January 2009

TEACHING: A few thoughts—

January 25, 2009 19:36

The most important individual in the studio is the student—what is best for them personally, academically and musically (both technically and artistically).

The teacher, on all levels, is to guide the student of any age to teach themselves, and the student must strive to be as knowledgeable and independent as possible—originating ideas, concepts, questions, answers that pertain to their moment of time and showing exactly where they are in the thought process to gain the particular skill.

When the student asks questions as they arise, it will help the teacher focus in on where the student is mentally at that moment. A young pupil should be encouraged to ask and inquire about anything related to playing.

Teachers are not mind readers and will focus on various difficulties they see and challenges that are to be addressed. There are basic outlines in the teacher's mind, which should be kept very adaptable. This enables both the student and teacher to mentally meet and accomplish a tremendous amount in a short time.

Progress varies with every student. Two students at any given age will be totally different in development. This is why the private lesson is so very important. 

Also of great importance is the student playing with others and thereby assessing how they are doing compared to their peers and colleagues—chamber music and orchestra are a wonderful way to gain this perspective. Recitals are excellent, but can be a daunting endeavor for the adult student and therefore not beneficial.

The student needs to be instructed and guided not only in how to hold the instrument and bow and push all the right buttons, but also in the very way to develop facilities necessary to achieve the passages, both technically and artistically. They must learn that the ‘true intonation’ will help guide their interpretations and make them as individual as they themselves are.

A composer chooses various keys, modulations, rhythms and dynamics to convey many differing characters, moods and depictions. They give explicit instructions regarding tempi, styles and emphasis in order to convey their intent. It is up to the artist to observe as literally as possible and then interpret, with absolute conviction, what they believe is the core meaning of the composition along with all the side-lights of individual phrases and their inter-relationships.

All of this requires that the mind be actively engaged in both the technical and artistic endeavor.


Rhythm, Pitch and Nuance: the heart and soul of music.

Hope this helps—Drew

Author of

"Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…" 

"Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…"

11 replies | Archive link

Alive slow = living and breathing

January 11, 2009 23:30

Moderate tempos, yes, dead slow, rarely—and then, only with extremely specific purpose and goals to be achieved. 

The simplest way to achieve this:

Think rhythmically with direction of musical motion. Have a goal for the next note’s arrival and the way in which you want to play and exit from the previous note. Then determine what to do with that second note and how to connect it into the subsequent note, etc., etc.

Create a musical phrase or line of thought similar to a sentence; then a paragraph; then a chapter; then a book—the composition.

Initially do not use vibrato during the following examples. Apply the concepts to the repertoire and/or studies you are working on—even scales, arpeggios, etc.


  1. Open string: Play a Whole Note thinking rhythms, e.g., 3 quarters and 4 sixteenths. Do this with consecutive notes and bows. When comfortable with this, add a slight crescendo and hint of accelerando during the 4th beat while thinking 16ths. This will project the tone of the open string forward and into the following note. The reverse can be done with a diminuendo and slight ritardando. The effects are totally different. Even switching the 4th beat subdivision into triplets will cause a tonal and musical modification—also, thinking other rhythms and/or subdivisions during some or all of the first 3 beats will additionally alter the results.
  2. Mozart’s Concerto in A Major, K219: The soloist’s opening Quarter Notes can be greatly enhanced by hearing the flow of 32nds in the mind, as those 32nds will soon enter and support the musical statement. Shape them in your imagination with a sense of purpose, sustaining and directing their character in a variety of ways until you reach the preferred flow.
  3. Massenet’s “Meditation”: Try playing the first note with an elegantly sustained tone flowing into the 2nd note. Subtly increase the speed of bow thereby projecting the music ahead and to the 3rd note.

When desiring an extremely level and still or motionless character the bow must remain very steady in speed, point of contact and weight of touch.

The sound will modify as you sculpt the note when seeking another effect.

Now put the frosting on the cake—VIBRATO. This must work in concert with the bow and musical concept thereby completing the desired character. As we modify the phrase giving shape and direction, the vibrato must complement every aspect of the tone.


Develop interpretive skills by hearing the passages in new and different rhythmic sequences—we should appropriately inflect the notes’ character according to the pattern being played as leading tones and other intervals take on varied rolls when using different rhythms. Experiment, adding variety of dynamics and musical direction, i.e., moving ahead/remaining stable/pulling back with the notes.

Combine memorization and bowing variables and you have an unbeatable combination, not to mention keeping the mind and reflexes totally alert and keenly coordinated.

Be very careful with dead slow practice. It can be truly dead and zombie-like. The player enters a dazed and dull mental state along with the reflexes of nerves and muscles becoming lethargic, heavy, tiresome, and wearisome. This, of course, must not be permitted.

I have literally listened to students play in such a way that I could not focus on them as their sound was so lifeless and without purpose. Usually I will imitate to the student what they sounded like and we both have a hearty laugh. Then I show them how to bring the notes to life per above and all is well in the world.

Remain awake:-)

The player is to constantly guide the tonal proportions and balance with easy, continuous fluid motions.

Most, if not all, of our tension is due to imbalance and incorrect use of the fingers, hands, arms and whole body. Focus, focus, focus. Be the ballerina, dancer, gymnast or Olympic figure skater with all your moves—light, agile, strong, powerful, flexible, delicate as the music requires, and maintain focus.

Develop a slow passage substantially slower then it will be performed. Work varied rhythms, especially for shifts and string crossings, and begin the climb upward toward the desired tempo. You will then gain a wonderful feeling of movement and direction with even the slowest of the slow tempos.

Never fight and add undue tension in trying to achieve the desired outcome. Approach it with determination, patience and persistence. Do not struggle to go further than can be achieved in any given day. Allow for the fact that we at times achieve a great deal, but have to rework it again during the ensuing days in order to attain what was reached that one time.

Think before playing, while playing and after playing. Is that what I wanted? Sometimes a little renovation is required.

All must be balanced and fluid. Breathe and enjoy the challenge noting the slightest improvement. All advancements enter into other areas of our playing.

Technique is the tool by which we accomplish the artistic. 

We are contributing to our technique, equipping us better for future repertoire.

Sculpt the sound, shape the music.

Hope this helps —


Author of

Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master… 

Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

4 replies | Archive link

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