Scales and Etudes?

November 4, 2006 at 04:31 PM · I'm sixteen, and am working on Mendelssohn and Bach Gminor Fugue. But this is all I am doing pretty much, because all my teacher has me do is repetoire, never scales or etudes. While this certainly makes it more pleasant to play I'm beginning to think that I am really missing out on an important part of the foundation building that would help me move along quicker. Are scales and etudes really all that important? And, do you have any reccomendations on how to work on this shortfall?

Replies (58)

November 4, 2006 at 04:57 PM · Yes, scales are really important. Get a good scale book and practice them on your own.

November 4, 2006 at 05:19 PM · Scales are the dictionary and Bible of music.

November 4, 2006 at 05:24 PM · Steve,

You can also ask yourself how important are A,B,C's to a child if you want to teach them to speak a language?

Scales & Etudes provide all the many different aspects of left hand and right hand vocabulary.

At 16, you should be covering alot of territory (which should include a great many etudes, Caprices etc).

Check out this very informative site:

November 4, 2006 at 06:30 PM · You surely need to be doing lots of scales, or chunks of scales. An example of a chunk would be, going from F# to C in a variety of rhythm patterns, holding steps different durations, or repeating some but not all pitches, and in different octaves. These becomes their own little etude in G major (as well as some other keys) for both intonation and flexibility. // I am more inclined to be selective in choosing (or assigning) etudes, but I would be considering if I they are needed. For example, if a particular bowing pattern feels or sounds funky, hunt up an etude that uses that pattern. Practice it as given, and also transpose it into the piece's key or the section's implied key, to help put it into context better. Sue

November 4, 2006 at 07:06 PM · Etudes and caprices also form part of the history and development of violin technique and therefore are a must for any serious violin student

November 4, 2006 at 07:14 PM · It is possible to play repertoire wonderfully without studying scales or etudes; why not? But everyone has weaknesses in his playing, and I think of an etude as a short piece that focuses on a weakness. I've never been able to cover every aspect of playing working exclusively on my current repertoire, so I choose etudes to supplement.

Scales can be thought of as more open-ended etudes since they can be practiced in so many ways.

There are great examples as discussed previously of fantastic players who never touched a scale, as well as those who never saw an etude they didn't like! But generally, if you have to ask, you need scales and etudes.

November 4, 2006 at 09:41 PM · Greetings,

Nathan, as I am sur eoyu know know, in his autobiographyIsaac Stern expresses regert for not systrematically praciticng tehcnique, inpartiular scales in his youth. He then candidly notes his (relative) technical weakness copared to Heifetz, Milstein , Grumiaux and the new genertaion of palyer slike Mutter.

Apart from him (and possibly Menuhin although he was a bit coy about how much scale work he did after the wake call from Ysaye with a major four octaves) I am wondering which famous violinists (or greta but not fammous) didn"t actually pracitce scalers very diligeblty at least at some point i thier life?

I know if only one teacher at a reputable institute who was an avowe danti scale rand although he had a successful carreer as a top player on the london scene his technique wa ssoemwahtwobbly at times and those if hisstudnets I palyed chamber music with were delightfully musically but not so precise in termof accuracy.



November 4, 2006 at 10:37 PM · in short, as everyones explained it already.... ye scales are super-important....

I'm actually at the same level and age as you, right now Im using the Flesch book of scales, it has all scales, in all keys, with lots of rhythm patterns and different ways to practice them....its really good, its a worthy investment.

Also used to use Casorti bowing technique, and Ricci 'Left hand violin technique' or something to that effect, it very good also.

I find scales really help me, playing in tune, also with difficult rhythms in sight-reading, and also the Flesch book helps you to recognise patterns in the music, so you get the 'feel' of new pieces quicker, and you play everything in tune with much less time and effort!

November 4, 2006 at 11:09 PM · Hi Steve,

I was like you in your position. In fact, when by the first day of my undergraduate training, I had never played a minor scale in thirds. Nonetheless, I got into New England Conservatory. Do I wish I had more background in scales before? YES.

Scales form the skeleton of music before the twentieth (maybe even mid nineteenth!) century. When you learn these patterns, learning new pieces and sight reading become MUCH easier.

Not to mention the plenty of technical things you learn with scales. What's most important is that you learn things with a good teacher, (no matter what you learn). Scales show the world your entire techniqe from right hand to left and even though they're scales, you want to play them as beautifully as possible.

Good luck!


November 4, 2006 at 11:32 PM · Most players have wobbly technique. Logically you can't pick some wobbly ones who didn't practice scales and say that's why, because an example of a non-scale player who's better than a scale player will shoot it down.

November 4, 2006 at 11:43 PM · That's pretty much what I thought, so I better get started on those. I have the Flesch scale book, Kreutzer 42 studies, and Paganini Caprices (the only one I've touched ironically is the Paganini). I have no clue where to start though, so if you could lead me in the right direction I would really appreciate it.

November 4, 2006 at 11:57 PM · Many years ago I asked Milstein how much he practiced scales. His response was, "why practice scales, there are plenty of scales in the music." I have a suspicion, though, that his answer was facetious and that in his youth he must have practiced lots of scales.

November 5, 2006 at 12:01 AM · The wobbly remark from another post: I found a phenomonal amount of difference after starting to practice scales and so forth on piano... It was a world of difference. I'm only doing scales in two octaves on violin though, so I'm actually in the same boat as you in some ways... Definitely, do the scales, appregios, and so on.


November 5, 2006 at 12:14 AM · Well Milstein was Milstein and that's pretty much that...Mr. Brodsky felt that scales trained the ear and helped align your fingers. Kogan and Heifetz were known to practice scales for 3 or 4 hours a day. Kogan also criticized the Flesch book for the lack of four octave scales. Even though Menuhin was fluent as a child, his later years were not so. Apparently his teachers Persinger and others did not want to teach him scales and etudes and maybe it could of helped him later in life. But who knows.

Main point? Practice scales everyday.

November 5, 2006 at 12:50 AM · But How? Do you just go through a scale book? What do you look for in practicing scales?


November 5, 2006 at 12:59 AM · Practice them in patterns. Varied tempi etc. varied bowings etc.Varied dynamics etc.

See "Basics" as well. Some very sound advice.

A single note is only as good as the other notes it relates to.........:)

November 5, 2006 at 01:17 AM · Ida Haendal didn't do many scales, and I think Augistin Hadelich said it's not really that important to him.

I think the most brilliant of the brilliant prodigies didn't really need to do it.

November 5, 2006 at 01:41 AM · But each one of them learned to walk and talk.............etc.

I think many of the great prodigies did not want to admit how they practiced, how much they practiced and what they practiced etc.

Ricci on the other hand has always been very open about it. And he has always promoted smart practice of scales, etudes, caprices etc.

In fact his "method book" is really great.

Zakhar Bron says a very simple and profound statement: "One must have professionalism and one must adhere to speaking violin as your mother tongue."

Professionalism is meant by having the utmost highest standards in your work ethic, and knowing all the basics to get your ideas accross.

November 5, 2006 at 01:42 AM · Some people practice scales, and some don't. Scales are a very good resource for practicing basic technique, such as a straight bow, good posture, vibrato, etc. Scales and arpeggios are so versitile that you can practically practice anything you want or need to.

There are certain things that tend to get neglected when you practice a concerto, sonata, and a show piece for hours a day. Even playing an etude, we tend to focus on the technique at hand (say, for example, upbow staccato) and sometimes don't pay much attention to other techniques, such as shifting or intonation.

Scales force you to attend to all basic techniques, straight bow, intonation, shifting, flat hair, good posture, all at once.

of course, while an established soloist doesn't have to practice these things very much, it is important for students to practice them.

November 5, 2006 at 02:47 AM · You know Charlie, there is a difference between the ones who do and the ones who don't.

Some get paid and some don't (if you know what I mean).

Learning "professionalism" and a good work ethic allows one to pursue music as a profession rather than a hobby.

Every professional whether they admit it or not, have practiced scales, arpeggios, etudes, caprices etc.

What they say publicly and how they wish to be perceived is another issue.

It is known that Paganini practiced a great many hours and very efficiently as well. He guarded his secrets very closely.

Gidon Kremer was known to practice scales etc. for at least 5-7 hours daily.

Kogan even more.

Do you think one becomes a Michael Jordan or Maria Sharapova just by birth?

November 5, 2006 at 02:46 AM · I'd say practice scales, arpeggios, etudes but with specific technical goals in mind. Just 'running through' them would be a waste of time, if they were out of tune, sloppy, without dynamic control, with bad tone etc.

November 5, 2006 at 03:03 AM · Thank you so much for starting this thread, Steve. I really appreciate all the contributors' comments, especially Gennady's insisting upon the importance of professionalism. Although I don't plan on being a professional violinist (too late for that now), I would like to take my violin playing seriously. :D

My teacher gave me Sevcik's fingering practice in the second lesson, and asked me to practice it everyday. I am in the second semester with my teacher, and she would not start the lesson without having me play the assigned scales and etudes. Your posts in a way give me further confidence in believing that I am in the good hand of a professional player.

November 5, 2006 at 07:39 AM · Vivian, it's not too late to become a professional. Be realistic, but don't limit yourself.

Practicing scales gives one time to listen and think. It is what happens in the mind while playing the scale that is most important; the quality of the mental and physical effort is crucial. Actions are sculpted and ingrained into habits, whether during scales, etudes, or anything else.

Above all, play musically.

November 5, 2006 at 08:35 AM · I would repeat what I said before, "if you have to ask..." You obviously have more time to devote to your playing and are currently spending no time on scales/etudes. I guarantee you would improve with some time spent on such.

As for how to practice scales, start with the basic detached-note scales and arpeggios. Go from there to thirds and octaves, then beyond. There is plenty there to occupy a fertile mind!

November 5, 2006 at 08:49 AM · Obviously we seem to mostly agree that scale practice is important. However, it isn't enough to just "do it." We have to look at the reasons why we play them, and have goals in doing so.

A couple things I can remember at this late hour:

Practicing a scale in the key of a work of music allows us to play in tune, by establishing the tonality of that key through the intervals that we put down on the fingerboard (after all, C# is very different in a piece in D major than a work in A major).

Memorization of the patterns that make up scales allows us to play them anywhere, anytime, and most music is made up of scalar patterns. After all, every major scale is the same right? They all consist of a single octave pattern of [wwhwwwh] right? :P

November 5, 2006 at 09:47 AM · Jim said

>Most players have wobbly technique.

Nope. Professioanls play to a remarkably high standard.

>Logically you can't pick some wobbly ones who didn't practice scales and say that's why, because an example of a non-scale player who's better than a scale player will shoot it down.

Yes I can. It is actually usually easy to hear and see the difference between those who practice scales and other exercises regualrly and those who don"t. Other wise there wouldn"t be any point in doing it. That is the only logic involved here.

November 5, 2006 at 11:05 AM · I would advise playing all the flesch scales in the key of your main piece before starting it - for examle, before you start working on Vivaldi spring each day, play all the exercises for A major. You must listen all the time, don't just assume sclaes are easy and that they are correct. also, you can always invent new bowings, rhythm patterns etc, or turn the existing ones upside-down and the like, this forces you to engage more with what you are doing, and therefore you learn more.

Flesch says, you should do all the exercises in one key a day, but CHANGE THE SCALE EVERY DAY. however, at the very beginning, I would advise only changing 2/3 times a week, until you get used to it. Most importantly, make sure you know what you're trying to accomplish at all times, practicing scales incorrectly for hours on end will confuse your ear and send you backwards, check intonation with open strings, and other handy tricks like that!

Best of luck!

November 5, 2006 at 11:30 AM · Hi!

I have been trying to find an answer to the exact same question.Before I started my undergraduate studies I had always played scales and etudes. So much really that there was too little time to play actual music! Ever since I started with my present teacher I haven´t been doing that anymore. I have asked him several times why to him scales are not necessary. And he always tells me they are not needed!As you can build your technique directly in repertoire!

November 5, 2006 at 12:16 PM · We got a Bytovsky scale book on Buri's recommendation in another thread. It looks very interesting. It is nice and thin, building slowly up to complicated patterns. It looks great to me for doing scales on one's own. I am wondering if Bytovsky is self contained enough that one can go through page by page carefully and hope that it will take care of scale practices.


November 5, 2006 at 01:04 PM · Hi,

To Steve, the original inquirer in this thread:

I will give you my answer as a teacher. I think that Scales and Études are important. As a teacher my students are required to play scales and études at every lesson.

Before tackling Paganini, I think that one should have done the basic three étude books: Kreutzer, Rode and Dont (Op. 35). After devoting much time to scales and scale practice personally and in teaching, I use the Flesch book. I usually start by teaching scales from the beginning. I usually assign nos. 1, 4 and 5 (for double-stops I use something else). I now use the bowing prescribed by Flesch for the simple reason that they concentrate on working different parts of the bow, thus saving time and acquiring skills one at a time. Like Flesch, I find that working on too many bowings and things at once, doesn't help - concentrating on one for the week on top of the other difficulties involved in the scale are enough work for most students and gets better results. Most importantly is that scales should be practiced slowly with intermediate notes clearly sounded to control your movements, then rapidly for agility (actually, most practice should be slow - remember that fast playing is slow practice speeded up.).

For Études, I find that Kreutzer, Rode and Dont cover well what you need. I would also suggest that you could look at Sevcik opus 1 (all four parts), Op. 8 and possibly Op. 2. What many people fail to realize is that the Flesch Scale System was designed to maintain one's technique and that Flesch assigned it once Sevcik Op. 1, and 8 were learnt. He also seemed to believe much in Opus 2. Opus 1 (all four parts) and Opus 8 will cover most technical basics that you can need.

In the end, individual needs are different. That said, if you have a particular weakness or even more, and error in movement, that may need to be dealt away seperately. Scale or Étude practice may not necessarily help in this regard.

As a player, yep, I still practice scales. But my practice routines have changed now that I have less time.

Hope this helps and best of luck.


November 5, 2006 at 01:25 PM · Christian - Is that something one can do on one's own or is teachers' input crucial doing scales that way? Our teacher is also like Steve's teacher, not interested in working on scales, unlike you. Is there a way to make it up without or before changing teachers? Thanks.


November 5, 2006 at 04:51 PM · Hi,

I am unable to find any scale book by the author Bytovsky. Was there a typo or did I miss something?


November 5, 2006 at 05:21 PM · While flying the baseball team with the best hitter in baseball (to keep arguments down I won't say who it was, then) ten years ago we discussed how to hit a baseball for a few hours. One of the main things he does (hang in there, this relates to scales) is hit about 100 balls off a batting T, just like a beginner. After the game he said he hits about 50 off the T trying to correct any mistakes he noticed during the game. He explained that if you aren't thoroughly grounded and current with the very basics of the skill you are doomed to mediocrity, or maybe, if you're lucky, being just good, not great.

It seems to me he could have been talking about violin playing as well. Scales are the ground work of everything else. Aaron Rosand told me often that when playing a three octave scale, for example, when you come back down one octave don't keep going down the scale, go back up and down the higher octave a few times before going all the way back to the beginning.

November 5, 2006 at 05:56 PM · @Vivian: I think she meant Bytovetski.

November 5, 2006 at 05:55 PM · I should mention that Steve Shipps, teacher at U of Michigan, found that many of his students came to him as undergrads never having practiced etudes. Since most of his performance majors were interested in getting orchestra jobs at some point (even if they didn't know it yet!) he found it impossible to have them work on scales, etudes, excerpts and repertoire all at once. So he has a lengthy list of etudes covering what he feels are the basic areas, and next to each one is a major orchestral excerpt that covers the same thing. He simply substitutes the excerpts for the etudes in some cases.

But he wrote that in each case it would have been better for the student to have studied the etudes before.

November 5, 2006 at 06:05 PM · Thanks, Mischa. That's what I meant. Ihnsouk

November 5, 2006 at 06:38 PM · Hi Mischa,

Thanks a lot for the link. I will check it out to do my ground work.

November 5, 2006 at 07:31 PM · The Flesch system withthe rostal extensions and you seriously can not go wrong if you practise them. The Rostal extensions are invaluable. Scales in 4ths and unisons are a MUST.

Also make your own scales up, so longs as they follow a rigourous pattern then it will help.

But study all hand positions, all movements and all distances and you can't go wrong.

Also I only do three octave scales from E upwards, everything under I do 4 octaves, its so much better for facility.

Also never neglect the right hand with scales. in fact I find scales are the best thing for right arm technqiue and they "happen" to improve left hand rather than other way round.

Hate to say it but sevcik opus 1 book 3 number 9 onwards are also absolutely excellent exercises . Do a couple of bars a day PERFECTLY and you will be whizzing through Paganini no.1 with impunity. (I am finding paganini no.1 technically EASY because of such an excercise regime so I am NOT joking)

All in all just make sure every moment you [practice that you are fully concentrated on it and then spend every moment awake practicing ;-) but seriously the first point there is the most important in all of the practice you will do. Devote you mind to it in the moment

November 5, 2006 at 09:11 PM · We're talking about the exceptions, or at least acknowledging the possibility for them ("It is actually usually easy to hear."). It's a wild wooly world, and they're out there. Nathan's statement "If you have to ask" sums up the answer to the question for me.

November 5, 2006 at 09:44 PM · Time to weigh in:

I grew up with a teacher who really stressed the importance of scales. Did I practice them independently at age 12? Not much, and certainly not all that effectively. But we had a weekly scales and sight-reading class where we played through them together for half an hour every week (sometimes major scales, minor scales, scales with keynote etc.etc.etc.), and after that we would read through various etudes (Mazas, Fiorillo, etc.) all together. You would miss out a lot at the beginning but the point was to keep going. We all got to be really good orchestra players and sight readers through this.

BUT - there was the danger of "just drilling" the scales - playing them through without concentrating on fixing the little problems and paying attention to every note, or playing them too fast and allowing bad habits to slip in - as many people have already mentioned. The repair work came later, when I had the concentration and will to work on them seriously on my own.

In fact, I think it's all important - you have to practice it all: fluency, precision, slow, fast, two octaves, three octaves, four octaves, up one string, arpeggios. These days, I like to mix my scale routine quite a bit. I might focus on octaves for a couple of weeks, for instance, and play all those every day. For ages, I used the Flesch method - but I've recently rediscovered Galamian, and this has breathed welcome new life into my scale practice.

Now I'm remembering all sorts of things - we had a scale chart where we had to go through everything specified (scale, arpeggio, dominant and diminished 7ths, relative minors, chromatics, double stops etc.) in one key each day. We had to play them two or three times and

grade them A, B or C - depending on how acceptable they were. At the end of the week, we had to give the C elements special attention. (But again, at 12, I was reluctant to admit that I deserved a C in anything - not because they weren't bad, but because I couldn't stand the thought of getting a C...)

I have the chart, and can (probably) scan it and email it to anyone who's interested.

To Nathan: Have you got Stephen Shipps' list? I'd love a copy if it's available somewhere.

November 5, 2006 at 11:01 PM · I don't have his list, but I read his article in a magazine a few years back. Possibly International Musician or Strings? Maybe I can get in touch with him and see if he would send it.

November 6, 2006 at 01:03 AM · As a beginner on viola without a teacher, I discovered "Essentials For Strings" by Anderson.

It has like 10 pages of rhythm patterns, then the major and and 3 releated minors for each key, plus 3rds. It also has various patterns to use for each scale: 3-6 notes per bow, long-short-long-short etc.

I'm sure it's similiar to others.

November 6, 2006 at 02:49 AM · The Steven Shipps' article was in the American String Teacher several years ago-sorry I don't remember the volume.

November 6, 2006 at 02:22 PM · Megan - I'd love to have a copy if you can scan it. My email; Thanks.

One other question - Would you say if you do Kreuzter, you don't need to do Mazas? Or are they different etudes addressing different aspect of violin playing? Thanks.


November 6, 2006 at 06:31 PM · Hi,

Ihnsouk, it is possible to do it on your own. However, the trial and error process is greater. Nonetheless the long term benefits are huge.


November 14, 2006 at 12:13 AM · A question which I've long asked myself (the same as yours Steve Hunter) is why can't one simply play pieces (which are segments of scales and arpeggios anyway), rather than go through the tedium of scales, arpeggios and etudes.

From personal experience, gaining technique is much faster and more efficient with etudes. But why?

I think the reason etudes/scales are the right approach is that being able to play a D major scale via the Beethoven concerto is different from playing a D major scale in a Mozart sonata, or someplace else. Etudes are constructed in a way to teach your muscles to play something most efficiently for a wide variety of applications. Scales and arpeggios, when they are properly practiced, should accomplish the same thing.

If one learns how to play a perfect D major scale in a Beethoven concerto, it doesn't seem to transfer so easily to another piece, like a Mozart sonata.

Sometimes through sheer willpower one can learn to play something well, although inefficiently. This type of technique cannot be applied broadly.

When one learns how to play a D major scale, with rhythms, bowings, and different fingerings, and careful thought, or via etudes, it cements an efficient approach to technique. In short, the technique does transfer to other pieces. It also is efficient for the piece that one is applying it toward (such as, for instance, the Beethoven concerto)

Agree? Disagree?

November 14, 2006 at 12:23 AM · Greetings,

Terry, I think that is precisely what occurs. Very clear explanation. The only thing I would add is the question of stamina. For better or worse, etudes force one to repeat a pattern very explictely. If one takes a scale or pattern in a piece then there is less of a reason or motivation to repeat it x numbe rof times. Of course, up to a point one shoudl be arguing against repetition in favor of thinking but one never really escapes the necessary drilling for the peculiar skill of violin playing. It may also be that playing a scalish piece compels one to switch patterns more than in regular scales and etudes with the end result that although the reflexes are stretched at that moment the basic paytterns don`t quite get repeated enough without the interference of other patterns,



November 14, 2006 at 12:46 AM · Some people learn much more from repertoire than from pure technical exercises - it depends on the individual...however I always have liked and enjoy scales and arpeggios on isolated strings - either with a single finger (1,2,3 or 4) or exchanging fingers (121212 or 343434 which is always good for building strength in the hand) - pitch intervals are very good too - consecutive thirds on one string with one finger (eg on g string Bb D C E D F# etc) - all with lots of vibrato - these sort of scales are the really difficult types not only for pure intonation but for sound quality in all positions on all strings. I find such scales (also applied to double stops) are a lot of fun compared to standard scales.

November 14, 2006 at 10:01 PM · I think that repertoire is why we play. In that sense, it is the most important thing we do. And without repertoire, one does not have a context for why one is working on scales/etudes. Without a context, scales/etudes become pointless and boring.

It seems to me that one needs to balance repertoire with technique work in such a way that both serve each other synergistically. The technical work serves the music, and the music provides meaning to the technical work. What that balance is varies for each person depending on their stage of development. But that both are essential is in my opinion not disputable.

Buri, what do you mean by stamina? Do you think that stamina is efficient technique, or is it something more? This is not a rhetorical question on my part, but a genuine one in trying to understand how to be a better violinist.

November 14, 2006 at 10:41 PM · Greetings,

its an interesting question. I think efficent technique in the sense of minimum effort for maximum output, is a necessray but not sufficient precondition of stamina. I suppose stamina itslef means the abilty to get through a specific task being able to apply the same resources at the end as the beginning such that ther eis no lessening in quality.

Using that definition of stamina one might have an efficient technique and sufficient stamina to get through a certain objective such as a three hour rehearsal but if that was your maxing out level then a cocnerto or recital would probably not be viable. Perhaps there are also two ways of thining about building stamina. In the long term playing etudes and scales should contribute towards efficient tehcnique because of the reason I offered above: they isolate specific patterns more clearly than than only praciticng pieces. Giving the brain a chance to assimilate without disturbance form new data. But also , like weight training perhaps, they keep the repetition ssufifiently close together and organized that muscles have to learn to repsond to increasing levels of stress. The other kind of stamina comes as a rude surprise to a lot of people I think. they practice their cocnerto over and over for months, with and woithput piano and orchestra. Yet the failure to go way past whta would actually be require don the day (IE playingthrough a whole program three timeds in succession or whatever)often means that the differnet and drianing demands of the solo event leave one without enough gas to finish with adequarte resrves.



November 15, 2006 at 04:29 AM · Stamina is a very real component of playing, and I sometimes break it down into its physical and mental components. You can train yourself to play for many hours a day, and/or to concentrate for those same hours. Both are necessary to survive an orchestral season, or to get much work done in the practice room.

Scales/etudes can help build stamina by letting you isolate different areas to work on. But I've found that if I am keeping a large amount of repertoire up at once (i.e. for an audition or full-length recital) the stamina takes care of itself. Plus, if I've mixed up the repertoire appropriately, there probably isn't much in the way of technical challenge that isn't already represented.

But it isn't feasible to stay in that state permanently; athletes must deal with this balancing act all the time. So when your goal is not to play big hours every day, scales and etudes can help you stay fit in less time.

November 15, 2006 at 05:44 PM · As an extreme beginner, I find that after about 10-15 minutes (yes, minutes,) my left shoulder starts hurting, and I have to put my viola down.

Fortunately, I remember my first efforts on trombone, when I had the same trouble (with slightly different muscles.)

So one advantage of scales/etudes is that you are playing longer without a rest, unlike orchestral playing, especially in rehearsal.

November 15, 2006 at 05:42 PM · Wow, I love this thread; sorry for jumping in late.

When I first started working with my current teacher, she had me doing purely repertoire as well. I started working on the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, which I think was a little too hard for me, but we just made etudes out of all the passages I had difficulty with. I eventually decided I was dissatisfied with that approach. For one thing, it was boring working on just one piece, even a piece I liked...scales and etudes add variety if nothing else! I told her I wanted a more systematic approach to developing technique, so I've been doing scales and Kreutzer since then. Unlike my childhood teacher, who just had me play up and down mindlessly, I've discovered that there is SO much one can do with scale practice. Play one octave scales on a single string with different shifting schemes. Practice all the finger patterns for the scale in all positions on all strings. Make up patterns in the scale (Sevcik Op. 9 has some good examples).

I've definitely noticed an improvement in my intonation since I started doing this. Perhaps the biggest advantage is that you're really forced to think about your finger position, as well as the placement of all the half and whole steps; I have a decent music theory foundation but it's been useful to analyze, say, the sequence of which 3rd and 6ths are minor and major as you go up the scale.

As an avid language scholar, I find the analogy of scales and etudes to vocabulary/grammar study to be very appropriate. If you want to improve your Spanish, you can do it by picking up Don Quixote in the original, trying to read it, and looking up all the words you don't know (and probably getting frustrated in the process). But if you want to become truly familiar in the language, and not just as it's used by Cervantes, you're far better off learning grammar rules and studying vocabulary lists in addition to reading literature. It's all about building a foundation. Good luck, and thanks for bringing up this topic.

November 15, 2006 at 09:23 PM · It is possible to make up your own exercises out of pieces. But if some detail-oriented anal-retentive guy like Ottokar Sevcik or Rudolphe Kreutzer has already done the work for you, and their studies have stood the test of time of, say a good 100-200 years, why mess with success!? At least it's worth a look to see what they've come up with, before composing something on one's own.

Of course, eventually, practice of the actual passage does become necessary.

November 16, 2006 at 02:18 AM · look at it this way

1 scales and etudes = technique, intonation, and mastery

2 repetoire = phrasing, sensitivity, knowledge, dynamics

music = 1 + 2 !

this applies to any instrument and musician.

November 17, 2006 at 08:50 PM · Agreed!

We all need to know how to play our instruments. To do this we must play compositions written by fiddle players, people who know how the violin works. Works by Paganini, Wieniawski, Dont, Kreutzer, Viextemps etc. Even if you feel that you cannot play these virtuoso works well, just attempting to deal with them will help you to aquire facility. Gain the facility first and then you can refine it (perfect the intonation etc). Try and 'fight' your way through it, so to speak!

It is good to keep learning new studies/excersises but I like to refer back to certain studies and passages which represent a particular ongoing difficulty for me.

Practice scales (including arpeggios and double stops)with different bowings and rhythms (use your imagination to target your weakest areas). The Kreutzer studies are also wonderful for your daily 'bread and butter'. Again, there are often many ways of performing them for different benefits. The Albert Sammons excersises are ideal for everyday use (great bowing excersises).

Heifetz once said that if a violinist can play the Kreutzer studies well then he/she is a good violinist. He also placed much emphasis on scales. He felt that he could judge so much by listening to someone's scales (finger action, eveness of tone, string crossings, coordination of the hands...).

Best of British Luck!

Tom Leate

p.s don't forget Sevcik (especially for warming up)

November 18, 2006 at 04:44 AM · Greetings,

Thomas, i wish the Sammons book was still in print. I was introduced to them a college by my teacher who was a student of his,



November 18, 2006 at 06:45 AM · Rode's 24 Caprices are quite helpful, and the Schott edition includes "ghost" notes that emphasize certain issues the left hand needs to focus on (awkward fifths, big leaps, stretches, etc.), as well as a separate insert on how to use each caprice most effectively (variations within each caprice, using double stops for finger and hand positions, etc.).

Plus, every one is in a different key (I think?). So annoying towards the end, but very good for your intonation and right/left hand technique.

Your teacher should know what technical issues each etude should address. You don't have to play them perfectly, all the way in tempo, or so polished that you can play all 24 Rode Caprices in a recital. That's just silly and scary! If you have some technical issue (up bow staccato, octaves, running thirds, etc) in the repertoire you are trying to polish, working through these caprices (given you know the right ones and the right way to practice them), you'll find your hands much more comfortable with the difficulties of a tough piece.

Personal note - my teacher spent a whole year as a master student on all 24 Rode Caprices. He ended up winning a job and left before he finished his master's degree!

And oh - Carl Flesch is the violin Bible (sorry Galamian!). Getting to know your fingerboard through and through with patterns, intervals, distances, etc. will help not only intonation and dexterity but sight-reading as well!

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