Can you be 'too good' technically?

April 6, 2012 at 05:06 PM · Spurred by the blog on Mischa Elman's aniversary, I listened to some of his recordings and it struck me that perfect as his intonation is, his playing was music first and technique second. You can hear his soul from his music - a sensation I rarely if ever get from current masters or indeed few other players.

A few I get the connection but don't really take to the outcome (Kreisler for example; I used to connect with Ferras but seem to have out grown him) while others I only connect with rarely - Heifetz would certainly be in that catagory, but mostly I find that he is technique-dominant and I have to struggle to find the man. BTW its not that I hanker back necessarily to pre-Heifetz playing (though it seems there was more soul there) since I also connect with the understated and honest Grumiaux.

So I was wondering why this level of communication is rare - and so much so now. Is it possible that our emphasis on technique has actually strangled violinistic expression? Are we more concerned about avoiding errors than making beautiful and connecting sounds? And I don't buy the argument that better technique will just make you capable of a broader range of better playing. Perhaps a good analogy is an opera singer singing popular music - something is just amiss.

Maybe there should be two schools of violin training - one technique dominant (which is what we currently have) and the other (and maybe more than one other) musicality dominant where the techincal training is matched to what you really have to say (if that makes sense)? I'm not proposing teaching bad technique of course but a school where the main emphasis is the preservation of the individuals expression.

Or maybe I'm just babbling!

Replies (57)

April 6, 2012 at 05:51 PM · "Or maybe I'm just babbling!"

It would take a courageous man to tell you that you were, so I won't! (wink)

But personally I think that some of the great technical players like Heifetz and Kreisler, Milstein, Oistrakh, Grumiaux and others were also great musicians. There are just a small group who were both - and a much larger group who were technical and some with fairly good musicianship too, but not at that level quite.

April 6, 2012 at 06:18 PM · "Or maybe I'm just babbling!"

Not at all we've all heard performances where we think to ourselves at the end too much flash not enough substance. I'm not sure if it's a matter of training or just a particular players personal preference to favor technique over "muscicality" (there's that word again). Interesting that I would see this post right after watching a youtube video of Anne Sophie Mutter playing Beethoven VC and yes it was dazzling technically but extremely musical as well!

April 6, 2012 at 06:30 PM · Elise, aren't you content with a good shoulder rest war? You may be opening an equivalent can of worms here.

I'm inclined to agree with your supposition. I have seen too many supposed wunderkinden who have excellent technique but absolutely nothing to say musically. I would say that a lot of it stems from the ubiquity of recordings, and the ability to digitize out the tiniest flaw. Then the bar is set for live performance to live up to sanitized, flawless (after many takes and splices) recordings.

Technique should be the means to an end, but the end has gotten a little out of focus. Laurie started a thread about the "New Yorker" article a week or 10 days ago. That type of music isn't meant to have meaning and emotional or intellectual content. The lowest common denominator has become quite low indeed. It's not cool to take music seriously. Rock concerts are all about the stage show anymore and not about the music itself. This rubs off on classical performance as well.

The first performance of "Rite of Spring" set off riots. The protests against the Vietnam War were fueled by popular music. How often do you see that depth of passion in any type of music now?

April 6, 2012 at 07:20 PM · What is the difference between some modern piano players and a sewing machine?

Some modern piano players are more even. The sewing machine is more musical.

April 6, 2012 at 07:21 PM · I've heard this question, Elise, asked before. It often makes me think of this line from the movie 'Wall Street' where the character Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) says, 'I'm not a destroyer of companies, I'm a liberator of them..'

Well the same I think can be said about technique in a sense. Having a diverse and secure technique will not destroy or inhibit musical growth in performance, if anything, it can liberate one's self and give a performer more musical depth. What one does with technical ammunition, is another story. Some use it to their advantage, others just play like machines.

I think when most people hear the word 'technique' in regards to violin playing, they right away think of things such as fingered octaves, staccato, and agility. Back in the days of Heifetz, Milstein, Kreisler etc. that was only part of the puzzle. One of the hardest techniques is to draw a singing line with the bow and connect notes beautifully (with portamento) imitating the human voice (which is a lost art today I think).

Following the influence of some prominent theoreticians who taught a whole generation of well known violinists, much of today's players play dry, opting to do extensions with the left hand fingers or cross strings for convenience in many instances, in order to stay in position and avoid shifts, as opposed to staying on one string longer for color.

April 6, 2012 at 07:25 PM · I was thinking something similar listening to a recent performance of Bell playing Brahms; it sounded like the pitcher had just gone to the well too often--it was a fine performance but tired. And I thought, well, how easy would it BE to play a piece as often as soloists on tour have to do and keep it fresh, vital, and alive? The technique can become automatic; the music never should, but, as with the time every class when I teach Hamlet, it's hard not to just let it slide.

April 6, 2012 at 07:44 PM · What Nate said is absolutely spot on!!

April 6, 2012 at 08:12 PM · The original question implies causality.

It doesn't follow logically that because one has a fine technique therefore one is less musical.

April 6, 2012 at 09:04 PM · When I think of Elman, I think of an recognisable tone production aswell as interesting and sometimes to todays standards excentric interpretations. But is that necessarily more musically than todays players who more focus on precision?! Also you have to take into account, that they used all gut strings back then and they had a total different sound ideal and feeling for the violin due to that fact. Today good players also know how gut feels, but its practical use is more in the "historical informed" performances, where you first dont play the romantic repertoire we know elman and others for and second use the bow in an very different style, light and short and much messa di voce instead on son filé.

I think playing romantic music on gut strings must be a total different feeling and is not compareable to todays strings. So if we compare the old violinists to todays, sure there is an different approach musically too. But sometimes we are just drawn into the old warm and intimate sound of nice instruments played with gut strings. Todays violinists to me seem to be individualists too, but somehow they are products of the global market and therefore have to compare themself to everybody in the world. The late Elman would not get any concert today, just because his technique wasnt good enough any more, wich also results in absurd interpretations. But Elman definetely was a great great artist and i will not say that his musicianship went down. But Age is something wich comes to us all..

April 6, 2012 at 09:48 PM · "Can you be 'too good' technically?" - if only! :)

But getting back to Nat's point about a singing line, a good example is Anne Akiko Meyers playing "Spiegel im Spiegel" (it's on YouTube, but I can't lay my hands on the link at the moment). Take a look at the violin part, mostly just slow scale fragments in F, and if you don't know the music you could be forgiven for thinking it wouldn't be out of place in one of the earlier Suzuki volumes. But in fact the bow control needed to play it at the Meyers level is more appropriate to the final volumes of the Suzuki course (and beyond).

April 7, 2012 at 01:16 AM · I also think Nate nailed it. The best possible technique should enable musicality. But there are certain aspects of technique that maybe many students today are not approaching sufficiently early on in their development because they are not recognized as important except by those who also grasp musicality. So in this way I don't think you can develop one entirely before the other.

April 7, 2012 at 02:06 AM · The responses above are consistent with whats been written on over and over - which means a consensus and maybe its foolish of me to argue against it. But the common view is not what I feel so here I am! I fear that your view is self supporting because the system that has produced the current crop of violinists is also determining what is the best in a violinist. Its all tied up. I think Nate's point is reasonable- that learning technique just makes you capable of being more musical (I presuaged it in my opener) but still I'm not satisfied with it. I gave the example of the opera singer who tries to sing popular music - few singers have more developed technique than the divas and yet it seems (least to me) the training impedes the execution. One could also argue (and I'm surprised no one has) that its the technical training of the bel canto players that actually impedes THEM. I don't know if that is the case, it might be, all I know is that its much easier for me to hear their individual message and link to their thoughts than it is with most of the current players.

One thing drives me crazy. I read over and over is that the violinists from the early to mid part of the 20C were individual and played beautifully - but they are 'old fashioned' 'excentric' and altogether not up to the latest technique. I think this bunk - it is designed to suggest an intrinsic superiority so that you don't have to listen to how they play - the argument is dissociated entirely from their music. If you are going to make that claim then ipso facto you have to also dismiss all the violinists that came before including Auer, Flesch, (L) Mozart and Paganini.

What riles me most is that many of the lauded composers that wrote the music those violists were playing must have been expecting it to sound the way they play. Thus, aren't all the current violinists playing the romantic repertoire INCORRECTLY? If, as is so often stated, the job of a classical musician is to play the music AS THE COMPOSERS INTENDED (see the excellent video clip of Vengerov that Laurie posted in her blog - the studio recording of the Kreutzer where he puts this most explicity) then we should all learn the bel canto style of playing to be true to (that era's) music.

Besides, I wonder if the average audience member really would prefer the 'modern style' violin virtuoso to the expressive soulful playing of Mischa - I challenge you to put it to the test.

My task is the difficult one I know, and of course, it may be that my ear is tuned to a different and rather lonely drummer (if you forgive the mixed metaphor). When I have a bit more time I will post some examples for us to listen to - I just hope everyone can do so with open ears and without prejudice.

April 7, 2012 at 02:27 AM · Elise--have you listened to the Rondo played by Ivry Gitlis posted on another thread?

April 7, 2012 at 06:43 AM · I heard Elman live and also of course on recordings. He was a fascinating musician of his time, and more popular than Heifetz at one time.

But he has not lasted so well, and now (unlike Heifetz and others) his performances do sound a little dated. He also had a pretty unique sound.

April 7, 2012 at 08:15 AM · Marjory, nope I missed that. Can you give me another clue :D

[Edit - and then I find magically that its the next topic on the discussion list - I'll take a look...]

April 7, 2012 at 10:35 AM · a question may also be asked of the listner:

when is it that your perception of musicality has been backgrounded by your choice of attending to the technical prowess of the performer above all else. there is the possibility that might have some weird moral prejudices equating an excess of technique to a dirth in art. so its not always the performer's fault.

also, there is that possibility to slip into dogmas and cliches.for instance that playing in a certain manner associated with a previous generation necessarily equals authenticity, originality, genuineness...musicality. and that playing in a contemprorary mode doesn't.

technique come from the ancient greek "techne" which means craftsmanship/art. perhaps, the failings in art is always a deficiency of some technique. technique is not only physical facility.

thankfully, music and musical performance is a case-by-case thing

April 7, 2012 at 10:53 AM · In the musical world I inhabit, that of jazz and improvisation, yes, some people have more technique than they know how to use appropriately.

I am all for building strong technique, but it must be matched by deepening musicality. The aesthetics must be as developed as the techniques. Too often, a piece is destroyed by the player just running off extraordinary feats of technique.

In jazz, technique is not just about our mastery of the instrument, with fingers and arms, lips and lungs, but also knowledge of theory and how it can be applied to improvisation. We include compositional techniques as well as instrumental, and they can all be seriously misused.

Running fast scales, applying clever substitutions, doing tricky patterns, forcing ideas into places they do not belong, all are examples of having "too much technique".

But when depth of musical understanding and a sense of aesthetics control those techniques, there you have a master musical improviser. For those players with greater musicality, more technique is simply a path to greater music.


April 7, 2012 at 11:05 AM · Two things:

1. I once read about Kreisler that he didn't practice so much. But an other well known violinist said that he would have practiced more if he would live today.

2. I don't know why people always think of their contemporary artists of being less "soulful" than the old ones. I read in the second last "Strad" in an Interview with an english retired concert master, that the same thing with orchestras happens: People say, that they used to have more character. BUT they say this since a loong time already and looking back people never say they had no character :)

April 7, 2012 at 02:28 PM · No, because musicality and expressive artistry are not mutually exclusive with possesing a very hard-earned, ample technical equipment. I love the old masters as well, but I find that the common "the good old days" philosophy is as much a personality thing as a societal construct. Many will believe that because things were different, perhaps they were "better", and that things must indeed be "musically worse" now. Which, in the end, is a valid way of thinking-believe whatever you wish, as it's your right to do so. Things are obviously different nowadays, but technique has always been a tool, and one should not blame it for defficiencies on the musical side of the spectrum, but rather on the individual performer (there are plenty of "soulful" performers nowadays, if one listens with an open heart and mind.)

I don't think any of our beloved favorite violinists of the past would have chosen to have a poor technical command of their instrument in order to "erxpress themselves better" musically-the important thing is to never lose sight of what the purpose of the tool really is, rather than making it an end in itself. There's an extra emphasis on perfection nowadays, but the finest artists will just properly use their command of the instrument as a means to much more easily express musical ideas, rather than have it hinder their own music making in any way.

Music making is very different today, perhaps, but to be fair to our most expressive modern artists, it has been the same in the past-customs and tendencies change throughout the history of violin music-making (not to mention the other instruments, piano, etc.) Nobody plays like the early 20th century masters, but they also didn't play like their predecessors, and I don't believe they were "worse" than them just because things change over time-they still made wonderful music according to their heart and musical minds, aided by a great technical command suited to the music (and often, conventions) of their day, even if they were "no Spohrs" (and Spohr was no Tartini, and Tartini was no Corelli, etc.)

I.E. I don't believe there should not be a "technical school" and a "musical school", for both aspects are greatly necessary for making music of the highest artistry, and there were never meant to be adversaries (nor should they be, no matter which type of performer you are inclined to like the best). :)

April 7, 2012 at 03:20 PM · I believe that the problem of trying to arrive at an understanding and a consensus in discussions on this topic is because we have entered the realm of the philosophy of art and aesthetics.

It seems to me that one concept that crosses all of the arts is that of the "artistic vision." It is certainly the holy grail of literature, painting, sculpture, theatrical drama, film, dance, etc.

But the artistic metaphor of the violin and of music (of any kind) is not "visual" - it is auditory. How does one have an "auditory vision"? If one can have a musical equivalent of artistic vision, I believe it would be a sense of an artist's "voice." And what musical instrument comes closer to the concept of "voice" than the violin?

I think that the great violinists of any era - regardless of whether their technique was/is perfect, flawed, old-fashioned, out-of-date, idiosyncratic, or modern - project in sound an authentic "voice" that combines their individual "vision" of the music with their perception of the composer's vision.

If they use their mastery of technique (or whatever technical means they have at their command) to project that vision clearly to the audience in their own individual violin "voice," I think we then recognize, identify, and react to a sense of emotional depth and meaning.

If any of this makes sense to you, then I think I should have majored in philosophy.



April 7, 2012 at 04:04 PM · Sandy - got you: 'I hear therefore thou art*'

* a violinist


April 7, 2012 at 04:10 PM · I think I know what the original poster is refering to, and this is my take on it:

In Paganini's time, it was common for violinists to write and perform their own music. By Heifetz' time, it was common for violinists to make their own transcriptions and perform other people's music, but in their own way, with their own style. Today, most violinists don't write or transcribe, and there is a much stronger emphasis on recreating the style and techniques of the composer's era and following the 'composer's intentions' to the letter.

Of course there are many exceptions, but it has largely been one long migration away from being a 'general artist' toward one of being a 'specialized artisan'. Understandably in this latter, more narrow role, there is a stronger emphasis on the performer's technique, clean execution--- and less emphasis on his or her own personal musical ideas. From what I can see, the pendulum is starting to swing back a little. Balance is always nice.


April 7, 2012 at 07:14 PM · Well put Scott - actually your thinking on the matter is beyond mine :D I had not really considered the compositional creativity as a factor. The freedom to compose must also have made the performers bolder with respect to freedom of expression.

In my short tenure back on the violin I have noticed two types of teacher: one is trying to get the music as faithfully as possible off the page. The other (and the extreme was a retired long-time concertmaster of a major NA orchestra) - the written music is really just a first shot towards what you want to perform! I found the latter astonishing and also amazing - very much in line with what you describe above.

April 7, 2012 at 08:55 PM · If one has an artistic vision, technique will help one express it.

April 8, 2012 at 12:10 AM · Elise, you bring up opera singers trying to do pop. An opera singer has developed a technique that allows them to be clearly heard and understood in a 2000 seat hall without amplification, whereas the average pop singer can't fill a 30 seat Starbucks without a mic and an amp. I think it's that aspect of vocal technique that makes so many wanna-be crossover attempts sound stuffy and pretentious.

Several have commented on what amounts to a lack of historically informed performance of Romantic works. Halfway between Baroque and modern set-ups and techniques? As performers, we are all products of the world we live in. I have heard it argued that the widespread horrors of 20th century Europe, specifically the two world wars and the Holocaust, have made it impossible for music and art to be the same as they were before 1914. Lost innocence, I guess. Mischa Elman was born in 1891, so he would have been in his mid-teens, with his style of playing well in place, by the time WWI started.

April 8, 2012 at 03:11 AM · Graham wrote, "In the musical world I inhabit, that of jazz and improvisation, yes, some people have more technique than they know how to use appropriately."

As an amateur jazz pianist, I know what he means. But technique is not to blame. Bad jazz arises a player has not developed enough taste, has not listened deeply enough to what he has heard (possibly because he has not developed a good enough ear), hasn't learned the art of exploration at the keyboard, which is a big part of how jazz players practice, or is just too lazy to try to make something happen ever time he sits down at the keys. The reason I understand these failings well is because I have suffered from them. So the problem is not technique, but rather the tendency of players to assume that they can overcome a lack of any gift for improvisation with tricky technical stuff. An example of a jazz pianist whose playing is technically phenomenal but musically sterile is Paul Smith (that is just my opinion).

A lot of the great jazz pianists had (have) very good technique -- Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Lyle Mays, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau, just to name a few. Some had conventional training. It is alleged that great classical pianists were awed by Art Tatum. Tatum's fingers were not faster than theirs, but his mind simply created music differently, in a way men like Rubinstein could not grasp. (Note that the legendary geniuses of the keyboard -- Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. were great improvisers too. This is a lost art in the classical world.)

With jazz piano I think it is possible to get the point of reasonable musicality without anything close to a professional classical technique. With classical violin however this is not the case because the standard for technical perfection in that world is simply too high for that.

Finally I want to chime in on the discussion about whether the violinists of yesteryear were better or more musical or whatever. In my opinion the best soloists of today are just as good if not better because they have the advantage of superior pedagogy, access to the recordings of their dead competitors, and they are drawn from a larger population.

The remarkable advance of technology for recording and publishing music in the last 50 years is also important to this discussion. There's only so much parameter space in a piece like the Mendelssohn Concerto. Heifetz didn't need to concern himself with whether there were already dozens of good quality recordings of that piece. But today's artists, if they're going to record something that is "different" from the preceding 100 other recordings (ostensibly a prerequisite to calling it "art"), the only way to do that is to make it really weird, and nobody would give such a recording the time of day.

April 8, 2012 at 05:27 AM · Hello Mr. Deck,

I agree in principle with many of the things you stated, but wanted to mention the great (and late) pianist Georges Cziffra, who was an amazing artist and virtuoso, and could also improvise with the best of them. Just mentioning him because he was a Rubinstein comtemporary, although some do not respect him that much due to bias against his awesome technical command and wizardry, not giving his interpretations a chance (IMHO, missing out on a one-of-a-kind musician's artistry-he was a sensitive musician, and not just a show-off.)

Not a rarity by any means, but this is one of his "warmups" with bonus improvisations, during a piano test.

There must be a few classical pianists who still improvise, but I agree is not a common virtue (nor standard requirement) among most classically trained players today.

I do believe that each artist, old and new, should be judged on their own merits, rather than lumping all of them into an artificial "old (or new) must be better", although I totally understand your point about modern players having a sort of edge, depending on your perspective and what's more important to you.

April 8, 2012 at 06:32 AM · I do very much agree with both Paul and Adalberto in their last two posts, and there is nothing really for me to add. I can only agree and appreciate their comments.

April 9, 2012 at 12:18 AM · Adalberto, I agree that Cziffra guy is pretty scary from the technical side, but when I listen to something like Brad Mehldau's album "Live in Tokyo," what I hear there makes more musical sense to me even though it is certainly not as flashy. Still the fact that Cziffra could uncork something like that as an improvisation is virtually unheard of today.

It was alleged that the jazz pianist Dwike Mitchell would warm up by playing one of his favorite Chopin Etudes -- in any of the 12 keys. While difficult, the Etudes are "pianistic" in the sense that they "fit the hands" in the key in which they are written ... but NOT in other keys. In other keys they are the Devil's work and to play any of the Etudes in 12 keys is a fearsome proposition.

April 10, 2012 at 05:53 PM · My wonderful teacher has a radical solution to this problem: "There is no such thing as technique" she says. The more I think about that, the more attractive it becomes.

April 10, 2012 at 06:33 PM · That makes sense. If everything you do is in the service of the music, then it doesn't matter whether you call it "technique" or "interpretation." In fact if you do whatever you need to do that is in the service of the music, then the distinction between technique and interpretation blurs.

April 10, 2012 at 07:14 PM · Now THAT I can relate to.

Whoopie, no more etudes...

April 10, 2012 at 07:29 PM · NO Elise, that means you play the etudes MUSICALLY and have an interpretation, but you still play them for 2 hours a day ...

April 10, 2012 at 08:33 PM · Aw shucks...

scrape... scrape... sorry. Musical scrape... musical scrape...

April 10, 2012 at 11:04 PM · To play violin is to express oneself in another language. The better pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar I have, it is easier for me to express my ideas. On the other hand, if I've got no interesting ideas, none of my linguistic skills can help. Never in a moment I'd say, gee, my Chinese is just too good for me to express my brilliant idea in Chinese! Too often I feel I should shut up because I don't feel I've got much to contribute. But when you are asked to play a piece that you've got little good ideas about it, you still have to say something SOUND interesting. That's how the technique gets bad reputation, I think.

April 11, 2012 at 01:31 AM · Technique might have a bad reputation, but I sure wish I had more of it. LOL

April 11, 2012 at 05:09 AM · hi Yixi;

I'm not sure I totally agree. The text, after all, is already writetn down and, usually, with directions on its performance. The job would not be to come up with something (interesting) to say but how to say it (interestingly). if I may...i think expressivity in performance, to some extent, is a matter of education and tradition as well as intellect. the substance as well as the arsenal of expressivity is technique itself: knowing how to do something and when to deploy it. "Knowing when" to a large extent is a matter of tradition and cultivation - this is learnt..i.e. a technique (again, technique is not exclusively physical facility). Yes, the individual's intellect is crucial...but one should not undermine the larger context of that intellect.

to put it in another way: we as listners have expectations that thais' meditation should be played in a schmaltzy legato singing way, for instance. does the performer really need to possess an originally expressive mind in order to tick the elementary ("it was a decent performance") box? After all, we're not talking about exceptional expressivity - only acceptable expressivity. Or can the performer simply learn to emulate the expected sound with minor variation?

April 11, 2012 at 04:00 PM · Tammuz, point well taken. However, I don’t think expressiveness is it. Although the title suggests so but I’m thinking about musicality along the line of Elise’s comment, the soul of music, which I hope we can agree is ultimately what we all care the most. Yes, the texts of music are written, but they are written for interpretations again and again. Although we say “let’s read some music”, each time we “read” we are more like interpreting or translating an ancient text or a piece of opaque philosophical work. In later case, your personal insight and talent are just as important if not more so as your knowledge in the field. Of course we shouldn’t add so much to distort the original text, but if I can’t contribute my unique insight in a convincing manner, I’m not saying anything interesting no matter how well I can speak and much I know about text. It is in this sense what I take musicality or the soul of music to be.

But there's one more thing, that this "soul" thingy has a lot to do with "the heart". It's again hard to argue that superb technicality cannot be a good servant to "the heart".

I also appreciate what Bart suggested. You see, we all like to swing between being a dualist or a monist. We can handle two things pretty well, good/bad, mind/body, true/false, etc. I always amused when hear people saying “Two things here…” and wonder why always just two? Can one think beyond two points? Okay, I digress. Dualism is more agreeable to us, especially in the west. Monism is more elegant but often leaves us the sense of deflation – something important has been explained away when we just want it to be explained.

April 11, 2012 at 06:04 PM · Seems to me that poor expression is more often the result of not getting beyond the technique. It's when you have mastery over something, then you can let go and express, and that's when the little mistakes don't matter. But if you are making the mistakes out of an inability to ever play it right, that's a whole different scenario and doesn't help your audience trust and receive your musical message.

April 11, 2012 at 07:01 PM · Laurie I agree but that can be taken to an extreme: "I'm not sure I can trust this person's interpretation of this concerto because at 3:18 in the third movement he squeaked one of his double stops." Is the technical standard of the listener too high? Is that the problem?


I just saw an article on CNN about "the world's best female chef" and she was quoted to have said something that caught my eye:

"... I have this feminine way in my cooking. I think some men are able to make very feminine cuisine, but they are perhaps more focused on technique, less on developing the emotional part."

April 12, 2012 at 11:47 AM · Sandy, that's exactly how I understand what my teacher said.

April 15, 2012 at 12:34 AM · Technique and emotion are stored in two different parts of the mind. Practice equals better, but if you only practice technique than emotion suffers and vise versa. The two compliment each other , when you practice technique your sense of emotion improves. When you practice emotion your technique improves.

April 15, 2012 at 12:42 AM · I was gonna say...'spot on' Charles...

but,did you just contradict your self..??

April 15, 2012 at 01:50 AM · That must have been written by Charles Escher...

April 15, 2012 at 10:16 AM · it would be interesting to connect this topic to the criticism of the sevcik teaching method. i recall buri once (i apologize if i recall incorrectly) saying that sevcik students invest heavily in right hand/finger excercises and that they do not invest as much in bow is it the dirth of bow technique that restricts their artistry or foregrounding technique over expression and musicality or both ...

April 15, 2012 at 12:56 PM · Tamuz, can you clarify (or Buri of course). Surely the Sevcik bowing excercises are the route to R arm bowing sophistication? What am I missing?

April 15, 2012 at 03:33 PM · hi elise,

i distinctly recall reading buri cautioning against concentrating on sevcik and overlooking a study of musicality and expressivity an that sevcik is to be used in moderate-small doses. this i celarly remember...but there is a hint of a memory there that the expressive (extra-technical) usage of the bow (rather than going over endless variations of bowing techniques) is not something that sevcik focused on. so buri suggests some excercises and musical etudes such as kreutzer.

April 15, 2012 at 03:35 PM · here is one of buri's blog entries

there is another

buri, sorry if i paraphrased incorrectly

i thought we can ground this discussion with reference to sevcik

April 15, 2012 at 04:49 PM · Its definitely a good idea - bring the discussion to the nitty-gritty level :)

April 17, 2012 at 03:48 AM · "...expressive (extra-technical) usage of the bow (rather than going over endless variations of bowing techniques) is not something that sevcik focused on..."

Sounds like the Flesch was willing but the spirit was weak.

April 17, 2012 at 03:31 PM · In mid-life I find myself fascinated by Sevcik. When I was younger it bored the daylights out of me, for exactly the reasons stated above- 300+ variations on the same not-terribly-interesting etude? Shoot me now, please.

Fast forward a few years and I'm spending quite a bit of time with the old Czech. Partly this is to help rehabilitate a badly damaged right hand, partly because the methodical nature of it is more appealing now, and partly because his books are really complete. If you can define the problem you have in a piece, whether it's a second-to-sixth position G string shift or an ungainly bowing pattern, you can find the cure in Sevcik.

Having great technique is essential, but it's only part of the picture. I was thinking about this discussion a few days ago in the car when Mr. Famous Violinist came on the radio playing one of the Paganini Caprices. The analogy that came to mind was that listening to it was like watching someone do calisthentics rather than ballet. Great technique, though.

April 20, 2012 at 08:53 PM · I don't think you can be " too good technically" but you can be very poor musically and get all the notes 100% right. I have been to performances that leave me cold but were note perfect. Faster for the sake of faster is a one trick pony. I think " wow" then promptly forget it.

The concerts I remember have been those that move me on an emotional level. It is altogether a different skill to play musically. Years ago, Belkin demonstrating a simple phrase in my lessons set shivers down my spine. Actually he could phrase one note in a way that was incredible!

Cheers Carlo

April 25, 2012 at 01:23 PM · I see what you mean, as I have myself experienced such a 'lack of communication' with the performer more than once.

In fact, I believe that self-expression is the highest step in that personal evolution of a musician. The technical comes first, then its mastered and ironed and once you are feeling confident about the 'accuracy' - the notes of 'self' are added up on. Like layers.

April 25, 2012 at 08:42 PM · Carlo wrote:

"I don't think you can be " too good technically" but you can be very poor musically and get all the notes 100% right. I have been to performances that leave me cold but were note perfect. Faster for the sake of faster is a one trick pony. I think " wow" then promptly forget it."

But how did the player get to that point? My guess is that a hard-nosed teacher developed their technical ability without letting their inate musicallity express. I guess its also possible the person had no musicality and technique was all there was to develop - but I find that hard to believe. Thus, they satisfy my original question - as 'too good technically' though maybe a fairer way of putting it would be over technically developed.

Thats what I'm gleaning from this topic - that sure better technique is always better technique but it can still be developed at the cost of the inate musicality. One big issue - and thats true for all the arts - is that there is a big emphasis on technique because thats generally how you pass exams (its testable) and artistic ability tends to be 'bred out' during the selection process. I see it a lot in science - potential grad students with ace analysis skills and zero imagination.

April 26, 2012 at 03:43 AM · Or the opposite - many great musicians start off from very humble and impoverished backgrounds. Indeed, one could make a strong case that great artists are the product of deprivation and strife not oppulence and peace.

So, piqued, I looked this up and for composers this seems to be a bit of this and a bit of that! Haydn, Elgar Boccerini came from humble origins but Mozart, Chopin, Bach. Mendelsohn were all reasonably well off, at least at childhood. Seems to me there is little correlation with fame - more it seems with a musical family.

May 20, 2012 at 02:44 PM · In a word, we can't be "too good" technically if we want to express the musical magic to others; perhaps we can be too obsessed with technique, which is only a means, not an end.

The artist points to the moon: the idiot admires the finger....

May 20, 2012 at 03:55 PM · Great topic Elise. Technique is a means to an end, not an end to a means. One who purely values virtuosity will put technique first. One who values artistry and communication will definitely put technique at the service of the "message" conveyed by the composer and/or performer.

It's interesting what you say about Heifetz. Heifetz certainly had impeccable technique and aimed to wow the audience. Yet, in many pieces, you could also hear an incredible depth of feeling and drama. Ever hear his Ave Maria?

So much of our opinions are subject to the times we lives in and the individual who listens.

In my opinion, despite the fact that modern-day recording techniques have all but stamped out the artistry of the modern player, I believe that the average listener wants more than a "note-perfect" performance. The listener comes to the concert to hear a story or to be moved.

This is the challenge of our generation!

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