Words of Wisdom

March 13, 2012 at 08:19 PM · What ONE piece of advice, or words of wisdom, that you received when you where a student do you use with your own students or in your performing?

My professor at university, Dr Peter Walls, would always tell the violin section, "concentrate on playing well NOT on playing loudly"

I use this own with my own students when they attack the violin with over enthusiastic muscularity when playing Mozart.

Replies (60)

March 13, 2012 at 11:03 PM · "Play each note as it would be your last". I try, but it's almost impossible for me to do at this stage. :(

March 13, 2012 at 11:26 PM · This might be familiar advice for many folks on v.com, but the best nugget of wisdom I was ever given was the importance of practicing slowly. The last of my 8 teachers really emphasized this when I took lessons from him in my high school years. I wish I had learned it sooner. I've been trying to impart this advice onto my 12 year old son, but so far he has been unwilling!

March 14, 2012 at 02:26 AM · Surprising you didn't get more responses to your post.

One word of wisdom I still need to keep in mind: "rhythm is king".

In other words even more than playing in tune make sure you train yourself to first of all always play in rhythm (that still includes rubatos etc.: even those can be played out of rhythm)

If you can't: play slower, and do use a metronome some times. Recording oneself will show problems in rhythm right away that are not obvious when concentrating on the intonation, dynamics and musical phrasing.

March 14, 2012 at 09:28 AM · @Hendrick. I like your, "Rhythm is King". It is so true.

Fantastic tone & perfect intonation means very little if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have a student who plays very well in many ways but seems to have "rhythmic deafeness". This is not a case of rushing in fast passages or a bow coordination problem but rather a lack of awareness of the underlying pulse. I have tried slow practise and metronome work but this is a hard one to fix.

Any ideas to help her?

Cheers Carlo

March 14, 2012 at 09:28 AM · Sorry, double post!

March 14, 2012 at 12:13 PM · Many, many years ago, we were working on a particularly difficult passage. I felt like giving up, and for the first (and, thankfully, only) time in my life I looked at my teacher and said, "I can't do it."

He held his hands right in front of my face, and (rather angrily) said, "Hold up your hands."

I did.

He then said: "They're the same as mine. If I can do it, you can do it."

Those are words I have carried with me my whole life, and the sentiment has applied in so many different situations that I long ago lost count.

March 14, 2012 at 02:28 PM · I used to, actually still do, have a tendency to emphasize the note at the climax of a phrase at the expense of the others. The way one resolves a phrase is as important as reaching the peak of a phrase. Some notes are quieter, shorter, lighter, but a cellist friend of mine quoted someone who said...

There are no unimportant notes.

March 14, 2012 at 02:39 PM · I started playing the viola and violin late in life. My instructor at the time was the former Concertmaster of the city's major Symphony. He was very strict and demanding.

I asked him after one or two lessons,"Do you think I will can ever play to the point where I can get a nice tone, and be good enough to join a Community Orchestra?"

He literally glared at me and said,"You tell me. If you believe you can't do it, then you never will."

I'm in a Community Orchestra now, and I still remember his words - especially when I'm faced with daunting repertoire.

---Ann Marie

March 14, 2012 at 04:52 PM · A couple of comments from George Neikrug immediately come to mind:

The definition of a good teacher is a person who makes themselves obsolete.

The definition of good practicing is the ability to learn something in the least amount of time, without frustration.

March 14, 2012 at 06:47 PM · One of my favorites, especially when I'm just starting a new piece and sight-reading, my teacher would always say...

"If you're going to make a mistake, make it a big one"

I realized that when I played sight-reading softly, it was mostly because I was insecure. I would constantly stop, because I was afraid of making a mistake. When I play louder and more confident sounding, I'm less likely to stop in the middle of playing.

March 15, 2012 at 12:47 AM · My very favorite " Be open to new things each day, even if it contradicts the one yesterday." Very helpful. With practicing one teacher would say play with the metronome, while one would say " Don't play with a metronome! Practice slowly"

March 15, 2012 at 01:01 AM ·

How to practice 25 hours a day?

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wake up one hour early!

March 15, 2012 at 05:00 AM · Greetings,

here are a few odds and sods I liveby:

1) Think ten times - play once.

(A statement made by Lizst that can literally revoluitonize pracitce time. Usually we do the reverse. That is why modern practice and performance is so bogged down in long monkey hours)

2) `Master the heel and you have mastered the bow.` Passed down to me from Albert Sammons.

3) Chords- never, never the heel. (Said in French) by maestro Szeryng.

4) Unaccompanied Bach- we have to decide when to use vibrato and when not to.

5) `Use the whole bloody lot.` (Georgiardis referring to the need for more bow).

6) `If you want a faster vibrato on a note, simply apply more pressure on/with the fingertip.`- Hugh Bean.

7) `The instreument should adapt to the player, not the other way around.` Fundamental premise of Alexander Technique.

10) Huge sounding chords etc are produced perhaps fifteen percent by the violin raising up into the bow rather than the reverse.

11) As you shift into the higher positions move the violin up and to the left a little.

12) Without fail lift the finger off a flagolet note once it starts ringing. Just let the bow play it. The differnece in sound is extraordinary.

Cheers,

Burp

March 15, 2012 at 06:36 AM · From my current teacher:

1. PS = Practise Slowly!

2. LOFPWHY= Lots Of Fast Practice Won't Help You

3. WYB = Watch Your Bow!

4. LLC = Listen Like Crazy.

5. PSED = Practise Scales Every Day.

6. AHAP = Always Have A Plan.

7. VDHABP= Vibrato Doesn't Hide All Bow Problems.

8. VDHAMP = Vibrato Doesn't Hide All Musical Problems.

9. TUMO = Tune Up More Often

10. PEWE = Play Everything With Emotions

March 15, 2012 at 09:44 AM · Thanks for sharing that list Buri. Very appropriate and useful.

We should print out and place on music stand!

March 15, 2012 at 11:30 AM · 13) Buy a music stand.

March 15, 2012 at 12:01 PM · As an adult beginner, the best word of wisdom I ever received was "You're doing great" and there is nothing better against frustration.

Whenever you don't feel like it, just tell yourself that you're doing great.

March 15, 2012 at 01:22 PM · "You paid for the whole bow. You will use the whole bow."

---Henry Meyer

March 17, 2012 at 12:41 AM · Suzuki: Only practice on the days when you eat!!

March 17, 2012 at 01:50 AM · "The best teacher you can find will be yourself"

March 17, 2012 at 02:20 AM · Play, just play... it's not a circus (I don't remember who told that but so true)

You can't make grow a plant faster than it grows once you've put it in the sun, gave it water and vitamins. (My teacher)

(Once you have a good violin, practice, have a good teacher and know what to do... you have to let yourself time to digest things and it will come.)

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength (St Francis de Sales)

I find that so violinistic, it's my favorite! The best players don't force, they use gravity and stay cool as a cucumber!

March 17, 2012 at 02:30 AM · @Anne my teacher says that. He later commented you might want to get a refund and buy a half size bow.

March 17, 2012 at 02:40 AM · I'll translate from the french some wonderful words of widsom from a horse video on youtube that I like very much. I highly recomand it to all violinists and athletes!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IC_9OHr0KnU

Without errors, victories would not exist

Without training, no accomplishments

Without trials, no hope

Without weaknesses, no progression

Without efforts, no pride

Without challenges, no goals

Without devotion, no passion

Without confidence, no chance

Without courage, no success

Without feeling/intuition, no team work (with our instrument)

That's what we are... we are violinists! (they say equestrians of course in the video)

If that doesn't inspire one to play, I don't know what will : )

Patrick haha : )

March 17, 2012 at 02:52 AM · Just a few nuggets off the top of my head:

1. From my 1st teacher, Harry Fratkin: "You must be at one and the same time your own severest critic AND your own greatest admirer."

2. From my 2nd teacher, Vladimir Graffman: "You'll never make a big impression with small playing." (He also liked to scream "Ach, that's nonsense!" a lot - but that's another matter!)

3. From Glenn Dicterow "Get those overtones to fly right out of the instrument!"

4. From Aaron Rosand: "Don't play with the brakes on."

The above were directly from some of my teachers. Here are a couple of nuggets indirectly:

1. From Joseph Szigeti: "There's no substitute for perfect intonation."

2. Joesph Silverstein was once asked at a master class what the first thing he did with the violin first thing in the morning. Said he: "I count the strings!" Very good practical advice! Also works re tires on the car!

March 17, 2012 at 03:04 AM · "Who is your best teacher? Your EARS!" - the late Brian Tan, who is dearly missed <3

March 17, 2012 at 03:17 AM · What Adrian said!

March 17, 2012 at 06:35 AM · The mirror is often better than your teacher. Our ears sometimes lie to us.

March 17, 2012 at 06:46 AM · Greetings,

Yixi, so true. Actually I suspect our ears lie to us most of the time. But it is not actually the ear. That is really honest. The problem is that the data is processed by the `mind` which is the biggest crook on the planet after Richard Nixon. All too often we simply hear what we want to hear or our ego filters out blemishes.

That is why the tape recorder is such a powerful tool,too.

Cheers,

Buri

March 17, 2012 at 06:50 AM · Oh yes, I agree with Buri, my state of mind can seriously affect my judgement. XD

March 17, 2012 at 07:38 AM · I follow this whenever I play with others

When it's your time make sure you are being heard. When it's another's time make sure they are being heard.

Yehudi Menuhin

March 17, 2012 at 10:44 AM · But Buri: why is it that our mind lies to us when we hear ourselves play the instrument and then its brutally honest (my experience - hypercritical) when we hear almost exactly (excepting location of the ear relative to the noise source) the same being played back to us from a recorder?

March 17, 2012 at 12:36 PM · My mirror, mirror on the wall once said to me "Dahling, you look mahvlous!" Then I dusted it and...

March 17, 2012 at 03:21 PM · years ago taking guitar lessons,

When soloing,

“Soloing isn’t about how many notes you can play. It’s about how many it takes to sound good.”

“Never acknowledge a mistake when you practice. Play threw it and finish the piece as if nothing happened. Then go back and work on it. Never practice acknowledging mistakes.

Sorry Carlo Ballara, I know you only asked for one. But they both helped me with equally great results.

March 17, 2012 at 03:31 PM · Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. – My late cello teacher, Arthur Alexander.

March 17, 2012 at 04:06 PM · I believe it was Vince Lombardi who said, "We can never reach perfection, but without striving to do so, we will never achieve greatness."

Perlman says to practice slowly because if it's learned slowly, it will be forgotten slowly.

March 17, 2012 at 06:19 PM · Pay as much attention to how you end each note as to how you begin it.

March 20, 2012 at 04:00 PM · Thank you to all who responded to this thread. I have used some of these "words of wisdom" in my teaching already. I will type up and print out the best and put them on my studio wall.

Cheers Carlo

March 20, 2012 at 10:29 PM · Greetings,

I love the Suzuki quote `Only practice on days that you eat,` but it has a certain Japanesey fanaticism to it cf huigh school baseball training.

It really doesn`t take into account that in my experience, the majority of players benifit form one day off a eek or ten days or so. It varies slightly and can only be found by experimentation.

The quoyte legitimizes itself if one notes that @fasting@ one day a week has incredible health benifits in allowing the body to relax and detoxify. FGollowing this plan the quote becomes perfect!

Cheers,

Buri

March 21, 2012 at 05:15 AM · How about fasting one day but make sure you drink enough music liquid such as listening, reading,going to concerts,or spending hours on violinist.com.?

March 21, 2012 at 05:59 AM · one should do them all anyway. The last one may make your teeth rot....;)

April 7, 2012 at 02:57 AM · I got that moment when I really wasn't able to learn a piece my teacher has given me, and then, a week later I attended violin class I said,"I am not able to play this. It's hard to play it! This is for advanced player!"

and then he said,"come on! It's not so difficult! Don't complain! You can play this!"

and then...I don't know how it could happen, but after he said it, the piece became easier for me to play!

It's like......magggggiiiiiiiicccccccccc!

I think it's his words,"it's not so difficult! you can play this!" that made me try harder and eventually I could! Deep inside I'm so thankful of him for trusting me that I could play that piece I thought I couldn't, or thought I wasn't that advanced yet. His words helped me build my self-confidence.

April 18, 2012 at 05:28 PM · I'm still a student but the smartest thing one of my teachers told me is "you think too much"

And that has helped me a lot caus I over think a lot ;)

April 19, 2012 at 10:38 PM · "It's just notes!"

April 20, 2012 at 08:21 PM · You could practice 16 hours a day if you just rehearsed mentally for 12 of those!

April 21, 2012 at 11:46 PM · Another thing my teacher told me is this:

"SLOW practice makes perfect"

April 22, 2012 at 01:33 AM · "There are only two ways to play the violin, and one of them is wrong..." Szeryng

April 22, 2012 at 10:27 PM · only practice slowly if you want to perform slowly

April 23, 2012 at 02:14 AM · "Crescendo means piano." -- Hans von Buelow.

April 23, 2012 at 11:08 AM · "Practise does NOT make perfect." (Not sure who said that, could have been me).

"Every note a pearl" (In which case you play most unmusically).

"Take each day as it comes, and don't overdo it." (Applies to alcohol, love making, and many other pursuits).

April 24, 2012 at 05:26 AM · Joe Hague Jr -- Huh? Not sure I agree with that one...

April 24, 2012 at 08:54 AM · Gene

I thought that was a good one. Definitely true. I would refer you to something Simon Fischer said about A Dorothy De Lay student who only practised slowly and could not play fast.

April 24, 2012 at 02:56 PM · @Simon. I'm not sure S. was right. Some of my students have many ways to play wrong...

Cheers Carlo

April 24, 2012 at 05:13 PM · I don't advocate to only practice slowly. If a passage should be played fast, then yes, one should practice it at speed as well as slowly.

April 24, 2012 at 05:19 PM · Okay, I went back and reread Joe Hague Jr's posting. I may have misunderstood it originally. If I read it as "If you want to perform (a passage) slowly, then only practice (that passage) slowly", then it makes more sense!

But I'm still not sure I agree with it 100%...

April 24, 2012 at 08:38 PM · Gene, it's OK to disagree or not understand. I think a lot of people benefit from slow practice.

However, I have seen a lot of people doing slow practice just to say they have done slow practice (many do not realize this to be the case, or think they are too smart to fall into this trap). At some point, it just becomes a mindless habit. That is the worst case, of course, and there are varying degrees between total awareness and total unawareness.

The point of practice for me is to observe. I listen to my playing, watch different parts of my body or violin/bow, and notice how my body feels. If something does not work, I make adjustments. Slow practice allows a person more time to take notice of things and more time to make adjustments (or just more time to ignore everything).

Slow practice is good, and depending on the player and the music they will perform, sometimes slow practice is unnecessary. When I hear a colleague playing through the same passage slowly 50 times, and it sounds the same way every time, then slow practice losses it's benefits.

For fast passages, sometimes slow practice can be a productive way to organize the music and better understand what you have to do.

My personal preference is to not change the tempo, but to change what someone else calls the "rate of change." The simplest way I can describe it is: if I cannot play a passage, I try to take note of what is going wrong, maybe why things aren't working, and then I see how I can break up the passage to make it playable in smaller pieces. Then I bring the pieces together, and the passage should be playable. If not, approach from a different angle!

I am sorry to post this long message that is not on topic. If it benefits someone, great! If not, please ignore ;p

April 24, 2012 at 09:04 PM · Joe -- Thanks! I guess I was having some difficulty with the blanket statement of "only practice slowly if...". I agree with everything you said in your detailed explanation. Definitely, there are situations where slow practice makes sense, and others where it does not (or situations where too much or mindless slow practice can be counter-productive).

April 24, 2012 at 10:12 PM · Greetings,

it's great that people took the time to break down and explicate the notion of 'slow practice.'

I think we can chant the mantra once too often and not look at the other meanings inherent in the words. 'Slow ' can also mean 'dull,stupid and inefficient!'. What one should be saying is that the purpose of slowing things down is to apply the highest level of mental concentration to the smallest possible units. This kind of work is incredibly important and incrediby tiring.

What one is doing is programming the mental computer so that it will perform global functions automatically. We live in the age of computers so the analogy should not be difficult. There are those people who can look at a screen of symbols and letters and say 'look! That couple of digits there is causing the system to crash.'

This is jprogramming. The rest of us can' t do it.We want the end product to work at the click of a switch. Alas, violin playing is the art of effective programming and we have to learn how to do it. This is step one. Without this deep level processing the end result will always be flawed or at risk of failing. However, this is is a necessary but not sufficient condition for performance. Like any complex skill, one has to be able to use the smallest number of commands to do the maximum number of jobs. That is why Mac is superior to windows....

In other words, one has to have done the spade work with incredible focus so the mind can say c major scale three octaves and it just happens. Or at an even higher level of artistry 'the Beethoven' and it happens....

The only way to do this is small chunks played up to speed and repeated. Then combine two small chunks up to speed. Then three, then four ....

Would you walk everyday to train for the Olympic 100 meter sprint?

Cheers,

Buri

April 25, 2012 at 07:13 AM · great summation of end-gaining. high-five!

April 26, 2012 at 11:34 AM · "That is why Mac is superior to windows...."

Pull the other one!!!

April 26, 2012 at 11:36 AM · "There are no unimportant notes."

BUT there are some notes which are much more important than others!

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