Instead of etudes, I skim through songs that I like

May 16, 2012 at 06:08 AM · I've been playing violin for 9 and a half months and I have a good grasp over the instrument. I can shift to 3rd and I am playing around in 5th position and my vibrato is coming along nicely. Since this is my first instrument and I have had no previous music experience, my ear is not as good as it could be and I rely on my muscle memory to secure intonation. One final note is that I can play any major and I am comfortable with both flats and sharps in a song.

I used to do Wohlfarht etudes. I got up to etude 16 and thats where I stopped. I started playing songs that I like. Well, I would skim through the song picking out parts I could actually play and put the other parts that I couldn't play aside.

What would you make of this? Etudes are pretty boring and the music I do like is entertaining and refreshing to play. What do experienced violinists make of this?

Replies (29)

May 16, 2012 at 06:13 AM · Some etude are nice, and still challenging.

I like kreutzer for exemple, but it's hell of a challenge for me. =x

May 16, 2012 at 06:23 AM · Etudes are not boring. They are the industrious anthems of technical progression. They are absolutely necessary and you'd be surprised how many of them are ingenious and charming pieces. Playing "songs" you like isn't going to carry you. Etudes will prepare you for the best pieces and repertoire if you have the patience and the dedication to work at them.

May 16, 2012 at 06:24 AM · Etudes are to be repeated again and again. Playing different pieces surely is refreshing, but do they serve the same purpose as the etudes, no... Etudes do not need to be boring - I play them for just 20 minutes per day and every time I repeat I want my left hand to be more relaxed, I want my bow arm to make a straight line with the bow, I want to make it all sound more 'flowing'... If it really does get boring, change the rhythm and make it more challenging.

For your ears: Do you listen a lot to music (not especially classical) and do you sing along? Just keep the volume down, you do not need to hurt your ears to get better intonation. Put some cotton wool into your ears, this might allow you to hear the violin better even though the volume is reduced.

Do you have a teacher to check on your progress regularly?

May 16, 2012 at 07:57 AM · Well I kind of learned this the hard way. In high school I basically just played a bunch of pieces. Then when I got to college, my professor asked me what etudes I had been working on. I guess I didn't realize how important they were.

The fact is, even though I could play all those pieces well, I was lacking technically. And, had I been working on the etudes all along, the pieces I was playing would have been a lot easier because the etudes would have helped as a suppliment.

Hope this helps!

May 16, 2012 at 09:19 AM · I did learn the importance of etudes the hard way too. After Dancla's 36 easy etudes I started skipping Kayser as I found it very boring. I now progressed through concertos like Rieding, Vivaldi A minor and G major, Seitz, Accolay. Playing Accolay I started to realize that my technique was pretty lacking, mostly my bow arm doesn'always do things the way I want. I started Mazas etudes and without even playing it my Accolay got extremely better. So now I am back to Kayser, Mazas and some Kreutzer.

I would say that your way to progress can work if you just play violin as a hobby, so you can pick your own pace and enjoy!

May 16, 2012 at 11:27 AM · If you find wohlfahrt boring I had a lot of fun with the book Selected Studies (de Haske) where classic etudes have also a piano accompainment and they give you the play along CD. It helped me focus and appreciate the etudes.

Ps: I perfectly agree with John. Problem is that we don't know if Daniel wants to start a violin career and go to colleges auditions or stuff like that. As an amateur I am glad to enjoy my violin journey at my own pace and have fun.

May 16, 2012 at 12:16 PM · Playing lots of lit. is fun and helpful towards reading skills. It's not quite practicing unless there is more to it. My students have just come off an intense test period, so I'm assigning short pieces which are less challenging than their recent solos, but with purpose- something for concentration on vibrato, on expressive playing, in a style they haven't tried, for intonation in a difficult key, etc.

May 16, 2012 at 01:48 PM · There is surely nothing wrong with spending part of one's practice time playing purely for fun, and as others have already pointed out, "songs," like etudes, pose challenges that make them useful for learning technique.

My worry, though, is that the original poster is making the same mistake I did for many years and basically just following the line of least resistance. If you play only pieces you find easy and accessible, or if you play only the easy parts of pieces, you simply entrench the habits of a mediocre violinist. It may not be such a big issue when is still a beginner, but over time, your progress really slows down and you are limited in what you can play well.

Daniel, if you want to keep with your current etude-free diet, and assuming you'd like to become a better violinist, at least be critical of your playing as you play songs. Try to figure out how to play the hard parts well, rather than just enjoying playing the easy parts; don't let yourself get away with sloppy playing, because when you do that, all you're doing is practicing your way into bad habits -- getting to be "really good at being a bad violinist." How you practice is arguably more important than what you practice.

Thanks for posting your interesting question, and good luck!

May 16, 2012 at 05:08 PM · "Well, I would skim through the song picking out parts I could actually play and put the other parts that I couldn't play aside."

This method of learning anything--avoidance of difficulty-- will get you exactly nowhere.

May 16, 2012 at 05:58 PM · Good post Matt - and I guess we have all been there at some point. Its particularly toxic for returners where you are astonished you can play anything at all and aren't even thinking of how to go about becoming good ('improving' is the mindset with the tacit hope that 'improving' will make you good eventually).

I think that may be the most useful aspect of having a teacher - someone who makes you tackle deficiencies that you avoid if left to your own supervision.

And thats the thing about etudes. There is nowhere to hide; if you can easily play the first line or two you can probably quite easily play the whole thing. But if you can't its equally likely that you can't play any of it - so you can't skim you have to deal with the subject at hand.

The (embarassed) voice of experience :-\

May 16, 2012 at 10:22 PM · Greetings,

I think one should explore the meaning of 'boring' and it's relation to learning a skill. Generally speaking, boredom is the result of something being too easy.

Since these studies are not too easy it is basically a signal of lack of mental engagement which also means your practicing is neither focused nor productive.

You could perhaps talk with your teacher about using different bowings and rhythm patterns to make you practice studies with mental involvement.

Incidentally, once one begins harmonic and musical analysis of these early exudes one finds a great deal of beauty.

The trick is to simply cross out Woolfart and write Bach at the top. The wool fart studies are both musical and full of great beauty. Seeking that out is fundamentally important.



May 17, 2012 at 05:30 AM · Daniel - The secret behind etudes is that you learn one or few elements at a time, which in other words mean that you don't have to worry as much about details like musical expression and various different technical difficulties as a musical piece. Thus, the brain isn't heavily taxed and there're more rooms to pay attention to your other weaknesses - posture? bowing arm? relaxation? Pretty much echoing what Kristian mentioned above (4th post).

If you watch masterclasses by great players like Zukerman and Menuhin, they always talk about the very basic things like posture and relaxation, and even basic tone production. You probably can't pay enough attentions to these if you choose to play only musical pieces.

May 17, 2012 at 11:12 AM · wolf fart? eheh

buri makes much sense as always. one nice thing about etudes is that, after you are well acquainted with the notes and your technique has improved to allow you to tackle the etude on more than a technical level, you start to sense the dynamics implied within the etude and it turns into much more.

i've been playing this for well over ,possibly, two months now, 30-45 minutes near daily work starting slow and detache' to a tempo and as written : and i can tell you that it has not only given me an opportunity to improve my playing on many fronts: detache's and legatos, relaxed flexibility of wrist and fingers, string crossing, stability of bow on the has been much more helpful to me than the musical piece that i'm working on now . and, in parallel, i can sense where to go more piano, where to give more forte,...etc. there are a few tricky places intonation wise, harmonically, esecially around the middle part with the jump into higher positions.

also i wish to disagree with matt (pelikan), even if i'm no expert. a person who is at a disadvantage technically relative to the piece being performed//played rarely has the full capacity to be instructively critical. a person needs solid technique, within the scope of the piece being performed, in order to allow him or her to be objectively motinoring their own playing in cross reference to how the piece should be played and how it should sound like. how can you better yourself without knowing how to better yourself? this is why you need an etude that, as casey said, focuses on tackling a coordination of patticular maneuvers. the etude is a musical self-guide, going through it gives you both the music to play and a set of instructions implicit within the to be prescribed and monitored by a teacher of course.

i hope i dont sound smug having said all that, its just that this is what i observe on my own journey.

May 17, 2012 at 03:49 PM · If my non-existent knowledge of French is correct, "etude" translates as "study." In that word lies your answer. Etudes are designed to help you learn something, which comes with practice and study. Skimming through ANYTHING, be it an etude or the more playable parts of a concerto, won't help you learn much.

May 17, 2012 at 08:07 PM · "Well, I would skim through the song picking out parts I could actually play and put the other parts that I couldn't play aside."

This is goofing around and will not only get you nowhere but also a good way to build bad habits that will cost your fortune to correct down the road. Violin playing is hard and the learning is a discipline, which this is a major reason many of us find it particularly rewarding. Incidentally, I believe most violinists who have got somewhere in violin take just the opposite approach to yours: we focus on the parts that we can’t yet play well rather than avoiding them.

What I just said may sound harsh to you, but you said in your bio that you want to be a competent violinist and I believe you are serious, or you wouldn’t have posted this discussion. It sounds that you have some talent. If you can, do find a teacher who can design a program for you to follow so you will enjoy the progress even more.

May 17, 2012 at 11:42 PM · The great advantage of having a teacher (or coach) is to direct you to the studies (etudes) that will improve your technique - as well as the "fun" pieces, sonatas, concertos, etc. that you are ready to work on.

It doesn't make sense to play etudes that do not "stretch" you, and it certainly can be boring. Like doing 1st grade arithmetic as a college math major.

On the other hand, it can feel really good to sense your playing improve from perfecting the etudes you need.

With only 9 months of violin studies behind you, you have years of serious work ahead.

(From one who played around to much when he should have been working on etudes! And I didn't start my "fooling around" until I'd been playing for 10 years - still enough - for me!)


May 18, 2012 at 04:13 AM · John, I hear you. But a good teacher is almost certain a long way ahead of a student -- will you choose to pay someone just a few steps ahead of you instead? A good teacher should not be just telling the student what to do by words, he should try whatever means that works for a student to move forward. Yes, teachers don't know everything and can even be harmful in some cases, just as doctors or any other professionals can commit malpractice. But This is no reason for not seekIng their advice.

May 18, 2012 at 09:26 AM · Daniel - what I really like about your post is that you are first, thinking about this, second, interested in outside opinion and third (and most important) you are taking responsibility for your own training.

Ultimately, we have to be our own teachers because if you get serious you spend 10 hrs or more by yourself for each hour you spend with them. They can only catch the critical stuff - you have to fix the rest. Thus, you will only be as good as YOU make yourself, not anyone else.

IMO (and this is mine for what its worth - Buri and others are pros on here so listen to them first!!) an etude is not something magic. Indeed I am sure you could become a competent violinist without ever playing one. However, (and I add this quickly before the heavens open up) you would have to catch every technical weakness in every piece to do it.

What I mean is that an etude is really a focused work piece for a problem area. They exist because you will come accross that area in ordinary pieces. Lets say you come to a bar of rapid string crossings and you can't do it. You have three ways forward: first, ignore it and carry on (the temptation way - its what you do when you 'skim' pieces ;) ). Obviously, that means you can't play it the next time. Second, you can work on that until you can play it fluidly and the piece works. Thats fine but it means that the next time you come accross the same string crossings in a different context you have to learn it there too. Eventually you will become generally good at it - but you will never be confident that the same difficulty will not come up in a yet other new context.

Your third option is to try to find a published work where there are multiple examples of string crossings - hopefully almost all the variants and then work on that. Ah. Thats an etude. The beauty of etudes is that they are pro-active. You can actually learn the difficult parts of pieces - in a general way - before you play the piece. Its rather amazing that all these teaching geniuses went to all that trouble to provide for you general examples of technical bits necessary for you to create the whole. When you look at it that way, etudes are actually cheating!! [But I won't tell anyone if you don't...]

Unfortunately, as mentioned by John above, mostly etudes don't have instructions as to what technical issue they are training. Odd that - but it is part of the student-teacher mode of learning and may actually have evolved to ensure the teachers have value (much as they used to use latin terms in medicine). The good news is that you don't have to be ruled by this since if you just play the first line of each its almost always obvious. Of course a much better way is to find a great teacher with a deep nowledge of etudes.

Sorry this is getting long!

Along those lines, two days ago I sight read the first two lines of all the studies in Kreutzer, the Study Heavyweight. Thus, I now know which of these to turn to when I run into particular weaknesses.

Finally, (sighs of relief) change your attitude to etudes. As Buri suggested many are lovely pieces in their own right - much better than other work you will have to do, say playing second violin ;). However, many are not - frankly, musically they are often tedious. The way I've got round this is to think of them instead as puzzles - riddles if you like. That way you have to think out how both to identify and solve the general principle that each one is after.

And really finally, not all etudes are created equal by far. Some will simply not click for you - but beware avoiding them for that reason since there is still a nugget of wisdom to be had.

And now I really will stop....

May 18, 2012 at 10:45 AM · "Unfortunately, as mentioned by John above, mostly etudes don't have instructions as to what technical issue they are training."

i think what buri has called excercises (sevcik, fischer...), on previous occasions in contradistinction to etudes are more likely to have mention of what technical issues they are training. on the other hand, i believe etudes tackle more than one that they involve a specific coordination of a defined number of techniques as opposed to one specific technique (string crossing only, or changing positions only or trill only...etc). so, i don't think an etude needs to be subtitled as such. you just need a teacher to direct you to one and to assist you through them- even if only every now and then.

May 18, 2012 at 12:35 PM · Buri, come on now, this is a German name and must be pronounced correctly. Therefore these studies are properly called Vole Farts. They're a major source of greenhouse gas for the Suzuki mom.

There are lots of ways to dress up studies to make them more challenging, which translates to more interesting. For example I believe it was Buri who suggested playing Kreutzer No. 2 entirely in second position. The same applies to a lot of Vole Farts (and Donuts and Kaiser Rolls).

The "interest" in studies comes from focusing all of your mental and physical energy so that bowing, intonation, tone, and other basic features of violin playing can be as perfect as possible in a musical context that usually does not require that much bandwidth. If this is not a fun challenge for you, then you probably are not really a student of the violin.

May 18, 2012 at 12:59 PM · Paul wrote: "The "interest" in studies comes from focusing all of your mental and physical energy so that bowing, intonation, tone, and other basic features of violin playing can be as perfect as possible in a musical context that usually does not require that much bandwidth. If this is not a fun challenge for you, then you probably are not really a student of the violin."

Perhaps that needs qualifying a bit? I mean is a brilliant gypsy violinist 'not a student of the violin' - and they almost certainly never saw an etude or even an teaching excersize. I think that blanket statement is a cultural judgement. You can surely be a student of the violin and still march according to your own drummer. Sure, it may be virtually impossible for you to become an concert virtuoso but you can still reach other goals (e.g. fiddling, jazz)

Actually, I wonder if Kreisler played etudes? At least judging by his later attitude to violin 'study', I wonder...

May 19, 2012 at 02:45 AM · I've read all the posts in this thread, since there are so many I can't really respond to each of you individually, so I might as well tell you how I evaluated all of your advice.

I am starting my Wohlfahrt etudes again because of this thread. Mostly because I myself have noticed that I don't really listen to how I sound when it comes to messing around with songs. I just play it fast and I enjoy the tune, regardless of it's quality. And the more I thought on that, the more I understand that I do not want to stagnant a good distance below mediocrity with my violin playing.

I have started with my etudes again, as I said before. I suppose I needed a break from the constant practicing and just relax to be able to appreciate and invest energy into improving my technique. Constantly evaluation of yourself compared to what your goal is can really dwarf your improvement and be discouraging.

I do have a teacher, she is very intelligent and she really understands how to play the violin and most importantly how to improve. I haven't seen her in about 2 months because I like to make a lot of ground and solve problems myself rather than be hand-held. Once I do actually get stuck is when I see her. Also it sucks to pay money for lessons and the only thing we do is what I could've done at home, which is why I only see her if I need something that I can't do myself.

So in conclusion, I am starting my etude practice again and I am going to go see my teacher soon enough. Once I start practicing and write down some areas of improvement.

May 19, 2012 at 03:30 AM · Oh Elise, yes I confess sometimes I've got a bit of the snob in me. I suppose what I meant in a more general sense is that if one wants to really improve on the violin one needs to be willing to set aside musicality to a degree and focus on the very small details of the technical problems. My feeling is that studies are a singularly efficient way to do that, notwithstanding the occasional blitheringly talented genius who can play the hell out of some non-classical genre without ever having played a note of Kreutzer. Someone whose opinion I would value on that would be Mark O'Connor.

May 19, 2012 at 12:20 PM · thats not fair John, that question deserves a seperate thread so it attracts more attention and has more space. its an interesting one.

May 19, 2012 at 11:00 PM · Daniel, may I suggest starting and finishing your practice with "songs you like"? Just as children would willingly forgo meat and potatoes and concentrate on the crisps ("chips"?) and the ice-cream!

Personally, I only open my Kreutzer etc. when I have a good three hours ahead of me. Most of the time, I practice "basics" (Flesch, Fischer, or Forbes for the viola,) then variations on scales (usually in the keys of the music I am going to practice.)

Then I will attack the difficult passages of the repertoire with various rythms and bowings.

So, in a normal week, NO STUDIES!

Also, the French shool day is so long that my pupils find it hard to do an more than an hour of daily practice, and like me they must use their limited time efficiently and with total concetration.

To complete my essay in violinistic anarchy, I refuse to offer studies with no compositional virtue. So Kayser but NOT Wolfhart, Kreutzer but not Dont. Better to play scales and arpeggios than amateur compositions with little or no sense of form or harmonic progression. My life is too short, and my that of my pupils, too precious!

May 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM · Bravo! Adrian, I like your approach a lot!

May 20, 2012 at 12:32 PM · Some etudes are the equivalent of writing "Wohlfahrt" a hundred times:

Wohlfahrt Wohlfahrt Wohlfahrt Wohlfahrt Wohlfahrt

Wohlfahrt Wohlfahrt Wohlfahrt Wohlfahrt Wohlfahrt

and so on..

Could be useful!

May 21, 2012 at 02:00 AM · Paul,

I have to seriously question your environmental credentials.

These farts come from German sheep.

We long for the Silence of Lambs.



May 22, 2012 at 04:10 PM · Of course you have to make it enjoyable. I've noticed that if I start practicing with something fun that I like, that is not on my teacher's agenda or on my specific lesson, a little bit of something that is really hard (or why else would I like it), I will definitely only play the easy parts. For instance, bits of Bach, or bits of string quartets, or bits of whatever's floating around in my head, bits of something transposed to violin, or just whatever. Otherwise why even bother? Of course I'll only play bits of it, because the whole piece is much too difficult. Then, after a certain point, I will see the value of careful technical practice and take a deep breath and get to work. But I need a reason to start the whole thing or I would never do it. Also, why even bother with "student concertos"? You only live so long. The real stuff is better.

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