An amateur's dream...

February 15, 2008 at 04:04 AM · I've always been a lover of classical music, but it wasn't until last year that I found a passion for violin. It was the moment I turned on the radio one night, and lo and behold, Heifetz' recording of the Sibelius came on. I never before had been moved or awed by music as much as that concerto enraptured me.

The next week I started up violin lessons, with the dream of one day being able to play the Sibelius.

Now, a year has passed by, and I am in Suzuki book 6, but far from accomplishing my dream.

So, in theory, what is the fastest way for me to gain the skills and technique to perform a concerto like this? Just slowly progress until I am at that level years from now? Or is there any practice routine that will allow me to advance more artfully?

So far my routine is:

1 hour of practicing nothing but intonation and bowing technique

1 hour of Wolfhart, Mazas, and Hrimaly scales.

1 hour of practicing suzuki and other pieces.

Can anyone suggest a more effective routine? 3 hours is my limit for playing each day.

Replies (24)

February 15, 2008 at 02:17 PM · Do you have a teacher? If not, get one. Ask him/her to suggest an appropriate routine. There is nothing obviously wrong with what you do now, but you really need advice from someone who can see and hear you play.

February 15, 2008 at 04:13 PM · You got up to book 6 in a year? I am starting to feel really dumb right now...

February 15, 2008 at 04:25 PM · I thought I was progressing well, and with a teacher. I just moved to book 2 after 8 months!

February 15, 2008 at 04:35 PM · Great job Jake! I'm sure if you combine your work ethic with a good teacher's prescription routine that you will achieve your goal faster than you think.

February 15, 2008 at 04:58 PM · Sounds like you've got some prodigious talent. Book 6? In one year? Explain. Who is guiding you? Do you have prior musical experience on another instrument? Don't worry. If you did all that in a year, the Sibelius will be within your grasp. Patience! Most of us pay eight or ten years before we touch the Sibelius.

The practice regimen you've listed is a strong one. You might consider looking at a few of the earlier Kreutzer exercises if you've mastered Mazas, but I haven't heard you play. I don't know your weaknesses. That's why a teacher is so valuable.

February 15, 2008 at 05:20 PM · I do have a teacher, as I couldn't imagine learning violin without one. I got my instrument before getting a teacher, and tried to play on my own. It only took 10 seconds to realize that unless I wanted my playing to sound like a parrot that got run over while simultaneously having an epileptic seizure, I'd need a teacher.

My one huge weakness, I'd say, is playing with others, as I have a subconscious tendency to alter the rhythm of a piece to varying degrees if I think it sounds better/fits my interpretation of the piece better. Playing double concertos is hell because of that.

February 15, 2008 at 05:28 PM · Jake,

There's no question you can accomplish a performance of the Sibelius concerto. When you're ready, you can hire an accompanist to play a recital somewhere, maybe in a church. Many non-professionals my town do this for friends and family.

But then the question becomes to what level? Does your dream include playing from memory, with perfect intonation, and a high level of artistry? Or does it mean getting through the piece one way or another? Does it mean playing with an orchestra? If so, you may have a tough time convincing a conductor to let you play it (and a community orchestra may not even be able to do it even if you can).

February 15, 2008 at 05:57 PM · I don't wish to play with an actual orchestra, or anything professionally, but I wish to be able to play it with correct technique, intonation, beauty of tone, etc, for my own pleasure more than anything else.

March 15, 2008 at 04:35 AM · Focus, constancy, organization are very important factors if you want to have productive practice . I personally use a system that helps my organizing my daily practice routine to make it as more efficient as possible..

You may download it at http://MyPracticeGame.com

Let me know how it works out for you.

Pascal

March 15, 2008 at 08:41 PM · Dear Jake,

You have a good practice routine. You might want to consider putting Mazas and Wolfhart in the same hour as intonation and bow technique so that you could spend more time on scales.

Also, I am curious how you practice intonation. A hint that helped me out was to sing.

March 15, 2008 at 09:10 PM · Jake,

To play Sibelius (with or without accompaniment)-there are specific passages where exact laser accurate rhythmic integrity is needed-especially in 1st movement. There are also of course very free sections where one can take some liberty-but it needs to be spot on overall....otherwise the natural flow you hear in the Concerto does not take place (as in Heifetz, Oistrakh, or the Kavakos (my fave) recordings)

It's a (very) difficult concerto-the 1905 revision FAR easier than the 1903 original, which was withdrawn and 2 years later revised, due to critics panning the 1st performance (a long sad story)....even after the 1905 revision-the Concerto was (again panned by the same critics and) forgotten until a virtuoso named Jascha Heifetz brought it back-and his doing so brought it to be standard violin rep.

Many of the more difficult Kreutzers are good prep, as well as Dont and Rode caprices and etudes.

Just about the only neat violinistic trick the Concerto does NOT have is left-hand pizz (the original did....but that got nixed because the critics panned it). It's a very demanding piece technically as well as musically.

I too, like a prior poster raise an eyebrow at Suzuki Book 6 in one year....but all that aside-the Sibelius is many levels above & beyond anything found in the standard Suzuki books.

To play it, and enjoy the process of playing and learning requires a high degree of artistry, good technique all around (including beautiful and consistent intonation in multiple stops), singing tone, and a high quality instrument (insofar as the last-why make things more difficult than they are already)...anything less would lead to frustration.

All around it's a very difficult affair-that's why it is considered one of the pinnacles of violin lit. To make a good job of it is a true accomplishment, technically as well as artistically.

Given time and effort and very focused practice-it can be done. But it requires a great deal of effort, even for a professional to pull it off (well). It's a beautiful Concerto with quite a bit of history to it.

Patience-with lots of focused hard work it can happen. But too soon, and it will be a frustration.

March 15, 2008 at 09:48 PM · If your dream is literally to just play the Sibelius, there might be another possibility. One of my violin teachers told me that while he was in the army, his brother, who didn't know any instruments, learned a very difficult piano piece by Chopin, I think it was. So when the got back from the army, he demoed this piece for him, and it was great. But it was the only thing he could play :) Don't know if it would work for violin, but maybe.

March 15, 2008 at 10:08 PM · I'm not surprised you were so inspired by the Sibelius. I absolutely love it. It sounds like you are doing wonderfully after just a year. Besides having your technique down pat, you will also need an understanding of the Romantic period and have practiced that style/period with simpler pieces. Might I suggest working towards some other Romantic concerto that might be a bit easier first? Maybe Mendelssohn (which is by no means easy)? Also, I cannot tell you how much learning to play with an accompanist early on has helped me. This could immensely help you with rhythm, intonation, and phrasing. Concertos like the Sibelius have significant accompaniment parts that contribute greatly to the finished product. So, be patient with yourself and put in the time needed to give a knowledgeable, polished, thought out performance of the Sibelius. Good luck ;)

March 15, 2008 at 11:08 PM · Jim, on piano this is possible for anyone, as they can just learn what keys to hit and when to memorize any piece, and then just practice it over and over until their fingers are trained at those specific movements.

Violin has far too many aspects to it in order to learn just one piece (especially if it's a difficult piece that would require learning advanced techniques which in themselves take long periods of practice and training) not to mention all the intonation, etc.

I'll slowly work my way up to my goal, though :)

March 16, 2008 at 12:33 AM · Jake, it must be possible on violin because the reason my teacher mentioned it was he thought I was doing that. You're going to have to do some of it, because if you go the normal route you'll spend half a year each on a dozen other concertos first. Somewhere around Bruch you'll get bored to tears. But if Suzuki doesn't do that, maybe not.

March 16, 2008 at 01:53 AM · Jim,

The last pieces in the Suzuki books are the Mozart A and D concerti...as I recall with the Joachim cadenzas (those two comprise all of books 9 and 10). Suzuki book 6 has the La Folia by Corelli in it (amongst others)-nothing above 5th position as I recall....and Sibelius has alternating and parallel/fingered octaves all the way up to the end of the fingerboard.

On the other hand those dozen or so concerti the OP would have to face are worthy musical endeavours for the most part (Kabelevsky, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Lalo, Saint-Saëns, to name a few)-there are also many short/show pieces too. They are standard rep for a reason-they are good music and good opportunities to develop technique.

There really is no quickest way to the great concerti-with lots of time and dedication scales a la Galamian and double stops a la "Flesch Happy Scale System"...as well as a plethora of etudes it can happen in the fullness of time, each respective to the degree of time and effort the violinist puts in. I'd wager it would take a good deal more than 3 hours a day though-it did for me.

March 16, 2008 at 02:18 AM · We don't care about "worthy musical endeavours." He just wants so learn the Sibelius concerto. Why should he spend the next five years working on Mozart? My teacher's bro didn't have to pass through Mozart to get to Chopin. Didn't have to pass through anything at all apparently.

March 16, 2008 at 03:18 AM · Jake,

This is what I do and it may also work for you. If there is a piece that I really want to play but is beyond my level, I’ll pick a few phrases from it and try them out. Usually, I’d have a few moments of fun (hehe, I’m playing it after all!), but soon I could see why the piece is too hard for me, as it usually doesn’t sound right no matter how I tried it. I’ve been doing this for years. It’s really cool when I am finally ready for the piece I always wanted to play, as it’s like meeting an old good friend again in a much more congenial environment.

Jim said something about getting bored somewhere around Bruch. That’s where I’m now and let me tell you, the best way to get bored is to work on the pieces that way beyond my level again and again because it’s all work but little or no music.

Also, when I saw what you said about rhythm, I thought I should tell, no, I can’t even begin to tell you how important it is to use a metronome at all the time during practice!

March 17, 2008 at 12:54 AM · Greetings,

first of all I would say ther eis nothing stopping you playign the Sibelius in the future and how you play it depends on the facotrs of desire and talent ccombined in some kind of dinky equation.

I think v.commie has evolved very pleasntly into a forum where detsructive opinions, arrogance and flame wars are now few and far between. For me this sometimes makes life difficult ;) as I do liek to be really blunt on bad hair days and it can be taken as either negativity, discouragement or abuse when in fact I am simply expressing an honest opinion as far as experience allows. So here goes....

I get the impression you are extremely talented but what you are doing is all over the place and some of the advice you are given seems ot be ignoring this for some reason. Too many really nice caring people on the list eprhaps.

It is unusual to find someone with the abiltiy to progress as far as you say you have as rapidly and I can only comment in generalizations but the whole point about Suzuki is that it is systematic and that it builds on things one step at a time in a very clear order with no omisisons. I cannot comment on how good or necessray this is since i dont use the books. But the more general text you refer to such as Masaz and Wolfarht also contain this aspect and going through them superficially does not count as good learning. I regret using the word superficial because clealry youy are not a superficial person but in the time frame you are talking about I doubt if you are really doing Masaz with real understanding of its nature and I am sure you are not ready for Kreutzer. The only evidence I have that you are jumpoing the gun is the obvious mismmatch between the time you ahve bene paltying and the studies you are doing plus the combination of studies that are actually at ratehr diffenret levels. This latter point is important.. It is only beyond a certain point I think that real pick and mix of diffenrt books take splace.

Another hint I find is that you say you are working on intonation but that is the language of someone who is still very much in the prelimianry stages. After passing through this stage one perhaps recognizes taht intonation is in itslef so central to allk playing , (Casals called it a moral obligation) that talking abotu intonation exercises is rather rare. Scales and double stops, cocnertos or whatveer are all about intonation. I also note with some alarm that you talk about doing `books` (IE Suzuki 6- rather than a specific piece of msuic. That has, in my experience been an indicator of muscial immaturity that is again, not compatible with the level of etudes you are working on. Sorry, that sounds rude but I mean what I say. The studnets who come to me form the Suzuki method and tell me they are going to paly book 5 no 7 are in trouble from the word go because they are not into the music enough to say its name, check out the compose and generally be in love with what it is trying to say. This is the fault of the teahcer. Very lazy.

I think you might find it useful to check out suggeste dorders for etudes in some of the essyas on this site. If you search for somethign called Buri`s Studio (embarassing) ther eis quite a lot of writing on this subject. Also try out the Westbury Park web site. or even Masterclass.com. My point is that if you are going to go the etude route then do it. Rushing it in a haphazrd way with no rela understanding of why one is actually doing somehting and its relations to otehr books and styles will not in the long run get you any closer to your defintily reachable goal of a good shot at the Sibelius.

Having been less than helpful I would like to make two suggestions. First, ther eis now an option which make sit posisble to bypass the etude route if used well that I think woudl really suit you. That is Drew Lechers book on violin tehcnique. Check out his web site. If you read his regualr blogs on this site you will see instantly that this is somebody who knows what they are doing.

Second, an immediate corretcion to your practice which is actually unbalanced. Never do more than half of your time on technique. In the end you only learn to make music by making music.

Go for it (with cirumspection)

Buri the Burp

March 17, 2008 at 02:32 AM · Buri, that was extremely helpful, and I do admire and respect your knowledge very much. In my opinion, the blunter the better! If one is sincerely devoted to improving as much as they can, they often cherish the bluntest advice possible.

Can you elaborate more on the practice routine, and how I should split it up? Should it be 2/3 music, 1/3 studies?

March 17, 2008 at 03:47 AM · Yes, we need more blunt messages here. Only truth can set us free, as they say.

Jake, in terms of practice routine, you may find Philip Johnston's The Practice Revolution helpful. He's got a website: http://www.practicespot.com/pr/

March 17, 2008 at 04:09 AM · Greetings,

Its quite difficult to make hard and fats rules about how much of what a person needs aside from when it is fairly clear soemone is doing too much techncial work. Flesch propsed three hours. The first wa son technique, the second on music and the third on performing. Given that today@s players really seme to demand more hours its interesting that Auer also really tried to limit his students hours to this as well. What I think is useful for deciding what to pracitce is having as clearly defined golas as possible working back from long range, medium range and short range. This allows you to decide what you need to do this week in order to be at point b in three years time! I think the onus is on the teacher to talk about where you want to egt and how to get there.They should be telling you very clealry what the purpose of a study is. Not just assigning it. I think it is important to be focused on one tehcnique or aspect of your palyign at a time to. Again, it is the fucntion of the teacher to organize this kind of construction. Keeping a practice diary will help clarify what you need to be working on, where you are having problems, what your teacher told you to do in order to addres sthat pronblem. It brings things to light too. For example, if you found that whtat you were writing was, over a period of time, `took xyz to the teacher and they told me to be patinet or it will get bette rin time,` on a regular basis then that teacer may not be giving you value for money. You should not only use the diary reactively but proactively. Always plan your practice by settting little golas for a specific hour. Then stop after ten minutes and review. Is what you are doign actually getting you any closer to the goal? If not eithe rchange the goal or approahc the problem from a differnet angle. If you don`t know any diffenret angles then talk to your teahcer about it.

One thing I have found helpful is to tyr and break people of the habit of alloting a lonmg period of time to one kind of practice. IE I am going to do an hour of scales now. Many people do learn to do this and do it well but there is no reason bnnot to kepe mind and body fresh by juggling things around. You could do ten minutes of sclaes and then work on some music. In the next sesison do exericse in thirds for ten minutes and then music. Play around with breaking up and reordering and take careful notes in your journal about how this affetcs things for better or for worse. Also remember to not define practice too riggidly which is anothe rcurious habot we have. Is it the moemnt you p@ick up the violin or are you going to count the sttching you do before and after pracitcing (which you do right;)?) How about intensive listenign work? Does that count? What about running through the piece in your head while shadow payign before oyu go to bed? Does that count?

Ther eare no easy answers....

Cheers,

Buri

March 17, 2008 at 04:35 AM · it seems to me that the number of books you have worked through is not always an accurate measurement of progress. My teacher doesn't use Suzuki, so I can't comment on Suzuki books, but we tend to work through a book within 1-2 months.

I cannot say though that I really master the book I just completed and it would most certainly be unrealistic to even expect that you will master it when you work through it for the first time. It would seem obvious to me that we will eventually have to revisit the material and refine it, probably several times. Every time you revisit, you will focus on some other aspect.

In fact I tend to try to slow down sometimes and ask for homework I have already done before, because I feel that with new things learned I would get more mileage out of a piece which "officially" I had already ticked off.

As much as I would love to move to more difficult and enjoyable pieces, my main objective is to build a solid foundation. If that requires to slow down and do lots of repetition and "boring stuff" then so be it. Strange as it may seem, I enjoy practising scales and arpeggios currently more than the pieces I work on.

Of course I can't really say that this is right for everyone -- for example as a kid I would never have had the patience for that much repetition, I would have been bored and given up -- but it seems to me that there is a general danger in moving over the material too quickly. It takes time for things to settle in and mature, rushing things may be counterproductive in the long run.

March 17, 2008 at 07:03 AM · But if I die tomorrow without having played a few notes of my favourite piece, I’d really kick myself!;)

Building a solid foundation doesn’t mean one can’t from time to time push oneself beyond one’s limit, not if this is done with proper guidance anyway. You learn different type of skills or gain different insight (such as learning about yourself, gaining confidence, etc.) by rushing it and sometimes it can be a very exciting and worthwhile journey. There is of course a cost associated with it, for instance, rushing can solidify some bad habits. So it’s a matter of balancing cost and benefit so it’s important to work it out carefully with one’s teacher.

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