Level of difficulty

December 29, 2008 at 06:26 PM ·

Is there a universal system of grading violin works according to difficulty?
I suggest the following percentage system:
0%   - playable by the untrained
10%  - Kreutzer Study 2
20%  - Kreutzer Study 10
30%  - Kreutzer Study 26
40%  - Kreutzer Study 35
50%  - Paganini Caprice 14
60%  - Paganini Caprice 9
70%  - Paganini Caprice 24
80%  - Paganini Caprice 4
90%  - Ernst    Etude 3
100% - playable only by machine

Replies (13)

December 29, 2008 at 06:38 PM ·

.... http://violinmasterclass.com/repertoire.php ....

December 29, 2008 at 07:29 PM ·

American String Teachers Ass'n has a rating system - ASTA levels 1-6 with 6 being the most difficult.  The portion of Shar's website that sells sheet music uses that rating system.  Other sheet music selling websites may also use it.

December 29, 2008 at 07:32 PM ·

Does someone have a link to the ASTA grade syllabus? I absolutely can not find it

December 30, 2008 at 01:25 AM ·

Well, the ASTA graded repertoire has almost convinced me I better switch to violin.

At Level 8, violinists have the choice of repertoire like the Tschaikovsky or Wieniewski slow movements, Beethoven Romance, Spohr, Mozart, Haydn, and DeBeriot concertos.  Scales?  Three-octave in E and one-octave G scale in octaves will do.

Level 8 bass players on the other hand, have to play Kol Nidrei (!), the Koussevitsky Concerto (!), or the Dragonetti or Dittersdorf concerti.  Scales?  Three-octave in E, gotta keep up with the violins, but do a two-octave B-flat scale in thirds, let's cowboy up here.

This was so cockeyed that I looked at Level 10 bass rep: Bruch Violin Concerto (!!!!!), Paganini #24, and Zigeunerweisen...

Somebody had a lot of fun putting THAT together.

At Level 1, where violins are doing one-octave D scales and not-quite-finishing Suzuki Book 1, basses are doing thumb position exercises I still hadn't gotten to after I went to All-State Orchestra.

Presumably at Level 11, you get to fly to your gig in tights and a cape with a big B across your chest...


December 30, 2008 at 01:31 AM ·

LOL, Bill!


December 30, 2008 at 10:23 AM ·

Most violinists start at 3.

Most bassists start at around 13 having played violin or cello for a few years before.

In order to keep children interested it is important to give recognition for their accomplishments. 

I think probably ASTA was thinking along these lines.  If you want the students to pass a level about once a year (like changing grades in school) then it makes sense that the grades for violinists who are usually little children progress slower than those for bassists who are usually teenagers.

December 30, 2008 at 07:00 PM ·

That makes perfect sense, Joseph.

December 30, 2008 at 07:11 PM ·

Problem I have with the percentage system shown is that Kreutzer 2 at 10% seems awfully low to me and misses a large amount of repertoire before getting to that stage. Graded repertoire from places like violinmasterclass.com and exam syllabuses are probably the easiest way to gain an understanding of how difficult the various pieces are. Problem I have with violinmasterclass.com's graded repertoire list is that it just lists the books of etudes, so Kreutzer might appear over 3 or 4 levels, but we all know that being able to play Kreutzer 2 isn't like being able to play Kreutzer 39. Hence why I take a number of different lists to make my decisions about pieces.

Also, do a search on here for Jubin's Graded Repertoire. He put together a great list of concertos and (i think) solo violin works.

December 31, 2008 at 03:49 AM ·

Most violinists start at 3.

In what world?  International soloists, yes.  Public school?  I think not. 

April 6, 2011 at 01:35 AM ·

 Haha Bill

But to answer the question (and sorry if I'm really late) is that level of difficulty is not only based on pieces/studies, but it's also based on the violinist. For example, up-bow staccato may be easy for one person, but really hard for another, making Paganini Caprice 10, 15, etc. very hard for one person and much easier for the other.

However, for me and a lot of people I know, the caprices order goes like this in difficulty:


40%- Caprice 24

60%- Caprice 13

80%- Caprice 16

90%- Caprices 15&4 (in that order)


Again, this is completely my opinion, so please don't yell or insult me (please?). But I just think 24 isn't that hard. Sure it has a lot of variety in technique, but the degree of difficulty for each variation isn't very hard. I believe 13 and 16 are very hard to play perfectly clean, and 15 and 4 are just so virtuosic and in my opinion, excruciatingly difficult because of the required technical ability to play cleanly and correctly and then the musical component that can be very tricky to figure out

Also, hardest piece ever (in my opinion): Variations on the Last Rose of Summer by Ernst. But not many play it, because once you knock down about 10 Paganini caprices, you're already a virtuoso, and playing Ernst just isn't as necessary anymore. 


Hope this helps!

April 6, 2011 at 12:59 PM ·

What Bill said. Definitely a player-by-player issue. My funky left pinky makes many doublestops difficult, so anything with long ds sections, especially 3rds or 4ths is a pain, literally & figuratively. Like that. I'd agree that there are pieces that are pretty much uniformly difficult, like the Caprices, Beethoven,Tchaikowsky or Sibelius concerti, but I wouldn't begin to say most difficult about any one of them. Sue

April 6, 2011 at 04:52 PM ·

Many years ago when rock climbers started a level of difficulty system, they found the hardest climb that anyone would ever do and called it a 5.10.  Easy climbs that are stair steps with hand holds were called 5.1.  The 5 means something else, but the system is clearly a percentage system.  In 5 years or so, climbers did climbs harder than the original 5.10, so they called them 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.c, 5.10d, and this worked for another 5 or so years.  Then people did even harder climbs and they gave in.  They labeled it 5.11.  Now rated difficulty goes up to at least 5.14d.

Moral of the story is:  there is no telling the level that human performance will rise to.

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