Taught two different techniques, which do you choose?

July 19, 2011 at 03:23 AM ·

Starting out in group lessons, and moving into private lessons, I've had to make a few drastic changes with my technique, and my teacher has made some really great suggestions, but I am wondering what you do when you receive two different opinions on technique, such as bow hold, hand position etc.  A lot of things my teacher says work wonderfully, but I have received suggestions from other teachers in master classes and one time private lessons, that had different opinions about how I should do a certain technique, and the new way felt a lot more natural and less strained, but my regular private teacher keeps correcting me, and forcing me to the technique she taught me.  I don't want to be rude and say that I don't like it that way, and I am not really sure which way is most correct.  How do I chose between two different techniques? (sorry I'm a bit rambly )

Replies (22)

July 19, 2011 at 03:30 AM ·

You should actually discuss it. tell her/him why you like the other technique. Ask what the detraction is. In the end, you will own whatever technique you develop (it isn't copying, it is making it your own). Nobody could fault Bobby Hull's technique for the slapshot--but that doesn't mean Mike Bossy used the same....

July 19, 2011 at 04:35 AM ·

 It would help if you described what technique is in question. The answer largely depends on what exactly your teacher is requiring versus the other way you were shown.

July 19, 2011 at 05:23 AM ·

I have found that the only way to persuade a student to change something is 1. if it feels better 2. if it sounds better. Ideally both 1 and 2 should apply.

Furthermore, if you are able to subtly guide a student to a better technique so they themselves "discover" it, and if 1 and 2 apply, you have the best possible outcome.


July 19, 2011 at 06:34 AM ·

 Be more specific so we can tell you a third, better way.

July 19, 2011 at 10:49 AM ·

Analyze, analyze, analyze makes perfect. You should be able to find three ways to do any technique; A poor way , a good way ,and an extreme way.

A poor way is usually a lack of thought ,  laziness, uneducated 

a good way is thought of as the  least resistance to obtain maximum results 

A extreme way is taking a good way of doing something and pushing it too far.

example ; finger height

poor way -  fingers high of the finger board an back

good way - an inch to 2 inches off the fingerboard

extreme way -  fingers 1/8 - 1/4 inch from the fingerboard

I assume that everything that I have read or been taught is wrong until I have analyzed and research it to death.

July 20, 2011 at 06:04 PM ·

 Just do both ways .Time will sort it out. Heifetz could play well and very badly.He was copying players in a funny video at the time. He could do both ways.It will make you adaptable.  Both ways are possible.


I'm not sure I see how Heifetz's rather tasteless and insensitive rendition of a poor student could be held up as pedagogical advice for anyone. Any of us can demonstrate poor technique. For the new student, the learning of sound technique and the avoidance of poor habits should trump adaptability. I would never suggest that a student try to master two differing techniques, especially in the area of bow hold or right-hand posture.

Unfortunately, there may be no way for the student to determine whether the teacher is teaching sound technique without some research. That may be a look at Galamian's book, a consultation with college violin teacher or concertmaster, etc. There are in fact those that teach a hobbling technique, such as a faulty grip, especially as it relates to the pinky and/or thumb, and the spend their careers ruining students. A famous example was Joachim. Good cadenzas, but poor students, many of whom ended up injured.

A good indication for determining if the teacher is whether or not they are stressing the curvature of fingers of both hands because that is often where poor technique originates. If the teacher plays with or teaches straight, locked joints on either hand, then I would question their teaching.

But the one thing I'd never recommend is to try and master two different bow holds or other basic technique just to be "adaptable."

July 20, 2011 at 07:17 PM ·

I presume the reason there are different 'standard' techniques is because some great player found what worked for them and passed that on.  The survival of these violin variants obvioulsy reflects different teaching tradition- but I think its more than that: the fact that playing this curious instrument is very personal and the best method depends in large part on you. 

As pointed out above, its probably impossible to answer the original queery (its impossible for me at all, I probably do not know) without more input - specifically on the particular technical issue.  I am going to guess its the wrist in bowing - for two reasons: one is that the different schools are both 'correct' and yet so far appart and second because each person will tend to favour one over the other at least initially.  But thats just my guess!

July 20, 2011 at 07:44 PM ·

Yeah me too - Ive found 4 bad and 4 good thumb positions and I cant choose between 2. I like flat and low side of neck together with 2nd finger and like Mutter (?) thumb pad under neck and hand away from neck - like you would play a cello but on the shoulder. Their both good in different ways. Ive read Menuhin did use both alot. Its a little frustrating. My mommy told me to pick the best one..... One is faster scales and better vibrato but the other is easier to play in tune and support the violin.

July 20, 2011 at 08:15 PM ·

@ Shelby, This is a hard one to answer, because many teachers believe religiously in very good ideas they have picked up without knowing quite WHY. Not everyone knows the point at which the rule no longer applies. Dogma is very hard to discard.

For example, he way I was taught to set up the left hand was OK for a kid, (elbow way out to the right, neck resting on the ball of the thumb) but useless long-term. No support for the 3rd and 4th fingers ! For scales, there's one ideal LH set up. For scales in thirds, more "cupped". For sixths, flatter. There's no one-size-fits-all posture. Fluidity needs to be explored. At least, that's how it now seems to me, and outgrowing my early teaching was a necessary rebellion ! And as for those Franco-Belgian or Russian bow-holds, they seem to have as much to do with the individual physical chaacteristics of the "protagonists" than with any universal truth that everyone must follow, or die. "Bow from the shoulder" is the only advice that seemed to work for me.

It does seem that you have encountered someone who has given you a vision of "outgrowing" your teacher. The equivalent of no longer believing in Father Christmas. Problem is, once your eyes and ears have been opened, there's little chance of going back and, if discussion fails, then, regrettably, you might need to change teachers. Sad.


July 20, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

-post deleted, no longer relevant-

July 21, 2011 at 03:15 AM ·

The particular technique involved how far I should tilt the bow away from myself.  My teacher has been telling me to tilt it really far away from myself, so that I play with less hair touching the string.  When I went away to a string camp for a week, the teachers there kept telling me to tilt it back towards myself more, which feels more natural to me.  I do think that I will need to discuss this with my teacher.

July 21, 2011 at 04:37 AM ·

 OK well see, knowing what you were talking about makes a huge difference. In this case it's largely circumstantial. In general there should be a slight tilt toward the fingerboard. The reason for this is that it keeps the hairs tighter together and results in more consistent tone production. However, there are also times when you will use the full hairs. This is situational. There will also be times when the bow will tilt far more toward the fingerboard than normal. Remember not to tilt the stick toward you to play on half of the hair. It either tilts away from you or it sits almost directly over the hair. It never tilts toward you because that leads to improper bow holding.

July 21, 2011 at 06:58 AM ·


I`m not going to comment on who is correct as this issue can be very divisive.  Just a couple of minor points.  The degree of tension in the bow hair is a central factor in how tilted the bow is. The Franco Belgian in its purest form uses a very tight hair and the stick is tilted.  The slacker bow hair tends to be considerably flatter.

I would also note that there  are two occassions when I -do- tilt the stick towards me. One is when doing down bow staccato.   The other is not so coomon but it can be helpful when doing triple and quadruple stopped chords in te lower part of te bow.    I don`t recoomend anyone to do this until they have been playing for quite a while.




I will be up in the tsunami zone for te next two weeks so things will be awfully quiet or not....

July 21, 2011 at 07:45 AM ·

 Oh, I forgot about downbow staccato. Take care, Buri. I don't know if it's still dangerous there but do be careful to take the necessary precautions.

July 21, 2011 at 10:04 AM ·

To get this clear , she is not saying they are telling her to keep the bow tilted towards her, just to have less of a tilt.

So we have our three ways of doing something

the poor way - having the bow consistently tilted towards you

the good way - have a slight tilt away from you

the extreme way - tilt the bow so that it almost touches the string

The bow is designed for bouncing, so when we tilt the bow there is a lesser chance of bounce. When we play we the hairs flat on the strings(straight up) and the bow at a right angle to the string , this gives us maximum bounce. The problem with over tilting the bow comes up when you start to learn bouncing bow techniques, you are going to struggle or you are not going to be able to feel the bounce. The thing is when you go to bring the bow back to flat on the string, you will cause the wrist to bend the hand back. You can't achieve a good sautille with a bent wrist.


July 21, 2011 at 10:09 AM ·

You can also tilt the bow towards you when using the wrist for string crossing. Example ; down stroke on A and a up stroke on D

July 21, 2011 at 01:04 PM ·

 I'd like to identify with the OP about having one's technique disparaged by a teacher. If I remember correctly, I got the "everything about your playing is wrong"  treatment from three teachers when taking violin lessons at school between the ages of 8 and 14.   Another teacher taught me the "elbow way out to the right, neck resting on the ball of the thumb" technique which David Beck mentions above, and even as a kid I found it  - as regards playing in low positions - thoroughly uncomfortable , ache-inducing, and a thoroughgoing hindrance to playing with any ease.  Fortunately I was later blessed with a lot of private study with a teacher who was also a prominent performer and who had much more sense.  Even now, 40 years later, I have been able to remember so much of what he taught me as to enable me to carry on on playing without further tuition. In virtue of my previous experiences, which I have no desire to re-live, I remain deeply grateful to him.

July 23, 2011 at 02:25 AM ·

 It is impossible to know who is 'right' because we haven't seen/heard you play.

My general rule when it comes to my own playing is if it feels natural and sounds good, it's right.  If it feel natural but needs tweaking for sound, listen to the teacher to take into account what how to change what you are doing.

At the end of the day if it is uncomfortable/hurts, it is not right for you.  Listen to your body, not a message board.  You know better for you than anyone.

July 23, 2011 at 10:13 AM ·

"If there are any physics experts here , where is the sweet spot between the bridge and the fingerboard mathematically ? The string divides into round numbered sections along it`s length. Are we playing on a node or an anti node when we sound best .  The curves made by  the string meet at a node which ends up as a flattened V shape between the moving bits of string with maybe the edge of the bowhair just working at the bottom of that V shape. Question."

You don't need to be a physics expert - just use your ears to decide where the sweet spot is.

But the sweet spot for you may not please the listener who might want a bigger sound with more edge.

July 26, 2011 at 03:30 AM ·

Thanks for all of your great advice.  One thing that I had noticed about my wrist was when I really over tilted the bow away from me, it greatly restricted the flexibility in my wrist, and my ability to get a fluid bow change happening.  I'm going to bring it up with  my teacher at my next lesson. :)

July 28, 2011 at 12:45 AM ·

That reminds me of something my teacher said a few weeks ago — to avoid playing at the extreme tip of my bow because that was making my bowing arm too straight (elbow almost locked). 

August 2, 2011 at 02:09 AM ·

Pardon me for coming in a little late on this, but I just have to suggest that in adopting this more extreme tilt of the bow away from you, and guided by your teacher, please make sure your actual bow wood isn't making contact with the string.  This usually happens when the bow is well tilted and is either fairly loose and/or some pressure during playing is applied. It isn't noticeable during playing, which is strange, one would think a whole world of bad noises would become apparent, but no. I now have a bow with varnish scratched off most of the length on the lower 'right' side because of this very reason, and have had to modify my 'tilt' somewhat.

Cheers and good luck with this, Millie.

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