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sharelle taylor

How much have you needed to be TAUGHT, as opposed to LEARNT

January 7, 2008 at 10:25 AM

I've just had a 3 hour lesson that started with me saying I wanted to be ale to play abar in the Handel Sonata (1#3 in A) without it getting all legato on me. And that led to a thorough exploration of keeping the elbow moving, arm up, shoulder relaxed, weight out of the bow then transferrred on the down bow, not emphasising the up bow, connecting the hooked bowings, and feeling the tilt of the bow across the lower strings and catching it. My teacher has talked about these things previously, so I was annoyed at myself for having not integated it. And despite three months now of careful, accurate practise, I'm still not able to produce a vibrato, and I won't even go there tonight about how frustrating that is.
I guess I'm just wondering how much actual 'instruction' has been needed by people here for various skills they have learnt, and how long did it take to integrate these things.
The videos taken of our recent ensemble performance showed a lot for reference since I was seated directly behind my teacher and i can compare our playing, but until the lesson on Friday, I couldn't identify specifically the difference was between my teacher and I. Only that she looked better. So I guess I'm not much at that visual sort of learning.
little bit of playing
Now I wonder if there things that nearly all people nearly always stumble over, maybe there's just some trick to teaching the hard stuff, or maybe only certain people can learn it - they're the ones that progress. I find myself wondering that if there is some trick for each person, maybe the light switch goes on 'flick' and they can do say sautille, or vibrato, or get their arm weight right.
And if something takes months and months to learn, does that ususally mean that it will never really be a competent component of that player's style?

Can you hear the panic creeping into my writing?
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 7, 2008 at 12:26 PM
I think everyone has their own "switches" and they are different for different students. This isn't violin, but I still remember very vividly when I was a child learning to swim and I was not getting the arm motion right for the front crawl. I would swim across the pool and turn my shoulder in a weird way and not get anywhere. Finally after a few lessons of that, my teacher stood behind me, held my forearms, and rotated my arms correctly, and after that I could do it. I went on to be on the swim team in high school.

I tend to do poorly at tasks where the standard response on how to get better at it is "it just comes with time" or "you have to do it a lot" or you "sink or swim." That tends not to happen with me: I get lost or frustrated. I start wondering "how much time?" and "how much better?" and "sink" and give up. To avoid that happening I try to break such a task down and ask very specific questions at the outset. Sometimes other people don't get the question or think it's dumb, but just formulating the question (and writing it down) is often the most necessary first step to keep from sinking.

Learning by example isn't always practical or possible, but there have been times for me when it's been invaluable.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 7, 2008 at 12:39 PM
Are you the one in jeans with short hair? I think that person looks pretty good overall, she has confidence in her bow arm (more so than the person next to her). Her right leg is bent at what looks like an uncomfortable angle, though, and she does a lot of rocking back and forth (I notice this because I have the same problem).

It's hard getting used to watching yourself, but maybe if you do it repeatedly and watch the videos with your teacher some patterns will emerge. You'll come to know what's normal for you and what constitutes a serious problem.

From Marsha McCoy
Posted on January 7, 2008 at 1:32 PM
I think sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and forget how long this process takes. Yes, it takes time.

I don't mean to disillusion or discourage you but I think I read here recently that someone didn't feel like they had a good vibrato after working consistantly on it for a year. You're frustrated at 3 months.

In that clip you look like you're doing darn well for 4 years at it.

From al ku
Posted on January 7, 2008 at 1:44 PM
sharelle, i think you have loosened up a lot comparing to a previous clip i saw. you have really come a long way.

one thing i do want to bring to your attention is the swaying of your upper body during playing. your upbow seems to synchronize with a forward trunkal lurch, as if you finish your upbow with quite a bit of your body instead of the limb. if you look at your teacher in the front, her spine seems to be more stable and natural.


From Sung-Duk Song
Posted on January 7, 2008 at 4:58 PM
Key word is patience!!!
From sharelle taylor
Posted on January 7, 2008 at 8:44 PM
Thankyou to all.
Patience: I think I am patient, I'm not impatient about the pace of development, but I do get frustrated when I don't see gradual improvement, and I think that's where I'm at with vibrato, for example. I get so concerned that I have some fundamental inability in that action, so all the patience in the world won't rescue me. I have been quite capably polishing those freaking strings, they fair sparkle, since August. That was a motion I got fairly quickly, but I have no capacity at all to translate that into a vibrato. My teacher does not share my anxiety.

And thanks to the astute observations of yourselves, I now also really see the trunk sway/bow arm thing. Al, you mentioned this before, I have been conscious of it. Its weird, but its like some movements feel really exaggerated (like when I do 'lift the arm' I feel like its way up in the air, but actually its only a little raised over my normal position), and when I think I have relaxed my head/neck, I now see that in fact its dragging my whole trunk along for the sway. So, I think I'll try doing an exaggerated opposite movement to what I am trying to achieve as a first off, to hopefully get comfortable somewhere around the middle where I need to be. Is my right leg trying to counterbalance my head/neck unit?
Now, what are your thoughts on competence when a skill is slow to develop, again?

From al ku
Posted on January 7, 2008 at 10:39 PM
sharelle, i think you are making very good progress and i don't say it to be nice because you know from my postings i am quite critical. for instance, i like your bow wrist motion very much, quite supple, something difficult to maintain for a beginner, esp on stage. you were a bit stiff in an older clip, and with this one, you swayed as i said. what i am getting at is not just just body posture, but with that sway, i am not sure you are able to get fully bow your arm, that 25% of your bow near the frog: your trunk may have done some of the work that should be done by the limb. look into the mirror and see since from the video from that angle i cannot be 100% sure.

keep up your good progress and don't worry too much about the pace. i am sure you don't envy fast drivers on highways!

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 8, 2008 at 1:09 AM
in the real world, when you are not holding the violin/viola are your hand so locke dat the wrists and your fingertips joints unable to bend ? ;) If not there is nothing whatsoever preventing you from having an excellent vibrato.
It take sa longer or shorter time depending on the individual. We are all different. The thing about vibrtao is thta it may need to e developed more wholistically or in some cases subjected to a more detialed analysis to find a local blockage. For example, I have studnet who at fifteen wa sunable to develop a vibrato through the pracitce of most of the conventionla exericses but finbally let go after I had her repeatedly watch DVDs of Menuhin playing the slow movement of concertos such as the Bruch. I also pplayed many passages from her repertoire with the violin held ery close to her head and using a very intense vibrato....
Therre are some things you cna explore though. For me the fundamental rule is the origin which is actually in the back. Like Marrison Fords bullwhip! So, if the left shoulder is tense then the actual origin of the tehcnique is segregated. Veyr often vibrato problems can be solved simply by working on releasing tension in the neck and left shoulder.
Second, if there is little or no space between your left upper arm and rib cage this will cause tension that inhjibits vibrato. Third, if you concieve of vibrato as a back and forward movement of the fingertip, an idea encouraged by discrete vibrato exercises which typoica\lly urge the player to flatten and sharpen the first joint to rythm patterns, then this may be causing tension. Actually vibrato is a slightly circular movement like all other functions of the body. Thus as the finger drops lower it releases weight from the string. As the fingertip rolls forward it rolls the weight of the finger back into the string. n effetc, the finger tip actually follows the path of a flattenned circle. Pracitcing this without the bow is helpful.
Another funny one is that the thumb actually roattes very slightly in resonse to the hand swing. If this rotation is blocked then the vibrato will be tight.
Maybe some of this will help.
Happy Newe Year,
From blake simpson
Posted on January 8, 2008 at 5:37 AM
Hi Sharelle,
Hope this is of some use...
I didn't start playing 'till my thirties and there has been many times that I felt I was spinning my wheels--but you know it will get better. Thing is, first I loved the music, then felt I just had to play and no matter how frustrating it gets, I am just astonished that I am even playing Handel. Personally, I would rather play something badly than hear someone else play it well.
Something I've heard: to get a good vibrato, just get a stand partner with a good vibrato. It's catching.
Best regards,
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 8, 2008 at 10:32 PM
very important point Blake.
From William Yap
Posted on January 10, 2008 at 12:59 AM
At this stage, the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that anything that takes more than “comfortable effort” to achieve needs to be fixed. If things are getting too hard, painful, doesn’t feel right or comfortable, or just not progressing anywhere after a lot of practise, stop and analyse where the problems are. Tell the teacher. I think the ones that progress quickly are not necessary the ones that practise more, but the one that practise smart (e.g. they stop to analyse and experiment rather than repeating things over and over again). Now, if only I can practise smart!
Posted on January 10, 2008 at 1:05 AM
Dear Ms. Taylor:

Read your blog entry - I'd like to suggest a solution.

The problem may just be that your hands aren't strong enough. That's actually surprisingly easy to fix.

Around the 1920's [or earlier] a system of hand exercises appeared called "THE COWLING SYSTEM", maybe you've heard of it?

Anyway, it's been recovered and restored in full.

It works, I know because I use it myself.

Look it over and order the book; seriously, you can't go wrong for $27.50! [And that's all the 'internet marketing' you'll get from me.]

The book can be purchased at - here's the link: [copy and paste into your browser's address field, if needed]

I'd very much like to hear how you get on with these exercises; please write me back here or at

Thanks for reading this,

George Hirsch

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