My first ever violin 'recital': I would like your (gentle) feedback

November 10, 2014 at 05:34 AM · Three years ago today, on the 9th of november 2011, at the tender age of 49 I had my very first violin lesson. Since I only ever play for my teacher and my husband, I was planning to record myself practicing around this three year mark and put up the result on for my fellow v.commers to comment on. However, two weeks ago my AT teacher, who is also a cellist/cello teacher, invited me to join in her studio recital where she joined efforts with a violin teacher.

I have enjoyed the preparation stage very much over the past two weeks. And, in spite of my shaking hands (which make playing the violin even more difficult than usual), I relished the opportunity to play in front of people (these being predominantly the proud parents of the kids who made up the bulk of the participants). There were two other beginner adults there (both cellists), which made me feel a bit less of an oddity. It was especially exhilarating to be able to play with a live pianist. She was also a very nice person, who really put me at ease.

As I said in the summary, I would like your feedback so it can help me focus what to work on in the next 3 years with my much appreciated teacher.

Now if only I can get the links working ...

First I played the first movement from the Küchler student concertino in D major.

And then I ventured into the Largo movement of Vivaldi's Winter (of the Quattro Stagioni).

Maybe I should add that my goal with violin playing is to at some point be able to make music that both other people and I can enjoy. For me that is more or less unrelated to 'level'.

Thank you for your time.

Replies (27)

November 10, 2014 at 01:51 PM · Your music may be struggling at this point but your potential is obvious. Stay the course.

November 10, 2014 at 01:55 PM · hi Zina, very good job! my suggestion would be to work more on the bowing. you use very little bow, your bowing is what I would call "shy". this is normal with beginners because they are afraid to play out of tune: if you bow minimally, then the out of tune note will not be heard too much! it is understandable. but, your intonation is quite good already! so don't be afraid and it is now time to use more of your bow. after all you paid for a long stick and now you are just using a small fraction of it:-) you can practice simple etudes consisting of eighth or sixteenth notes in tempo, but using half your bow, be it the upper half or the lower half (practice both). make sure to really use the "full half". then you can also play these same etudes a bit slower but using really your full bow on every note, from frog to point and back from point to frog. one always never does this at a performance, but it teaches you to play louder, with more confidence, and it develops your right arm. but again, congratulations on a job well done!

p.s. you write that you were shaking but I really didn't notice that.

November 10, 2014 at 03:34 PM ·

November 10, 2014 at 05:20 PM · Zina, Well done! Your facility in left hand is so impressive and I agree with the above responders that bow use is the next arena to focus on. Your coordination (string crossings, etc.) seems very clean but you seem to use mainly the upper part of your bow, and need to play a little more into the string. That will give your sound more body. As Liz said, don't be afraid of making an ugly sound, that is soon corrected after a little experimentation.

November 10, 2014 at 06:49 PM · As a newcomer to the violin myself, I am interested in hearing how other beginners are progressing.

You recalled all the notes for two pieces of non-trivial length, played them with consistent tempo, relatively accurate rhythm and used some expressive dynamics too. Well done!

Expressive intonation beyond first position gets progressively harder, but you came close enough to make me think it is just a matter of focused practice.

Also, ask your teacher if your violin is still beyond your current ability. The less expensive violins suffer from unfocused sounding higher up on the strings and can make it difficult to use your ear to find the finger positions while doing scales and etudes. Since you are playing beyond first position, you want to make sure the tones are focused enough to recognize when you are slightly sharp or flat.

November 10, 2014 at 07:31 PM · Only two things:

1- Do not be afraid of the Violin. It can and will take a good beating easily enough.

2- Your right hand is tough to really observe in the video, but your bow arm isn't. I'd talk to your teacher about the weight, pressure, velocity and such to produce a better sound. The hand, as well as all parts of your arm (elbow, wrist, shoulders, etc) should stay as relaxed as possible, which is tough to do during recitals and the likes. For what little bit I saw, I could not help but think your 'grip' is a bit um... dainty, for lack of a better word. It almost looked like you were holding the bow with the very tip of your fingers hanging straight out. Getting some flexibility there will help your sound quite a bit.

Great job overall!

November 10, 2014 at 11:03 PM · Thank you all for your kind words! I agree that I need to put a lot of work into my bow arm at this point: less 'shy' bowing, a less 'dainty' grip, more flexible fingers, more digging into the strings, using more bow. My teacher has been trying to get me to do these things all along. I really need to get over myself and start doing them!

Carmen, fortunately it is me, and not my lovely violin. It certainly is still way beyond my current capabilities! Missing most of my shifts was really due to performance nerves, as my teacher pointed out earlier this evening in my lesson. If I'm not focused, my violin can hardly be expected to be. Oh well. I love that there is always so much stuff to work on.

Thank you again for your feedback!

Zina

November 11, 2014 at 01:28 AM · Glad to hear. You're still early in your training, so take absolute and complete full advantage of making screeching sounds when told to let the weight of your arm make the bow dig into the strings (note: never suspend the arm or force things). So, when your teacher changes your grip and such and tells you to beat it up, go for it. It'll go away pretty quickly and you'll be a better violinist with a full sound. Violins are very strong and can withstand most anything when played.

November 11, 2014 at 10:39 AM · Hi Zina

Thanks for the email.

You have obviously made progress since I last commented about 2.5 years ago. A lot of water has passed under the bridge (no pun intended) since then, so forgive me for my not remembering.

I'm going to confirm some of which has alreay been said.

(1) Bowing - You need to use the whole arm and have a more flexible wrist. Use all of the bow and not just the middle to tip. also more bow speed with some added pressure. When you hear that grit and slight scratch (which the audience won't hear) you know you are on the right track. (I won't promise but I will try and send you a short video, now I've found the camera!).

(2) Intonation. Sorry to be tough and disagree with other comments, but it needs a lot of work. Ear training is needed. Practise one octave scales using any one finger (1-1-1-) or (2-2-2-2) etc., on one string. But also on each string - G,D,A,E. Slide the same finger from one note to the next.

This means the ear has to decide where the next note is and its pitch rather than putting a finger down, which then by-passes the ear.

Good luck, Peter

November 11, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Hi Peter,

I find there is a difference between being tough and being realistic, and I certainly think you are being realistic about my intonation! I appreciate your suggesting a means to the end of improving it and will start working on it today. You are right that I should rely more on my ears and less on my motor skills (although that is probably a false dichotomy). I sometimes wonder whether the bypass is down to laziness, or just cognitive overload from having to pay attention to so many things at once. Whichever it is, it needs to improve anyway.

Thank you for your time and comments,

Zina

November 11, 2014 at 02:54 PM · Congratulations on progress so far! As mentioned above there are ways to improve execution of intonation, but you are well on your way to being able to tackle that.

As for the right arm, do you ever play a phrase with just the bow on open strings? You can use that to build volume, plan distribution, and so on without worrying about your fingering. When you've got it nailed, add the left hand and see if it doesn't sing better.

November 11, 2014 at 03:30 PM · Thank you Stephen! In fact I do use the technique of playing a phrase on open strings, but so far I've only done that in order to practice hitting the right string at the right moment ;-). I never realised I can use it to work on every aspect of a phrase except pitch. Rather silly really. Will do!

November 11, 2014 at 10:12 PM · Hi Zina,

Congrats on your performance and progress!!! Enjoyed watching it! :)

Thanks also for the Email. As you wanted/requested, here are some thoughts to consider on the things you want to work on (and some mentioned in other posts) - I am a little pressed for time, so will jump straight to it.

1- Bow usage/arm/etc.: I notice a few things that you may want to explore in terms of your bowing use. First, it seems that your fingers on the bow could be a bit more curved. It seems from looking at the video that your thumb may be straight, inhibiting complete flexibility and locking your elbow causing you to play a détaché from the shoulder. This is probably why you are having difficulty playing in the lower half of the bow. You don't overspread your right hand fingers, but at the same time, the image in the video seems to suggest that you may be forcing them to close together (could be wrong from looking at the video...). The most natural is to have the fingers at the width of the hand, so they are the extension of it. I would also suggest that you work on moving the bow more from the forearm rather than the shoulder. This should help you in being able to use more of the bow, especially the lower half. I would suggest also that perhaps you could keep your pinky more on the bow even when using faster strokes to help with balance. This will also help in using the lower half of the bow.

2- Left hand: The basic position of your left arm looks good! I notice that you have two tendencies with your thumb. In the first video, you tend to push the thumb against the neck and as a results it seems to bend invertedly, rather than being curved. This will have two side-effects. First, it may cause a sympathetic reaction in the thumb in the right hand causing some of the things mentioned in (1). Secondly, it causes one to lift the fingers sideways instead of vertically, which may be involved in the difficulties of intonation that you experience. In the second video, your thumb seems more curved, but very far forward. This in essence, contracts the hand, making it harder to reach the fourth finger, which is why sometimes it tends to be low. Ideally, for a hand to be balanced, the thumb should be opposite the base of the first finger (not the tip of the finger). This, along with keeping the thumb curved, which helps in lifting the fingers up and down vertically and improve the reach of the fourth finger, will help with your intonation and coordination. Although not designed for this originally, the first exercise in Carl Flesch's Urstudien, done a few times a day at different time (the exercise takes three minutes) will help to address these issues if you watch your basic hand setup in a short period of time.

3- Intonation: Peter mentioned intonation... Intonation is the result of five things in my experience: good hearing, good position, good sound production, how one is practicing having the right mindset. I am assuming that you are practicing slowly. One of the things that I find help with ear training and better intonation is comparing with open strings and also fixing notes so we know what is in tune before doing repetition work. Many people try to fix intonation through repetition right away, and this I find can create a phenomenon where there is confusion in the ear if there are many different versions that are heard. In line with once again Carl Flesch, I find that fixing the note with the finger on the string before beginning repetition work can be helpful in making sure that we know what is in tune and what to aim for, and also, how the note relates to the rest of the hand/fingers so that we achieve better results when lifting/putting down fingers.

Have to run. Hope this helps!

Cheers and congrats again!

P.S. Edit: I just wanted to add that this was a suggestions on things you could now explore, but it no way should be interpreted as a criticism on the great work you are doing.

November 12, 2014 at 08:02 AM · Linda, thank you for taking time to share your views.

Zina

November 12, 2014 at 11:53 AM · Hi Christian,

Actually, I do not feel criticized at all, just encouraged! I very much appreciate your taking time out of your busy schedule to provide me with your observations and suggestions. In fact, I already printed the first page of Urstudien and am figuring out how to work on the position of my left thumb.

As far as my bowing hand goes, I am not aware of keeping my thumb straight, but plan to pay more attention, since I also wasn't aware of my pinky lifting off on most every stroke until I watched myself play!

Thanks for mentioning mindset, I will try to be more aware of it.

Have a good day!

Zina

November 12, 2014 at 02:00 PM · I like your choice of piece, the Kuechler Concertino. I thought you really captured the essential Baroque style in your playing. Your tone seems quite even across all four strings. Many players at your stage would have annoyingly bright E string notes with no support on the G string, but your playing seems balanced throughout your violin's (present) range.

A lot was mentioned above about shy bowing and intonation, so I will come at that from a different angle. Bowing and intonation work together. When you improve the depth and sonority of your tone, by using more bow and playing more "into the string," your violin will enjoy more resonance, and you'll become more aware of your intonation. (You can't fix what you can't hear.) The thing is that hard to get this awareness at fast tempos, and the Kuechler is basically a fast piece. So my suggestion is that when you work on a piece like that, spend some time practicing short passages (especially scale-like passages or anything that feels a little awkward in your left hand) VERY slowly so that you can work on your bowing all the while noticing -- and correcting -- smaller and smaller intonation defects. You'll be doing this as long as you play the violin.

My other suggestion is to always be working with your teacher on your setup (chin rest, shoulder rest, posture, left and right hand positions) so that you can be as comfortable as possible. That will help ease some of the stiffness in your playing too.

November 12, 2014 at 05:15 PM · Why thank you Paul! I'm blushing a little here from happiness that you could appreciate my stylistic effort ;-)

You are absolutely right about set up and comfort. For this reason I have been taking Alexander Technique lessons for the past couple months. It's very helpful to have some 'special' setup time.

My teacher is always on my case about practicing faster passages REALLY SLOW. This is not my forte yet. It's great to be reminded from another angle that I need to keep concentrating on that.

Thanks again,

Zina

November 12, 2014 at 10:05 PM · Hi Zina,

Glad the post helped!

About the Flesch Urstudien and thumb position. The object of that Flesch exercise is to lift the fingers up and down vertically from the base knuckle will keep them directly above the string you are playing. It is designed to make sure your basic movement is correct. As for the thumb position, the best way to place oneself naturally is to rest the violin on the base of first finger with the thumb on the opposite side of the base of the first finger (so it will look a little bit behind the tip of the first finger). As the closes to assume its shape, the thumb should bend to its natural position. The object is not to place the violin on a particular part of the thumb, but have the thumb balance the neck along with the base of the first finger at the height natural for it. Depending of the thumb, it will look different for everyone, but the principle is the same.

Cheers!

November 13, 2014 at 04:06 AM · It was a good performance, I liked the smile.

I will let you in on a secret: practicing REALLY SLOW to correct poor intonation doesn't work, and if it does work it's a REAL SLOW process. We generally only need a 1/4 or 1/8 note bow stroke to hear 'in tune', so playing with more bow isn't a fix. The real problem is in the time between notes. We want to lengthen the time between notes, but play the note's, note value normally. So play the note at a comfortable speed, and at note value, but imagine a 1/4 or 1/8 rest between them. Don't play the notes staccato, but with the whole note value. Over time the 1/4 rest will become 1/8 rest to 1/16.....

During these rest work on thinking of the next note's pitch and set up any prerequisite movements before actually playing the note. It very important to give yourself the TIME between notes to process these thoughts.

Here's one of my students playing this way:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=EzRRresdWzM#t=75

She had a year of lessons before seeing me and she learned a lot of bad habits in this time frame, and if I didn't have her play the piece this way she would play the whole piece out of tune and with poor timing.

As for your bow hand. Your teacher is ignoring the obvious. What are you going to do about that?

November 13, 2014 at 05:59 AM · At a master class I saw a teacher give a simple "correction" for a student whose bow hold was too much on the finger tips. Make sure the thumb is well bent at the knuckle. Not to the point of being tense, but curving the thumb draws your bow in closer to the center of mass of your hand. Then, let your ring finger drape over the frog more. Something I have noticed is that I have to keep my right-thumbnail closely trimmed.

Charles's suggestion about the rests is interesting, I have not heard that before, but I'm game to try it. After looking at his student's video, the method seems to be similar to what my teacher calls "stop-gap". You stop, set your finger to the next note, and then play, with the objective of gradually shrinking the gap to nothing. This is a good method for improving the accuracy and speed of finger preparation, which seems quite essential to developing reliable intonation in passage work. Charles -- is that what you have in mind?

November 13, 2014 at 07:35 AM · Hi Charles,

Thank you for watching and commenting. I was suprised to see myself smile at the exact same points where before I would have scowled ;-).

I kindly request that you not assume teaching inadequacies on the basis of my flaws; it is not warranted.

I watched the video of your student and remembered doing that kind of work before. I'll dust it off and try to give it a permanent place in my practicing toolbox.

Zina

November 13, 2014 at 07:56 AM · Charles

I played your video of one of your students. Was she supposed to be playing in tune?

Just asking ...

November 15, 2014 at 02:42 PM · Yeah I was kind of curious about that too.

November 15, 2014 at 06:54 PM · If that's playing in tune then I'm a Chinaman. Quarter tones and all that?

On the other hand maybe I've just escaped from the asylum?

November 15, 2014 at 08:13 PM ·

No, her intonation is Okay in the beginning because she is stopping between notes, but she stops stopping half way and a lot of notes end up out of tune. She has a bad habit of playing very out of tune without correcting(which she learned from another teacher), and with this and another technique I almost have it fix.

November 15, 2014 at 09:29 PM · "No, her intonation is Okay in the beginning because she is stopping between notes"

You think so? I must have been trained in a different system then, because it sounds out of tune to me. She is nowhere near the centre of the notes.

Maybe we should take a straw poll and hear what others think?

November 15, 2014 at 11:44 PM · Maybe once she stopped stopping it was time to stop. The method might be fine but perhaps it would be more effectively applied to shorter passages.

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