Dorothy DeLay's Practice Schedule

March 7, 2012 at 03:14 AM · Hi everyone,

This is not really a discussion, more an informational post and to clear up any doubts about. I'm assuming this is correct as it is a biographical text.

Here is Dorothy DeLay's practice schedule that she gave to her students for those interested (there must be others other than me!):

Five Hours (all hours are 50 minutes on, 10 minute break)

1: Basics such as left hand articulation, shifting vibrato and right hand bow strokes

2: Repertoire passages (perhaps someone could give me suggestions on what exactly this means), arpeggios and scales

3: Etudes and Paganini

4: Concerto

5: Bach or solo recital repertoire

Dorothy even has an answer for those with orchestral commitments during their study (probably most of us!). On orchestra days only hours 1, 3 and 4 are expected.

Resource: "Teaching Genius: Dorothy DeLay and the Making of a Musician" by Barbara Lourie Sand

Replies (28)

March 7, 2012 at 03:47 AM · Greetings,

I think a good example of a repertoire passage might be soemthing like the last page of Intro and Rondo Capric.

Of course this is a veyr sensible routine from one of the all time great teachers but the danger of it is that practice has never been `one size fits all.`

There a plenty of players around who don`t need that much practice. Others who can easily do that much without concentrating and thinking they are making the best use of their reosurces.

Part of the problem is we do have this desparate need to quantify our lives and it ends up turning into an hour counting exercises. The emphasis should actually be on clear goals and whther or not one has achived them.

I also fimrly beliueve that almost no players can truly cvoncentrate at a sustained level for one hour. This remark is often met with howls of protest or `your right. Galamians suggestion of fifty minutes with a ten minute break is better.` I still disagree with both. Why is it that so many filed sof human endeavour (both cocnrete and spiritual) claim that one cannot cocnetrate for such long perios and yet we violinist are determined for the contrary is true. Even Bhudda once said `a man who can concentrate for ten minutes can rule the world.` (Sexist beyond belief.) Auer claims diffenret to Galamian and he wasn`t exactly a slouch in the teaching department.

Also keep in mind that many great players and teachers have advised people to start with a difficult piec eof music such as the last page of Intro and Rondo Capric. Why? because if you can pick up the violijn cold at 5 in the morning and play that or a Paginini caprice yoiu can are ready for any emergency in the real world. Oistrakh wa sa master of this. Others (including Oistrakh) have recommende dstarting with a Mozart concerto sans vibrato.

None of this is to say that the advice is not excellent. It simnply has to be adpated with the help of a teacher. Follwoing blindly is never the road to developing ones own true potential.



March 7, 2012 at 04:37 AM · I couldn't agree more. I just think that it's a good starting ground (for a serious player) and is also that others like myself are interested in. As you say it can be adapted if it doesn't fit the individual, I don't do an hour of etudes! I know I'm always interested to try and play around with my own practice routine so it's nice trying what some of the master teachers have said.

Edited the original to say 50 minutes 10 minute break hours as that is what she said.

March 7, 2012 at 04:46 AM · Greetings,

there is an interesting hidden message in there for me. Notice how basic exercises preceds scale sand arpeggios. This underscores a point pedagogues like Simon Fischer have been shouting from the rooftops for years: scales are an amalgam of techniques and the notion of just `playing scales` actually implies a finished product. What is more importnat is the @process.` It is essential for even advance dpalyers to isolate aspects of technique and work on them rather than alweays assume that scales are the lowest common denominator of technique and therefore can be played first to `warm up@ with impunity.



March 7, 2012 at 05:57 AM · Yes I totally agree! After all, scales to me seem to just be a piece that we've all played a million times. It has everything that a piece has, shifts, finger dropping, stretches (harmonic minors for example) then of course everything bow related such as bow division, articulation . Of course then there is also coordination of left and right hands for things such as shifts and if you are doing scales with separate bows (or some other bowing variation). Also, we can choose to add anything we want like rhythms and dynamics.

March 7, 2012 at 06:00 AM · And course, realize that not everyone takes the same amount of time to accomplish everything.

The player that can do "five hours of work for the average person" in about two hours definitely has an advantage!

March 7, 2012 at 06:09 AM · If only I were one of those! :P

March 7, 2012 at 11:21 AM · Buri there is an inherent assumption in what you write that it is ESSENTIAL to concentrate for all practise. I believe this is not true that much can be gained from work where you are not focusing but instead allowing your subconsious to express itself. For me the act of learning is very much transferring conscious acts into automated, subconscious ones with the goal (nirvanah perhaps) of being able to perform without any conscious effort at all. If that is the case, then perhaps this aspect of playing needs to be practised as well.

Someone wrote recently (it may have been on FB) something like that scales are the zen of violin - playing that is so practised that you can do them without conscious thought. I think there is a lot of truth to this and for me at least it is becoming an integral part of my practise routine. I'd add, that perhaps that is exactly why many do scales first. Its a mind clearing excersize.

March 7, 2012 at 03:37 PM · Personally, I do best with a 'template' to work from. It doesn't mean that I follow that template blindly, but I use it to set something up that works for me.

The problem with this particular scheduale is that - if I saw it with no explanation that it's geared towards say the 'average' professional, I would find it so daunting I quit entirely...(well, maybe not entirely).

But perhaps a breakdown of the above for the average beginner, intermediate, and then advanced/professional would be more useful?

I want to improve...and I've been putting in a min. of 1 hour a day (which is really hard on some work-days) and up to 3 (in spurts) hours on a weekend if we're home...

I start with scales, do studies and then focus on actual pieces. But I've only been following this self-set regime since September...and even at my level, I am finally and obviously (even if it's still slow) getting somewhere! Very rewarding.

So we need to find that balance between working hard enough to advance, but not being overwhelmed...

March 7, 2012 at 03:51 PM ·

Thank you very much for that interesting post!

I wonder if "repertoire passages" may be orchestra parts and solos? to me thats more likely than something difficult out of the solo repertoire, because recital and concertos are already coverd in hour 4 and 5. Also I think that orchestra parts are essential for someone who wants to survive on the classical music market, since they are the benshmarks for nearly every audition. Also I think that D. Delay had many people aiming for an orchestra career, besides the ones who got soloists. But also for soloists it may help your technique and musicality to know all the repertoire for violin, not just the virtuoso and tricky parts of concertos, those may be the top of the pyramide.

I love how paganini gets its own mentioning, since they are the best exercises to stay on top of your abilities!

About the people who believe, that there is a difference in learning curves. It is absolutely true. Some will get the the same amount in less time. But on a different level we are all the same. We have all somehow the same concentrating timespan (?). So if a fast achiever practicec 5 hours he will get better than when he does just two. No matter how fast he achieves.

It is a question of what is the measure: Do you want to catch up/be better than others, or do you want to get to your own limit and achieve what YOU are capable of. To me doing art is an commitment to yourself, let the comparing thing be done by others. You'll be happy if you know you did your best.

It is better to think about how can I become more effective with my time than to compare how long one practices.

But if you want to be professional 4-5 hours is essential! No matter if you achieve quick or not.

March 7, 2012 at 05:33 PM · "But if you want to be professional 4-5 hours is essential! No matter if you achieve quick or not."

I would disgaree. Depends on what you mean by professional of course. Soloist - yes. Orchestral player - No.

I do agree with Buri.

And I have to take issue with Elise. Mindless playing without full attention is a complete waste of time. (You can get away with that in orchestral rehearsals, maybe).

You will improve more with 20 minutes of motivated highly concentated practise than 3 hours of sloppy practise.

March 7, 2012 at 05:52 PM · That brings up another point, do you think Dorothy Delay's students practised chamber music an orchestral music? And if so is it as an above poster said, and they did it in the repertoire passages and then sight-read the rest.

As for this schedule and it's application to beginners, amateurs, professionals etc. I think it's a schedule of balance. If you only have time to practise an hour a day, cut everything down depending on what you have. Or start at a certain point, for example "I want to play half-an-hour of pieces (concerto/sonata/Bach/Suzuki etc.) in the scheme of one hours practice", so then you say "I need to do basics, scales, etudes in the other 30 minutes. From there it is based on what your teacher thinks is best for you and thinks is right. perhaps you only need to spend 5 minutes on basic exercises, 10 minutes on this etude and then 15 minutes on scales.

Of course, I agree with Buri that practice should be goal oriented however as a student I do have to organise things by time (at my music school we have to book practice rooms, and we're only allowed two hours for the whole day which unfortunately mean that we're quantifying from the get go, at least mentally.

March 7, 2012 at 06:27 PM · A lot of interpretations can be read into the content and sequence of DeLay's practice routine. A different one from Buri's observation is that right hand bow strokes are so important that they should come first when the student is fresh, and the learning can carry over into the rest of the day's practice. A lot of "left hand violinists" are produced (who have modest tonal, dynamic, and color variation) and DeLay's sequence for starting with right hand exercises may be very purposeful.

It is also worth noting that an hour of Bach comes at the very end. If you can play Bach well when you are mentally and physically tired, you are a master on the violin. And you are developing the level of endurance and intensity that it takes to be a top soloist.

March 7, 2012 at 06:45 PM · Mental and physical stamina must both be built up over a period of time. Concentration is about quieting the mind and learning to find a vibrant and productive groove centered on the task at hand.

March 7, 2012 at 07:07 PM ·


Elise, your comments on sclaes are completely wrong I`m afraid.

As far as practicing is concerned one should spend a cerrtain amount of time perfomring when the music flows freely but one should still be payingattention to what one is doing.

Too many player sta all levels perform or play things through without paying atention or listening to what they are doing . You can use words like paying attention, concentration , listening etc interchangeably if you wish but at the end of the day I know what I am talking about. Frankly I don`t think you do yet.

March 7, 2012 at 08:41 PM · Peter, I disagree. Looking at A-Orchestras (wich are the best in germany and nearly every big city has one... so they are quite regular) you will see lots of players in it, who are capable of being a soloist, but chose the "secure" way of being in an orchestra. If they play in an recital, you will not notice the difference to some of the so called "top" soloist performers.

Second point wich I have to disagree is, that you can get a soloist with "just" 4-5 hours a day. I know many people who try to become solistic (sometimes successful) and they do at least (!) 4 hours a day, often 6 or 7 including rehearsals and chamber music. Thats what you have to do in my opinion as long as your body can stand that... when you are young and growing up. Of course no "accomplished" soloist practices 4-5 hours regularly, but I am sure, most of them had times (before Diploma/ important concerts/competition), where their day was full of practice and taking lessons. I include in practice also time with scores, reading without the violin and studying performances if you are that type. But still I am very sure you will need at least 4hours at the violin regularly, wich is quite possible if you eat healthy, make some sports and sleep good.

getting in an good orchestra with less than 4 hours a day, you must have been very lucky or enjoyed very good teaching at a very young age. But if you are serious, you have to do at least 4 hours of quality (!) practice, rehearsals excluded, as long as you are a student. When you are lucky to get a seat in an major orchestra, you will probably go down to 2-3 hours of practice aside from rehearsals, wich brings us again to 4-5 hours at least as a whole. (weekend included)

I don't really understand, what is so strange about working 4-5 hours with the instrument a day. Other people in other jobs work much more, when they are students as an average. And not talking about "real" work like workmen f.e.

If I had the time, wich I have not, because I teach for a living, I could practice easily 4-5 hours a day:

Stand up early, practice 2 hours basics and technique/ etudes, have lunch, practice 2 more hours. What time is it then? I would say 4 pm in worst case. Take a nap, go outside, make some sports. Back to the violin at 6/7 pm. enjoy that you are in good shape and do two more hours on repertoire. Easy six hours (including breaks of course)

It is clear that one has to be healthy for this and don't have too many bad habits. it is very important to get the basics strong, but once you get them and maintain them through daily routine, it should not be a problem. It is like keeping an already rolling train moving. (getting it rolling is the actual difficulty!)

I know that schedule doesnt fit everyone. I have students who are not able to practice more than 20 minutes concentrated ;) but they are 8y old... and cute... ;)

March 7, 2012 at 08:51 PM · Buri wrote:

"Too many player sta all levels perform or play things through without paying atention or listening to what they are doing . You can use words like paying attention, concentration , listening etc interchangeably if you wish but at the end of the day I know what I am talking about. Frankly I don`t think you do yet."

And that I will willingly concede (I often add a disclaimer to my comments as a rather inexperienced, if attentive, student). But I was not advocating attentionless-study as any kind of alternative to focused and goal-oriented work. And maybe it does not work for you or anyone else on the planet but I find a period of intuitive (non focused) playing to be beneficial to my musicanship - even if, as you say, it is not worth an iota to my technique....

March 8, 2012 at 07:55 AM · I don't know any professional who practises scale mindlessly. They are the staple of practise. On a bad day you can forego all the basics from bowing technique to Schradieck, but not once have I skipped scales. Scale hits on intonation, left hand and right hand all at once. Heck, even vibrato practice was based on scales for me.

It's difficult to tell nowadays, but a lot of pedagogues pigeon-holed students and taught them accordingly. DeLay, for example, pigeon-holed students to "chamber" "orchestra" "soloist". My teachers did that too, evidently, since not one teacher pushed me to join any orchestra. They sure threw me a lot of solo repertoires, though. There are definite differences between a soloist's sound and an orchestra member's sound, even if their techniques are roughly equal. It's just different kind of training.

I'm not sure who has five hours to practise everyday unless they're trying to be pros. I know I don't. I do follow a similar pattern I do have time, starting with scale, then exercises (Sevcik, Schradieck, Left Hand Technique, e.t.c.), then etude, and then the repertoire I'm working on. That can range from a 3 to an 8 hour practice session, breaks included.

5 hour practice can be utterly draining if done properly. Not sure if I still have the stamina for that...

March 8, 2012 at 10:11 AM · Simon - I never did 5 hours a day. My regular practise was 2-3 hours as a student, with a bit of orchestra and chamber music thrown in on top on a couple of days. Even now when I'm retired and have plenty of time I only do 2-3 hours a day maximum. (Probably averages 1.5 hours a day) And I'm spending my time re-building my technique and learning lots of chamber music repertoir. Yesterday I did just over an hour and then 2.5 hours playing in a quartet.

There have been a lot of top soloists who have grown up on 2-3 hours per day, maybe with a bit more at one point in their early teens.

The ritual of mindless practising so you can say you have spent 5 hours each day is only good for one's reputation in the pub or in an orchestral break when it might impress a suitably gullable colleague. ("Old Fred over there does 5 hours every day on top of all our orchestral rehearsals ...")


There was a time I'm told when piano students at the colleges here in London competed to do the most practise, some apparently doing 10 hours a day! My comment when told that information was - "if they need to do over 5 hours a day then they must be horrendously un-talented."

March 8, 2012 at 12:27 PM · Quote Peter Charles: "if they need to do over 5 hours a day then they must be horrendously un-talented."

Thats so untrue. i live with a pianist who gets in good places in competitions and she does easily 8 hours if not ten before competition. And I wouldn't call her untalented for that fact ;)

Also I didn't say you cant come into an orchestra with less than 4-5 hours. But is that really the limit YOU can achieve? And who talks about being "mindless" There are people out there who can work that long without losing their focus.

I also lived with a bassoon player who practiced up to 8 hours a day before competition. He is now in an good orchestra.

To get in an B or C orchestra in germany you may have it a little easier, but really... an A-orchestra with 2-3 hours? Thats more than an risky advice!

Its not a virtue to practise little. It has nothing to do with talent when you don't practice as hard as you could.

It is like if you hit on a women you find not that beautiful just because she is interested in you but you are too lazy to make an efford to go for a girl you really like. Stuff happens ;) But I wouldnt advice that to any of my student!

In the moment you know how to practice you will be able to extend your 2-3 hours to 4-5. I admit you need a day off once a week or at least a lazy day. But average 2-3 hours. seriously.

March 8, 2012 at 06:41 PM · This is such a silly discussion. :) There are soloists that do scales and Flesch and Paganini daily, and there are those that just go over passagework and call it a day. Productive practice should be catered to the individual - and as soon as one learns how to be most effective with 2 or 3 hours of allotted time, the better.

My routine includes about 25 minutes of scales and octaves, one of the Ysaye sonatas, one solo piece for the fun of it, and 90 minutes with that week's concerto. Works for me, may not work for others.

Elise and Buri need a drink together. :)

March 8, 2012 at 07:35 PM · hi;

elise, i think the word "intuitive" might be used a bit intuitively. what do you mean by it? for instance, do you play and, while you play, recognize the you deliberately (because mistakes are overt when you set out to listen out to them) overlook these mistakes or do you play the same part again to tackle the mistakes? is it that you dedicate this intuitive playing time to play a piece from start to end without stopping to get to grips with a larger picture while mentally registering (or not - again the above questions) the weaknesses? i think if you clarify this notion of intuitive playing, it would be easier to talk about this.

i have read many people' advice, including Buri's, warning of practicing - by virtue (or vice) of repetitive oversight- the mistakes. i believe they are faaaar more knowledgeable than i could ever be in this domain so there must be a lot of truth in there. however, i also believe human psychology and understanding is not necessarily linear although there are methods that channel it linearly to simplify things. we sometimes gain things - and lose others- in unexpected ways

March 8, 2012 at 09:18 PM · Andrew, I agree with you and there has been some really silly arguments put forward. But what can one say, people have their little hobby horses and then reason goes out of the window!

March 9, 2012 at 06:29 PM · Isn't the explicit purpose of these forums to offer people the opportunity to ask questions, receive replies, and exchange different viewpoints? That's what I believe has transpired here.

As far as "practicing the mistakes," I had a band teacher in junior high who was fond of the phrase "practice makes permanent."

March 9, 2012 at 11:18 PM · Just reading the interview in the strad with Thomas Brandis, former concertmaster in the berlin philharmonic orchestra (i think he knows business) you might be interested:

"I think the enthusiasm we showed in the orchestra made the music live, was greater than it is now. but technique is much better than 50 years ago. Any young musician who wants to get a position, even in the tutti, must be a brilliant soloist, and you can hear that. (...)"

So maybe its the time wich makes peters and my different opinion. i dont want to be rude and saying back then it was easy to get into orchestra but i must say today it is really really hard!

Since many people practice quite effective not the quality of practice makes the difference at the highest levels. Who can practice 4-5 hours with high quality sure will be in an enourmous lead to someone who does 2-3 hours.

March 10, 2012 at 07:59 AM · I've met Thomas Brandis and have a great respect for his opinions and achievements. I would not disagree with him.

However, whilst at the top level playing standards are very high, these players only represent a small percentage of the string players who leave colleges. It is I think a fact that whilst the front desk or two of orchestral sections, for example, are very good indeed, it soon drops away and the players that make up the bulk are not really much different from say 40 years ago.

It was easier in those days to get into an orchestra if you played double bass or viola, as there were shortages of these players and very few good ones. These were the main exceptions. This has of course changed now with many more fine viola and bass players. So in certain areas the standard has gone up, in other areas it may have risen, but not so dramatically.

Coming back to the 5-10 hours a day of practise that some students/professionals may do, I think the logical conclusion is that some can get to a high standard with 3 hours a day, others need 5+ hours. I suppose that it may be the level of talent and the quickness to learn, and the ability to go straight to the problem and sort it out. Those that are less able may gravitate more readily to doing 5-6 hours practise a day, and in the end do just as well as those who get by on 3 hours. Don't forget though that when someone may practise for 3 hours a day they might be listening to music and reading up on technique for another three hours, or even playing chamber music, where you can learn a lot of different but valuable things to do with interpreation and performance.

So maybe we are not disagreeing that much.

EDIT: Simon - I'm not sure how familiar you are with orchestral playing - are you/have you been an orchestral player? It's just that I've always noticed the huge differences (with occasional exceptions) between front and back desk players, or front and further back desk players. Also, brilliant people sometimes audition for orchestras and don't get in, simply because the section leaders don't want better players than them sitting behind them!! This has happened in top orchestras in London, and I'm sure happens everywhere.

March 10, 2012 at 11:41 AM · Peter: Other than in University I never played in an Sinfonie Orchestra consisting mostly of professionals. So no, I have no experience in this. But I know many player from the local Orchestras wich are two different A-Orchestras. one is the opera one is the Radio symphony orchestra. The later one is a very good ensemble and even the back seats are mostly consisting of very (!) good players. It is indeed the fact that I heard from a collegue, that one of them would be capable of being concert master but chose the more comfortable role as a tutti player. Also I know, that in the second violins are player who sometimes perform solistic (I heard one), he played Ravel Tzigane. It was funny, because he looked like an old orchestra player with an comfortable belly and glasses, but he played enoumously furious and with brilliance. if someone would have asked me, who that is, i would never tell, that he plays second violin in an Orchestra.

Ok, but you are right in the back seats there may be more variety in playing abilitys. At least in the regular A-Orchestras. I also admit, that Orchestral playing needs some other qualitys than solistic playing and not every soloist would make a good tutti player. But I am pretty sure, that in the best orchestras, like Gewandhaus Leipzig, Berlin Philharmonic, Wiener Philharmonic or Concertgeboug Orchestra, you will not find many players in, who can not play you the Sibelius or Mendelssohn from the stand.

I have great respect for you, because you are much older and more experienced than me and you played in an orchestra, which I never can get into, because I started with really good training too late.

But I would never recommend someone 2-3 hours on the violin, if he wants to get in an professional orchestra, without saying, that it must be combined with a lot of listening, score reading and thinking/reading about violin technique and history. If you look in my first or second post I stated, that the possible 5+ hours would consist also of hearing music and interpretations, aswell as reading scores. That in fact is so very much important, that one could say that D. Delay schedule lacks this part of practice. I would never say mental practice alone will bring you far, but in combination with time on the instrument, you can achieve double as much with the same energy spended on the violin and perhaps more quality results too.

So, maybe, because when I was young I always wanted to become an orchestra player and I could never go so far because the first teacher, who really kicked my a ss I had when I was 24 years old, that is why I would never recommend someone to work too little. I know that I had some good abilities and still have, but also I know, what orchestral playing needs from a player and thats in fact much sight reading, wich is something I am pretty bad in. So, before I end up in an mediocre orchestra I will try to be a good teacher and help my students to get where they want to be.

In my early years of violin playing i always know that I want to become a violinist and so did my teacher. But she was never able to make me practice very effectively, I had to discover most things on my own. Now, after 4 other teachers I know, that there are ways to force your luck and your talent and the most secure way is hard work. When you skipped the age of lets say 14 without being trained once very good, you will better not rely anymore only on your talent. I was sometimes overfilled with confidence and therefore lacked the will to work. Thats not what I would recommend!

March 10, 2012 at 12:30 PM · Simon - I agree that when one looks back it is always possible to see that one could have worked a tiny bit harder and more importantly had more focus, but I was myself uncertain as to what I would do and I either had bad teaching or no teacher. It was only when I was nineteen that I had a top teacher. I started at about 13 years of age.

I also think that when you talk of the top orchestras in the world then its probably true that some of the players sitting near the back can be terrific. However, in one of our top orchestras I know that there are some pretty ropey fiddle players, but maybe they only get the occasional rough work when no one else is avaialable. (I'll not say which orchestra as I might offend friends that are in it ...).

Sight reading is a skill that British players in particular often have (even amateurs) as we have this defect that we only get one or two rehearsals and sometimes bits don't even get covered so we are sightreading in the concert ... I've even had to sightread on recording sessions because I've been asked at the last minute and the orchestra may have been doing the work in performances in previous weeks.

That's why even in amateur circles people can sit down and read through quartets reasonably well. I always enjoy the luxury of a few rehearsals. That's why working with my pianist wife is so good for me as everything gets rehearsed down to the last dot.

This is not to say that I would prefer to work at first violin parts as much as possible beforehand. Like the other night when I had already spent a couple of days learning the Schumann 3rd quartet only to find that the parts weren't avaialble so we had to play Haydn and Mozart where my familiarity was pretty thin on the two we played.

March 10, 2012 at 02:04 PM · Simon and Peter - thanks for this correspondence. I have always wondered about the abilities of the individual violinists in an orchestra - after all, they have to be able to play a concerto in order to attain their chair so how does all this ability translate into a 'tutti' (love that term Simon!) role?

Your posts may seem rather ordinary to you - but these experiences should be required reading for young person with a orchestra career goal. Maybe one will read this and learn, for example, that even prodigious talent (which can easily give one the delusions of superiority) is only a stepping stone to success and one that can be jumped over by a more determined, if less blessed competitor.

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