Printer-friendly version
Drew Lecher

VIOLIN TECHNIQUE/VIOLA TECHNIQUE: Practice #1: Arpeggios — left hand and bow arm.

May 7, 2010 at 9:08 PM


How does one practice arpeggios in the repertoire?


We are not just learning a passage. We are learning mastery of the violin/viola for all passages and all repertoire all the time.


The subtitle of my books is: "How to master…" 


Applying the methods and examples with cross applications of rhythms, shifts and bow strokes enable us to master given passages, concurrently developing our technique to continuously higher levels. 


The following is initially very time consuming, but in so doing our progress gains exponentially. As the skills and methods become second nature, we realize the most efficient use of our practice time.


Arpeggio passages—

Whether Bach, Beethoven or Paganini—and even Flesch, Kreutzer, Dont, etc.—use the method of double-stopping across the strings as written in my book. (Pages 52-74 contain varied types of arpeggios and fingerings.)



  1. Rep Hits with each new note/finger, i.e., 2-short 8ths & 1-sustained qt. This is also a bow study and improves coordination of bow and fingers.
  2. Alternate the 2 fingers back and forth as needed and combine as a pair in Rep Hits.
  3. Constantly refine balance and posture of the fingers, hand, arm.
  4. Additionally establish/refine general balance and posture whether sitting or standing.

Do a lot of Repetition Hits in all of your technique—scales, 3rds, arpeggios, etc. Remember Rep Hits are to be accomplished with balance and ease of action—not fast. They are never heavy and/or tight. The left hand remains alert, agile and free at all times. Refine the form, balance and action of the left hand, wrist and arm—no reactionary wrist kick-outs when a finger hits the string with light precision. 



During above arpeggio practice simultaneously focus on the bow.


Plane/line of each bow stroke—

  1. When playing on 2 strings slightly favor the lower string for tonal clarity.
  2. Take care to not roll toward one string and then the other—we are not always aware of this so watch the bow stroke plane very close and listen when drawing the tone. The slightest imperfection in the plane becomes audible when your eyes catch the fault in the plane, path, variation of quantity of hair, and/or contact point.
  3. Use an absolutely level stroke with sustained tone in a full mf or easy, resonant forte—it is more relaxing to go to the lighter dynamics from the strong dynamics and contributes to   ease of tone as one releases/relaxes into a piano dynamic. 
  4. Strength of tone not seizure of joints and muscles. We must be free and relaxed when playing forte as well.


String Crossing

The entire bow arm must achieve the change of string. It is a simultaneous move from the shoulder. Do not anticipate this with the forearm, hand or fingers in any way.


  1. Maintain the path/trajectory of the given bow stroke.
  2. Stop the bow on the string before any move to change string.
  3. Slowly move arm from shoulder toward next string—it is extremely beneficial to do this with the violin pointing directly at a mirror. Maintain the arm/bow string crossing motion in absolute parallel. Additionally, raise violin via the left arm to the point where you cannot see the fingerboard when pointing the violin at the mirror.
  4. Alternate watching the motion in the mirror and then watch your bow at the point of contact with the string.
  5. Master where the bow and arm are for the center of the string—equidistant from strings on either side.


Blend String Crossing—

In addition to the above, blend/flow in and out of 2 strings.


  1. When accomplished to the highest level the moment of leaving and/or adding a string will be imperceptible. 
  2. Maintain resonant tone and do not allow any distortion or twisting of the tone.  

Rhythmic variations—

After this we are ready to play the arpeggio passages in single notes as written by the composer. 

When accomplishing this, immediately use varied rhythms, e.g., 2-16ths & 2-8ths with permutations, and dotted 8th with 16ths varying the location of the dotted 8th. Adjust these rhythmic variations if the written note pattern is other than 4 note groups.


For those with my book, you can quickly find the rhythmic patterns in Basics II, pg 12-13, and the Arpeggio Sections, pg 52, 57, 62, 67, 71. Embellish beyond these examples when they are mastered.


When you get stuck with a particularly awkward rhythmic pattern for the given passage, that is the one you must focus on and take ownership—master. Practice that pattern every where and move the difficult passage up and down chromatically, using the same fingering.


Continuously assess balance, shape, form, clarity and accuracy of the left fingers, hand & arm in combination with a flowing directed motion of the bow arm.



Use the metronome to focus and finely grade your acceleration toward the desired tempo. Each consecutive day develop the passages further with all of the above in combination with further acceleration. 


The metronome is one of our greatest tools to develop rhythm and fine tempo control. It is a tool to use, but not become a slave to.


The work that takes 1 hour the first day to achieve can be done in 20 minutes or less the following day. When something is going well confirm it a 5-7 times over and then move on to further variations—again, we are mastering technique of the violin for all repertoire—past, present and future.


Posture should be impeccable with strings parallel to the floor.



Up shifts: maintain the angle of the fingernail during shifts on a given string. The rest of the finger, hand and arm do the adjusting while in shift motion. All is simultaneous.


Down shifts: Particularly watch the return of the left thumb, fingers, hand and arm, i.e., 3rd position up to 9th position and return to 3rd with precisely the same balance posture, shape and form of the hand. The return shift down is like a movie of the shift up going backwards with simultaneous actions.


Memorize / Identify / Name / Codify 

When developing the passages per this article, memorize as you go—working through the varied patterns and rhythms. Name the note, finger, string and position—which all become synonymous—combined with the Hand Group (interval pattern of left hand fingers). To this assign the beat pattern of the note.


If frustrated, slow down and persist.

If bored, you fell asleep while working.

If unable to focus, move on to another rhythm, tempo or change passage.


Enjoy your achievements, 



Author of 

Violin Technique: The Manual

        How to master…

Viola Technique: The Manual

        How to master…


From Ray Randall
Posted on May 11, 2010 at 5:29 PM

Thank you, Drew, we are always privileged to read your playing advice here.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

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