Suggestions for managing an orchestral piece that's just too fast?

March 11, 2009 at 05:37 AM ·

On another thread I just mentioned that I'm lacking technique and skills required to play some of my 2nd violin orchestral rep., and that this year I'm practicing previous lesson material on my own (no teacher).

One of our pieces for the spring concert is: Mein Vaterland, Nr. 2 Moldau (Vlatava) by Smetana.

Most of it is just too fast for me.  In fact, it's so fast I can't even figure out how to 'fake' it effectively.  While I've had to fake passages in other works, it looks like I'll need to fake 90%  this entire piece unless I can come up with some strategies to help me play some of it at least.

Any practical suggestions welcomed!

(Thankfully the rest of our current rep is managable!)


Replies (34)

March 11, 2009 at 06:30 AM ·

I was in orchestra before, but I did not like it so I didnt try and had to fake my way through most of it. Your in a real pickle if faking the song is proving to bee too difficult. I think it would be best to talk to your teacher and sit this next concert out because it would seem you in a far too advance orchestra. If your also private tutorless then your options are limited. Practicing by yourself is really hard...If I was you I would just go tell the conductor that its not a matter of trying or not its that your just way in over your head this time and you will hinder the overall performance of the orchestra, and that it would be best for everyone if you sat this one out.

Im also guessing your in a school orchestra because if you where getting paied then this would be a different scenario.

March 11, 2009 at 09:42 AM ·

figure out how to 'fake' it effectively...SAY WHAT?????

Chris is giving good ethical advice. Nothing worse than a bunch of faking going on, as if nobody notices...audience included.

As for practicing ...get at a tempo where you can accomplish the business at hand flawlessly; then get out the metronome...yes the metronome does work...also another reason why scales are invaluable.

Is this solely your problem or are a great number experiencing the similar situation? If this is the case perhaps the conductor needs to ease off the gas pedal and rethink his/her programming options

nopity.gif No Pity image by TGrosjean

March 11, 2009 at 10:31 AM ·

Sam makes a valid point.  Whilst I can understand those who say "If you really can't play it - sit the concert out..." I think that my first response to this situation would be to observe whether other players are having the same problems in the section, chat to them in the rehearsal intermission about it etc and maybe have a quiet word with your principal before making any big decisions to sit out the concert.  It could be that a sectional rehearsal might be the answer to everyone's issues.

Knowing the piece, I wouldn't be surprised if "Maestro" is imagining he/she is conducting the Chicago Symphony and perhaps not being totally realistic about the orchestra's ability.

Slow practising will help and if all else fails, tell the brass section to play fff.

March 11, 2009 at 11:41 AM ·

You might be surprised at how much better it will get over time and with practice.  Where do you sit in the section--that is, how obvious will the faking (or the sitting out) be to the audience?

Sometimes conductors in community orchestras limit certain passages to the first 1-2 stands of a section, and have everyone else sit out.  Our orchestra did that for part of Dvorak's Slavonic Dance #1 last concert.  The conductor didn't make that decision until 2 weeks before the concert, though.  He waited to see how it sounded with everyone, first.  Yours might be doing that.  I don't know how comfortable you feel talking with him, but you could bring that possibility up, especially if others around you are struggling too.  You could also talk to the principal of your section and suggest parts of the piece where you'd feel more comfortable sitting out and see what s/he says.

I've also been advised, when I was a student in a school orchestra, that "you don't have to play every note."  Especially for passages of fast running 16th notes that are just whooshing by, concentrate on the downbeats to each measure, and just play those.  That will help you keep your place and not get lost until you get to a part you can play again.

March 11, 2009 at 12:43 PM ·

I have never played the Moldau, so my advice is a bit abstract.  However, two pieces of advice you have received are crucial.  The first is to practice it slowly enough so that you can play every note.  Then, once you have done that, begin to speed it up.  Once you do this, if you cannot get it completely up to speed, you will have a better idea of what you can reasonably fake.  Karen's point about playing the downbeat in long runs of 16ths is a good one to remember if you are trying to fake.  From the point of view of the piece's structure, those are likely to be the key notes, the ones the audience will "hear."

With respect to the ethical question, I offer the following story.  My previous teacher, a very good professional violinist, was in an orch that was to play a piece by Lutoslawski.  She showed me the first violin part and said it was basically impossible to play all the notes as written.  She said that in order to test that theory, she had listened to a recording of DuToit and the Montreal Symphony, which revealed that the violins were not hitting anything like all the notes,  'Nuff said.

Good luck!  Do the best you can.

March 11, 2009 at 01:00 PM ·

I am with the folks who say keep trying for the time being. Learning all the notes at a tempo you can handle is a good thing, and working at increasing tempo on the more manageable chunks is good, too. If you were my student, that's what I'd advise, and then offer some strategies for how to speed up successfully.  I read from your bio that you are an intermediate level player in a community orchestra. If your orchestra like many is generally a little short on string players, anyone sitting out an entire concert leaves a noticeable effect. I like to hope that conductors of school groups & community groups are approachable, but I know that not all are. You are the best one to know what you can say to him or her. Do try watching or asking around to see if this is a general problem or limited to a smaller group of players. Perhaps you end up sitting out this piece, or taking some sections tacet.  Is there a programming committee? Maybe this is something your orchestra should discuss & consider forming. I think it is very helpful as a conductor to know what the group may aspire to, favorite pieces they would like to eventually play,  when they've had enough of any given style or composer.  Sue

March 11, 2009 at 01:37 PM · There is a high art to faking-in such a manner that no one notices. Now this practice is only to be encouraged when their is no time to prepare very difficult and unviolinistic repertoire...Moldau is tricky, but it is more than playable with lots of practice. In the 1st case, a pice like Moldau-you need to be relaxed in both hands. Also drill your scales and arpeggios, a great deal of the nasty stuff in this work is just that. Start working slow and gradually turn up the metronome-practice different rhythms and accentation to drill fingerings in your left hand. Now, when ALL else fails and you have no coice but to fake. The main thing people from the house notice are your bow, and if you have notes dangling-and if your visual effort you are putting in is appropriate to what the rest of the section is doing. You need to look like you are playing loud-but if you are unable to hit the notes-then you should not be loud, use a very light string contact and let everyone else project over you.

March 11, 2009 at 03:57 PM ·

Another approach that has helped me learn orchestra music is to listen to a recording and follow along with my part and play it mentally, without the instrument, a couple of times a day.  That doesn't necessarily help your fingers keep up, but it does help your mind keep up, which is about 1/3 of the problem.  You'll still need to work on the fingers separately, with your instrument, but if your mind isn't with the program, your fingers won't ever get there.

March 11, 2009 at 08:23 PM ·

Try this. Play the first note of every measure. If you can keep up and look past all the other notes that are swimming on the page you are well on your way to being a first class faker. Once you can do the first note then (say for Moldau) play the first note of every group. Be meticulous about the rhythm. Don't rewrite.

For a while this will be as good as you can expect to do but once you train your brain to always play the first notes learning how to fill in becomes easier (not easy just easier). 

If you can do this well you won't be detracting from the overall performance (much) and you'll be developing a wonderful keep up skill.

March 11, 2009 at 08:24 PM ·

I can relate to your situation. I play 2nd Violin in a community orchestra and our repertoire is becoming more difficult every year, including the tempo required to perform the music.

I agree with all of the previous posts. I would say that using a metronome, while frustrating at times, really does assist in building speed on difficult passages. If you have practiced a really difficult section and you still cant play to tempo, I suggest you play the downbeat........the audience can certainly tell when a string section is struggling so it really not a good idea to play a extended passages that are technically over your head.

I also suggest you discuss with your section leader your concerns to determine if sitting out for either the entire performance or part of the performance is feasible. Your section leader knows your strengths and limitations and I am sure they would appreciate your input.

Good luck!

March 11, 2009 at 10:28 PM ·


since this is not life and death and your real purpose is to share the joy of music with everyone (i hope) then assume for now that you are going to play.   How can you make the best contribution at your level of ability?   You have a greta many answers above.   Here are a few idle thoughts.

1)   Make sure your part id cleanly bowed.   No hurried down bows written over up bows in the foolish belief you will remeber which is which by next rehearsal.   That is frst the repsonsibilty of the leader and then yours.

2)  Ask an advanced palyer for fingerings and even mini lessons .  They should be generous .  If nobody will give you the time of day find a new orchestra;)

3)Turn up early for rehearsal and practice .

4)   Very importnat-  practice the introduction of moldave more than the rets of it. It is where the seconds are most exposed.

5)  Practice the easy melodies like crazy.  If you cna play these beautifully the rest is just loud bumfluff.

6)   Practice the work slowly and carefully in your head in your break tiems ta work. It make sa big difference.  Seeik to vizulaize the patterns of your left hand and the movements of yourbow together.

7)   Analyze the piece in terms of blocks rather than runs.  If you don`t knowthese blocks then get a copy of Drew Lechers book which explains it all.

8)   Don@t be tempted to practice large chunks.  Practice a small chunk many times.  Then the next andthe next until each one is secure.  Then practice two small cghunks combined,  then the next two,  then the next and so on.  Then go back and practice three chunks combined and so forth.

9)  Really study the score and other parts.  Knowing exactly what is going on in Moldave is very importnat and can make you a reall asset to the orcehstra whethe ror not you are playign all the notes.

10)  Chhers your self up by knowing that ther eis one long passgae of diminshed arpeggiod mositf before the coda that at least three quarters of the first violin section cannot play remotelyin tune.  Trust me on this;)



March 12, 2009 at 05:37 AM ·

The Moldau is tricky for 2nds and violas....  when practicing it, start with just the first note of each group of 16ths, then break it down measure by measure.  Start SLOWLY, then pick up the tempo - one measure at a time repeatedly, then add the second measure to the first, slowly at first then bring up to tempo.

It may sound tedious, but it is actually an effective way to learn "crazy fast" passages relatively quickly.  The repetition, building it measure by measure, gets the notes under your hand so that you don't panic when you see all the "black" on the page. 

Also, at least for the viola part, 2nd position actually makes this piece much easier to play.  I'm not sure if that is the case with the second violin part or not.  You may want to ask your principal 2nd for fingerings.

March 12, 2009 at 04:06 PM ·

Thank you everyone, for your responses and suggestions - which I'll start implementing immediately!  I have two metronomes...think I can speed up my progress if I use both? ;) (Just kidding).  I'm okay with the notation, and with the's just the speed that we're playing at...I think I'm deficient in quick-twitch muscles...

If I just can't get it to speed by May, I'll see if I can arrange to just play certain notes for the concert and keep my bowing in check with the others...

This is the only piece I can't manage so far, the rest of material for the May concert is fine for the most part.  Sitting out the entire concert isn't really an option.  Not to mention we need the bodies...

Just to compare situations with other adults:  I live in a small city.  We have a professional Symphony orchestra, and then we have a single community orchestra.  That's it for adult orchestras.  The community orchestra was set up for players like me, and for those playing a 2nd instrument, etc.  We also have had a couple of symphony principals play with us if they wanted more playing time (and as ringers I suspect).  If I wasn't playing in the community orchestra, I wouldn't have any venue available to me.  I'm very grateful I get to play at all - I love it.

Our string section is the weakest.  And this year we're especially weak - and I'm not the worst 2nd violinist out of the 7 of us that are presently playing (and only five 1sts!).  Part of my problem is that I can't hear what we're supposed to be playing properly.  If I look around to the others during rehearsal they may be on target or not, lol, everyone has their own weak areas.  My current stand partner is actually a good match for me...his counting is solid and that's helped me a lot...otherwise we're playing roughly the same level of material (on our own or in lessons).

We've tried to arrange for section rehearsals - everyone agrees it's a great idea...but with all the various commitments everyone has (with work, as parents, etc.) it's never materialized.  Our section leader is a chiropracter with 3 small daughters...he's lucky if he can make it for regular rehearsals.

We actually have several practicing physicians...every now and then someone rushes out of rehearsal when they're on call to deal with emergencies...other than that, lots of teachers, both secondary and University, a couple of research scientists, administrators, University students, engineers, and two that make a living as musicians amongst others...

I'm also looking for a recording of the Moldau...listening to a piece helps me a lot...



March 12, 2009 at 05:04 PM ·

Heres one on youtube:

Maybe you could just use a really big practice mute and play along. It would look more authentic than just following other peoples bow's atleast you would get the temp down.

March 13, 2009 at 04:00 AM ·

Now that hadn't occured to me!  LOL...good idea! :D

Thanks for the link too!

March 13, 2009 at 04:02 AM ·


couldnt you just use a bow with zero rosin on for that piece?

Incidentally,  did you notice someone just survived jumping off Niagara Falls.  That wasn`t you by any chance?



March 13, 2009 at 04:02 AM ·

When my CO played this a few years ago, there were some that couldn't manage those passages at tempo.  So the "fine art of fakeoso" took over.  Play either the first or last note of each of the 16th note runs, keeping the bowing with everyone else.  It is easier to get the first note rather than the last, and it is the more "important" of the group of 4.  This doesn't work though if the ENTIRE section is doing the same thing :)

Those sections are mostly for "effect"  - meant to make you picture flowing water in your mind.  If your CO makes that flowing water a little choppier than normal, I don't think your conductor will mind, as long as you can keep up and keep the bowings moving the same way.

March 13, 2009 at 04:31 AM ·


unfortunately there are different kinds of flowing water.



March 13, 2009 at 05:45 AM ·

Buri -

Of course.  There is either the babbling brook, slow flowing river, or chaotic rapids.  When my CO orchestra played it, the babbling brook sounded more like a shower fawcet with an occasional blockage or surge in water velocity. 

March 13, 2009 at 07:21 PM ·

Buri - you're brilliant.  An unrosined bow also never occured to me!

And it wasn't me jumping in water...I hate getting wet...

Mendy: Listening to the piece last night also can barely hear the 2nd violins in the if you hear me even less (should it be necessary) no one will notice.  I will work on getting my bowing to look like everyone else's.

To bolster my own ego I must remind myself that I am coming along.  Four years ago when I started I could only play in 4 keys (C, G, D and F).  Now I can manage all of them (with varying success).  If I can do that, I hope I can manage to get a little speedier too...although the slow-twitch muscles might not agree...

March 13, 2009 at 07:47 PM ·

Maybe you could lip synch it!

March 13, 2009 at 08:09 PM ·

This would be the best statement for you, I think:

"since this is not life and death and your real purpose is to share the joy of music with everyone (i hope) then assume for now that you are going to play. "

Excellent. Should be repeated...

My CO is, well, for the lack of a better term, pretty bad. The median age is most definitely over 65 and probably well into the 70s. My stand partner is 85 years old. I don't state their age to say that because they're this old they're definitely bad, but that they are here for the sole purpose that they enjoy playing and want to "share the joy of music with everyone."

We don't have any double reeds and our percussion consists of one visually impared woman with sole floor tom instead of timpani (I LOVE that!).

We just performed the following concert:

brahms Academic Overture
mozart Symphony No 40
berlioz Les nuits d'ete (guest pro soprano)
strauss Blue Danube Waltz

was the concert any good? absolutely not. I was pretty embarassed by the result. But one member of the quite large (and old) audience said to me "Thank you; I'm enjoying every second" Was she lying? maybe, but she didn't need to say anything to me, so I'll take her comment at face value...

This is in new york city where they could hear one of the premiere orchestras in the world simply by taking a short subway ride. BUT, they went to their local community center, paid $5 or $3 and enjoyed it anyway. And my stand partner and the rest of the orchestra had a good time, too.

So I suppose it's not a horrible thing that you're having trouble with the moldau. you're trying to improve! Great attitude. keep it up! let us know how it goes :)


March 14, 2009 at 03:27 AM ·

So much good advice from so many people. 

Moldau is patterns, patterns, patterns.  The larger "pattern vocabulary" you develop, the faster and faster you will catch on to new pieces, particularly in orchestra playing.

Now when it's so fast the concertmaster (me) can't keep up, you're in serious trouble. :)

March 16, 2009 at 12:12 AM · Ijust learned this piece-but didn't get to play it with the orchestra due to health. And I was playing 1st violin. But I listened to it many times and definately used the metronome. Another question is are you sitting inside or outside? It matters as far as whose part you are ultimately using and when and how you put your own fingerings in. If you practice with your fingerings and get to rehearsal and concert and dont have them, a lot of practicing could havebeen wasted. I can't see what I am typing with this editor. What is wrong with my browser or this message program??? -Jennifer Warren

March 16, 2009 at 12:13 AM ·

I think it`s gone Moldau...

March 16, 2009 at 12:18 AM ·

March 16, 2009 at 12:20 AM ·

LOL @ Buri...

Jennifer: Sorry you didn't get to play it!  Due the high percentage of performers wtih bifocals (progressives) we each get our own stands.  Lucky we're not a huge group in that regard.  However I sort of have a partner, so were we to share a stand he'd be on my right (outside).

I did use the metronome yesterday for a while.  It's amazing  how slow I can program it! ;)

March 16, 2009 at 09:15 PM ·

My experience is that in playing orchestra music, a lot of speed problems are really rhythm problems.    If you broke it down into just pairs of notes, there's no limit to how fast you could play the two notes.  Worst case is you practice in some unevenness so that it seems right to you, and you find it messes you up playing with the group.  It's like all of a sudden you discover you're not with the group, and all you can do is try to jump back in somewhere.  But insanely fast playing is what classical orchestra violin is all about.  Get used to it :)


March 16, 2009 at 10:22 PM ·


Jim, you raised a very importnat point.    Players often kid themselves into thinking something is really fast and from that moment on they are doomed.  Heifetz didn`t alwas play hings fatser than many other players.  he just soudned faster because he played more evenly and with more control.

I know what you mena about looking at two notes but perhaps ther eis another aspect.  as ne links togethe clumps of tw notes there has to be a distinct alteratin in the mental status quo. Or rather the status quo has to be preserved.  In other words,  one has to use the same simple mental command to trigger a whole group of notes that one used to trugger just two.  Thus the moreone has automated patterns the easier palying is.



March 23, 2009 at 01:39 PM ·

I started with a small community orchestra before I'd played a full year. Now, seven years later, I play with a college orchestra loaded with music majors and performing arts students. What a thrill.

There are always fast passages that are difficult to play. Two things have helped me:

1. Know the music very, very well. That way you can either play SOME of the notes in a fast passage (perhaps one note in a duplet or quadruplet) without getting lost. Jump back in as soon as you can.

2. MEMORIZE the fast passages. Generally, you can't read every note fast enough anyhow at these top speeds; but by repeating, repeating, and finally memorizing it, you can play it.,

And with each concert, you get better and better. The orchestra has always motivated me to practice more and find fingering and positions shifts to play SMARTER . . . and ultimately FASTER.


March 23, 2009 at 02:14 PM ·

Thank you!  You're right - knowing the notes well, even if I can't memorize too much, does speed things up considerably - even if I'm still not close to being all the way there...

I've been steadily plugging away at's getting better... interesting to see if I get close to playing it to speed by the end of May.

I have been incorporating the advice given...and it's certainly helped.  Even just not being as overwhelmed by the whole thing - and taking a closer look at all the component parts was a big-step forward...

..."take a deep breath and calm down"...

LOL...advice that does work!



March 23, 2009 at 02:26 PM ·

Every single time new orchestral scores are distributed, I look through them and think that I'll never play all these notes. Never!

Then after 10 days of lots of practice, they all become playable. I always download the music, ( or other download site) and prepare a practice CD.

I divide the movements on the practice CD into sections of my choosing; I record speeds sometimes starting at 60% concert speed and then up to 100%, always hoping that the conductor won't go at 100% concert speed until he agrees to pay me a professional salary!!

This has worked so well for me. I play often with the LONDON SYMPHONY. They're available to play along with 24/7 and they love me. Someone one asked, "What are they paying you?? (LOL)

Practicing for an orchestra concert is nothing short of great, great fun. And you improve with each concert.



March 27, 2009 at 12:10 PM ·

Great thread.  I am glad you are getting better at it.....Ma Vlast is one of my favorite pieces in the orchestral repertoire. 

Just a thing-sometimes faking is necessary, to all those who said that it cannot be done.  Sure, the Moldau is playable, though VERY difficult.  However, there are pieces like a variation from Elgar's brilliant yet infamous Enigma Variations that literally goes a 4/4 measure every half second, and on top of it youre doing scales and eigth notes and triplets all over the fingerboard.  THOSE are thigns you must learn to fake well.  In the long run, you must take the notes that are msot melodically and harmonicaly relevant to the piece at that moment and possible make something up.  For example, we [play the same rhythm but repeat the first note of every group of 2, so its an arpeggio that makes sense, and it's also playable that way and still sounds flashy.

So faking is necessary sometimes....not everyone is a Hahn or Shaham.

February 18, 2010 at 05:22 PM ·

I feel so lucky to be on this forum because so many things seem to apply to my own musical life.  :)  Our community orchestra is performing the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique tomorrow evening and I, like a few others, never thought I'd be able to play it fast enough! 

Turns out, my instructor suggested the same old metronome technique... one click at a time.  I actually modified this a little bit and found that it works most effectively: 

1. Play the passage very slowly and select at tempo at which you can play it flawlessly. 

2. Up the tempo by two clicks and practice until THAT tempo is perfect.

3. Slow the tempo by one click.

4.  Up again by two clicks. 

I find that the slowing down gives me a tiny little mental break before moving it up again and I have really been successful with this strategy.  In fact, I am proud to say that I feel pretty dang comfortable about tomorrow's performance and I never thought I'd make it through the piece when I first laid eyes on it.  ;) 

Additionally, our orchestra has string sectionals built in to our rehearsal schedule from the very beginning of the year, so we know exactly when we're going to have them.  I am grateful for these, because we really get time to go over the section-specific tricky parts and our principals do an outstanding job of helping us get a grasp on them, whether it's tricky rhythms or notes.

Best of luck.  :)  I am sure you're working very hard and I know from experience that our hard work always pays off!!

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