Have you ever tried to imitate your favourite violinist?

August 28, 2009 at 07:10 PM ·

I guess you all have heard the phrase: If you want to be a master, you have to first imitate the masters.

Well, in my highschool and university years, I was absolutely in love with Heifetz and Szeryng alternatively. So I had a Szeryng week followed by a Heifetz week and so on. With my teacher we studied every piece of video of Heifetz and Szeryng that we could get our hands on and, trying to understand how their technique works, we imitated their posture, bow hold, vibrato, we analised their interpretations and reproduced them as closely as possible. Then we extracted the principles behind their technique. It was very interesting to discover that their left hand, although diffrent, works pretty much the same (I am talking about the thumb). And their right hands seemed to have many things in common.

This has helped me a lot in developing my technique and musical identity. Also it has helped me realize that there is a very strong causal connection between how you hold your bow and violin and how you sound. 

Now my setup is a Szeryng type (violin hold, bow arm, left arm) with some influences of Heifetz in phrasing and shifting.

My question to you all is: Have you ever tried to imitate your favourite violinist or violinists? Have you tried to replicate their bow arm, their violin posture, their technique so you could see what's behind their greatness?

Replies (24)

August 28, 2009 at 10:33 PM ·

 One of my teachers at conservatory had me do this very thing. I was learning the Saint-Saens Sonata No. 1 at the time and I was asked to listen to the Heifetz recording of this and mark down everything I could hear from fingerings, to bowings, speed of bow, accents,  to dynamics,  vibrato, portamenti, rubati, etc. I was then asked to play part of the piece with the markings I was able to discern off the recording. It was a very important exercise of lasting influence to do so. I discovered in the process that in a few cases Heifetz had reversed dynamics and he had a remarkably consistent beat within which he varied certain rhythms so that  the phrasing never sounded exaggerated or contorted. The purpose was to learn what goes into making an interpretation and expressing an "opinion" about the piece and to use all those factors  when coming up with one's own interpretation. It was also pointed out to me that the more one does this, the easier it will be to think musically from the get go.

August 28, 2009 at 10:44 PM ·

 I always wanted to sound like Shmuel Ashkenasi.  I never have, and I never will.  Enough said.

August 28, 2009 at 10:49 PM ·

Yes. Hilary Hahn for her clean attacks of the bow to the string, technical prowess and her sensible movement during her playing.


Janine Jansen for her magical musicality and fiery playing.

August 28, 2009 at 11:54 PM ·

My teacher tells me specifically not to imitate any other violinists.  He says that I need to have my own idea of the music first, and then to listen to the masters, mainly for their phrasing and articulations. 

However, I do mostly use Itzhak Perlman or David Oistrakh's fingerings and bowings for most of the pieces I play.

August 29, 2009 at 12:27 AM ·

Also, Hilary Hahn's perfect left hand position and fierce pinky vibrato.

August 29, 2009 at 01:52 AM ·

Ricci, Gingold, Stern, Rabin, Bell.

Barton-Pine, Hahn, Midori, Little.

August 29, 2009 at 01:41 AM ·

That's Barton-Pine,  Royce. Eat more prunes ( see Buri). I too love her playing and her recent album of Bruch's Scottish Fantasy is beautifully played with a golden tone, virtuosity of the highest order, and tasteful and sensitive ornamentation.

August 29, 2009 at 01:54 AM ·



Thanks dude!  Prunes reminds me.... it's soon to be Fall here.  Time to start the thread, "Fall Recipes" especially pastries with Prune fillings!!!!! Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

August 29, 2009 at 02:11 PM ·

 Mr. Faina, after browsing this website, you will be the best musician of them all!  All the musical ideas will "dump out", as they say....... ;)


August 29, 2009 at 02:24 PM ·

This reminds me of an occurrence in a lesson with Josef Hampl, more than thirty years ago. After I had played part of a Mozart concerto he asked me who my favourite violinist was.

"Henryk Szeryng" I said.


"For his calmness, his virtuosity, and his style of playing."  

"OK. Now you are Henryk Szeryng. Play it again, please."

It went much better!

August 29, 2009 at 02:44 PM ·

Mr. Hong-

I had a Cathartic episode just brousing this site!!!!!!! ;)

August 29, 2009 at 03:55 PM ·

An assignment to go to an art museum and copy a great masterpiece is, I believe, quite traditional in the education of painters.  Similarly, the things which Messers Constantinescu and Mutchnik describe at the top of this thread seem to me very healthy, beneficial and right.  When one is moved by the way a particular phrase is played by an admired artist, one has to know: "How did he do that?". The passionate desire to, as much as one is able, answer that question is the very best basis of a performer's development.  

The healthiest reason to study the violin is that the violinist is a music lover!  His emotions are moved by hearing great performing, and he feels compelled to try to do the same in his playing. Sometimes people (including parents of young violinists) forget this healthiest of reasons, and instead try to motivate violin study with the goal of winning a contest or getting a better seat in the school orchestra. If this is done *to the extent of portraying violin study as a competitive sport* rather than an art, it is a great disservice to the student.

Imitation is very challenging. It stimulates the violinist to listen harder!  He becomes more aware of rhythm, pitch, tone color, and he is inspired to seek out the compositional basis for some detail in the the playing of the violin hero.  For example, he was thrilled when he heard Heifetz accelerate the beat, but the thrill came not from the acceleration alone. --It came from the acceleration of beat being *Heifetz's response* to the changing harmonies in the composition.  If imitation is pursued to a high level, the student must explore the composition itself, to discover to what the admired performer was reacting. This develops the student's musical thinking, and ultimately the expression of his own most personal feelings.

August 29, 2009 at 04:28 PM ·

All right, I'm a bit idiosyncratic. For me its an old school sound that I've acquired. I can do Ysaÿe, Thibaud, Enescu, and Neveu - but if I am not specifically trying to sound like one in particular, I use whatever I have learned from them (and others) as I see best fit. Others (professionals at that) have told me that I sound like Kreisler and that sometimes I sound almost like Heifetz. At any rate, I can vary what I sound like. From my careful listening and trying to figure out and reproduce the sounds I hear, I have gained the ability to take complete control over every nuance of my playing. I can do whatever I want, and even sound like a modern violinist, but I am very fond of the old school and I immensely dislike today's school of violinists (yeah, I'm always feeling as though I'm running against the stream), so I usually will play with an old school sound. I don't care if I'm not in fashion with today. Art is all that matters to me, and having a wide color palatte at my disposal is what I find the most important. This enables an ability to more vividly express what one is playing. Drama, color, insight, and truth are what matter most to me in music.

August 29, 2009 at 06:02 PM ·

Excellent post (as usual), Mr. Steiner.  So true that "Imitation is very challenging. It stimulates the violinist to listen harder!"  We are, after all, talking about subtleties.  Listening well is clearly the key to imitation and broadening one's palette.  Who knew that listening could be such a challenge?  My listening skills have certainly developed over the past few years but are nowhere near where I would like them to be.  This is evident whenever I play for my teacher, whose professional ears hear things that my amateur ears still cannot. But I am making progress, and I have hope...

August 29, 2009 at 10:21 PM ·

In these sorts of discussions about listening to recordings, or, nowadays, watching YouTube, 'copying' someone else is so often presented as bad, the sort of thing nobody who was any good would ever think of doing. Strictly for the untalented or those wihout any musical imagination of their own. But is that really the case?

Here's a little-known - or perhaps unknown - fact about Yehudi Menuhin, told to me by a pianist who had toured all over the world with him, and who was full of stories about Menuhin and things Menuhin had said to him over meals in restaurents while on tour in far-flung, distant places.

Menuhin said that when he was 17 or 18 he decided to set himself the challenge of trying to copy Kreisler’s own recording of Caprice Viennois. He wanted to see if he could learn to play it exactly the same as Kreisler - sound for sound, vibrato for vibrato, stroke for stroke, slide for slide, phrase for phrase.

He said that he put the needle down on the record and listened to a phrase, then played it on the violin, then listened again, played it again, listened again, played it again, over and over again, phrase by phrase, until he could match it.

I often remember, when I was a student, Dorothy DeLay asking me if I had been to a recent Itzhak Perlman recital at Carnegie Hall. 'No,' I said. 'I didn’t even know about it. When was it?'

She was not impressed. Urging me to go to more concerts, she explained that the model to follow was a fabulous Russian student of hers (I'd suppose I'd better not say his name here) who made a point of always going to hear ‘everybody who was anybody’.

According to Miss DeLay, if he heard at a concert a single colour that he knew was not part of his normal tonal range – or a particular quality of vibrato that he knew was not part of his vibrato ‘palette’; or a particular way of playing, say, a passage of chords, or whatever it was, that he knew he had never tried – he would go straight home after the concert, pick up the violin, and not stop working at it until he too could make that sound, or vibrato, or whatever the quality was that he had heard.
The point is that you can approach recordings in exactly the same way. The criticism is that it is ‘just copying’. Yet it is interesting how, whatever you do, in the end it ‘comes out’ like you even if you do try to copy someone else. You think you've stolen someone else's idea, but some time later you hear the recording again and realise that you are nowhere near playing the phrase in the same way. Playing the same as someone else is not such an easy thing to do.



September 1, 2009 at 05:27 AM ·

Oh, if I could choose one like who I would like to sound, it would definitivly be Oistrakh (my favorite violinist that I admire so much).  But one's playing is as unique as fingerprints and it would be as ridiculous as wanting the fingerprints of someone else. Absoluntly impossible!!!   Never totally the same sound even if some violinists happen to have a sound in the same "family" because they are Russians, his students, his son etc.  Even more, someone who consciously tries to imitate someone else all the time seems like if he/she lacks confidence in his/herself, in his/her originality...   (I don't know I just feel this. Maybe i'm wrong)

Also all the big masters were big masters because they arrived with their own ideas and had this "special thing" inside them the others don't have.  Otherwise we would all be great masters!!!  If this is not born, you cannot create it with imitation. 


September 1, 2009 at 10:58 AM ·

I'm good at doing a lot of vocal impressions. I think I do a fairly good one of Heifetz. I wish I could come as close to imitating him in my playing -sort of. Actually not. I wish I had his technique, and then go on my own with it. Yet even there, sound and nuance are also aspects of technique. So it's complicated

It's an interesting question. Auer warned against it in no uncertain terms in his book, "Violin Playing as I teach it". But as presented in some posts above, it can be a very beneficial learning and honing experience as well. It's an approach that can be used or abused. Imitation, as the saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. But it can also be the sincerest form of parody. I did have a breakthrough at the age of 14, while studying the Bach A minor concerto. My teacher at one point said "you're playing it like a machine". I said to myself  "yeah, I really am playing it like a machine! Yet, as I recall, Isaac Stern in his record of the piece, plays it in a very straightforward way, but it sounds very musical! It's been a while since I listened to it. I'll listen again." Well, what I heard upon careful re-listening was a revelation in subtlties of nuances and agogocs. I didn't  try to imitate Stern exactly, but my ears really opened up.

It's hard not to be influenced by certain players that we admire as well as somehow identify with more than others. For certain repertoire I'll be more influenced by Heifetz, other repertoire, Grumiaux or Rosand, or... Even Perlman admitted to being very influenced at different times by Heifetz, Oistrakh and Stern. But he still sounded like Perlman, didn't he? Rosand said that he learned a lot as a young man by watching the great violinists in person from the first row. He will occasionally do a "Heifetz shift", yet still sound completely like himself. That's the key. We need to end up as a first "us", rather than a second "X". If in the process of trying to imitate, we learn more about violin playing, and even about ourselves, that's great. Makers who are copyists say this as well. If we really feel interpretively say, that a portamento similar to that which Heifetz was famous for, is really called for, then fine, let's do it. That in itself doesn't mean that we are trying to be carbon copies of him. But with a towering influence one runs the danger of getting lost. This is a sore spot among his supporters, but I do believe that Erick Freidman, at least for some time, imitated Heifetz too much. At any rate, imitation shouldn't be the goal, but for a while it can be an illuminating part of the process.

BTW, Olivu, I haven't noticed much similarity in the bowing of Szerying and Heifetz, whom I also greatly admire, except perhaps in a fairly high arm. But if you've figured out how S. got his stupendous chordal control in, for example, the opening of the Bach Chaconnne, please share it with us!

September 1, 2009 at 06:04 PM ·

To mister Raphael Klayman,

From my observations, Szeryng always raises his shoulder and elbow in chords. This places his arm in a position which favours higher control over the diffrent string planes. Carl Flesh said something very similar in his book The Art Of Violin Playing. I have also noticed that Szeryng also keeps his bow fingers nicely curved and relaxed, but allways in place. You will never see his fingers fumbling on the stick from place to place, because he has every finger laid out perfectly, unlike some of today's "modern" violinists. Also, there is a natural brush like quality to his bow stroke at the frog, even in powerful chord chains, spawning from his way of using the arms natural weight + inertia + joint elasticity. The trick with chords is to avoid the spontaneous (and very dangerous) impulse to tightly grip the stick of the bow in fear of losing control. On the contrary, the hand must be relaxed and the fingers must hold the stick gently fut firmly. 

Hope I have made some sense.



September 1, 2009 at 09:45 PM ·

I just saw a couple of videos on youtube of Szeryng and I am hooked!

September 1, 2009 at 11:03 PM ·

Thanks, I'll give that some thought. I was hoping that I had made sense myself, on about 2 hours sleep last night! Meanwhile I forgot to include the following:

If we want to imitate those we admire, or simply (or really not so simply) want to try to figure out what makes them tick, in their physical positionings, their phrasings, nuances etc., we can take an atomistic approach to 'dissect'  them. There's another way to go, however. Before I go on though, I'm not suggesting that the above approach, nor the one I'm about to describe can be a guarentee of success. I heard once that Delay's students once asked her how Zuckerman got that sound of his. "Oh" she said, 'you just do a,b, and c." Well how many people sound like Zuckerman? We can't discount natural talent, innate proclivities, a different physicality from ours, etc. And again, we should ultimately develop our own handwriting to a large extent.

 But anyway, there is a complimentary gestalt approach to try to get an overall feel for who they are. Just pretend that you are them! It's that simple - and again not so simple. We're performers, and thus have some kinship with actors. I'm suggesting trying to get into the role of the character that we wish to emulate. I began my first post by mentioning that I'm a good mimic. When I succeed at imitating someone pretty well, I don't just go sound by sound, gesture by gesture. Again there is a gestalt, a quantum leap involved. Try it - maybe it will work for you. It worked for me at another crucial breakthrough I once had. The last time i played for Aaron Rosand, during the summer I studied in his master class, I played the deceptively simple "Meditation from Thais". It was to become a signature piece of mine, and I've performed it several times with orchestra, as well as with piano. i curently have it on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ul2QUc5Gqc
Anyway, I had a long way to go at that point, and Rosand's constructive criticisms came fast and furiously. I thought to myself "it all makes sense, of course, but how in the world am I going to instantly assimilate all of this? And any second now, he's going to ask me to play it again." In fact, a few moments later he did ask me to play it again. I thought "OMG, what am I going to do?" Then an instant later I thought "Oh to h*** with it; just pretend you're him" I did, and played it again. I don't know what happened, but when I finished he said "that was a miracle how much you just improved!"  Re-reading some posts above, it looks like Bart had a similar experience.

These days I rarely try to imitate anyone. But sometimes to get into a certain frame of mind and focus as a performer on stage or even in my practicing I'll don a certain gestalt 'psychic' suit that may have partly originated here or there, but that is a natural fit.



September 1, 2009 at 11:10 PM ·

To Raphael

I have watched your Meditation of Thais, and it has an undeniably olde-world charm about it. You are one of the few who still know the insides of the old school of playing. Keep it alive. Congrats! 

Yes, playing the pretend game does work in setting your mind in a safe frame, especialy if you are nervous on stage or at an audition. I you ever find yourself sweating cold because of the examinators or the public, just say to yourself: "What the hell am I worried about? They can't touch me... I'M HEIFETZ!" That ought to get you going!

Cheers. Oli

September 1, 2009 at 11:20 PM ·


prtending you are you know who (minus the sound) is a technique strongly advocated by Gallowey although I don`t remeber if it actually turns up in `The inner Game of Tennis.`  It is a very importnat teaching and self instruction technique.

BTW although ths thread is about the studnet imitating there is another interesting side to the question.  That is,  there are some very renowned teachers who effectively demand their students imitate them by not only giving all the fingerings and bowings but also demonstrating over and over.  The Auer anecdote about Joachim (`You must play it zo`) springs to mind as well as at least one teacher when I was at the RCM.





September 2, 2009 at 01:20 AM ·


September 5, 2009 at 01:26 AM ·

In my home town there used to be a second-hand shop which also sold second-hand records, and the classical records where always in 'tip-top' condition. As you've gathered my collection is full of these, especially music for violin which included the same piece of music played by different artists, this lead me to be aware of how differently each played.  

I saw Yehudi Menuhin on TV many times and I gained much by observing and listening to others as well, but reading 'their' books has given me the tools I needed. As for repeatedly playing a section of music by lifting and replacing the needle......lucky I did'nt read that in the biography I read, my records would be ruined.

I have not read 'The Inner Game of Tennis', but I have heard that 'role playing' is an important factor as it is in 'The Inner Game of Music', it is the first of 8 techniques that develop trust by 'letting go' to the subconcious. 

Oh yeah, I remember...........the fan on top of the tall-boy, and my brother lifted me up into the cockpit...........now what was the pilots name again?  


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