Clean, clear sound

March 3, 2008 at 10:39 PM · Hello everyone, in one of the recent discussions on someone said even a beginner could produce a clean sound as opposed to... well, we all know as opposed to what. Many didn't agree, maybe some did. I thought it would take some more convincing! I happened to come across the same idea elsewhere, but also without much mention of what it would take. Apart from a good bow hold and a lot of practicing (that often does NOT improve the sound or at least certain aspects of sound producing no matter what), what could a beginner do towards making the violin "sing"? What are most beginners, and more advanced ones..., missing here? I feel I am trying to bake a cake without knowing all the ingredients... the result could be a different cake, just as good or better, or more likely a burnt cookie! I don't think you can get very creative while learning how to play the violin, at least I don't feel like I'm the one who will re-invent it, I'll be happy to just follow the "recipe", if only it was easier to get to...

Replies (32)

March 3, 2008 at 11:26 PM · Maria,

There is a kind of "recipe' for getting a nice sound, and the ingredients are speed, pressure, and bow placement. Usually, beginners don't get a nice sound because they use too little bow, too much pressure (or too little), and are either too close to the bridge or the fingerboard. Once I get them to use more bow with the right amount of pressure, and at the best sounding point, their sound improves dramatically. One other problem that affects sound is the droopy bow hand, leading to a bow that tilts back towards the player.

March 3, 2008 at 11:48 PM · Greetings,

I thought about this for some time. Its an interesitng question. My first response which I trashed wa sto suggets taht if all the physical balances were inorder IE stance, hold and body use then studnets of all levels can and should work more on the use of sound points, bow speed and weight, verbalizing about the results of experimentation.

However, as I tried to detail all the facotrs involved in this area without writing an essay I thought that if you do have to write an essya about an aspect of playing then you haven`t yet reduce dit to it`s simplest level which is usually the most useful for any level of player.

So take two leaves me suggesting that the most fundamentla thing to do even befor epicking up the insturment for the firts time is to address the issue of `listening` in all its forms and make a lifetime comittment to doing just that. I feel a sense of autumnal nostalgia as I write this and suddnely reclal in my less tahn stellat stdunet days playing in a quartet with a fantastoic Brit violinist called Robert Gibbs. One time he really lost his patiuence with me me and said `You know, you could be a great violnist if you learnt to listen to yourself.`A very wise man.

I honestly think beginners are ofetn too overawed and overloaded by poorly organized teaching to actually have time to learn to lsiten to themselves. The other problem is what is refrred to in Alexander Technique as `endgaining.` This is basically where one`s desired reality displaces the actualy reality in our belief system so we are never aware of what we are actually doing, only what we wish we were doing. Bhuddism also has a lot to say about this....

So what is it one could actualy listen for?

There are actually quite a few possibilities.

(This is a simplified list of a few ideas from Fischer`s Practice)

You could try background resonance. After you lift a bow from the stirng it should carry on ringing. This is an example. You can hear this ring between sustained notes, changes of string, lifted strokes such a sspiccatto and so on. It is also presnet while a note is being played. It is the same pitch as the note itself but not the note itslef. Focusing on this sound is a very powerful tool for develping listening.

Sympathetic vibration* play a first finger `a` on the g string. If it is in tune the a string will vibrate. Work on all the notes with the same name as the open strings until they create maximum vibration.

Surface noise. The bow -always- makes a slight hissing noise in the background which is inaudible to everyone unless you choose to listen to it.. Selecting this sound as a listenign target with the aim of keeping it completley even. The more even this `hiss@ is the better your main sound will be.

Acoustic beats.

Play a unison a on d string and open a. Manipulate the pitch so that it is perfetc and there is no throb to just a litlteout of tune and listen to the throbbing noise. Pracitc eplaying diffenrt note son the d stirng against the a stirng and lsitening to the throbbing noise. Listen to double stops focusing on this throb rather than two individual notes.

Listen to what happens when you change bow. What doe sthe note sound like just before oyu change , is there a spacre? wqhta is the quality of the beginning of the new note?

Incidentally, when you change bow, whatever you plan on doing with fingers or wrist or not, try following the teahcign of Oistrakh who said that any such action should occur after the bow has changed direction , in combination with a floating shoulder. If anyone can tell me what a floating shoulder is I would be very grateful;)

Listen to the sound of your finger sliding along the string.

Another useful trick that brings listenign into focus is to elarn some very simple duets that you can sing one part of while palying the other. This not only improves musicanship, body use etc but force soyu to listen to your exact intonation rather than the intonation you have leanrt incorretcly by playing things over and over without actually being presnet in the moment.



PS Now I have just read Cole`s post which says what I originally intende dot say but much better...

March 4, 2008 at 02:08 AM · Well, There are certain string combos that you can use to get a clearer, crisp, cleaner sound. There are several string combos I will list a few, if you would like more email me.

String combo 1:

G -- Evah Pirazzi G

D -- Evah Pirazzi D

A -- Dominant A or Jargar A

E -- Heavy Jarger E or a Gold-plated Evah

(if you want a sweeter sound try a Obligato Gold)

String Combo 2:

G -- Helicore Medium/Heavy(NO LIGHT they feel like fishing line under the fingers) or Heavy Dominant G(if you don't mind useing a steel)

D -- Helicore Medium/Heavy(No LIGHT AGAIN) or Medium Dominant D

A -- Dominant A or a Wondertone Steel A(the synthetic is a little too . . . mushy)

E -- Wondertone or Helicore wrapped steel

I'm not going to do the whole technique think because I'm just a 15yo ,and Buri's advice is much better than mine.

(The only reason why I'm gonna start giving out string recomendations is because I recently became enabled to recommend strings, and set-up violin/viola/celli with strings now!!! Or in other words I got a premotion!!!! But I occasionally "waste" strings and my apprentice master calls it)


March 4, 2008 at 02:21 AM · I think Buri nailed the answer pretty well, at least as far as my experience goes. I've only been playing seriously for a couple of years, but tone and intonation really started coming together when I really started learning to listen to myself. You've got to hear the differences in contact point, bow speed, pressure, and intonation before you can do much about them. For me, really starting to hear intonation was the start, followed by gaining consistency in contact point. Once I had some command of those factors, I could really start hearing the differences that bow speed and pressure make. Got a long way yet to go, but I'm liking the recordings I make of my practice a lot better the past few months. YMMV.

March 4, 2008 at 02:56 AM · I'm curious Michael, have you been recording yourself since starting? I was thinking of doing that because I probably only think I know how I sound.

March 4, 2008 at 02:34 AM · I found that most of the time when I drop into "not sounding right" it is because my bow was drifting away from the ideal position and/or angle. I found that developing the muscle memory for the left hand/arm seems a lot easier and happens faster than building muscle memory for the bow hand/arm.

Since your brain can only do so many conscious things at once, there will be some things you don't get right. In my case the posture and movements of the bow arm/hand are more often amongst those things that still require conscious attention to improve.

The key is to gradually make more and more actions subconscious so that fewer and fewer things will require conscious attention, until eventually everything happens on a subconscious level. This can be overwhelming. I am trying to focus on a single goal while practising. Sometimes I find it difficult to even figure out what I am doing wrong. Like Buri said, the ability to analyse yourself is very important and even that needs to be learned.

In any event, the best approach would seem to work on one thing at a time, step by step. I personally found that the biggest impact on good vs. bad sound is the angle of bowing. At first this was very confusing to me because I focused on keeping the bow right in the middle between the bridge and the fingerboard but it didn't seem to be working all the time. I thought, heck, I am bowing right in the middle where I should and I still hear those weird sounding glitches, what's going on. It took me quite a while to realise that those glitches occurred when the bowing angle was only slightly off.

Another cause for bad sound is untimely coordination. For example, when putting a finger down on the string too early or too late and even putting it down too slowly can cause unclean sound. However, I found those issues to be much easier to work on than bowing technique. I practise a sequence of actions very slowly while exaggerating the timing to make the correct sequence of actions more apparent and repeat this over and over again while gradually increasing the tempo, thereby building up muscle memory for the timing/coordination.

Again, listening and analysing is important because while you practise to improve on one thing, you are likely to make errors on another thing and this might cause you to lose focus or even get confused. Sometimes it helps to simply ignore certain glitches while focusing on getting rid of others. In this context it makes sense to practise bowing techniques on open strings because this avoids the possibility to be distracted by any potential errors made with the left hand/arm.

March 4, 2008 at 03:18 AM · Thanks for the replies, Scott, Buri, Blake, Michael. It's interesting each of you approached this from a different angle, some unexpected, all very interesting. Scott and Michael, quite to the point, but I did and do practice a lot with all the things you mention in mind (pressure, speed, sound point). In fact I practiced so many slow pieces for so long, to improve my bowing and tone production that I seem to have lost the little ability I may have had, at the start of all this, to play fast (which is a different problem, but quite frustrating as well). As a result of this, I can also hear an improvement when I record myself. This being said, there are things I am still not so sure about, but I get by (e.g. at the frog: does the wrist go up or more to the side toward your face, do the fingers stretch, for the final inch or so do the fingers and the fingers only give the bow the final push, etc.). But, back to my initial question now. Buri, your almost-essay is ear- and eye-opening as usual, lots of things to think about and apply, thank you. In fact please accept my belated thanks for fixing my bow hold some months ago - it's now tried-and-true. I had gone through two teachers, but it took your response, with everything I needed to know in it, to achieve it. Anyway, your answer has a lot to do with the left hand too and playing in tune. But I decided to just concentrate on the right hand for a while till I get myself out of this rut... the way I bow seems to be my problem, I am still not where I would like to be, especially when I need to play fast and when I have to do legato over string crossings (if I play the notes as separate then it's ok). It's, well, not clear and not clean, and I run out of bow or I run out of breath :-) But something got me thinking more about this: in an orchestra, everyone bows absolutely the same way, and I don't just mean up or down, but where exactly in the bow they are. That's absolutely amazing to me. I do understand that it's to sound good as an ensemble, still you cannot help but notice how well, in what great detail, everything is prepared beforehand. I imagine if any one of those players did the same piece solo they may choose a different bowing and/or fingering, but it would be just another almost-perfect way of doing things, equally thought out to the smallest of details. How do you ever get to that level of detail, of thinking about what you are doing?! I usually do not think about where in the bow I am on a particular note, much less plan it ahead of time, which would be probably something that's rhythm-related... and maybe that's my problem. My teachers never made any reference to this. Do some (lucky) beginners start with this in mind, and I mean, from the very beginning? I wish I could say more, but I am really struggling to find the words here, as I do not really know which direction I should take to improve my sound. I made a lot of progress, but now I am stuck. I am even considering the possibility that this may be one of those crossroads where you continue only if you have IT, and I can't even define IT so maybe I should stop!

March 4, 2008 at 03:26 AM · And... just when you are really happy with your sound and your playing the humidity changes, or your strings start to go, or your bow shows signs of needing a re-hair job. But when everything is right - those are the days!!

March 4, 2008 at 04:46 AM · Greetings,

>In fact I practiced so many slow pieces for so long, to improve my bowing and tone production that I seem to have lost the little ability I may have had, at the start of all this, to play fast (which is a different problem, but quite frustrating as well).

Yes. That is a very possible outcome. The son file bow stroke practice is `dangerous` in this respect. Unless you balance slow and fast practice with the bow a kind of muscular imbalance is created. It is not necessary to practice very fast but developing a good detache stroke is really hard work even before adding various combinations of bowing and rhythm. I don’t even advocate using scales for the really basic scale work anymore. I actually do the key bowings from Basics every day using only open strings. To concentrate totally on the bow is very helpful.

 (e.g. at the frog: does the wrist go up or more to the side toward your face, do the fingers stretch, for the final inch or so do the fingers and the fingers only give the bow the final push, etc.).

Actually there are a multitude of theories about changing the bow at the heel. Some approaches are quite complex involving discussions of figure of eights and so forth. The crucial factor is ultimately maintaing the same speed of bow before and after the change. One of my teachers at college taught me that the arm changes direction while the fingers carry the bow the final distance towards the heel. However I would now suggest that the position that any movement of the fingers prior to change will result in a speeding up of the bow and you will hear the change. This ties in with how Oistrakh taught the change in which he stated that whatever movements of fingers or wrist one wishes to use, they must occur after the bow has changed direction. I find this very sensible and it also correlates well with Milstein’s assertion that the bow change is done form the shoulder. I think one reason we have sort of got confused with all this is that great teacher such as Flesch advocated exercising the fingers with finger strokes and indeed Basics begins with a series of exercises manipulation the stick with the fingers form all angles. However, the purpose of all this is, in my opinion, to create the necessary flexibility to –forget- about the fingers most of the time. They are like shock absorber that work as a complementary action to the work being done by the bigger muscles of the back.


> I am still not where I would like to be, especially when I need to play fast and when I have to do legato over string crossings (if I play the notes as separate then it's ok). It's, well, not clear and not clean, and I run out of bow or I run out of breath :-)

There are three central factors in a legato string crossing.

1) The left hand prepares the new note before the bow moves.

2) The fourth finger is not lifted until the new note is played.

3) The bow moves towards the new string before it is required to play on it.

It’s interesting that two out of three necessary conditions involve the –left hand- An example of a major rule of violin playing- if you think the problem is in the left hand its probably in the right and vice versa.

Playing fast requires the brain to make commands that activate larger units. In order to achieve this one practice the same small unit over and over, lets call it `A.` Then one practice a new chunk called d`B` and then a new chunk called `c` and so on. Then one practices a combined chunk called `ab` the `bc` then `cd.` Then one practices bigger combinations `abc,` `bcd` and so on. The reason players cannot get fats in the early stages is they are practicing chunks that are too large for the brain to program itself with.

If you are running out of bow then exaggerate the difficulty. Suppose you have a long note followed by some 16th notes in one down bow. That musically requires a crescendo through to the next bar. Double the length of the long note and halve the amount of bow you ultimately intend to use. After this kind of practice the real thing becomes rather easy!

>But something got me thinking more about this: in an orchestra, everyone bows absolutely the same way, and I don't just mean up or down, but where exactly in the bow they are.

mmmm.They do in good orchestra. The Czech and Israel Philharmonic are the most perfect I have seen in this regard. The former especially tight because I think many of the players came form the same teaching traditions.

>How do you ever get to that level of detail, of thinking about what you are doing?!

Very good question. When you practice you should continually pose yourself questions about how you are going to use the bow IE get in the habit of planning right from the beginning of your studies. Ask yourself:

1) How much bow?

2) How much weight?

3) Where ?

4) How much hair?

5) What SP?

Incidentally, practicing on different SPs will automatically make you sensitive to speed and weight.


I usually do not think about where in the bow I am on a particular note, much less plan it ahead of time, which would be probably something that's rhythm-related... and maybe that's my problem. My teachers never made any reference to this. Do some (lucky) beginners start with this in mind, and I mean, from the very beginning? I wish I could say more, but I am really struggling to find the words here, as I do not really know which direction I should take to improve my sound. I made a lot of progress, but now I am stuck.

We all get stuck. The violin is an unforgiving mistress sand very often when we think we are stuck or even , heaven forbid, getting worse, all that is really happening is that the hard work we did on for example, slow pieces, has forced the organism to reorganize its structures which will result in a feeling that everything is in freefall. It’s not always pleasant to be there. It’s a time to play a lot of easy pieces with the piano for fun.

You might also benefit from Alexander lessons. Another thing that often helps is to take one day off a week. It actually helps to give the body time to digest better what it has been asked to do.



March 4, 2008 at 01:17 PM · Talk is cheap, although not useless... Get your teacher to do tons of demonstration, go to lots of concerts of well respected violists and sit up front. CD's won't do because you can't see what's being done to create the sound, so don't worry about using those as much. Youtube videos can be helpful too in this regard. Also, you should try to do as much playing with people who have sounds you like as possible because you will unconsciously copy them, just like learning an accent!

After awhile of daily listening of this sort (at concerts and of videos and of your teacher up close) you will have a much better idea of how to produce the sound you want, even if you can't really articulate why. The ideas and explanations you are getting here are useful, but only as a way to hold onto what you should be learning through listening to and being around great playing.

March 4, 2008 at 02:09 PM · "lots of concerts of well respected violists.."





March 4, 2008 at 02:19 PM · What does it take?

years of practice, imo. one indication is that even seasoned profs go back to playing open strings to reassess if the concept of the beautiful sound in their heads can come out through their limbs...MBA players practice foul shots, soccer players headers, singers doremi...

agree with above posts that for a beginner, the earlier you get a rough concept of a good sound, the less detours one has to take to get "there". this is not unlike being exposed to fine arts to develop a better sense of taste. it doesn't happen in haste.

but, imo, there is really no definitive "there" because you always set higher goals as you go along--it is a never ending journey,,,for everyone. to a beginner it is frustrating, but it is the chase that is interesting. to a beginner, the prof's sound is perfect; to the prof, perhaps it is not.

often, progress is not noticeable in days, not even weeks but perhaps months. it takes time for most regular folks to get proficient with something as challenging as violin. some are more intuitive, but most take longer.

the advantage of taking longer is that with more trials and errors, one can truly understand and retain something. in the long run, no effort is wasted.

a person once approached a famous golfer and asked,,,how to play that shot? the golfer replied: um, it is tough to explain, but if you swing couple hundred thousand times with that shot, it will be easier to understand.

March 4, 2008 at 03:10 PM · Jeez... my Freudian slip is showing. I can't believe I wrote 'violists' instead of violinists. Well, correction made, and while we're at it, the OP should go to see great singers too!


March 4, 2008 at 03:39 PM · Hello, first off, I would like to thank everyone who takes the time to reply. Isn't it amazing that so many people do? :) It is humbling and I am more grateful than I could ever say! Benjamin, please accept my apologies for not including your name, but I did not see your post when I started writing my previous response. OK, the word "cheap" count in replies to my questions is up to a grand total of 2! In case there is any need to clarify this, I am not posting questions on this forum because I am trying to get away with free lessons. I do take lessons (by the way, my teachers all took/take one cell phone call after another, is that common practice?), but when I see that lessons do not help it gets a little... desperate... from time to time. So, I panic, I post! I am surprised, though, by how much (and how much more) I learn from than from any of my lessons. Even though it's just "talk", many of these discussions are enlightening. Howard, what you say is right! I used to listen to a lot of piano music, because I play piano, but when it first occurred to me that, why not, I could start learning the violin, I realized I always listened to violin music, too, and that it was in fact the most special and relevant to me. A little bit like when you are asleep, then there is something going on that you sleep through but it finally wakes you up. DVDs and youtube movies just made this secret passion of mine simply explode! In fact, I picked the violin after first watching Heifetz play. Perlman says somewhere that when he first heard Heifetz he could not close his mouth for a week... something similar happened to me, it only lasted longer! Then, after a while, like Al Ku says, I got so much into this careful listening that I even started noticing when Heifetz was not up to par... not very often... but sometimes I could even say, e.g., for this piece, I like the recording of so-and-so better... in fact my improved listening spoiled it so much for me that Heifetz' late recording of Mozart rondo simply broke my heart! Well, heart in pieces, it showed me that even he was only human, and that at least you could see he was not happy with what was coming out of his violin and his hands at that point either (kudos to him for it, as it seems to me some violinists do continue to pretend nothing is wrong when their playing does no longer measure). But I deviate... I just wanted to say everyone brings something interesting to the table and I love it, many heads are just so much better than one! For some reason being able to 'articulate why' appeals to me and helps me. I do agree (do I even have to say it) that nothing will replace the work and the sweat, of days, months, years... but it is incredible how Mr. Brivati/Buri usually manages to break everything into logical micro-motions and micro-topics that make sense to me and really save me a lot of the ugly work, it always gives me the much needed push into the right direction. I try to read a lot too, but usually I have to choose between that and just playing/practicing, and it's a tough choice, isn't it. If I did not write all the possible platitudes yet, here is one more, I wish I could be a kid again!

March 4, 2008 at 10:34 PM · Greetings,

>Talk is cheap, although not useless...

I thought this comment was rather a pity. I am at a loss to what aspect of talk is cheap. I`ve been lucky and flukey enough to go to some really great teachers and on on ocassion some of the top players around. It has never been cheap!

Nor is the time I invest in studying and thinking on my own cheap in any sense. Nor are any of the hundreds of books and scores I peruse cheap.

People don`t come on this forum for freebies. They have a genuine love of the violin and because I love the violin and people who play it (even Howard) I am happy to pass on anything that I have acquired at great expense simply because it may be important. It may be useful to the person asking or irrleevent, it may even be valuable in keeping alive an idea or concept that a great player has passed down that I have bene lucky enough to recieve but don`t really deserve. tehre is nothign cheap here as far a si can see.

The only cheap thing I can see right now is a cheap shot. If you don`t value the site don`t use it. That is your choice and it doesn@t cost anything.



March 5, 2008 at 12:16 AM · >How do you ever get to that level of detail, of thinking about what you are doing?!

Things are planned at some level of detail. But we don't know what you're thinking when you say "that" level of detail. How would you get from NY to California? You'll hear big differences in performances a week apart. It's not because they re-thought it or because they're failing. I think some people think they best be on a track. I would rather hear somebody maybe driving off the shoulder, over-correcting and narrowly missing oncoming traffic! Then seeing a dirt road with wildflowers and going up that a short ways. Then seeing Chef Emeril's gourmet restaurant and going in for a bite. Doesn't matter how big a genius the composer or performer was - or how much you like what you heard and want it to be exactly the same next time. The best stuff can't be planned. Sometimes I can tell who's playing from some kind of script. Sometimes I think why did they choose that crappy script, of all the possibilities, what a waste of perfect technique, and the rest of the world thinks ohh greatest musician in the world. If Howard reads this he'll think I'm saying anything goes. As for getting a sound, listen to tons of live violin and remember the sounds that are ideal to you. I like a sound with lots of harmonics, bright and metallic, so lots of fine players to me sound wooly and bland. But sometimes they'll have some other sound of their own that grabs me. Having said all this, you need a couple maps. GPS and a laptop couldn't hurt either:)

March 5, 2008 at 12:14 AM · "As for getting a sound, listen to tons of live violin"

There is nothing, absolutely nothing like live performance.

March 5, 2008 at 02:54 AM · Buri, you need not worry because I am sure everyone here who found your advice helpful over and over knows this kind of talk is not "cheap". They/we do get it for free (it doesn't cease to amaze me!), that is why I try, whenever I can, to express my gratitude, that's all I can do. Those who were helped by someone on this forum even once also know it takes a lot of work to be in a position where you are able to say something relevant, especially on anything violin. That kind of work takes time, and that kind of talk takes time too, and people in general are not very generous with their time especially toward strangers. I wish the teachers I find where I live did more of this kind of talk, though even their phone conversations during lessons aren't cheap any way you look at it :-) But I do not want to go from cheap to chip (on my shoulder). Jim, I used to think like you (The best stuff can't be planned), but I am no longer sure... Some people say that's where the difference between an amateur and a professional (talent included) resides. This is just a general observation, outside of that I can only speak for myself, and I am and will stay an amateur. As for the GPS, I always need one, I am navigationally challenged. Last but not least: sorry I am addressing everyone by their first name, I thought I'd go by what seems to be the code, I mean no disrespect. Etiquette tips are welcome! Time to go practice, see how what I just learned here applies...

March 5, 2008 at 03:04 AM · Just one more thing for the record: I am sure no one needs ME to defend them here, especially the veterans of, if it comes across that way it's so unnecessary, so beside the point. Again, I can only speak for myself, but I know there were times in the past when nobody and nothing could get me over a bump in my own learning, yet, once I got on and asked, I received some replies that were invaluable to me. Cheap just does not apply. That's all I meant to say.

March 5, 2008 at 04:52 AM · "Jim, I used to think like you (The best stuff can't be planned), but I am no longer sure... Some people say that's where the difference between an amateur and a professional (talent included) resides. "

Walk away with one thing at least. The two performances by the same person that I mentioned will not overlay one on the other. According to your current thinking, that can only mean that the professional with the talent is screwing up one or both times. One or the other or both didn't go according to plan.

March 5, 2008 at 04:39 AM · Greetings,

Maria, I`m sure Howard didn`t mean it in a destrcutive way. I just ahve to wind him up at least once a week on principle.



PS Keep us posted on how things are going. There is never any assumption that what one reocmmneds is guaranteed to work. It sometimes gives an indication of where not to go;)

March 5, 2008 at 05:39 AM · Maria, you were talking about how the string players in a good orchestra play in seemingly perfect synchronisation. I have long found this awesome, too.

I think this has a lot to do with "practise as a team", which makes it "planned" in the sense of "desired". When playing in a team there is always a feedback loop as players interact with each other, even if only on a subconscious level. I believe that if you remove that feedback loop, no amount of planning will get you anywhere near the level of synchronisation good orchestras have.

Leonard Bernstein and the entire string section of the Vienna Philharmonic once recorded two of Beethoven's late string quartets (op.131 and 135). If you listen to this recording, you can't avoid to be awestruck by the pinpoint precision, the VP strings are in perfect synchronisation there. Did this happen by accident, simply because it's the VP? Not really. The CD booklet comes with a description how they practised for the recording and this gives some very interesting insights.

I seem to have misplaced the CD so I can only describe this from memory. Anyway, Bernstein split up the entire VP string section into individual quartet groups (fortified by a double bass each) to practise just like a string quartet would. At some point two such groups would practise together, then three, four, five etc etc etc. I also seem to remember that they rotated the groups so that different groups would practise together. Eventually the entire string section would perform as a group of string quartets. I don't recall what the total number was, but I seem to vaguely remember it was in the vicinity of 15 or 16. Listening to that recording I can only say that this has got to be one of the most outstanding examples of how to develop and use that feedback loop between players. Bernstein reportedly considered this the best recording of his career. And it really is awesome, not only for its perfect synchronicity.

By contrast I saw some videos posted on Youtube of performances by the Hungarian Gypsy Orchestra. They played various solo violin parts with the entire orchesta and they weren't anywhere near synchronisation. As far as synchronisation goes it sounded like a beginners orchestra playing without a conductor. Yet, I am sure they are all very fine musicians. They just didn't seem to have made any use of that feedback loop when practising those show pieces.

March 5, 2008 at 06:30 AM · Jim, wish me luck so I walk away with more than one thing. In fact, it can go up to 100 if some of it wasn't spent on pointless arguments. Let's see... "talent included" was meant for both sides... equally if you wish! As I said, I am speaking for myself, I do not know whether you are an amateur or a professional and I won't click on your name to find out in case that info is available. I wasn't targeting you or anyone else for that matter. I do not want to get into any kind of argument about amateurs vs. pros, talent, etc. If you want to discuss this you could start another thread, pick the brains of other people here who know better than me. This is not my profession, it's just my hobby, and I love it, most of all it is exciting and believe it or not it is relaxing. I just started this thread because I wanted to bring my bowing, if possible, up a notch or two. I was trying to play the second violin part of a Vivaldi concerto and there are a few bars there that really bug me. It looks simple, I can play it slowly, I can play it fast if I change the rhythm, but for the life of me I can't play it fast the way it is written and with the marked bowings without stopping for a little break. There are a couple of notes about two thirds into it where I just have to stop because my bow arm gets jammed. I never thought much about bowing apart from up-bow, down-bow..., it seemed to come naturally, I did not have to really consider it carefully beforehand. But then I thought about how this bowing thing goes in an orchestra, and I also remembered that in one of the Du Pre documentaries, when she could no longer play, she could dictate the entire Elgar cello concerto, with fingerings and bowings, off the top of her head. I am sure if she could have picked the cello and played she would have done it that exact same way. Quite impressive, nothing left to chance, except for in the head and heart of the listener... It seemed to be clear to her which inch of the bow went on top of which note into which direction, from the beginning to the end. I got the impression that you always have to think ahead and know exactly how much bow you need for the next note or notes. I must have heard more than once that professionals cannot afford to leave much to chance and on-the-spot inspiration. It's just too risky. However, they enjoy it too, just in a slightly different way, which I happen to think is more fulfilling. All the chance and inspiration happen beforehand..., then once it's decided, it's decided, mapped out, apparently in very great detail. Whatever your profession is, you prefer it that way, right, rather than just be an amateur... But, going back... it's simple, I started this thread because I wanted to see what people would say about it. I am sure this stuff is trivial to many, yet new to me. Can't help it, gimme time! So I had this vague idea of where I ought to be looking next, but once I started getting the replies I understood, for one (thing I'll walk away with), that as much as I want to I cannot separate the bow from what the left hand is doing. But, anyway, Buri, an indication of where not to go is always better than just sitting there in the dark by yourself!

March 5, 2008 at 06:51 AM · And paragraphs!

Short paragraphs!

The answer to your question is I never made enough money at this to call myself a pro. But I'm old and have asked all these questions or intimated their answers from the best people available for a long time.


"Jim, wish me luck "

Good luck!

March 5, 2008 at 07:32 AM · lol




I just read someone wanted to train your pooch ... to bite you! May I remind you: I had nothing to do with it! I don't have such plans... but I might get inspired! I hope, though, that bites don't carry over from thread to thread! Good luck to


Good luck to you too and... now that I look at the clock... good night! (or is this just my take on "good night, and good luck", up bow first!)

March 5, 2008 at 09:27 AM · "It's just too risky."

Haven't you heard somebody say so and so takes risks, as a compliment? Somebody might plan their bowing in detail, somebody else might be so good at least at some particular thing they don't need to! After a while you instinctively know not to play fortissimo staccato quarter notes up and down at the tip. At any rate, nobody is planning to be on X number of bow hairs at any given point in the piece! I know a girl who learned one of the hardest concertos in a short length of time and won a competition with it. She almost crashed hard more than once but you couldn't tell it. She laughs about her "self-saving instincts." She says she's either on or off, but I don't think I've really heard her off. At her best, she's the best there is. Very refined and unaffected and pure. Nobody more poetic, to me.

I wouldn't suggest you take my suggestions and advice though. Get it directly from the source - people you admire, with a track record. Any famous teachers or players who'll talk to you or that you're lucky enough to get to meet. Most important thing - never be shy. I don't think you are :)

March 5, 2008 at 05:15 PM · Jim, that is why I like to check out what's on once in a while, but not participate. Can you really tell anything that is more personal about anyone here just by what they write regardless of the time of day or night and especially when they find themselves under attack (or friendly fire)? I don't have that extra sense and maybe that's one of the ingredients that go into your being a better musician than myself perhaps, a pro or semi-pro as opposed to me the amateur. I repeat: I do not know everything :-!, I know next to nothing about violin playing, so I just asked, I just invited people to come and say whatever comes to their mind on the topic, and do so nicely if possible. Nothing is set in stone. I look around and I wonder, and hope that something might add to what I know, one of the many things that are being said might push me a little farther ahead in my understanding, it's the missing puzzle piece or one of them. Remember, I asked for the ingredients, meaning a little bit of this, a little bit of that... I did not set out to take anything to an extreme and I am sorry if it came across as such. I do find the violin very difficult, I do find it requires such sustained control over your body and your mind, and such a special understanding compared to other instruments. Someone on this thread compared learning the violin to learning a foreign language, it's a very valid comparison in many ways. Those who speak the language fluently do so (phrasing, dynamics, rhythm, accent, etc.) AS IF according to a detailed "plan", while those who are just learning really do have to struggle and think hard about the next word. This being said, in an orchestra, in spite of them being fluent "speakers" of violin, a lot of discussing and planning seems to go on beforehand. Soloists have an ongoing, in-depth dialog with themselves, perhaps, over whatever it is that they are preparing. It just seemed so, and it's something I wasn't doing, not in great depth. Was it a necessary ingredient? I just asked... I wish I had a mentor, a guru, right there in the practice room with me, to give me advice and to discuss everything that goes on. I don't have a mentor, I wish I had. I did not even manage to find a teacher I am happy with, I don't know why they treat my learning lightly when I myself don't do so, but I don't want to find out why, I'd just be happy to find a good teacher period. So all I say here it's simply out of my musical isolation and it's just a searching process, no hard truths yet that anyone could learn from me... You yourself seem to have a need for more detail and precision(e.g., what "that" means), so I guess we are not "that" different and can understand each other!

New paragraph. I listen to your advice just as well as I listen to the others'. Why would I not consider any input just as seriously as the next and the previous, and why would I presume anything about people I never met? I am not that young either, I am in my thirties, ancient by my 15 yo self standards. Maybe I come across as younger (hopefully not as in "stupider"), but, hey, wouldn't that be a compliment anyhow! They say old is the new young and dead is the new alive?!

March 5, 2008 at 05:55 PM · Brava, Maria! And Jim does bring the best out of people so keep writing, single long paragraph or more. I like you already;-)

March 5, 2008 at 07:12 PM · "Why would I not consider any input just as seriously as the next and the previous,"?

The same reason you might go to school instead of just asking your friends?

" and why would I presume anything about people I never met?"

I don't know why you would, or why you would write that.

March 5, 2008 at 09:31 PM · This is a thread on, it's neither school nor friends (as yet... and, no, I won't define "friends", whether the old way or the new, internet way). I do research for a living and long exhausted the available schooling towards that. As for the violin, the best I can hope for is a good teacher that's a good match for my goals and abilities. Meanwhile I follow the discussions here, I pick the information and the advice that suits me, many times I just enjoy the exchange, and once in a blue moon I start a thread on something that's on my mind at that particular moment. If you reply, you post your piece, but you can't hope to control the response or the attention your piece will get. It's wrong if you think so. It's even worse if you are too quick to assume that such response has already occurred -when in fact it hasn't- and, when you think it does not match your expectations, you start a fight. It just takes the whole thing far into the absurd and I am not interested in going there. When I get replies to my questions I do not discriminate against any of them just because my computer screen looks paler in some spots than in others. Give me some time to actually read the replies, process them... and if I reply and it is not to your liking all I can say is "sorry". I wish my time and intuition were so unlimited that I could respond, separately, to each person that jumps in, and just the way they like it. But usually duty calls and my time is up before I could even say anything... So may I please use quietly and peacefully as so many others seem to be able to do, as much as I can, when I can, the way I can?

Yixi, in that case, perhaps you could continue to fight the fight for me, I am already suffering from battle fatigue :-)

March 5, 2008 at 10:21 PM · But Maria, I never fight. Ask Jim or Al if you don’t believe me;-) Besides, I can’t do nearly a fraction of a good job as you can even if I want to.

Seriously, I’m not the one to give you advice but you don’t have to respond to every comment within hours, and certainly I wouldn’t be offended if you don’t respond to my message. is a forum for discussions and a thread sometimes will have the life of its own, that’s the beauty of online discussion I think.

I enjoy reading your comments and you posted a wonderful question. I’m not a beginner-- played the violin on and off close to 8 years by now, but I’m still trying hard to make the violin to sing. Buri, Scott and others have given you very good advices already. What I can suggest is to pay attention to each note you play and try to find the one that sounds really good to you. Then try to produce it again and again. If you succeeded (and I know you usually will), then ask yourself what you did to make this note sound so good. You’ll build your sound this way in no time. Another thing is don’t compare or try to mimic others, especially the great violinists we hear on CDs. Everyone has his/her sound so try to find your own. A serious and experienced teacher can really help. Keep looking.

March 5, 2008 at 10:59 PM · Greetings,

actually Yixi does fight but she uses the principles of Lao Tzu.

It confuses the hell out of most of us.



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