme technical precision. I thoroughly enjoyed my lessons with her but after 2 or 3 years of this I called her up and told her I wouldn't be returning. When she asked why my reply was "Because I used to sing on my violin and now I'm not". I haven't taken lessons since. It was time for me to assimilate all that I had learned over the years and make my violin playing my own.

From John Gibson
Posted on April 19, 2011 at 8:01 PM

 I think the makings of a "good violinist" are not only in technique and are not only in musicality. Technical precision is something we can easily identify as correct or incorrect. An in-tune major third will always sound like a major third, no matter what fingering you use. On the other hand, musicality is not so easily defined. Everyone's musicality is different. Many of us look at a violinist and think their musicality is the best we've ever seen, and we look at others saying they have none at all. Musicality is very relative and a lot of how we judge it depends on what we're used to hearing/seeing. As far as in teaching, I think it really depends on the student. There are students out there who are extremely gifted in their ability to put emotion and musicality into their performance but have technical problems. There are also those out there who are technical demons but don't know how to put emotion into the music. I think as a teacher, the goal we strive for with each student is for them to display both technical proficiency and musicality. Our teaching methods are really tailored to each individual student and his/her specific needs. Being able to interpret music effectively is just as important as being able to play it technically correct. Neither should be put before the other. As teachers, it is our job to ensure that the student is always growing in both respects, and if we cannot do that, to pass them onto someone who can.

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