More Sevcik coming soon

November 30, 2009 at 09:15 PM ·

If you haven't yet bought the December issue of Strad because of feature article on Gil Shaham, another reason is an article on newly rediscovered works by Sevcik including advanced etudes geared towards the study of specific pieces. There's a blurb on it here.

Replies (22)

December 1, 2009 at 03:32 AM ·

O,My God! More Sevcik! :)

Actually, I have copies of his practice methods on Mendelssohn and Brahms concertos. If you have 10 hours a day to practice many of the things are very useful. He had the ability to make anything into an exercise.

December 1, 2009 at 03:54 AM ·


hah!  I was wondering if these are the works referred to by Flesch in `The Art of Violin Playing` which he dismisses as less than helpful;)  I`d be happy to be proven otherwise but I really don`t hold out expectation of anything other than a violin-nerd type interest in these works.   The original point of sevcik was to actually eliminate the muscial aspect so taht the mind was focused purely on technical development.   That was what sevcik was good at . As far as teaching muscially was cocnerned ther eis not a great deal of anedotal evidence to suggets he was that great. Indeed,  ther eis a story that Kubelik( I think) went to Ysaye for advice and told the maestro that he had played the Beethoven concerto to sevcik who had simply pointed out a few technically flawed passages.  In response to which Ysaye laghed hs head off.

The reason I am psoing some caveats here is that it did bother me a little the way the Strad article seemed strewn with superlatives and hyperbole about the greatness of the sevcik material and how how it revolutionzed violin playing by being the ultimate in economic techncial development.  This is basically not true for a number of reasons and I don`t belive I am denigrating either the quality of much of the material or the teachers who use it extremely effectively by strongly disagreeing.  If sevcik was the ultimate material everybody would be using it.   But they don`t and there are plenty of cases where equally economical and effective teaching occures completley without sevcik.  It is also unfortunately true that idf you practice sevcik with a faulty technique an d poor advice then you will ingrain tension and problems that are hard to undo.

The road to true artistry on the violin is much more complex and involves understanding the relationship between specifc techniques and the msucial intention of the composer ,  style,  period or whatever.  As Szigeti pointed out,  `learning the 5000 variations of bowing still doesn`t seem to prepare studnets for the nuances of bowing found in a Haydny quartet`  (badly quoted by Buri)

ITs just my personal opinion but the claimthat sevcik is the fastest route of technical developmentis flawed and misleading because the ultimate goal is fundamentally flawed.  For the violin,  separating technical and muscial development is a cheap short cut which can be veyr useful on ocassion but in the long run produces less tha  satisfactory players.  There are no such divisive short cuts and although some bowing,  shifting or double stopping exercise sfor a time may be extremely useful they are not a substitute for thoughtful and imaginative tehcncial work always integarted with a musicla context or never straying far from a musicla approach. 

Just one counter example-  I am not entirely convinced by everythign Mr Galamian did but I consider his brillinat and -proven-  appraoch to produicng superlative players to be vastly superior to training based around sevciks teahcing materials. 




December 1, 2009 at 04:19 AM ·

I haven't read the article, but can easily concur with Mr. Brivati's sentiment that the key to understanding a work's difficulties is dependent upon perceiving one's problems (both technically and musically) and solving them in a rational manner.

Having studied for 8 years with Galamian I can say that this was his approach. However, he was limited in his ability to fix problems in the "normal" type of student. I consider myself a "normal" student and didn't get much out of his teaching except going through a lot of repertoire. The "not normal" student could do it already and advanced due to his psychological approach which was different for every student.

December 1, 2009 at 04:51 AM ·


Dr,  Berg,  I suppose I could argue with a smile that Mr Galamian saw in your normality something fine down the road and guessed the best thing for you at the time was doing lots of repertoire.....

Since I am ona coffee break I will ,  just for the heck of it, cite the follwoing:

>Instead of long-winded, meandering studies, the 29-year-old newly appointed professor at the Kiev Conservatoire had developed a more concise method that deconstructed technical difficulties into their smallest components, progressing from simple to complex

I wonder which long winded meandering studies he is referring too?  I am unable to apply such a description to Wolfarht (msucially much better than Kayser in my opinion)  Mazas,  Polo,  DeBeriot (fantastic etudes)   Spohr (very useful and highly unutilized,   Kreutzer,  Fiorillo, Gavinies,  Barucaba Variaions,  Rode ,  Dont  .Later on the artilce observes that the more sophisticated studies were needed because the approach did not seem to prepare for the major works.  I wodner if the author is very consious of that contradiction?



December 1, 2009 at 01:16 PM ·


Perhaps my personal experience with these studies is of interest. More than thirty years ago, under the guidance of my teacher, I have studied Opp. 18 and 25. My teacher changed a lot of fingerings and bowings in the concerto, and as a result many of the exercises had to be modified as well. Later on, I did the same.
With studies such as these, one is seduced to start practicing without understanding even the technical issues, let alone the musical ones. That is dangerous, because it threatens the integration of technical skills into a musical whole. I therefore believe it is better to become aware of the difficulty first, and only then make one's own special exercises for it (or ask one's teacher).

I have nearly all the Sevcik repertoire studies, but I have never used any of them since. They did give me the habit of analysing technical problems and making up exercises for them. The Sevcik books are full of examples that show how such exercises can be made. I believe that is their main use. A little volume "How to make your own exercises" would have served that purpose better.

Another important thing is confidence. Technical perfection is an aim never fully reached. If one makes it the all-important goal, confidence is bound to suffer.

So, to me this stuff is interesting, powerful, and a little dangerous.

But it allowed me a musical adventure I could never have had otherwise.


December 1, 2009 at 03:54 PM ·

So is the consensus about the new Sevcik that it is more valuable as added history to the man than it will be as a teaching aid?

December 1, 2009 at 08:03 PM ·


Royce, for me that wouldn`t exactly beit .  I don`t know the wmaterial and in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing they may well be a useful contribution towards the repertoire.  My main point was to not be mislead by the hyperbole of the Strad article.  It makes staements about sevcik thta really have not stood the test of time.  This is not to say that the works of sevcik used udiciously have not stood the test of time.  Indeed they have.  But not as a complete system that offers the ost perfect and time saving methodology.

There is another anecdote from Milstein about sevciks no 1 pupil kubelik(unless you cound Morini- a marvellous player) .  He came to Milstein on the day he was due to play the Beetoven concerto and proudly proclaimed he been practiced non stop for 11 hours.  His fingertips were bleeding.  Milstein noted the performance was perfect but blank.



December 1, 2009 at 10:29 PM ·

OK, I see what you are saying now!  Thanks a million!

December 2, 2009 at 02:14 AM ·

 I suspect Kubelik's performance wasn't blank because of the Sevcik exercises but it was blank because Kubelik's only tools for examining music were technical.  If had practiced Rode or Dont only his Beethoven would have been the same. 

This isn't so uncommon today. Look at many of the YouTube phenomenons. There is even a certain master class that has on-line videos of performers who have "sort of" whizbang techniques and not a shred of musical sense. Brivati-sensei has commented and blogged on this from his unique point of view. 


December 2, 2009 at 02:29 AM ·

There are all sorts of violin teachers. Some say practice and repeat at least 100 time:, some say figure out what the problem is and then fix it:, some say listen to my magic solution and you will be cured, immediately.

For each individual student there is something between these extremes. Some people need an hour to figure something out. Others need 10 hours. Some will never figure it out.

There is no magic bullet to learning. The wise teacher will figure out how to connect with a student's intelligence and come up with a solution to giving the best advice. The wise teacher, being human, will probably make mistakes. The wise student in most cases will ignore the teacher if given information that doesn't work.

In short, use the Sevcik information if it helps. If it does not, discard it and go to something else.

December 2, 2009 at 04:15 AM ·

Bruce Berg's philoophy is what my teacher in Israel used. We did use Sevcik, but not  all of the exercises. There was also Schradieck, and a healthy dose of Kreutzer ( with Sevick exercises to break down the elements  and perfect the Kreutzer etudes if you can believe it) and Galamian  & Flesch scale systems and other exercises that the teacher created himself. Technique was always in the service of music, the primary focus being to establish flexibility in technique,  so it would be  possible to then have more choices in making the music come alive. If one only conceived of one fingering, or one way of doing something it could have led to static music-making and falling back on what one was used to. But, for example, by working on two octave scales up one string, one developed the flexibility to choose fingerings that might be more interesting or coloristic than staying down in lower positions for safety's sake or likelihood of more secure intonation. Another example would be to practice scales in thirds a lot- even if most repertoire one might end up playing as an orchestra or chamber musician would not involve frequent use of playing in thirds, it expands one's technique and makes other things possible. Some of the Sevcik exercises are useful in this regard- there is a book on advanced double stop playing which teaches interval relationships and rhythmic control that is very helpful to playing pieces like Paganini # 1 or Glazounov Concerto for example. What you do musically with that cadenza in the Glazounov concerto though goes beyond the technical preparation that Sevcik will help with. Still, to get a grip on the skill, the Sevcik exercises proved useful.

 There are so many excellent books out there that one need not feel limited to a particular system. But the important thing to remember is that in a very significant way the technique is not separate from the music.

  Each player must strive for this in his or her playing. Know your technique but never be a slave to it- have something to say from the heart and with intelligence so that it serves the music.

December 2, 2009 at 05:31 AM ·

 One doesn't develop technique from playing scales or etudes or repertory or caprices. These alone can only habituate someone to an ersatz "facility". Technique happens when in the course of playing anything one recognizes a certain problem, generalizes a solution and then applies the solution in such a way that they have a unique but repeatable instance of the general solution. Scales, etudes and repertory can all be the catalyst that starts the thought but no thought = no technique. All technique is mental and can be articulated. One key feature of a real technical solution is that it can usually be implemented in a rather short time once the solutions is turned into words. 

December 2, 2009 at 06:52 PM ·

In the course of the history of the violin, players experimented with how to play the instrument. Decisions were made and knowledge was passed along. This knowledge included advice on how to hold the bow, how to produce a tone, shifting,  vibrato, etc.  and, of course, the choices imparted from one generation to the next effect everything. Ultimately, it is the keen ear that discerns what is useful and what is not. As an example, the concept of playing with heavier weight closer to the bridge with a slower moving bow will give a clear resonant tone where as playing with heavier weight  and a slow moving bow near the fingerboard will produce a scratchy tone. If the desired musical effect is to not produce a scratchy tone then following the former idea will be an appropriate choice. These skills and rules, so to speak, are part of our technical concepts or the mechanics of playing the violin. Scales and etudes taught by a wise teacher will be used to guide the student in a number of ways- to name a couple- to solidify a particular technical concept so it can be used as appropriate in any piece of music for a desired musical idea to be communicated and to assist in sight reading and familiarity of patterns found in music. With some students, it very much helps to break down a passage in music into technical components so that the mastery of the technical skill will make the communication of the music unimpeded by mechanical flaws. Imagine someone with all the conviction inside trying to express Hamlet's famous soliloquy, "To Be or Not To Be" with missing teeth or a partially missing tongue. One might sense the passion and earnestness and sincerity in the actor's delivery but because of physical limitations could not communicate to the full everything he or she wanted to.  A violinist needs to have skills in good working order so the musical ideas being expressed are not impeded by a wobbly vibrato or stiff shifting or faulty intonation, etc. Sevcik, it seems to me, was trying to explore the details of how to control the movements necessary for good musical communication by dealing with the important aspect of consistency and reliability of execution. To repeat, a good teacher will make use of the material to assist the student with this goal in mind and not turn the etudes or exercises into an end in themselves. Composers write the music they write and upon seeing what's involved, players have to figure out how to play the music. That will involve skills which, if developed consistently, will be used in the service of expressing the music. Scales  and etudes are not the enemy. Sevcik's ideas are not the enemy. They are useful in service to the goal of musical communication and refined artistry. Though some are able to figure a great deal out totally on their own, without need for such exercises, I have found them to be helpful. As I stated before, there are many books  and ideas out there and the wise teacher will make use of any number of them and not let them be an end in themselves but used as part of the wealth of ideas to aid musical communication and expression.

December 3, 2009 at 03:15 PM ·

Bart says, 'A little volume "How to make your own exercises" would have served that purpose better.'

Is there such a book?  Or, more generally, what is the best way to learn how to produce exercises for solving technical problems? 


December 3, 2009 at 08:07 PM ·


Simon Fischer`s `Practice@ is veyr inspiring in this regard. Unfortunately it isn`t a `little@ volume...

I would add that there may be two importnat aspects to thisrather interesitng question.

First of all,  even up to very high level of playing (college and beyond) it does happen that players have not fully grasped the principle thtavery often a problem is ssomething that exists between two notes.  In other words they practice small chunks or longer phrases over and over and never really identify -exactly- what needs to be corrected.  This takes a lot of will and energy.

Only when one knows precisely where the problem is can one begin working on it.  At this stage one can begin to see  that there are actually a very limited number of problems in violin playing.  All difficulties are variations of certain errors or factors: bow arriving ahead of left hand, tensing before a shift. inattention to bow division,  inattention to sound point, weight, speed ratio and so on.

One can get a very interesting lesson in thes e kinds of issues by studying the ZHakar Bron teaching videos.  One can see a great deal ofc onsistency in his approach to bowing over the course of these DVDs and that consistency is in itself a product of studnets making very similar errors albeit at a variety of levels.






December 4, 2009 at 03:12 AM ·

Buri brings up a very important, truly crucial point, that problems exist between notes. And Isaac Stern said the music is to be found between the notes . So, solving the problems between the notes can prepare one for making the musical connection from one note to the next. When technique and music-making are linked in this way, then you really have something. Thank you for your cogent comments, Buri.

February 1, 2010 at 04:06 PM ·

Found this quote: it seems relevant to the discussion.

The machine has got to be accepted, but it is probably better to accept it rather as one accepts a drug -- that is, grudgingly and suspiciously. Like a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous, and habit-forming. The oftener one surrenders to it the tighter its grip becomes. -George Orwell, novelist (1903-1950)

February 1, 2010 at 08:15 PM ·



`Our body is a machine for living.  It is organized for that,  it is its nature.  Let life go on in it unhindered and let it defend itself,  it will do more than if you paralyze it by encumbering it with remedies." (Tolstoy)



February 6, 2010 at 07:15 AM ·


I hate to interrupt these intelligent exchanges but body sometimes can’t defend itself. For instance, our joints like to move, sometimes a bit too much for their own good. I’m going currently through bowing rehab and part of the issues is my right wrist is super flexible and moves too much. Left on its own without some remdy, I’ll soon have a very sore and injured wrist. Comments?

November 27, 2010 at 04:54 PM ·


How 's your bowing going?


November 30, 2010 at 06:02 PM ·

Have to say that my initial response was also, "oh boy, just what the world needs more of....".  :)  Sort of like advertising a cooking magazine with, "They've got 5 new recipes for boiling brussels sprouts!"  I have several of his books, and they are good resources to have--they can be good both as a focused way to work on certain aspects of my technique and also, as noted, they show how to take a passage and turn in into a tremendous number of different iterations that each stress your technique differently....  But I think if I had to play them all that I'd probably hang it up forever, I want to enjoy my playing, not turn it into a chore.

November 30, 2010 at 06:44 PM ·

Every work of Sevcik is precious, especially the transcendent masterpieces of his late period.

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