teacher's warning: kids can't play mozart well!

December 25, 2008 at 05:53 PM ·

so the teacher dropped the mozart concerto A onto our laps along with a bomb: um, even though mozart was more like a kid, only adults can play his music well.  thanks, that is really helpful and encouraging:)

so are we talking about to acquire some sort of psychological neoteny,,,one needs physical maturity in order to competently demonstrate childlike behavior?  or is it just musical understanding and tech?   or nuances...?

here is a clip,,,my kid with original bowing and fingering,,,i think.  any suggestions how to make it sound, um, like mozart?:)

thanks and happy holidays.  to a new year with more world peace and inner peace under the new regime:)



Replies (23)

December 25, 2008 at 06:15 PM ·

Jeepers :>)

1stly well done.

2ndly all the notes are there.

3rdly, I think this may be what the teacher was speaking of...What is missing is phrasing-both in the bow and in the left hand.  I hear, for the most part-one dynamic level and one vibrato color.  In a ringy room like this one-you don't need to work hard to get a big sound-but you DO need to work hard for soft sounds.  And to make a true pp and p apparent to the listener versus a forte is a tough thing to do.

 Likewise, I'm missing a sense of arch and line in phrasing-I'm not hearing clearly which notes are important and which aren't, where a phrase starts where it peaks and where it ends, how one phrase relates to the next (is it answering the prior material, is it new material is it interrupting in mid sentence?)

For vibrato what I'm missing is differences in speed and width-in this recording I'm hearing 1 fast fairly narrow vibrato.  The opening can have a nice slow lush vibrato, when things pick up you are somewhat limited due to tempo, of course.

 To pull the above off does take some maturity yes, and artistry--but Mozart is NOT rated "R" for "Restricted only 18 years or older".

That being said, there is some very nice playing there.  Most of the technique is there-it's the musicality and expression that needs some work.

Merry Xmas Al :>)



December 25, 2008 at 08:26 PM ·

Your daughter has done an incredible job!  Bravo!

I agree with everything said so far.  The shaping in the left hand would be much more effective with varied vibrato.  Shaping in the right hand is needed also.

I disagree with some of the fingerings, especially the leapy shifts.  They are too romantic an interpretation to be Mozart for me.  I would avoid "meowy" shifts in the Baroque and Classical eras as much as possible.  The slides aren't appropriate for my taste.

What an accomplishment for your very talented daughter.  You must be so proud.

December 25, 2008 at 08:39 PM ·

Impressive! Your daughter is special.

Wasn't it the other way around: children can do it, adults can't -- not unless they put a whole lot of effort into it?

Have you seen the blog by Ruth Kuefler, a few months ago, where she tells us about a Mozart concerto being like a bunny opera? It might be fun for your daughter to make up a story like that.

December 25, 2008 at 09:06 PM ·

 from many accounts, mozart was quite childish, ironically.

i would suggest going to through kreutzer etudes to develop the technique needed to express music.  articulation, varying bow speed, varying vibrato, dynamics, etc.  all can be worked on in kreutzer...
good luck and happy holidays

December 25, 2008 at 09:11 PM ·

Your daughter is a really wonderful player. Brava to her!

I would not take what your daughter's teacher said in the wrong way.  Though she may not have phrased it in the best way possible, Mozart wrote 5 of the hardest concertos in violin repertoire.  Mozart wrote these concertos when he was on the brink of turning 20.  Still just a young and immature teenager (and rather immature throughout his short lifetime), his music is anything but that.  Mozart's Concerto No. 5 in A Major is perhaps his greatest violin concerto.  Nicknamed the turkish concerto, the 3rd movement strays wildly from the standard rondo form, with its loud interruption of turkish music in the parallel minor (A minor).  Although Mozart was young whilst writing, his mind was not.  Here we have a purely musical genius portraying the beautiful voice from above into ink like no one has before.  I highly doubt any of us come close to that, so how can we say we can interpret his music well?  J. Heifetz is known to have said that the Mozart concertos are the hardest in the repertoire.  The poor mans music is butchered far and wide and I don't know if anyones performance to date has given it a performance that his deserves.  

Dont ever let anyone tell you that Mozart's music is "fluff" or "filler music", let alone "easy".  It most certainly is not.  There is equally as much, if not, more drama in Mozart than in a Tchaik symphony.  Who said that our palate of emotions goes from ambivalence to drowning in our own sorrow and pity?  Last time i checked, we humans can feel those things as well as happiness, elation, ecstasy.  However, it takes the greatest of the great musicians to understand that in mozarts music.  And understanding that doesnt mean you can play Mozart well.  It takes a special soul with a special body to truly portray the deepness of this great mans work.  It makes me wonder f mozart was ever happy with a performance of his own work.  There existed no musician better than he, or someone with the same connection to the music on the page.  Could this man never have heard his music as he wanted?


That being said, your daughter has done a FANTASTIC job with this difficult piece.  Her technique is all there.  The notes work.  The tone is gorgeous. Now let her have some fun.  The music is up to her.  Let her interpret and portray what she feels needs to be shown.  Now, there are "right" and "wrong" interpretations, but there is a fine line there.  If mozart lived in our times, he probably would have written some very different music.  You can interpret that as "we should play how he would have played in then because he wrote it then and not now" or as "we should play it as we would play it now because we live today an not then".  I would highly suggest looking up Perlman's recordings of these Concertos.  Perlman does not stray far from the standard of the times.  It is old school mozart with slight modern twist.  Nothing wrong, nothing unexpected.  Fantastic recordings to be enjoyed over and over again.  We play on different instruments, with different techniques so the sound is going to be different (they used many open strings and little vibrato back then.  their violins also were under less tension and therefore less volume and they did not have shoulder rests which also affects the sound).

Also just a small note to you.  You mentioned "original fingerings", however this is not the case.  Your daughter is most likely playing from an edited edition (from the looks of it, International Music Company edited by Joachim, Orange Cover, but I have not played this in a few months and cannot be 100% certain).  All the bowings and fingerings and articulations and gracenotes are those of the editor and not of mozart.  They are what worked best for the physical stature and interpretation of that person.  Mozart wrote in minimal editorial notes.  If you are at all interested in the urtext edition with exactly what mozart wrote and nothing more, check out the Barenreiter.  It is entierly availaible online at dme.mozarteum.at.  You can change the language to English.  This is probably getting very deep for your daughter though.  There is no need to follow exactly what is written on the page though.  Use bowings and fingerings and articulations that work for your daughter and her body.

Enjoy the Mozart.  Of him, the highest rave is the grossest understatement.

December 26, 2008 at 12:14 AM ·

Wow! She is so good, Al! Congratulations and happy holidays to you and your family!

December 26, 2008 at 01:03 AM ·


Al, your daughter plays beautifully. Its amazing to watch where she gone compared with that Mozart 3 you posted all those years back which showed so much promise and, like all real talents,  potentila for los sof interst;)

I don`t have a computer with sound here but I` looking at the left hand in the openign of the Mozart and although its just my opinion I feel what may be a bad habit is beginning to form.  There is for me a strong sense of delayed action vibrato. IE it starts after the note a lot of the time.  This can become a dangerous mannerism in my opinion although others might feel differnetly.  Have you noticed this or is it just my old and bleary eyes?



December 26, 2008 at 02:02 PM ·

to those who have posted here and sent emails, really, humbly and gratefully, thank you,,,for being so good at what you do, so perceptive, helpful and encouraging...  i guess our new year resolution will be to follow up and check out everything that has been suggested.

most of you probably have no idea how confusing and disorienting it is to step into the world of classical music cold and trying to help out, not unlike following my wife's holiday decorating instructions:).  that is, in the process,  most likely i have made things worse:)   but, it is reassuring to hear that  no matter where you go, there you are,,,fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals,,,

it is interesting that buri mentioned about "interest"... even though my kid, with time and practice (ok, much more time spent on golf than on violin), is getting more proficient with violin and golf,  i've never got a sense that with time she has developed MORE interest , not saying it is high to start with.  may be it is just with my kids,  other than the longing for watching sponge bob, wondering what santa will bring,  following cake making competitions on food network tv, etc  i really cannot  honestly say there is much passion around.  not saying that i am dumbfounded, but at least somewhat interesting to question an act from a true display.  when i read about other kids who cannot wait to make music, i am like,  are there really kids like that?

buri's point on the vibrato issue, starting vibrato on time zero or time 3,  is also interesting; would like buri to give a  follow up after he gets to use his girl friend's real computer with a sound card:)  

being in the room with my child on the violin is often as amusing as it is mind- alteringly educational.  habitually, in the middle of playing a piece, she would come to a sudden stop.  she flashes a big smile and announces:   oh my nose itches.  

then,  in the middle of a slow movement where my heart is being pulled, she comes to yet another stop: you know the kid who sits next to me in class, conner?


oh he ate a piece of paper in class yesterday!!


it seems that a lot of  things happen, simultaneously and randomly,  perhaps even for a good reason or two because of  age and immaturity:)

December 26, 2008 at 02:51 PM ·

She is very good, it is not a need to have more life experience, just a few technical things that either her teacher, or a coach should be able to impart in a short time (minutes, if she pays attention). Of course, it will take longer (and practice) before she commands the changes.


1. The audible slides to higher position are distracting in music of this period since they occur with virtually every slide. Not heard so much since Mischa Elman, et al.

2. Her bow is a bit "heavy" at times, so that the faster notes come of more "romantic" than classical. The "lighter" bow will allow the notes to end a little softer and to bounce where they are supposed to - and impart the sense of "playing" (or lively joy) that is in the music.

3. Perhaps she should listen to some others play this concerto to get some idea of the "classical style" that seems to be considered correct for music of this era.




P.S.  Sorry - I missed most of the "previous responses" before posting this.

December 26, 2008 at 04:22 PM ·


I hate it when my nose itches while playing. :)

December 26, 2008 at 06:11 PM ·

 One of my daughter's coaches says that only children and very old people can play Mozart well.


December 27, 2008 at 08:05 PM ·

I think the kid is just a kid.  She's exploring.  This time around the (just) criticism is that the passage is played mechanically - although very competently, right?  The phrasing and dynamics suggest the payer doesn't feel the piece as a musical whole.  On the other hand, the last time I remember you posting your kid's playing, your criticism was that the vibrato was overdone - she was making it "mushy" (in a psychological sense, not an auditory sense).  So, last piece she was exploring expressing emotion; this piece she's exploring shifting.  It's OK.

With respect to her thinking (and talking) about other things while playing, maybe this is why she is progressing so rapidly with golf.  I mean, there you need perfect concentration while you set up and make a shot.  And then you get to think about the shot - and everything else that passes through your mind - while you pick up the next ball, recover the ball, chat, walk around, whatever.  There's a little breather after every shot.  If she needs those little breathers, it's natural she thinks about other stuff while she's playing: she's taking a break.  Not saying it's bad, good, or anything else.  Just making an observtion about what you report of her style of work.

In any case, I'd personally be pleased to play at the level she does.

December 28, 2008 at 11:02 AM ·

Actually I see a problem with the bowing which is not allowing her to use the full range of colours available. She uses very little finger flection making even fast detachè sound a little laboured.Her elbow is often a little too high which means that the sound is sometimes being forced from the shoulder making it rather brusk and uncontrolled hence long notes become rather monochrome sounding rather than having colour variations.Maybe her teacher is already working on these problems if not they will lead to difficulties achieving a good spiccato and sautillè.

December 28, 2008 at 04:17 PM ·


She is doing wonderfully and there are a lot of excellent comments above.

She just has to step into the characters more and vary the bow speed and touch. Perhaps if she could name the characters she hears as the music changes—lyric, sad, happy, joyous, noble, regal, a King, a Queen, a Prince, a Princess, a pauper, a peasant, etc.

There is no end and she must use her imagination in telling the story.

The one general comment that I would add is that her notes are too individual and do not connect and flow together so at other points they can indeed be distinctly separate to show style/character changes. Varying bow speed and touch will assist this tremendously.

P.S. Watch for my next blog, "Dead Slow=…" It will deal a bit with livening up the sound and thereby connecting notes more musically.

P.P.S. Take to heart especially what Buri and Janet mention, as she can readily adapt those concepts immediately into her playing. The other comments are excellent and will take longer, coming into her playing as she continues to develop.

Hope this helps—


December 28, 2008 at 07:28 PM ·

Al, you and your daughter may also find helpful by studying how Mutter plays this piece: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLYgxeK7sOg

December 29, 2008 at 08:46 AM ·

hi Al,

Please take my comment with the utmost respect as I love your daughters videos. I was wondering if these questions should be asked to her teacher. I see lots of suggestions and ideas, however out of respect for the teacher wouldn't it help most to pose this question to her (or him)?  I could be comepletely off base and you probably could have already had this conversation with the teacher.  I just wonder what happens when you get so much feedback from a message board. Does it interfere with what her teacher is doing with her?

December 29, 2008 at 04:54 PM ·

Terri makes some excellent points. Al, I really enjoyed this video. As a parent I can only encourage you to look at it from many points of view. I would ask the teacher about the learning objective(s) for this piece. If she plays it like a pro, then great, but on the flip side, if as a student, she achieves the teacher's learning objectives then she is successful no matter what a blog might suggest otherwise. As an educator (not music) I observe that there are different types of students. Many children, (and I suspect your daughter might be one of them) are deconstructionists. That is, they take a whole, and then break it apart. My kids are like that. Instead of learning each separate part and then building a complex task, they take the final answer and then deconstruct it into components. Many children, conversely, take little bits and build them into increasingly complex tasks to solve problems which is more a Suzuki approach which clicks with some kids. Regardless, it takes time and I think with a student like your daughter the temptation would always be to keep dialing up the difficulty of the lessons and pieces. Consider instead letting her "stew in Mozart juice" as long as she likes...yes even if that means she has a few bad days or weeks on the piece as it matures with her. There tends to be a phoney urgency and impatience around moving through the material and I think kids like being really good at a piece and find it most satisfying instead of ripping through concerti.

One more thing Al, on a piece like this, we have found that staying on it a lot longer really helps the kids "live with it". It gets under their skin and grows with them. Of course they work on other excercises and songs but they stay with a big piece like this and have time to discover more subtle aspects. They can take time on the details as others have suggested. Instead the temptation is to move on, on, on..... to the next thing. Stay with this piece for 6-9 months and then compare the videos and I promise you will be amazed. I think the bias against kids playing Mozart has more to do with adults pushing the kid onto something new before they are really finished putting it all together. There is a tendency to rocket through the repertoire. Hopefully her teacher can let her grow naturally with Mozart versus taking the hot-house tomatoe route. She really has all the time she needs so there is no rush... except the expectation of others.

Al, you should be a proud and happy parent. Keep us posted.

December 29, 2008 at 04:52 PM ·

Al, the whole play the piece and breaking into conversation in the middle of the piece... I can totally relate. It doesn't get much better, but the conversations do get shorter :)

I would have to disagree about keeping the piece for 6-9 months...just that piece. For a child that works quickly, they get bored quickly too; this is where the parent/teacher relationship is critical. If you do decide to keep that piece for a length of time, add another piece as well. I am sure you are already doing this.

My daughter's teacher would always introduce another piece only when the first piece needed the polish or memorization. This worked well and took the pressure off... new piece something else to think about... "as soon as this piece is really done, I can dig into the next one"

What also works well is to complete a piece, put it away for a couple of weeks and come back to it.

I think your daughter is doing really well. I also think that the golf and violin go hand in hand.. or hand in club? :)



December 29, 2008 at 05:12 PM ·

Jodi. Your points are well taken. I did not mean to suggest a child should work on a piece to the exclusion of other things. But as an educator, I believe children are capable of amazing concentration and don't get bored unless the instruction is not challenging them to go deeper. Children are very resourceful and capable of profound understanding if they are given the time. The adult bias that children need to be distracted and entertained, so they don't get bored, I believe to be a myth that comes from adults, not the students. Many children, not all, have a huge capacity to understand details, but need to be taught to prioritize the details. If you don't teach them how, how can they ever do it? Many times, they get restless because that is what we expect and then they behave accordingly. They seem to rise and sink with the tide of adult expectations. Left to their own devises without distraction, they can stick with things a very long time in many cases. They have a huge capacity to understand complex challenges.

December 29, 2008 at 05:56 PM ·

J Kingston... I love the way you said "teach them how" not show them how. Don't get me wrong, showing is great for the younger years Suzuki etc.

For us, we are moving from "show the student how to play this passage (where in the bow, bowing etc) to "How will YOU play this passage (which articulate bowings, where in the bow, style etc)and Why? How did you come to this conclustion? Your practicing was better this week because (fill in the blank). Our teacher right now is making my daughter be able to do some thinking  for herself rather than the teacher doing all the thinking for her. Which is turning out to be a great thing; something that she will carry on with her.

December 29, 2008 at 10:54 PM ·


That teacher sounds like a real keeper! He/she seems confident enough to give your child some time to learn to think on their own even if there might be a rough patch now and again. Better now than later. I tell my sons, you can hate me now or hate me when you are twenty seven. We laugh about that but it is really a pay now or pay later scenario for learning to think on your own, and set some priorities for yourself with all this music study business. As far as Mozart goes, I say let them think about such music long and hard. They have time don't they? Soon they will need to get jobs or go to college and then the luxury of time is difficult to come by. Why would anyone choose to teach/learn a piece like that and not give the time

December 30, 2008 at 08:03 PM ·

What beautiful, big tone!  Excellent memory too!  Most importantly she plays with a great deal of care.  You should be very happy with her progress!

Regarding Mozart as being too difficult for children to play well:  I think I mostly disagree having heard and seen occasional examples of Mozart played well by young players.  I think Mozart  requires a high degree of musical intent on the part of the player which then drives the young player to develop finesse.  Part of this is an understanding of context, ie. the phrase within the section, the section within the movement so that the piece is cohesive and understandable.  Part of this has to do with fluency, tempo and the proper feeling of pulse.  A big part of it has to do with the technical aspects of playing with finesse.  The player has to have a big arsenal of technical tools to achieve their artistic intent.

This might be perfect opportunity to work on the technical aspects of playing with finesse.  The development of finger motion in the bow hand for smoothly connected bow strokes would be a good place to start.

I am not sure how you go about developing musical intent.  I think listening to many great players play the piece is a good idea.  Having a teacher play specific phrases as illustrations of how to build the phrase, how to change the color etc.... It takes persistence on the part of the teacher not to let the student go until they are sure they understand how it ought to be played.   I have seen entire lessons devoted to the first phrase of a piece or to how to release the bow after a chord, etc... You would have to find out if your daughter is interested in this degree of minutia at this point in her development.  Mozart requires this type of microscopic detail which some children appreciate and others do not have the patience for.


January 6, 2009 at 06:05 PM ·

just back from a trip,,sorry to have missed-- and are responding late to-- very helpful pointers from parents/teachers/thinkers who have been there and done that...

the concept of deconstruction is interesting.  when i examine my kid's violin vs golf learning, i must confess that we have taken the deconstruction route much more with golf, at least more deliberately from day one, which i think has helped her course management a great deal.  alllow me to indulge you a bit on golf thinking. 

with golf, depite weather condition, grass condition, slope and coutour condition of  the couse, to name just a few, which are constant variables, the basic premise is to deliver the ball from point a to point b in as few strokes as possible.  one usually hits the longest club,  the driver, for about 180 yards for my kid,  then the final destination, the green,  is in better view and she plays a shorter club to attempt to land on the green.  once on the green, she uses a putter to try to sink the ball into the hole; the number of attempts ranges from one to infinity:), which is the challenge.    a rather boring mental process on paper, or a waste of time for busy violinists:), but once you are into it, for whatever reasons,  it can be highly addictive and fascinating, much like violin:).    work  on it to get better and to get better faster, have to work smarter. 

it is difficult to drive a ball long and straight, so most people focus on learning swinging the longest club or at least spending the most time and energy on it.  yet, from very early on with golf, we have taken the deconstruction route and walk backwards so to speak.  we focus much more on putting, the final link,,,how to sink the ball in as few putts as possible.   then we focus on approach shots into the green and finally, or least importantly, how to hit long and straight.  since we cannot be all to all due to time and energy constraints, this distribution of priorities has helped her a lot, allowing her to develop an effective practice routine and a game that is mature enough to play with most adults and kids much older.  ladys tee of under 5000 yards, she can manage in the 80s.   2 things i am quite certain about with golf with her.  1. the neuromuscular development with her golf training has helped her violin learning when she first started, fine motor, reaction time, the ability to stand still to finish a task, etc.  2.   the mental toughness built from golf training has prepared her well when the violin teacher throws stone and arrows:) there is a difference between talking about you the person vs you the violin player.  and even if people are at odd with you the person, you focus on the tasks at hand.

with violin learning, i don't think the ways to acquire the skills/knowledge have been made very clear to us.  it is a bit like walking into disney world where all of a sudden, you are surrounded with 20 rides!  partly because i am not sure if the teacher has really thought it out clearly or has articulated convincingly to us the different approaches to choose from.  often, i feel that my kid is not very clear on the direction and so i raise my hand to question:)  even though i am quite particular about doing something right if we bother to do it at all,  part of me, with regret perhaps, often settles with compromises.   unlike many other kids on youtube or elsewhere who are sincerely serious about becoming a pro violinist, our kid is not and thus we  tend to let some things slide here and there, thinking that may be it is a matter of proper timing for certain things to clarify themselves, or may be both my kid and i need to mature musically more to see the picture.  then there is that chinese saying,,,when you are ready to learn, the teacher will come to you.  huh?:)

with this clip, the teacher basically told us to do it on her own and wanted to see her version.  the teacher was sick one week, so the clip was 2 weeks later working on it without "intervention" yet.     the teacher's position with her right now is show me what you've got, then we experiment and build from there and then see what you can retain, to be your own.  

the point raised about putting the teacher in a funny spot by getting feeback here is a good one.  i can imagine beyond basic courtesy, there are also issues with ethics or even politics.   there are 2 sides to this type of v.com masterclass.

but, i would like to think about it more benignly. when we approached this teacher, we have made a special request, quite extraordinary because he related to me other parents have sent kids more or less anticipating if not demanding a successful juilluard pre college admission:  we want our kid to learn violin just for the sake of it, may be a life skill, may be something nurturing  to her personal growth, anything but to force it on her as if it is an early career move, the only way out, particularly since our kid has never indicated that.  she is basically competing in golf every week, not a leisure walk in the park as some would consider,  so we think she truly needs a break.  what is better than with classical music,,,something soothing,relaxing and healing to fall back to?  the teacher is possibly disappointed that someone with potential is not to be pushed hard enough to test the limit, but i think the teacher is also practical enough to honor our request, that unless she herself one day really wants to put her heart and sweat into music,  just do what her schedule allows, not what some may envision.     

ps.  on the trip, we have worked on couple basic issues suggested,,,,

1. wrist vibrato...why is it when v.com members suggest it she takes it seriously and can pretty much switch over from her arm vibrato in one day?  vanity? peer pressure?  the power of internet? or simply anesthesia to daddy's help?!!!

2. proper bowing approaching the frog,,,i see improvement,,,still needs reminder here and there.  bad habits tough to break, good habits tough to develop! 

happy new year everyone~!

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