Rebuilding a Foundation for an Advanced Player?

December 25, 2012 at 09:05 PM · I have been playing the violin for around 6 years now, and am worried about my foundation and technique. I've mainly been learning all of the techniques from the pieces I've been playing, and none of them are very strong. The only real book I use is the Kreutzer, and I'm only on #12 right now. I rarely practice any scales and occasionally play some Bach. How should I start working on my technique?

UPDATE: Sorry, this was my first post, and I think I left out a lot of important details.

1. I have a teacher, and he is instructing me with the materials above.

2. Regarding my level, I can only tell you the things that I have played. I've done almost all of Wohlfahrt, and working on Kreutzer #12, and my most recent piece was Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. I am currently working on the first movement of the Mendelssohn.

3. I think I might have over-exaggerated in my post since I was pretty anxious at the time. I only want some guidelines on how to solidify my technique.

4. As for changing teachers, I have always considered that an option. However, I have a relatively close relationship with my teacher, and would probably "split" lessons if I had to change instructors.

Replies (21)

December 25, 2012 at 10:04 PM · "How should I start working on my technique?"

By getting professional lessons. Honestly, that is the best answer I can possibly give you.

December 25, 2012 at 11:03 PM · That teacher will help get you into a practice strategy that involves practicing scales and basics (including etudes) to develop a technical and musical foundation to interpret works of music.

December 26, 2012 at 08:57 AM · Teacher, scales, etudes. In that order. Learning technique from pieces is inefficient and incomplete.

December 26, 2012 at 10:48 AM · Actually from Kreutzer Etudes you can learn a lot. And by a lot I mean technical stuff that will bring you very far. Do the exercise #2 with all the marked bowings for example. Then the #9 with metronome very slowly first and then speeding up. And Number 11# for shifting. Go with that to an teacher, who can show you how to do it right, especially the shifting and bowing must be explained properly.

December 26, 2012 at 10:56 AM · I am not an advance player, but finding a teacher "is" the best advice. I went without one for about 5 years. Teachers are not just there to critique and tell you what you are doing wrong or right. They also teach you about the history, the patterns, the strings, the physics, all those little details that really fill in the gaps.

December 26, 2012 at 02:34 PM · Heifetz used Kreutzer throughout his career. In one of his televised master classes he told one of his best pupils to go away and work on Kreutzer 4. If it's good enough for Heifetz ...

I'd also consider supplementing Kreutzer with the Rode Caprices. To my mind they are musically realistic - most can be played as attractive performance pieces in their own right - and on the technical side will take most players as far as they ever need to go.

December 27, 2012 at 07:02 AM · There's tons of great material, that's not the problem. As someone posited in another thread, there's some great material coming out in so many mediums these days besides just books...streaming audio/video, DVD's, tablet apps, etc.

The reason a teacher is important is because a good one helps narrow your focus. It's a waste of time to practice what you can already play. If you have no experience, how are you going to be able to efficiently and quickly figure out which etudes from Kayser, Kreutzer, Rode, Dont, Gavinies, etc. will help you to develop the skills you don't yet have?

December 27, 2012 at 08:31 AM · Henry, huh?

I'm a student and I say, get a teacher. It is hubris to assume that one can be one's own teacher. how can even one realize the extent of things that are to be learned, put them in the proper sequence of learning, realize the many near invisible gestures that add up to produce the seemingly unified visible (instead of just mimicking what is visible through youtube vids, how to modulate effort and give nuance...wow Henry, what you say is just nonsense - even genuises need to be taught. not to also add that what you are insinuating is offensive (that teachers are insiduously pedalling their wares here) here.

having a violin teacher is definitely one of the things i enjoy paying for. and all my respect to the teachers for supporting us.

December 27, 2012 at 02:11 PM · Frieda - thats a good question - but, like the previous poster, thats also how I read it (alone) since he uses 'I' and never refers to guidance. Perhaps the OP (if he is reading) could fill us in a bit more on teachers, what repertoire he has completed and what performances he has done.

I think the obvious answer is to get a lesson from as high-level pedagogy-trained teacher as you can muster and ask them for a break down. I was in a very similar situation - learned as a child (but never had a private lesson) and then after taking it up again feeling as if there were fundamentals that were wrong (even though I was taking lessons). I took my own advice above and worked with a top conservatory-trained violinist for 2 weeks. Although you might not have noticed much change in my playing after, the foundations had been moved substantially and learning became much easier.

December 27, 2012 at 03:44 PM · I am a teacher and I say, get a teacher, but from a students perspective ;)

To the topic: Practicing technique on repertoire is only working, if you are already very (!) advanced. You have to be able to abstract technical problems and be creative and productive with them

December 28, 2012 at 03:23 AM · 6 years of playing... Could you clarify what you are saying by, "Advanced?" Perhaps if we had a basic point of reference as in where you began/advanced from? Any video posts of you playing would surely help also. Background info is always helpfull.

January 1, 2013 at 02:30 PM · No worries Tony it happens to all of us, it's as you say your first post. If there are any 'string camps' that you can attend do so! Maybe your teacher can help you out with this. You would benefit holistically and from the master classes. If there is a J.R. College or University see if you could take chamber music or their orchestra, some have enough room for non-majors? And books related to playing. Drew Lecher is a member here and has an excellent book, "Violin Technique; and How to Master". Another is called, "The Way They Play" by another author. These are just a few suggestions that help me. Best Wishes!

January 1, 2013 at 11:04 PM · Henry, I agree that it is very important to be a teacher to one's self, but I think that the student is only a good teacher to himself/herself if he/she has been (or is in the process of being) properly taught. Good students teach themselves during the week between lessons but that doesn't negate the need for guidance.

January 2, 2013 at 12:16 AM · I am not an expert, having begun violin lessons in March of 2011. I did buy my first violin in 1990 and spent a year playing fiddle tunes, mainly with a mute on the instrument.

My teacher claims I am primarily self-directed. Since I am a full time parent and trying to prepare myself to reenter the job market after a hiatus of over 11 years I do not have more than an hour and a half a day, though not every day, to dedicate to actual practice on the violin. And that is while attending to laundry and other domestic tasks. I was told as a youth that the best rest from a labor is a different kind of labor.

So where does this lead me on the direction of this thread. During that year back in the 90s I went through a couple of fiddle books. I was also a choir director and accompanied my choir using guitars, recorders, wooden flutes (one and four keyed) as well as things like mandolin and my favorite toy, an old glockenspiel. After getting married and having to put down the fiddle I can say I was pleased with the progress I had made, but looking back I can realize that I did not know that there was more than one way to use a bow, or how to properly use it for that matter.

Today approaching my second year anniversary of taking lessons I can look back and say I have spent as much or more time late at night studying the violin, as well as listening throughout the day, as I do practicing the instrument.

I take a half hour lesson every two weeks, though most weeks it last over an hour. When I try to convince my teacher that I should pay for an hour she says, “No, we mainly just talk.”

I can say I have been able to introduce my teacher to several works on the violin as well as a few concepts that were somewhat unknown to her, though she has done much more for me.

In many of my former jobs I was also complemented on my research ability. But I can tell you this when I come home and write my notes on the lesson there is a long list of items to work on. Not only does she address my questions and concerns but she sees where I may be lacking in the application of these concepts. And she knows just what I need to do to make these corrections.

The one thing I have found with every teacher I have worked with as an adult (recorder, classical guitar and now violin) is that what never fails to amaze me about a good teacher is the depth of knowledge concerning the instrument at hand and music in general. Good teachers have a breadth of knowledge that I am still years away from, should I ever so lucky as to get there. I will not have their school experience and I certainly will not have their concert / orchestra experience. My recorder teacher had to request that a Masters program be established for her recorder, she was already playing at a master’s level. My guitar teacher studied with Segovia and had taught at the Madrid Royal Conservatory and played at Carnegie Hall. My precious violin teacher has her music degree, played in orchestras and is Suzuki certified. In her semiretirement she leads a group that plays for nursing homes and the like but mainly she is a good friend and cares deeply about her student’s development.

I may be self-directed, but I am very much in debt for the guidance my teachers give me.

Find a good teacher; they make a universe of difference.

January 3, 2013 at 01:56 PM · If you have learned to play through repertoire, you do not need to re-build your technique, but rather to complete it.

Quick fixes are to tranpose known music up or down a semitone, or up an octave; play slurred passages spiccato, and détaché ones slurred; invert all the bowings. Half speed, double speed.

Then you will find out what is missing, and be able to ask precise questions when you meet a teacher.

January 3, 2013 at 03:27 PM · Mentioning Heifetz and Kreutzer:

Kreutzer is just an example from the master class video, and possibly even a sort of joke.

I had a master class with Heifetz's assistant back in 1973 and it was clear that these people (she and Heifetz) knew and worked with the entire pedagogical literature (not just Kreutzer) and she would recommend particular etudes (and Paganini Caprices) for different participants depending on what aspects of their technique most needed strengthening - you can't fix everything in a day - or a week.

Andy

January 4, 2013 at 11:06 PM · Reading the updated original post, I'd like to mention what Galamian said was the point of all this basic "technique-building": not just to gain technique for its own sake but to save time in learning new repertoire. If you've been learning technique from repertoire thus far, then each time a new technique appears in a piece you must learn it from scratch. But with a well-grounded technique already in place, you can breeze through repertoire much more quickly and get right to the fun parts of interpretation. All the above suggestions are great for this!

January 4, 2013 at 11:18 PM · Ah, well understood Nathan, thats the way to do it (to quote Punch and Judy - I wonder if anyone here knows that I'm talking about!). Unfortunately, the problem for us older violinists is that there simply isn't time to do the whole technical training thing from scratch and hope to have a time at the end to take advantage of the comprehensive approach. Thus, I do a mix: learn rep and then when I hit a technical snag get the etudes/studies to fix it. Inevitably there will be technical holes that have not been filled but at least the most important stuff will be reasonably well developed.

January 5, 2013 at 12:58 AM · Right, of course! Not to suggest that you have to build everything and only then try some repertoire. But to take what you're working on in a piece, and expand it a little bit to learn one new skill/technique rather than simply learning it as it will be used in that piece. There's a core that should be practiced every day (in varying ways) but certainly you don't need to learn everything in advance.

January 5, 2013 at 01:44 AM · "there simply isn't time to do the whole technical training thing from scratch"

The reason I've tried to systematically work through fingering patterns related to harmonic/melodic elements. R.H. is another matter.

January 5, 2013 at 08:58 AM · It's great to challenge both hands! Whenever you get bored with one, switch to a challenge for the other. Any passage can be modified in this way, either through rhythms, accents, or bowings.

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