What's wrong with this tip?

January 17, 2011 at 06:18 PM ·

[It would be an idea to the ability to comment on the 'violin tips' so that one can learn why an idea is good or bad - you can't tell how knowledgeable the vote sources are.]

My approach to learning a new piece used to be to just try to play it and then whey you fail (in most cases) to listen to it and try again.  However, due to a combination of trial and error I've found that the first thing to do is to listen to it played by a good performer; next get the rhythm straight and THEN try to play it.  This allows you to use the music as your guiding light and the rhythm to prevent you from misinterpreting.

So why an almost equal vote against this strategy - is there a better one?

thanks ee

Replies (39)

January 17, 2011 at 06:34 PM ·

 in the process of learning, many students have to develop sight reading ability.  your suggestion, though very practical,  may induce some people into a habit of  learning a new piece ONLY after listening to others.   i know many more serious teachers are against that, thinking that their students will not learn to figure things out on their own.  i always hear the story that one of their students will get the highest mark on the playing part but do poorly in sight reading,,,for those high school level stuff.  in fact, i have heard some highest level solo players may not be that great of a sight reader partly because of this ...

with youtube around, i have a feeling that by the time my kid gets to learn a new piece, she might have heard it before:)

January 17, 2011 at 07:00 PM ·

I'm jumping in on the side of plowing through it a number of times before hearing someone else play it.

I studied piano for 13 years when I was a kid.  My first teacher (years 1-11) made it a habit to play through the material she assigned before I would try playing it.  To this day, my sight-reading is sketchy.  I've been taking violin lessons for about 7 months.  Some of the pieces I've learned have been very simplified arrangements of  music I've heard most of my life.  Too often I'm finding that I start playing what I remember, only to find out when I actually slow down, drop back and STUDY the music that there are differences between what I'm seeing and what I remember hearing.

These days I consider hearing someone else play a piece that I'm working on to be a reward that I've earned only after sight-reading it. 

January 17, 2011 at 08:52 PM ·

Ah - so it wasn't the rhythm part but the listening one!  That was kinda incidental :)

Sight reading is a skill that is best IMO by just having fun playing LOTS of music.  In the hint was referring to learning a new performance piece - concerto, quartet or whatever - I suppose I think of sight reading as a separate learning set...



January 17, 2011 at 09:13 PM ·

Nothing's wrong.  It's to be expected -- a subject like how to learn a new piece is going to evoke diverse opinions.  Your tip has a 59% positive rating with the audience.

My approach to learning repertoire involves both listening and reading.  I prefer to hear a recognized artist play the piece first -- and then get hold of the sheet music so that I can follow as I listen.  And it helps to hear more than one player's interpretation.

One of the first performances of the Beethoven VC I heard was Isaac Stern's vintage recording with Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic.  Even before I began learning the work from the music, the Fritz Kreisler cadenza to the first movement really grabbed me.  I could reproduce some of it by ear on my own instrument.

But then I got hold of the sheet music and discovered that Stern had made a couple of minor cuts near the beginning and ending -- common practice among soloists.  From the very start of learning the part from sheet music, I liked the cadenza better as written -- no cuts or transpositions.  And I discovered little notes here and there that my mind hadn't registered from listening without the music.

It's important to me to find out what the composer, to the best of my knowledge, actually left to us -- and then put my own stamp on it.

January 18, 2011 at 12:37 AM ·

Although I agree with the majority, that listening is not a good way to learn a piece, your point about rhythm is worth considering.  I've sat with far too many people who simply don't know how to count, who play the rhythm 'by ear,' and thus are super-sloppy  (right next to those who tap with the whole foot--out of rhythm making it all but impossible not to be seduced by the mis-counting. UGH)

Rhythm's the heart of the music; no beat, no life.  So, yeah, I'd say get the rhythm first (and, as a side bar, it's certainly true of the best orchestral fakers I've played with--you'd never know they were faking if you relied on their rhythm, because that was spot-on perfect...notes, not so much.)

January 18, 2011 at 02:24 AM ·


it`s an interesting question which raises enough issues for ten or so threads at minimum.  Being realistic,   I think most of us have listened to the standard repertoire (the music we love and love to play) so many times before we get to play it that the hard core purists who put a blanket ban on pre-listening are in a sense already fighting a losing battle.   Nonethless,  I very much err in that direction,  or suggest listening to many recordings or better still,  listen to other works by the same composer to get a feel for the style.  `Getting a feel for the style,` is not a question of finding out how other performers play a specific work but rather a more general understanding of the kind of harmony,  melodic devices,   sfxs ,  that a particular composer uses.  This is not as widely grasped a point as one could wish but one of the `secrets` of sight reading is the abilty to unconsciously anticpate what is going to happen next developed by extensive familiarity with a specific composer.

What I question is what you think you are going to get from listening to a particular model of a work as a guide.   Are you hoping to learn the rythm,  or the melodic line ,  or rubato or what?   (as just thre eexamples).   Surely the rythm and intervallic relationships are best learnt from the score itself for the basic reason that the ability to instantly decode both the rythm and intervals between notes at speed is the esence of sight reading.  (This particular caveat may not apply to other branches of playing...;))   If one is tyring to learn an appropriate `interpretive rubato`   then I think one has it backwards even within the context of your tip.  You stress learning rythm as primary (which I agree) and yet listening to a finished product in which the player has learnt to distort the music around a pulse is the finished product that should perhaps be avoided while finding out what the rythm is!!!!

However,  the issue of ryth is rather interesting.  There is an importnat distinction between matematical subdivision of beats and the nature of pulse.  What we need to be able to do a splayers is match the rythmical squiggles to an internal pulse and a specific  playing action.   Good readers and musicians may make mistakes within the pulse (or fake passages that switch from 9notes per beat to 5 to 3 and so on)  but the underlying pulse remains constant.   An interesting proposal as to how this is done can be found in the works of Clayton Haslop who has taken this a long way by advocating counting aloud and playing.  In general I have found this to be exceptionally beneficial.  Although in the initila stages the pulse may be all over the show as ones ability to keep a constant pace is interfered with by technique,  but as time goes by the conscious attenton to playing on a verbal pulse pays enormous dividens as the organism stabilizes.

In general it isthe insturment and the hang ups we have about it that get in the way of preparing new pices.  As such it would help a lot of people to mentally prepare pieces (memorize them as well) before even picking up the insturment.  Consider for eample,  ASM who has a habit of learning her repertoire on the piano first.   I suspect Mistein worked this way to some extent or at least learnt the piano part and mentally superimposed the violin part on top. That of course,  would be a wonderful way of learning.....



January 18, 2011 at 02:43 AM ·

 That sounds like a really fine idea, Buri.  For one thing, it puts the principal attention at the 'heart' of the matter--the pulse.  

And I don't think one fights a losing battle trying to avoid listening to 'standards;' there's an enormous difference (in my experience, anyway) between listening for pleasure and listening to emulate.  I was 'brought up' to listen to Mozart operas before I studied the concerti or sonatas, Handel's oratorios before I started the sonatas--and you're right, it brings them 'home' at a more fundamental level than listening to multiple recordings of the works I was working on.  Besides, since I'll never play an opera by myself, or with a pianist, it's better for the whole me.

I like the way you think.

January 18, 2011 at 10:48 AM ·

I suspect that some of the opinions above are influenced by personal learning styles.  Thus, visual learners may prefer to read the music first while aural and kinesthetic learners (of which I am the latter two) may prefer to hear it.  Its too easy to project from one's own strength a dogma that this should be the course for everyone else.

And I have to admit that my hint does do that - I am astonished at how much faster I learn a piece if I listen to it rather than play it.  Perhaps the phrase should be reworded as 'After your introduction to a piece (read or heard), the first thing to work on is rhythm.'  I think its thefirst step to understanding the music.  Also, if you are playing with anyone else without the correct rhythm (or at least pulse) you will be stopping and starting all the time.

January 18, 2011 at 12:05 PM ·

 Elise, I would agree with that.  I don't think there is one right way to learn a piece for everyone.  So, some people like the tip because it works for them, and others don't because it doesn't.

I like to listen to orchestral and chamber pieces for reasons similar to your point about the rhythm. In addition to the rhythm, I like to listen in order to understand how the different parts fit together.  I want to know what is going on when my part has rests, or has accompaniment.  Of course I listen to the conductor and to the other players during rehearsal, as well, but I don't think one precludes the other.  It's both, and.

As for solo pieces, I'd want to listen to it at least once first in order to decide whether I wanted to play it or not.  I have limited practice time, and I wouldn't want to spend any of it learning a piece that I didn't like.

January 18, 2011 at 12:39 PM ·

 i agree that this is an interesting topic and it comes down to personal learning preference, although buri as usual has provided a more thorough and thoughtful response.

when my older one was on piano, her teacher, from old school russia, insisted on no listening to others until you give your best try to figure things out yourself.  learn to sing inside your head while reading the score.  to her, this ability is the common language among classical musicians.  she told us that when she was a student, they had formal sight-reading sessions, not just do-more-then-you-will-know.  they studied it critically and analytically.  result:  her ability to sightread anything is marvelous.  not just good or very good or even outstanding.  it is individual fiber like this pulled together that made russian classical music so formidable.  it is quality of the highest kind.

so, it is possibly beyond just personal style or preference, but level of expertise.

do you want a passing grade, or good at it, or own it...

January 18, 2011 at 05:09 PM ·

 Al, I can see her point, but I guess it comes down to how much you value sight-reading as a skill and how much time/effort you want to put into learning that.  Presumably having that skill contributed to that teacher's making her living and to other things that were of value to her.  Which is great--for her--but I'm still not convinced that acquiring that kind of sight-reading skill is a good use of everyone's time.  

On a personal note, I'm a mediocre sight-reader--I know this.  So, to improve, rather than listening to an orchestral piece, I suppose I could look at the score instead for the purposes I listed.  But I don't have easy access to the score, I can only (barely) read 3 clefs, I can't transpose woodwind parts, etc.  I could get the scores from Interlibrary Loan and learn to do all those other things, but where does it stop and when do I find time to do my day job?

January 18, 2011 at 05:39 PM ·

When students listen to a piece first and then start practicing it, with occasional returns to the CD to hear it again, they are being taught to copy.  There is a time and a place for copying a performer, but it should not be the only thing a student learns from music. Music education should teach lots of things, like being creative, solving problems on ones own, experimenting,  making one's own decision under uncertainty,  oh, and copying several performance styles belongs on this list.  A good violin teacher will manage the learning process so a student gets many/most of the above experiences, and hence they are educating the whole child.

For example, my son's violin teacher had him work the piece out on his own at the beginning.  She discussed problems and presented exercises to get through rough spots, but encouraged his own interpretation.  About half way through the semester, she had him listen to a CD and they talked about differences in style from his approach.  He ended up playing a copied performance style for competitions, and his own interpretation for his recitals.  He got the best of both.  This was repeated for several years, and he became very educated on the whole set of skills that are useful for playing music.

January 18, 2011 at 06:02 PM ·

I think sight reading needs a new topic, it really is a very interesting question.  I think my sight reading skills are in excess of my playing ones (er, thats to say mediocre on a V.com scale :-\ ) probably because I love to skim through violin anthologies to see what gems I can find (that lovely feeling of 'oh THATS what this is'.  However, given the choice I would FAR rather hear the piece first, there's still lots and lots of room for sight reading even if you know the theme (I mean how many of us can remember a whole piece in one listening session - yes I know there are some of you out there ;) ).

I must say that one of the most enjoyable ways of playing is to get together with a few musicians and sight read a piece that noone knows.  Its tremendous fun - but is it really useful in the long run?  I suspect not except, perhaps, if you were called on to sit in for a colleague at the last minute at a performance.

January 18, 2011 at 06:09 PM ·

 karen,,i see your point.  i am not sure if i used the word properly,,, earlier i called it being "practical" which i think may apply to your situation.  or being pragmatic, perhaps?

on the other hand, you probably can imagine, comparing among other things you have come across in your academic careers, violin learning (or classical instruments) can be quite dogmatic.  for better or worse,  we are usually not in the position to question the teachers' recommendations.  if they say to use the shoulder rest, 99% of kids and parents will follow.  If they say use the galamian edition, we don't look at peters.  we simply trust their judgements and their studios have certain styles and regimens.  i have yet to meet one teacher who is not adamant about sight reading.  at least the teachers tried :)   i know most students are not crazy about it,,,because it is work:)

here is a side note to illustrate this point.  from day one i have told my kid's violin teacher that we are not interested to do the following: competitions and those high school regency testings/placement  for violin.  meanwhile, 99% of the students there are on these types of tracks--something they should do to build a foundation for a music major or something, as i was told. once in a while, the teacher would tell me how the crop this year did,,,perhaps to brag:), perhaps to keep me at ease that the students are competitive relatively.  apparently, the biggest challenge to most violin students in the usa is sight reading.  the tendency is that everyone jumps into a show piece, and another and another,,,with min exposure to sight reading.  then when the "exams" come, the total score will pull them down.

so in response to elise's question i thought i would make her aware of this aspect of  the "culture".  sight reading is emphasized for a variety of reasons.  

i mean, i don't see any downside to being good at sight reading.  but for some, esp those with no sight reading testing looming in the horizon, those who just want to have fun:):):), by all means.  i probably fall into this camp if i learn to play violin right now because i will be doing it to please myself.  :)

so let me pin this down further:  will the habit of listening to others' playing first before trying it out oneself LEAD to low sight reading skills?  for the most part, i believe so, unless a very structured sight reading program is in place.  but the catch 22 is that if such a program is in place, then the students will be attempting to use the show pieces as sight reading materials:)

January 18, 2011 at 06:12 PM ·

Karen - you can get parts to lots of orch music at imslp.org.  I, also, am not a very good sight reader, but occasionally I will just print a violin part to some orch piece from imslp and try it.

January 18, 2011 at 06:35 PM ·

Don: have you never had the experience where you sight read a piece and are quite happy with it - and then hear another violinist play it only to radically change your rendition?  I'm quite good at sight reading the notes but sight reading the musicality?  Thats not really on the page.

The point is that written music is too often only an approximation to the played piece.  Indeed, although I recognize that sight reading can be a very useful skill, one could argue that music is actually an aural tradition (I mean there are lots of tunes that predate or survived for centuries before they were written down).  Granted, sight reading clearly is now an aspect of classical music...

January 18, 2011 at 07:47 PM ·

Don: I think you imply that listening to someone means you are going to copy their style?  Hey, if thats all it took we would all be Heifetzes (or Hahns, or....).  Not at all - its about hearing the pulse, and getting aquainted with the intent of the music.  What I find is that when I listen to a piece I am working on I emulate expressions that I like and ignore others - while incorporating features from different artists.

I mean would you say you should not look at a landscape picture by a great artist if you are going to paint a landscape yourself?  If that tainted an artists approach I might conclude that they either have little to say or rather weak convictions about their own artistic message.  On the other hand, I'm lucky because my brain is awful at copying so I have to reinvent all the time.  If you have one that readily mirrors its environment then it might be best to play the piece from a vaccum...

January 18, 2011 at 07:54 PM ·


>I'm quite good at sight reading the notes but sight reading the musicality?  Thats not really on the page.

Up to a point I would diasagree with this.   Composers have for historical reasons, put more or less markings on the page.  nonetheless,   even the shape of the notes on the page is often a hint IE descendnding passages grow in intensity and vice versa.  Furthermore phrase endings and peaks are often quite visible. Dynamics,  accents and articulations are self explanatory.  The composers name tells me something about the style and kind of sound and the name of the piece itslef (dance movement for example) also tells me a lot in many cases.   It is not dificult to sense the period of an extract much of the time if no written clue is offered.

The first step in mastering a work,  in my opinion,  is being as faithful a spossible to what is on the page.  (Not always an easy thing)   The problem with many players is they don`t take enough care in this stage of their study.  Many players would probably sound a lot more musical if they actually played what was written on the page.   Incidentally Joshua Bell made this point a while back on this site so I don@t feel I am screaming alone in space.  The positive aspect of your tip actually supports this view.   But so many players build up a mental model of a work based on another artists interpretation failing to realize that it takes a genius to grasp and then repersonalize a composers intention to that extent.   As a result a lot of violin lessons could simply consist of `well, you could play that piaon there.  Then this is marked mf so it should be twice as loud...`  and so on.



January 18, 2011 at 10:10 PM ·

 @Karen A: a lot of standard orchestral works are available -- in parts, not just score -- on imslp.org.  I've gotten the season's parts ahead of time quite often--now, it depends on where you live, for some works don't have universal freedom from copyright, and the editions are not always the best--but they have the notes, tempi, and all the basics.

I use the site to find new things to read all the time!

January 18, 2011 at 10:42 PM ·

This discussion reminds me of a story Peter Shikele told about his student days. He took a composition course, at the end of which the school hired professional musicians to play the results. While his piece was being played he interrupted to point out that what they were doing was not what he wanted it to sound like. One of the musicians matter-of-factly stated "We prefer that the composer be dead."

That story, true or not, says a lot to me about how accurately music can be notated and reproduced from notation alone. I have personally heard a violinist friend try to play a fairly simple fiddle tune that I had suggested to him (from notation alone but not sight reading). The result was totally unrecognizeable as the tune in question, although the notes were "correct."

Admittedly, I'm a little biased because I have always been a very poor reader but still need both visual and aural cues.

January 18, 2011 at 11:09 PM ·

"will the habit of listening to others' playing first before trying it out oneself LEAD to low sight reading skills?  for the most part, i believe so, unless a very structured sight reading program is in place."

Responding to Al's point above.  While I agree it does reduce the amount of sight reading that someone does, sight reading does not go away altogether.  For the most part, when we study etudes, we are sight reading.  And assuming you do your share of etudes, you will be sight reading a pretty large percentage of your practice time.  I consider myself a decent sight reader, and I had an older brother who was more advanced than I was in violin.  So, I heard many of the pieces before I played them, even the etudes. 

I think there may be an innate ability that some people have that make them better sight readers, just like some are good at math (maybe there is a direct correlation there), while others are better at liberal arts.  I have heard on a number of occasions that people that are good in math and science are also frequently good in music.  Perhaps the ability to quickly process fractions (e.g., half notes, quarter notes, sixteenths) helps with learning music.

January 18, 2011 at 11:13 PM ·

There's a big difference between listening to an unfamiliar piece to suss out tempi, structure, harmonies, etc., and repeatedly listening to the point where you can faithfully copy each note and inflection.  The former is especially helpful, as others have pointed out, for those who learn best this way. Folks who were never taught (or never caught on to) solfege are going to be a little lost just looking over the part, too.

January 18, 2011 at 11:14 PM ·

Lyle - I think you raise a very exciting idea.

We take two excellent violinists and present them with pieces of music , as notated by the composer (I'm sure we could find some obscure piece by a known but not really famous composer that neither had played or heard) and let them study it and work it up as according to what was written on the score (they can have access to all the parts).

Then we listen to the outcome.  As I understand Buri's post they should sound very similar.  I suspect you are right though and that the outcome would be amazingly different.

Indeed, I dearly hope it would else playing the violin is not, after all, an art but the job of an excellent technician....

January 19, 2011 at 12:01 AM ·


can`t say you are even in the same ball park as my post.   The two excellent violinists would study the score very carefully.  Being excellent violinsts they would pay attention to all the details and use their prior knowledge of the composer and period for stylistic purposes. having done this (and to some degree at the same time) there individual characters a smusicians would alter and illuminate the work in question.

That is why they are labelled `excellent violinsts. ` 



January 19, 2011 at 12:49 AM ·

for architects, being able to interpret blueprints is an essential and universal skill requirement. in music,  the parallel is sight reading.  many  musical students have performing abilities that far exceed corresponding sight reading abilities.  as a poster has indicated, this deficiency may play a role in job qualification.   

i think this thread has 2  themes.

1. the advantage of listening to others' works first.

2. the disadvantage of above.

i think each entity can exist on its own.  i am biased toward 2. because that is all i know (which means not much), but it is interesting to read others' experience on 1.  when good players listen to music, how do they listen?

smiley,,,good point!  not all is lost. :)

want to assess 2 excellent violinists?  throw them a piece of modern music :)

January 19, 2011 at 02:45 AM ·

Hubboy, could I ever get myself into trouble with this most excellent topic!  First, I'll re-re-reintroduce myself as a "returning student" after let's say a very long time after setting my violin studies aside as a pre-teen.

I had a violin teacher in the public school, a private teacher, and (oh, no!) a mother who was a very capable violinist all at the same time.  Mom, knowing me better than the "other two" teachers, pretty much forbade me to listen to a new solo recording before attempting to learn it on my own.  I had a miserable time with it, expecially with the rhythm as others have mentioned, but my biggest help was having a piano in the house.  I could plunk out the notes so that I didn't make any egregious mistakes with the melody then start working with it on my own.  If memory serves me, mom did allow me to hear a virtuoso recording, maybe once, to give me the gist of a piece without letting me become a stylistic copycat.

Finally, in my later years of high school I had a choral director who was bonkers on solfeggio.  I don't know if this method is ever taught now, but I think it added to my ability to sight read.  I'd like to suggest a new thread, or a turn in the current thread, toward discussing sight reading and how best to learn it in contrast with rote memorization of music or learning by ear, as encouraged by the Suzuki Method of Violin.  For me it's a moot point since I seem to be good at sight reading.  But I'd like to hear what you folks have to add in the debate of "learning by ear" as opposed to "figuring it out by any other means possible".

My teacher is having me use the Suzuki books to get me to refine my intonation, strengthen my fingers once again, and get the aforementioned important ergonomics figured out for my much-changed adult body.  I'm bored to near frustration with them but as it could be said, God is in the details.  My technique has also been nelped tremendously by tips from folks on YouTube.  They have great tips on what _didn't_ work for them with chin rests, shoulder rests, and their consequences.

On the topic of the the sin of learning a piece that inhibits self-expression, I've found some great tips from YouTube violinists who play and also explain the reason for a lesson in the Suzuki and Wohlfahrt books.  My hat is off to Dr. R. Todd Ehle for what he shows people about the hows and whys of the exercises.  He also has a tale of woe about poor ergonomics that basically ended his performance career.

That's my humble $.02.  Anybody willing to jump in?

January 19, 2011 at 03:55 AM ·

 If teaching has taught me anything, it's taught me that there is no "right way" to learn something. Listen, read, play it first on the banjo....whatever works!

January 19, 2011 at 05:40 AM ·

 I NEVER listen to a new piece if I can help it. I do not want someone else's interpretation stuck in my head. I hear this with conductors sometimes--you can just tell that they are trying to get the orchestra to do what's on the recording.

Another thing that drives me crazy is when a fellow musician in, say, a chamber music situation, say's "that's the way the ________quartet does it." 

Only after I have developed my own ideas do I start to listen to others.

January 19, 2011 at 06:45 AM ·

 I meet too many professional-level players whose playing sounds like a bland average of the recorded legacy. 

I don't believe that every performance should sound like the premiere-- after all, some premieres were awful!-- but I think it's really important to have some concept of what it would have felt like to premiere the work you're going to play. What, given your training, would you make of the markings? What harmonies would be surprising? What notes would you tend to bring out? What's your concept of tempo stability or flexibility? What's the setup of your instrument like? 

When we listen to a recording as the first means of acquaintance with a piece, we limit our capacity to think in this way. I understand that reading from the score isn't always easy, but it's always worth it. It gets easier. Listening is valuable-- crucial at early stages of development-- but I think the legion of proficient players who sound like a bland average of a bunch of recordings, and who can make neither head nor tail of new music, is quite enough reason to think that students should be taught to use listening as a means of general musical education more than of getting to know a particular piece.

January 19, 2011 at 01:07 PM ·

Perhaps my point above got a bit lost?  I think it really depends on how your mind works.  With respect to learning the notes, if you have to listen to learn - then listen to learn.  As Laurie said, there is no one way to play the violin.

With respect to individual rendition of the music: if you are a person that hears a piece played and that rendition burns into your mind so strongly you can not avoid emulating what you heard - then yes, it might be best to learn the piece in a vaccum.  [However, as mentioned above, who of us has not heard just about every piece you are likely to play, at least during the learning stages. So if your memory is very acute you may be screwed before you start - perhaps you should play jazz :) ].  If however, you have a mind (such as mine) where you do not retain details but only the flow of the music then it does not really matter how many masters you listen to - your own playing will always have its own expression.

Different (up and down) strokes for different folks :)

January 19, 2011 at 07:02 PM ·

 If your goal is to learn to sight read, I wouldn't listen first. But in the larger scheme of things, music is an aural tradition, if you don't have a heck of a lot of listening under your belt, you won't understand what language you are speaking. I'd recommend listening to different recordings of the same piece, to different pieces by the same composer, different pieces in the same style, etc.



January 20, 2011 at 12:28 AM ·

I can attest that Ruggiero Ricci agrees with Laurie. I heard him tell a master class at Brevard Music Center several years ago that they should listen to all the recordings they can find. Not necessarily before they get into a work, but to understand it. He mentioned that when he was learning the only recordings he had were by Heifetz so he had to make do.

January 20, 2011 at 01:13 AM ·

When either reading or listening (from experience and guidance from teachers) know what it is you are seeing and hearing do not just try to imitate , ie., 'Youtube violinist is using contact point toward the bridge and has the bow hair on edge, so I'll do that too."  If you learn why he/she is doing that, great. If not consult a teacher, "why are they using that contact point and the bow hair on edge?" This music is without parallel perfect fifths... why? Think like an engineer.

January 20, 2011 at 04:32 AM ·

I must admit to being a bit bothered by the notion that by listening to a great violinist play a piece you will some how become polluted and unable to render your own interpretation.

Isn't that what the growth of art is about - immersing yourself in whats been achieved so that you can build on it?  Its a bit like saying that Beethoven should not listen to Mozart else he could not write anything original.  IMO the same goes for interpretation - I want to hear everything that has been done as a part of building my own perspective.

OK, being the devils advocate here - but only a little...

January 20, 2011 at 05:25 AM ·


it`s all about listening and I would note, somewhat tongue in cheek, in response to later responses an intersting phenomenon.   The further away from my earlier post one gets the more wild,  misrepresentative and pointless the commentary on it becomes.  People are making statements about my supposed position (and others) which they have conjured out of thin air because frankly,  they are not listening to what I actually said.....   Actually I am very sympathetic to this.   AS threads become longer and more involved it becomes harder and harder to scroll all the way back and carefully ensure you have interpreted someones postion correctly. The end result is a false statement of their postion and a more noisily reiterated version of ones own.   This seems to be a weakness of the computer as opposed to face to face conversation or a dialogue cocnerning a book.  Very interesting.

Since some people seem to be wetting their knickers I will make a few further observations in the interests of dry underpants for at least the near future.

We are actually confusing a whole slew of issues here.  The original question was actually whether one should learn a piece first by listening to it.  I query this for two reasons: 1) because it avoids developing sight reading skills.  2)  it avoids the challenge of thinking for yourself -first-. It is the difference between just asking the question and asking follwed by seeking the answer within before asking others. Neither of these two points have been answered adequately in any of the repsonses, in my opinion.

However, that does not automatically lead to the assumption that we should not listen to a specific work with the intent to learn during study of it.  Galamian suggested that rather than lsitening to one version it was better to listen to several versions and even better to listen to different genres by the same composer.  Heifetz said that he wasn`t in favor of learing from recordings but that it was necessary in some cases where the studnet didn`t appear to be able to generate enough musical ideas of his own.  Note the order there- the work is done and then the lsitening occurs.  Howeevr, I do think the Heifetz position is rather negative.  Personally I think it is fine if a person sat down after having `done the work first` and studied in depth a specific interpretation.  That becomes an issue of `comparison` rather than `imitation.`   I hasten to add that I am not suggesting this tip argues for direct `imitation.`  My position is simply that a new work is a relatively clean canvas and one should strive to cmmit one`s own brush strokes first.

The issue of imitation was raised even though the naysayish camp never said that this was a deliberate action. That`s a bit of a straw man argument I`m afraid.   But if you want to address that issue specifically then there are students who deliberatly imitate their idol and frankly they either discard the habit quickly or fall by the wayside.   It doesn`t lead to artistry to deliberatly set out to do such a thing.   One cannot distort ones psyche and physique to that extent and remain healthy.

There is of course, the question of state of knowledge.   As far as I am aware in my limited way, the `modern` Suzuki teachers are giving the best of both worlds by getting tabula rasa to work aurally and also read music effectively.

As Laurie said,  violin playing is an aural tradition.  In order to develop a beautiful,  unique sense of sound one should listen to thousands of hours of violin playing of the great players of all ages.  One should also attend any and all cocnerts of great and not so greatplayers.   Thereis no alternative.We will almost certainly have listned to a new piece played by our own personal favorite violnist many times before we come to play it.  Not an issue.   No poluution.




January 20, 2011 at 11:18 AM ·

Actually Buri the original post was not about listening at all!  It was about what you do AFTER you have heard the piece and I was suggesting it was to get the rhythm correct.  The listening part was my assumption. It was a bit of a surprise to me that many do not agree, that one should puprposely NOT listen but instead sight read the music from your page.  Forgive me, but my readong of your original post does seem to tend to the latter perspective (I did re-read it) - getting as much as possible from the manuscript.  I thought that was a very interesting idea and it makes a lot of sense if you do not want to get distracted by changes made by a performer or that has become just an established but unfounded interpretation. 

Unfortunately, it just does not seem to work very well for me - I suspect I am just not a good enough musician.  Thanks for the update and clarification.

And please don't get offended by the vagaries of the topic - many stray somewhat from the original post (in this case it was due to my own assumptions).  I think we learn much more that way - I certainly have. 

January 20, 2011 at 12:12 PM ·

 well, at least i was reacting to the question,,,why elise's suggestion of listening first received only 50/50 voting?

i felt the strongest reason is teachers' concern that students would learn to bypass the sightreading stage, like doing some multiple choice questions from a book but flipping to the back of the book  to see the answers first and then trying to figure things out.

from reading the thread, i have got this impression that sightreading is not an issue when elise started the violin, that she had had prior music experience, which, however, is vastly differently from many others who start on music and violin at the same time.

i think this is perhaps the reason for the going back and forth...

of course, listening to others' playing is extremely helpful.  the contention is the timing.

but i think this is a very interesting question because it brings up the issue that what is the best approach to learning for each person? 

got to go, elaborate later...

January 20, 2011 at 03:58 PM ·

Beethoven, Mozart (who was also instructed by Hayden) knew why they wrote what they did, why they avoided somethings, and why they wrote what they did in a particular way. As I stated... if you can read it/hear it and you get it fantastic! My teacher Dr. Pineli and Dr. Gjevrie would have me watch/listen and ask me to see if I could  and explain why this violinist was doing or did what they did. Observe the techniques and listen... tell us, what is going on!  Notice the bow speed and contact points... what sets them appart, etc.

January 21, 2011 at 07:19 PM ·

  I'll say that if the music on the page doesn't clarify the rhythm for you, you do need to work on your reading and maybe the best approach in that case is to use your noodle instead of going to a recording. 

If you are using the listening as a crutch for an inability to read, then this opens up a whole new can of worms. 

Find an etude or method book that is at a do-able level for you (not way at the upper edge of your ability) and learn one etude, or 1-2 pages, a week. Like everything else, you have to practice reading to get good at it. 

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