I've been lurking this site for a long time and have picked up invaluable tips, for which thanks. I'm a bit unusual because for 30 years I have been a professional musician, pianist and arranger/composer but wasn't a violinist, most of my work having been arranging for all sorts of orchestras and ensembles including two prominent London orchestras, but only recently I discovered that the violin, which I love, should have been the instrument I took up in the first place. I understand about writing/arranging for the violin, but that is a long way from playing it!
I first encountered the violin as a player with some rundimentary lessons at the age of 40, but I gave up after grade 3, mainly because I could not find a teacher who could cope with an already knowledgable adult musician taking up the fiddle from scratch and I also became despondant at what I saw was poor progress. One teacher was reasonably empathetic but talked to me like I was an idiot, assuming I was a complete beginner in music as well! The other was helpful but I found that she didn't really demand much and I think assumed I was always going to be pretty hopeless, presumably thinking my joints and hands were too "old".
At the advance age of 57 I have taken the violin up again and I thought I would share some of my experiences so far. The first thing I must emphasise is that I have made pretty good progress simply by doing an awful lot of research on the internet, YouTube and sites like this, and then applying it as though it was a lesson. I also bought all the DVD's I could: Art of Violin, Perlman, Vengerov, Hahn, Menuhin, Milstein etc, and sat for hours and hours just watching their techniques, occasionally slowing down the video so I could see exactly what they were doing.There is no doubt I have made more progress this time through determination and acute observation with the now wonderful internet resources, than I ever did through previous lessons. But, I have been utterly humbled by the violin, since previously I had assumed I could pretty much pick up any instrument and make reasonable progress, and having achieved a high standard on Piano and Flute. But the violin is altogether different! I don't think I have ever encountered such a challenging and difficult instrument.
I also spent some time in my 40's teaching piano and composition with a local music service and I have to say that I felt the standard of teaching strings generally was pretty dire. I'm sure there were noble exceptions but it seemed to me that so little of the passion and ambition to play well was communicated to the students. Vibrato, for example, was left out completely as a concept, with the students often left to their own devices when trying to develop this very difficult technique. It seems to me that teaching in the USA is way ahead of string teaching in the UK, at least at a local level, but maybe things have improved.
While I have my favourite players, the two that stand out as being most compelling to watch are Perlamn and Hahn: Perlman because, like so many beginners, I developed a hand vibrato at first and he seems to be one of the few contemporary players exclusively using it. Hilary Hahn's DVDs and YouTube videos have been enormously helpful because in my view she has the closest to a flawless contemporary technique and is an outstanding example of what to watch: Everything is so right.....wonderful control of the bow, exquisite arm vibrato (even in very high positions which others seem to tackle with a hand/finger vibrato), fantastic control of the left hand and an unbelievably controlled 4th finger...but most of all the sweetest sound I think I've ever heard, even if sometimes she lacks the demonic quality of other players.
A couple of things somewhat baffle me as being issues which other relative newcomers must surely experience but I see rarely discussed here or other places: Firstly, control of semitones between 3rd and 4th finger in positions 3 to 6. Going up the scale (A string in 3rd Pos) an F sharp 3rd finger to G natural 4th finger is ok because I can keep the two fingers close together. On the way down it is MUCH more difficult since the 4th finger is so much harder to keep close to the anticipated 3rd finger. I would say these 4-3 semitone down runs are easily the most difficult thing to keep in tune and I would welcome any tips.
Secondly, by far the hardest thing for an adult (or maybe all) beginner/s is convincing playing of the G string. When you are a beginner it doesn't matter how relaxed you are and how much you twist and shift the elbow, playing the G string is excruciatingly uncomfortable. At times I have utterly despaired that I would ever get comfortable here, let alone get a half decent vibrato. Gradually though, it has got easier day by day but has required enormous concentration and effort, with hours and hours of practice. I don't think I am ever going to get that "gap" of air between the side of the hand and the right side of the fingerboard here, but I notice that many of the great players also do not have a discernable gap, although obviously there is no undue tension or pressure. (Watch Kung Wa Chung playing Air on a G string using JUST the G string throughout....marvellous).
I have also learned that watching some of the acclaimed virtuosi is not always useful,. For instance Vengerov seems to shift his thumb into bizarre positions and his particular arm vibrato approach is not something my hands would benefit from. Other players like Joshua Bell, who has a nice sound but to my mind a really awkward looking stance, is probably not a great example to follow. Generally speaking though, nearly all of the great players impart at least one, if not several, exemplary visual signs which I have found extremely helpful.
I must also mention ViolinMasterClass.com since this site has a wealth of fantastic videos and info which I have found invaluable. The only issue I find strange here is where Sassmannhaus recommends only arm vibrato in very high positions, explaining that in these positions there is no room to "extend" the hand using wrist vibrato. This makes no sense to me since hand vibrato is a BACKWARDS movement, not an extension, and therefore moves away from the violin body, not towards it, so surely there IS room for manoeuvre?
One of the biggest challenges I have encountered is vibrato of ANY kind above A on the E string (I mean above high A with 3rd/4th finger 1 octave above 1st position A on E string). Up here and beyond to the 4th octave my left hand thumb (I have a relatively small left hand) has to shift around the side a little (I notice Ida Haendel does this too) with the thumb moving to the right supporting the body rather than neck (with elbow pointing right, drawn inwards and twisted somewhat). With the more "sideways" angle of the fingers to the board, there is not so much room to curve the two joints of the fingers using vibrato, and it baffles me how other players manage to get incredible flexibility up here. Any tips on this would also be appreciated. Note: For my age my hands are in good condition and I have few problems with joint flexibility, although the 4th finger is not as it was when I was thirty years younger.
Apologies for long post but I though I would mention everything on my mind in one go!
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