How important is technique?

March 27, 2013 at 07:41 PM · Hello,

This spring I am graduating from the Bachelor performance programme at the Malmö Academy of Music in Sweden. For my graduation I have to write a paper, and I've chosen the subject "How musicians and members of the audience can communicate". I'd love to hear your opinions and experiences on this subject!

A part of my paper deals with the technical aspects of violin playing. If you have time, please feel free to leave your thoughts on the following questions! Every answer is of great value to me.

How important is the technical aspect when you listen to a violinist?

How easily will you be distracted from the music if the violinist lacks some of the technical aspects?

What is the more important aspects for you as a listener to be able to enjoy the music?

As a performer, how much focus do you put on technical abilities compared to musicality when you perform at a concert?

Thank you so much for your answers, they will be of great use! Happy easter!

Love, Ellen Löfgren

Replies (23)

March 27, 2013 at 11:50 PM · Well, for me technique is only there to serve musicality.

Musicality is more on the instinctive side and those who can create it the best are usually very good technicians linked with a very good understanding of what is beautiful as musical ideas and phrasings.

Good technicians can be musical or not but it's quite hard to be a good musician if you are a poor technician because you lack tools to express yourself.

Just my two cents, good luck in that second paper!

Anne-Marie

March 28, 2013 at 12:59 AM · Only players consider technique, Joe audience member is just concerned with the sound.

March 28, 2013 at 07:37 AM · from the point of view of a listener, dazzling (ie. particularly noticeable) technique is an obstacle to me - a distraction while "waiting for the music to begin."

March 28, 2013 at 08:59 AM · Brilliant technique without musicality is a cold and meaningless experience.

Brilliant musicality with limited technique can be very enjoyable, in some contexts. My school had an orchestra for the preparatory kids, and though they were mostly around grade 3 they played with sensational verve and fizz - I remember those concerts decades later. Also, many folk musicians have limited technique but great musicality.

Brilliant technique in the service of brilliant musicality. Need one say more??

March 28, 2013 at 10:40 AM · Thank you all so much for your answers, and yes, a very complex subject indeed! I'd like to follow up with some questions to your lovely responses:

Don R,

I agree that easier pieces can be played wonderfully without difficult technique mastered, but how do you think about the basic technique, then? Does it have to be in place for a lovely performance? How much lack of technique is okay before you end up not liking what you hear?

Anne-Marie,

nice of you to show up here as well! Actually it is just one paper, I'm just splitting technique and musicallity into two different subjects, my hopes are that they will go somewhere specifik, but we'll see where you all take me :)

When you talk about tools to be able to express yourself, do you find any of these tools more important? Are some tools that are missing in your toolbox more important from a audience point of view?

Don C,

Would you care to explain further what you think the audience find more or less important in sound?

Frieda,

I do agree on that you have to be taught the rules of music to be able to play it yourself. I think that is very important, as well a part of teaching how to play musically. You say that poor sound production makes a risk of sounding like a robot, do you know of anymore techniques that is bound to give a poor result if not used correctly? Which do you find more important?

Bill,

I do agree, but why do you think we come across that problem?

Geoff,

Yes, the children and the folk musicians, why do you think you still appriciated their performance? You talked about their verve and fizz, what does that come from? You are able to enjoy it even though their technique isn't good, but what technique is it that they lack and you are able to forgive?

March 28, 2013 at 12:45 PM · Having good technique helps you to accomplish what your mind is thinking. A musician with poor technique will unlikely reach their full artistic potential.

March 28, 2013 at 12:46 PM · Q: How important is the technical aspect when you listen to a violinist?

A: Somewhat important

Q: How easily will you be distracted from the music if the violinist lacks some of the technical aspects?

A: It depends on other aspects of performance

Q: What is the more important aspects for you as a listener to be able to enjoy the music?

A: Interpretation, personality and emotional context.

Q: As a performer, how much focus do you put on technical abilities compared to musicality when you perform at a concert?

A: Technique is but one of pre-requisited for music expression. It is not either or, but a process - I will work on technique as long as the lack of it does not allow my interpretation to flow.

If your paper is to have any scientific value you will have to move on from qualitative analysis (using an open-ended questions and descriptions) to quantitative analysis (using a questionnaire and numeric analysis).

March 28, 2013 at 02:12 PM · Yes, the children and the folk musicians, why do you think you still appriciated their performance? You talked about their verve and fizz, what does that come from? You are able to enjoy it even though their technique isn't good, but what technique is it that they lack and you are able to forgive?

First - I think context is important. If I've paid $200 to hear a classical virtuoso at Carnegie Hall, I'm not going to be happy if they play badly out of tune. If I'm watching younger kids at a school concert or a folk singer in my local club, I'm going to be listening in a different way.

Second - Personality is important. Some people can communicate, and some can't. Vengerov, say, or Perlman have this kind of charisma. But other less technically able performers have it too. George Melly, of example, was pretty limited as a jazz singer, but he had a personality the size of a minor planet. So he was great to go and see. This is what was so enjoyable about the kids - they had an inspiring conductor, and were having a great time. They attacked the music fearlessly and joyously, and it was infectious. A professional orchestra grinding through a standard they can play in their sleep to a half-empty hall on a rainy Wednesday night can often be less inspiring!

Third - rhythm is important. In most kinds of music, it still makes sense if the tuning or tone is a little off, but if the rhythm is off it becomes meaningless. Many mid-level folk musicians have so-so tone, but have a deep understanding of how to be creative with the rhythmic traditions of the style they are playing. This can be great to listen to. But listening to a classically trained fiddler with far better intonation and tone but no reall understanding of the rhythmic idiom is painful.

March 28, 2013 at 02:22 PM · John,

It's funny that you bring Meditation up, for me that is the core example of a piece that is considered "simple" by a lot of people, but I actually think it's one of the hardest out there in terms of proper use of technique and musicallity... My main theme in this paper is actually communication, and how you achieve that through music. Is that in a way what you mean with artistry, or what does it mean to you?

Charles,

With having that said, what aspects of poor technique do you think is what stops people from being artistic?

Rocky,

I have chosen to use these open questions (and not state what I already have learned from literature etc) just for the purpose of learning what a few of you think, and perhaps get new ideas from what I self and the writers have overseen. I do not agree with you that the only way to be scientific is to use questionnaires and analyses in a numeric way, that would not be a proper way to adress these questions, I think. Either way, if I would have chosen to do a more measuring kind of paper, I would not have used this forum, for reasons you probably understand yourself.

For your answers, do you care to explain what other aspects that would help lacking technical abilities? Which technical abilities can you not oversee despite that? Do you let go of the technical thinking completly then, we you feel that you are ready to perform a piece?

Don,

Do you not play your exercises musically at all? Do you often seperate music and technique when you practice technique? Would you care to tell me more about how you feel that there is no bad technique?

Thank you so much for your answers!

March 28, 2013 at 02:28 PM · Geoff,

Thank you!

So in a way, you do have a more forgiving way of listening to some players in a technical aspect, but not in a communicating aspect? How do you think you can communicate in a level like Venegrov and Perlman, is it because of their personalities or do you find it in something more? And what about their personalities makes you find them so good?

And thank you, rhythm! That is an important aspect in folk music, are you able to find some of those aspects in the classical music as well?

March 28, 2013 at 02:51 PM · Frieda,

I would do that, but too bad - it is in swedish :) And still it is a work in progress, of course.

Vibrato, ah, the sickness that strikes a classical string player! That is a great example, thank you so much!

Thank you as well for your answer about basic technique! Do you find any of the basic technique to be more important than others? Of course if you go to a professional concert, all of these components should be in place, but do you find that some of these distract you more if not there?

For you as a violin player, how do you keep this knowledge in mind when you perform yourself?

March 28, 2013 at 04:38 PM · Ellen,

I'd like to draw your attention to Buri's (Stephen Brivati's) reply in this thread.

Good luck with your thesis,

Bart

March 28, 2013 at 04:50 PM · Bart,

Thank you, that was very kind of you.

If anyone else finds some previous threads (I do have been looking for that myself) that applies nicely to this subject and makes a statement that you also think has some truth to it, please let me know.

March 28, 2013 at 05:16 PM · Ellen

So in a way, you do have a more forgiving way of listening to some players in a technical aspect, but not in a communicating aspect? How do you think you can communicate in a level like Venegrov and Perlman, is it because of their personalities or do you find it in something more? And what about their personalities makes you find them so good?

And thank you, rhythm! That is an important aspect in folk music, are you able to find some of those aspects in the classical music as well?

You put it well - you can forgive a lot of technical failings if the communication is good. But technique without communication is boring.

But goodness, how do you define star quality? It's certainly not just swaying around a lot and making faces - that can end up irritating. It's partly personalities, but also, I think, these greats have found a way to express music in a way that matches their personalities. And if you listen to their masterclasses, this didn't happen by accident - it's something they have worked on. Vengerov, for example, visualises lively little mental movies that fit the music and help him to be expressive. If Vengerov played like Hahn it would feel odd, I think. It's a gestalt, and quite mysterious, thank goodness!

As for rhythm, it's surely the foundation of classical music too? In many ways, I feel it's the approach to phrasing that defines a genre. A lot of Scottish song and dance music can be approached from a traditional or a classical angle. The notes are the same, but the results are very different! So for me, the bottom line is rhythm and phrasing for any kind of music: as the old song goes - "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing".

March 28, 2013 at 08:06 PM ·

What part of technique can hamper a musician's artistry? I would say a lack of control and technical versatility.

Three things, IMO, that make a good musician: musical character, creativity and control. Constantly working on creativity and control will strengthen character.

March 29, 2013 at 04:28 PM · Portamento certainly gives an attractive vocal quality to the playing. There are excellent examples in the playing of Jacques Thibaud and others of his era. It is a pity it so little used nowadays.

I've been told that if you want to play a Mozart violin concerto well then listen first to the arias in his operas.

March 29, 2013 at 06:19 PM · "I've been told that if you want to play a Mozart violin concerto well then listen first to the arias in his operas."

Yes, very good advice.

Personally I think technique and musicianship are one and the same. Take one away and you have a poor performance. You have to have both.

John, I would disagree with you that Meditation from Thais is a moderately difficult piece. A very competent player should be able to sightread this piece and play it artistically at the same time. It helps to have heard it played before at some point, and I'm sure we all have. *

A good student will build up technique and musicianship in more or less equal measure over a period of time. If one part is below where it should be, then a concentration on technique may be necessary for a while.

I remember at a tender age going to a marvellous teacher for an audition to have lessons and eventually study at college. I said to him, can you teach me how to play this Bach G minor Sonata No 1 musically, as I'm having problems. His answer was to get the technique right so the musical side could have an unimpeded journey out to the listener. Both had to go hand in hand.

EDIT: * I suppose we should have both qualified that statement about Meditation. You described it as a moderately difficult piece - and it may be so for someone not too advanced. But in general terms it is not. So for an advanced player it is relitively easy - but for a begginer it would be very hard - and for a young player in their second or third year it might be moderately difficult.

I'm just as guilty as anyone else when I make some of these generalisations. It's a bit like when Heifetz said to Ricci as a child, that he should be able to sight read the concertos he was playing at the time. Not sure which these were, but they were not the big concertos. (He also served Ricci in later years with some whiskey that was less than the best i.e. cheap!)

March 30, 2013 at 01:51 PM · Thank you all so much for your answers, they were very helpfull! Just a few things I have written about, if you have the time to make a comment, please feel free to do that!

Professor and author Peter Bastian writes about how you never should make a difference between music and technique. All etudes, scales etc that you play you should play musically. What do you think of that statement?

Prof. Bastian also shares his thoughts about the technical perfection as a result of the recording industry. On a recorded CD all mistakes are of course there forever, so retakes and editing makes up for mistakes. But he also mentions the misleading balance between the solist and orchestra, where the solist is usually as loud as the whole orchestra, making every sound count from the solist. Do you think that is part of the greater and greater focus on technique nowadays?

When working with a piece, do you prefer the technique being introduced in the piece, or beforehand in etudes? Do you see any advantages of either way?

Thank you, please look into my other thread if you got time: How important is musicality?

March 30, 2013 at 03:44 PM · Hello Ellen,

This is a great topic and has led to some great discussion. It is also a huge topic. You will be able to expand and follow up on this investigation for years to come and you will use it in your playing and teaching.

I believe that technique and musical expression are intimately tied together. On the most basic level we try to produce sounds that are pleasing, and that has to do with controlling and adjusting what we do with the bow. So even a beginner is dealing with beauty vs. ugliness, and that has to do with bow pressure, bow speed and point of contact, even though a beginner will not be thinking in those terms. Similarly, in tune notes have their own beauty. Out of tune notes are ugly. So we are dealing with artistic expression in the realm of intonation from day one.

The first time you play a new piece you are choosing a tempo and a volume level. These are artistic choices. As we get more advanced, we need to experiment with different tempos and different volume levels, and not just get stuck in the one we started with, or the one we sort of adopted from recordings.

When I start a new piece, I am striving for musical expression from day one. I refuse to spend the first week or month just working on technical issues. I believe that we need to have a sense, from day one, of where we are heading, which means a musical concept, which will then be enlarged and modified as we get to know the piece better. Also I believe that this musical concept should come out of our own experience of playing the piece and not just out of listening to recordings.

March 30, 2013 at 07:05 PM · Roy,

thank you for your answer! Yes, it is indeed a huge topic, and one that will follow me through the rest of my life. But that is the greatest thing about music, is it not?

That is a great way of explaining intonation and bow technique! I like how you work with your pieces, especially how you don't want to create yet another copy of the piece. Do you study the score as well to grasp the musical concept? Do you work theoretically with your pieces?

April 1, 2013 at 01:53 AM · Hi Ellen,

Thanks for your appreciative comment.

I have the good fortune to play piano pretty competently. So at a minimum I will spend enough time with the piano part so that I know what's going on and have a sense of the whole. Over the course of a lot of years, I have accompanied most of the standard repertoire, and I feel that this has been an important part of who I am as a violinist.

For somebody who does not have piano skills, I would advise listening to a recording while following along in the piano part. If you do this several times while you are studying the piece, you will find that each time you hear more and develop a greater awareness.

Imagine if you were an actor learning a role in a play. You would certainly want to know, what the other people are saying. You would not just learn your own lines. In fact you would want to know the entire play before you came to the first rehearsal. I think that it should be equally important for us as artists to know the entire work.

April 1, 2013 at 09:05 AM · Technique

How important is the technical aspect when you listen to a violinist?

- Rhythm, intonation and tone must be suffiently good to convey the musical content.

How easily will you be distracted from the music if the violinist lacks some of the technical aspects?

- More easily in a violinist than in in a singer, or pianist; a poorly played violin is intolerable!

What is the more important aspects for you as a listener to be able to enjoy the music?

- Musicality! Commitment!

As a performer, how much focus do you put on technical abilities compared to musicality when you perform at a concert?

- I am usually very conscious of the technical aspects, which have been already honed for musical ends. There are rare moments of grace when the violin seems to play itself!

Musicality

For you as a part of an audience, how important is the performers musicality for you to enjoy the music?

- Absolutely essential.

How important is it for you as a listener to understand the music? (Phrasing, context, developement etc)

- Intellectual understanding takes a back seat; the music and its communication takes over my mind.

How important is the understanding of the music for you as a performer?

- Very. But well-written music makes itself understood intuitively.

As a performer, how do you create "music" and communication through music?

- I am guided by the music itself, and by my fellow musicians.

More specifically, what is it that you address when you talk about a wonderful musicality?

- Musical sounds can be beautiful in themselves, but the real "music" emerges from behind and between the notes.

April 1, 2013 at 11:12 AM · I'd like to thank all of you that have written in these threads! My paper is due today and I have gotten a lot of ideas and opinions from you. Thank you! Please feel free to leave more comments, as even though the project is finnished, these questions never will be...

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