Violin Technique: Hollywood Concertmaster Bruce Dukov's Shortcuts To Rapid Arpeggio Domination

November 16, 2023, 1:45 PM · I admit it: I have an avoidance issue when it comes to practicing arpeggios.

Scales, I do those every day. Arpeggios, I should, but they are discouraging. Leaping up the fingerboard by thirds and fourths, landing at a very precise location, somewhere in the upper stratosphere - yikes! Arpeggios are difficult and even a little scary. They don't improve easily, even with slow practice. I always hit a wall. Then I feel bad. Hence, avoidance.

So when violinist Bruce Dukov approached me to test drive his new method for practicing arpeggios (cleverly named The STRAD Method - "Shortcuts To Rapid Arpeggio Domination") I had two conflicting feelings:

  1. I totally need to do this, and knowing Dukov, it absolutely will work. It might even be fun.
  2. Do I have to practice arpeggios? (childish, I know!)

But if anyone was going to make me practice arpeggios, it's Dukov.

Bruce Dukov
Violinist Bruce Dukov.

Who is Dukov, and why was I so confident that his method would be fun and effective? This is relevant to our story - Dukov is THE top recording violinist and concertmaster in Hollywood, having recorded in some 1,900 movie scores over the last 40 years, including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Wrongfully Accused, Addams Family Values, Batman Forever, Analyze This...any big movie with strings in the score, he's likely there. He's also on-camera in the British Sherlock Holmes T.V. series. And before all that, he graduated from New York's High School of Music & Art, then earned his bachelor and master's degrees from the Juilliard School studying with Dorothy DeLay, went to England on a Fulbright Scholarship, then studied with Nathan Milstein....

You get the picture. When it comes to those legendary studio violinists who can sight-read absolutely anything perfectly on-command (even with rapid four-octave arpeggios) - Dukov is the king. Here is a video in which violinist Caroline Campbell (another such living legend) describes Dukov's career, showing numerous clips of his violin solos from the movies. She starts the video by playing the end of an arpeggio-laden arrangement by Dukov of the Star-Spangled Banner:

It's hard not to be dazzled, right? This is a man who knows his way around the violin to a staggering degree.

So of course! I did Dukov's course, which is called The STRAD Method (The course is $199, but he is offering $100 off for members - use the code VC100).

It's a combination of a 63-page downloadable book and videos that go along with it. In the book are written instructions as well as three- and four-octave arpeggios written out in various keys with their associated exercises. At the heart of the course is a set of exercises Dukov devised to help the hand and arm get comfortable in the upper reaches of the instrument and to fine-tune those very high notes, so you can land them with surprising precision.

Dukov's videos describe the exercises, and he personally demonstrates how to do them - and he does it with humor, class and very clear instruction. Peppered in between are some demonstrations of where these arpeggios might be handy (Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, the Sibelius Concerto, etc.) as well as a few very interesting stories from his very interesting life - studying with Nathan Milstein, working with Itzhak Perlman, being in the recording studio. It feels a little like a private lesson, complete with the stories. These are stretching exercises, meant for an advanced violinist, so he warns about the importance of taking breaks and not over-doing it. (The stories are perfect entertainment/encouragement for during those breaks!)

So did it work? Honestly, for the first time in my long history on the violin, I have been enjoying practicing three- and four-octave arpeggios, with Dukov there to guide me through it. And more than that, my arpeggios immediately started improving, very noticeably, as did my feelings about them. I spoke to Dukov, after going through the course. How did he come up with this?

"I came up with the exercises over the last 40 years," Dukov told me. "Every time I have a problem, I figure out a way of making an exaggeration to go the other way - to make it harder for myself. In other words, find the weakness, then play it correctly in an exaggerated way, to force me to play it with some difficulty. Then when I take away the impediment, it makes my fingers just feel great. I'm able to negotiate the passage without a problem."

Toward the end of the course, Dukov talks about another extremely useful practice concept, "Transfer and Transpose."

The germ for the idea of "transpose" came from Dukov's early work with the great violinist Nathan Milstein. He was studying Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5, working on an A-major arpeggio leap that comes in the first movement (m. 66, to be exact). While he was landing the high A, he was clearly not comfortable. In order to help him achieve comfort in his chosen fingering (1, 1-3-4), Milstein had Dukov transpose the arpeggio lick - practice it in Bb major, B major, Ab major. When Dukov came back to playing it in A major, it felt great.

"That exercise in transposing the passage in adjacent keys gave me confidence in the fingering," he said. "I decided to apply that to other problematic passages." Dukov's final video in the course contains some concrete ideas on how to do this in various difficult passages in the violin literature.

The idea of "transfer" came from Dukov's teacher Charles Treger, who showed him an interesting phenomenon: that some scales and arpeggios appear in identical (or almost-identical) form in various pieces. Once you have learned a solid fingering for one piece, you can use simply transfer it to another piece. Here's an example: the E flat major arpeggio in third movement of the Brahms concerto is identical to the E flat arpeggio in the first movement of the Sibelius concerto - as well as the last movement of the Scottish Fantasy. In his videos, Dukov provides a lot of examples of this - and plays them all quite impeccably!

So yes, this course offers immediately useful advice from a very accomplished violinist, delivered in an engaging way. And I was not the only person test-driving this course - over the last few months Dukov taught workshops in his method at the Colburn School and at California State University Northridge, and he received endorsements from some very high-level violin teachers. One is Robert Lipsett, who holds the Jascha Heifetz Distinguished Violin Chair at the Colburn School: "I find Bruce Dukov’s 'STRAD Method' the best way to speed up the learning process of arpeggios and build hand strength. It works!"

And Lorenz Gamma, Head of String Studies at California State University Northridge, said: "Bruce Dukov masters the gymnastics on the fingerboard at a technical level that most violinists can only dream of. It could very well be that by making his phenomenal STRAD method available he is now helping all violinists make this dream more of a reality. What amazing insight we can gain here into the method of a truly one-of-a kind violinist!"

So I'm off to practice arpeggios, and this week's orchestra music. See info below if you want to try Dukov's course - he is offering us a deep discount!

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If you are interested in purchasing Bruce Dukov's course, The STRAD Method, click here. The course is $199, and he is offering a generous $100 discount for members - use the code VC100 when checking out. (That discount is good through Dec. 31, 2023.)

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November 17, 2023 at 01:20 AM · The course looks awesome. Grab it while you can. It is for advanced players but is certainly an investment for the future of anyone who intends to be advanced :)

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