Open discussion for two focal points...

March 2, 2013 at 07:30 PM · An annual Masterclass of violin which was organised by the HKPO was held last Saturday. My boy Bruno was very lucky that became the one of six performers in the Masterclass. He attended the first Masterclass four years ago that was organised by HKPO as well. Three days later, Bruno will be sixteen years of age. It is a great chance for a junior violin student to obtain valuable opinions from a Pro. Musician. Mr. Leung Kin Fung who is the First Violin and First Associate Concertmaster of HKPO conducted the Masterclass. Bruno accepted my suggestion to fill the name of a piece "Sonata in F major, 2nd Mov." by Grieg in his application form. So, he spends his time to play it everyday. He kept it going for a month. He received a confirmation to his application thru' an email two weeks ago. Wow! I told my son. Mr. Leung might remember you and want to know how your progress after a year. You had to pay more effort on it ....I asked him few questions 'Do you know what Sonata is? Do you know who Grieg is? When and where he wrote this piece? What did he tell you through the piece? How do you interpret this piece?' Obviously, he failed to answer. Supposed that a teacher should provide such relevant information to a student whatsoever by any ways. However, most teachers are likely disregarding this work. This is one of my focal points.

So, I collected all such information to him last Wednesday. It benefited to him when playing this piece. The important day came last Saturday, I woke him up at seven thirty in the morning. He started to play as for warm-up purpose in order to perform the piece better in the Masterclass. In additional, he also played the piece one more time before Masterclass started. It seemed to be perfect and everything looked smooth. He started to get nervous. Dull playing and mistakes could be heard during performing the piece. A simple question was pointed out for his dull playing, asked by Mr. Leung 'What's the accent beat with a time signature of 3/4?' He could not reply with a clear answer. E.g. accent the first beat only. There were two more issues that listed out by Mr. Leung - unwanted glissando and unnatural bow hold. Regarding to the bow hold, it made me extremely surprise. Bow hold is a basic technique. That issue was pointed out to Bruno in Leung's Masterclass four years ago and commented again last year in Leung's Masterclass again. So, I strongly reminded Bruno to settle this problem with his teacher when the lesson had started (after summer holidays 2012). I helped my son to search some videos thru' internet for his bow hold topic e.g. Violin Masters - O. Shumsky, D. Oistrakh, J. Heifetz, Perlman, etc. After few lessons passed, Bruno told me that problem was solved. His teacher did review his bow hold. I advised him again that the bow hold was still looked a little bit different from what my findings ....Anyway; student should suffer from the teaching of a teacher. This is my 2nd focal point. What's right or a proper method? Bruno learned violin when he was 7 years old. He should learn the right thing and do the right thing right from the start. Mr. Leung was saying 'a natural bow hold' and I did find the about sayings from other violin masters - for fingers, heel to tip, wrist, etc. How come much more students fall into such so-called bad habits!

Replies (69)

March 3, 2013 at 03:20 AM · As you'll see from many posts on this board, bow holds fall into a number of broad traditions, and what's right for a given player will depend upon the quirks of their body.

You'll find that many teachers will criticize a student, especially younger students, for using bow holds that are different from their own traditions. Unless the hold is actually problematic (stiffness and tension, typically), it's often wise to just let such comments pass in a master-class or with a short-term teacher (like summer study).

March 3, 2013 at 10:21 AM · The right bow grip has a curved and relaxed pinkie, and a curved and relaxed thumb. 99% of the time, this is where the problems come from. For most students, it simply feels better to have a straight and locked pinkie/thumb. They will not generally adopt the correct grip by themselves.

March 4, 2013 at 01:35 AM · List of the teacher:

An excellent teacher is one that corrects poor technique before it happens.

A good teacher is one that notices poor technique and is able to correct it.

A strict teacher is one that continues to points out poor technique, but is unable to correct it.

A passive aggressive teacher is one that blames the students for poor technique, but they never point it out or be able to correct it.

A passive teacher is one that will never/rarely corrects poor technique or point it out.

Sadly in my experience good and excellent teachers are rare.

It "generally" doesn't take long for students to learn good/average technique, 6 months to a year. Children under 7 will pick up a lot of bad habits if their practices are not supervised.

March 4, 2013 at 01:56 AM · Don't always blame the teacher for poor habits. The student has 1 hour with the teacher, and the rest of the time at home. Many student simply cannot correct poor habits. The parent has to have some responsibility in helping the process.

March 4, 2013 at 02:13 AM · Although the kid mentioned in the first post is 16, so by that time (or even four years earlier, at age 12), he should be able to practice entirely without a parent.

The other thing that strikes me as odd about the first post is the range of players cited -- Shumsky, Perlman, Heifetz, Oistrakh, etc. We're talking about people who have very different holds. Shumsky's got a hold that is unusual by any standard, Perlman has a Galamian grip, Heifetz and Oistrakh both have Russian grips. The poster says that his son's grip looks slightly different from these grips, but at the very least he'd be very different from Shumsky, and different than at least one of the others.

March 4, 2013 at 02:14 AM · Thank you, Scott!

March 4, 2013 at 12:50 PM · It sounds as if the parent is not a violinist, so it's not surprising if the variety of possible ways to hold a bow isn't clear to him.

I'd guess what may be missing is good communication among the three--student/teacher/parent. Also, it's not clear from the o.p. whether the master-class advice addressed a real problem or simply expressed a difference of opinion (like we get almost any time two people look at a third playing).

The question about 'bad habits' is huge, isn't it? If the parent hangs around much, he'll see how many different ways there are to do many things 'correctly'--IF 'correct' is defined as "what works" for the person involved.

March 4, 2013 at 01:09 PM · Qualified teacher MUST be able to correct a problem WITH proper explanations and it must convince the student by showing the differences - the best being having the student actually experience the differences. Whether it's a regular lessons, or masterclasses, if the student never actually experience the difference, the student will never absorb and digest the new informations.

That's what many teachers around the world did - "Just follow what I said cause I'm the teacher!".

March 4, 2013 at 01:54 PM · Students will often accept from another teacher advice that their own teacher has been giving them for years!

And again,

"But I already manage it this way!"

"If you don't hear the difference, trust me!!"

First point: I expect his own teacher always accentuates the music in the appropriate fashion, but hadn't thought to say so.

Second point: In the bow-hold, what matters is the role of each finger and the thumb, not their appearance.

March 4, 2013 at 04:58 PM · There should be a specification in one's mind that helps you to classify it as proper or improper / true or false. An experienced teacher should have no problem to point something out regarding to the basic techniques. Bow grip is one of basic techniques. It is easy to determine from appearance if there is any deviation to a proper bow grip. Moreover, teacher has a right, duty and responsibility to contribute correct knowledge to student and ensure that there is no deviation in the learning processes (for junior students). Bad habit can gain one's experience but it is costly and may impact one's life in music seriously. I believe it is not fair to put all faults onto a teacher regarding student's bad habits and this is not my aim to bring it here for a discussion. In fact, teacher plays an important role. There is no doubt that strict teacher should benefit student's learning.

Regarding to bow grip, Lydia did touch this issue. I have tried to capture images from videos of six famous violists in order to make comparison. They are Heifetz, Perlman, Szeryng, Oistrakh, Shumsky, Milstein.







March 4, 2013 at 05:40 PM · Lydia, this is an issue of difference in culture. kids here are dependent compared with kids in western countries because they are over protected.

Marjory, I am not a violinist. I studied vocal thirty years ago. I didn't play violin but I loved music and did spend a lot of time to study relevant theory about violin last few years.

March 4, 2013 at 06:32 PM · I agree with Adrian on both points. Sometimes something just clicks when someone else says the same thing, perhaps from a different perspective, or in a slightly different way. But sometimes it's necessary to overlook or delay working on something because something else is more important. For example, in most cases, I will work first on bow distribution before working on the hand for most students, regardless of how deficiently the bowhand works. Of course it's not possible to master bow distribution without learning balance and weight distribution through the hand, so at some point attention must be turned to the hand, during which time the work done on the arm may suffer. Learning is not linear, but a cyclical or spiral process. You go back and forth between parts until the whole is well coordinated. Also preparation for a performance of any kind usually stalls work on technique. So you can't judge a teacher's work based on one snapshot of the process.

Bow hold is not really a basic technique, it's just a starting point. It's kind of like the difference between single versus double handed back-hand in tennis. Or forefoot versus heel strike in running. To be certain, how one starts will have certain ramifications. And certain people may well be more suited to a certain starting point. Some people are simply more dogmatic about such matters. But as Adrian said, the role of the various parts of the hand in context of the style of bowhold, in addition to how the hand interacts with the rest of the arm is the essence of bowing technique. How we move is more important than how we hold. The most effective teachers of technique will be aware of a student's body type and natural inclinations. But some of the most effective teachers don't teach technique at all, but rather how to listen to the nuances of sound and music. Different students need different things at different times in their education. You can't rely on a single person to give complete training to a student.

Stayton, the vidcaps you took are of the following violinists from top to bottom: Heifetz, Perlman, Szeryng, Oistrakh, Shumsky, Milstein. Ottakar Novacek, composer of Perpetuum Mobile, died around 1900 or so.

March 4, 2013 at 06:50 PM · Stayton, we thank you for the photos..

I notice that Heifetz and Milstein are the only ones using the so-called "Russian" bow-hold (high wrist and elbow, straight little finger, even at the heel). The great Russian Oistrakh, and Perlman, (both big men with big tones!), as well as Szeryng, use the "Franco-Belgian" hold, (flat wrist, lower elbow, all fingers curled. Weight rather than pressure? (Oops)

The odd one out is Shumsky, who seems to have slipped his pinky! A fine player, though.

Teachers nearly come to blows over all this, and some students are tired of changing bow-hold with each new teacher..

March 4, 2013 at 07:01 PM · Stayton, I am Singaporean by birth and my parents are first-generation immigrants to the USA, so I recognize there are differences in the way that children are raised between East and West, and how that relates to parental involvement in music.

But I would argue that it's actually damaging to young violinists, especially serious young violinists, to have much if any parental involvement once they reach a certain level of technical advancement. It's crucial that a violinist learn the skill of listening critically to himself, and then deciding how to fix flaws. This is the core of effective practicing. A player has to also judge what to fix now and what to let go on a temporary basis. (Teachers similarly have to decide what to comment on and concentrate on improving, at any instant in time.)

March 4, 2013 at 07:46 PM · I would like to see Bruno's video; it would give us some insight.

March 4, 2013 at 09:43 PM · The only real criterion for bow hold is--does it work?

The violinists in the pics may have different holds, but each made wonderful music. There is no single "right way" to do it. It's that simple. As a pp has said, teachers come to blows over this issue. From here, it's impossible to say if the master class teacher is a proponent of one way of holding the bow, no matter how successfully the student manages with a different hold, or whether he perceived something amiss in the sound or technical achievement and sought to correct it with a change in hold.

HOWEVER, a major change in bow (or violin) hold simply can't be achieved in one encounter with a teacher; I would say it appears a tad irresponsible to make such a criticism when unable to follow through for the amount of time needed for the student to effect the change, particularly if the student's regular teacher doesn't agree.

March 5, 2013 at 01:24 AM · As it has already been pointed out, there are many ways to skin a cat.

Vocal technique is rather different to string technique, even though we string players like to sound like singers!

March 5, 2013 at 02:28 AM · even though we string players like to sound like singers!

Perhaps you left out the vibrato bit. ;-)

March 5, 2013 at 03:09 PM · I'd forgotten how bad that can be!! Yes, miss out on the warbling bit!

March 6, 2013 at 08:54 AM · Hey! I was a string player too when I studied in secondary school. I could activate my guitar and order my vocal instrument sing.

Jeewon, thank you for your help. Yes, he was Henryk Szerying. (updated)

Lydia, Assuming that there are two different types of parental approach for the child care. Kids may enjoy comparative more freedom, build up their own character, development of independent thinking or a creative mind, etc. The rest of kids may probably under parental care in a whole life. From parents' viewpoint, this is responsibility and love. They will do everything for kid's own good and kid will never grow up in parents' mind. So, it is more likely that it is easy to find it in terms of culture in Asia families. Because of love and care, parental involvement aims to ease kid's difficulties. They are family. If music occupies part of their life, parents may get involve for this task.

Wise parents should understand clear their roles if they decide to involve kids' learning. Love can motivate parents to do something for their kid's good. In my case, I keep a relationship with my son during his learning period. Sometimes, I act as a teacher, a friend or buddy. I may advise him an instruction. We may have arguments and discussion. We may learn from each others. This is something about management. Hope this helps.

March 6, 2013 at 10:42 AM · I'd be careful Stayton, giving away your string credentials, as you could have most of today's top soloists waiting at your door for lessons ... (wink)

March 6, 2013 at 11:53 AM · sorry! I don't have any string credential. My door is always open.

March 8, 2013 at 10:10 AM · Sorry Stayton, I thought my (wink) would have given it away, but I was being ironical, humourous? slightly sarcastic. It's a fault we English, who live in such a confined and protective environment, display far too frequently. We are a bad lot!! Don't take us at all seriously!

March 8, 2013 at 02:07 PM · Peter, it's ok. I am fine...don't be too serious. It is hard to change one's character especially ours' own. Frankly speaking, a funny man lives more happy than the one who is stubborn and serious.

March 8, 2013 at 04:02 PM · Peter, I do know Britain not much. why did you describe your side a confined and protective environment?

March 8, 2013 at 08:20 PM · Well, in some ways you could say we don't suffer too much here in the UK. It's not Syria or the "Arab Spring." We haven't experienced Russia and the gulag. We don't really suffer for our art - so maybe we don't produce much art.

Like many western cultures its a very comfortable way of life. It does not usually produce great art. But then occasionally it does.

We are also confined by our narrow environment - we do not have many wild dreams.

EDIT: For example, becoming an accomplished violinist at a reasonably high level is not so difficult or special, but being an expressive artist is another thing altogether ...

March 10, 2013 at 10:02 AM · Peter, Sounds looks you are not comfortable with an existing situation. We(HK) were growing up with a comfortable way of life under interaction between chinese and western cultures for a long time before 1997. Our living styles, culture and values are influenced gradually in recent years.... Politics and arts are being mutual influence. Situation will not remain unchanged forever and uncertainties are still there. E.g. The Liberal Democrats have changed the political situation that Conservative and Labour Parties are not the only two main parties which dominated British politics. Mutual sectarian conflicts and violences between Catholic and Protestants still occur in Northern Ireland. We are living in a hi-tech era. Conflicts and violences can turn into a war! Although big changes may impact the processs of different development stages, positive rewards are never guaranteed eventually. So, thanks be to God for our peace.

I agree stress is the key to motivate ourselves that become more aggressive. An aggressive energy may cause of a breakthrough and so on. We can still link people up together thru' internet. If our focus is not limited by the nations but a whole world for arts, there are different views.

There was a famous old song - Imagine (John Lennon) the lyrics are 'Imagine there is no countries....' try to sing for these lyrics. 'Imagine there is no countries, our focus not the same, nothing is impossible and dreaming is coming true...' Does it work?

March 10, 2013 at 10:51 AM · Stayton

I have a simple attitude to this:

1) You can't learn the violin in 1 hour a week during lessons - you learn in the practice room

2) Everyone has a different body - shoulders, arms and hands vary enormously - so there is no single "correct" technique for everyone

3) And obviously, there is no one "right" way to interpret any piece of music - the student has to find their own voice within the constraints of any give genre

4) So the primary role of the teacher is to help the student to become an autonomous problem solver and find their own solutions to issues of technique and interpretation in the practice room.

Sadly, in my experience there are few teachers with the depth of knowledge and pedagogic skills to achieve this, and most of those are teaching advanced students. Clearly there are many honorable exceptions, including most of the active posters in this community. But the first question I would ever ask of any teacher is how do you help your students become self-motivated, independent problem solvers? If they don't have a clear approach to this, I would move on...

March 10, 2013 at 11:48 AM · Stayton

One can never be comfortable in any given society in any given situation or era. We have to live with and suffer the politics. Generally these days I try to ignore the lunatic fringe which in my opinion includes the politicians and the religious groups. These people cause enough problems and troubles and yes, they are all quite willing to inflict wars on us.

In any case, it's no good mentioning Labour, Libdems and Tories, as they are different in name only. Their policies are identical.

In the UK like so many other parts of the world, the arts are considered just so much garbage by the politicos as well as large parts of the population.

I'm afraid I would not be comfortable in Hong Kong, America and lots of other places. But as I'm used to Europe and the UK I can just about put up with it, and some of the young people here are pretty wonderful. Those few are our only saving grace and hope for the future.

March 10, 2013 at 12:20 PM · It seems, Geoff, that I am completely in agreement with your description of teaching and the conditions which apply to violinists.

I wish there were more high quality teachers around. I witnessed only last night some young players and some of these were the victims of bad teaching. Talented, but not helped much by misguided teaching.

March 11, 2013 at 12:02 PM · Sure! I agree definitely that there is not only one, a right way for everything. I'd tried to sum up my previous mention.

1. Relevant information benefits learning for a student when a lesson start for a piece of music. Most teachers are likely disregarding this step.

2. Leung's advise was correct. He emphasised to hold a bow naturally and somethings similar to Franco-Belgian bow hold or Galamian bow hold.

3. Bow hold is a basic technique. (Somebody may not agree but I would like to say that it depends on the point of view and the topic that you define and look it at...that's why we have three schools of holding a bow - Russian bow hold/Franco-Belgian bow hold and Galamian bow hold.)

4. First, a student has been learning violin over eight years. Second, nobody may question about the interpretation of a music piece from a mere junior student strictly because probably lack of sufficient experience, feeling or else but if it relates to basics and most of reference books for violin (especially for beginner) had addressed with such general requirements into details - human body(shoulder, collar bone, Jaw, Chin and hands), standing position, bow stroke, etc, an experienced teacher should aware of it and advise any possible solution for poor techniques.

Note: Bruno has taken violin training scheme which is organisated by HK music Office. Different violin teachers may be in charge for different level of lectures

I'd tried to upload this video section for reference. (speaking in Cantonese and sound quality was no good)

Comments for bow hold at (10:16 - 11.32)

March 11, 2013 at 12:31 PM · I gather that this is your son playing in a masterclass situation?

I don't want to get into a detailed analysis of what's wrong, but let me say there are a lot of things that need the urgent attention of a good teacher, including bowing, tone production and left hand technique. (And seperate ear training!)

March 11, 2013 at 12:59 PM · Peter, yes, this is my son! Your mention is correct and you may know why I am worried about that....

March 11, 2013 at 03:47 PM · Hi Stayton, I see what you mean... but to point out strengths first, I think your son moves his bow well in spite of his rigid bow hold. He has a good idea of how to play off-the-string even if the sudden transition to playing on-the-string remains difficult. And his vibrato movement is natural and seems easy for him. I think he has a good instinct for sound, even if his technique is limiting his progress.

With some detailed instruction and lots of motivation he could rebuild his bowing technique in 6 to 12 months. But he might first need to take a hard look at his goals and purpose.

The idea of a 'natural' hand shape, by itself, might not be enough here. It's a good start, a demonstration I've shown many times before, but I suspect the core of the problem is twofold: a 'caved-in' thumb which presses in opposition to the fingers, and no pivoting within the hand; these are related problems.

If you look at 11.21, you can catch a glimpse of his thumb and it looks to be curved inward at its joint-closest-to-tip and possibly may have been pressed into the bow that way. Judging by the lack of mobility in his fingers I would guess that he holds the bow by pressing his fingers into the stick with the thumb, the fore finger and the pinky. Pressure is not so terrible in and of itself, but simultaneous pressure of the fore-finger and pinky makes the hand rigid and incapable of absorbing the 'shock' of bowing, especially when transitioning from spiccato to legato, but even when changing direction.

Instead of the idea of a 'natural' hold alone, I would address his issues in terms of stability and balance.

Our early instinct is to make sure not to drop the bow. But this ingrained need for stability, fear of dropping the bow, can turn into holding the bow rigidly. The stability we want comes from balanced movement, not from rigidity. It's kind of like trying to stay standing on a rocking boat. We can adjust to the motion from the waves by bending the leg on the rising side of the boat, and by straightening the leg on the lowering side. Most importantly, it's the timing between the action of the legs which helps us stay balanced most efficiently. If the rocking is too sudden and too much, of course we might have to grab on to the railing for dear life, but once the waves subside, we can go back to simply balancing. To 'hold on' unnecessarily serves no purpose. If we straighten both legs and press both feet into the deck of the boat simultaneously, it would be difficult to stay balanced, much less stay standing. In bowing we need to map out precisely where the fingers need to lean into the tip, and when they need to counterbalance the weight of the bow. At about the lower third of the bow, the weight of the bow produces a good sound by itself; moving from balance point to the tip, the fingers need to lean into the stick (commonly we're taught to lean with the forefinger as the thumb lifts up, though it's also possible to lift with the tip of the middle finger); moving from balance point to frog, the fingers need to counterbalance the weight of the bow (most often the counterbalance comes from a curved pinky on top of the bow aided by the ring finger, but Shumsky shows us it's possible to achieve the same end with a cello hold, in which case the ring finger becomes much more active.) So this idea of shifting the balance, or 'pressure' from forefinger to pinky finger at different parts of the bow and in different contexts might help get rid of the rigidity ('pressing with both feet') and developing flexibility in the hand.

The thumb often adds too much pressure if we conceive of the bow as being held between thumb and middle finger, pad of thumb facing pad of finger, as we normally do when picking up something like a pencil. This action of the thumb causes it to 'cave in' as we grab the object. Instead, if we think of the tip of the thumb, or even the nail of the thumb, as touching the pad of the finger, we can leave the thumb flexible ('curveable') as we grab the bow. Also, 'hooking' the thumb more-or-less sideways into the bump of the frog allows the thumb to remain slightly curved. I like to think of the middle finger as closing the loop over the thumb, so when pressure is exerted the curled second finger presses, with its pad, against the nail of the thumb, or the thumb presses, with its nail, against the pad of the second finger. Although the thumb sometimes presses against the bump of the frog, there should be no pressure exerted radially into the stick (no squeezing.) The bow remains in the hand by the friction of the other fingers (fore, ring, pinky) against (along) the stick, 'grippy' but never rigid.

The thumb also causes rigidity in the fingers (especially their base knuckles) if it opens too much at its joint near the wrist, and at its middle joint. The thumb has a full range of motion so it can move sideways away from the hand, as in a 'thumbs up', or touch the palm near the pinky; it can move down below the palm, or up slightly above the back of the hand; lastly it can rotate about it's axis so that its nail faces away from the palm, or sideways. If the thumb is held rotated so that its nail faces down, away from the palm, as it presses with its tip, it causes a rigid hand. The thumb should be free to move, but in general it helps to keep the thumb neutral, with it's nail facing more sideways.

In a way, a more rigid hold, or at least feeling resistance in the fingers, is useful for making the bow bounce. So for smooth legato, we have to teach the hand to 'give,' to yield with flexibility to the action of the arm.

Training the coordination between hand and arm is tricky, and of course such change should be done with a teacher, but it might help to start exploring different concepts of 'holding' the bow.

All the best to your son!

Edit: When trying to find the 'natural' shape of the hand, make sure to observe carefully what that shape actually is. Look at the shape of your sons pinky. It tends to naturally bend 'backwards' slightly. I'm not suggesting he keep that bend while he's bowing, but it must be taken into account. Watch Perlman's pinky here. It has lots of flexibility but the joint-close-to-tip hyperextends (bends backwards) from time to time. Also note the actual spread of the fingers. Your son's pinky tends to spread away from the rest of the fingers quite a bit. His natural spread might suggest a generally straighter pinky (though not rigidly so) than others.

Also, note the motion in the forearm. In the 'shake-hand-out' demonstration the teacher leaves his forearm neutral while your son prefers to leave his forearm supinated (pinky-side down.) You can see that his wrist tends to bend sideways after shaking out the hand. He needs to discover how to pronate (thumbs-down rotation, as if he's trying to pour water out of a cup to his left) his forearm as he leans into the bow from balance point to tip. Some players change their pronation, e.g. Perlman, Oistrakh, so that at the frog the hand is more neutral, or less pronated than at the tip. To keep from jamming the wrist, the hand also needs to be well over the bow, with the wrist curving gently. Others tend to leave their forearms generally pronated whether at the frog or tip (Milstein, Hahn.) And yet others tend to have a more overall neutral rotation in the forearm (Shumsky, the cello hold helps keep the forearm neutral, Ashkenasi. Of course it helps to have long arms.) The overall strategy for building a bowing technique must be internally consistent and take such things into consideration.

March 11, 2013 at 03:56 PM · Stayton

I'm only an amateur, but even I can see big issues with your son's technique.

Is it practical to change teachers? Because it looks as if his current teacher isn't doing a great job. He does seem to be musical, so a better teacher might help him achieve his potential.

If he's motivated, and a good problem solver, there's priceless material he could work on in Simon Fischer's Basics book and Tone Production DVD.

March 11, 2013 at 07:33 PM · Stayton,

I saw the above video and could immediately see that your son's pinky was rigid. I could also see that the middle two fingers were slightly spread apart. In the modern Galamian teaching, the middle fingers (ring and middle) are closer together as a unit. However, the pinky is the real culprit here. A bow grip like that will make spiccato or sautillé or a real legato impossible. I could not see the thumb, but very often a stiff locked pinky and stiff locked thumb go together.


March 11, 2013 at 09:20 PM · Hi Scott, I believe the separation you see between middle and ring finger is a result of the middle finger being more curved than the ring finger, rather than from spread between the two fingers. This slight separation happens when the middle finger curls and lifts, and/or the ring finger actively presses to counterbalance the bow, which is a good strategy if the pinky is weak or tends to get stuck.

You can see similarities in Francescatti, Rabin and Stern.

March 11, 2013 at 10:02 PM · Your son needs a new teacher, you are wasting money and time staying on this path. Your son needs to learn the basics with the left hand, shifting and right hand. With a competent teacher this can be done in a relatively short time.

March 11, 2013 at 10:18 PM · One suggestion about the bow arm: have him open from the elbow joint, rather than the shoulder. It's a lot more efficient, and less wear and tear on the arm.

March 12, 2013 at 04:05 AM · Stayton,

(Cantonese and mandarin are my mother tongue so I can understand everything in the video)

First of all I'd give credit to the teacher for pointing out some important points on your son's playing, starting from irregular fingering (whatever that means), strong beat in various time signature, shifting cleanly, and holding the bow with natural posture (fingers). However, I notice the teacher did not elaborate in an effective manner, and they were pretty much touching just the surfaces. I believe Bruno wan't really understanding - understanding what the teacher was saying is one thing, understanding why and how to use it is another.

To focus on the original topic, the teacher wasn't really changing the bow hold, rather, he's pointing the right thing where Bruno's fingers were unnatural and rigid, although he did not further elaborate beyond the basic stuffs. However, there's also the wrist issue to address, not just the fingers on the bow, and the relaxation of the whole arm, which IMHO the teacher missed to address.

As for the details on fixing the problem, since I don't have much credentials, I better just keep quiet. ;-)

PS: By the way, Bruno wasn't doing bad, but as people already pointed out, he urgently need a good teacher to study with. All the best!

March 12, 2013 at 08:46 AM · There is a lot of well meaning and possibly correct advice being given here, but with all due respect, you will have to convey some or all of these ideas to your son, and I doubt (as a non string expert) that you or anyone else could do this succsfully.

What your son needs is a really good teacher. At his age (16?) and after about 7 years of tuition, his situation is dire. His level of playing at this point is more like a young kid of say 9 years of age who has had one year of tuition.

Sorry to be so direct and maybe cruel, but the biggest favour you can do for him is to seek out a really good teacher and get his problems sorted out.

I often see so called "professional" teaching here in the UK which is so bad it makes my blood boil! In fact I saw a couple of appalling examples only last night in a chamber concert given by students.

Best wishes and good luck with this.

March 12, 2013 at 03:00 PM · Thank you very much. I love you all guys about the valuable opinions. I appreciate for the detailed description.

I believe Bruno will do the same things and keep his mind open to accept all opinions. I will blame my son and his teacher only if they are not willing to correct the known mistakes.

Friends, We are all have the same ..that there are specs in heart and which are our principles. That's why you can share your opinions on these particular issues and you are telling your right things for violin techniques.

I am not sure but I believe that I should bear part of responsibility to the fault of Bruno's right hand techniques. Since Bruno got to know his problems from different sources last year, he was starting to play scales at home everyday. It aimed to improve the capability for bow control that something like even bow stroke for each tone, stable and smooth tones production and intonation. He is controlling one bow

stroke for one beat, two beats and four beats with slow practice respectively. e.g video(3:21-3:35) He might suffer from a slow practice of bowing for a long time that caused his left hand with a slow activation(may be under too relax). So, he was informed to start some excises for change of position last week and kept the rules in mind those were to activate the left hand shifting and fingers at a right timing over the fingerboard. In the mean time, I have already discussed with Bruno regarding to a clear tone for each note tonight. He got the key point...It may be a root cause of the fault.

Re: bow hold

He did it better already since last week. At least, he passed my requirement - appearance. Next, 'Bow techniques' is a big topic....

From my viewpoint, Bruno is still a baby in his life of music! This is at costly experience.

I have already started this new job and things going on in progress. I still have confidence to manage the work done and ensure it success. His current teacher will also be informed later.

Peter, Do you remember what you have said? "I'd be careful Stayton" Whatever you were kidding me or not, you should be careful Stayton. (because of my management skills) So, don't worry about it! If something that I am not capable to handle, I will call for support from others.

Tell you more, I earned a Master degree in Project Management and worked for senior management position over twenty years.

Thanks a lot again to all my friends. If you have any opinion to me or Bruno, don't hesitate to keep us inform.

March 12, 2013 at 07:47 PM · Bruno's had this same teacher for the last seven years? Or at least the last several years? His teacher should already have corrected these issues. Indeed, he should have never been allowed to learn these techniques incorrectly in the first place.

It may be possible that Bruno can self-correct these issues, but if so, what value is the teacher bringing him? I would urge you to heed the advice that's already been given -- he needs to find a new and better teacher.

March 12, 2013 at 08:13 PM · Stayton

Lydia has told you along with many others and myself included, that YOU NEED TO GET YOUR SON A PROPPER TEACHER!!

The person who has been teaching him is totally USELESS!!!!!!!!

How can we convince you of this? And you are just as bad, you know nothing about string playing - and yet you think you know best!

If you don't want this sort of advice then do not come on this forum and ask professionals for help!!!!!!!!

March 13, 2013 at 01:07 AM ·

Something I say to my students:

"The right teacher can teach you more in 6 months, than what the wrong teacher is unable to achieve in 5 years".

March 13, 2013 at 02:40 AM · John,

A visitor being rude to another visitor? Who's the owner? ;-)

(saw your edited post John, and nope this post wasn't directed to you, I know what you were talking about so...)

March 13, 2013 at 07:52 AM · Lydia, The answer is no. I did mention before, the music office of HK assigned different teachers to different levels of classes. Bruno was promoted to a new class in Oct 2012. So, he has a new violin teacher again this year. There were about 10 teachers in his past tuition for eight years and the worse situation occurred last year because two teachers resigned. I don't have an intention to act a role of a proper violin teacher to Bruno. I am not qualify to be ...but as a father, I am not comfortable to his progress in learning violin. That's why I have to get involve and give him a hand.

Eight years of tuition has no meaning to me if a student/teacher doesn't respect the role. Bruno is finding music interest in recent years. So, I encourage him to have home practice everyday. It is because I love him and I know what's the best way to my son that he can take more benefits. At this moment, I am just being something like a reference book in his library. I can provide a prompt response for his inquiries. I can point out his faults and advise possible solution in which the findings was collected from different sources. What's wrong with me? Moreover, he can review my sayings. I am not an actor or a final decision marker but Bruno is. I will blame him whether he does not accept to correct known mistakes in case there is no proper reason.

Noted, I feel comfortable to his present violin teacher. I will be happier if he can do more. Earth was not made in a day!

Peter, you lost your way! You didn't see the whole picture clear but made a conclusion in mind. I am a human being on earth. I have my own experience in my life of music. So, we can use the same language (or specific words)in our communication. I have self confident in certain areas but not Self-centered or arrogant.

Charles, Both of responsibility and capability are most important to a teacher and student.

Again, A beginner needs relevant theories to support the techniques. An excellence violinist needs an excellence techniques, an unique perception and interpretation in music as well. Bruno may lack of basics to support his techniques. He may not have a right teacher to guide his process in due course.

My first focal point is that ' Relevant information benefits learning for a student when a lesson start for a piece of music. Most teachers are likely disregarding this step.' It seems that nobody finds this topic interest!

March 13, 2013 at 08:16 AM · Stayton

Some good points in your last post.

But good teachers do start off hopefully with relevant information.

From your last post and description of your son having about 10 teachers over the years, I now realise that this could be part of the problem.

It may have been better if he had only had two or three teachers in 10 years, rather than so many, where no one method or continuation of teaching progress can have taken place. It would be better to have had one or two good teachers rather than perhaps several mediocre ones.

March 13, 2013 at 03:50 PM · John,

A teacher's role is not just to demonstrate and explain, but will also address problem. And I've already stated earlier in this thread, IMHO teacher should also let the student experience the difference, that's the most direct way to input the new informations.

Regarding bow hold, during my earlier days on learning the violin, I was always told to correct something on my bold hold a few times and every time it didn't enter my brain and stay long enough. Until one time, a fine violinist who was a student of DeLay, fixed my bow hold problem in just 30mins lesson. Basically, he demonstrated my way of holding the bow, and his way of holding the bow, the difference was very obvious, but still not enough to convince me, until I actually experienced it after he explained everything and I do it for real. Boy, suddenly I feel like I'm playing a different violin - a much better one, of course.

March 13, 2013 at 06:07 PM · Stayton, some of us are being harsh and unfair on both you and Bruno. On the video I see a young violinist with potential, but ill-prepared for the piece he is playing. I dare say he played less well than at home?

As I wrote earlier, this teacher may well be re-iterating what other teachers have already shown, in both style and technique, but which Bruno has not yet integrated.

Are you present at Bruno's lessons? If so, it is vital that you consolidate what the teacher has shown, with a full understanding of the physical sensations involved, which are not always manifest visually. If not, be wary of adding advice born of intelligence rather than experience!

I have had sluggish beginners turn into dynamic teenagers, maybe because they are "ready", maybe because their parents can no longer "help"!

Style? I do indeed show this by example with brief explanations, but this is a domain in which you can help with background exploration: CDs, books etc.

Bow-hond? Bruno has an effective spiccato, so all is not lost! I have, here in France, many colleagues with straight pinkies, and rather straight thumbs. If a student can do what I ask, I don't necessarily change his/her bow-hold; as I wrote earlier, the visible hold is less important than finger action and flexibility. Hands are as different as faces!

In the video, the teacher points out several weaknesses, but I he should have given Bruno precise demonstrations on how to practice better, and made him imitate them on the spot. It is impossible for you to help Bruno yourself on this basis.

I find many teachers, who learned the "basics" with success in childhood, have little idea how to teach them.

Be careful with slow practice: it serves to establish the elements of technique, but each element must be played up to speed in the same session, 4 or 5 notes maximum at a time. 3 times slowly, then once fast, the sequence many times over.. Remember that a scale is already a compendium of many techniques.

Bruno, keep up the good work; Stayton, be supportive, (that's what we fathers are here for), but don't interfere without total understanding, or you might undo his teacher's work!

March 13, 2013 at 08:55 PM · I think you mean I was harsh on the teacher(s). (Adrian).

Bruno and his dad are the victims of bad teaching. It is the teachers(s) who need stringing up, preferably with Dominants.

March 14, 2013 at 09:49 AM · Please cool down, put it aside and we look forward. Something happened might cause of misunderstanding, poor communication, incomplete expression, etc. I rather like true telling and speech straight. Let us focus to our concern again.

Adrian, yes, Bruno played less well in masterclass but it was a fact that there were much more room of improvement as mentioned over last few days - bow hold, range of bow movement, fingering, etc. I held the handy-cam in masterclass and Casey did summarize the weaknesses which had been mentioned by the teacher. Bruno and I did review his video several times and we discussed point to point deeply. He plays scale with slow practice but ignoring one more fast practice . Thanks for your opinion.

Dear friends,

John had pointed out 'From 1.36 to 1.40 there is an untidy scramble but the notes are not fast. There is no rhythmic beat to control them ." Same problem was found from (2:18-2:30). What's the root cause? Problem of fingering and shifting or improper control? Does he play fast practice not enough? He started to play excises for change of position since last week but never did it before. Will it help? Are there any specific training for the left hand fingers?

March 14, 2013 at 10:30 AM · Stayton, here are some thoughts on slow practice:

1 - Soft gestures, without rhythm: finger spacing, finger pressure (often too much, sometime too little), elbow swings to "carry" the shifts, finger pressure released during shifts, eyes open, then eyes closed, soft tone.

2 - Slow rythmical playing: fingers tapping the string fast but not hard, sharp but light bow attacks. Slow tempo with quick gestures.

3 - Fast playing of short "cells" (4 or 5 notes), then join cells together in twos fours etc. stopping to evaluate the result. Never, ever play mindlessly! A repeated fault will have to be unlearned, and we can't undo what we have done, we can only swamp it in some thing better..

May I insist that we can only judge bow hold by the resulting sounds and not by its appearance; and the sounds come from inner sensations and inner momentum at which you and I can only guess.



We can't do two things at once! Only one thing accompanied by another. Also, if we try to think of everything while we play, our playing will be sluggish; we must think first, then act.

This is the reasoning behind my advice.

March 14, 2013 at 02:36 PM · Another key thing to note about slow practice is that the finger motions must be fast even though the tempo is slow. For each note, you drop the finger down (or snap it up) deliberately and quickly, regardless of the time passing between the notes. You're practicing the fast motion that you'll need at full tempo... the slow practice is just giving you time to think between the notes. That way, making something fast is theoretically just a matter of decreasing the length each note is held, i.e., shortening the 'thinking time'. (Shortening the thinking time is often a matter of getting the brain to "chunk" the notes into a group that can be executed with a single thought, as opposed to thinking about individual notes.)

A shift is similar if you're practicing it in slow motion. You can break the shift down into its component parts, and pause between, but each individual component should occur at speed. (By the way, the wrist should not wriggle during a shift. Bruno is bending his wrist almost flat and sometimes deforming it backwards during shifts, rather than keeping it straight.)

March 14, 2013 at 05:17 PM · Adrian,

Noted, thanks


yes, I got it. That was the similiar saying from John "his hand was tilted and sloping upwards". There are a lot problems with his right hand!!!My God!! shoulder/arm/wrist/fingers...>quite wrong!!

March 14, 2013 at 06:06 PM · Lydia, your excellent post clarifies Stage 2 of mine.

May I just plead for Stage 1 as frequent, if not daily, preparation: a sort of slow motion film to get the physical positions of arms, wrists and fingers sorted out before swinging into action in stage 2.

March 14, 2013 at 07:25 PM · Hi Stayton, there's a lot of good advice here but I want to say I don't think there's a lot 'wrong' with Bruno's left hand technique. He's gifted with long arms, a strong pinky, natural vibrato and quite a lot of facility, even if he needs lots of refinement to bring it all together. I think mostly he needs to organize his motions clearly, e.g. differentiating lifting from sliding motions in the left fingers, and coordinating with his bow arm (e.g. his bow seems to move ahead of his left hand frequently; at other times his shifts are ahead of the bow, etc.)

That passage is not really 'scrambly' (sounds smeared) but is fingered poorly (he needs better fingerings for the whole movement.) There are too many same-finger chromatic slides (It's hard to tell but it looks likes like he's doing 0/301-1/12-23/12-23/12-23/4; just quickly looking at the score, I think I'd be inclined to do something like: 4/3012/1212(without shifting)/1234/1212/4 or something like that.) The main thing he needs to address in all his slides has to do with releasing pressure of the finger during his slides as has been mentioned, whether finger slides or same-finger shifts. He needs to practice quickly releasing pressure of the finger so that it slides on the surface of the string. If you tracked the motion of the finger tip during a slide it would travel in an arc over the string as it presses, releases, glides and presses the target note. Also, to make same-finger slides clean (without sounding the slide) the released slide must happen very quickly and timed so that the next note starts precisely at the correct subdivision of the beat. William Primrose called such a finger slide a "finger staccato." Short-long and long-short rhythmic training will help time the sliding and placing of the fingers. But he needs to be rhythmically precise, i.e. he needs to control the motion from his inner sense of rhythm. Here's a good exercise for chromatic slides:

Play on all 4 strings start in 1st position; make sure hand stays in first position as 1st finger reaches back (extending at its base knuckle) and 4th finger extends forward; make sure to play all same finger slides with a 'staccato' motion; play rhythmically with a good pulse; play with short-long/long-short rhythms, slurring 2 and 2, slurring middle 2 and last note with 1st note of the next group, slurring 4, and at faster tempos slurring 8 and 16; leave lower fingers down at slower tempos; release lower fingers at faster tempos if they restrict speed; make sure all notes are even, whether it's a slide or place/lift; make all same finger-slides sound like you're using different fingers:

Start on the G-string:

Play G#-A-Bb-A with 1-1-2-1 repeat 4x

then A-Bb-Bnat-Bb with 1-2-2-2 repeat 4x

then B-C-C#-C with 2-3-3-3 repeat 4x

then C#-D-D#-D with 3-4-4-4 repeat 4x

then D# on the G string to D# on the D string (make sure to tune this high 4-low 1 unison)-E-D# with 4-1-1-1

then D#-E-F-E with 1-1-2-1, etc.

On the way down from the E-string:

Play C-B-A#-B with 4-4-3-4

then B-A#-A-A# with 4-3-3-3

then A-G#-G-G# with 3-2-2-2

then G-F#-Fnat-F# with 2-1-1-1

then F on the Estring-F on the Astring-E-F with 1-4-4-4 etc.

You can play this exercise in all positions. It's a pretty good warm-up exercise too.

Intonation is a problem. It's not terrible 'for a student,' but it needs much more accuracy and stability (sometimes he hits a note correctly but smears it as he goes for another note.) Perfect intervals need to be tuned (e.g. E to A after the G#; B to E after F-D; the leading tone G# needs to stay high and the F needs to be low to make a wide Augmented 2nd to the G# and a narrow diminished 5th with the B; unisons need to stay the same pitch, especially when they occur close together. To tune any passage he can simply fill in the missing notes to play the complete scale, in this case A harmonic minor, and check the perfect intervals in double stops: octave, 4th, check diminished fifth against a perfect fifths and also resolve it to the third.)

He seems to adjust the instrument a lot, which might suggest it's sliding; he might need a better setup and/or learn how to balance the scroll with his left hand. It looks like his clavicle is quite high (above his shoulder socket) so it might help to lower the violin by holding it more to the left of the tailpiece (of course you might have to find another chinrest to do that.)

Having glanced at the score I would disagree with the masterclass teacher regarding metric stress. Though the movement is in 3/4 the stress rarely falls on beat one, except perhaps at cadences. The movement is likely a Norwegian Polska in which the beat is often displaced to follow the light and heavy steps of the dancers. In this movement beat one is often light or a lift followed by stress on the second or third beat. (The Sarabande also places the stress on beat 2 in a triple metre.) [Edit: I just saw the teacher's demonstration and even he stresses the 3rd beat]

The performers in the recording above shift the stress quite a bit according to the phrase. In the score there are moments where the 2nd beat maybe emphasized, marked with accents or with a grace note, and clear accents frequently on the third beat.


I take his point that the framework is in 3/4, but I think it would make perfect sense to make much more of the weak first beat. (Could the markings in the score and the natural stress of the dominant rising, lifting to the tonic, slurred bowing from beat 3 to beat 1, make it seem like a trick question?)

Edit: Oistrakh clearly brings out the second beat. (Look at the label on the LP at 1'45". It's a sign! :)

P.S. There are a lot of exercises, scale studies and etudes that Bruno could do. But I think how he practices is just as, if not more important than what he practices at this juncture in his studies. He needs to develop his attention skills, notice what he's doing as he does it. He needs to form clear ideas (re. sound, pitch, articulation) before he executes any motion. He needs to develop his inner sense of rhythm so he can measure and time every left-hand and bowing action. I think if he can transform his practicing from the inside out, starting with his mind, he can overcome these more superficial difficulties and progress quickly. I think some of us here can see his potential and share in your frustration he isn't playing at a level he could be. Best wishes!

March 15, 2013 at 12:12 AM · Hi John, I know where you're coming from but I'd disagree with your assessment. Because of the angle of the fiddle and his proportions, Bruno doesn't need to bring his elbow forward (much) as he approaches the tip (although he might do well to feel release in the socket if there's any excess tension there.) If he swung the fiddle more to the left, he might have to use the 'pumping' motion. Sometimes he seems to swing the fiddle to the right with the bow. The level of the back of the hand is on the level of the string he's playing as far as I can tell. His hold looks remarkably like Shumsky's there, except possibly with too much flexion in the base knuckles.

Edit: the backward range of the elbow does seem to be too far back though. Perhaps if it were slightly forward, to square off the bow and elbow, he might need to swing the upper arm forward from middle to tip as John suggests. Also there seems to be similar motion at times: the violin swings right on a down bow and swings left on an up bow. There might be too much gripping with the left shoulder/neck. If the left side is too tight you can't feel the action of the bow against the strings. Practice with the head off of the violin. At first pinch the string and push an up bow without moving the bow across the string so the string bends then the fiddle gets 'rocked' to the left; then pinch the string and pull a down bow; rock the fiddle back and forth, at various parts of the bow. Notice how the left arm wants to move contrary to the motion of the bow when there is no tension in the left shoulder/neck. Let the left arm respond and push the fiddle into the bow, slightly to the right, at the beginning of an up bow; let the hand pull the fiddle away from the bow, slightly to the left at the beginning of a down bow. Maintain this slight contrary motion for all bow changes.

Edit 2: someone might have mentioned this already, but it looks like the movements between shoulder motion and elbow motions are not well coordinated; especially on the up bow, sometimes the shoulder closes first before the elbow--at the start of an up bow the upper arm should be passive; the forearm moves first, closing at the elbow, until the upper-arm is pulled along by the elbow; then the upper arm takes over to get to the frog. I retract my previous objection to John's suggestion. I think his description of drawing a straight bow will help to inhibit excess motion in the shoulder socket, even if Bruno ends up 'bowing around the corner' most of the time. Might as well learn good technique. I think part of the problem is that the violin keeps moving around (the whole torso moves with violn/head but the bow arm moves independently, it seems for no purpose, so the relationship between left and right keeps changing. But then again, the camera keeps moving so it's hard to tell... tip to videographer: aim the camera so strings are parallel to the lens... with the subject centred in the frame and showing full range of bow arm... and leave it there... on a tripod... :) When the fiddle moves, the bow arm must adjust to maintain angles. This is part of the 'organizing' process; positions and range of movement need to be mapped out for the brain.

March 15, 2013 at 09:54 AM · Thank yoy, Jeewong, at last someone has looked in depth at the matter of style and accentuation. When playing chamber music with friends, there are frequent arguments about phrasing and accents: swallowing one's pride is a vital part of music making!

There is much superb and detailed advice in this thread. Notice that there is far more advice on arm movement than on bow-hold; Bruno's bow hold in the video is very different from my own, (flat hand, four rounded fingers) but it is not actually wrong. As I said earlier, Bruno has a decent spiccato, so it is not the bow hold which causes the other problems, but the arm movements. When different teachers discuss bow holds, there is murder in the air!! Which I think proves my point..

Stayton, be very cautious of fixating on the visual impression. I have taught several hundred students over the years (decades!) and no two are alike, physically or mentally. The exact positions of limbs, digits, and the violin itself, come from patient exploration of the student's strengths and weaknesses: bones, joints, muscles, memory (visual, aural and kinetic), not to mention adolescent reluctance to take advice! There is no "right" bow hold, just a "best" one, and not necessarily mine.. The outward forms are the result of the balance, motion and muscle-tone required to obtain the desired sounds.

Having said all that, your use of video is exremely beneficial: Bruno can see himself play as you see him, which may not correspond to what he imagined.

March 15, 2013 at 10:56 AM · This is not necessarily a response to Adrian's last post immediately above - but a general one.

I think this discussion - with visual as well as aural analysis of what the problems with Bruno may be - has become out of all proportion.

With all these conflicting theories from both professional and amateur players, there is no way the father or the son can be helped. They can only be totally confused.

These problems can NOT be assessed or remedied from a computer screen. Minute adjustments to bow hold, bow contact, speed of bow, contact point, etc., can only be assessed standing right next to Bruno, and hearing as well as seeing the effect of his playing. Anyone who thinks differently is, I'm afraid, living in cloud cuckoo land.* (*For translation read "nut-house").

He just needs a really good teacher. If that does not work within 18 months then he should either give up the violin or play just for fun, which can be fun ...

March 15, 2013 at 12:37 PM · Too many cooks spoil the broth - or is it too many brothels spoil the cook?

P.S. I think Bruno should play the violin standing on his head, and then all will be cured ...

March 15, 2013 at 02:38 PM · Hi John, yup that's the way I was taught and continue to teach 'straight' bowing. I guess lately I've been observing exceptions to the rules, and finding exceptions are the rule in real life. I was thinking a more simple path of the bow might be more useful for Bruno at this point, but then decided quality of movement was the more important issue.


Having worked with many mid to late teenagers needing to advance their level of playing in short order, I've observed what havoc growing (physically) can wreak on their movement and coordination. I still remember a friend in high school commenting, almost out of the blue one day, "I don't know where to put my hands," to which I was too young and naive to come up with a witty and off-coloured reply. As Adrian points out, no two players are the same. But for children experiencing a sudden growth spurt their own bodies may become quite foreign to them as their brains scramble to remap their sense of body space, movement, and interaction with their environment. As we age, as we become accustomed to certain patterns of behaviour, as our brain maps develop deeper 'grooves', pathways of movement and thinking, we may develop imbalances as other patterns and ranges of movement fall into disuse. In short, we have to maintain our brain maps throughout our lives. But especially for teens suffering through that 'awkward' period, where their own sense of body-space is constantly changing, it becomes even more important to keep adjusting and exploring range of motion, to keep refining their movement skills.

Here are some interesting sources of information:

How to Improve Proprioception (our sense of body space)

The Brain is for Movement, Part 1 and Part 2

other links related to Coordination

To refine movement we need to reduce variables which bombard our brains. So in creating and practicing any exercise it helps to define specific goals and parameters at the outset. It helps to think of one thing at a time, whether right thumb pressure, elbow motion, pitch, quality of slide in a shift, coordinating bow motion with shift, even sound, etc. Because there are so many variables it helps to become aware of them so we can work on each with single minded focus, and move on to the next, or combine two or more, to simplify before we make complex. Of course an effective teacher will make the process more efficient. But we can't focus our attention on categories of technique and movement of which we aren't even aware. The more we learn how to teach ourselves, the quicker we will progress. This involves collecting vast amounts of data and filtering for relevant information, learning how to think critically.

Two things which we can all do by ourselves, which takes great effort and focus and commitment, are to map out the fingerboard and map out the bow.

Mapping out the fingerboard involves playing every note in every key in every position with every finger, and shifting every interval between every finger and position in every key. Thinking in keys helps train tonality and using a reference pitch, the tonic, to which we can tune every other interval. Obviously scales and arpeggios are great aids. But along the lines of Sevcik (Opp. 1, 8), Yost, Dounis, there are a couple of exercises which practised frequently in small doses can make a huge impact:

1) Position scales. Pick a key. Pick a position. Figure out the degree of the scale of the first note. Use solfege, or degrees of the scale to figure out the interval pattern and play the scale starting on the first finger, across all 4 strings, using all 4 fingers on each string, in the chosen key. Play slow to fast, separate bows, various slurred patterns, various groupings per bow.

2) Shifting all intervals, as I've outlined here, which covers all the shifts we neglect when only playing scales.

Mapping out the bow involves getting to know the division of the bow according to weight and balance, proportions of the arm, then divisions of the bow, using exercises like this and this.

The sooner we learn to compensate for the variable nature of both instruments (shrinking intervals along the string, uneven weight of the bow) the sooner we can add our own variables of expressive fingering, and dynamics and articulation with the bow. From what I've observed most students learn these very basic skills too late. It doesn't even make sense to describe best setup until students' interaction with the full range of the instrument is taken into consideration. It can be done in about a year and should be done as soon as the student can hear nuances of pitch and sound (in particular, apprehend relative pitch, and evenness of tone.) As the student gains competence and confidence with these basics, quality of movement can be further refined and more complex skills mastered. But as the student grows, these basic exercises must be maintained to adjust for that growth, to keep brain maps 'updated.' And as we grow older...

March 15, 2013 at 03:21 PM · Jeewon,

I got your meaning. I drafted a diagram. This is what we are doing so...performance review, corrective action plan(theories), implementation, review......I wish Bruno can pick up all the relevant materials (the right/proper things) for a good start.

Thousands of 'thanks' are not enought to you! I appreciate for our efforts with the detailed description and analysis. You impressed me with your sincere heart and contribution. You are a good teacher!! I began to have a little bit of job stress and something looked like unreachable.

Re: Shoulder rest / chin rest

He always pointed down his violin towards the ground. The other problem is an inncorrect slope (45 degree) of violin on the shoulder. I brought this violin and shoulder rest to him three year ago in China when I was on vacation. Actually, I always reminded him this error. Until earlier of last year, I tried to study this problem. At last, I found that it caused of the adjustable arms. They were exactly the same. So, I made a piece of plastic part to compensate the gap in order to fit his need. I remembered that there was a saying 'don't hold the violin too tight' and I also found that Oistrakh turned his head frequently when playing violin. So, what's the problem you found there? Yes, his video has shown that Bruno has a habit to adjust his violin each time after a rest note. I will point this issue to him first.

Re: metric stress

I'd already mentioned at the very beganning that Bruno played the piece compartive dull. My understanding was that the teacher aimed to pay his attention. It was the elementary theory in interpreting a piece of music in case he was unable to understand the piece in full. In general, most of beganners may lack of experience and sense of music. This is a good approach and an easy way to achieve a better performance shortly. Definitely, argument will be endless in this topic of 'performing a piece' between different players.

notes, I did play the videos before and had stored those two video in my notebook last year. So, I knew this sign. I knew that Bruno always played this video(Oistrakh) with his iphone when he had started to play this piece in earier stage. thanks.

John, noted, thanks your advice....

Adrain, don't worry! I understood clear that roles of fingers are the key.

He makes change of his bow hold (I can comment the appearance only)something like Franco-Belgian hold because of the following reasons.

1. comment by teacher in masterclass

2. bow hold of some great violinists

3. his current teaher's advice

However, I will follow and ensure that he is on the right trace. thanks

March 15, 2013 at 03:45 PM · Jeewon

I suppose it varies with young people - many don't have a problem. I heard a young man aged 16 the other night who had grown about 2 feet in the last year and he was playing better than ever. I don't remember any problems at that age myself - or with any of my brilliant playing friends. I think at that age the body adapts - maybe the mind gets to be a bit more of a problem.

Obviously from you have written not only here but in other posts from the past I can see you have many ways of solving problems and I can see you have a very good understanding about the finer points.

There are of course other people on here who I don't have to mention who have great experience and are top teachers and players.

The people who do worry me though are some that seem keen to give specific advice (with good intentions) - but may not really have a practical understanding of the problems, as well as experience in sorting these out, or the necessary skills themselves to play to a high level.

However, there is nothing I suppose one can do about this. I tend to try and avoid giving advice myself as it can easily be misunderstood and can be wrong anyway when just looking at a video, especially one shot from a distance.

March 15, 2013 at 04:13 PM · I am learning a lot from this thread (at 34 I knew everything, at 64 I only know what I know).

Stayton, I feel uncomfortable with your model for improvement! It looks like an external "mould" to be compared with an inner shape (the imperfect circle).

To my poor little mind, the rough circle needs healing from within, like finding the right nutriments for a plant, or a guiding stick for the plant to climb; but not enclosing the poor plant in a cylidrical glass tube. Many teachers, having used a "model" which fails, just shrugs their shoulders, and put the blame on the student..

I have doubtless misunderstood the meaning of this alarming empty red circle!

March 15, 2013 at 09:04 PM · "Mapping out the fingerboard involves playing every note in every key in every position with every finger, and shifting every interval between every finger and position in every key. Thinking in keys helps train tonality and using a reference pitch, the tonic, to which we can tune every other interval. Obviously scales and arpeggios are great aids. But along the lines of Sevcik (Opp. 1, 8), Yost, Dounis, there are a couple of exercises which practised frequently in small doses can make a huge impact:

1) Position scales. Pick a key. Pick a position. Figure out the degree of the scale of the first note. Use solfege, or degrees of the scale to figure out the interval pattern and play the scale starting on the first finger, across all 4 strings, using all 4 fingers on each string, in the chosen key. Play slow to fast, separate bows, various slurred patterns, various groupings per bow.

2) Shifting all intervals, as I've outlined here, which covers all the shifts we neglect when only playing scales."


A great exposition of why I began my "fingering thesaurus", so as to document all the possible fingering patterns (in a system with 12 note octaves), going beyond the usual ones, in a way that allows you to clearly see and understand the pattern.

Just putting that up for the record.

March 16, 2013 at 06:01 AM · Adrian,

Yes, I agreed with your points on teaching. The rough circle needs healing from within. . Targeted therapy is one of up-to-date treatment that less side effect and more efficient. If there no proper treatment, rough circle will remain unchanged or turn worse. If there is not under a systematic treatment, complication may be seen.

Just make it simple. As per Jeewon and your pervious saying, Bruno is not too bad. My rough circle is used to tell that somthing is looking good (there are perfect arcs) which compared with the model, but rough elements has been pointing out already during the performance review, I want to express that the red circle can be fitted into the hole. It becomes a perfect combination because no gap anymore and they are the same diammeter. There is an objective of how to refine good techniques. This model is something to show a perfect match, effective learning and correction.

We always interprete a music in different ways (or comprehending)......

John, If so, we thanks God because he sent you to be with us! Thanks for your sharing.

March 16, 2013 at 07:24 PM · Hi Chen,

I had taken violin training scheme which is organisated by Hong King music Office 30 years ago. The same music program as your son. During that eight years period, I had only three different teachers.

From the music office website, the objectives of the organization is "the Music Office promotes knowledge and appreciation of music in the community, especially among young people, through the provision of instrumental and ensemble training". In my experience and opinion, they do a good job.

I don't know what is your expectation for you son. If you want your son to enjoy playing violin and make good friends, he should be fine staying in HKMO. However, it is not a place for training "professional" violinist.

If you want you son have better training, you may want to ask his teacher for private class instead of group class in HKMO.

I was start at eight classmate group and gradually in a three classmate group. Eventually, I quited and had private class with my favorite teacher.

In retropect, I should quit early. I learned much more and improved quicker in private class.

However, I enjoyed my time in the HKMO.

Good luck!

March 18, 2013 at 04:32 AM · Victor,

Bruno finished his final year of advanced course (A3) last year and scored marks over 80. He was permitted to study in an extensive training course (X1) in Sep, 2012. There are still two extensive courses in coming two years if everything goes smooth. I have no idea the details of your studies in HKMO, but I do know the syllabus of advanced courses (A1-A3) that are relevant to the syllabus of grade 6 to grade 8 of ABRSM respectively. As you know, HKMO offers internal assessment end of the course. They used the listed pieces, scales and Arpeggios.... that we can find in ABRSM's syllabus .... for their internal accessment. My understanding is that, such formal trainings are offered by HK Government, should not be something like activities in a club or an entertainment for friendships. I believe that there are qualify teachers in HKMO but I can ensure that there may be problem within an elements as well - management, teachers, students, parents or other stakeholders.

To be fair, I have never expected that Bruno can be educated to be a professional violinist in HKMO. I have emphasised that right/proper techniques are the key for a start and I would also like to question why many students had fallen into bad habits. Bad habit is established by the one who owns misconception for a long time. This is one of my focal points to be placed here for a discussion.

Bruno started for five classmates last year and formed in two classmates group this year. Regarding to your sharing of own experience that you had an errors during playing violin in HKMO but didn't find a prompt correction there. Such a case could be corrected or paid attention by HKMO thirty yeas ago, we may feel more comfortable on an efforts to arts today. In addition, Leung shared his opinion within few minutes in a masterclass, our friends (pofessional teachers/violinists here had looked in depth at the errors and knowledge was in appropriate to mention in above. Why HKMO teachers cannot...?

If Bruno is really with potential or talent in playing violin, he still have chances to accept formal trainings few years later in HK or overseas e.g. Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (local) / Universities (local/overseas) or Conservatories(overseas).

(My first name is Chan)

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