May 2007


May 29, 2007 20:45

I sometimes write computer programs. I have found that the basic logic of a program usually comes together very quickly. Then comes the hard work to make the user interface look nice and then error trapping and then formatting and then documenting etc. etc.. A working version in an hour and a sustainable version two days later.

Its that way with learning music. There is a perverse double 80-20 rule in music. The last 20% requires 80% of the effort. The last 20% provides 80% of the benefit. When one is an amateur with nowhere in particular to play a piece it is easy to get bored and move on to something else. The problem with this is that the tough mental discipline needed for real progress isn't cultivated and the hoped for improvement is only partially realized.

It came clear to me when I listened to the following CD.


It is Steven Staryk playing etudes and caprices. There is something for everyone. It even includes Sevcik and Kreutzer.

Even an artist usually plays his etudes only in the studio but listen to this recording to see the benefit of putting the final finish on something (that ordinarily would never be heard by others.)

I have a tendency (maybe others do too) to practice all the hard passages separately. This is bad. As I commence each passage I start with a slightly different hand posture optimized for the passage. Sometimes this "optimized" posture is not correct. It is just a facilitation that should never have been attempted. I conned myself into it because I had an unrealistic initial condition. Other times the posture is correct but there is no proper practice of the transition from one hand shape to the next. This all leads to sloppiness.

I have resolved to try harder to finish the etudes and pieces. (And it isn't even New Year's Day. How long will this last?)

1 reply | Archive link

Lesser talents

May 20, 2007 20:09

Carl Flesch, the great virtuoso and pedagogue, extolled amateur violinists but he cautioned them to avoid pretensions of professionalism. This good advice is always on my mind when I post a blog entry. I am conscious of my lack of talent. It is driven home to me from time to time.

Most recently I played with a town gown orchestra for a local university. But some background. This university has a full blown professional music school and offers music degrees through PhD. The performing ensembles are only open to music majors and quite frankly, even if they auditioned non-majors, there wouldn’t be many that would make it. It is a top flight university and they have a good number of talented undergraduates who have chosen careers other than music but they still want to play. The university offers them an orchestra and, to augment the numbers, community players (like me) can also play. At concert time a few ringers from the music school are coaxed in to fill vacant chairs in the winds and supplement the strings.

Since I joined mid-year without audition, I was sitting alone on the last desk of the first violins. (If I am lucky, I may be sitting there next year after auditions.). I got to sit next to the ringer, a graduate performance major. Our program wasn’t easy and the first run through at dress rehearsal had her a bit flummoxed. (I was a bit smug.) Second run through was much improved but by performance time a few hours later she performed her ringer task very admirably.

Of course I was awed. She has a lot of talent. I rehearsed the part for hours at home and attended all the rehearsals. I could play it but at significantly more effort than she exerted. I chalk up the difference to that elusive quality called talent. You cannot add one wit to your talent but I believe that you can cultivate the talent you have and do much more with it than you think.

The enabler of talent at any level is technique. Technique can be learned and it can be applied to make you incrementally better than you were. However, the purpose of technique isn’t to make you better than someone else.

I love the democracy of We have virtuosos with full fledged careers, artists with developing careers, professionals who play in top flight orchestras, gig players, pedagogues of every level and amateurs who range from beginner to whatever playing in idioms from classical to blue grass and everything in between. We come here hoping for some insight that will add to our enjoyment of the violin.

The old modes of learning properly gave eminence and precedence to the experiences of the very talented. They either became pedagogues of some success and repute or they wrote books (that were only published based on their reputation). Now, thanks to the internet, someone with less natural talent can share their experience in confronting the challenges of the instrument. They can describe how they solved problems intellectually. They may be able to restate the advice of an inarticulate musical genius so that it can be digested by those of more modest capacities. They can describe the application of an idea to their own circumstances. They could also be an idiot or a moron. The opportunity comes with a challenge for those who consume the ideas. Is the advice good advice? Is it valid? Is it consistent with the historical traditions of violin playing? Why so? Has it been proven for others? The weblog comment format and the discussion forums provide a great opportunity for comments and criticisms that can warn others, temper the advice or dismiss it.

It is a big experiment. Can lesser talents profit from the experiences of other lesser talents? Is the sharing of experience have any value versus the sharing of expertise?

Time will tell. Thank you Laurie for letting some of us ramble on.

7 replies | Archive link

More entries: June 2007April 2007

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine