A link?

November 20, 2008 at 04:25 AM ·

Ok, well I've got a question!

Everyday for about a week I've listened to and studied Caprice No.24 by Paganini. So that's listening to the piece for about 30 minutes at lunch everyday and following along with my score...

But my question is, if your listening to something extensively and seeing the notes on paper at the same time, when you go to practice it later, is it normal if you find your self knowing where the note is and playing it right?

I'm not trying to learn all of the caprice, just secitons of it for now, and I'm finding myself to be able to play them fairly easy considering this is supposed to be one of the most difficult pieces ever written.

Obviously, the "opening theme" is the easiest of the whole piece. But on the third variation, the octaves on the D and G string come to me easy as if I've been playing them for months. I've never played a piece on that has octaves on these strings, they've been on the A, D, and E string. And then on Variation 7, I find the rythm easy, and obviously the shifting isn't too high.

I'm just wondering that if you listen to a piece along with studying it on paper, it will be much easier to play... Is this just a coincidence in my playing or a proven technique of learning? I believe I've read something somewhere that the Suzuki Method reccomends students listen to recordings of the pieces they're learning everyday.

I wan't to hear your thoughts people!

Replies (22)

November 20, 2008 at 04:51 AM ·

Hi Paul,

I listened to the Berg Concerto everyday for one whole year and then asked the teacher can I play this piece?She said flat out NO! I'm glad she did. You might be ready musically but technically your not.It's the same as putting the cart before the horse.


November 20, 2008 at 05:13 AM ·

Hi Paul,

Listening to a piece passively is good, but not the best way to learn a piece.  If you do, you'll know what the notes are supposed to be, of course, so you won't exactly be sightreading when you learn it, but it won't really help you play it.  Going through it in your head is much better.  Going through each and every note without even touching the violin can be practically miraculous sometimes.  If you look at the music and can hear each note in your head, and imagine what the sound is like (bow pressure, speed, division, vibrato, intonation, really everything), then you're already pretty prepared for the piece.  Basically all that is left for the piece is actually learning it, but you have skipped the part where you flail around because you don't know what you're doing.  Yay.

Besides, the 24th caprice isn't exactly the hardest of the caprices.  And some of the variations are damn hard.  And playing it at tempo is hard.

November 20, 2008 at 05:21 AM ·

Being able to sing and hear a piece internally is critical, especially on things as musically and technically demanding as Paganini Caprices.

In suzuki Method, listening serves the purpose of aiding musical study without realizing it, it also teaches subtle musical ideas, it also aides greatly in memorization.  It is a valuable tool--especially when quality recordings are available.


In Paganini 24, the challenge is multi-fold, in addition to the techniques of each variation (in both hands); the idea of contrast in accentation/dynamic/color is always in play---and making a coherent musical statement in this piece is a feat.  Not only must the individual variations be well played-but they must be strung together sensibly, on the part of the performer.  Of the caprices, this is one of the more technically accessable ones IMHO.  Anyone worrying about it ought to have a solid grasp of the fingerboard all the way to the end of the board, as well as fluent fingered/parallel octaves/3rds, and of course 10ths-as well as good coordination between left and right hand pizz, and a relaxed left hand frame in chords.

I'd *highly* encourage looking at the Henle Urtext edition, edited by Renato de Barbieri.  It is VERY scholarly.  There are a plethora of felonius errors propogated by publishers, and performers alike that are inflicted on the Paganini Caprices as a result of careless editing--including the International Edition folks.

November 20, 2008 at 06:03 AM ·


I second that recomendation.  Its quite an eye opener.



November 20, 2008 at 08:35 AM ·

Hi Marc,

I'm curious to know if the edition you recommended has a facsimile included.It's the first time I've heard of the Henle edition,I've been too friendly with the folks over at International for way too long!



November 20, 2008 at 11:38 AM ·

This is an interesting question. Nowadays nearly everything is available in recorded form, so that we will have heard much of what we are going to play before we play it.

The etudes, apart from Paganini and Steven Staryk's recordings, are an exception. In them we can create our own ideal and follow that. For me, that was a useful experience, too.

A few months ago I downloaded recordings of the Kreutzer studies by mr. Jacques Israelievich. Though I admire his performance, his ideals must have been very different from mine. Had I known these recordings before I started studying Kreutzer, I might have gone for someone else's ideal interpretation, and so have missed the instructive experience of fiddling out my own.

This sounds terribly individualistic, if not egotistical: as if the world were waiting for My Own Interpretation! In fact, what I mean is the exact opposite of that. It involves occupying oneself humbly with questions like: what exactly is written? Why would it have been written that way, technically and musically? What do I have to do in order to play as the piece was probably meant? It was quite a journey, with my teachers as guides.

November 20, 2008 at 12:01 PM ·

I think this is a great supplement to learning to play a piece, although not the whole of it.  I find it's especially useful for orchestra music, to listen to the whole piece played by the orchestra while following along with your own part, especially if you have limited rehearsal time with the whole group.

November 20, 2008 at 01:40 PM ·

The Op 1 manuscript is over at imslp.org.


November 20, 2008 at 03:20 PM ·


The Henle Urtext is very expensive (~$60-70USD, yes--I said "OUCH" too), but very well done.  It includes a completely clean copy (as urtext, no modern editings), a second part with fingerings.  Personally I think Barbieri's fingerings are for more violinistic than Galamian's, insofar as playability--there really is no reason to suffer and subject oneself to torture in peices that are already virtuastic enough.  

There is also supplementary materials where Barbieri has short photofacsimilie excerpts, which are long enough to prove his point, as well as descriptions discussing editorial and performance errors (from the reference point of the urtext manuscript)....most of these descriptions are about 1 full page, double columned.  Barbieri has no qualms about being blunt, and being rather arrogant-as someone who knows they are right tends to be in opinion.


The photofacsimilie from IMSLP, is a good pointer--The Henle is worth the cost of the research Barbieri has done, and his brief little essays.  The publisher/performner errors can be seen--but you have to do all the thinking to figure them out, Paganini was very concise in writing what he wanted it seems.


Be warned, Paganini's penmanship is less good thean Bach's ;>)

November 20, 2008 at 04:50 PM ·

I would also suggest listening to many different violinist play that one piece.. to get your own style. If you are only listening to one version, you are cheating yourself :)


November 20, 2008 at 09:36 PM ·

Thanks Anne for the reference to the manuscript,I'm going to look at it today. Marc, the Henle edition looks very good thanks for introducing it. I've been told that alot of Bach's manuscripts were actually written by his wife not himself.That explains why it's very neat,clean and flowing.


November 20, 2008 at 09:47 PM ·


It's great that you're so motivated and that you're passionate about listening to the pieces that you really want to play. Be careful though, don't "over-play" them! Sometimes, if I fall in love with a piece and listen to it over and over again, because I just "can't get enough," when I actually start to play it, I find myself becoming bored with the piece rather quickly- during the time when you've learned the notes on the page, but you must focus on the music. Repetitively listening to a piece, which can eventually lead to your "boredom" with said piece (this may be a bit of an exaggeration), which can cause you to focus not so much on the musical aspects of the piece. I hope you can see where I'm getting at!

November 20, 2008 at 10:03 PM ·

Yes Adam, I understand what you mean completely. Thanks for that advice.

November 20, 2008 at 11:19 PM ·


Paul,  very good question.  I`m sorry I don`t have time to go back over the previous comments in detail so at risk of boring repetition here are my two cents.

I strongly suggets you avoid this practice even though it creates the impresison of ease of preparation.  You are not actually learning only the notes.  you are learning someone elses interpretation and in the process stifling your own creativity.   Note that Vengerov stated he rarely plays for stduents in masterclasse sfor the same reason. Galamian also makes this point in his book and offers two alternatives.  One is to listen to five or six recordings   .  he weaknes sof this is one become slikes a kid at a candy store pickign up interprative quirk x from artist y and so on. The end result is not good.  The other option which is highly recommended is to listen to different works by the same composer. Very sensible.  and not just violin works.

I think it wa smentioned earlier but there is a much bette rpractice which has a deeper effetc on technique an ddevelpment.  This approach to elarnign was very much standard in Europe up iuntil fairly recently.   That is to learn a piec eform meory before ever touching the violin.   According to Ayk in her book Heifetz followed this approach.   It also helps a greta dela with memorizing an donce you get in the habit of doing it then you might even aspire to the level of Fritz Kreisler who learnt cocnertos on the train and then played them without practicing them at all;)    An interesitng variaiton on this is Anne Sophie Mutter whoio learns piece sat the paino.  Either way one is avoiding contaminating the final interpretation by technical deficinences which,  belive me,  is what usually happens!

As far as the Paginin is cocnerned,  no 24 is not the most difficult but it requires greta subtlety and artistry to pull of .  I do belive it is useful to practice certain variations out of context even if one is not learningthe whole work.  The variation in thirds and tenths for example might be good when one is a litlte bored by regualr scale practice.  However,  I do belive ther eis a kind of rule of thumb that if one does not approach these works,  or indeed Mozart and everythign else in between with awe and reverence then one proably hasn`t really udnerstood what the eswence of the work is and is probably not ready for it.  IT`s rathe rlike the quip `He laughs last probably hasn`t understood the joke.`

You might consider working on the set of pedagogic variatiosn Paginini wrote before tackling the caprices.  Some of those are very accessible and gorgeous.  (Barucaba Variations).



November 21, 2008 at 01:29 AM ·

Hello Paul,

Try the "sleep learning"method. I find that if one listens to a particular piece of music while they are asleep (REM mode), played over and over, it enhances the brain/muscle learning and enhances the memorization of the piece. Many are intimitated by the overall scope of such virtuoso works, and naturally reject the body's ability to perform them. It is a form of subliminal suggestion and mild hypnosis. Practice this method for about one week, and see if you improve. You will notice that during your practice session on the work itself, which should be productively slow,  you soon will be able to tackle tough passages, as your brain wants to perform the task, given the conditioning. You have eliminated doubt through confidence training by practicing the sleep learning, since the subconscience mind is unable to discern the difference between what is possible and impossible, respectively. Listening to the piece while your brain is occupied with anything else, tends to work to a degree, but is not dedicating itself to full attention of the piece being listened to. I find this method works for myself, but everyone is different. It cannot hurt to try it for yourself and see what happens.

Jerald Franklin Archer

November 21, 2008 at 02:09 AM ·

I didn't have the time to read all the coments but for what I tried about this is that if you practice well, of course, listening to a recording of a piece often gives you the type of professionnalism that should be in the music. At least more than usual...  We have all heard pieces of concertos performed by students but when you hear the same thing perform by a master, the piece looks 100% more impressing and 100% more interesting. You really see the amazing aspect (even of a very easy thing when there are recording of it). My first experience of this was when I was performing the 1st mvt of Bach concerto 2 in E. It was the first time that I could find a recording made by a real soloist  of a piece that I performed (on youtube you can find anything but the pros don't want to play twincle...).  I knew that for soloists, this is a piece of chocolate cake (as my teacher said) but I was more than happy to have found a Oistrakh recording of it.  It helped me to play in rhytme but I realize a thing (that I find is a good thing!) is that you won't play the same as on the recording (I didn't want to copy anyway but even if I would have tried, it is impossible and it would have looked awful).  Everyone is different and hear the piece differently so you may have surprises of some things that you play differently, on which you have a different understanding when you look into details.  And I also had places that (even before hearing the recording) I played quite similar to the recording(not in beauty!!!) but in terms of underlying the important notes, tempo, pp or ff etc. So, yes it helps!


November 21, 2008 at 02:51 AM ·


If your theory were correct, we'd all be famous by now.


November 21, 2008 at 03:35 AM ·

paul,   i tend to agree with charles c's  suggestion in terms what to do if asked to learn a piece for the very first time.   that is the main issue here.

if one can figure out  the piece all by oneself, then it is truly one's own "work".  may be inefficient in the beginning, but everything that is put in is one's own and is there to keep.  as noted, recordings are everywhere and in the interest of time and "efficiency", or even peer pressure/influence, it is tempting to get some ideas first:)  but if one has to listen to others first to get going,  it may suggest that some areas are weak, such as sightreading, which may get even weaker with time with this habit.  if one knows the pitch/phrase in one's head ahead of time, then one can bypass music reading and interpretation and simply find the finger for the note.  the difference is between music thought processing  vs associating the right finger with the pitch.   not sure these days the following scenario will be common:  one is put on the spot with a piece of work freshly written, or a piece of modern music,,,one will be totally unprepared because one has never approached this way before.   for instance, years ago, my tennis backhand was weaker,,,so i ran around it:)

i wonder how teachers look at this situation...would they insist that the student tries to learn it totally independently first and then seek out others' play for reference or do they mind if the student listens to others' playing first to get some ideas?   or do they only care about the outcome--the approach is secondary--in this day and age where dotting the i's and crossing the t's are perhaps too consuming? 

paul, if you teach one day and your student is serious and has great potential,   which way do you advocate?

November 21, 2008 at 03:57 AM ·

Al, I don't know. In my opinion, there haven't been too many ways of teaching that have been breakthroughs and fostered something from great to amazing with astounding results. I don't think I could ever teach a method of something or reccomend it until I have gone through it myself. So in that aspect, who knows. Time will tell.

And for other's comments...  "developing one's own style" is neccesary. So I agree with you there. But on something like Paganini's caprice 24, I think that there is a right way to play it, and a wrong way. The right way being that you play what's on the page in a clean and pleasant matter. The wrong way being that an artist puts too much of their style into the piece. By this I mean, for example, a piece like Tzigane... I don't think you will ever find a player who plays this the same as another. I think that this applies to concertos as well, many players can play it choppy and make it sound horrible, and overloaded, and others can play what's on the page without making it overwhelming... I'll try to give the best example I can. Ok, if you listen to the recording of the Sibelius by Hilary Hahn, and then the recording by Sarah Chang, you are going to see huge differences. I think that Hahn plays the piece more of whats written on the page and tries to convay it to the audience without overwhelming them. And Chang plays the piece quite well but her emotions kind of take over, making a distraction from the beauty for me in some parts. I'm not saying she doesn't play this piece well; I find her an amazing artist and a very nice person as I have spoken with ther through email before. Her taking that minute out of her day to reply to me meant a lot. No other artists really do that.

As I'm sure all of you know now, Janine Jansen and Hilary Hahn are my favorite artists to listen to. I choose them over all others because I find their interpretations beautiful and not "in your face". With Janine, she is one of those few artists who manage to play what's written on the page and make it beautiful with their emotions, yet keep the interpretation clean.

But bottom line, I think it is impossible these days to not be influenced in your playing because of all the recordings available etc.  And I mean without listening to recordings, I would never discover the pieces that I love and want to pursue.

I'm hoping my explanations of things make sense to you.


November 21, 2008 at 06:38 AM ·

Paul -

"I think it is impossible these days to not be influenced in your playing because of all the recordings available etc."

It is possible.  The trick is to find your "inner music", silly as it sounds.  What you hear in various recordings is different people's interpretations of the piece.  I'll take the Bach Suites as an example since I'm studying them right now myself. 

I've listened to many different recordings of the Suites over the years and had an idea in my head on how they should sound.  However, one night in lessons I made a mistake on a chord and played a wrong note.  It was in tune, but a wrong note, and corrected.  My teacher got excited and told me I just invented a new ornament, and named it the "Mendy Ornament".  That "ornament" made its way into his copy of the music.  Since then, he continuously asks me if I've invented any new ornaments for the Suite's that I'm learning. 

From that time forward, I've looked at this music in an entirely different way.  My teacher has been helping me learn to identify the different phrases, and how these can be played differently: from dynamic changes, ornament application, bowing techniques, etc...  What I've learned is that there is more than one way to interperate a piece by "simple" applications of various techniques entirely of your own invention.

November 21, 2008 at 09:44 PM ·

I am curious, what do you mean by not "in your face"? Do you want to mean that they put just the right amout of emotions but not too much to change the style of the piece?  I agree the players you mention are excellent!


November 21, 2008 at 10:05 PM ·

Yes, that's what I meant!

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