Am I the only one who cannot play fast after 4 and a half years?

May 30, 2013 at 04:48 AM · my HUGE struggle in learning violin is 'playing fast'.

I would like to hear from other students (amateur professionals anything really) that like me had this HUGE BLOCK in learning to play fast and it took them ages to conquer it.

I know how to tackle the problem, I know what exercises to do etc, what I want to know is that I am 'not alone' in taking this long to crack it.

I have been learning for 4 years and 4 months, I am currently learning the Mozart n3 concerto, Monti Czardas, Mozart Rondo (from the Hauffner), Schubert Ave Maria transcription Heifetz etc

However I STILL cannot play fast!

The Mozart Rondo and the Czardas are 2 pieces I am giving it a go in order to help myself play faster. The Czardas is not too bad, I almost got it there, however it's because it has shorter bouts of fast notes, the Rondo is a total nightmare (it is simple in notes but a nightmare in the sense I cannot achieve a reasonable speed on it, not even close to Szeryng never mind Heifetz!)

Even the Mozart N3 I can play the 1st movement ok-ish but it's too slow!

My main problem is that my right hand and left hand get out of sync fairly soon in the speeding up process.

Please tell me I am not alone in this, who else has been playing 4 and a half years and 'still' cannot play fast???

Replies (74)

May 30, 2013 at 05:01 AM · About the same for me after three years, however, I think my speed improves as I begin to learn better bow control. Hard to play fast when using too ample a bow movement. As I learn to better economize my bow movements, my speed improves. i.e. my arm can only move so fast, and as I speed up the tempo, if I maintain the same movement amplitude, it comes a point where my bow arm can't follow my left hand, unless I shorten the stroke. If you watch a good fiddle player, you'll see that their bow arm hardly moves, yet the tempo is super fast. It's all in the wrist and economy of movement. Memorization seems also an important factor.

May 30, 2013 at 07:04 AM · hi Jo, I think it is obvious that you are not alone! keep up the love for the violin, that's all that matters!

May 30, 2013 at 10:15 AM · LOL Thanks Jean :)

yes my love for the violin stays, but I do feel 'physically impaired' when I think I am supposedily learning intermediate/advanced pieces but 'still' cannot play fast LOL

Roger, my bow arm movement is fine actually ie: I do not move the bow much at all and keep it more in the wrist, however it's my left and right hand coordination the problem, they get 'out of sync' with each other fairly quickly....

I keep doing all the exercises out there it is so frustrating :D

May 30, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Jo,

first things first: is your violin responsive and you bow performing well? It is possible, but challenging to play fast when your instrument is not helping. A small thing, such as string clearance, tension and the type of strings can make a big difference.

Practice using different rhythmic patterns and bow strokes. For examples, check Galamian's writings on the subject.

Use metronome; start with slow tempo and accelerate only once you feel comfortable. Go back to slow. Play by heart.

Regarding the synchronization of right and left: your left hand is the ultimate limit to the speed, no matter how fast can you move your right hand. The exercises described above will help.

Right hand: short bow strokes, at the best spot, movement from the wrist. You may want to observe players such as Roby Lakatos.

Practice scales daily. Use Galamian's acceleration and deceleration exercises.

May 30, 2013 at 01:37 PM · I seem to be generally 'slower' than average in response time (for a lot things) as me crazy.

Speed comes with practice, but it takes don't worry about it yet.

And I also think a lot of players perform pieces too fast...just because they can, or for the challenge etc., so unless you're playing with a group and have to keep up, you can slow down to a comfortable speed and still sound 'right'.

May 30, 2013 at 03:20 PM · If coordination is a problem it is often because the left hand is not solid. Practice the passages first with legato bowing. Then alternate between legato and separate bows. Keep your focus on the left hand. The RH will follow along. Not the other way around.

May 30, 2013 at 03:28 PM · The violin requires many different skills, and every performer has a battle in at least one major area. For some its speed, for others (even professionals) it can be intonation, or playing softly, or rhythm, or memorizing - the list goes on. These major battles can be won, but it takes time, practice, and working on it in inches, don't expect miles.

Keep at it - you'll get there.

May 30, 2013 at 07:24 PM · Ok, from all the responses I am getting the feeling that I am in the minority in taking 'this long' :D

never mind I know I will get there 'one day'.......

John thanks I did what you asked me, yes I can do the fast 'shivering' note on open strings, yes I think the bow is faster than the left hand fingers :)

yes I will do your 'string analogy' exercise as that is one I have not done 'yet' (I have done the bowing rhythms and patterns and all sorts of combinations, playing the same note 4 times then 2 then 1, going by metronome and notching it up slowly etc etc etc).

I told my teacher tonight that this is 'bugging me' so we worked on the Czardas with rhythm variations, he had to be 'very' patient as I was finding it real hard to speed up, he was saying 'faster' and I was saying 'I can't' and he was saying 'try' and me 'I AM trying it just doe s not go any faster' LOOOOOL then my fingers and bow went out of sync as they do :D

I'm gonna keep at it of course as I am having nothing else but to get better on the violin and I 'will' one day play all the pieces I love in a decent enough way :)

May 30, 2013 at 11:00 PM · Yes John, fast 'separate' notes, those are the most difficult for me, the legato ones can still be difficult if fast though not as much as the separate :)

May 31, 2013 at 12:42 AM · Jo, have you tried playing a scale (or whatever pattern) with repeated fast détaché notes?

Make the right hand as fast as you like/feel comfortable with or what you are aiming for but the left hand slow enough that you feel comfortable and in sync with the bow. You may be playing each note 2,3,4 ,5,6 whatever number of times, then gradually try to reduce the number of repetitions of each note (i.e speed up the left hand) while keeping the right the same.

Edit: Ok, just reread and it sounds like you have tried it.

May 31, 2013 at 01:16 AM · Hah! I was just lamenting at how slow I am, oddly I am also slow at my other hobby bicycling, there are kids on tricycles faster than me. But I like to just think of the Taj Mahal song where he says..."I was built for comfort baby, I ain't built for speed".

May 31, 2013 at 01:18 AM · Jo, I've been playing since 1970-something and still have a "speed limit", though that limit has been getting better bit by bit year after year.

Just figure out what tempo your limit is currently at, back it down a notch or two then do all the practice techniques you know to do, then click up the metronome a notch or two until you hit the next limit and repeat.

It takes alot of time and practice.

May 31, 2013 at 08:12 AM · playing fast has a lot to do with coordination. Therefore slow and speeding up practice with perfect coordination is a solid way to learn it right. If there are string crossings, place the fingers before you cross the strings.

There are many ways to practice fast passages, I will only name a few:

1. Play medium tempo and make an Accent every downbow/upbow. (This will force your left hand to make a quicker movement)

2. play very quick but every note 4 times, this will force fast finger changes, wich are the key.

3. as already mentioned play in slurs, medium tempo, but very precise. Notice that you lift the fingers lightly and suddenly.

A good exercise for the left hand speed in general is the Kreutzer Nr. 9. And Schradiek first two pages (I think from his schoolbook) Repetetive pattern with different fingercombinations. One has to practice that slowly and fast and very fast, concentrating on quick and light fingers, lifting and dropping at the right moment. All these exercises will gain effectiveness, if you do them with metronome and controlling the speeding up process. Remember that one has to start very slowly and concentrated to be able to transfer the good movement pattern into the fast tempo. If you have problems with stringcrossings, practice only the bow pattern of the actual music you are learning, on open strings. Hope that helps.

May 31, 2013 at 08:51 AM · Rachel: LOL :D

Mendy: thank you. Since 1970? I am sure you must be much faster than you make us believe :)

Thank you: John, Simon, Eric, Mike, Roy, NA Mohr, Rocky, Roger.

thank you, you are all so kind I feel privileged to be amongst you all, such a wealth of kindness and knowledge.

May 31, 2013 at 09:47 AM · with you ...

i'll never be sawing my way through mozart or paganini but trying to keep a shuffle pattern going at a decent speed remains completely out of reach.

after playing a tune to death ... to d.e.a.t.h. - early music dance tunes, mostly - i can rip it off pretty easily but transferring what i've learned from that to something new means i have to go all the way back to the beginning again.

May 31, 2013 at 11:36 AM · Many well-meaning comments, and Jo should certainly continue to practice them, but I still want to offer an alternative, positive perspective: what if Jo is, simply, a bit slow? There are fast people and slow people. Nothing wrong with it. Some people are very good in fast reaction games like ping-pong, others are just not of this type. I play with a lady in an amateur orchestra, she has a beautiful sound, and very good intonation, but in the fast runs she passes. Still she is very much contributing to the quality of the first violin section.

May 31, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Jo, do you play in an orchestra? If you don't then I believe there are many skills and benefits waiting there to be acquired. In fast passages, for instance, you'll find that you get carried on with the flow without realizing it; you'll learn how to get back on stream if you get lost in the music (yes, that happens to everyone some time or other); you'll learn how to read the music and simultaneously keep an eye on the conductor and section leader - a good section leader can often be of more practical importance, imo.

It is important to choose an orchestra that has an overall level that is a little higher (but not too high) than you are at present, so you'll be pulled along in the right direction and not held back. Your teacher and local music shop should be able to advise. Look out for concert ads in local newspapers.

June 1, 2013 at 01:48 AM · Jo,

1970-something. Don't make me older than I already am :)

June 1, 2013 at 01:54 AM · Well, just how fast do you play?

Find a passage of 16th notes that you are familiar with and play them one note per bow (detache) with the metronome set first at 60/beat (4 1/16th notes; or slower if thats still too fast). Then increase the metronome speed by 10 until you can no longer follow.

The metronome setting at which you make a minimum of errors is a measure of your current single note/bow speed.

Please go and do it and report back and we'll try someting.

June 1, 2013 at 01:53 PM · Hi Jo, you are so not alone in this. I've been having problems speeding up too, forever, it seems. I've done so much work with the metronome that I hear the clicking in my sleep sometimes. The passages I try to master go with me everywhere during the day until a new one comes along.

It's really frustrating, the out of sync thing which precedes the inevitable bow bounce and missed strings. Not great for the self esteem during practice. In the past I've tried different bows, different violins, different rosin. Trust me when I say it is not the equipment.

What Trevor said about being part of an orchestral group, is what is helping me the most lately. There are plenty of fast runs to choose from to practice, and the drive to keep up with the group is strong enough to encourage perseverence. In the past I just used to give up a bit. The section leader has given me some great advice at times which includes these common themes:

Left hand - light grip, low fingers, low string pressure (just enough to sound the notes), left elbow right under the violin to facilitate pinky reach.

Bow hand - relaxed grip, use only a very short section of bow 2 or 2.5 inches (about 5cm) at or near the balance point, move mainly from the elbow and wrist - not the whole arm. Play as lightly as the piece allows.

And the voice of my teacher constantly saying 'relax, relax, relax'. I know what she means, you can't play really fast if you are tense. Easier said than done in my opinion, but try we must.

Doing all of the above, including some metronome practice, is working for me, but I still struggle to do everything correctly all at once. Then again, getting the Fiocco Allegro to almost 95 bpm and sounding good is a great achievement for me. I've worked on the darn thing for nearly a year!

June 1, 2013 at 02:22 PM · Coordination problem is easier to overcome than being unable to move fast, some of my students simply can't move their hand or arms fast even if just doing very simple gestures.

Practice slow is one thing, but you have to get used to playing in actual tempo as well. Monti Csardas for example, practice the fast passages in groups - is this case, group them in 4 notes, and make sure you focus in only 4 notes at a time in actual tempo, and pause in between groups. Then slowly consolidate them into larger groups e.g. 8 notes per group. The trick is, you still play the passages by thinking the passage as many linked small groups e.g. "1234-2234-3234-4234" rather than long stretch of notes "1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16" (there's a saying that musicians are very bad with math - we only able to count up to 4 ;-) ). I also find that it helps to consciously think about left hand fingerings while subconsciously "feel" the pulse/gesture on the right hand.

June 1, 2013 at 03:23 PM · Hi Jo, no, you are definitely not alone. I've taught advanced students who appear to be able to play fast but when you listen carefully their left fingers are out of sync with their bowing. So on the one hand, they may be able to play faster than you, but still, after 10+ years, they have sync issues. Which leads me to believe they are separate, though related, skills. Others can play certain things fast, but have difficulty with certain other passages.

I think the trick is to be specific. Blanket statements are unproductive (discouraging, self-fulfilling) and may obscure the solution, and more importantly the problem. Clearly you can move your bow arm 'fast,' so under certain conditions you've got half the solution already. You also say when the fast passages occur in shorter bouts, it's 'not too bad.' So you know your difficulty is with longer passages which probably has a lot to do with endurance strength.

Next step, identify precisely when, between which notes, your fingers go out of sync. E.g.

-on up bow or down bow

-on strong beat or weak beat

-strong subdivision or weak subdivision of beat

-which fingers; which string

-placing or lifting finger

-string cross

-small shift or big shift

-string cross + shift

-scalar, arpeggio or patterns

You've got to know exactly what's happening to be able to change what you want to change.

In general, lifting fingers is more difficult than placing, so you might work on exercises to strengthen your extensors. My teacher used to make us slowly lower each finger over 4 counts (with the others on the string) and explosively lift it as soon as it touches the surface of the string. Remember you don't want to straighten the finger as you lift it, as that adds excess tension; allow the finger to curl into the lift, extending from the base knuckles, and slowly lower it back down over 4 counts. Extensors are weak because we don't use them as much as the gripping muscles. Remember speed = strength.

Another good exercise is to practice without the bow and listen for the discrete lifting and placing motion of the fingers. Any passage will do, even simple exercises like 01010101, 12121212, etc. But, again, the thing you want to pay attention to is the lifting motion. Make sure you feel 1 lift ever-so-slightly when playing the first 0, and make each subsequent lift crisp (but not too high, as in the previous 'strengthening' exercise) like mechanical robot hands. Then play with a metronome. Note that each lift of the finger is on the beat, or on a strong subdivision. Feeling the lift of a finger on the proper subdivision of the beat (in K2 the first lift on second finger is on the weak subdivision of the beat) will help to make the fingers more even in their action.

Evenness is one of the most important skills you can train for the left fingers, and is essential for speed. Not only do you want the lifts to be quick and strong, you want the placements to be fleet, not too hammered (except for ascending scales, especially when slurred.) And you have to balance the action across the 4 fingers.

Timing must be trained. It's a question of making muscles fire together (eventually to your inner pulse.) One of the tenets of neuroplasticity, 'neurons which fire together, wire together; neurons which fire apart, wire apart,' is relevant here. You musn't speed up the process until every action is properly coordinated for the passage. Which is why, in rhythmic training, timing the short part of the rhythm is crucial, more important than stringing the rhythmic cells together; wait on the long part of the rhythm (as many beats as is necessary--always count through the rest) until you are ready to 'fire together.' Only when you're satisfied you've coordinated the short notes, should you string cells together (2, 4, whole measure, whole passage.)

When working speed, it's a good idea to set strict time constraints, say 10 min. (use an egg timer) per practice session. Choose a tempo that's just a bit too fast; set the metronome and don't touch it again except to turn it off at the end. Count internally with the metronome before you start (always count with the metronome while you're not playing.) Make sure the first short note is precisely coordinated (your counting with the metronome, your first action with your counting, your left hand with your counting, your right hand with your counting, your left hand with your right hand.) If it's off, stop immediately. Don't play random redos. Count yourself in and play again, etc. Once you're satisfied with each short-long pair of notes, eliminate the first note and do the next pairings. Next, group two short-long pairs together, etc. If you can get the whole passage well coordinate with pairs of notes, then you move on to triples (short-short-long,) etc.

After doing such exercises, try playing the passage through to see how it went. Mark above the passage (or in your practice journal) the tempo and the date. If I can play the passage flawlessly I will put = x tempo, if it's okay with a few flaws I'll put <= x, if it's still hopeless I will put < x. Next day if I see an = x I will move up the metronome several notches, if it was <= x I will move up one notch, if it was < x, I'll leave it the same, move it down a notch, or try to analyse what the problem might be.

In a similar way, you can work on evenness with slurred patterns. I wouldn't use the 'bump up the metronome' method within one practice session until I did some precises rhythmic work at one tempo. After a while the process becomes much more effecient as you learn to hone in the exact interval which is derailing you.

Hope it helps. If you give us a specific passage you're working on I could apply the process and get back to you.

June 1, 2013 at 03:29 PM · P.S. Casey's suggestion is the more musical solution, and the ultimate goal when phrasing becomes the main consideration for note grouping. The method I've emphasized is the more technical (boring) approach but it is very effective. Of course in the end, what ever approach we take, we're really training our attention and learning what works and what doesn't. I still use such an approach when I have to cram to upload passages quickly, or if I really, really don't feel like learning said passage quickly. With practice it really does hone your skills at identifying problems.

June 1, 2013 at 03:57 PM · Hi Jo,

I have had a similar problem to work through over the last many years. One thing that helps, and someone may have already said it, is to work with a metronome on a given piece, slowly increasing the tempo. This can develop into a very encouraging exercise. All the very best and keep enjoying music,

Mark and Krista Clement

June 1, 2013 at 04:12 PM · One thing Millie wrote:

"Left hand - light grip, low fingers, low string pressure (just enough to sound the notes), left elbow right under the violin to facilitate pinky reach."

which is right - but its only a part and for this you should look at Sassmannshous's online masterclasses - the finger does two jobs; first it has to stop the vibrations from teh previous note and second it has to create the new one. thus, he suggests making a rapid and hard contact which you almost immediately release. I found this amazingly useful advice as you get a clean note and your finger is ready to move.

Here's the link:

June 1, 2013 at 04:47 PM · if it helps... I always found playing fast is NOT the same as "slow only faster". Running is not like "walking fast" either. Work with gravity and momentum, small bow strokes, shallow finger lifts, play softly, not loud. Automate fast passages whenever possible.

June 1, 2013 at 08:19 PM · Elise, the answer to your question is:

when I practice the Czardas, you know the demi-semi-quavers in the 'allegro vivo' section (ie just after the slower introduction part) I can play that at the speed of 60bpm per crochet (quarter note), as the notes are demisemiquavers, I play one bar (8 demisemiquavers) in 2 beats of the metronome set at a speed of 60bpm.

To John Cadd: I can rub my tummy with one hand and pat my hand with the other no problem, I do not get mixed up at all :D

I am off to read the other replies now

June 1, 2013 at 08:31 PM · J K : I MISSED YOU :D

thank you so much for your input, you are always very descriptive and very thorough with your answers and the help you give, I remember all the times you've helped me in the last 3 years x

Casey, yes thank you I have been doing that, tonight for some reason it is falling into place more easily (on the Czardas).

there are so many helpful encouraging replies on this thread thank you everyone xxx I will print it off and put it on my wall to look at each day and highlight the bits to concentrate on.

One last thing: I think I have been the 'slow' person (like one of you posted that there is nothing wrong to be the person who plays well slow) far too long as I have drilled it into my brain that slow is the only thing I can do well, I must 're-train' my brain in 'I can do it' mode and I will do it :)

June 1, 2013 at 11:27 PM · "when I practice the Czardas, you know the demi-semi-quavers in the 'allegro vivo' section (ie just after the slower introduction part) I can play that at the speed of 60bpm per crochet (quarter note), as the notes are demisemiquavers, I play one bar (8 demisemiquavers) in 2 beats of the metronome set at a speed of 60bpm."

I'm having a bit of a time translating this. I think a quaver - one flag - is equivalent to a 1/8 note over here. A semi-quaver is a 1/16th and a demi-semiquaver is 1/32nd. 8 beats at 60 is equivalent to 4 beats at 120 - which is I would not say was 'slow' its quite respectable.

However, if the passage you refer to is the repeating four notes then its not the best example. You could try the same thing with a line of Bach.

BTW we had a great topic on playing fast using Fiocco's Allegro if want to look that up.

June 2, 2013 at 12:22 AM · Hi Elise, regarding the pinky and pressing hard but quickly, yes I agree that's what should happen. Too light a pressure just makes it a fuzzy mess. I learned that going along but I guess it was a subconscious thing more than realised.

And yes, the Fiocco Allegro is my benchmark, for the time being (sigh):)

June 2, 2013 at 04:12 AM · :)

"I must 're-train' my brain in 'I can do it' mode and I will do it"

Yup, I can relate... I think that's half the battle.

June 2, 2013 at 04:59 AM · LOL Elise, sorry equally I am not sure about 1/8 note etc

I'm sorry I made a 'boo boo', it is semiquavers I am playing in the Czardas LOL and they are 1/16 I think (2 flags) I can play ONLY 4 of them in one beat of the metronome at the metronome set at 60bpm.

I tried to go faster and that is when my brain and fingers start to get tired and start to mess up (ie miss a note, play a wrong note or go out of sync. I notice if I go out of sync on one note I will remain out of sync for the rest of the music! I have to stop and re-set myself to go back in sync :D

I'll dig out Allegro Fiocco to see what I can do with that one, but I did learn it 2 years ago and remember I never played it up to a decent speed :D (especially when you get to the bit with the mordents!)

June 2, 2013 at 06:47 AM · I don't have time to read through all the suggestions to see if this has been mentioned. Please excuse me if it has.

DeLay had a little handy method which involved playing a few notes of a passage or scale as fast as possible, not being as concerned with clarity or perfection. The theory is that since we have been taught to play perfectly with great definition before moving up a notch on the metronome, some of us have trouble gaining speed. Sometimes we benefit from reversing the order. But we are not yet capable of playing through the whole passage fast. So take 2 or 3 notes and play them as fast as possible.

For example, in the Kreutzer 2cd etude, you could play the first 16th note very long and the next 3 as fast as possible, or the 1st 3 notes very fast and then the 4th note long. This gives the violinist the chance to play up to speed in manageable segments. This gives us a chance to feel what it's like to play up to speed; and perhaps it "stretches the brain" a little (not a very scientific way of putting it). As we develop, we can extend the number of notes we can play up to speed.

I'm sure there are a lot of variations. For example, in a scale the player can start with two notes ONLY, played as fast as possible; then 3, then 4, etc.

I hope this makes sense the way I have written it. In short, by using this device, a violinist can play up to speed for a few notes at a time knowing that there is a little island of repose coming. At first rhythm is not important. The long note can be played as long as necessary to give the player time to get ready for the next few notes.

June 2, 2013 at 11:53 AM · Hi Jo, here are a few more things you might want to check.

1) On repeated patterns such as the Csardas where you have a finger pattern like 1232, make sure your lower fingers release as you play the upper fingers. It can become a vestige of the 'keep your fingers down' rule, but such excess pressure can make your fingers 'stick' when you want them to 'roll'. Whether it's a trill or a pattern like 1232, you want the lower (stronger) finger to release (even lift slightly) as the higher finger strikes, in other words, you want to develop finger independence. Yost, in his 'Studies in Finger Action and Position Playing,' has silent exercises to this effect.

2) To help with finger action you can try slurred pattern exercises with added accents. In the Csardas, e.g. D-E-F-E:

i) slur two and two: DE, FE (repeat); add accents on D, down bow and F, up bow; then EF, ED (repeat); add accents on E, up bow and E, down bow.

The accents help time left with right. After the accents, your goal is to 'let things roll', i.e. you release pressure in the bow (let it 'ride') and let the fingers reduce their 'vigor', almost trail off (this is difficult to describe in words...)

This exercise will help you play in groups of notes (as Casey mentioned) but will also help your finger action to be grouped so you don't hammer out every note both physically and mentally (and musically.) Next,

ii) slur threes: DEF, EDE, FED, etc.; permute the group: EFE, DEF, EDE; finally: FED, EFE, DEF

iii) slur fours: DEFE; also: FEDE; if you want, also EFED and EDEF

You're basically doing a Schradieck-like exercise applied to your rep. Once you're happy with slurred patterns, you can also play the same accented groupings with separate bows, and in a similar manner let the bows after the accent trail off (i.e. use less and less bow.)

Speaking of bowing, you might also want to make sure your elbow joint remains free and swinging as you get faster, or make sure it's not seizing in response to left fingers moving faster.

Keep us posted.

June 2, 2013 at 11:58 AM · Hi Jo - yes they are 16th notes in my copy too!

So 60 is kinda slow. Now just take one set of four and memorize them. Just one. Next use as short a bow on each note as you can - you want it to be barely audible and play all four notes slowly - say at 60 PER NOTE. It will sound like pop wait pop wait pop wait pop. Do that until it is totally comfortable - you can do it in your sleep. Its very important to NOT fill the space inbetween with note - you have to control your bow to only make the very short sound.

At this point check to see if the restriction is in your body. While playing the foursome check for ANY tension. Both your L and right hands and arms should be fully relaxed as should your back and body - if they are not you have a bigger issue that you have to fix before you stand a chance to play fast. Get help!

Now play the sequence backwards doing the same thing. (I've no idea why this works but it does for me; somehow it detaches the sequence from your memory - you want to get it so that you can play it (forward) while having a conversation - indeed, play it while watching television.

NOW we start to speed it up. Go up 10 points on the metronome but be SURE that the notes are still the tiny pops. Keep doing this now and see how fast you can play. At the slightest feeling of body tension step back to the previous speed. and then gradually speed up again. This may take many days.

Its a lot of effort but its worth it to dedicate some time to your four notes until you can master them at speed. They should come off your bow as if they were a familar word - you don't read each letter you say the word as a unit.

The other thing I recommend is to get Sevcik Op1 and play the first half of the very first study as described (each note then each divided into two and then into four with gradually increasing metronome speed over time (weeks, months) - both legato and detache. I've been doing that for 3 weeks now and its really improving my dexterity. The other excercise that works is Schraideck (spelling?) first page wonderful for finger separation.

So thats my way - there are tons of terrific ideas above too that I am going to use that might work equally well (and I'm going to try too).

BTW I had the same problem but with lots and lots of practise I am up to 16th notes at 120 on the Sevcik. Not superfast but 'adequate' - and sometimes it goes fast than that.

Good luck!

June 2, 2013 at 01:12 PM · Thanks Will,

Elise, J K, I will do all that :)

Elise, told you I was slow! :D I used to be even slower :)

June 2, 2013 at 10:29 PM · Hi Jo. A lot of good ideas out there already. I will probably end up repeating some, but maybe couch things a bit differently, here and there.

First of all, how fast is "fast"? What is "in tempo"? The Mozart "Rondo" in G is a great example, as are the very different interpretations ranging from Szerying to Heifetz. Off-hand I'd guess that Szerying does it at a stately 112 or so to the quarter, and Heifetz at a breakneck 160 or so. Yet each is compelling in his own way, as there is so much more than speed going on.

But let's limit ourselves mainly to speed and coordination for this discussion. The fact is that there is such a thing as inborn physical talent for certain things, whether athletics or playing the violin, sharpshooting, or drawing a gun from a holster. That doesn't mean that there is no room for improvement. And we can't be sure what our potential is until we've worked hard for quite some time in certain ways. But different people are born with different nervous systems, musculatures and reactions. Who was the fastest gun in the old West and why? Was it just practice? I don't think so. Many people practiced. Annie Oakley, the legendary sharpshooter, was no myth. And she said that it just came to her from the time she was a young girl. She never missed! Whenever I've listened to Heifetz playing the Sinding Suite, I've usually listened to the 1st mvt. twice, as I can't believe my ears the 1st time. Has anybody equaled 100% that incredible speed, clarity, crispness, laser-like edge - all the while bringing out the haunting quality of the music? That doesn't mean that he didn't work. He did. But others have worked harder and with proper training, and have achieved great results - but not quite. This is not to demoralize you or anyone else. I'm still working to become a better me, and you can become a better you.

OK - some tips. As some others have said, relaxation is extremely important. And step-by-step metronome work. And no wasted movement. Limit any unnecessary degree of finger motion. Think of ice skaters when they do their fast rotations: the faster they go, the smaller the radius, and their arms are close to their body, kind of tucked-in.

For coordination, the Rondo is great, with its separate notes. In fact, when I practice my 3 octave scales every day, I include scales with separate notes. But for coordination, mixed bowings are great, too. In each group try tying notes, 2 and 2, 1 separate and 3 together, 3 together and last separate. Then do dotted and reverse dotted rhythms. I do that in my 3 octave scale practice as well. Try to analyze what and where the difficulties are. In the Rondo, there are passages with position changes and string crossings. But for now, let's limit ourselves to the beginning: CDCD repeated 4 times. Once you've approached an at all plausible "concert tempo" but things go awry, just try DC-pause DC-pause. Then DCB-pause-C. Then DCBC-pause repeat. Then to connect, DCBCD, then DCBCDC etc.

June 3, 2013 at 01:24 PM · Ice skaters accelerate their rotation precisely by bringing their limbs in, its not just about economy of motion per se...

June 3, 2013 at 02:20 PM · I don't think I said "just". There are a number of factors that support or inhibit velocity.

June 3, 2013 at 03:08 PM · Give yourself a break! For a fourth year player you are doing very well from the sound of your repertoire. I am guessing you are right handed. Without seeing you play, I can only make general suggestions based on experience with students, so here they are in order of how often they occur:

1. Too much bow

#1 problem I see for fast playing - they think they make the bow smaller, but it gradually gets bigger and bigger as the passage progresses, unbeknownst to the student who is in a "OMG I have to play fast! mindset

2. Finger Flinging:

make sure you keep all the fingers in playing position, hovering above the string, throughout the passage. Many students have a finger rebound that makes the finger late for its next task.

3. Thinking from the knuckle instead of the fingertip:

Many of us aren't really focused enough on the actual strike of finger to board, focusing rather on the original motion from the back of the finger. It ain't there til it's there, if you know what I mean.

4. Simple lack of hours with the thing under your chin (especially if right-handed):

At 4 years in, this is not an unreasonable guess.

To improve speed, strength, evenness and agility the first things I like are Schradieck Bk. 1 (with rhythms) and/or Sevcik Op. 8 (ditto) with metronome. Make sure you hear the note exactly on time. Practice the passages until you can play them in one fluid motion, like a ballet :) Then scales with mm 60 - 2,3,4,6,8,12,24 legato notes per beat.

Hope this helps!

June 3, 2013 at 11:58 PM · Raphael, you referred to "relaxation", "no wasted movement", "unnecessary degree of finger motion" (hence economy of motion) and then suggested the image/example of an ice skater rotating.

I thought that example brought up a very good point that I wanted to emphasise in case it was not understood, specifically that some motions that may seem incidental or just (my word) beneficial are actually the reason for the desired result. In the skater case, the rotation is begun (or prepared) with limbs out stretched and then bringing them in actually causes the rotation automatically to accelerate (by physics, conservation of angular momentum) without any further effort. Someone may be able to spin quite fast with limbs outstretched but always will be able to spin even faster by bringing them in. There must be some obvious analogies in violin.

June 4, 2013 at 12:21 AM · One thing to do is to read all the posts above and follow the instruction(s) thats repeated the most often :D

I like Julie's list above but, with respect to wasteful finger movement, she might be interested in this virtuoso:

@ 1.46 or so...

Sort of goes against all the instructions - I wonder how he does it...

June 4, 2013 at 01:41 AM · In my previous post I referred to "preparation". Advanced preparation of the thumb in piano is one thing that allows high speed scales etc.

June 4, 2013 at 02:28 AM · Yes, Eric, I'd basically agree with you. In fact, doing my warm-up finger exercises this morning I thought of this analogy: in slow to moderate tempos, I'll tend to raise my fingers more which helps for articulation and exercising the fingers. In fast tempo they must be drawn in more - like an ice-skater's arms. One of my great teachers, Aaron Rosand, made an analogy to a millipede scurrying up and down, whose many legs you don't see. (A somewhat unfelicitous image if you're an entophobe like me - but it makes its point.) Re relaxation, he likes to say "don't play with the brakes on". And less bow in fast separate notes - though not too little bow.

And yes, preparation is most helpful in anticipating angle changes in position shifting and string crossing with both hands. In the LH, if you're playing say in 1st position 2nd finger C on the A string, and if your next notes will be B 1st finger and A 4th finger on D string, then put the 1st and 4th down simultaneously. Nadien and others have emphasized this. And in a rounded way the bow should anticipate the string crossing. Ysaye had great exercises for this that I got from Rosand.

BTW Eric you made an analogy to piano playing. Are you a pianist as well as a violinist or one or both? I get curious about fellow posters and you don't say what you do.

And everyone - am I the only one seeing some pink in the last couple of posts? I swear I haven't bee drinking! ;-)

June 4, 2013 at 03:06 AM · hehe - I'm pretty in pink.

Did you look up that link Raphael? And watch how to keep your fingers close to the keyboard when playing fast?

June 4, 2013 at 06:12 AM · Actually it's hot pink!

What's your favorite/best colour Elise?

Raphael, like many on here I am just obsessively studying violin (and piano) for my own interest/pleasure, as best I can. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from learning as a child (G-rated version) though I desperately wanted to learn piano (once even tried to fix the broken hammers of a neighbour's upright with sticky tape!). My higher qualifications in a science give me my perspective (for good or bad) and I try to observe as much as I can.

June 4, 2013 at 01:45 PM · Elise, you make a great point!

How Do They DO It?

They break all the rules! If I did that, my teacher would stop and yell at me! Yes?

Well, no. Actually, if you did what Vengerov is doing in that video, your teacher would smile and hand you a diploma. Fly, little bird. You need to leave the nest.

For a strong action, there will usually be a relaxation that equals it. Vengerov is playing in a big hall, his fingers strongly striking the string, in a tempo that to him ( I'm guessing) is quite slow and controllable from any distance.

His hand will stay relaxed throughout, because he is allowing it to 'rest' between each note.

He can figuratively 'take a break' between each note because his fingers are so strong, so developed, so fast, so practiced, that he is almost playing in slow motion.

Slow motion for Vengerov is often top speed for the student, though. Therefore, they must approach the piece with that in mind, and make accommodation for the fact that they are at the top end of their current ability.

This is so for many aspects of playing. Watch Perlman's bow pinkie knuckle collapse when it takes the bow weight. But be aware that his hand, which was getting through Paganini Caprices at age 10, is the size of a Smithfield ham, and he very seldom even uses the pinkie to balance the bow. He doesn't need to! But that is not to say that small children with tiny fingers can eschew the pinkie without penalty LOL

What I think is this: you are watching the Formula I race cars of the violin world. They are wired a bit better than you. Their mental engines have 600 hp. Their muscles, coordination, accuracy improve at blinding speed. If you are one such, thank God.

If you are not, remember the "rules" are there to help you PLAY better. They are the training wheels, not the bicycle. And that is a big problem. Because those 'training wheels' are SO challenging for the mere mortal that we forget they aren't the bicycle itself. We focus so hard, and work so long to accomplish the one task, that we sometimes forget why we started it.

Remember, the Rules are there to help a Ford Taurus pretend it's a Formula I :)))

Gentlemen, start your engines!

June 4, 2013 at 09:20 PM · There was a pretty good discussion here.

I returned to violin 5 years ago this month. I was drecklich for the first couple of years, but got lessons and joined an orchestra. Reminds me of the Groucho quote “I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” Adapt that quote along musical lines.

There have been good points here. Along the lines of Elise's recommendation of counting replies to your question, I will throw in some extra schtuff:

1. Sometimes it's easier to make a quantum jump to speed. If you miss notes at speed, work on filling in the blanks -- still at speed.

2. Control your ear worm! When you have the piece go through your head, you may tend to slow it down to a comfortable practice speed. Turn the crank faster on that ear worm, so the mental playback is FASTER than target speed. That way, your mental concept of the piece will not drag down your playing.

3. Be intentional is speeding up your practice sessions. You might want to play everything as fast as possible for one or two sessions. But don't make a habit of this: Largo from Xerxes would never be the same. :-)

4. Carefully pick apart runs and arpeggios. When I first got back into playing, I would look at one of those 1/32 note arpeggios and see a black blur. Eventually, I got past seeing the notes as individual things to read, and started seeing the run/arpeggio as a single unit. You just don't have time to read each individual note and run it through a mental filter, when playing fast.

That's why precise slow practice will give you a boost for precise fast practice: it's already in your fingers.

5.Focus on the hardest bits of a piece first, and get those super-fast parts to come out when you hit a button. No thought required.

In our last concert series, I was in a featured ensemble that played Fiddle Faddle at full bore. I never got truly comfortable with it, but I survived. :-)

June 5, 2013 at 12:08 AM · Yes, that was a good discussion, too. But did they have any hot pink like us? ;-)

June 5, 2013 at 02:59 AM · Its been a few years since I was a hot-pink babe, but I'll take it...

Julie - I bet you are right that to Vengerov that piece is like Spiegel im Spiegel to us :P

I guess I'll have to find one of him playing Ernst or God Save The King and see if his fingers get anycloser to the keyboard...

June 5, 2013 at 12:33 PM · But did they have any hot pink like us?

No, no pink back then. The world was black and white back then. :-)

Ref: Calvin's Dad.

June 5, 2013 at 08:36 PM · thank you to everyone who contributed, I am very grateful.

I will persevere of course, even though I can only play Czardas and Rondo at half the speed for the moment :D

June 5, 2013 at 09:01 PM · I've recently started taking lessons again after a looong break.. My teacher has me doing many of the Sevcik exercises.

Perhaps these are quite basic, but I find that Op.1 Book 1 No.5 with a metronome, incremementing the tempo as you get comfortable with it has been helping me quite a bit.

June 5, 2013 at 11:06 PM · I'm doing the same thing with #1 (see way way above). Whats special about #5?

June 6, 2013 at 02:45 AM · Jo,

Short answer- no.

Long answer- One thing that hasn't been discussed is your left hand position. If you have busy fingers -that is fingers that don't stay down and fidget when they aren't being used- that will slow you down. If your hand is not in the proper position -for instance, if your fingers are not facing you- that will also slow you down. Fingers that aren't arched enough or too much tension also makes it slower. I can't see your hand, so who knows.

If your teacher says your left hand is good, then something else you could check out is the section on fast fingers in Simon Fischer's book. It's very helpful. He gives several techniques for speed.

I personally use Sevcik trill studies to speed up. That's helped me a lot. It isolates the fast finger movements without making me worry about changing notes. Leave fingers down where he says to leave them down. Do not hammer the fingers like he says. Use the minimum pressure to stop the note. It might take some slow motion experimenting to find that minimum.

I like using the metronome to speed up, but with the following caveat: It is possible to play passages slowly and with a bad position, but as you speed up, it gets more and more difficult, and eventually it becomes impossible. Correct hand position first. Then speed. -Good luck and remember, if you play the Mozart at 40 bpm, you are still playing Mozart. No one can say you aren't!

June 6, 2013 at 01:36 PM · @Elise

I like #5 because it's very basic, starts out with no flats, and then introduces a new flat on each measure, until you're doing all flats and then back up to no flats.. I find that it requires you to really focus on good left hand technique at a very basic level. Once you get going really fast (at least for me) if you don't have really good left hand technique.. If you don't learn how to really relax then it's very difficult to do.

Once you're really relaxed and not tensing up your left hand muscles the speed comes.

I'm not great at explaining myself, but try #5 slowly to start and then get going really fast. Once you're going really fast it's difficult to keep every note in key if you don't have good left hand technique.

June 6, 2013 at 03:51 PM · My teacher of 40 years ago gave me two tips regarding Sevcik's Opus 1. The first was to practice complete relaxation of the finger after the impulse needed to put it down -- the mental image is that of a lazy cat that catches a fly with his paw and immediately returns to laziness -- and the second, to practice successive doublings of tempo. First, each note a quarter, then an eighth, finally a sixteenth.

Hope this helps (it helped me enormously),


June 8, 2013 at 08:42 PM · At a certain point, I decided to figure out how to play Paganini Caprice #5 (the middle section) as fast and accurately as possible. I went through each measure and:

1.marked fingers which could be put down in advance (e.g. m. 9, in which 1st finger stays down and 3 and 2 go down together (blocking).

2. fingers which could be put down to cover 2 strings at once. e.g. m.11 first note which covers both f and c with 1st finger.

3. places where extensions are used to prevent hand movement. e.g. m. 1 in which the hand is in 2nd position and 1st finger is extended back.

The string crossings also can be problematic. e.g. in m. 9, keep the elbow level on the D string level and move the wrist to get to the G and A.

Changing the bow angle can help. Especially when playing on the A and E strings angle the bow to be closer to the bridge on the E and farther from the bridge on the A. This decreases the distance between the 2 strings.

I also found places I could play, for instance on the right side of the G string and the left side of the A string. e.g. m. 9.

Raising and lowering the violin is also a method of changing strings without changing the elbow level. E.G in m. 4 raise the violin on the last two 2 beats, and leave the elbow level alone. This also means that more pressure is added which makes a cresc. much easier.

In this manner those of us who are not naturally talented can play as fast as the lucky ones who don't even have to think about stuff, like the above methods.

June 22, 2013 at 08:51 PM · Elise, it is 3 weeks more or less since I've told you I could play the Czardas at 60bpm.

Well, I can now play it at 80 to 90 bpm, and I keep practicing each day, I hope in another 8 weeks I can play it at 120 which is at 'allegretto' speed (the slower side of allegretto LOOOL).

I hope so anyway, however if I don't get there I will keep going.

One more question for everyone:

once you learn to play fast does the skill stay with you or each new fast piece you learn will be an equal struggle??? I am finding this battle extremely hard I really hope it wont stay as hard forever :(

June 23, 2013 at 03:12 AM · "once you learn to play fast does the skill stay with you or each new fast piece you learn will be an equal struggle???"

Sorry but the answer is "both".

June 23, 2013 at 12:02 PM · Paul - LOL!

First - congrats, thats amazing improvement in such a short time.

And yes, there is definitely a general improvement in speed playing. As I see it, however, to be a bullet-proof speed player your fingers have to learn fast playing for every note change sequence on the violin. A daunting task - and (one of the many) reasons why we older players are destined to never catch up. Most great players did etudes as kids - just look at the collected work of Sevcik - over and over until their fingers were familiar with not only every note but just about every note combination at least at first position. Once you have the sequence nailed and you have learned how to move both your fingers and your bow rapidly - and most important coordinate these two - achieving speed really is not a a major problem.

Lacking this background when you try to play another piece fast you first have to become familiar with the specific finger/bow combinations. Of course, even the most experienced, well trained player is also going to find finger combinations that are novel to them - and, as Paul said, they will have to work on it just as you or I. Well, not quite like us but relative to their own normal speed capacity...

June 23, 2013 at 12:57 PM · Paul, thank you for being honest :)

I guess that is why my teacher never answered that question when I asked him LOOOL :D he did not want to 'put me off' :D

Elise, thanks, I will keep ploughing on :)

June 26, 2013 at 10:54 PM · Jo, I'm coming very late to the party. One key fact that I remember from my earlier days is that when we start, we move the bow to fit with the left hand note changes. Off the string bowings, however, are very different. Once the bow is bouncing (or almost bouncing) it will be at a consistent speed and the left hand has to fit with the now fixed right hand - a complete reversal.

Something like Kreutzer 2 with 2 bows per note can be a great help for changing this co-ordination.

Another thing that can happen - I found out (the hard way) a few years back that my left hand had become too "open" so instead of being alongside the fingerboard, it was jutting out - and the fingers had further to move. Especially the pinky. And that was slowing me down something rotten. And like all bad habits, took quite a bit of time to get back into shape.

June 27, 2013 at 02:54 AM · Jo, one trick which can help in developing speed is to play the passage in dotted rhythms -- long short, long short,.. and then in the reverse dotted rhythm -- short long, short long, ...

You might find that after doing this, you can play the straight rhythm faster as well. What this method does is make you speed up one part while giving you a break on the other. Reverse the rhythm, and you've sped up the other part. Skip the break, and you've sped up the entire thing.

June 27, 2013 at 04:43 PM · The first word I have to say is: Metronome. My daughter calls it her "frenemy". You didn't say how you practice the fast parts of your pieces, but you must always start SLOWLY. Then you can work dotted rhythms as was explained in another post. Then, you take that metronome and use it once click at a time, staying on a particular tempo until you can play the passage flawlessly. Then, DO NOT move it up to tempo, but only one click up. Stay there for a while until you master it. Then ONE CLICK at a time. Then do the dotted rhythm exercises at a faster tempo. Change it up frequently so you don't get bored.

Remember you are training your BRAIN, not your fingers... your brain needs time to think and using the metronome will help give it that time.

June 28, 2013 at 10:34 PM · John, my Boss DB-90 does that. I still crash and burn, but its fun.

June 30, 2013 at 07:52 PM · Jo,

It seems to be a problem of the left not the right hand. A reason you may not be able to go fast is because your left hand doesn't know the music yet. It doesn't matter how many times you have practiced the music, until you have practiced it way under tempo, you have not practiced the piece. The reasoning for practicing slow is so that your muscle memory in your fingers can be formed.

Once you have practiced slowly and your left hand is comfortable with the music, then you can start speeding it up. Once you start going faster, make sure you lead with left and not your right hand. Your bow should be following the lead of the left hand.

You have gotten much feed back and I hope this helped!


June 30, 2013 at 08:23 PM · thank you nairobi,

it is not a problem of not knowing the music enough, I do believe me, you can wake me up in the middle of the night, hand me over the violin and say 'play Czardas' and I will play it faultlessly (albeit at half the speed LOOOOL).

My teacher seems to think it is 'partly' a problem of me thinking too much note by note (ie me thinking 'I have to get this one note right so that I can get the next note right') and worrying so much note by note it slows me down. He says I have to learn to let my fingers go fast and trust them to do the right thing as I do know what the right thing is.

I managed to do it once when he got me to try out a couple of bars from the wieniawski concert no 2 third movement (ie I managed to let go of any inner blocks/fear and my fingers just flew).

it is not only that the problem of course, some is also coordination between left and right hand and some is possibly tension.

July 1, 2013 at 11:33 AM · Jo,

Yay!!! You're figuring it out! :) I'm glad you understand the problem. So I guess the next task is stop worrying and relax which is always hard to do.

Good luck and happy playings


July 1, 2013 at 03:25 PM · A key method is to - make mistakes!

Play it fast and don't worry about, just laugh at the places wehre it goes wrong. The idea is to get let the music drive your playing and not the individual notes.

I think what you are seeing is the limitation of each learning tool - diversity is often your best friend. Working solely by playing slowly and then speeding up has its limit in that it only works once you know what 'playing fast' is. I've had the same discussion(nay argument) with a previous teacher who insisted that the speeding up method always works. For them it did - but they learned to play fast when they were 5 or so so the concept is ingrained.

Another way to do it is to just play a very simple sequence of notes - say two - as fast as you can. Its a trill! Now do it with three - or play G major 2 octave scale fast both up and down (next A major with all four fingers). They both give you confidence.

July 2, 2013 at 12:12 AM · You often hear an argument to the effect that mistakes are bad but they are really part and parcel of learning. Of course you should try not to make the same one over and over.

I think it's been stated before that "slow practice" is really "slower practice" meaning doing the precise motions appropriate to whatever you are trying to learn at speed, only slower, until you can do them without any hesitation and they are second nature.

I am curious. Jo, when you play a scale or arpeggio, do you think about each note or feel the entire pattern as a whole? Do you have motor or mind hesitations?

July 2, 2013 at 05:45 AM · Hi Eric,

when I play a scale I think of one note at a time (ie I think of the note I am going to play next, so if I am playing a G on G major scale I think of A and so on).

However, it is now 2 weeks that I am practicing scales in a different way, my teacher has got me to play the first two notes as quickly as I can, then he tells me to add one more note, and again play them as quickly as I can (but the last note I have to make it last longer), and so on until I have done the full 3 octaves.

I have to say that this is speeding up my scales, though I have now reached a 'plateau' and when I do that I don't think note by note but I think of the whole thing :)

July 2, 2013 at 07:12 AM · Good luck, Jo.

As an aside, this is why I originally started my "fingering thesaurus", because I wanted to systematically train myself to feel and hear whole patterns (usual scales etc but also exotics) in all conceivable fingering a vocabulary.

I got the idea from piano. I love Chopin and he has the most outrageous chords. The first etude, for instance, would be absolutely impossible to play thinking about every note rather than larger "gestures" of notes (actually it's practically impossible anyway).

August 9, 2013 at 01:51 AM · Hi folks,

I started a new thread with a video I made to address this topic. The thread is called:

How to play fast -- Strategies and routines for developing speed in the Rigaudon. Please check it out in the light of this discussion.

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

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