V.com weekend vote: Have you ever had to completely overhaul something about your playing?

December 14, 2019, 10:57 PM · This week a discussion about how much effort people put into refining their bow technique got me thinking about what it takes to get this whole business correct.

Have you ever had to completely overhaul something about your playing?

blurry playing

In my many years of playing, I've had to overhaul aspects of my playing, both large and small. Somehow, even when it was a "small tweak," I still remember the major effort that went into changing an ingrained habit.

For example, when I was maybe 11 years old, my teacher started telling me that my left thumb was bent, grabbing the neck a bit, and I needed to change it. Yes, okay, will do. But it didn't happen. The next week, he told me again. In fact, the topic kept coming up, but I didn't understand the problem and just couldn't fix it. I did try, but it absolutely eluded me. One day he told me how to fix it, but he approached the solution in a new way: "You need to feel the neck of the violin on your thumb, right here," he said, showing me exactly where on my thumb. AHA! It made sense to me, and from that day on the problem was solved. This was a minor tweak, but it required a major revelation.

While in college, I also spent a month playing open strings, to overhaul my bow arm. Basically, I needed to reprogram the motion and mechanics of my arm and hands, and it actually took a great deal of concentrated effort to make the change. But it was exactly what I needed.

And there have been plenty more overhauls along the way!

It seems to me that, with so many "moving parts," the violinist inevitably comes to junctures where an overhaul is needed, whether it's how you hold the violin, whether you use a shoulder rest, how you move your bow, how you do your vibrato, how you place your fingers, how you shift...the list goes on and on!

What have you needed to overhaul, as you have grown as a violinist or violist? What was the experience like? Is there something you currently are looking to overhaul? Or have you never reached that point? Please participate in the vote and then tell us about your experience.

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December 15, 2019 at 05:48 AM · I wrote Yes, something else that I'll explain:, but I meant, "Yes, my bow arm" AND "Yes, my left hand." I've been playing for 20 years so multiple times for both.

December 15, 2019 at 09:06 AM · The last comments I ever received on matters of technique were both on chamber music courses; "You don't use your little finger, do you?" and a couple of years later "Do you know you shift position all wrong?" 30 years later nothing's changed

December 15, 2019 at 12:17 PM · Bow arm, More precisely, I had to re-learn how to place the right hand fingers on the bow and not grip too tightly. And I had to break the habit of playing too often at the tip of the bow. Once I got past these hurdles, I felt much freer and got far more enjoyment from playing than I had before. So thankful for what my teachers did.

December 15, 2019 at 01:27 PM · Vibrato. I've never had to change my bow arm. It's always been my right arm.

December 15, 2019 at 02:53 PM · Yes, yes, yes. After almost 70 years of playing, at different times I have need to tweak everything. I believe in continually working to improve things, no matter how long you have been playing.

December 15, 2019 at 03:49 PM · I suppose everybody has to make corrections. Me too. But I seem to belong to a minority that has not had to make a "total overhaul" which I would define as "get back to beginner level and start from scratch". I would likely change teacher if one asked me to e.g. adopt the Russian bow hold after a Franco-Belgian lifetime. Even assuming that the Russian hold is better (I believe it is not, it probably hardly matters): The advantage would not be worth the effort.

December 15, 2019 at 07:11 PM · Over the years I have changed many aspects of my technique in both hands. In fact I continue to do so today. I have never had to start from scratch. I probably would have refused, had any teacher wanted that.

December 15, 2019 at 07:36 PM · Yes. Laurie is not talking about adjustments or tweaking something. When I said "vibrato" I meant entirely from scratch. I asked my teacher how I could get a wider, richer vibrato (another teacher had commented to me that mine was too thin), and he said only by rebuilding it from the ground up -- with a few weeks of no vibrato at all, and then starting with those silly-sounding exercises and all. Well, basically it worked, and it wasn't too annoying or discouraging.

December 15, 2019 at 08:43 PM · Two and a half years ago I broke my left wrist while teaching at Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend. I am also a violin/viola teacher, play in a string quartet and have played in symphony orchestras for over 60 years. Even though it seemed like a simple radial fracture I developed RRSD or CRPS as it is now called. Stiffness was a huge problem. After two surgeries on my left pinky and over 65 OT appointments I was left with a bent pinky, not reaching out at the correct distance for many intervals. Being a fairly accomplished player I have adapted by shifting. Octaves are only available in the upper positions until 5th then the pinky doesn't work. I am no longer principle violist in the orchestra but am able to play in the second violin section. I am still teaching privately as well as three string classes twice a week at a Waldorf school. I don't believe there will be much improvement but ever so thankful I can still play.

December 15, 2019 at 08:49 PM · Bow grip. (Which I take to be separate from "bow arm", which gets tweaked but not revamped. So far.) Annoying, that. "Yes, great. Great. Oh. Wait. You're not doing that right. Oh, the next piece will be harder because of your bow grip. Okay. For the next two weeks, open strings, get your bow grip right."


December 15, 2019 at 10:21 PM · I've had to overhaul EVERYTHING since I returned to the instrument - especially with my current teacher. The way I was taught and what I retained was not conducive towards building a new foundation with, and years later I've only very recently have I been told that my left and right hand look good - which I interpret to mean: good enough to no longer be hindering my musical progress.

I'm now rebuilding my vibrato.

December 15, 2019 at 11:56 PM · I had to rebuild my vibrato once, after mistakenly learning with no thumb contact on the neck. Fun times.

December 16, 2019 at 03:43 AM · My bow hold had to changed which was hard after playing for 7 years in the same. It still ocassionally slips now. My mirror is invaluable during my practise these days haha

December 16, 2019 at 04:16 AM · Everything multiple times. I dropped the shoulder rest and that necessitated multiple changes. I have been redoing my bow arm over and again multiple times.

December 16, 2019 at 06:31 AM · When I took lessons for the first time, after 16 years of self-teaching, I spent almost three months practicing little other than open strings in order to completely retool my bowing technique. (As it turned out, my problem was the same as for many people who take lessons regularly -- it was the "weight" vs "pressure" thing.) It was a rather humbling experience, because I showed up at my first lesson with a Brahms sonata and left with the assignment to practice open strings.

I later reworked my left hand so as to be less reliant on my head and shoulder to hold my viola.

December 16, 2019 at 01:42 PM · My core issue was not with the instrument. It was everything associated with beat and rhythm. I was considered talented, musical , with a good memory, I loved to play beautiful pitches and lovely tunes and often my 'issue' was not picked up on until later. When I had to keep a beat, I could not feel it. Accurate counting with no sense of beat blew gaskets in my brain. However, if someone played a rhythm I could accurately reproduce it, if it was written on paper my eyes would bleed playing it from the page. Most of my teachers could not figure out what was going on with me, politely said. I feared chamber music. However every other quality was there, the violin was an pretty easy instrument for me. I thought I'd be playing the solo violin literature and hiding in first violin of large orchestras when I was overcome with the urge to play for the rest of my life.

The solution came. The consequence was that I had to move to a different area, where people didn't know me to start over. I figured out, with help, that I had had severe early childhood trauma (c-ptsd/adhd). When I worked through some of that, I internally relaxed enough that I could start feeling what it was like to sense the beat. It felt so natural--that at first I worked to make sure that I could feel it most of the time and to know how to get it back when I wasn't feeling it. Then I relearned reading rhythm. The goal was 'in no effort' to just look at a page and get the phrase --it was so much fun. For the heck of it, I started playing drumset and that has become my alter ego. My violin really blossomed; after going so many years on a kind of autopilot, I had to review and consciously relearn everthing. I am still quietly giddy about that today, because everthing now works. Now I can focus on alot of other topics, including precision. I now love, love chamber music, and I am now moving into being one of the concertmasters of the semi-professional chamber orchestra that I play with. Folks from my previous town have begun noticing and I get to smile. And yes, I play in a band too.

December 16, 2019 at 05:11 PM · yes, all of the above! I thought that was normal :)

December 16, 2019 at 06:11 PM · Currently working on left hand, sigh.

December 16, 2019 at 07:56 PM · I want to add one more thought here: First I think that the fact that I have never had to reconstruct my playing from the ground up is a testament to the quality of teaching I have received.

Then there is this: If you sign up with a new teacher and he/she tells you that you need to completely relearn your technique from the ground up: Get a second opinion!

December 16, 2019 at 09:14 PM · Yes,

Once for the left hand, several times for bowing, and the technique broke down for a few weeks while making the transitions.

December 16, 2019 at 11:34 PM · Unintentionally when I changed chin rests and my violin hold changed as a consequence. At first I thought I'd have to give back my new handmade Teka as it fit further left of the tailpiece than I was used to. After the initial discomfort subsided, I realized this made certain technical things easier. I never would have adjusted my hold except for this happy accident. The violin never ceases to surprise...

December 17, 2019 at 12:08 AM · Re: Revamping Violin Technique/s *22

Upon reading all interesting Repies here until today, December 16, 2019, which is a uniquely obvious Special Birthday, that of Ludwig van Beehoven's 249th, & a 'preview' Birthday, shall we say, to the International Global Celebration beginning in 2020, this vitally important subject seems to have arisen at a mighty providential time as one assumes many violinists on here will be preparing for performing, reading, learning & even to record works by Beethoven, all of which is as known, wondrous yet requires truly authentically grounded technical flexibility amid suppleness ~

The statement of Albrecht Zumbrunn, stands out for me as it implies when RXing a 'Second Opinion', i.e., a new teacher declaring, 'you need to completely relearn your technique from the ground up: Get a second opinion!" that whomever is newly assigning a complete 'overhaul' is either a highly experienced professional violinist and teacher or one who automatically does this for the sake of "job security" ~ This is a dangerous statement in my view unless coming from highly & proven over time professional's with very strong violinistic backgrounds & from those can Do what they say they Teach ~

In my own circumstances as a violinist, fortune was incredibly kind to me from Day 1. Starting as a tiny daughter of my Dad, a 'grand-pupil' of Eugen Ysaye, (& pupil of Ysaye Apostle, Prof Eduoard Dethier, at Juilliard, of my acclaimed string teacher father, my training was true Franco-Belgian in all things sound, beauty of phrasing, stylistic 'protocol' and Bowing) ... All was well excepting feelings of hearing ideals in-my-head's inner soundtrack of musical phrasing & reaching a point of fused and firm enough corresponding left w/right bow arm technique, yet suddenly thrust into Jascha Heifetz's Violin Master Class with Mr. Heifetz assuming all 7 of us had on terra firma left hand suppleness & ease in navigating all over the 'Board', I did hit a wall in realising some of my bowing lacked exactly what Jascha Heifetz asked for in a film I was invited to make with him, & in rapid Khachaturian Violin Concerto 1st movement passage work, especially in the lower part of the Bow nearing the frog!! (And it's on film, folks!)

Not one to try impressing Heifetz, excepting rejuvenating all of my scales in 3rds, 6ths, octaves, & especially fingered octaves plus tenth's, (which took a few years & intense obsessive work w/Mr. Heifetz's revered Auer St. Petersburg Class class-mate, Sascha Lasserson, in London), & upon returning back to play for Mr. Heifetz at his private Frank Lloyd Wright Studio built off his Beverly Hills main home with my London pianist in tow to perform Prokofiev's Viiolin & Piano Sonata #2 in D Major, did I feel sure footed technically re bowing & musical expression in my inner mind yet showing outside on the instrument with JH actually saying to me, "My compliments to Lasserson, Liz!" But even with the JH Thumbs Up, something deep inside me still lingered like a wished for dream, and it actually took (what I do genuinely believe) was 'divine intervention' in the RFH (Royal Festival Hall), in London, in late September of that Return to Heifetz Year in Sring, a never imagined meeting of Nathan Milstein, due to the great Sascha Lasserson, thinking only of my violinistic needs, who introduced me to his friend and class-mate of Leopold Auer, Nathan Milstein, backstage after Mr. Milstein's 'holy' offering of Beethoven's Violin Concerto w/the LPO, & a young American in London, in surreal disbelief upon Nathan Milstein shaking my hand, saying, "Lasserson tells me I must hear you play the Chaconne of Bach, young lady! You must ring me at my new home here in London, to come 'round to play!" (Guys, I thought I would pass out, it was so incredible with Milstein so kind and magnetically simple ~ ) After a few months which included a concert recital tour to America, I did start receiving Lasserson phone calls at the flat of 'Elisabeth! Ring Milstein!! He says he hasn't heard from you!!" Stunned, I talked this unimaginable happening over with closest English friends who insisted I ring Nathan Milstein, and soon!! Finally finding my courage, I dialed the phone number he had yelled to Lasserson that evening backstage,& very nervously, mind you!!! Long Story (for my Book) Short, Mr. Milstein set a date 6 days from our friendly & warm hearted phone chat!! I must've practised even in the Ladies, such were my nerves - not ever wanting to embarrass Mr. Lasserson or (egads!) Heifetz!!! In walking you through this, there is a huge point which is my own 'change' to another "Mentor" of renown, Nathan Milstein, whom upon listening intently to my Bach Chaconne, jumped up immediately from his rare Louie the XlVth ornate Chair, and began showing me bowing techniques I had been 'prepped' for by both JH and more so by Lasserson (all 3 renowned Auer pupil's) to begin liberating my Bow Arm to try mirroring what I saw Nathan Milstein do for at least twice weekly for a minimum of 3+ hours to 4 + hours each 'tutorial' every week non stop, & excepting foreign Concert Touring he was playing yet cutting back on ~ The Huge Change from my still influenced Franco-Belgium approach to Bowing took time, tears (many) & the patience of Job from Mr. Milstein, but I was by then, obsessed to claim NM's circular approach to bowing & chording in all works of Unaccompanied Bach, and everything else for concert solo violin!

I did not need a 'second opinion' because it seemed meant to be at the "right time" with Father Time on my side due to Mr. Milstein's lack of seeking even more fame or prestige as an artist! He seemed curious about How the 'experiment' would turn out with me, who he often termed, 'my Guinea pig, whom I can experiment because you play well & are a pupil of Heifetz!' To say I was flattered is a gross understatement!!! It became a miracle of 'Milsteinianna', going over to Chester Square, SW1, in London's Belgravia, & after at least 3 & 1/2 hours, we would break to join Mrs. Milstein (a marvellous pianist & pupil of the great Viennese pedagogue, Steurmann) for English High Tea, chatting about everything Violin, violinists, music compositions & style, + tons of gossip which became more relaxed after the initial first 10 months ...

Needless to say, my iron resolve to truly alter my approach to bowing combined with Milstein's uncanny instinct in knowing How to lead me to his own unique approaches to bowing, did work!! It was tested in Spain, when making my debut as violin soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto with much P.R. which surrounded the concert with a prominent orchestra due to the Manager of us both making sure the music reviewer's would come along to listen! (Talk about pressure! This was a Big Deal for us both with Milstein's Grand reputation behind his 'Guinea pig' pupil's name & in the Brahms Violin Concerto, no less!!! More will be in my Book, but suffice to say, Providence was kind to me in bringing Nathan Milstein, & as time went on, his wife & other family, into my life and welcoming me into their lives ~ Gifts like this, dear violinist.com friends, don't occur or happen in most lives, so as Abrecht Zumbrunn, states, "Get a second opinion" before a big change of teacher if you are okay with playing comfortably, but might wish to take a Violin Master Class with a proven Artist or well tested pedagogue who will not over charge for barely the lesson time but then leave you a bit confused or even muddled up. A 'new' teacher as a 'new' & truly caring Doctor, treats the whole person, Not just one symptom of a condition. Illnesses of violin playing are often outgrowths of much earlier traumatic emotional experiences from previous teachers who tried but hadn't the abilities to show a pupil How to take steps to start improving, or small doses of medicine to alleviate a specific medical condition, but over prescribed or prescribed too little too soon or not the 'right' medicine in the pupil's time to take new ideas in and intelligently work them in to new plus practise routines, and to be on 'Stand by' to help if a new pupil is in-between or just plain stuck ~

Too lengthy, I hope my attempt to contribute something helpful will be just that, and thank all of you for reading my Reply here for today!!! A Word: Trust your Instincts deep Inside. Go with a gut feeling which grants Peace of Mind yet doesn't upset your quest to become a better violinist than before. Always remind yourselves & remember that Time is a Friend to Truth but Fast this's & that's get most of us Nowhere s l o w l y ~

Wishing all a beautiful Holiday Season, it's great to be back on Beethoven's 249th Birthday!!!

Elisabeth Matesky *

*if interested: visit Facebook today or maƱana to see/hear my

EM Pick of the Greatsst Live in Performance Violin/Piano Duo

interpretation of Beethoven's Masterpiece Sonata for Piano &

Violin, No. 9, 'Kreutzer', Op 47, but you must visit Elisabeth

Anne Matesky on my FB Timeline to find out my EM Pick! The

Link is posted to see & hear The Extraordinary!


December 17, 2019 at 01:06 AM · My bowing arm, and my vibrato. It wasn't easy, as I had to re-learn them and go back to basics. But it was worth it, and I'm glad I did it.

December 17, 2019 at 01:31 AM · @Ben David ~ *24

How long a time did it require to revamp both your vibrato and bow arm?? And with whom did you work with to launch into such a major project?

Most interested, I've got a feeling you might be outside these United States?? You don't need to tell, but I lived in 'inner' London, for nearly 8 blissful years and find myself wondering!

With all best wishes ~

Elisabeth Matesky

December 17, 2019 at 03:32 AM · U.S. born and raised. I started to learn the violin (Suzuki) method, when I was 7 yrs old. I played through high school. Chose a different major in college. Shortly after graduating from college, and finding a good job, I decided to take up violin again. My new teacher was a violin performance professor/conductor from the same university that I graduated from who taught me in the "traditional" method. I stayed with him for 3 years, and in those 3 years, we worked on my bowing and vibrato (among other things). For my bowing, we worked mostly on my wrist movement. With regards to my vibrato, he changed my puny wrist vibrato to an arm vibrato. This gave me better consistency, as well as flexibility in my vibrato, i.e. I can make my vibrato wider or narrower depending on the repertoire.

December 17, 2019 at 03:58 AM · @ben David ~ *26

Thank you for the background ~ I'm certain that your instructor was correct in exchanging the most probably inflexible wrist vibrato to an arm vibrato which granted much greater freedom of movement & a feeling of more control and technical security when navigating on the 'Board' ~

Try El Sistema with your children!!! Or a combination of happy pieces with the Suzuki ...

Wishing you & your family a lovely Holiday Season,

Elisabeth Matesky

December 17, 2019 at 04:21 AM · @Elisabeth Matesky, thank you! Happy Holidays to you as well.

December 17, 2019 at 05:05 AM · @Ben David ~ *28

You're most welcome, dear Sir and father of adored children!! Maracas in their Stockings!!!

Happy to you All ~

Elisabeth Matesky

December 17, 2019 at 02:46 PM · My left hand: I had to stop my thumb from sticking to the neck, so that I can do shifting and vibrato. Took me 6 months to fix just this!

December 18, 2019 at 03:16 PM · Shame one can not pick more than one!

Violin hold. I started (age 6) without an SR. Then I was made to use one (age ~10). When I came back to the instrument (2008) I tried to use one but eventually decided it would never work - and went back to SR-less. And there I will stay.

I seem to always have had a good bow hand :) But the left has always been a struggle. After a number of gradual changes, my current teacher has made me go back and rework how I use the thumb - avoiding the neck falling into the 'V'. That took (is taking?) some work.

December 18, 2019 at 05:46 PM · I'm quite surprised to learn that seems not uncommom among many violinists to reconsider violin techniques, sometimes even more than once.

I feel specially touched by @Elizabeth Matesky detailed story and for sharing such a rich experience. Although I'm an amateur violinist, three years ago I had the privilege to meet a dear gentleman, a violin professor whom was also a long-time student of Mr. Milstein. It was a bless to have the opportunity to review my whole right-arm/bowing technique among other things which I'm refining until today.


December 18, 2019 at 08:02 PM · I selected "how I hold the instrument" but really it is all of the above. At different times I have updated my bow hold (I've used both a Russian and a Belgian hold); changed my left hand opening my thumb so the neck rests on it not held by it; and for overall instrument hold, I've gone from sponge to Kun rest, to no rest and back to a Menuhin style rest, plus going through three different styles of chin rest!

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