Making a Quantal Leap: Fast tracking the late starter

March 30, 2011 at 01:38 AM ·

OK, so you waited till your 50s to get the violin bug.  The 6yr old prodigy strategy is not an option.  What teaching/training/playing strategy would you take to get as far as your talent and (bottomless) pocketbook would permit?

Extra points for suggestions that take advantage of the strengths of the late starter ;)

Replies (50)

March 30, 2011 at 02:31 AM ·

First, I would be prepared to ignore (and forgive) the condescending remarks about how you "shouldn't worry about starting late, how it doesn't matter that you'll never be all that good, it just matters that you enjoy your music", etc.  Those folks who assume older learners have limited capabilities are probably all younger than you. It's not their fault.  How could they know?

I would have on hand Simon Fischer's Basics book as well as his Secrets of Tone Production DVD... Drew Lecher's book... sign up for Clayton Haslop's Beginner's Circle...and get the first couple of Suzuki books.  Then I'd find a teacher who knew and appreciated how serious I was and get them to help me with whichever of those materials they are familiar and/or impressed with.  And I'd work on the rest of the materials on my own.  At some point Kreutzer and Wohlfhart, et al, will find their way to the music stand, but they can wait a little while.

I might augment the above with Professor S and Professor V, and I'd definitely read Yehudi Menuhin's books, and try to dip into Galamian's, and scour this site for tips and insights from the folks here that I trust the most, those whose advice resonates with what I've gleaned from the materials and practice I've already mentioned.  And I would try to compare it all with greats I see on You Tube, as I study their performances.

I would follow the lead of Yehudi Menuhin and Maxim Vengerov and get in the best physical shape I could. 

And I would try to leverage my maturity into the kind of discipline that it takes to practice well as well as practice a lot.  And, of course, one has to get oneself out playing in front of people---church, retirement communities, the street,...all the usual places, as soon as you think you can...or maybe even a bit before that.

 

 

 

March 30, 2011 at 02:50 AM ·

Terrific ideas !  I should make it clear that I'm not actually starting from scratch (lucky to have played as a kid to age 13 or so) and have now been back about 3 years but there may be others who are for whom the beginning steps are relevant.  Over the past 17 weeks I've averaged over 2 hrs playing a day (I include my weekly hr lesson and monthly quartet time). 

What triggers this is the realization that one simply can not take the same track as a beginning child - and neither should one you are starting with very different material.  I suppose I'm looking for some short cuts that might be possible using the advantage of a mature and dedicated mind.  For example which study books are essential and which could be passed on till a later date; likewise which music.  I think it a given that you can not short-change fundamental technique - without that there is no playing worth listening to so those hours remain necessary and are not to be cut.  But where COULD one make some jumps?

March 30, 2011 at 04:44 AM ·

Elise,

I don't think there are any shortcuts.  However, assuming a bottomless pocketbook, I'd do the following:

Take lessons - every day, from the best teacher you can find.  The 'best' at the time may not be a Julliard teacher, but one who inspires you, motivates you to continuously improve, and focuses on techniques and proper poster (e.g. AT).  Record your lessons.  There is nothing like listening to/watching a lesson after it happened.

Put together a space that is conducive to quality practice time.  Floors should be comfortable to stand on for hours, a stool for longer practice sessions or to simply practice sitting down (a different set of challenges), a mirror (or two) to watch yourself, and zero distractions.  Since the pocketbook is bottomless, I'd get a audio/video recording system setup to record practice sessions for self-evaluation as well as some acoustical panels to vary the sound of the space from a 'live' room to a 'dead' one.

Develop a practice plan with your teacher and keep a regular practice schedule.   Don't skimp on breaks or practice a single technique for hours on end otherwise you may injure yourself.  Etudes, scales, and other technical studies may be boring, but they are your best best for rapid improvement.  Be sure to allocate time to play with others as well as solo and perform as frequently and often as you are able to build confidence.

Memorize your music (and etudes, scales, technical studies, etc...).  There is a certain deeper level of awareness that is gained when you aren't focused on the printed music in front of you. 

March 30, 2011 at 06:29 AM ·

 Your suggestions are excellent, Mendy.  and I'm off to arrange the ones I haven't yet done.

March 30, 2011 at 07:23 AM ·

The tip about taking lessons every day. I'd second that. Or at least 3 times a week. Many times I feel that weekly is too far apart - bugs that were squashed in last week's lesson have a tendency to come back to life  however diligent my solo practice.

I'm taking that your limitless pocketbook includes as much time as you'd like? Because you'll also need a good few hours to practice during the day - and not just the bit left after all the unimportant stuff, like earning a living and tending to the (dogs / house / loved ones / garden), has been done.

March 30, 2011 at 07:50 AM ·

I think it a given that you can not short-change fundamental technique

There is a shorter path to the violin for adults. It's fully developed intelligence + experience. My adult students understand much faster than the children, they can connect details and advance faster. Another thing is the bodily action. There is no shortcut, I'm afraid. But developing a fine technique must not always take too long.

I returned to the violin at 46 after a break of more than twenty years, haven't played any serious sonata in my life. I could do 2nd vl. in some quartets for example, or Händel sonatas, but not very good. Now, three years later, my recital program this year includes Brahms, Beethoven and Schumann sonatas, De Falla (suite populaire) etc.. The main method to achieve this (I had no teacher apart from my fabulous pianist) was self-criticism and steady concentration on what I was working on each moment (instead of mechanically repeating over and over). Good luck!

March 30, 2011 at 10:25 AM ·

I had the luxury of about half of all I posted about two years ago after I was laid off from my job and figured "why not"?    Lessons were twice a week (not every day), and I practiced about 6 hours a day to prep for an audition.  During that time, I made a "quantum leap", in my book at least.

The point being, it is possible, within a set of limits.  I'm still not pro (nor ever will be), but still far beyond where I started after that experience and was granted a scholarship.  Something that I didn't think possible to begin with.

 

March 30, 2011 at 12:23 PM ·

Fantastic input:

Tobias, loved your point about intelligent practice.  I'm rather notorious for not following my teachers practtise instructions to the letter and use my own instincts too.  But out of curiousity how advanced where you when you stopped playing, before your 20 yr break?  I think that is a big factor for your 'starting point' - for me recovery was a lot eaiser than learning new!

 

 

March 30, 2011 at 12:54 PM ·

I agree that as an adult intelligence and experience are far more developed and one can put that to good use.  I played for a few years in my late teens then gave up for more than 26 years.  3 years ago I started again with a great teacher, and I have to say my attitude is completely different.  I am there because I really want to be, and so I listen properly to instructions, ask questions when I need to and focus properly.  I write things down, discuss finer points and try to remember every word the teacher utters so I can take them home to work with.  As far as short cuts go, the above counts for a lot because young students often have not learned how to make the best use of study and practice time.  Also I find that my decisions are my own, my money is (largely) my own and the new internet resources are fantastic help.  Also, V.com is a shortcut where I'm concerned.  We are able to pick up tips and help from one another as a larger resource that generally wasn't available when much younger. There are new and different violin accessories on the market today which give flexibility and support in a better way than before and there are various computer programs and sites that make learning music so much easier.

Of course, many of  these things are now available to young students also, and one hopes that they can have the ability to avail themselves of everything they need. But it often takes maturity to know what you need......

March 30, 2011 at 02:08 PM ·

These are two things that seem to have helped me when restarting:

1.  Write about it.  Recording your lesson is a great idea, but the additional layers involved in the writing process seems to kick the analysis up a notch.  Blog a lot, about your lessons, about your practice sessions, about your performances.  It's fun to look back and read where you were 1 and 2 years ago and see how far you've come.

2.  Don't be afraid to sound bad.  If you do sound bad to your own ears, don't cringe and hide and get all flustered, instead dive right in, take it apart, and figure out what is making you sound that way.  It might be something simple and relatively easy to fix, like a couple of out of tune notes, or bad bow distribution.  This sounds kind of weird, but I think this issue, of disliking the sound of my own playing, was one of my biggest stumbling blocks when I was younger. But when I could get over my initial negative emotional reaction to how I sounded, I came to realize that whatever it was that was making me sound that way, it wasn't that horrible, and it was under my control to fix it.  So I could just set those feelings aside, roll up my sleeves, and get to work.  

That was a step I needed the maturity of adulthood to be able to take.  Even now I certainly don't always love hearing myself play, but I have faith that it *can* happen, and I get there a lot more frequently these days.

March 30, 2011 at 02:59 PM ·

Find the best teacher and instrument you can!  Don't be afraid about any good schools.  They sometimes have programs for the community and you are allowed to inscribe even if there are lots of youngsters inscribing as well (hoping to become pro musicians...)

One must phone and ask : )

March 30, 2011 at 03:02 PM ·

Elise,

there's one thing I'd like to add to the excellent advice given above. Get a feeling for what it is like to play very well, as early on as possible. And remember what takes you there, so that you can practice doing things right. A good teacher will be invaluable.

Incidentally, I greatly enjoy watching Vaughn vs Violin. I suspect the site's hero will show us lots of interesting things that we can all learn from.

Good luck,

Bart

March 30, 2011 at 07:17 PM ·

Elise,

before my long break I failed some auditions at the musikhochschule (aka conservatory) and gave up frustrated. I was not good enough to be accepted as a student, especially at over twenty. I played stiff, no secure position changes, not much nuanced bowing. Pieces included movements of Händel sonata in D, Bach concerto in E, but no Mozart, no Beethoven, no difficult pieces. In the pieces I was working on I often refused to master the more difficult passages. I tried out many pieces, but never finished them.

When I restarted, my pianist (she encouraged me to restart and since then is a very good friend of mine) gave me the confidence that I could do it right, if I wanted to. So I worked hard (much harder than ever before) and noticed that I had success. So many wasted years...I lacked the confidence, and back then nobody was there to encourage me. But better late than never.

March 30, 2011 at 08:16 PM ·

Excellent story, Tobias.

Good for you.

March 31, 2011 at 01:30 AM ·

Bart: love the way you put that 'get a feeling for what it is like to play excellently as early as possible'.  The implication of course is that playing excellently does not have to mean playing difficult music.  I do know what you mean and I think I can touch it .  If I have a strength it is expressing emotion through music.  I sometimes wonder (as has Marc V, I note) that the emphasis for appraisin violinists is too much skewed to the virtuosic and not the musical side of the instrument.  I think its like that in many art forms - because expression or 'artistic statement', for want of a better term, are personal and difficult to score, we tend to favour traits that are comparable - who can play fastest, the most difficult sections.  The dangerous result is that we may miss the violin-artist genius because we are too busy gawping at the violin-athlete....

I hope thats not too overstated....

March 31, 2011 at 04:10 AM ·

Save all the money you would normally spend on instructors and instead spend it on a better instruments and bows over time.   And that is pretty close to bottomless and its the greatest reward system as well.   As an adult, the instructor is simply there to pat you on the back and take your money.

March 31, 2011 at 05:37 AM ·

What an interesting perspective!  From which I have to conclude that you are a far better self-critic than I.  I think I'm playing something well but only invariably find a ton of errors when I play it to my teacher.  A major current issue is rhythm.  It feels right - but its not! 

Perhaps thats the greatest thing about classical music as a learning medium - there IS a right way.  For less defined music forms one could argue one's own way was as good or better.  I'm not saying this is 'worse' music just not as good for refining technique with musicality.

March 31, 2011 at 07:47 AM ·

Imagine your self playing.

Feel your self playing.

Anticipate your self playing.

Hear your self playing.

March 31, 2011 at 08:10 AM ·

Practice with better musicians...  That kick in the b... is an incredible motivation system.   I practice at the music faculty surrounded by universitary music students.  I can tell that you learn in more than one way and see/hear a variety of things. Surprisingly, It's not always you the guilty or little "nothing".    Sometimes, I actually disagree with what they do and realize that they are humans too (yes they do mistakes in the practice room!)  That's why practice rooms exist, no : ) 

Anne-Marie

March 31, 2011 at 12:12 PM ·

Henry: that is going on my practice room wall!

 

March 31, 2011 at 05:07 PM ·

I am not trying to one-up anyone but I have taken up the violin again at the age of 68 after not playing for half a centurary.  I am doing this for myself and find that I recall much of what I learned when a child student and in high school.  The technique is returning but the speed is slower in coming, but that too is getting better.  I have all my old student books and have purchased a couple of self teaching books with videos.  The basic component for me is practicing every day and playing for pure enjoyment.  I have a friend and luthier Howard Needham who gives me insight to the mechanics of the violin and I hope to secure an instructor sometime this Spring.  I'm well beyond the basics and having a real hoot.  I play and practice about 2 hours a day.  The bottom line is: If I can return to the violin anybody can!  I have 3 violins I use in different environments.  My father's Chappuy for my better (?) playing; a Gliga Maestro for practice and skill development; and an old French studio violin I got as a box of parts for free that now serves as my boat violin, since I am a sailor and often play with fellow muscians while sailing.  Howard is now repairing my Chappuy and he gave me guidence in assembling the studio violin.

March 31, 2011 at 05:45 PM ·

Good on you David!  Well, you one upped me on the down time, but actually not really by much ;)  And I also have three (full sized) violins too - my original one as a child (a nice Wolf brothers 1888), a lions head german one thats great for travel (whic hI could play it onyour boat ;) )  and my Newton thats for best.

 

March 31, 2011 at 07:45 PM ·

I'm in essentially the same position...played as a child (ages 10-15 roughly) and started taking private lessons in my mid-40s...just started taking occaisional lessons again after a couple of years of no lessons.

My advice?  Find a group to play with.  The community orchestra has been wonderful, now I've also joined a beginner adult quartet (I need counting practice ;)).  I would never recommend daily lessons.  You need time to sort through the information, practice what you can, see what works and what doesn't - and then see where you're at.

How often should you have a lesson?  Depends on you.  You might need an hour a week, 30 min. a week.  One lesson a month maybe.  I do agree you need feedback and someone to help keep you on track.  If you enjoy going more often, then do so...but I don't think it's necessary.

 

March 31, 2011 at 08:27 PM ·

One advantage an adult may have is the skill of self-motivation. It helps keep you focused between lessons. With my busy schedule, one 30-minute lesson each week is all I can squeeze in. So between lessons I need to be able to keep myself focused and on task. That's not something I could do when young, when I was still in the process of developing that skill. As a kid, I needed my parents' occasional prompting along with clear weekly objectives from my teacher. One thing I enjoy now is setting my own objectives, in partnership with my teacher. But the practice motivation is mine alone.

There are many skills an adult has already learned that can help them progress. I mentioned being in partnership with my teacher, and I think that's a very accurate way to describe it. We're more like a team dedicated to a common goal, rather than having a typical master-apprentice type of relationship. As an adult you have already learned how to work as part of a team, how to identify the strengths you each bring to the table, how to set goals and use metrics to measure progress.

Of course, music is much more than that. Music is emotion, feeling, and meaning. Who can dismiss the depth of experience our advanced years bring? How many years does the typical youngster spend maturing in their musicality? I believe the typical adult may have an advantage there as well.

Now it's time to head upstairs, and prove how full of it I am! ;p)

April 2, 2011 at 04:15 PM ·

I was wondering if adults should learn more 'diversely'.  Partly because of the focus issue you raise - we can retain focus on more subjects at a time so should we be working on, say more studies too?  I find that one study drives me to boredom - and practise becomes a chore - but if I have three or four that I am working on at the same time I can cycle them, they complement each other (and also the pieces I am learning) AND I improve on all.  I am sure I could not have done that as a child - indeed that many I would have lost focus and probably become superficial on all of them.  [For example I would skim through all four and think I had done my practise whereas now I focus intently on each.]

Perhaps this is what I have been trying to get to: an adult can multitask effectively IF they move from focus to focus and don't try to do everything at once.  A child needs (I think; I am not an expert on this by any means) limited goal setting so that it can attain the same degree of focus.

April 2, 2011 at 10:23 PM ·

Karen Allendoerfer on recording one's own playing, and Millie Bartlett on the tips to be picked up from v.com, have made very useful comments which I for one will attend to.  I can identify with David Humphreys about restarting playing: I started playing again four months ago at 57 and have found that, thanks to a superb teacher in former years, I have been able to recover almost all of my technique and am now working on getting back up to speed.  One pitfall which new and returning adult players need to be careful about is what happens when you find a teacher who rubbishes what the student has learnt from the previous teacher and tries to start the student again, if not from scratch, then from some way below the student's attainments.  This has never happened to me as an adult but it happened to me three times in childhood and adolescence. Fortunately my last teacher (who did not do this) was both a brilliant player and an excellent teacher.   Clearly, for an adult, there is tremendous importance in finding a sympathetic teacher.  If I were looking for one, I would not be afraid to ask for single lessons with different teachers before finally settling on one.

April 2, 2011 at 10:54 PM ·

Nicky - I've been that route too.  My first teacher back was very nice and supportive fortunately but when I tried to find another I had an experience (reported here previously) where the first thing she said on the phone (and this was without any comment from me that justified it) 'that I would have to lower my expectations'.  Well, apparently that was true - at least of teachers!!

Needless to say, that one was history from the getgo and my current teacher is very flexible working with what I have while not letting me avoid that which must be fixed.  Like you I returned after over 40 years hiatus, quickly recovered my childhood skills and since have felt a steady and sometimes even surprizing advance.  I've also become my own primary teacher - its something I learned from dancing (see profile) - that you have to not only recognize your own needs as much as possible but also know your own learning style.  

So far so good - but I am convinced that there are other aspects of the adult learning experience that I am not taking full advantage of.  I think I'm having the hardest time with the notion tha tI should work on one etude until it is mastered and then move onto another.  With respect to the myriad of technical aspects that I have to work on it seems that strategy will not get me to any kind of advanced amateur status before I am too physically infirm to play!  Its an issue for the older student that I have not seen discussed - or rather I think its the elephant in the room....

April 2, 2011 at 11:46 PM ·

Elise, Your comment on how to practise etudes is timely.  I was taught to work at an etude until I got it to an acceptable level --  not necessarily totally perfect, but a competent performance which represented the best I could do.  This method worked for me and had the effect of raising the qualty of my performances and the difficulty of the etudes I could tackle.  I also studied Carl Flesch's Scale System, progressing to the more difficult scales and arpeggios as I gained in competence and confidence.  However, I did not get through the whole book and was recently advised by a professional violinist that an amateur will not necessarily need all the contents of the Scale System.  Hope this is some use.

April 3, 2011 at 07:13 AM ·

Elise, your idea of practising 'diversely' ist just right. I confess I never practise etudes, I always pick a certain problem if it appears in a piece and translate it into something on my own (not recommended without a true understanding how it works). Changing the focus between a small number of different pieces during a session is very good. This enhances the progress you make, if it is not overdone and gets superficial.

April 3, 2011 at 09:53 AM ·

To fast track you into the next level ,you need to make sure you  have been taught or successfully  learned ALL  the basics.What are the basics? It's a long list, and I'm sure every  teacher has a different list. An  example of basic technique that is generally not taught , is to add pressure(weight) to the bow without  speed, and to keep the bow arm  on an even plane when adding pressure . You will want to teach them this first before you teach them an accent (  > ) or staccato.There are alot of examples like this where the horse has been put before the cart.

April 3, 2011 at 10:49 AM ·

Elise

We're in a very similar position: I too am in my 50s, had some string experience as a kid (cello) and am a couple of years in.

Due to finances and just the sheer challenge of it I'm teaching myself, with the odd checkup from pro friends. So far, I've been making decent progress, considering that my musical talent is quite average!

As others have said, my basic strategy is to build on my adult ability to question and experiment, and on my life experience with skills such as yoga.

Just as I was starting I met an old school friend who has become a distinguished professor of baroque violin. I asked him for the single most important piece of advice he could give me as a late starter. He is a visiting teacher at a famous conservatory that attracts top level students, and said it was striking how the majority were playing with high levels of tension - to the point that despite their brilliance they were at risk of injury and would never achieve their full artistic potential. He has found that it's extremely difficult to break these habits once they are established, and advised me to focus strongly on eliminating tension and rigidity from the start.

This suggested to me that there is something wrong with a lot of mainstream teaching, if so many talented youngsters from all over Europe are playing with such tension. In fact, I know a couple of busy teachers around here who have serious injuries themselves - hardly confidence inspiring! And as a sometime yogi, some of the mainstream ideas on setup and posture didn't make sense to me.

As an adult learner we're able to question received ideas. So I started seek out teachers who have taken a radical look at how to eliminate rigidity from the get-go. As I've posted before, my biggest influence has been the cello teacher Margaret Rowell. You'll find the best introduction here:

www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/natural.htm

Whenever I get stuck I return to Margaret's basic ideas and usually find a solution.

Another interesting teacher is her collaborator Paul Rolland. There's an inspiring site here from a cello professor at the same conservatory who seems to be influenced by his approach:

www.celloprofessor.com/

A third source is The Twelve Lesson Course by Kato Havas.

What these three teachers have in common is a clear focus on the sources of power in the back (bow arm) and the upper forearm (left hand). Their whole approach is focused on enabling a free and unimpeded flow of power from these fundamental sources and onto the instrument, without any intervening rigidities. They argue that if these fundamentals are sound, all other techniques, such as vibrato, shifting, advanced bow-strokes etc come much more easily. And even more importantly, there is better flow from musical intention in the mind to its expression through the body.

I've also been influenced by an article by another cellist, Tim Janov, on how the difference between an ordinary player and an artist is that the artist has focused on truly mastering the fundamentals that are covered in Book 1 of any string course, such as intervals and string changing.

www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/technique.html

So I'm returning again and again to my watchwords of simplicity, economy and the free flow of power. It seems to be serving me well, though there is still so far to go...

Again, as others have said, Simon Fischer's tone DVD is a real eye-opener, and only serves to reinforce my sense that the truly important elements of string playing are essentially quite simple.

For me, the final key element is having a realistic stretch goal. I don't know about you, but I've had to put up with a lot of patronising stuff about how I might aspire to the back desk in my local community orchestra.

Well, I know I'm never going to be playing the Tchaikovsky at the Albert Hall. But there is a whole world of vernacular music where virtuoso technique is less important than musical ideas and self-expression. So I'm focusing on Scottish fiddle, Klezmer and (a more remote ambition) Swing. These are areas where I'm already able to play informally with pros without disgracing myself (a great source of inspiration and pleasure!), and where there is a realistic hope of becoming a useful semi-pro performer.

Hope you find some of this helpful. There aren't too many of us mad enough to start such a demanding project at our stage of life, and we should all stick together! Good luck with your music making...

April 3, 2011 at 09:21 PM ·

Geoff - thank you so much for your long post - and the link to Margarets take is amazing.  Actually its doubly amazing for me as I have been strongly influenced by a similar visionary with respect to dancing - in essence how to dance naturally, that is without letting your mind get in the way ;)  I'm already putting these ideas into play (if you excuse the pun) and will look up your other link in due course.

This is exactly the kind of thing I was seeking...

 

April 4, 2011 at 10:29 AM ·

Oops - posted in error (see below for what I meant to say!)

April 4, 2011 at 11:08 AM ·

Elise

I'm glad you share my excitement about Margaret Rowell's ideas - I've posted about here a couple of times before but most people just don't seem to "get it".

If so many of our brilliant young students are playing with tension and injury, you would have thought that there would be serious interest in ideas about how to put this right - but this doesn't seem to be the case. So far as I can tell, innovative teachers like Rowell, Rolland and Havas seem to have made little impact on mainstream teaching. There does seem to be a lot of inertia around received ideas that don't seem to be serving students well.

Of course, as all three readily acknowledge, there's nothing in their teaching that's essentially new: many good players will have intuitively found their way to the insights they offer.

But what *is* clear is that most players don't make these discoveries. I was struck by this the other day when I raised Margaret's ideas with a couple of pro violinists who had studied at top UK conservatories. When I talked about the bow-stroke originating in the lower back I was greeted with scorn, even though this is a simple anatomical fact that can be verified by placing your left hand to the lower-right of the spine while making a bowing motion.

I'm increasingly convinced that these more systematic approaches to developing the concepts of power, flow and balance should be much more widely known and understood.

As I work with these ideas, I'm coming to understand that all three are essentially teaching the same thing, but on any particular issue one may be more clear than another.  I find that Rowell's teaching on channelling power to the root of the bow-hand to leave the fingers tension-free is immensely valuable. Rolland-style exercises have helped me understand the feeling of free-flowing momentum in the bow arm. And Havas has helped me understand the mechanics of a relaxed and balanced left-hand and left-right hand coordination. (And she has an insight on the 4th finger which I haven't seen elsewhere and which has transformed a real problem area in my playing).

There seems to be a similar lack of mainstream interest in more healthy and ergonomic ideas on setup, such as the work done at the university of Utrecht:

www.violinistinbalance.nl/

I recently watched a kid being set up with a shoulder-rest at a top UK dealership and the result was horrible - the bottom end of the instrument was suspended a full inch above her collarbone. The fitter seemed to think that this was fine.

Fortunately as adults we can question this sort of nonsense and find our own way.

If you're interested in more on Rowell, there are more articles on the cello site and her student Nicholas Anderson has a website that covers her work:

www.nicholas-anderson.com/

The site is currently being restructured but you can find some of it archived here:

web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.nicholas-anderson.com

If you do start to work with these ideas, would you be interested in swapping the odd email and sharing experiences?

April 4, 2011 at 07:39 PM ·

I printed out the Margaret Rowell article a few months ago after seeing mention of it on someone's blog. I found some of the concepts more or less in line with my teacher's approach & figured I'd keep it on hand as supplemental material to help hammer home the points she's been trying to make.

 

Elise- You've already lucked into one things that I would suggest & that's to start playing with others as soon as you can. Hope your 4tet is still going strong.

April 4, 2011 at 10:59 PM ·

Christina - yes indeed!  I live for the monthly meetings and we are starting to diversify a bit in the music - mozart hayden at first, now some beethoven, mendelson and even borodin (though I'm happy to play second in the latter!).  There is nothing like a group to keep you with incentive.  All I need now is an outlet for my soloist and performance urges...  I've found a wonderful pianist who also plays cello but she's rather heavily committed to other causes already.  Have to work on her ;)

April 5, 2011 at 06:01 AM ·

"What are the basics?"

Why its Simon Fischers book, entitled as such, of course.  But I'm not entirely fond of it.  I'll provide one concrete example, chosen out of the last chapter on Vibrato for the sake of brevity.   The Wall Exercise with the forearm flat against the wall, depicted in photo (a).   I have no idea how that is supposed to help develop the hand vibrato.   The entire hand moves even the thumb and its appendage which is supposed to stay fixed...and how can you move it rapidly with the back of the hand banging against the wall?  I know, see an instructor for further details.  But is it taboo to opine that the book is not that great?

As for Margaret Rowell,  please,  her ideas belong in the category of  mysticism.

April 5, 2011 at 06:45 AM ·

Violin....where to start.

 

I am 24 years old, Homeless with a long list of problems thanks to our current recession, and I have always loved the violin and dreamed of playing it, In this avenue I have had 2 Miracles that which I will be forever grateful for, First I have found a Violin company willing to rent me a good Violin, second a fellow homeless man at the shelter was a professional Violinist who escaped from Communist Russia many years ago and has been working with me for Hours every day for free and instructing me to play, I have been playing less then 2 weeks and have made leaps and bounds in progress as Ive little hope of finding a job, I Spend all my time practicing with my instructor and friend. I have been practicing 5-10 hours a day every day. And I dont practice all at one time lol, I carry my violin with me everywhere. I wait for the buss, I take out my violin and play, I sit in the park with nothing to do, I take out my violin and play, I start to feel depressed, I take out my violin and play. It is a Heartwarming instrument, and I believe with passion, dedication love and hope anyone in any situation can learn and enjoy this instrument. When I started, I was terrible haha But my instructor had me learning scale, posture, bow technique all on day 1. I learned different exercises in order to improve, I have taught myself Music Theory in roughly a weeks time in order to use sheet music ( I am still slow in reading the notes and have to count beats in my head to stay consistant but i made flash cards in order to raise my reading speed) and I am learning to play ,quite successfully i might add, some of my fav pieces of music.

        It is my opinion that it doesnt matter when you start so long as you enjoy playing. Who cares how old you are, where your from, what your station is in life, If you have the heart to play then go at it. Your not alone m8 and I hope I can follow my own advice as well. 

 

Ciao

April 5, 2011 at 07:33 AM ·

Christophe - what an amazing story!  Seems to me you have found your own 'quantal shift' that is far more remarkable than most of us will experience.  Indeed, I'd be surprised if there wasn't a hint of jeallousy amongst a few here that you have 5 hrs to play a day!

Congrats on the miracles and keep at it - love to hear you play one day, maybe in a park far, far away .... ;)

ee

April 5, 2011 at 07:38 AM ·

Frank: there is more than one way to achieve a great vibrato.  The three main variants (see lots of topics on V.com) are via a wrist action, an arm action or a combination of the two.  From what I've seen most violinists do mostly A or mostly B.  I learned vibrato when I was too young to remember how ;) and it is mostly the arm kind.  Since returning to the violin I've worked on the wrist type but find that the combination is far better than either (and the arm based gets a bit tricky at higher reaches of the fingerboard). 

Perhaps Fisher's method is for arm vibato development?  It would seem to make sense...

April 5, 2011 at 07:49 AM ·

Frank:  "As for Margaret Rowell,  please,  her ideas belong in the category of  mysticism."

Perhaps you are right, I don't know yet.  I do, however, have experience with a very similiar movement in dance (excuse pun) which has also been castigated as mystical since it favors actions driven from an inner core rather than those relating to the dance step itself.  I've explored these ideas and found that they work for me and there is a growing support for the concept.  Thus, I can not immediately dismiss a concept that is rather similar for playing an instrument without at least giving it some attention.

All I can suggest is that you give it a shot.  I did yesterday.  I played some scales first by focusing on what my hands were doing - correct placement of fingers, application of the bow - all the things necessary to play as good a scale as I could.  And yes, I got a good scale. 

I then explored the Rowell idea.  Now I don't know what I am doing here since I've only read what you did and have never had a real explanation.  My approach was to instead play the violin as I now dance.  From my core and not from my hands.  The result?  A scale that was not entirely in tune and was not entirely in time - but it flowed out of my violin. 

But anyone listening would have to admit that the first attempt was the most accurate but the second was for sure the most musical.  Musical scale you may ask?  Well sure I'd reply...

 

April 5, 2011 at 01:47 PM ·

Hi

I think that adult beginners are very different from young children (obviously) and therefore should be treated accordingly.

Adult beginner Strengths: Common sense, Maths skills, a knowledge of the world, generally a better sense of tonality, better physical control, and are not learning because the parent wishes so.

 

Adult beginner Weaknesses:  more self critical, less likely to enjoy repetition, lower self confidence, more likely to take critique personally

 

I would suggest there are a lot of strengths to adult learners and generally they do progress faster than my really young beginners because of the above mentioned strengths.  The only draw back I find is occassionally I find that one or two of my pupils loose momentum at the intermediate stage (once they learn position changing vibrato etc.) and I feel this is because after the enthusiasm of any new love (the honeymoon phase) ends the above mentioned weaknesses creep in.  So I would reccomend working on avoiding those weaknesses, aim for the top and keep pushing yourself to move out of your comfort zone e.g. once your comfortable playing for friends and family join an amateur orchestra, once thats comfortable perform a solo once thats comfortable do something else.  Like any relationship our relationship with our violins can become routine and predictable, so make sure you keep the magic and excitement going even if at times it can seem scary.

 

Oh and watch the interview of Kurt Sassmannshaus on V.com blogs it really gives any violinist hope

April 5, 2011 at 01:47 PM ·

Hi

I think that adult beginners are very different from young children (obviously) and therefore should be treated accordingly.

Adult beginner Strengths: Common sense, Maths skills, a knowledge of the world, generally a better sense of tonality, better physical control, and are not learning because the parent wishes so.

 

Adult beginner Weaknesses:  more self critical, less likely to enjoy repetition, lower self confidence, more likely to take critique personally

 

I would suggest there are a lot of strengths to adult learners and generally they do progress faster than my really young beginners because of the above mentioned strengths.  The only draw back I find is occassionally I find that one or two of my pupils loose momentum at the intermediate stage (once they learn position changing vibrato etc.) and I feel this is because after the enthusiasm of any new love (the honeymoon phase) ends the above mentioned weaknesses creep in.  So I would reccomend working on avoiding those weaknesses, aim for the top and keep pushing yourself to move out of your comfort zone e.g. once your comfortable playing for friends and family join an amateur orchestra, once thats comfortable perform a solo once thats comfortable do something else.  Like any relationship our relationship with our violins can become routine and predictable, so make sure you keep the magic and excitement going even if at times it can seem scary.

 

Oh and watch the interview of Kurt Sassmannshaus on V.com blogs it really gives any violinist hope

April 5, 2011 at 01:59 PM ·

Maybe I'm going to venture onto dangerous ground here, but I would be careful about taking on too many teaching concepts wholeheartedly.

I don't want to mention any names, but there are an awful lot of very dodgy and quite bad teachers out there, some giving free advice, some giving some 'advice' before trying to get you to commit to paying for lessons on line.

Most of the teaching I see taking place is not only quite bad but quite wrong. Some of the pupils these people use as examples have in my opinion been appallingly taught, and you can hear this in the sound they make as well as visually. One example using an adult student has bright white tapes on the fingerboard, a mark in the middle of the bow, and the student bows like a goose stepping sargent major, with very dodgy intonation.

I'm afraid I have very little faith in a lot of the 'methods' that the people out there are advertising, and it is quite obvious that many of them are just money making scams.

There are of course established and highly trained teachers as well, but it has to be realised that one to one lessons with such people are the only way to make genuine and gradual progress from whatever level have presently attained, or from a beginners level.

There are a lot of ideas floating around on this forum, some of them very good, and all probably sincerely meant. But again I would suggest care, taking ideas from perhaps only the very most professional and proven players and teachers.

Incidentaly, I do not teach, so in saying this, I am not trying to use any influence for my own gain.

April 5, 2011 at 02:06 PM ·

Hanah - your post warranted repetition :D

And you totally nailed me:  Adult beginner Weaknesses:  more self critical, less likely to enjoy repetition, lower self confidence, more likely to take critique personally.

I've gone through a gradual process of learning that in depth work on a few pieces is essential for progress.  However, in order to maintain interest (which you also point out as a weakness) its important to keep up diversity so I'm trying to get a ballance between the rote (work) and the exploration (fun).  I can also justify the latter as its made me quite good at sight reading, something that my only-rote-route acquaintances are rather poor at.

Wish you taught here :D

 

April 5, 2011 at 02:11 PM ·

Peter - so are you trying to tell me that there is no virtuoso snake oil (patent pending)? 

Nay, say it isn't so....

Lets see, if I dip my bowing arm in willow juice and rub my left hand fingers in gun cotton....

April 5, 2011 at 03:10 PM ·

"Lets see, if I dip my bowing arm in willow juice and rub my left hand fingers in gun cotton...."

....you'll be back here on v.com looking for advice on how to clean your bow & fingerboard.

April 5, 2011 at 03:27 PM ·

LOL!

Yup, - but I'm sure there are some snake oils for that too... :)

April 5, 2011 at 05:34 PM ·

Peter said....

'Maybe I'm going to venture onto dangerous ground here, but I would be careful about taking on too many teaching concepts wholeheartedly.

I don't want to mention any names, but there are an awful lot of very dodgy and quite bad teachers out there, some giving free advice, some giving some 'advice' before trying to get you to commit to paying for lessons on line.

Most of the teaching I see taking place is not only quite bad but quite wrong. Some of the pupils these people use as examples have in my opinion been appallingly taught, and you can hear this in the sound they make as well as visually.'

 

I do agree with what Peter said, lots of 'stuff' out there and whilst there are many great teachers and experienced players giving excellent advice there is also the 'dodgy' stuff too (some is personal preference but a lot is NOT!).  It is a shame that 'isolated beginners' who don't know anyone will be unable to 'sniff' one from the other.  

I wasn't able to for example, but you do 'eventually' learn to I believe, if you are open to dialogue/discussion and interested in exchanging views/opinions/experiences with as many as possible and keep being 'thirsty' for educating yourself in your 'violin journey'! 

April 5, 2011 at 08:32 PM ·

Frank wrote: 

"As for Margaret Rowell,  please,  her ideas belong in the category of  mysticism."

It saddens me to see such closed mindedness: it's symptomatic of everything that concerns me about mainstream string teaching. 

Rowell was a highly respected and inspirational teacher, founder of the California Cello Club,  a popular workshop leader in the USA and Europe, and a close collaborator of Paul Rolland. Most of the greats of three generations of cellists, from Casals through Piatigorsky, Rostropovich, Fournier, Rose, Starker, Nelsova and Ma became her friends and contributed to her lifelong quest to understand the roots of artistry in string technique. At the very least I think she deserves to be taken seriously as a pedagogue.

Even at second hand and through the medium of writing I have found her ideas immensely practical and helpful. It's no exaggeration to say that she is the reason I am playing the violin: before I found her work I was failing to come to terms with the instrument. As soon as I applied her ideas, everything began to fall into place.

As I have said, Rowell, Rolland and Havas have been the focus of my technical work, with some more detailed input from Fischer, and I have been told by a number of good judges that I am making unusual progress, particularly as I am self-taught. I know from many years plodding away as a decidedly average schoolboy cellist that I have no particular aptitude, so I ascribe this entirely to the insights of these 3 closely related teachers. I have a pretty decent collection of violin technique manuals, and have studied all the main online materials. These three teachers offer insights I have not found elsewhere.

From everything I see around me, there is surely no room for complacency in the field of string pedagogy. I play traditional music with a wide range of classically trained and self taught fiddlers. Both locally and at festivals I have shared music with many dozens of violinists and when I can I observe them closely. It is striking how, on average, the self-taught players are more relaxed, fluid and expressive, despite their technical quirks. In general, the classically trained players are more rigid, both musically and in terms of physical stress. I recently played with a bright young thing with years of classical training and her left thumb was so tense it was literally white with strain. I see this sort of thing regularly, and it's surely a sign that we should be re-evaluating the way we are teaching our young people?

Perhaps it's significant that Elise has a background in dance and I have a background in yoga. These whole-body physical/mental practices give you a sense of how everything is connected, and how to achieve balance, momentum and flow within the constraints of a demanding discipline. I suspect that with this background it is easier for us to be open to more wholistic approaches to teaching.

And Elise, don't worry - stick with Rowell's ideas and intonation will come!

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