Advanced pieces - student violin.

November 22, 2014 at 11:40 PM · Hey Guys,

I have been playing the violin for 11 years and now I am working on some more advanced pieces like Bruch violin concerto or Praeludium and Allegro. Recently, I have realised that I still cannot play all the difficult passages (double stops, fast notes or differnt bow strokes) even though I have practiced them more than one year almost every day. It simply doesn´t sound nicely although I am trying hard. I am wondering if the problem is my violin. It has quite decent sound but poor responsiveness and projection compared to many other violins. My luthier told me that the value of my instrument is around 600 dollars.

I would like to hear your opinions and experiences about this topic. Do you think should I practice more or the problem is really my violin?

Replies (21)

November 23, 2014 at 12:11 AM · Maybe a new set of strings may better suit what you are looking for?

November 23, 2014 at 12:52 AM · If you are playing the Bruch you probably need something better than a $600 violin. But if you are having intonation issues, that's not your fiddle. Ask your teacher if (s)he has a decent violin (perhaps their backup instrument) that you could borrow for a week. Or, go to a local dealer and borrow a couple of $5000 violins and try those. See if it makes a big difference.

Out of curiosity, what pieces did you play before the Bruch and the P&A? Were they well polished?

November 23, 2014 at 02:22 AM ·

November 23, 2014 at 11:39 AM · Many student fiddles have a pleasant tone but cannot react quickly, especially in the higher positions.

My first test, after a 3 or 4 octave scale, is the harmonics on the E-string: fingers 4, 3, & 2, giving B, E and G#, playing near the bridge with a quick, frank stroke.

Lower tension strings may help. Or not.

November 23, 2014 at 12:29 PM ·

November 23, 2014 at 03:58 PM · How to tell if it's you or the violin: Try the same passages with your teacher's instrument and bow.

I knew it was time to upgrade (from an already-good modern instrument) when something that was difficult on my instrument was trivial on my teacher's.

November 23, 2014 at 05:53 PM · You may (probably do) need a better bow as well as possibly a better violin.

If you're practicing correctly, you should be able to play these passages in tune. A cheap violin will typically have a harsh sound and be harder to play, but intonation should be possible. New strings, maybe. Check your fingerboard, though--if it's never been dressed, it may have so many pits and ridges that you are fighting a losing battle. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look down the fingerboard from the scroll vantage point. It should be smooth, but will develop an uneven surface over time. If you can do laundry in the ridges of your fingerboard, it's time to get it dressed. ;-)

A $600 violin may not be worth the cost of getting your fingerboard dressed and maybe bridge replaced...

November 29, 2014 at 04:01 PM · Well I always purchase the best strings I can (usually Evah Pirazzi) but it helps only little. I checked the violin and fingerboard and bridge seem to be ok. I think that wrong practising of the pieces is not the case because I try to play everything slow or in rhytms and I don't have usually problems with intonation but when I try to play it in tempo i can't do it. I played Kabalevsky violin concerto in C and Bach's partita in E before and sounded quite nice but in these pieces there is not much double stops or fast playing in high postions compared to third page of P&A or 3.movement of Bruch. Well borrowing better violin will be probably the best option to see the differences.

November 29, 2014 at 04:48 PM · If the problem is intonation, it's you, unless the violin isn't staying in tune. Anything else and it's perfectly possible to blame the gear. Why not go to a shop and try playing that passage on several other violins and see what happens? That will answer some questions for you right away.

November 29, 2014 at 05:52 PM · People, better violins and strings only make the sound be better. Difficulties in playing is completely up to the musician. Aleš V., maybe you can try lifting the fingers that you don't use, I mean, preventing having too many fingers on the fingerboard. Sometimes it helps. Play the passages again and see if there are fingers still on the fingerboard when you don't use them, and revert that situation.

November 29, 2014 at 05:56 PM · Ales said " I checked the violin and fingerboard and bridge seem to be ok."

This is not something you will be able to tell on your own. Especially the fingerboard. I have a very similar problem, and took my instrument to a luthier. I found out the fingerboard, which looks fine to the naked eye, didn't have enough concavity (scoop), and also had a couple of bumps that would make certain notes very muddy. The difference of a thousandth of an inch or two could make an immense difference in playability.

November 29, 2014 at 06:17 PM · I didn't say it was definitely the violin. Only possible, except for intonation. And it's not true that only the tone quality changes with a nicer violin. The playability makes a big difference in projection, articulation, and just about anything else. That's why it would make sense to play the same passage on several other instruments. It would illuminate which problems are due to technique and which are due to the instrument.

December 2, 2014 at 05:16 PM · "Well I always purchase the best strings I can (usually Evah Pirazzi)"

There is no "best string"--there are strings that work for you and those that don't. Everyone seems to be pushing evas these days, but frankly I find them to be less responsive than many other brands, and don't last very long. The lower strings especially feel and sound "thick" to me.If the violin is not very responsive to begin with, I think it would make matters worse and choke it off.

Here's a question for the poster: After a year, you should be able to play through PA slowly by memory, in tune and with a nice tone. The question is, what is the fastest tempo you can do this? If you can't play through it well at a slow tempo, the problem is not with the violin or bow or strings. If you can play it slowly but have problems bumping up the speed to a reasonable performance tempo, then the reasons why need to be examined.

Those reasons could include:

-poor practice habits

-techniques for which you are not ready

- imperfect memorization (definitely could be a factor in this piece)

-an increase in tension through the piece in anticipation of difficult spots

-general high muscular tension

-mental endurance/focus

-too much time at one stretch spent on this piece, leading to burnout, lack of confidence on difficult spots (causing tension).

Sometimes the best answer for improving a piece is simply to let it sit for a while.

People often reason that "because I have played X I can play Y."

It is often a false assumption.

December 3, 2014 at 02:52 PM · The whole concept of "x dollar violin" is flawed. I have seen and heard violins appraised 10k, 20k and more with the lack of basic acoustic properties. I personally own 2 violins purchased for less than one thousand dollars which make my heart sing every day I play.

Do not fall into this trap.

There are many factors which may cause the difficulties you describe. Violin is just one of them. Then, there is a BOW.... and there is the player.

Try playing different fiddles, different bows in order to eliminate first 2 groups of factors. If nothing helps, leave Bruch for a while and work on other things.

December 3, 2014 at 04:58 PM · The OP didn't say he had a $600 violin. He said he had a violin that was evaluated by a luthier as being worth about $600. Presumably the luthier listened to it before making that determination? Or did he merely look at the label and general condition of the instrument and offer an "insurance appraisal"?

As I recall the OP did mention intonation, and the second movement of the Bruch is fairly challenging if the student has not had a lot of prior experience playing in "flat" keys like E flat major. I base this conclusion not on personal experience studying this piece but on listening to students attempt to perform it.

December 3, 2014 at 05:55 PM · The sound quality of an instrument has zero impact on its value.

December 3, 2014 at 10:22 PM · Not exactly. There is a statistical correlation between sound quality and value. If you plotted a graph of value vs. sound, you would see a general trend upwards with sound, though with outliers both above and below the mean. Most expensive violins should sound better to most people than cheaper violins.

December 3, 2014 at 10:44 PM · I am thinking that if a luthier values a violin at $600, that violin is basically firewood.

I don't, however, think it's fair to blame bad intonation on firewood. When I borrow a student's violin to demonstrate for them the best sound they can strive for, I am able to play in tune.

December 4, 2014 at 01:21 AM · Scott you have a point, but I bet if you actually made that plot you'd have "data that only a physicist could love."

December 4, 2014 at 03:23 AM · It very well could be your violin. I have had difficulty playing on cheaper instruments. My first violin was a $1oo Palatino and I could not for the life of me trill on that instrument. Once I got a better instrument, my playing ability rapidly increased. If you have the financial means to do so, I would definitely recommend upgrading to a better instrument.

December 4, 2014 at 04:25 AM · It's too extreme to say that the sound quality has no impact on the price. Yes, the pricing system for violins isn't perfect, and there are plenty of other factors involved. But show me a $600 violin anywhere that can stand up to a $10,000 violin.

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