Video of me playing Bach - please comment

May 29, 2012 at 03:42 AM · Please let me know if you have any suggestions for my playing. See link below, I'm playing three movements of the E major Partita? Yes, sorry, I know it's not perfect! (See attached youtube link)

Replies (79)

May 29, 2012 at 03:57 AM · Can you remove the "br" from src? And I loved!

May 29, 2012 at 03:57 AM · Terry, Bravo!!! BTW, your link is broken, so here it is again:

May 29, 2012 at 04:50 AM · Thanks Joyce!

May 29, 2012 at 08:18 AM · Terry, well done.

But I will make some fairly critical comments.

You must try and hide the position changes rather than drawing attention to them. And maybe avoid higher positions where possible. (Fingering). Look at your left hand tensions, as this leads to intonation problems.

Your bowing and sound are a bit relentless, which makes listening hard work. Work on colour and changes in colour and articulation during a bow stroke. The bow does not have to just travel from one end to the other. (Listen to Milstein's Bach - especially the early 1950's recordings. No one does this better, in my opinion).

All this is very hard to do, and I'm sorry to be so critical, but you did ask! You are well on the way to playing these extremely difficult works well. They are so hard musically. We all struggle with them.

May 29, 2012 at 09:50 AM · Well done! I'm working on this too and you play it SOO much better I'm not even going to try to critique :)

One question - how long have you been working on these?

May 29, 2012 at 10:13 AM · Good job Terry! Thanks for posting, and Peter, thanks for the critique from which I learned something too.

May 29, 2012 at 11:58 AM · I think he was just trying to do portamente.

May 29, 2012 at 12:49 PM · He needed a glass or two more of the port then ...

May 29, 2012 at 02:03 PM · Peter,

Thanks for your comments - they are just the sort of thing I was hoping to hear! I was trying to create a lot of sense of space and breathing in between the phrases. I heard Gilles Apap play here in Portland and really admired the way he played everything in such an interesting way, with lots of space.

I have the Milstein recording on an lp and will try to take it out and think about what you're saying.

I hadn't been thinking at all about my shifting in the piece, so I'll have to consider that thought. It seems like just a little attention to that should clean that up - it wasn't really on my radar.

The sound - and trying to create variety - now that may be a bit more of a challenge. Any thoughts about how to practice creating variety of sound within the same bow stroke?

To answer Elise's question, I played the 1st movement when I was 18. I dabbled with the gavotte en rondeau in my 30's but never really worked on it. When I was 40 I played the entire partita in a concert. I'd been working on this latest version for about a month. I'm currently, ahem, 47.

I was definitely not trying to play portamento, Raymond, but can see how you might think that was intended. I wasn't thinking about shifting much, and thought that it wouldn't show - which it obviously did!


May 29, 2012 at 02:19 PM · "The sound - and trying to create variety - now that may be a bit more of a challenge. Any thoughts about how to practice creating variety of sound within the same bow stroke?"


We all know the answer but we often don't do it. I'm addressing the same faults in my playing - helped by some nifty comments from my wife, who is a pianist. (We are just running through the first mvt of the Mozart K454 B flat sonata and will record it I hope so I can try and my new pre-amp).

It's all to do with the usual culprits, i.e. bow speed/pressure - position on string - and fractional lift for phrasing off. All the musical shape and phrasing comes from the bow.

I've been playing the Bach D minor Partita and would you believe it I havn't been listening critically enough so in the first two mvts I'm banging the low notes in some groups which does not do a lot for musical phrasing. It took the shock of hearing the musicality of Milstein's Bach to realise what an unmusical chump I am. It's not that I'm copying him, but its the overall musical intent that comes through and is helping to get me there too.

My problem, which is really also everybodys problem, is that we think we hear it, when in fact we are not hearing the reality, and are unfortunately kidding ourselves.

But try phrasing every possible way, and don't allow one note to always sound the same as the preceeding note, or the one following. A series of notes, no matter how well in tune, just become tiring, and each note should have some sort of reaction to the note before, and even to the one that may follow.


I'm going to try and put this into practice myself right now, so wish me luck.

May 29, 2012 at 02:41 PM · Phew. I've been working on it for about 3 months - I can't play any of the movements without stopping yet but perhaps there is still hope!

May 29, 2012 at 02:46 PM · Don't worry about stopping, it's starting that's the problem ...


Here's an idea and a thought. We generally play scales at speed - or varying speeds.

Instead, play them rather slowly, letting the bow dwell on each note, and making not only each note different, but also during the note have changes of colour etc. This can do wonders for the bow technique and control.

May 29, 2012 at 02:52 PM · Elise, you are probably going about it the wrong way. Think music first and let the rest fall into place. And when you stop make a mental note of why. was it a wrong note? Or was it just mental fatigue? Or misreading.

I was playing wrong notes persistently in one bar, because they sounded OK and I though as good as Bach. I had to have a serious talk with myself and I put a bloody great cross over the bar, and I don't think I've had a problem since. The other way of course if you have a suitable whip handy is self flagelation. That's the Russian school!

May 29, 2012 at 03:34 PM · "My problem, which is really also everybodys problem, is that we think we hear it, when in fact we are not hearing the reality, and are unfortunately kidding ourselves."

Unfortunately truer words have very, very rarely been spoken.

May 29, 2012 at 03:55 PM · Thanks for your thoughts Evan. Yes, I knew that all the movements of the partitas were dance movements. I don't know if anyone plays the loure as slow as I do, but I just like the way it sounds slow. It seems to me that as much as all the partitas are intended to be dance movements, no one is really going to dance to a violin partita, it is ultimately stylized to some degree. I see the argument about maintaining the steady tempo - it certainly could be more steady.

Peter, perhaps my focus should simply be on providing direction for all my phrases. With direction, one provides a natural change of color. So possibly what I need to practice is scales with a change in color/dynamic/texture on the way up and down. (I'm just extrapolating on your thoughts, I like your ideas too)

May 29, 2012 at 05:13 PM · Hi Terry,

I enjoyed your Bach very much. You are basically in command of this music from a technical standpoint (although we can always find things to work on) and you are very musical. Bravo!

What I would encourage you to do is to find ways to develop your violinistic and musical artistry. First of all by doing a lot of listening, not just to this Partita but to other works of Bach and other baroque composers. We have two incredible resources — YouTube and I-Tunes. Earlier this year, in conjunction with a project that I’m working on, I spent many hours and many days listening to about 50 different violinists play the Sonatas and Partitas on I-Tunes. You can listen to a free sample of a minute or more, which gives you a very good idea of each violinists approach to the work.

I would also encourage you to do some study about Baroque performance practice. The HIP (historically informed performance) movement has been around for over fifty years, and we know a lot more than we used to. At this point, most musicians, even if they are not about to play on original instruments, to be informed about what is a large body of knowledge that enriches our understanding and our performance of Baroque repertoire.

Let me recommend two eye-opening books to you. The first is “Bach’s Solo Violin Works – A Performer’s Guide” by Jaap Schroeder. The second is no a classic: “Baroque Music, Style and Performance” by Robert Donington. You will learn about such things as tempo, phrasing, rhythmic accentuation, sound, bow strokes, dance styles, Bach’s slur patterns, etc. etc. Above all, you will learn the tremendous freedom and creativity that you were not only allowed, but expected to use in the performance of this music. Quoting from Donington:

“One of the most striking features which gives its characteristic

quality to baroque music is the freedom it grants to the performer in

improvising the greater part of the expression as he goes along, and

even quite a substantial part of the notes. Nothing is regarded as

entirely-fixed. Everything is just that much open to the mood of the

moment. It is possible to be inconsistent, wayward, imaginative and

unpredictable, and if you are sufficiently in touch with the style of

your piece, no harm need come of it, but rather all the enjoyment of

a spontaneous liberty within bounds.”

I would also advise you to listen to some period performances of the Partita, (you’ll find them on I-Tunes) by such artists as Jaap Schroeder, Lucy van Dael, Monica Huggett, Rachel Podgeras well as some mainstream violinists who have partially adopted a HIP style such as Viktoria Mullova, Janine Jansen, Julia Fischer.

About the Loure: you are of course at liberty to choose whatever tempo and style you like, but I wonder if you have tried to find out exactly what is a Loure? Jaap Schroeder says:

“The Loure of the E Major Partita is a special case. This dance must not be performed as a slow cantilène but as the fiery Spanish dance it originally was, with high jumps and double-dotted rhythms. It requires economical concentrated movement in which the vertical component (the lifting of the bow) may far exceed the horizontal one (the distance travelled by the bow.)”

Bach’s dance suites were not used for dancing, but the dances were derived from real dances, many of which were still being danced in Bach’s lifetime, although the music would have been written for the purpose — it would have been much more predictable and regular. Bach’s dances were already an abstraction but should still have the character of the original dance — much like La Valse by Ravel which nobody would use for dancing, but the waltz feeling is still there.

BTW you are playing some wrong notes in the Minuet for instance the first chord in bar 13.

Best wishes for artistic growth and excitement.

May 29, 2012 at 06:35 PM · Terry, I think you play very well; I envy your skill and musicality.

I don't know about you, but I'm getting one hell of a lesson here. Peter broke the ice by being his usual candid self, and wow am I ever glad. This is like a free master class.

At my last lesson I played the D-minor sarabande. It's a little hard for me but I love it so much. Besides some technical advice (learning how to practice sequences of double stops, for instance), my teacher gave me some broader comments: Avoid artificial emphasis, but rather create long phrases that bring out the bigger musical ideas; make the pianos softer, and try to push through the passage you're practicing without stopping, hesitating, or adjusting. Sound familiar?

May 29, 2012 at 07:06 PM · Its hard to really help over the internet, but because you gave us the video I suppose you can also take the constructive criticism. So I try to be direct.

I like how you play! Good use of bow, tip and frog and good articulation.

What we all struggle with is intonation. Especially in bach solo. I would recommend you practicing very slow without vibrato all the double stops until they are clean and pure, it will help you soundwise too to practice without vibrato. Most of your double stops are in the green zone though. I remember at around 7:30 missing an harmonic leading note in the upbeat somewhere? Was this an accident?

I like those pieces very much and I think you understand them very well musically. I only think that the second one (bouré?) should be a little more straight in tempo. The loure is a very hard piece intonation wise, but you managed quite well. Still you can do better I am sure. But for a live recording all in all good.

About your posture I think you should lean a little more back from the hip. That could feel very unusual to you because it looks like you are used to play very much leaned forward. Look at good violinist, they all stand mostly on their heels. Be careful not to lean back only the upper back. I also miss something in your tone production, wich I cannot identify due to camera angle and mediocre sound quality of the recorder. Make sure you bow straight und relax your arm, take your time with chords but never be afraid of them.

Hope that helps and wasnt written before. I didnt read the responds, because I have to practice now myself ;)

May 29, 2012 at 07:25 PM · Bravo! I take my hat off to you. Nice view, too.

Now, as this is free shooting for all, even non-teachers such as I, I'll try and say something helpful. Buyer beware.

Your playing, and your movements, struck me as somehow static. If you agree, that may mean searching for tension where you don't want it, and allowing yourself to be moved by the music.

Here's hoping for an even better recording soon.


May 29, 2012 at 07:28 PM · Playing the fiddle is 99% a mental thing. Once the body gets too involved you are on a loser. With me the bits that don't go well are always when I become conscious of my fingers, my arms, my bowing etc. In the end you have to know the music so well that you can stand back and it plays itself. A bit like being on cocain ...

Critical listening is the key.

May 29, 2012 at 07:30 PM · Good point Bart. Yes, a bit static. Music is movement - up to a point. And this is dance music.

May 29, 2012 at 07:54 PM · Guys who can play well always say it's a mental thing. This is what Federer says about tennis. But it's not so easy for those of us still finding the targets on the fingerboard and keeping our bows steady. Perhaps it's better to say one isn't a really a finished violinist until playing is 99% a mental thing?

May 29, 2012 at 08:18 PM · in tai chi there are some stages of mastery wich relate good to violin. One stage is the stage of force, where you really need your muscles. Later you focus more on the spiritual aspect of letting it go. But there is no shortcut in my opinion. But still there are many people getting stuck in the force stage due to a lack of mental process. That is not relating to the OP and his playing. While having some technical flaws his musicmaking is very deep. To play Bach like this is really not easy. Good job

May 29, 2012 at 08:37 PM · Too many things to answer here but I'll try. I appreciate everyone's constructive criticism and kind words!

Roy, thanks for the suggestions and the book recommendations. I will definitely check them out. I really need to rethink the loure - I still like it kinda slow, and I think given the stylized nature of the partitas in general, it could be argued to be a slow tempo. But I wasn't aware that it's origin is Spanish and it's intended to be a fiery dance. That certainly doesn't suggest slow...

Yes Simon, I missed the leading tone. I said it wan't perfect!! ;) Nice idea about playing the double stops sans vibrato, I'll try that. It's funny, it's something we do a lot with my string quartet to tune chords, but I never thought to do it with my own double stops. It's always great for dialing in one's intonation. I'll also try standing more into my heels.

Agreed Paul that I'm learning a lot here, it's totally like a masterclass for me.

May 29, 2012 at 09:14 PM · good boy! :D

May 29, 2012 at 10:22 PM · But I can't take responsibility for the view, it's the cellist's place. :)

May 31, 2012 at 10:36 AM · I won't get into the techniques because others have already pointed them out. Here are my opinions:

Have you considered the phrasing? Violin requires much more flow than say, piano because the music is more analogue than digital (piano is on/off, violin is not). Each phrase has a peak, a start, an end, breathing points. The reason why a lot of violinists' music is bleeding black and blue is because they write these things in meticulously.

This is really hard to figure out. What I've been told to do is sing it. Add a little dance, especially for Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, because they're dance music. Granted, Partita II's a little hard to dance to, but this Partita shouldn't be as difficult since the tempo's bouncy and the rhythm defined. How would you dance these pieces? Hop and jump? Twirl? A bow here and there? The listener should be able to almost see the dance steps as they listen. Bow articulation is of essence, and bow partition as well. Move your body as you play; you'd know when to breathe, when to add a moment this way much more easily.

Don't try to nail every note in the performance (although this is a must, it's not the end all be all). Oistrakh didn't nail every note but his performance is still stellar, while many other violinists can nail every note and still come out very blah. It's the phrasing that defines the person's performance. If you need to, look at other editions. Bach did not write in any bowing, so we are given some freedom with bowings. If you want a hop in a particular part and your music says to slur it, it's okay to break it apart.

May 31, 2012 at 12:14 PM · Thanks everyone for their comments, and please do keep them coming. I am going to look into doing another rendition of this and repost. In order of comments made, I will attempt to do the following:

Shift cleaner

Relax left hand (perhaps related to shifting weight back while standing)

Listen to Milstein's recording.


Practice slow scales with changes in color with each note.

Make the rhythm more consistent.

Read about historically informed performance (HIP)

Practice especially double stops nonvibrato.

When standing, shift weight a little more to the back.


Rethink phrasing and bow distribution.

This might take awhile, but stay tuned. I can't really do much about recording quality though, in fact my camera is likely to have poorer recording quality than my cellist friend's.

May 31, 2012 at 03:04 PM · Hi Terry,

Would like to share my experiences about making more tonal colors variety out of those already nicely done musical phrases you did there.

I've told this before in some other threads, and going to tell it again. I find that, learning color control isn't something the player gonna realize what they can do if they learn on stubborn instrument.

Ever since I played on my current primary violin which I already owned it for 6 years, it taught me so much on varying the colors together with dynamics. It's hard to describe the feeling, somehow the violin will guide me on how to make the sound I want. When I want a sound, and I played in the wrong place, the violin is giving the indication of wrong sound not just from the sound it produced, also from the feeling through my right hand. It's like a tactile feedback thus my hand can feel which is the "right" place, right away.

Ever since then, I find that I can do more colors on lesser or student grade instruments too, and I can tell those instruments that can give more, and those that are stubborn. Likewise for bows too.

Hope this helps!

PS: Not to say I'm expert enough to give any "lessons" above, I'm just sharing my experiences. Terry, if you're interested, I can try to take a video of how I'm doing those and I'm interested to see if you can hear it too. Drop me an email if you're interested!

May 31, 2012 at 03:13 PM · Momoko Takahashi

It is not true that Bach did not write bowings. Have you looked at any facsimile copies of even just a page of Bach's originals?

I often find that Bach's bowings are the best, and all that recent editors have done is to comlpicate the issue.

I agree about phrasing though, up to a point.

May 31, 2012 at 03:20 PM · Terry

It looks as though you are on the ball and if you carry these ideas out you will soon get some big payback. Good luck, and thanks for being able to take the flack!

May 31, 2012 at 03:46 PM · Good job Terry!

I have nothing new or of value to add...I just appreciate those brave enough to open themselves up to public (world-wide!) scrutiny! :D

May 31, 2012 at 04:24 PM · Wow! You did great. And you were playing in front of an audience to boot. Yikes!

May 31, 2012 at 06:55 PM · I have; apart from spending a good hour trying to decipher his cramped writing, I found that most of his bowings are rather rudimentary. IE: the arpeggios of Chaconne are just chords. Some of the slurs are written in, but otherwise we have no guidance.

And I have three editions of Bach. Not one of them agree with each other in Partita II. I'm starting to think the editors took his bowings as suggestions.

May 31, 2012 at 11:17 PM · Sounds good! I will go into this with the disclaimer that I'm a baroque violinist, so perhaps the aesthetic I have in mind is quite different from yours...

About bowings: I find that Bach's bowings are far from rudimentary. His manuscript, found on IMSLP or in the Galamian edition, is a great source. I also like to use the urtext created by Werner Icking, which is laid out exactly the same as the manuscript, but typed. You can find it on this page: As for whether to play his bowings, I think it's certainly worth trying. As a rule (acknowledging that exceptions can exist), I don't break any of his slurs. But I often use either two up-bows in a row, or I hook two downbows together, as you do in measures 6 and 7. In these cases where I add bowings, however, I wouldn't change the articulation. So, there is no slur between the dotted 8th note and the 16th note in bar 6, so I would still articulate the 16th note even though I take it with the same bow direction.

As has been mentioned above, learn to dance it. Maybe the loure isn't the best thing for someone new to baroque dance (I'm quite sure it involves jumps at the end of each measure), but it's a good place to start. If you want to read more about the loure, Julie Andrijeski wrote her thesis on different kinds of loures, found here:

Finally, remember that this music, based on the French style, comes from a time when the bow was used much more for expression than the left hand, although many sources do not support the idea of totally non-vibrato playing. Rather, vibrato was often written about as an ornament (like a trill). But experiment with the bow, finding the shape of the note, finding a good way to maintain the hierarchy of the beats, and putting your own personality into it.

You are embarking on a fantastically exciting journey. Good luck!

June 1, 2012 at 06:38 AM · I find myself agreeing a lot here, even though I'm a modern player. Bach's bowings were definitely the best, and it's also as you say to do with articulation.

It takes a few years of study to really understand these works. Students and recently ex-students should listen and learn!!

June 1, 2012 at 10:27 AM · AJ, good point about the dotted eighth/sixteenth section in measures 6 and 7 of the loure. I'll give it a try and see what I think. I also find that fairly minimal use of vibrato seems to work well for the loure, with vibrato sort of used as an ornament. Nice to hear that there's some basis for that approach.

Thanks for the link! I was trying to find out more about the loure from searching the web, but didn't find this. There's more about an ancient baroque dance here than I ever could want to know. What I took away from it from the perspective of playing the Bach loure is as follows.

It's interesting to find out that the origin of the loure is a slow French dance, but that it also migrated over to Germany and Spain. From a tempo and character viewpoint, the author mentions old texts that describe loures, and a number of loures that also included descriptions of what tempo and character to give to the composition. It seems the majority of loures are slow, although a quotation mentioning a lively Spanish dance is also included.

To me, this would lend some credence toward making the tempo of the Bach Loure on the slow side.

Character-wise, loures typically begin with an eighth and quarter note pickup, like the Bach. They also tend to emphasize the first beat in every group of three. The original loures were played in 6/4, and later switched to 3/4.

Perhaps this would help provide the "lilt" as mentioned in Laurie's interview of Katie Lansdale on the Bach Sonatas and Partitas.

June 1, 2012 at 11:36 PM · I'm glad that you liked the info. I'm really passionate about baroque music, and in a special way these works by Bach, so it's something near and dear to my heart.

About the tempo. I think that, while I can agree that it shouldn't be as fast as a gigue, that our current concept of "slow" is much slower than what perhaps they had in mind. The absolute best way to get a good foundation for tempo in partitas (imho) is to learn to dance it yourself. I found that even for something as simple as a minuet, if it was too slow, then it was really hard to keep balance since a lot of baroque dance rarely has equal weight on both feet (as far as I learned).

Also, I know that in the harpsichord playing tradition, they often take loures (such as his French suites) much faster than most violinists I know. That's not to say that one group is right or wrong, but it is worth considering that the tradition of playing this movement very slow is (again imho) anachronistic.

Also, as for emphasis, I agree that each group of three has a certain hierarchy, but don't forget the "roots" it has in 6/4. For me, that meant grouping the 3/4 measures in two (much like a minuet), and having one "first beat" be more important than another.

June 2, 2012 at 01:22 AM · Terry,

First.... that room looks quite familiar to me. It is by chance a certain cellist's place near downtown?

I loved your playing!!!! I only have two bits of advice that are related. First, your intonation is excellent, but a small tweak will have it dead on esp. on the chords. A fraction of a millimeter at most will do the trick. And speaking of chords, my opinion only - hold the lower line a tad more and get it to ring & sustain while the upper part is played (when it is not a reverse chord of course). At least that is what I was taught when studying his cello suites....

June 2, 2012 at 01:56 AM · Hi Mendy, Yes, a certain cellist near Lloyd Center, at the top of a certain tower, who used to have long hair in a ponytail but does no longer. :)

True enough about intonation and I was trying to hold out the bass line longer, but can only do so much in a month. The next rendition will take awhile but will hopefully be more thought out. Can't absolutely guarantee that my intonation will improve, but will try to oblige. :)

So AJ, How does one learn how to dance a loure, or any other baroque dance for that matter? Any more doctoral dissertations you can send this way. :) I thought that maybe the origins of the 6/4 beat would carry through to the 3/4, but wasn't ready to make that leap yet. Glad to hear confirmation from you that you think it's warranted.

It seems like harpsichords, with all the dead space in between pluckings, would naturally want things to speed up, and that violins, with that nice bow to elongate things with, would naturally want things to be slower.



June 2, 2012 at 03:23 AM · Ha! I thought I recognized it. Tell former long haired cello man I said Hi!!! ;)

June 2, 2012 at 02:29 PM · Terry, I'm not sure that many harpsichordists would agree about the dead sound between the pluckings!

In any case, I do not think keyboard instrumentalists play faster for technical reasons, but simply because (if they do play it faster) they think it is better musically.

And yes, as has been said just now, think about the first beat in the bar, tail off, and give it some lilt. You might just play it faster then because of the shape. Music should have shape - and a lot of quite well known players fail miserably to give these works by Bach some shape.

June 2, 2012 at 06:21 PM · I haven't read all the posts yet, but can I react to one point: the dance movements are not meant to make people want to dance!! They are sublimated dance styles, retaining the momentum, but on a "higher" level of conciousness.

Keep it up, Terry, you're doing fine!

June 3, 2012 at 12:59 AM · I agree with Adrian about the "dance movements." I believe Bach had in mind a certain tempo, meter, and general feel for his Partita movements and perhaps gleaned some zero-point inspiration from these traditional dances, but other than that, they're just Partita movements, not distinguishable from Sonata movements. I just listened to the whole set by Milstein (fabulous) and his tempos didn't seem any more rigid for the Partitas than they are for the sonatas.

June 3, 2012 at 01:50 AM · Peter,

I'll concede the point about the harpsichord and plucking. :) In general I'd say that pianists and harpsichord players are better musicians than violinists. They are much more familiar with how the score and chords go together - us fiddlers are always playing melodies. And we don't always take the trouble to understand the musical context, there's often enough other challenges on the instrument!


June 3, 2012 at 02:49 AM · Terry - I agree with your post right above this. I started out as pianist, so it's very natural to absorb the sound of "harmony" as I learn a new piece and practice. So that also influence how I play the violin as well, I tend to have the accompaniments and harmonies flow in my head when I play. It definitely helps a lot.

PS: I'll record something for you tomorrow. Hope we can learn something from each other. ;-)

June 3, 2012 at 02:49 AM · us fiddlers are always playing melodies. And we don't always take the trouble to understand the musical context

Speak for your self...!

And in regard to performing music, as someone said...'it is 99% mental process' .

If it does'nt sound pleasing after acquiring the technique, then, I believe, as it applies to my experience, mental activity is lacking. Singing in the mind is not taking place, there is not any anticipation of the music to be played. Breathing improves mental activity through the supply of oxygen to the brain.

June 3, 2012 at 11:40 AM · Henry,

Perhaps I should take it one step farther and say that pianists have no choice but to understand the harmonic construct of a piece, since they're usually playing it at the same time.

Even the most diligent violinist won't be hearing the harmonic construction of a piece all the time while they're practicing at home. And a violinist can usually get away with not knowing - it's not like they'd be playing a part that's missing notes if they ignored the harmonic construct while playing the melody.


June 3, 2012 at 11:46 AM · Henry is talking a lot of sense there!!

Terry, there is more than meets eye in music, it's not as simple as just playing the fiddle.

June 3, 2012 at 11:49 AM · The thing is that harmonies are implied in all of Bach's solo string music. Without harmony there is no music.

June 3, 2012 at 12:07 PM · Agreed Peter. I think that's more or less what I meant.

We're sort of getting off the main topic, which is all about me after all! (*insert very large blushing smiley face*). Do you think that pianists are better musicians as a general rule than violinists?

June 3, 2012 at 02:55 PM · Sometimes, maybe. Often maybe. My wife is a pianist and she is a much much better musician than me. But I'm better at computers and electronics than she is ... But her musical ideas are endless, and priceless. (And I met her backstage in one of our famous concert halls, right by the artists bar, in which direction I steered her ...)

June 4, 2012 at 12:31 AM · Do you think that pianists are better musicians as a general rule than violinists?

No...! I don't think this is true..!

Why? Just because they can play 5 notes in each hand at the same time does'nt mean they understand the harmonic arrangement of those notes.....unless! of course! they have studied the theory of music, like some of us fiddlers have!

Some of us fiddlers can look at a piece of music like Bach's solo instumentals and tell you what the chord in every bar is, and the function of that chord relating to the chord progression, and also give you the bass line or ground bass.

June 4, 2012 at 02:55 AM · Seems to me if you took the 20 most famous violinists and the 20 most famous pianists, the 20 pianists would have the better theory and musical understanding. But seems also that I'm probably not going to change your mind Henry.

That said, since I didn't get a music degree, or take any theory except for what I learned from my piano teacher, I'm not one of those who has a fantastic theory background. I have to make do with what I know for the moment. I'd love to understand music theory more deeply than I do but don't know if I'll be able to carve out the time to do so. I suspect you have a better theory background than I do.


June 4, 2012 at 03:47 AM · Music theory is just easier to learn if you're a pianist because it's all right there, laid out in front of you in a very visual way. I play the piano too and I learned a lot of theory growing up, always at the piano, never with the violin. It's a typical rite of passage that as a piano student, when you start to study Bach Fugues, you are assigned to analyze them in excruciating detail. Do violinists do this when they learn one of the fugues from the S&P? Maybe a few do but I bet it is not typical. The fugues in the S&P don't compare to the Well-Tempered Clavier anyway, they just aren't as intricately constructed. The same when you learn your first serious sonata on the piano -- you learn the Sonata Allegro form, etc. My observation and experience is that young violin students just don't do this.

But it's still true that if you sit down with a movement from the S&P -- say the Gavotte en Rondeau from the E Major, you should be able to deduce the harmonic structure. (But I should confess that when I do that, I am usually sitting at the piano because I can fill out the chords and test my analysis!) The same is true of a great jazz horn player like Charlie Parker or Wynton Marsalis (but especially Bird). If you transcribe their solos, you can reverse engineer the harmonic structure of the tune, and those guys can't even play double stops so it's a single line.

June 5, 2012 at 10:40 PM · Listen to the following two versions of the Loure. My favorite is the faster (2nd)version.

Hillary Hahn

Arthur Grumeaux

June 6, 2012 at 03:53 AM ·

I prefer Milstein's loure, above. A bit slower than Grumiaux's and very nuanced.

I won't attempt to say that I can play like either one, or Hilary Hahn either. But my goal is to sound like Milstein. My next rendition will definitely be a touch faster.

June 6, 2012 at 07:59 AM · Sorry, I just got back into town after not having internet for a few days. I have learned some of the baroque dances from dance classes that were a part of a summer course (so, in-person), but I'm sure you can find something also online.

This video doesn't teach you to dance it, but you can see it in action. (Anything by Thomas Baird is fantastic, by the way).

I agree with the above poster that this doesn't mean that it should be played at a perfect dancing speed. However, knowing the dance can certainly give you a better compass for what a composer might have been familiar with, instead of arbitrarily treating it the same as any other melodic work. Even if you were to play the loure slightly slower than the video above, you'd find it a very different experience as a performer than a much slower version.

June 6, 2012 at 09:45 AM · Hi Terry I've sent you the video, and hope to hear some comments from you too!

June 6, 2012 at 11:49 AM · since I didn't get a music degree


Actually, we are talking about the requirments of 'basic' music theory. The study of scales and modes, and the function of each degree there of. Triads and thier extentions, and progressions of such. And a knowledge of cadences and thier purpose. All to be found in any book of 'basic' theory.

But most importantly....listening to music, and antisipating the melodic movement and hearing the cadences, having complete focus on every note for as long as you can maintain, and then bringing your self back into focus continually.

And, I believe this practise will seep into your own playing. That's what I told my son when he was a youngster, and now he studies jazz guitar at univarsity, and he is also self taught.

June 6, 2012 at 02:25 PM · So Henry, it seems like we've been primarily speaking in generalities. And since, after all, this thread is all about me... :) I thought I'd ask you for a few particulars if you don't mind.

Are there specific parts in the Bach that you thought were lacking in structural understanding? I'm not asking you to analyze the whole performance, but if you thought there were a few spots that really stood out that might be helpful.


June 18, 2012 at 12:46 AM · Okay you guys. Here's another version, I'm not totally happy with it, but I did try to do everything that was mentioned. I probably could have worked some more on the intonation, and I had a breathing scheme worked out that helped the phrasing a bunch, but didn't quite pull it off in the recording. Still, I think it's better. It seems that the breathing "thing" addressed the dancing/singing comment.

Roy, I got the books you suggested and they were great! Thanks for mentioning those!!

OK now, it's your turn. Tear it apart! Comments please. :)

June 18, 2012 at 08:37 AM · I only listened to the loure and its a lot better! One thing for intonation in performing: I feel that correcting notes is sometimes more disturbing than a slightly out of tune note. You can hear some great performers play out of tune sometimes, but they manage to play it so convincingly that noone notices and other musicians think its an interpretative thing ;)

Sorry, that I keep picking on that, but you still lean somehow forward. You look to me out of balance if you do that. Its neither good for the bow nor for the left hand technique. Maybe you should just take the note stand higher.

Try to keep an eye to that and try to see in wich places you lean forward. I think if you want to do more expression you lean forward but that is contraproductive. Try the other way around and you will feel the concact of the bow and the greater freedom in the left hand.

Over all its a lot better already. I will listen to the other movements later.

always when bowing on the tip you lean forward. Try instead to bow more forward and keep the violin quite still.

June 18, 2012 at 10:50 AM · Thanks for your comments Simon!

Good point about the intonation. Unfortunately, if you listen to the other two movements, you're not going to find that my intonation improves much. (We had a couple German guests last week and I wasn't able to practice much - how's that for an excuse!!)

I thought you might comment on the leaning forward, I agree with it and didn't do it that well in the recording. I did remember to do it more in the gavotte en rondeau, but wasn't consistent for all 3 movements. When I played it from memory the problems from leaning forward went away, it's just not memorized quite yet and I didn't want to make a memory mistake in the recording.

June 18, 2012 at 12:29 PM · so pretty easy solution: make the note stand higher! ;)

June 18, 2012 at 12:40 PM · HI Terry,

Very glad you got the books and found them useful.

Lots of growth and progress. Bravo!

In the Loure, I'd like to suggest a practice strategy that has helped me and my students to develop expression and style. Play the entire movement without the chords. Just play the melody to develop your style without having to deal with the difficulty of the chords and double stops. If you do this even once it will open the door, but if you do it every day for a week it will really make a difference. Especially if you do it with conviction.

I'm on my way out of town. More later.

June 18, 2012 at 12:52 PM · Roy's suggestion a good one.

Now, I'm going to be a rotten bastard, as usual here ...

Terry - the Loure is a lot better. BUT - there are some notes that you don't use vibrato on - often when it's a fourth finger! Why? You use vib on other notes so these usually higher notes stick out. You need to sing on them. (Some people will disagree but this is a stylistic/musical thing, and if you use some vibrato some of the time then you should most of the time on the longer notes. If you want to do it a la HIP then do - even if it's not my cup of tea - but one or the other).

Also in the Gavotte - in bar 8 you stop? (Second minim beat). Why, the music continues on - and if you are treating it as a dance then the dancers will have fallen over! You may think this is a phrasing thing, and could argue the case, but for me it disturbs the line and sounds mannered and gimicky.

But it is getting better, so keep at it!

June 18, 2012 at 05:42 PM · Terry -- Thought I would provide a brief comment, as yours was one of the posts that inspired me to put up my own video recently... You are indeed sounding much better! A couple things that were already mentioned, but I think deserve emphasizing: Practice the double stops slowly to work on your intonation. And, Simon's suggestion (that he also suggested for me) -- hold the violin higher, and hold it more still. This latter tip almost instantly improved my own playing. Thanks for posting your video, as I'm also learning a lot from this thread!

June 18, 2012 at 09:50 PM · Simon, It sounds like a great solution, but I don't find that raising the stand helps all that much - I have a tendency to lean forward with the stand higher anyway unless I make a concerted effort not to.

Roy, thanks for the tip. I will try playing the melody line for a week and seeing what it does.

Peter, I think I definitely overdid the space in the Gavotte. I was trying to get in a decent breath. I really need to get in some solid practice before recording. But I knew there was some improvement, and thought I'd just get it out there. I'm not planning on making another video of the Bach. Most likely my next video will be of Brahms G major sonata. If I stop vibrating on any notes in the Brahms I expect you to be the first person to let me know!!

Gene, I think that my intonation is worse on this recording than the previous one. Some intonation work is definitely warranted. I noticed I needed to hold the instrument up more too after watching the video.

Thanks everyone! Feel free to chime in if you have any other thoughts.


June 19, 2012 at 03:24 AM · Do you lean forward a lot in "real life"? (lol) I don't even know if it looks like leaning forward as much as it looks like your hips are out of balance in relation to your spine and shoulders. This sounds weird and is kind of hard to explain in words. How do you think of your spine in relation to your hips? How do you think of your chin in relation to your jaw and the rest of your head? Where are your shoulders in all this? I feel the best when I think of my neck relaxed and tilted back slightly, raising my chin a bit, and thinking of my shoulders balanced on top of my hips, which usually brings my shoulders back and taller. Dunno if this imagery will help you or not...but it might be something to think about.

Or...maybe it would help to think of the scroll raised, and then everything else would balance out. Have you had someone hold it higher, or gently propped it up against a wall, so you can't lean forward? That way you know what it feels like not to lean forward, and that itself may be half of the battle. When you *feel* what position you need to be in, it's a lot easier to recreate that feeling in your playing. In other words, it's always easier to work toward a positive goal - "do this" - versus a negative one - "don't do this."

Also, I'm not seeing a shoulder rest...I don't want to wade into those waters, but uh, yeah, I guess I just did. Whoops. I'm not advocating you use one or don't use one - I just wonder if it would be easier to hold the scroll higher, if you would then be leaning forward so much...hmm. What's your history with those? Have you had bad experiences with them? Do you play with less tension without one? Have you ever had one on and noticed if you lean forward more or less?

All in all, a really lovely, sensitive, interesting recording. (Great recording equipment, too, which is nice.) The positive change between recordings is really quite remarkable. You should be very proud.

June 19, 2012 at 04:46 AM · Emily,

You ask a lot of questions about posture. My left knee has been bugging me a lot lately, I'm not sure why. That could have something to do with my posture. I have taken Alexander Technique and probably could use more lessons since it's been a long time since I've had one.

I used to use a shoulder rest but found that I made a lot of progress after eliminating it. I'm not a diehard about it, but for me it has been very helpful to go without. I definitely play with less tension and hold the instrument higher in general without the shoulder rest. That's not saying that if I put one back on that I couldn't maintain some of the benefits that I had when removing it. I knew my hold was not ideal afterwards when I felt that my left hand was a bit tired. After 8 or so minutes of playing that should definitely not be the case.

Thanks for the kind words, I'm glad you liked the performance in general. It's certainly not without its flaws but if the interpretation came across I'm pleased.


June 23, 2012 at 12:16 PM · Emily, after seeing your comments about my posture, I decided to send the video to my AT teacher. She reiterated much of what you said. I think the main thing is my overreliance on bending at the spine, as opposed to using my hip joints to bend forward and back.

For anyone in the Portland, OR area, if you need a good AT instructor, check out Lauri's website.

Lauri Elizabeth



Hi Terry,

Good to hear from you! How fun to see a video of you playing! Where are you playing that? I don't recognize the view…

My feedback: In general, you're looking good. I know you're looking to continue to improve, so I'm giving constructive criticism here. Re-watch the video with the sound off to see if you can see any of what I have to say. There's a way in which your pelvis seems like it's locked into your legs, rather than the pelvis being part of the torso. I see this mostly when you lean forward or backward momentarily - it's all in the spine, rather than allowing yourself to fold at the hip joints. See if you can connect up head-neck-torso all the way down through the pelvis, let the legs be free in the hip sockets. If you need to bend forward, go into a slight monkey. I'd say in general your head-neck looks good, but there are moments when you're pulling your head down onto the top of the spine. See if you can prevent that. I can't tell much about the left arm from the video. The right arm, I'd say keep working on widening across the shoulders, leaving space in the armpit, directing out and down to the elbow. This is especially true as you bring your hand across the front of your torso to the end (is that the 'frog'?) of the bow. There's a sense of narrowing across the torso as you reach the end of your up bow. Let me know if any of this doesn't make sense. :)



June 23, 2012 at 12:26 PM · Terry - you just need to have a HIPP replacement - then you can give up - as there is no point anymore!!! (wink)

June 23, 2012 at 12:38 PM · LOL Peter! Hopefully not for a few years - the HIP, as opposed to the HIPP. Terry

June 23, 2012 at 03:01 PM · Thank you so much for taking the time to post that, Terry! Because you know what? After I posted that, I got home and looked in the mirror and...

duh duh dum....

I'm doing the exact same thing as you are. Yeah. It was 25% embarrassing, 75% hilarious. So anyway, I practiced with some different postures and tried to balance more from the hips, and came up with a feeling for what a better posture might look like.

I then had a viola lesson day before yesterday and...

duh duh dum...

This very issue came up. Teacher's first suggestion was to raise the scroll (good starting point). But after watching you and then diagnosing myself, I tried tweaking the posture instead. This worked a lot better than raising the scroll would have. It seemed to fix the problem, as he never pointed it out again. Of course I'm sure it came back when I was concentrating on 400 other things, but I'll be working on it.

Anyway, thanks both for posting your video and commenting because it helped me, too!!

June 23, 2012 at 03:42 PM · I'm really glad to hear that Emily. I didn't feel like I gave you an acceptable response to your comment. It's good to hear that Lauri's response, which somehow really clicked for me - though in many ways it echos yours, and your own discoveries are both helpful byproducts of the thread.

June 23, 2012 at 04:04 PM · Terry, thanks for posting about Lauri. I have been wanting to try AT, so I'll see if I can fit meeting with her into my schedule... BTW, could you ask your cellist friend what recording equipment he has used to shoot these videos?

As for critiquing, you know I'm not qualified, but I'll try anyway... (As always. ;) ) I enjoyed your playing (especially the 2nd video), but noticed that your right hand seems a little static, and the thumb looks straight (maybe it's just the camera angle), and you seem to use a lot of downward weight/pressure, so the tone sounds a little forced sometimes. I wonder if it would help to reduce the weight a little, and maybe releasing the bow sometimes (where appropriate in the music context) to allow the string(s) to ring more.

Regarding improving the intonation of those chords. You seem to imply that understanding harmonic construct is an issue (I'm not sure), so perhaps listening to the great players, such as Milstein, Grumeaux, and Hahn carefully, who all have impeccable intonation, would help.

I find it intriguing that you said violinists in general are less familiar with harmonic construct of a piece. Growing up as a chorister and playing the piano (badly) for 6 years as a kid, I never have to think about harmonic construct - knowing how things are supposed to sound is like a second nature to me (doesn't mean I can play violin in tune), so maybe you are onto something. But I don't think pianists are better musicians - they just don't have to deal with it unless their pianos are out-of-tune (which they can't do anything about anyway unless they also know how to tune a piano).

June 23, 2012 at 10:42 PM · "I didn't feel like I gave you an acceptable response to your comment."

Oh, you gave a great response. I wasn't expecting you to answer all those questions, they were more food for thought.

June 23, 2012 at 10:56 PM · Joyce,

I talked to my cellist friend and he says the video camera is a Sony Handycam HDR-CX160.

Thanks for your comments too, I think they make sense. I thought about rerecording the piece after I played it because it wasn't my best playing. But I find that one's not so good recording is generally not all that much worse than additional renditions, so I left it. I think you're definitely onto something about my technique. I think I'm mostly aware of the issues, but I'm not yet consistent with them. Towards the end of the piece my general setup was a bit less than ideal and it was causing some excess tension.

I'm glad you're considering Lauri, she's great! :)

I also have had piano lessons as a kid and understand harmonic construct to a significant degree, but not as well as some. Perlman in an interview on youtube says that pianists have a better sense of the construction because it's all right there in front of them, and because their instrument sounds good from the get-go. Us violinists have to work hard to get a decent sound.

Emily, thanks for your thoughts, they were helpful.


This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine