Another critique, if you don't mind.

March 7, 2012 at 10:00 PM · Recently, several of you folks critiqued another member's playing and I thought there were some good things to be learned, so I thought I would try it also.

I don't have a teacher and I don't think I'll have one anytime soon. It's a location issue. And I'm stuck. I'm not getting faster or better sounding and I'm working my ___ off to produce a tone I can live with. Everything at this point is very difficult. I think I've got some really bad habits that I'm not seeing but perhaps some other players can point out and hopefully suggest some fixes.

Here's a clip.

Link

TIA,

Replies (26)

March 7, 2012 at 11:49 PM · Hey Eric. Thank you very much for posting this. First of all I really enjoyed this!

You have got some very good things: you got an continuous vibrato, good intonation and an veery beautiful yet a little bit timid sound. (later more about that) Also i like your posture, you seem to lean a little backwards and sit very good... straight.

i will now list the details you may think about, wich come to my mind:

First left hand:

usually the thumb should be more under the neck and the wrist should be more straight. But I don't know if its necessary to change that, as long as you have no problems with your technique. You vibrate very much from the wrist, for more variety in wibrato you should practice also more movement from the arm and rolling up and down the finger instead of the trill-movement you use. But your vibrato is nice, i like it. Its unusual but who cares as long as the outcome is right.

right hand (this would be my focus):

while your sound is very good, sometimes you lack a little bit of contact. This shows when you are trying to make a crescendo or a buildup like around 1:40 ff. (dotted rhythm) you get very tensed and your bow gets unstable.

To cure that you have to watch your bow grip:

- keep the base knuckles lower

- bend your ring finger and pinky more, make them flexible, especially at the frog.

- I couldn't see your thumb but i guess it is tight too. make it round and flexible too.

Always stay in control of the bow... feel it in the right hand and fingers. Good exercise is playing one centimetre above the string, controlling the bow in the air. But also you have to learn how to give more weight into your left arm.

I would suggest: 1. fix your bow grip (away from bach, play open strings or long not resonating notes) 2. cet your shoulder relaxed and transfer arm weight over the right hand (good bow grip) into the bow. then try Bach again and keeping that weight and contact feeling. For playing in a bigger room you will anyway need more core to the sound. But as I said, I love your sound! I am just speaking about stage experience and what I think could help you there. Control at the frog is essential to a good bow arm! yours is very unsecure and bend at the frog.

If you have Sevcik 40 Variations. Play some of the first pages, they are medicine for the bow, especially at the frog ;)

Now I will go to listen again, just for fun!

Edit: Dont follow your bow with your whole body when doing a downbow. it can disturb the bow concact quite much. Keep the violin still and relax the bow!

March 8, 2012 at 01:19 AM · This was actually pretty enjoyable for me to listen to!

Okay, so I'm not a teacher, so take these observations with a grain of salt.

Left hand...your vibrato seems a little tense. It kind of sounds like it has an "on" and "off" setting, and that you don't have many shades or colors at your disposal. Am I correct in assuming this? I've never worked on vibrato with a teacher, ever, so I'm definitely not the one to ask about vibrato exercises. But I feel like your fingers need to be more loose and flexible. Are you gripping the instrument with your left hand? Things should feel very free and loose there. I wonder if this is an issue because you're not using a shoulder rest.

Right hand... I can't tell for sure from the angle, but it seems like your bow is tilted in such a way that not very much of the hair is touching the string. I used to have this problem. Tilting the bow can make it easier to control, but it limits the amount of grip you can get. You should be able to play with flat hair or with a small portion of hair, according to what dynamics or mood you're portraying.

I'm also wondering about the bow hold. The index finger is so far apart from the other fingers. I think it might be keeping your grip tight and keeping you from relaxing the bow into the string. Does that finger position ever hurt your hand? Try moving the index finger closer to the other fingers. It will feel harder to control at first but work with it on open strings and scales.

Try playing loud. What happens? Relax the tops of your shoulder and your arm into the bow. Really feel the hair gripping the string. Draw the bow, relax, open from the elbow, watch in a mirror to make sure the bow's straight, feel the sound being drawn out.

Bow changes at the frog seem to be an issue, as well. I feel like you're not comfortable down there, like you're avoiding the lower eighth or so of the bow. Which a lot of us do. Maybe somebody can chime in with advice on that...

Once again, I'm not a teacher. But maybe this will help in some small way, or someone else more qualified will jump in now and say "no, don't do what Emily says!" lol

Good luck!

March 8, 2012 at 01:56 AM · Thanks, folks

I think you're both right in focusing on my bow hand. I marked that piece up from pp at the beginning to ff just before the end, but I don't have the control for any dynamic range at all. When I play softly, my vibrato shakes the bow off the string and forte makes a screetch you can hear in the second half of my clip.

I think I need to completely rebuild my my bow grip and arm.

Simon-I will get a copy of Sevcik and try curving my fingers more

Emily-You are correct about me avoiding the frog. My whole bowing scares me to the point of timidity. I will try bring that index finger in closer and bow flatter.

Eric

March 8, 2012 at 03:12 AM · Hello.

You have great stamina and you sustain the bow pretty well. Your intonation is quite good and consistent. All of this only gets better with a more relaxed bow grip, but I won't beat the matter about your bow hand to death due to the previous comments having good tips and feedback for you. All I can say is that after you gain a more relaxed bow grip, you'll notice your sound will be more rich and full, plus you will be able to play around with the phrasing in your right hand more.

Your fingers have a pretty good shape around the neck, and they drop down on the fingerboard pretty well, but try to make the shape of your hand more square. And perhaps your vibrato can be a tad bit more wide, which will be easier with a square shape in the hand.

Overall, this is beautiful,adn what you've done with this piece is fabulous thus far. Thanks for posting this.

PS!!!! - A wonderful tip that has always worked for me is pretending that the bow is longer than it actually is. Trust me, if you worry about being too iffy when it comes to using the bow in its entirety, this will do the trick. Just make sure that it doesn't take away from sustaining or bow speed. Best of luck :)

March 8, 2012 at 03:42 AM · There is a lot to like there, good job.

Free up your right side. Wrist, elbow, and shoulder should be a lot more free and loose for better control and tone. Vibrato could make it even better. Practice vibrato extremely slowly. Nope, even slower than that. It looks a bit shaky instead of a true controlled vibrato.

To reiterate, watching you play was not a chore.WTG.

March 8, 2012 at 08:10 AM · Hello,

You seem to be doing the "butterfly" vibrato (another term coined by my teacher); I think the neck of the violin is in your hands a bit too deeply. When you start on arm vibrato (there are three parts of the limb to do vibratos; hand, wrist, arm), you might have trouble with the ring and the pinky later on.

You also might want to use the weight of the arm and the bow to create sound; that is, instead of trying to take control of the bow consciously, use the hand to guide where the bow should go, and let the weight of the arm and the bow take care of the pressure problem. Your sound is a bit faint to me, but it might be the recording apparatus.

March 8, 2012 at 09:29 AM · Dig out the "Dounis Daily Dozen" somewhere on line and do several of those every day. There are a few good ones in there for tone and power. They work.

March 8, 2012 at 03:23 PM · Eric,

As other folks have already noted, yhour Ave Maria sounds quite good. Nice tone, good intonation and good musical feel.

Before making any recommendations I would want to know what etudes and repertoire you have studied and I would want to hear/see you play material that shows where you are in terms of finger dexterity, shifting, and different varieties of bowing including fast detache and fast and slow spiccato. I would also like to know where you are in terms of ease and fluency in getting around in the higher positions. Also musical literacy in knowing your intervals, scales, arpeggios, etc. Also your musical development in terms of knowing what to do with various styles of music.

My feeling is that you do not need "fixing up" but rather you need "development" which will come from a good selection of material, which covers a lot of ground. In the course of development, some of your problems may solve themselves. Other problems will become more evident and clearly defined. The issue, for example, of not being able to play at different dynamic levels -- I suspect that you need to develop you concept of how to use the bow, in terms of bow speed, pressure, which part of the bow you use, how much bow to use -- enlarge your concepts and experiment and find what works.

To begin with, if you would like to post a list of repertoire and etudes you have played, with some comments about where you have had successes and failures, then I think we could be much more helpful.

Best wishes

March 8, 2012 at 05:29 PM · Roy,

The last lesson I had was when I was 18. I'm 57 now. I was studying Intro&Rondo when I quit and went off to college, career, family and now retirement. The last piece I really polished for performance was the last movement of the Mendelssohn. I can't play either one, now. When I found my fiddle after all those years, the neck had come unglued and was lying along side the body.

Recently I've started my road back by finding my old books and playing through them. I have Hrimaly scales and Mazas etudes and lots of performance pieces along with IMSLP, where I found the basis of the Gounod piece. I basically pick an etude and try to make it sound good and in so doing, I think I've picked up some bad habits like my high thumb and my stiff bow arm. Nobody is around to nag me and that's why I started this thread. I wanted others to point things out to me that I wasn't seeing. The thumb I'm not to concerned about right now, but my bowing, I think and others here have confirmed, is not very good.

In my desire to extract as much sound from my mediocre fiddle as I can, I've become this tensed up mass of nerves and have succeeded in exactly the opposite. I've strangled that miserable thing. I know what I wanted that Ave Maria to sound like, but I don't know how to get there.

Thanks everybody for posting. It really is helpful.

Eric

March 8, 2012 at 06:29 PM · I'm getting a vibe from you that your sense of self is tied up with the fiddle. That you're not at a level you'd like to be at, and that because of that, you're insecure and have feelings of embarrassment, anger, and shame. (Unless you're being harder on yourself in public than you are in the practice room to lessen the impact of any negative feedback you may get here...which is also totally possible.) Notice these negative thoughts and do your best to realize that ***they aren't helping you***. If anything, they're hurting you. Maybe try to do some work thinking about how you're thinking about the violin, and trying to decide what self-judgments are helping you and serving as a motivator, and which aren't. Be grateful and thank yourself that you have a passion for something and that you're just trying to improve. That's more than a lot of people do, right there.

It's really really important in violin playing to stay put in the present, to have small incremental goals, to quit negative self-talk, etc. Learning how to approach the instrument mentally is just as important as learning how to approach it physically.

I also wouldn't assume you need your technique to be totally rebuilt. Don't put that burden on yourself. Again, I'm not a teacher, and even if I was, I couldn't tell you unless I was in a room with you. But I guarantee, you would be surprised what a series of seemingly small incremental changes can do...

March 8, 2012 at 06:40 PM · First off, I see a lot of really good things happening, I think you should be proud of what you've accomplished.

I did (also) notice some tension in your bow arm. I think if you concentrate on relaxing your thumb and let it follow all the way up through your shoulder to torso/center of your body, you'll notice a difference in sound. One of the easiest ways I've found to help students ease tension (and anxiety) re: bowing and bow distribution is doing portato subdivisions of long notes. If they're done with focus and careful attention to avoiding tension (weight vs pressure) it works very well. You'll know where beats (need to) occur in the bow and can plan your distribution, phrasing/dynamics from there.

Re: left hand, the one thing small thing I'd pick on at this point is that *sometimes* I feel like the shifts are a shade too fast for the tempo of the piece.

March 8, 2012 at 08:48 PM · Emily,

You're half right. I'm not at the level I want to be, but who is. This doesn't embarrass me; I would never have posted a video on the internet if that were the case, but I am frustrated. If you look at the other video I posted of the Gluck, that's a piece I played when I was fifteen and I probably played it better back then. Link I'm frustrated that what was once easy is now hard and I'm impatient.

There was an article on this site, an interview with Anne Akiko Meyers. I looked up some of her videos and found one where she played the Ave Maria. I never heard this piece and I liked it so I found a copy on IMSLP and changed some stuff (made it a two octave piece) and tried to learn it. I knew what I wanted to hear, but the harder I tried to make it happen, the farther away I got. Thus this thread.

And it has helped. I found copies of Sevcik and I'm going to go through them page by page. And YOU suggested I try flattening the bow. That has made a HUGE difference. There are a couple of places in the Gounod video where I now know that the reason my note disappeared and my bow skidded away was because I had the bow tilted so far over, I hit wood and lifted the hair off the string. Whenever I pressed down for volume I was actually losing contact. Now all I need to do is find out why my bow does that. I suspect thumb, but I'm not sure.

Thanks again folks, I am listening to you,

Eric

March 8, 2012 at 10:01 PM · "I'm not at the level I want to be, but who is"...

Nobody. But remember that the people who advance with the least amount of tension and anxiety are the ones who realize that they're at a level that's perfect for them at that particular moment in time. All you need in that place is a desire to improve. That's it. (Obviously it's a different ballpark when you're a professional and playing various concerts and taking auditions. But happily that's a world we don't need to worry about.) Not to get all New Age wishy washy, but the journey really is the most important thing, because by the time you get to the level you want to be at... You'll just have replaced it with another level you want. And then you'll get frustrated and impatient that you're not to *that* next level yet. This is how we improve, obviously. And that's good. But keep the cycle in mind, and try your best to let go of at least some of that impatience and frustration; otherwise you'll have it forever.

Not trying to be obnoxious here, just trying to share some thoughts that I wish someone had told me five, six, seven years ago. From now on if I comment I'll stick to physical stuff.

I'm glad the bow tilt trick works. I saw that on my own playing when I had a similar thread...two years ago now? Yikes, time flies. But it should help a lot. Do lots of nice full bows with flat hair and be mindful if you start twisting the bow toward you as you get toward the tip and the frog. Another tip I learned recently is at the frog, feel the stick pressing upward on your pinky. Feel that pressure then disappear as you draw the bow down. Then feel the lack of pressure when you get to the tip. This might possibly help you cement the feeling of what a straight bow feels like. But if it doesn't, forget I mentioned yet, as the full benefit of that exercise might not be apparent yet.

March 9, 2012 at 07:13 PM · Hi Eric,

I'm not surprised to learn that you had reached quite an advanced level of proficiency on the violin. I'm wondering how long have you been back with it. If it's only been a couple of weeks or a month -- give it time. Enjoy the journey. Don't worry so much. If it's been a year already and you're still not even close to where you were, then you probably need some help.

For tone production, I would not concentrate on the extremes of pp and FF. I would concentrate on producing the most beautiful, pure, unforced tone quality - starting with a midrange, mezzoforte tone, or wherever you're most comfortable. Then I would try to gradually extend the boundaries, louder and softer. Always stay where you can produce a beautiful tone. No forcing. No straining.

March 10, 2012 at 08:29 AM · Greetings,

interesting.

Like Roy says, without knowing the big picture generalizations can be not only useless but even harmful. Very often there is an order for correcting things that an experienced teacher in a one on one situation knows. Indeed, as one thing changes another may collapse...That is the leanring process.

I wouldn`t personally recommend sevcik. I suspect you would actually practice in more problems by going down that road.

I would suggest that , especially for this work, your bow grip is not deep enough. The pad of the fourth finger on the frog has a role to play in tone prodution but your hold seems rather.fingertippy. I would suggest you try holding thebow as a cellist would with everything bent around the heel and the hand collaped flatwith the weight of the bow arm spread across the back of the hand.

Now play some long notes strating at the heel using this ridiculuous hold until you can`t draw the bow any further. Probably just below the middle. Push back to the heel and repeat many times. Once you hav elearnt the sensation of the weight being sprea dactoss the hand try the regular bow hold while seeking the same senation in the lower half. Your index finger is probably too high up the stick by the way. Also use a flatter bow hair.

As far as the left hand is concerned there is one thing I see her thta I would give precednece over the vibrato.

You have no legato in your left hand!

What I mean by this is that when you change string you should keep down the finger on the preceding string until the new note on the new string is sounding. this is the `secret` of legato violin playing and is absolutely fundamental. Just working on this would improve your performance immesurably.

I think you would enjoy and benifit a great dela from Simon Fischer sDVD on tone production. Cannot recommend it too highly.

Good luck with your endeavours. There is clearly an artist trying to get out. I think she will.

Cheers,

Buri

March 10, 2012 at 05:14 PM · Buri has spoken. Listen to him. He knows everything.

March 10, 2012 at 09:14 PM · Greetings,

aaaaargh. Still having trouble curing my cats bad breathe.

I think I learnt the bow hold exercise when I wa sa kid. I re-recalled it when reading Basic about ten years ago. The concept of left handlegato was a bug-bear of Leopold Auer which he discusses in his excellent book `Violin Playing the Way I Teach it.`

Thus one might be better off saying Fischauer knows everything;)

Thanks for the compliment anyway.

Cheers,

Buri

March 10, 2012 at 10:27 PM · Ok, so here's where I am right now.

I agreed with Emily that my bow was tilted too far over and it was causing contact problems so I figured it was a thumb issue. It wasn't. I went online and after watching Prof. Ehle's excellent videos on how to hold a bow, I had a minor epiphany. I remember back in my teens my teacher admonishing me for letting my pinky collapse, that is bend backwards at the last knuckle and with the way I was holding my bow in my video, there was no way that was going to happen so I'm doing as Buri suggested. I'm getting the bow deeper into my hand and it feels awkward but it also has this familiarity about it. I'll just do this for a while and see what happens.

Thank you everybody,

Eric

P.S. Buri, has your cat been to the dentist recently?

March 11, 2012 at 03:36 PM · Eric - you have a good left hand and intonation. The potential is there. You need someone good (teacher) who can develop a good vibrato and then your sound will be excellent.

Although your bowing is quite good I think you have some tension problems there to do with your fiest finger on the stick. Again, a good (and I emphasise GOOD) teacher can sort this without a problem.

You could become a very good player with the right teaching, and then it will be down to musicianship, which might also develop once one or two other things are sorted out.

March 11, 2012 at 03:43 PM · Some really excellent advice here for you Eric from Roy and Stephen (Buri).

Someone else mentioned changing you left hand - I would be wary of this because if you went to Rugerio Ricci he would quite like your left hand.

Stick to what Buri and Roy suggest, they really know what they are talking about, with years of experience and professional work under their belts.

March 11, 2012 at 09:49 PM · Just want to chime in late Eric and let you know that I enjoyed your playing of this piece! As others have said, returning to the violin is great, just give it the time, enjoy putting hours of practice, and improvement will be certain!

P.S. AND without shoulder-rest!!

March 12, 2012 at 12:50 AM · "P.S. AND without shoulder-rest!!"

If you look closely, my shoulder rest is holding up the recorder on the table. I try to use the rest but I never used one when I was growing up and it was becoming a distraction as I was trying to make this video.

Thanks for watching,

Eric

March 12, 2012 at 03:58 AM · Greetings,

oh great... now we have a whole new controversy.

Should recorders use shoulder rests or not?

"#$%

Buri

March 12, 2012 at 11:30 AM · Definitely not!! Recorders should use chin rests ...

March 12, 2012 at 11:38 AM · As for standing vs sitting during practice, there are benefits to both, although I'm no expert. I never had to sit during practice and I don't as a rule, so when orchestra rehearsals come and I have to remain seated for 2 hours in that awkward sitting position, I begin squirming around 40 minutes into the rehearsal (my back starts tensing). It doesn't look very good with the concertmistress squirming in her seat every time she has a chance, let me tell you.

But if you practise most of the time sitting, how will you be able to play a muscle concerto standing as a soloist? Unless you're Perlman (but he has a good reason to). The sound is different too; it's more open, for some reason.

March 12, 2012 at 10:59 PM · Greetings,

it`s actually a rather interestign can of worms.

Standing, most people can be in reasonable shape under the guidance of an alert teacher.

However, if you have, for exampel, a traditional Alexander Lesson it would focus almost entirely on `sitting and standing.` (ProbablY)

The reason FM ASlexander taught this way was/is because this action should be natural yet it is one of the most fundamentally incorrect misuses of the body we humans do and I have no hesiatation in saying I have never seen anyone stand up or sit down correctly since I started looking many years ago. One of the cause of this travesty is that we believe in the existence of `the waist.` This owes much to the western (and Asain) fetish with three body meausurments and beer bellies etc. We have constrcuted a belief , which is reinforced day in day out almost everywhere, that the upper body stops at a point just below the navel and then the rets is the lower body. This is wrong. As a result we trry and sit and stand by thinking in terms of the waist. In order to sit and stand when focuse don the mythical waist one has to contort and abuse a whole range of muscles one should bnever have used in the first place. Asd a result, sitting down may seme to be relaxing at first when it is actuallt putting an enormous strain on the body, compunded by the exhortation we are subjected to from childhood of `sit up straight.` How can I sit up straight? Its killing me......

In an AT lersson one learns to let the body bend forward from the hips with good use of primary control (head,neck and back alignment) this rerquires zero energy and as you weight arcs downish their is a spring point in wewhich the body shoots up into the air. Once this effortless standing is felt and reacquired it feels -wonderful.` Conversely, sitting down teaches the AT approach of ignoring old habits and cutting new grooves , which is what children do beforew we screw them up. Instead of `sitting down` one simple `bends the knees` while using prinmaery copntrol. Such an action is so easy and completely eliminates the waist movement without mentioning `sitting down` and all its concomitant agonizing baggage.

This experience can be so nw to some people it terrifies them. I once showed a rather senior lady violinsit it and she wa sso terrified of falling that she actually couldn`t lerformn the action of bending her knees even though sahe was physically in good condtion.

The bottoom line is we sit in a state of complete misuse and then try and play the violin. There is nothign much worse unless you get me on the subject of chairs in orchestra....

Cheerts,

B uri

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