Etudes for Bach

August 31, 2010 at 05:41 PM ·

I find I'm working on a lot of Bach concerti material - the first movements of the A minor and the double - and both have a lot of continuous 16th notes passages with string crossings.  I feel I need to improve my technique independently of the music itself.  Anyone recommend etudes that are particularly good for this?

thanks ee

Replies (47)

August 31, 2010 at 07:00 PM ·


August 31, 2010 at 07:57 PM ·

The whole darn book?  Maybe you have a fave...

August 31, 2010 at 07:57 PM ·

The whole darn book?  Maybe you have a fave...

August 31, 2010 at 08:00 PM ·

Elise - this is probably an unusual suggestion, but you might want to try some of the movements of the Bach sonatas and partitias for solo violin in lieu of etudes.  In particular, the gigue movements of the partitas and the last movement of some of the sonatas are similar.  You might also find doing scales and arpeggios more helpful that actual etudes.

August 31, 2010 at 08:23 PM ·

Yes, the entire book of Kreutzer is an absolute necessity.  However if you look in it you will find etudes near the beginning that will address your immediate needs.

August 31, 2010 at 09:46 PM ·

OK, I have that and have worked on some of the early studies. 

Hmmm.  But I am not cured yet....

On to the partitas/sonatas I guess :D

(which is another great idea, and much more fun....)

September 1, 2010 at 03:02 AM ·

"The entire book of Kreutzer is an absolute necessity" seems to me a bit of an overreach. I'm as big a fan of Kreutzer as the next fiddle geek, but surely what you mean is that every technique covered in the Kreutzer book is necessary-- not that one cannot be a violinist without having studied Kreutzer #x?

September 1, 2010 at 03:40 AM ·

 What I'm saying is that Kreutzer is valuable enough that I believe it deserves to be studied thoroughly, all the way through and in detail.  

Elise, if you want specific etudes in Kreutzer that I'd recommend for the purposes that you expressed then I'll be more specific.  8,10, 11, 12, 14, 16.  Like I said I do believe that the whole book should be studied but that's me trying to be specific.  You mentioned that you have studied Kreutzer before but no one is ever really done with Kreutzer.  Heifetz played Kreutzer frequently.  Long after studying the most advanced etudes violinists consistently come back to Kreutzer to keep the foundation of their technique stable.

September 1, 2010 at 05:03 AM ·

In addition to the studies Michael mentioned, I'd suggest be very fluent with Kreutzer #2, practiced with varied tempi and rhythms. Personally, I think trying to master the whole book is overkill for adults, unless you have 3-4 hours/day practice time. You can work on a portion of some studies to get good result. The key is quality not quantity. It's way more productive to learn and apply technique within certain musical context rather than working on chunks of techniqu in isolation.  I second Tom's suggestion of working on Bach's Ss & Ps.

You mentioned string cross specifically, have you tried playing these passages on open strings? Basically you should have an idea how many notes on each string and play them without using the left hand. Really listen to the quality of each note. Once you are happy with the sound, then apply the fingers.

September 1, 2010 at 06:07 AM · "You can work on a portion of some studies to get good result. The key is quality not quantity." A comforting thought, Yixi (all I seem to have time for these days).

September 1, 2010 at 07:42 AM ·

Yixi: thanks, thats very useful and, yes, I do have to make a living as well as play the violin (and dance, and photography, and ..... oh, my!) so your comment is certainly appreciated.

As I see it, the challenge in most of these passages really is largely about seamless bow crossings, with left hand issues mostly secondary.  I'll try that open string excercise, its a very good idea.  I've also been working through the string crossing studies in the Fischer book - why oh why are we not taught the 7 (and not 4) bow positions when we first learn?  They are crucial not only to double stops but to control over string crossing.  Any teachers listening? :)

September 1, 2010 at 02:15 PM ·

 Is this the Kreutzer you guys are referring to?

Kreutzer - 42 Studies or Caprices: Violin Method

September 1, 2010 at 02:23 PM ·

Is here another ???

To violinist students I  believe it had a higher status than the Koran, I Ching and Bible combined..


September 1, 2010 at 04:37 PM ·

Sometimes our etudes are found within the piece. Try working on the Doubles in Partita No 1. Take it under tempo to develop a comfortable, clean string crossing and a good firm bow stroke, with every note separate. Then add any slurs, then in tempo. Hope that helps.  

September 1, 2010 at 05:04 PM ·

 Yes Roland, that's the one. 

September 1, 2010 at 05:40 PM ·

Elise, I am an adult beginner  ( Suzuki 4) and my problem doing 16th note runs is that they are not all of equal length,  some 16th notes may be short 3/64ths or long at 5/64ths, or even worse at 1/32nd or 3/32nds (I'm confused too) working with the metronome has helped. One good thing is I payed attention in math class, I know the what I'm doing wrong  I just can't fix it. Good luck !

September 1, 2010 at 05:57 PM ·

Hi Elise,

Yixi's open string exercise is crucial for all string cross passages. Just remember to adjust for changes in sound point when you add the fingers. It's useful to do short/long and long/short patterns as exercises for string crossing as well. While holding the long note in the rhythm prepare by gradually approaching the new string.

Obviously, smooth string crossing is important for making a passage sound smooth. But the more detached you want to make the sound, the more abrupt you can make your crossings. For off the string playing, you actually want discrete string crossings to get the bow onto the plane of the new string before the bow hits the new string, so you need to be able to control the manner of the crossing.

For smoothness, you can conceptualize 7 levels of strings, instead of 4, but there is an infinite gradation of levels between crossings. So to train for absolutely smooth crossings you'll want to practice tracing the arc (shape of the bridge) over to the new string. Ysaye has a scale exercise for this purpose. But the main idea is that you count the crossing motion and make sure you land on the new string with your counting. E.g. play G string for 4 counts while gradually crossing to D string; land on G-D double stop on the next count of 1, but only for an instant, as your bow keeps crossing and approaching the A string over the next 4 counts, etc. Such work will sensitize your arm/hand/fingers to really feel the level on and between strings. You can add fingers and make sure your bow crosses an appropriate amount over each degree of the scale, touching for an instant on the double stop 4-0, etc.

Thinking of each string having 3 'edges' is another way to conceive of bow levels, (in addition to 3 double stop levels.) When you're going back and forth between 2 strings, think of playing on their inside edges. If you've been on one string for a while, e.g. D, but have to cross to the A-string for only 1 or 2 notes before moving on to the E-string, make sure you don't get stuck on the A-string; keep moving to the E-side edge of the A-string over the 1 or 2 notes. These are refinements that can be made to open-string exercises if you need to make the crossings more smooth.

It's hard to describe the motions involved in the arm/hand/fingers, but in general the smaller the motion, the more finger/hand you use; the larger the motion, the more upper-arm you use. 

How much the left hand is involved depends on the passage, but it's useful to iron out any problems in left hand before adding the complication of bowings. In general, I would simplify the bowing (slurring or separating, depending on context) until the left hand is absolutely secure, work on open string bow exercises specific to the passage until the crossings are absolutely secure, then marry the two in hopes of a permanent union. Of course you can continue to do rhythmic, coordination exercises to strengthen the bond.

Lastly, delineating the phrase of a passage will help technical issues, e.g. when there is a large cross between the end and beginning of phrases, as often happens in Bach. Think of ending old phrases with less bow and slower strokes and beginning new phrases with a new bow speed, new energy.

Hope that helps,



September 1, 2010 at 06:50 PM ·

Thats amazing JK - thanks :)  I love the idea of the edges to the strings...

EDIT: I just checked your profile - and now recally that you are also in Toronto!

I'll be right over... (OK just kidding...) :)

September 1, 2010 at 09:48 PM ·

Elise, Mickael is right: no issue; Kreutzer, for life! And scales,for life. Even the greatest violinists still do it.

Bow crossing between two strings: you must think legato and do the transfer as close as possible, without being audible. This legato in bow crossing does even apply up to a certain point when you cross from G to E. Kreutzer number 6 is fundamental. Paganini caprice number two is the extreme...Try to do Kreutzer 6  without the "piqué" as much détaché- legato as you can. Yankelevith did teach to do it with 2,  4 and 8 notes legato... Can you imagine when you play the Brahms sonata in D minor,first movement, how much skillful you are in a similar passage when you have practiced Kreutzer that way???

I consider Kreutzer, Rode and Dont to be mature studies for the violin. After, I learned most of the 60 Barucabà variations of Paganini. After that,I was ready for Paganini caprices and Wieniawski école Moderne.


I went trought Kayser, Mazas before attempting any of the Kreutzer. (This was done in between 7 and 11 years old)  Kayser studies book one and two are fantastic studies. They really open all the doors if done with care,alike Paganini's very neglected Barucabà, for extended and transcendantal virtuosity...

Kayser: Elementary and Progressive Studies, Preliminary exercises to Kreutzer,s Etudes, book one and two, Carl Fisher Music Library

Mazas Seventy-Five Melodious and Progressive Studies, opus 36, book one and two, Carl Fisher Library.

These are necessary steps before attempting Kreutzer. But unfortunately, many still think today that you can become skillful only by learning pieces. It is necessary of course to learn repertoire, but these studies are giving strong basics for a young player or an amateur. They are simple,logical and fun to play

September 2, 2010 at 02:09 AM ·

You're welcome Elise, come over any time! :)


September 2, 2010 at 10:05 AM ·

Jeewon, wouldn't dare - you might find out that I am not nearly as good as I talk!! :)  But it would be nice to say hello some time.  Let me know if you have any recitals etc, I'll come hear .

Marc: thanks for the advice - I love Kayser, they are to me the most musical of the etudes I've tried yet.  I've been thorugh the book though I must admit not to the point that I can play them fluidly.  There's just so much to be done!!  Will check out all the others too.  I didn't know there was a prelim studies for Kreutzer!  Do I still need them if I can read the 'real thing'?

September 2, 2010 at 11:02 AM ·

Rode #8. Dont Op 37 #5.

Oops I meant Dont Op 35 #5.

September 2, 2010 at 11:49 AM ·

If you have studied them with care,than you can move to Mazas and Kreutzer . If you look carefully,you will find out that they prepare you also to the system of scales. Flesh system for instance should not be attempt to early. It coincides with Kreutzer, Rode and Dont and will keep your technique fresh all the time.

September 2, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

Mungo: Ok so I caved and finally bought Dont (37) and Rode this morning.  Now I have enough etudes to get me through this life and the next :\

Can anyone here make me 40 years younger so that I can complete the Etude assignment as requested by Marc?


September 2, 2010 at 03:43 PM ·

While we're at it, am I imagining things or did I hear somewhere that there is a set of etudes which are specifically derived from the Bach S & P?  I've been trying to track the reference down with no luck.

September 2, 2010 at 04:15 PM ·

Elise, we'll compare Etudes in the next life. Inspiring CD recordings are available for all of Rode, also Every Violinist's Guide (Staryk) and Art of the Caprice. I have Fiorillo, Dancla, Gavinies, Mazas, Kreutzer, Kayser, Paganini - enough for several lifetimes.

September 2, 2010 at 06:28 PM ·

Andres: "While we're at it, am I imagining things or did I hear somewhere that there is a set of etudes which are specifically derived from the Bach S & P?  I've been trying to track the reference down with no luck."

He!  I'm afraid you did not read the entire topic - it was, au contraire, the idea was that the Bach S&Ps would serve as etudes for the 16th note passages I started with!  And if you take them out of context they really are etudes....

September 2, 2010 at 06:56 PM ·

Elise, no, I got all that, I just thought I'd throw my question in since we are talking about etudes.  :-)

September 2, 2010 at 11:49 PM ·

Elise:au contraire, you are young and still have lots of time ahead !!! In less than 10 years,you will be seeking some advice up -here about you playing the six Ysaïe Sonatas or how to enhance a passage in the Schoenberg concerto.


And we will all be speachless...

September 3, 2010 at 12:19 AM ·

 Just a passing thought - you might get a different insight into the music of Bach's time if you use  a baroque bow,  use open strings a lot, and minimize shifting.    

September 3, 2010 at 12:26 AM ·

I have always wondered, if we could travel back in time, how musicians of the Baroque era would react if we offered them the modern setting of a Cremonese,with a modern neck , modern strings and convexe bridge, and a Tourte or Pecatte bow, ect. ect.

Or maybe the finest Steinway piano to J.S.Bach...

September 3, 2010 at 01:03 AM ·

I heard that Bach actually played a pianoforte.  Is that possible?  I don't think there is any record of his reactio though...

scuse me, gotta get back to study #13785674783 B.  or was it #13785674783 C? 

Serves me right for starting this topic ...

September 3, 2010 at 01:06 AM ·

Oh, and thanks for the vote of confidnece Marc.  I probably have the Ysaye's somewhere in my music pile already.. probably towards the bottom, next to the Beethoven violin concerto....


September 3, 2010 at 01:51 AM ·

Bach played on many early pianos (the fortepiano). From what I remember, he wasn't impressed so much with them. I can understand this.

September 3, 2010 at 09:27 AM ·

Trevor: " Just a passing thought - you might get a different insight into the music of Bach's time if you use  a baroque bow,  use open strings a lot, and minimize shifting."

I do, well all except the bow.  Turns out one of my passing teachers since returning was a baroque performer and she got me to read the Bach manuscripts - just to see how little annotation there is on there.  She also emphasized minimizing shifts - which I liked since at that time they were possible but definitely traumatic (I guess I've improved a bit :) ).

September 3, 2010 at 12:27 PM ·

Bach and the piano:

The fortepiano--a keyboard instrument with a mechanism that produced sound by means of hammers striking metal strings--was first invented around 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Florence but didn't work very well and didn't catch on at that time.  In the 1730s, the Dresden organ builder Gottfried Silbermann took up Cristofori's idea and attempted to improve on it. 

Bach, who was an authority on instrument design and construction (particularly organs), tried Silbermann's fortepianos at that time and expressed some reservations.  Silbermann worked on his design and made more improvements.  Bach played the improved version in Berlin when he visited the court of Frederick II in 1747 and apparently approved of it then, because in 1749 he acted as a sales agent for Silbermann in selling an expensive fortepiano to a Polish nobleman at the Easter Fair in Leipzig. 

After Bach played the fortepiano in Berlin, Frederick II bought 15 of them. 

See Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach:  The Learned Musician (New York and London 2000), pp. 412-14. 

I've also read somewhere speculation that the 6-part ricercar in the Musical Offering (which Bach assembled after his Berlin visit and dedicated to Frederick II) may actually have been written with the fortepiano in mind.

September 3, 2010 at 12:33 PM ·

Awesome BIll.  I got it now: Bach & Son's refurbished Piano Sales....

September 3, 2010 at 01:15 PM ·

Bill's information is consistent with mine on Bach and the fortepiano.  If I recall Wolff's book correctly, Bach particularly had concerns about the lower notes.  Of course, what we know of as the Steinway concert grand did not actually appear until the mid-19th century.  Brahms and Clara Schumann had a dispute over whether it was any good, with Brahms trying to get Clara to use it.  Beethoven used to fight with piano makers about his issues with it, many having to do with its somewhat limited range.  He would write music that could not be played on the pianos of his day and force the issue that way.

September 3, 2010 at 03:06 PM ·

Well, thanks...I knew about Bach and the pianoforte issue... and I am sure he would have been enchanted with our modern set-up on strings instruments. And I believe they shifted a lot at the time of Bach (Locatelli and so many other virtuosos of the violin gave ample evidence about shfting). I do not believe they played in the first position most of the time as stated even by Mister Vengerov... Prelude in E major starts in fourth and uses the labyrinth kind of technique and half positions all the way. They did not use open strings as often as possible, I do not believe that assertion either.. Just take a look at the very imaginative Compositiioni of F.Gemiani for instance, Tartini, Biber ect. ect. and so many others.

September 3, 2010 at 04:41 PM ·


I've always wondered about the conventional wisdom that continuous vibrato wasn't used in the 18th century.  Could it be that contemporary treatises on violin-playing--notably that of Leopold Mozart--go out of their way to condemn the practice precisely because continuous vibrato was actually more widespread in the 18th century than period performance specialists, relying on the treatises, believe?

Also, could there have been a much greater variety of styles of violin-playing in the 18th century than we think.  Could some those styles have cultivated continuous vibrato and maybe other features of modern violin-playing that are conventionally thought to be anachronistic in 18th century music?

September 3, 2010 at 04:55 PM ·

Re:  open strings.  As far as what German practice might have been, Leopold Mozart himself says in his tutor of 1756 that it is better to avoid open strings.

However, it is assuming a great deal to imagine that Bach would have immediately approved of the modern violin setup.  To assume this is to ignore the fact that the approach to musical expression on the violin was different in Bach's day, and the baroque equipment, specifically the bow, was best suited to this sort of expression.

Bill--the weight of the evidence, taking into account all period accounts, is that a) vibrato was probably lighter and softer than today, and b) that it was widely considered to be an ornament rather than an aspect of tone-production, although Geminiani recommended its use "as often as possible".  But as far as the published evidence of which I am aware, Geminiani seems to have been the exception.  It is true that L. Mozart railed a bit against too much vibrato, so along with the Geminiani reference there is reason to say that some players in the latter part of the period were using it a lot.

Oh, and the more informed period practitioners recognize quite well that a wide variety of approaches was the rule, but since only some of it was documented the main pursuit has been to try to figure out what was common to all or most of the approaches to playing, or at any rate to try to figure out what characteristics were most likely associated with which repertoire.  Before anyone gets their hair standing on end, this is a matter of interest, exploration, and preference, not a matter of "The Interpretation Police".

September 3, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

I have a wonderful study at home about vibrato starting from Corelli and Vivaldi,all documented. It seems that Tartini, Corelli and Geminiani were using it a lot. The German's were against it for the exception of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who wished the violin to sound like the human voice. Spohr was at complete random and did not understand the true mechanism. He did not like Paganini and Ghur in his treatise or Ole Bull insisted that Paganini was using it like a bel canto singer,and that this style of playing was not understood by his fellow violinists from the German or French school. Paganini used also thin strings and a more convexe bridge...

I believe it was an italian fashion ( continuous vibrato). For sure,there were many kinds of style of playing during that era... There is no certainty.

September 3, 2010 at 05:36 PM ·

 "As I see it, the challenge in most of these passages really is largely about seamless bow crossings, with left hand issues mostly secondary."

Without observing what you are doing, it's difficult to make a recommendation, but remember that the left hand has to make string crossings also.  If your left hand does not execute the string change slightly ahead of the right hand, the clarity of the sound will suffer.  

Aside from Kreutzer, I might recommend Sevcik Op. 1 Pt. 1 & 2.  In the Sevcik are both simple exercises for right hand change of string, and many passages of sixteenth notes that progressively cover the string change problems in the left.  From there, for the right hand I would recommend Kreutzer #25 (Galamian Edition).  I cannot overemphasize the point about the left hand...above all you must LISTEN!!!  Good luck :-)


September 3, 2010 at 06:13 PM ·

Benjamin: Its great to write something like that (re not left hand) to learn the most!  I'm going to have a go at that because maybe thats really where my issues are.  I've actually beeen working quite a lot on my bowing arm (it needed really it!) because i could not play 16th notes at 100 (my role model is Handel #III, second movement - I posted that goal several months ago).  But yesterday I played it almost without error at 108!  So something is working.  Indeed, with development of the speed of sautille bowing (wow, what a ride!) my left hand can't keep up.

The long and the short of that is to run over to your Sevic suggestion. and see what gives.. thanks :)

September 3, 2010 at 06:29 PM ·

Marc, I'd like to see this study you refer to.  W A Mozart is of course out of the period, and the reference to the human voice begs the question of whether vibrato was a constant in vocal technique of the period.  If I remember right from the last time I looked into this, it was a subject of some debate as late as the 19th century.

September 3, 2010 at 08:27 PM ·

Can we ascertain who, among the good violinists and/or pedagogues was the first to use/champion continuous vibrato?

September 3, 2010 at 09:13 PM ·

Andres: I would like to give you the information as soon as possible but the book is somewhere in my house or at my office. It is written by a German and you could have it a few years ago from the Strad library...

But if anyone is really interested about the continuous vibrato, it is Kreisler who the first made the revolution. But it is his teacher, Lambert Massart who made the discovery, and he thaught it to Wieniawski and Kreisler.

A NEW HISTORY of Violin PLAYING, the vibrato and Lambert Massart's revolutionary discovery, by Zdenko Silvela at  Click on search on their website for: A new history of violin playing. And you will find the book.

It contains five sensational,unpublished,autographed letters by Kreisler ect. ect.

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