Losing My Ability To Play

December 11, 2011 at 06:21 PM · After I began getting used to the violin, I began to feel confident enough to play with my window open in the summer time.

But, now, if it were still summer I wouldn't even attempt to crack the window in the slightest due my horrid playing.

As a beginner I realize that I will not sound like the greats, but I have evolved enough for a clear tone. My parents have even commented that my playing has degraded. They are thinking that this coincides with me taking lessons from my current teacher. I am beginning to think so too.

I have retraced many things my previous teacher (whom went off the university) told me, but since I have no reinforcement, or am told that it is incorrect, there is no progression.

Any advice?

Replies (25)

December 11, 2011 at 07:16 PM · Talk to your teacher. Maybe they're working on other goals besides your tone. Also maybe your violin has come out of adjustment and would benefit from a trip to a luthier.

December 12, 2011 at 01:32 AM · Sounds like you need a different teacher. Or maybe as Paul suggests, your instrument needs adjustment.

But you might also try Simon Fischer's fantastic video "The Secrets of Tone Production" if you are having issues with your tone.

December 12, 2011 at 02:29 AM · To check your instrument:

1. Have you change your strings lately?

2. Is your bow hair worn out or being too old or accumulated too much rosin?

3. Check if the strings sunken deeper into the bridge.

To check your playing:

1. Had you focus too much on your left hand?

2. Did you change anything since your current teacher, like bow hold, posture, etc?

3. What was wrong about your current playing, according to your current teacher?

I suspect your situation could be very well because of the increase of difficulties of the repertoires you're currently working on. It's not difficult to keep track on your right hand motion when your left hand is less busy. Commonly, when student starts to play something difficult with lots of things to handle on the left hand like shifting, right hand will suffer a lot.

And lastly, do elaborate in what way you think your tone gotten worse - scratchy? Dirty string crossing? Tone no longer focus?

December 12, 2011 at 03:32 AM · Hi,

other than checking for wear and tear on your strings and bow hair. It could probably just be a rough patch. Once in a while, I will hate my sound but that will pass. I guess you could try recording yourself and hear how you really sound like and really focus on your bowing arm to make sure you're doing everything right. This kinda stage usually passes fairly fast.

December 12, 2011 at 12:49 PM · A bit off-topic but I can't resist but lately on v.com there been few threads about teachers, seems that adult beginners are always blaming their new teacher because of "their" failures.


I have trained gym for 5 years in a row and everytime I had new "teacher"(personal trainer) I was always trying pinpoint his weakest points, with such negativism that in the first weeks I was always comparing my previous PT with my current PT.

But you know what? At the end I remember everyone of them for the great work that they did with me, of course some were better but they all earned it.

It's always good try new methods!

So getting back to the violin, adult beginners are always trying achieve their desired playing threshold faster and that isn't good because It will lead to enormous frustration. Not enough just to being persistent because waiting is a virtue.

PS I am beginner too.

December 12, 2011 at 02:38 PM · "there been few threads about teachers, seems that adult beginners are always blaming their new teacher because of "their" failures"


Not always. :-)

December 12, 2011 at 09:50 PM · I know that states of playing when you feel bad about your contact to the instrument and the sound it makes. As I was young i tended to resignate and wait; wich worked quite good, but if you just wait, you will not learn new repertoire or get up your stamina unless you practice mentally and do some sports and gymnastics to keep your body strong and flexible.

But as teachers went by I notced that these times come to often and I deal with them not directly enough. So I once started to figure out what to do.

I will just mention some things wich help me looking forward and do the right things:

1. read about practicing and violin playing! Your issue is very old there are some good solutions: Try out the Books of Kato Havas.

2. Keep on practicing anyways! Try to get a good contact with the instrument and work on what your teacher told you. Even if it first may feel bad, sometimes the result takes time but takes you to another level!

3. If you are with a good teacher trust him completely! He will know what you need now and sometimes this means that you feel uncomfortable. Find a way out on your own without stopping to practice.

And above all as others said before: Work on your Bow! Do slow scales and open strings to check if your bow is parralel to the bridge! A mirror could open your eyes! ;) Be precise! A small change in the bow can change you playing a lot!

and one more thing: listen to good players! Look at their arms and hands and learn from it.

December 13, 2011 at 01:54 AM · i feel like that sometimes. when i am learnin somethang new. after i lern it i can play better.

December 13, 2011 at 08:57 PM · Are you sure you're getting worse? Perhaps you (and the people around you) are becoming more demanding. Once you can play an easy piece well, you move up to a harder piece that you play poorly at first, and then better and better - at which point you move on to a still more difficult piece and the cycle repeats. Even the best players are dissatisfied with their performance and are constantly trying to improve.

I've formulated the following musical philosophy: "We all suck, we just suck at different levels." (However, when I once said this at a workshop, the instructor looked at me and said, "You're one of those glass-half-empty people, aren't you?")

Learning new techniques often means that you have to go back and clean up the old ones again; what looks like a setback is really part of advancing in the long term. BTW when it comes to bowing, here's another vote for Simon Fischer's excellent DVD "The Secrets of Tone Production".

Several people - including my current teacher - suggest watching myself in a mirror. But I find it too confusing that everything is reversed - any corrections I make go the wrong way. I've tried rigging two mirrors so that the image isn't reversed - it works but is cumbersome to set up. Recently, though, my wife watched me playing. She was able to spot whenever my bow wasn't parallel to the bridge - which usually happened when I was concentrating too much on playing to be looking into a mirror anyway. Thanks to her help I was able to make a consistent improvement in my bowing - and tone. It comes at a price, though - now I have to watch her as she practises her cello.

Try playing something completely different - it can break you out of the spiral you're caught in. Although I'm doing classical studies, once a week I go fiddling at a local bluegrass jam. It helps loosen me up - and I can start working in the things I'm working on in my practice sessions.

Plateaus are an unfortunate fact of life, and when you're stuck on one it seems like you'll never be able to move on. (At least I feel that way sometimes.) But keep at it, and try for a bit of variety. Eventually you'll start progressing again.

December 14, 2011 at 02:56 AM · Just a follow up about my problem:

I brought my poor bowing up to my teacher. She addressed it for about 5 minutes. She reviewed the wall-exercise (put your shoulder to the wall and bow). It sounded poor. As for my playing level, still Suzuki Book 1. I am actually redoing these songs from my old teacher's lesson plan. So, all these pieces have been done, though to no justice in comparison to my previous performances. During my lesson, we began to play a piece from my last session. It was horribly performed. We moved on, she admitted it sounded less than good, but proceeded forward in the book. I was rather upset that she did not address my sound quality, even after she told me what she thought.

December 14, 2011 at 03:21 AM · I agree with Terry - find another teacher, not necessarily because she is not a good teacher, but apparently she cannot be effective in teaching you anymore when you and you parents blame her for your poor tone. If you don't trust your teacher, it's a waste of both of your time to continue.

December 14, 2011 at 03:59 AM · Jade,

On one hand, it's a shame that your teacher didn't address your tone production in a more detailed way. Teachers are there to troubleshoot and solve student's problems, or else you might as well learn it by your own.

However, on the other hand, your teacher might have some plans under the sleeve, so I'd say give your teacher few more lesson, perhaps until end of this month. At the mean time, express to your teacher that you feel very upset and demotivated because of poor tone production.

There's difference between a teacher who doesn't care, and a teacher who care but doesn't have the experiences to do so. Again give your teacher a few more lessons before you form a conclusion.

December 15, 2011 at 04:20 PM · One of my favorite things to do is listen to a recording and try to play along. If it's a particularly difficult one, I might listen for a neat lick and then try to duplicate the lick as cleanly as possible. Or maybe they're just playing "Amazing Grace" with a sweeter sound that makes you sound wretched. Do your best to try to mimic every noise you hear-- it'll help you out in the long run, and it's amazing how much you can improve just by doing this! If there's a particular sound you simply can't figure out, take it to your lessons instructor and see if they can show you how to make that sound.

P.S. I forgot one important detail! DON'T use a really hard concerto as your listening model! Use pieces that have notes you know you're fully capable of playing. Remember, we're focusing on sound, not on difficult pieces.

December 16, 2011 at 04:52 AM · Hi Jade-So here's my brilliant theory (no drum roll please I prefer tremelo)I think part of the issue could be that you're developing a more critical ear as you progress on the violin and musically.If you've lost a bit of confidence in your approach to the instrument I'm not surprised that your folks have noticed a change in your playing as well.When you hit a wall or plateau in your playing this is the one of the greatest opportunities for overall improvement you just have to keep at it the rewards will be worth the toil.I also think you should give the new teacher a chance.


December 16, 2011 at 07:24 AM · I agree with Maurice. Progress is not linear and is full of false ceilings... only hard work and a determined mindset can break through these. Good luck!

December 17, 2011 at 10:42 PM · Hi Jade, I sympathize with your frustration as do all violinists! Do everything your teacher asks, listen to as many recordings of great players of past and present as you can get your hands on (Heifetz, Oistrakh, Ehnes, Fischer are some great ones to start with and it is so easy today with youtube and other online sources), and always remember that violin playing boils down to basic principles. If you are concerned with tone, give your attention and perhaps your eyes to bow speed, weight, and contact point combined with intonation in the left hand. The best players are the first and foremost the best at these fundamental things. Violin takes time to learn; be patient, do everything your teacher asks, master the fundamentals, and it is all worth the effort.

December 18, 2011 at 05:51 AM · Tone production is the most difficult thing on the violin. It is a lifetime goal, not a quick fix by any means.

When someone asks you: what is good tone? what do you think of? What type of sound do you hear?

I believe that this is the first step to achieving good sound, to undersdand what it' qualities are and try to achieve this desired standard. This might seem extremely obvious, but you need to have a meticulously specific idea of what that sound is, otherwise you're navigating in the dark.

Second step is to understand how that sound is made. You have to be aware of several things when playing the violin: amount of bow, bow placement, speed, and "friction". Notice I didn't include pressure. Pressure is not a way to get good sound by any means, because it compromises the natural tonal potential of the instrument. Instead, consider friction as the natural amount of interaction between your string and the bow hair. This DOES NOT come about as the result of pressure, rather it is the combined result of your amount, speed, position, and most importantly the placement of your bow between the fingerboard and bridge. All of these factors are actually interrelated.

I have an exercises that might be able to help with this matter (always keep in mind the four factors: amount of bow, placement between fingerboard & bridge, point of contact and amount of friction or "interaction".

1) Start in front of a mirror, and begin playing on an open string. Make sure that your bow hand is eavenly balanced (i.e, your thumb is between your third and second fingers), and that you have a good bowhold (consult your teacher about this, or you could always look online for a video on bowholds, this is a good one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBXFdJ3rJFc )

If you use the Russian school bow hold (or would like to), this works:


Play pianissimo very slowly next to the fingerboard with your full hair and just hear your sound. Playing pianissimo helps you hear the impurities better. DON'T "grab" or "hold" the bow, but rather try to imagine that you are guiding the bow on the string rather than physically pulling it. Look at the mirror, how is your position? Does your bow hand look wierd? More importantly, are you playing parallel to the bridge? Try to be as parrallel and straight as possible when bowing (you might have to work on that first before moving on to the rest of this exercise).

NOTE: Because you don't really hold your violin parallel to your body, the way you see the bow as parallel as the player is very different than the way it actually looks, which is why it is important that you practice in front of a mirror to observe the actual angles.

2) Move a quarter inch away from the bridge. It will feel like a different world, and you will need to adjust your friction and speed to compensate for the difference in position (remember the three elements, the fourth "amount" is constant). Do this until you get close to the bridge. Don't try to keep playing pianissimo, because your dynamic level will change as the position changes.

3) Repeat for every note on every string. It sounds tedious, but every single note has a different level of "friction" required, and you have to slowly get used to it. Also, if you haven't been using your violin in this way, it will offer more resistance than usual and you have to "break it in".

All throughout you have to keep in mind your ideal sound, without it you are lost, and try to correct any deviation in sound (use your ear as your guide). Also keep in mind the four factors: amount of bow, placement, speed, and "friction".

This sounds daunting, but you don't have to do it all at once. You can pick a randomn note one day and just work on points of contact. Or you can keep the point of contact consistent and just do a chromatic scale up and down your string. Just remember to look in the mirror and consider the four factors. As for your bow amount, you should use your whole bow when practicing and try to switch right at the frog and the tip. You will get to the point where you will be able to get a feel for the amount of friction/resistance and be able to adjust naturally without thinking. At that point you can play scales and try going in and out of different contact points.

As a sort of truncated version of this exercise, you can just try to play exactly in the middle between the fingerboard and bridge and focus on keeping your bow straight and the tone clear, and ideal :)

I know I wrote an entire book on your post, sorry :) But it's really important to understand tone production thouroughly, otherwise you're wasting time. Also, you should really try to get your teacher's attention on this matter and have him or her work with you to help you get your desired tone. If your teacher is not willing to help you, or if they don't give you enough advice on this matter, find another one. Trust me, nothing is worse on the violin than having horrible tone, it kills all expression and life, even if you have perfect pitch and do upbow staccato like Heifetz.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Cristian G.

December 30, 2011 at 03:18 AM · So, as another follow up to my post:

I went back to my old violin teacher (she was on Christmas break) for a lesson because I have nothing better to do. She told me that I was not parallel to the bridge. Also, she said the I was playing over the fingerboard. She further addressed that because I am overly petrified of that "scratchy sound" I do not apply proper force. So, now, she is taking me back for lessons, but I have to go back to where I started. Definitely frustrating, but will most likely be worth it.

December 30, 2011 at 07:15 AM · I'm glad you found a resolution. Hope you get a chance to open windows again soon.

December 30, 2011 at 09:36 AM · And I'm surprised Jade's 2nd teacher did not correct such a basic problem. Anyway glad you found a solution to your problem!

December 30, 2011 at 09:49 AM · As I've said on here before - too many brothels spool the cook. (Or was it the other way around?)

I would just say that there are in the real world as on a forum, very few really good teachers. There are some on this forum who are quite obviously excellent - but in a minority.

It is dangerous to give too much specific advice - especially from people who are not professional teachers and/or players.

For example, the advice about bowing parallel to the bridge is both good and bad advice. It depends on qualifications. Playing always parallel to the bridge can be disastrous for bow changes. It needs clarification.

Look at Milstein (who was not too bad a player!) on youtube, and study his bowing. There are plenty of other outstanding players you can study for bowing as well. Read what people say in their books. Ricci, Flesch and others.

Go to a really good teacher (if you can find one!) and get it sorted. Here in London there are very few teachers who can sort out bowing and tone production problems, let alone left hand. (Possibly at a rough guess 6 -10, and they are too busy to take on new pupils even for a one off lesson!)

Avoid the Internet - listen to the people on here that know a thing or two but ignore the remainder. You need face to face contact to really sort such problems out. (Unless you have an extraordinary talent).

December 30, 2011 at 10:29 AM · Honestly, recent posts have been going weird lately.

December 30, 2011 at 03:44 PM · I think you need to enlarge on that a bit, Casey. I'm a bit confused as to your meaning.

December 31, 2011 at 02:59 AM · Peter - I agree with you that we shouldn't take every posts seriously on public forum, and getting the best teacher possible is essential rather than searching for advices on the forum, but isn't it a little strange to suggest avoiding the internet? I'm supposed rarely anyone make a bold claim here when they giving advices. Sometimes you can see some interesting suggestions that's eye opening.

(PS: My remark wasn't directed only to your posts Peter, though, but I won't elaborate)

December 31, 2011 at 08:18 AM · Hi Casey

This is just my opinion but the problem for people who are maybe not quite so advanced as some of the professionals on this forum, for example, is that they will find it impossible to sift through the advice and know which is good advice and which may be somewhat dubious, even if given with the best intentions.

The Internet is a problem also because it is not face to face and can't possibly evaluate all the side issues which may turn out to be as important as the main issue. (Say vibrato, or left hand technique, or tone production.)

Many of these things are inter-linked and rather complicated.

Then there is the question about the competence of the specialist advisor on his or her website. Many for example will reccommend using tapes on the fingerboard - something most (but not all) professional teachers of high standing will be very much against.

The example I used about straight (parallel) bowing is an example - which if given casually, and not qualified by the other issues that straight bowing brings about, can be a setback which then possibly lasts many years for a student.

I strongly believe that the only way to improve one's playing is to have lessons from good teachers (who are not plentiful) - or for some, to view the great players on the Internet or elswhere, and maybe read all the books by great players and teachers. But the only surefire way you might benefit is from a teacher, and even that can be hit and miss.

By the way, although I have taught violin and viola over the years, I do not teach now and I do not consider myself as a teacher, so I'm not trying to feather my own nest. I rarely give advice to other players, (unless asked) but I have been known to offer advice in a string quartet situation in the hope that it may improve the performance level, and also if I'm playing, to make it easier for me to fit in.

Incidently, I do ask for advice myself. Last night I asked a player who is in a well known UK string quartet (just having performed the A minor Schubert Rosamunde quartet in a broadcast concert) how she fingered the opening bars, which are famously problemtaic. (NO problem for her). I did this as one day that quartet will come up again I hope, and I will be able to make a valid suggestion to the second fiddle, but only if necessary. So every day I try and learn something new, even if it just a bit of fingering. (By the way, she thought first position, as many do, but master the string crossings).

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