A Funny Story About My Teacher (or Me).

November 30, 2014 at 10:01 PM · I once took violin lessons for about 3 months but I felt like she was just picking on me and, besides, she was mostly involved with grammar school kids. I was very much an adult student in that crowd! We eventually parted company but swapped a few friendly e-mails later on. I continued to learn what I could from the internet and I think I made reasonable progress but eventually I knew I needed to really get serious.

One of my weaknesses was use of the bow. I scoured the internet and YouTube to come up with a careful approach to the problem and finally I thought I knew everything there was to know.

Then it hit me. My new wisdom was almost exactly an echo of one of the issues about which my original teacher complained. I had taken about 6 years to come full circle!

Anyhow, corrective action is underway but that took way too long!

(The issue in this case was the role/posture of the upper arm better suited to sawing the violin in half if the bow had teeth.)

Replies (100)

November 30, 2014 at 10:32 PM · Two years ago I was in the Conservatorie. My violin exam was poor. My professor graded me with a 4. (Grades system here are 1 to 10). I disagreed with him, although I didn't say a word to him. I didn't return to the violin course next year.

So, in 6 years time, will I realize that my Conservatorie professor was right? That I didn't play that well? At the moment I thought I deserved an 8. Whether I was right or not, I guess the remorse comes if one thinks that the teachers are a necessity. Are they? I don't know.

November 30, 2014 at 10:59 PM · Once again proving that 3 months of instruction is worth more than 6 years of self teaching.

(Just to stir the pot....)

December 1, 2014 at 01:19 AM · It would appear that to my mind, trying to learn the fiddle in the early stages (first year or two, or three), in a vacuum, is risky because the basic building blocks which a good teacher provides, are not there.

I think that many people realise in hindsight, that a lot of the important concepts have not been understood, due to the lack of a really good teacher. There are many roads on the route to violin accomplishment, and without a teacher the student is likely to go down many dead ends.

December 1, 2014 at 04:34 AM · I will admit that initially I did not want to give up the fun of personal discovery and I had no serious plans for the future.

But I see now that perhaps the best result with a teacher is saving time, not limited to just grooming future virtuosos.

I think I had a sudden rush of wisdom but not really sudden and precious time lost.

December 1, 2014 at 04:42 AM · I once spent about three years teaching a university student and repeating myself over and over and over with regard to a particular technical point which he could not seem to grasp. When he was close to graduation, he came into a lesson very excited to show me something he had figured out...and then proceeded to repeat back to me the exact same technical advice I had been giving him for three years.

The temptation to start banging my head against the wall was nearly overpowering.

December 1, 2014 at 08:22 AM · This happens even with the "best" students, where to make further progress, we have to modify things which already "work".

Then they return from a summer camp and show me what they learned in the workshop: just what I had asked them to do for years! Maddening!

It works both ways, though. I have had colleagues thank me after a weekend workshop: their student had at last understood some vital point.

December 1, 2014 at 02:24 PM · In defense of resisting good advice.

I think that playing the violin is very mental as well as physical. If I am struggling with a particular technique, passage, etc., then my focus is limited. I may not welcome yet another, new, task.

I actually once used to maintain a "pre-flight" check list. The addition of another topic to the list was always a big distraction.

(Oh no, not that too!)

So, I think good things will happen when developing skills will allow or demand that.

PS The "issue" in my case was a limitation in tempo. My inaccurate bowing failed to engage the strings quickly enough.

December 1, 2014 at 02:41 PM · ["I think that playing the violin is very mental as well as physical. If I am struggling with a particular technique, passage, etc., then my focus is limited."]

Do you mean that you have to think about what you're doing as you play (rather than feeling it), or that you're thinking about what you want to achieve with your playing, the emotion you want to convey for example?

December 1, 2014 at 02:56 PM · "I think that playing the violin is very mental as well as physical."

It's 99% mental an 1% physical.

December 1, 2014 at 02:57 PM · Expression is a luxury for me but I'm working in that direction. I recently take the time to ponder the composers motives, place in history, etc. But I had to pay my dues for my (modest) skills that allow expression to happen.


Just read your posted URL and am very surprised to learn that the strategy is much like mine. Perhaps you can imagine that my best practices sometimes happen by just sitting in a rocking chair along with the score.

December 1, 2014 at 07:32 PM · I don't know if doing what the teacher tells you is always good. My Conservatorie professor, the one who graded me with a 4, told me to practice fast passages slowly. I was playing the beggining of Partita in E, in tempo, and when I stopped, he burst out. Said "do you think that sounds good? No. So why do you play it so fast? Do it slow". I think playing slow is a terrible advice, and a terrible thing to do. So, in that case, a professor CAN do harm.

December 1, 2014 at 07:36 PM · The young know it all, they don't need the experience of good teachers.

December 1, 2014 at 08:49 PM · Just in case there are beginners reading this thread:

Practicing slowly is EXCELLENT advice. The more one practices slowly and carefully, especially at the beginning of learning a new piece, the better the final performance will be. One of my esteemed colleagues told me that when he changed his practicing strategy to 80% slow/20% up to tempo (and 95% with a metronome), he started making the finals in major orchestra auditions 100% of the time.

There is no such thing as too much slow practice. Yes, you do eventually need to get things up to speed, but if you've done your homework (slowly), your up to speed will be wonderfully clean. If you start off too fast, you will practice in errors that will then take longer to fix than they would have taken to be learned right the first time.

My standard answer when a student asks how fast I want them to play something at a lesson: How fast can you play it well? Don't play it any faster than that.

December 1, 2014 at 08:52 PM · "The slower I go, the faster I learn"

December 1, 2014 at 09:03 PM · Hear, hear!

December 1, 2014 at 09:19 PM · Thank you for saying it so much more diplomatically than I would have, Mary Ellen! One thing I might add is that it's important to practice the same way slowly that you will at tempo. So if you're going to hold your fingers down at tempo, hold them down when you do it slowly. If you're going to pick them up, pick them up. If you're using little bow in the ultimate tempo, use little bow in the slow tempo, and so forth.

December 1, 2014 at 09:24 PM · Oh yes, exactly right, use the same amount and same part of the bow in slow tempo as you will in fast tempo, and the same fingering technique as well. Thanks for mentioning that.

Some posts are perhaps a bit more revealing than intended by the poster.

December 1, 2014 at 11:32 PM · We newbies can still make interesting innovations. I can sometimes slow down a piece and make the SAME mistakes I was making at speed.

December 2, 2014 at 12:50 AM · I'm laughing out loud about the "revelations." I still do this myself with things I remember being nagged about perfectly well, but somehow still manage to forget when I encounter something tricky. This passage is suddenly in tune when you shift with the old finger! Wow, good job, Sarah! Hold your fingers down when crossing strings and it's clear as a bell! You're a genius!

Another one I used to fall for with my own students is "my old teacher never told me that!" At first I would believe it when I heard it and silently shake my head at the glaring incompetence of the old teacher. Now I take it with an ocean's worth of salt.

December 2, 2014 at 12:52 AM · Also, Darlene, I don't think anyone ever gives up the fun of personal discovery with violin. That's the joy and hell of it. But with a good teacher, you won't have to reinvent the wheel.

December 2, 2014 at 05:45 AM · Ricci used to say "learn it fast, forget it quickly."

I'm pleased to read the good sense and experience of highly qualified and experienced teachers and players on this forum.

December 2, 2014 at 07:45 AM · Oh Darn. We've been practicing wrong all these years by going slow and making sure the ground work is laid out before increasing tempos... To be a yungin' again.

To answer the person pondering if they will regret not listening to their teacher in 6 years, whom also think they were right and the teacher wrong... I say this nicely but, I sincerely hope you'll regret dropping out over your stubbornness to listen well before then so you can get back on course. It's a pretty classic case of student vs. teacher. We've all been there, done that.

I remember back in High School playing one of the Mozart Concertos with the local orchestra. Rehearsed for two months with them, teacher was the guest conductor. Everything was ready, then the actual performance happened. All was well until I decided to change my cadenza because I wanted something a bit more showy. I felt my teachers cadenza of choice was weak and too simple. So without much practice on MY planned cadenza, I played it. It went off spectacularly awful. This began the 100 year war between my teacher and I. I went off to the conservatory, graduated and while I was working on my Master's pulled out his cadenza when approached to perform that Mozart and found it was technically, musically superior to a lot of the cadenzas out there. I've used it ever since, as well as thawed the ice between us. He still laughs at me when I mention a performance upcoming with "I STILL CANNOT BELIEVE YOUR CADENZA WAS TWICE AS LONG AS THE ENTIRE FIRST MOVEMENT!" Live and Learn.

Do teachers know best? In general, yes. Not all the time. I've ran across a few teachers who are just bad. These tend to have zero flexibility to adjust to their students needs and try creating a sort of chop shop. On the flip side, I've met some truly awesome teachers and have had a few myself in the past that just knows exactly how to get the most out of you.

December 2, 2014 at 08:35 AM · John, you are right of course, there are some bad teachers out there, certainly here in the UK. So this fact complicates the discussion somewhat.

But learning it slow certainly pays off, as I tell myself every day without fail.

December 2, 2014 at 08:41 AM · hi Ezequiel, practicing slow is crucial, but you have to do it with your brain turned on. so you practice slowly so that you can figure out exactly how to place your fingers, when to lift fingers, when to cross strings, how to shift. you "burn" all these important details in your brain by doing them in a very conscious, thus slow, manner. once this all has found a home in your brain, you can now play the passage fast as well as slow. I often find that teachers do not emphasize enough "how" you have to practice slowly. indeed just playing a difficult passage slowly without really thinking what to do is useless.

December 2, 2014 at 01:19 PM · That's quite right, Jean. It's also important to do methodical work with the metronome to learn exactly at what tempo mistakes start happening, and why. Usually the problem is that you're still doing something you can get away with in a slow tempo, but not a fast tempo, so you have to go back and either correct basic technique issues or find a new strategy that will work at the fast tempo.

Also, whoever said that the teacher isn't always right, but usually, is right on the money. It does happen that I'm wrong in lesson, and I'm happy to acknowledge it when it does--but it happens about 5% of the time that my students think it does. Usually I just sit and wait for them to figure out why I'm right.

December 2, 2014 at 02:21 PM · There have been situations where I benefitted by a faster tempo. The improvement happens with intonation because I am able to clearly hear the melody/chord line. For this reason I do not like Largo.

But I now spend more time with my rocking chair studies and.slow motion as demanded by the music.

(There is no piece of music so simple that can't make an error. I love my violin but I do not 100 percent trust it.)

December 2, 2014 at 04:28 PM · I will admit that there was a time that I thought that "at tempo" would be the quickest way to learn a piece. (i.e. the shortest distance between 2 points)

I doubted that I could carry all my mental preparedness into actual performance. The reality is that I never really remember doing my "homework" when the time comes to play. My focus simply turns to performance. (The truth is that I even block out the audience.)

The bottom line however is that I am satisfied with the go slow philosophy.


If I encounter a problem section or passage is it better to do repetitions or try to find relevant generic study/etude material?

December 2, 2014 at 04:33 PM · "John, you are right of course, there are some bad teachers out there, certainly here in the UK. So this fact complicates the discussion somewhat.

But learning it slow certainly pays off, as I tell myself every day without fail."

I already know the benefit of learning slow hence why I said I hope the person regrets not listening to the teacher who said to practice slowly sooner than later. ;)

December 2, 2014 at 08:13 PM · Gee, it's not like I will pervert beginners by saying what I said. Besides, when I practice fast pieces in a fast way, they do come out right. It's happened before.

December 2, 2014 at 10:07 PM · "If I encounter a problem section or passage is it better to do repetitions or try to find relevant generic study/etude material?"

I suggest a bit of each: analyse the problem carefully (i.e. slowly!) and turn it into a n exercise. Getting out a book of studies is a long-term solution. Basics is Best ! With lots of repetition.

December 3, 2014 at 03:33 AM · I do not recall any other thread where "slow" had so much support.

Guess that's a mandate.

(My teacher never told me that)

December 3, 2014 at 11:59 AM · I have never heard of any pedagogical system that doesn't recommend practicing difficult techniques and passages slowly; I've studied quite a few and have studied under some of them. Whether you personally benefit from working slowly or not, it is a time honored and extremely effective technique.

Ezequiel - I would disagree that your statements have no potential to be damaging. If I am a beginner, read your posts and think, hey, I like the way this guy thinks. I then pick up my violin and practice my etude Allegretto, just as the music says, but week after week my fingers flay and fumble in the same spots. My teacher says, practice it slowly, but they're only teachers, what do they know, so I continue to ignore the instruction. Eventually I get frustrated with my lack of progress and obviously lousy teacher for suggesting another way, and just quit playing violin altogether. It is a very real scenario and I've seen it happen numerous times.

Beginners look to the more experienced for advice. People love playing fast, its flashy, virtuosic looking and feels good. They may find confirmation bias in what you say, then blame the teacher, not themselves, for their lack of progress.

To say that a teacher is terrible for the sole reason of recommending this technique as a path to success is an utter absurdity.

December 3, 2014 at 01:32 PM · Slow practice is actually not so much about playing slowly as it is about taking the time (it takes time, so it goes slow) to analyze all the things that are involved in playing a technical passage. You cannot analyze purely theoretically, you have to feel it, actually do these things: while doing so you are "practicing slowly". Once the analysis is complete in your head, you are done with slow practice and you start speeding up using the metronome, as explained above by Sarah.

December 3, 2014 at 03:43 PM · I completely agree with Steven. Beginners have no idea what practice actually means, and furthermore, the act of efficient practice is mentally exhausting, so most of them will find any means to avoid it for the same reason most people put off physical exercise. It takes a very long time to learn to practice effectively. Of course everyone would rather play fast--it feels more like playing music, and it seems more impressive to the untrained ear.

Now, at some point, you do have to push yourself into playing fast, even if you don't feel like you're ready, because otherwise you have no gauge for the efficacy of your slow practice, and you also are never spending any time playing fast. But if you can't play it cleanly and accurately at a fast tempo, most of the time the answer is in *mindful* slow practice. The key word being "mindful."

December 3, 2014 at 04:07 PM · JD

You very accurately described my similar approach.

After a few slow sessions, it seems less difficult. I sometimes need a week or two for me to understand what the music wants both artistically and technically and to weed out my mental errors.

But playing fast is, of course, a very genuine issue with new problems and that is where I'm struggling right now (and drowning in pictures of bow holds).

Maybe many students are just too impatient to play slow?

December 3, 2014 at 04:23 PM · Yes, many students are too impatient to play slowly...and it is certainly more fun to play fast. Practicing slowly takes concentration and discipline.

It's also important not to try to jump from a very slow practice tempo up to performance tempo all at once...the metronome is your friend. Notch by notch by notch and don't increase the speed until you can play the passage well at the previous tempo.

When I was preparing to audition for my current job, I started two months in advance with the Schumann Scherzo and played it way below the bottom of the metronome--held each note until I was sure it was exactly on pitch. After that, I started at the very bottom of the metronome (40) and practiced it at that tempo until it was perfect. Then I moved the metronome up to 42. Lather, rinse, repeat--I did this all the way up the metronome, notch by notch, until I could play the Schumann Scherzo perfectly at 144 (some people recommend 138). It took about six weeks from start to finish. That was over twenty years ago, and I can still play a respectable Schumann Scherzo on short notice. Learn slowly, forget slowly, indeed.

I will say that you have to really, really want something to put yourself through that kind of detailed process.

December 3, 2014 at 04:25 PM · Thanks for that advice! I'm going to try that exact process with my Schumann Scherzo, which is my weakest excerpt (and therefore my least favorite).

December 3, 2014 at 05:03 PM · Last night at orchestra rehearsal we spent most of the time in that well-known minefield, the Scherzo of Beethoven #5. Those who have played it will know what I mean ;). At anything approaching performance speed some player's timing would go to pot, thereby confusing most of their section and the rot spreading to others. The conductor wasn't very sympathetic and pointed out that even though professionals sometimes had manifest problems with that particular Scherzo in performance (cue a grin and nod of understanding from our ex-pro leader) he wasn't going take the pros' problems as an excuse for our shortcomings!

So, what he did was to take each section individually through the tricky bits (i.e. most of the movement) real slow to make sure the timing was dead accurate - and, most importantly, that everyone was watching the beat. Then he went through it again slowly but this time combining a couple of sections (e.g. firsts and seconds). Finally, the whole orchestra played through it a little quicker, and then at full performance speed - with no crashes. The conductor's method had worked.

My cello teacher many years ago told me that the difference between a good amateur and a pro was that the amateur practiced until he got it right, but the professional would practice until he couldn't get it wrong.

More recently, my violin teacher introduced me to the concept of "looping". Suppose you have a piece which is fairly straightforward for most of the time until you come to a couple of measures that have tricky shifts or fingering, and non-intuitive bowing, and this is where you either crash or slow down. What you do is to play it through until you identify the problem area (perhaps only half a measure) and then you practice that problem area very slowly, thinking about every note and what your fingers and bow are doing, and immediately repeat it ten times (say). That is "looping", and done properly it is enormously effective.

My guess is that when you hear about top performers working 4 - 6 hours a day in the practice room, for some of the time they will be doing that slow, detailed and thoughtful practice - with looping. I think that a very useful and important spin-off of such practice is that it really helps you to memorize the piece more effectively.

December 3, 2014 at 06:28 PM · Here is an interesting article regarding slow practice.

December 3, 2014 at 09:11 PM · Great Post. Thanks!

If you want slow then try Tai Chi. I tried it just to know what the big deal was. Just a few pages into the method and I was lost.

I once knew a person who was a superb violin player and I asked him how he approached difficult music. "One note at a time!"

I can say that most of what i know happened as a collection of micro discoveries which I would have missed at full speed.

December 3, 2014 at 10:33 PM · Some of the top pedagogues and performers, from Auer, to Heifetz, to Ricci, etc. etc. have recommended and done slow careful practice. Of course, the performance on stage is not the time to find out whether we can play in tempo. So we use the metronome to gradually speed up, as well as practicing in rhythms, different groupings, etc. Then, it's good to go back to slow practice for assurance.

Speaking of students' delayed reactions to teachers' advice, there's a very good new YouTube masterclass with Pinchas Zukerman, where he says that it took him about 2 years to finally decide that just maybe Galamian knew what he was talking about! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0A1gFKNCa3I

December 3, 2014 at 11:31 PM · I don't understand why people equate playing fast with getting the piece wrong. Playing fast has an aura of recklessness which I can't understand where it comes from. I just can't. Picking Allegro or Presto passages at speed doesn't mean that the player is neglecting or careless. Why do I say this? Because practicing fast can and does get the pieces right.

If someone is hurting begginers, it's you, because you are implying that Adagios are always easy. They are not.

December 3, 2014 at 11:39 PM · Please excuse the double post. Martial arts are a good proof that speed maters - I mean, fastness matters. Hitting is something that by definition can't be done slowly. If you move your fist in low speed, you are not punching, you are doing calystenics. And if it makes contact with something, it's just a touch. Now, in violin playing, I know it's not that extreme, because you are still playing a note, but fastness has a great deal of importance in things like scales. Composers always conceived scales in a fast runs of notes. We would be hard pressed to find a scale in quarter-notes. So, my point is that reducing the speed in such passages completely vacuates the meaning of them.

December 4, 2014 at 12:41 AM · Pardon me, but I'm going to go with tried and proven theories over a comparison to, of all things Martial Arts.

Would HIGHLY advise you to seek out some reading materials about the musicians proven methodology of practice times. Quite a few good read out there.

Also, scales can be taken at any speed. As can any and all pieces in existent. The point isn't to see the music and immediately play all willy nilly at performance speed, but to get that foundation that's need to be able to properly play said pieces.

You can keep trying to exclaim you're right and the teacher is wrong when it comes to the art of practicing, but you're not going to find many professional musicians out there who would support going full steam ahead on pretty much anything, minus the miscellaneous pieces which if slowed down become quite a bit more difficult, which are far and few between.

So instead of being defensive, you may consider trying what every knowledgable musician supports and has supported for hundreds of years.

December 4, 2014 at 03:17 AM · What John A. said. Plus, as a highly credentialed professional violinist who also happened to have studied Kung-Fu off and on for about 8 years as a young man, I know that martial arts techniques are first practiced slowly and carefully, just like musical techniques and passages.

Pity poor Heifetz, Auer, Ricci, Perlman, Zukerman, Rosand and other virtuosos ad infinitum who got it so wrong, not having had the advantage of the advice of a young man who by his own admission scored 4 out of a possible 10 in his conservatory exam!

December 4, 2014 at 08:04 AM · I can only emphasise what Raphael and almost everyone else has said.

Practicing fast never fixes the problem. I find it helpful with a problem passage (usually several bars of fast quavers (8th notes) or semi-quavers (16th notes), to break the pasage up into seperate bars played slowly with a short break, and then joing them together, still at slow speed. Eventually the brain (even mine!) will get the message.

December 4, 2014 at 08:44 AM · Ezequiel,

Getting it right sometimes isn't good enough. You have to get it right EVERY time.

Your punch analogy is performance speed. You still have to learn the correct technique to punch effectively. Although, sometimes you can get lucky. Do you want to count on that in a fight?

Composers write slow scales all the bloody time.

Adagio is easy ... said nobody ever!

Unless you lose this arrogance of yours, I fear that you will always be a 4.

December 4, 2014 at 11:43 AM · Let's check back on this thread in 6 years and see if he's changed his opinion!


December 4, 2014 at 12:39 PM · I find gifted students have great difficullty practicing slowly, and don't always see the point. They have to hear recordings of themselves to realize that their fast passages while energetic, are riddled with imperfections: tone articulation, intonation etc.

December 4, 2014 at 01:10 PM · Talented, intelligent students often have difficulty practicing at all, because they're used to things coming effortlessly to them. They're also used to the ego stroke of hearing how smart they are all the time, so when they run up against something that isn't easy, it can be threatening to their self-esteem. But even the most talented student will eventually hit a wall where careful, methodical practice is absolutely necessary to move forward. With these students, it's especially important for the teacher to both push them hard and reassure them that needing to work doesn't mean they're suddenly talentless.

December 4, 2014 at 03:22 PM · Composers didn't write scales slow. When I say scale, I mean conjunct motions that exceed the octave, sometimes reaching the double octave. You can look in the works of different composers and see what I mean.

Of course nobody said that "Adagios are easy". Nobody said it, but they imply it. That is sure a notion that can confound and mislead new students.

December 4, 2014 at 04:03 PM · My own teacher assures me that the slow movements are the hard ones because there is nowhere to hide and they often require much better bow control than a faster piece. A tremble of the bow, slightly off intonation etc are much easier to spot than in fast movements.

December 4, 2014 at 04:08 PM · Interesting, Ezequiel. Unfortunately, most of us (teachers) have no training in post-lobotomy students.

Sorry to be rude, but there are limits!

December 4, 2014 at 04:31 PM · Liz B.

That's why I avoid Largo. Too honest.

December 4, 2014 at 05:05 PM · A good example of difficult slow music is Kreutzer #1 - certainly not the one to start with in that set if you're not yet far down the road. It's probably better for most to start with #2 and work through the next 10 or so before even thinking about #1.

December 4, 2014 at 05:29 PM · I love Kreutzer #1! I hear that in some editions it's been removed, which is a shame. It's a beast, but so good for bow control.

December 4, 2014 at 05:35 PM · In some editions, the real No 1 appears later.

But let's not confuse slow music with fast music practiced slowly!

December 4, 2014 at 06:48 PM · "Composers didn't write scales slow. When I say scale, I mean conjunct motions that exceed the octave, sometimes reaching the double octave."

Ezequiel Belaustegui


Composers have not written scales (unless as a short passage in a work).

If you are any good you would talk about 3 octave scales and even four octaves.

I think it's time you thought about this!

And I don't appologise for being critical!

December 4, 2014 at 09:51 PM · O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

December 4, 2014 at 10:02 PM · Ezequiel,

I'm not going to delve to much into this but I wanted to ask to hear a sample of your playing. You state your opinion very, very strongly. So please demonstrate for all of us.

When you can play like Perlman, Ricci and the numerous other violinists who are (or were) counted among the best in the world, and who strongly advocate, correct slow practice - I might consider your opinion.

December 4, 2014 at 10:15 PM · Ezequiel, if your philosophy works well for you, then that is what you should do. It has not worked well for me, nor for anyone else with whom I'm personally acquainted. So I will follow a different approach, one that has proven to be successful for me. Others will do as they will. Your life is yours to live, and I truly hope your personal philosophies bring you a long and successful one. Peace-

December 4, 2014 at 10:21 PM · It's time for Ezequiel and Peter Charles to check out this page:

Rules for Writers, and particularly, "No hate speech or personal attacks."

It really ought to be possible to talk about the violin without resorting to personal attacks. Do whatever you have to do: count to ten before you write something, or go away from the computer for a while, or don't drink and post.

We can meet everyone where they are at, and some people are professionals who have been playing for more than 30 years, some are beginners. A lot are somewhere in the middle. Also some people speak English as a second language and so they don't necessarily state things with subtlety. That's okay, too.

About slow vs. fast practice: eventually you have to practice a fast passage fast. Yes, slow to get the notes, slow to work things out. But the time comes, you have to get it up to speed. These ideas are not completely contradictory.

December 4, 2014 at 10:47 PM · Actually, Laurie, I should be included too: lobotomy is not funny. Joseph Hassid had one, or something similar.

But I assumed it was obvious that practice should strat slow in order for performance to be fast and good. But never mind.

Thank you for not erasing our posts, though.

PS in france "une douche" just means a shower.

I take them regularly!

PPS or is Ezequiel just pulling our legs?

December 4, 2014 at 11:06 PM · What do you call someone who can play a difficult piece without benefit of the "slow" routine?

A great sight reader!

December 4, 2014 at 11:56 PM · I'm just worried that young players reading posts put on by people who think they know what they are talking about will be influenced enough to take the points seriously.

But luckily there are enough knowledgeble people who are long standing professionals and serious posters who can make the points strongly and counteract someone who is obviously wrong.

In the face of such strong opposition most normal people might take the hint and leave the stage, as I am going to do now.

December 5, 2014 at 12:46 AM · Peter, even if you don't appologise for being critical, you should at least appppppologise for your spppelllllling.

December 5, 2014 at 03:27 AM · Like Groucho Marx, "I just came to say I must be going."

December 5, 2014 at 06:28 AM · "PPS or is Ezequiel just pulling our legs?"

Sadly, I very much doubt it.

The original question Ezequiel posed was pretty simple. Would he regret not listening to his teacher and having dropped out in 6 years time like the OP story, which wasn't so much regret as much as coming full circle realizing an old teacher did have the best intentions after all . The simple answer is Yes, you will. The end.

We can throw putty at each other and debate how to properly get the most out of practicing to death, but in a nutshell this the above affirmation is they'd get if this were a yes or no type of poll. I'd go with Ms. Saunders' request and provide a recording to disprove everybody. But it's understandable not wanting to do so (we're all critics at heart).

Maybe the wound is too new from departing from the conservatoire two years ago to be able to see clearly, maybe it'll take many years to finally realize the errors of ones ways (as it did I). Maybe you're a wunderkind and is able to play everything perfectly from the moment the sheet music is set in front of you. Maybe... Nobody knows much about your playing abilities, outside some far fetched suggestions here and there.

While we, as a whole tended to come off with a strong foot, it isn't done out of anger or hostility or because we are looking down on others of lesser abilities. Most of us are teachers and professionals who've been there, done there and do look out for the fellow players.

Having said it already, do some research instead of arguing and maybe what's being said will make sense. Otherwise, going off with anecdotes and other ideas and not taking a step back to soak up what the old people are saying just means this isn't going anywhere, as most should see by now.

December 5, 2014 at 10:21 AM · Raphael, do you, like Groucho, play the piano and harp (I'm told they all did)?

December 5, 2014 at 11:28 AM · Ezequiel, let's say there seems to be a misunderstanding. (Deap breath). Nobody, here or elswhere, suggests performing fast music slowly, but practicing it slowly until each element is good enough to speed up with good tone, good articulation, and above all good intonation.

Got it?

P.S. at 35, I knew it all, at 65 I know even more since I am still learning.

December 5, 2014 at 01:12 PM · I'm the one in the right, playing first violin:


This was 6 years ago, when I was 18.

Adrain Heath: I guess I understand the difference. There are some people who refer to the method of literally slowing down fast passages, in this board and elsewhere (like my teacher). Now, if "slow" is actually a synonym for "mindful", then it'd be okay.

December 5, 2014 at 01:45 PM · Neat video and I always love Vivaldi.

As a parting bit of information .....

At one point I decided I was ready to move on so I re-populated my music stand with "next level" music. That decision exposed many problems, some of which my teacher had addressed a long time ago. I just did not understand or need all the details as long as I was playing easier music. So, necessity made it happen.

December 5, 2014 at 02:12 PM · "Now, if 'slow' is actually a synonym for 'mindful', then it'd be okay"

I can assure you that all the comments on this thread, and quoted from elsewhere, mean just that!

Personally, I don't approve of children playing e.g. Vivaldi's usual A minor concerto at one-quarter speed in public. They don't have to play as fast as the discs of Suk, Grumiaux etc, but it should not be massacred!

My usual suggestions:

- Slow reading to "map out" notes and positions, in tune!

- Slow but lively: "real" bow lengths (staccato if necessary), exaggerated string-crossings, firm left hand.

- Quick playing, but 4 or 5 notes at a time; in the case of a mistake, redo the whole chunk, not just the bad notes. Slow down the chunk for repairs.

- Medium quick, assembling the "chunks" into bigger chunks.

- The bigger chunks faster.

And so on.

To start with, the slow (mindful!) practice should predominate.

Once the music is mastered, the slow practice should be frequent enough to maintain quality.


P.S. the Vivaldi "Double" sounds fine!

December 5, 2014 at 02:35 PM · AH What is your definition of an "exaggerated string crossing"?

(I have hidden motives for asking.)

December 5, 2014 at 03:04 PM · String-crossing?

In slow, "jerky" practice, I pay attention to the vertical movements of the right hand between notes on adjacent strings, be they détaché or interrupted slurs. These robotic mouvements get smoothed out as the tempo increases.

In the left hand, I may exaggerate the pendular motion of the forearm. (I have a v.short pinky, and I usually play viola..)

December 5, 2014 at 03:59 PM · I'm sorry to say this, Ezequiel, but I see the root of the issue:

You are 24 years old.

I was once 24 years old as well (24 years ago, actually...), the problem and the joy of being 24 years old (especially for young men, it seems) is that you are at the peak of your powers, the world is at your feet, old enough to be fully independent, not old enough to be burdened with too much responsibility, you are ascendant, the trajectory points to the stars.

It is indeed a wonderful feeling, please enjoy it! You are obviously a talented violinist.

Yet, others have been there and beyond those bounds. The rocketship of youth is replaced by a sea of experience and knowledge. You must trust that, they too know of what they speak.

I believe Darlene's original timeframe will be about right. In 6 years, when you're 30, and have violin students of your own (and perhaps children of your own as well), I will wager that you will be admonishing them to SLOW DOWN when working on a piece!

"Why don't these kids listen to me?!"

And then you will harken back to a conversation faded with time, and realize that the cycle is simply beginning all over again...

December 5, 2014 at 04:37 PM · I can't really remember the details of what I was like when I was 24 - I don't think I wish to know ;). However it is interesting that some professions do not allow full membership (e.g. Fellowship or Chartered Membership) below the age of 25, even though professional qualifying exams may have been passed before that age - I know of at least a couple of instances of that in my own profession.

Another example is the very high insurance premiums that car drivers in the U.K. under the age of 25 have to pay, reflecting the insurance industry's experience of the disproportionate high number of road traffic accidents involving that age group. 

I understand the basis for this age barrier of 25, in insurance and professions, is that the human brain does not become fully developed until about the age of 25, when, for example, the ability to become aware of the consequences of one's actions, and to take responsibility accordingly, is considered to come fully into play.

December 5, 2014 at 05:01 PM · The age for drafting young men during WW2 was 18-25. Young men of that age feel immortal, and are more likely to storm a beachhead beneath a hail of machine gun fire than a wisened group of 30-40 year olds....

BTW, Ezequel, this is not a personal commentary on you, but rather a sidetrack into general human nature!

December 6, 2014 at 06:08 AM · An important consideration for slow practice is ensuring that you practice slowly but with fast and deliberate motions in the left hand. (This is a Raphael Bronstein-ism, as far as I know.) The slow speed is buying you time to think about what you're going to do next -- so that when you actually execute it, it is done with precision and alacrity. To play faster, then, you simply eliminate the thinking time.

December 6, 2014 at 07:29 AM · "Practice" by Simon Fischer

Practicing very slowly

The legendary teacher Ivan Galamian was once asked which practice method, out of all the different ways of practising, would he consider to be the very best if he could choose only one. He replied: 'Playing through at half speed, because it gives you time to think.' (page 1)

"The Violin Lesson" by Simon Fischer

The Russian who couldn't play fast

[...] Then one day he arrived at his lesson beaming, took out his violin, and said: "Listen to this!" He started to play some difficult passages very fast and accurately, and with evident ease.

Miss DeLay was astonished. "Fantastic!" she said. "What have you been doing to get this result?"

Vladimir explained what had happened. He had been in a practice room on the fourth floor of the Juilliard School, and in the room next to him a brilliant and successful Russian violinist called Yuri was practising. Vladimir could hear Yuri faintly through the wall.

Yuri was practising a piece that was fast and tricky. It was obvious that he was at an early stage of learning it - he could not yet play it fluently - yet he was practising it at performance tempo.

Vladimir was surprised. He had always been told that you should not play anything fast until you can play it perfectly at a slow tempo. You cannot run before you can walk. He had never practised fast passages at performance tempo. Since he couldn't play them fast, he would practise them slowly; but because he practised only slowly, he couldn't play them fast.

The moment he started to practise, up to speed, the passages that he could not yet play fluently - as well as practising slowly, and in all the other ways of practising - the new results were extraordinary. (page 109)

December 6, 2014 at 07:59 AM · Yes, slow ponderous practice will not help. Slow energetic practice, associated with fast "chunks" works well.

December 6, 2014 at 01:31 PM · Why should learning a violin piece be entirely different than learning many other skills?

I think of the time I wanted to learn to use an abacus which also has both mental and physical requirements. I HAD to start slow which I think is consistent with the notion of a learning curve.

December 6, 2014 at 04:19 PM · This statement, "... you should not play anything fast until you can play it perfectly at a slow tempo." is wrong. You need to try something fast, even if you're fumbling your way through it, because you have to identify both what goes wrong in fast tempo, as well as what the right approach is in fast tempo -- where you want to be in the bow, what fingering will be reliable (because what works slowly is not necessarily great fast). You're playing it in fast tempo to *analyze* it, not to *practice* it per se (i.e., you're trying to avoid ingraining bad attempts). You fix what's going wrong, and then you try it again at tempo, re-analyze, go back to breaking it down. Ideally, you also want to practice things so that you can play at above your intended performance tempo, as well, since that's your safety against nervousness or your accompanist pushing you above your planned tempo or whatever.

Practice should always be *directed*. You should never repeat anything blindly, whether you're practicing something at tempo or under-tempo. If you can't get a passage right at tempo, continuing to just blaze through it while it's wrong accomplishes very little. Slow practice means having that time to think -- but in most cases, for fast passagework, your "slow practice" will actually be fast-execution-with-pauses. It'll use practice techniques like chaining (play the first two notes fast, then the first three notes fast, then four, etc.), chunking (first group of notes fast, pause, then second group of notes fast, pause, etc.), and looping (first group of notes plus one note fast, pause, repeat that last note with the second group, etc.).

December 6, 2014 at 07:15 PM · Wow! The boo-boos are easy to spot at this speed.


December 6, 2014 at 08:12 PM · "Slow practice means having that time to think -- but in most cases, for fast passagework, your "slow practice" will actually be fast-execution-with-pauses."

Mmm, I think this puts it pretty clear. But if so, then we have a case of world dyslexia. Lots of people say "slow" when they mean to say "short". Maybe we could start a course of basic language usage in music schools. I mean, if Itzhak Perlman can't tell apart the meaning of "slow" from "short", then we are in trouble. Just see how many people here supposedly mean "short sections" but say "slow speed". Sad.

December 6, 2014 at 10:47 PM · Ezequiel, I tried your suggested way with a short piece on my daughter. It did not work. She played in uneven rhythm with imprecise intonation. Only when we went through it our usual way, slowly with concentration first, the she could play it faster and it was in rhythm and clean. Sorry.

December 6, 2014 at 11:35 PM · From Kate Little 2014, V.com archives.


Given a musical phrase which feels too difficult, I break it apart as necessary into components of bowing, and fingering, or even further into components of bow weight, position, crossing, hand position, finger transition, pitch & etc. until I find components of making the sound and transitioning from note-to-note that I can do. Then I intertwine these components one-by-one as I am capable, slowly building into a musical phrase, and eventually an entire piece.

This method of practice and learning has multiple payoffs: I never get frustrated when practicing because I can always find something to work on that I can achieve. I achieve something in every daily practice session and do not run into temporary plateaus. Because the components that I work at are all within reasonable reach, learning to play violin does not feel difficult. Because all components feel equally and ultimately achievable, the rate of learning feels constant and the end-goal limitless: I could keep climbing this staircase forever, so, as the final graph indicates, Hilary Hahn better be on her guard.

December 6, 2014 at 11:47 PM · I did not mean to say "short." I meant to say "slow."

A thirty-year professional career says that this has been a successful strategy for me.

December 7, 2014 at 02:30 PM · Oops!

December 7, 2014 at 02:31 PM · "Why should learning a violin piece be entirely different than learning many other skills?"

If the difference isn't obvious, there is a problem! It's more akin to highspeed minute skills in assembly lines. Are there many other skills which have to be done not just finely coordinated, but also in strict rythm?

December 7, 2014 at 02:33 PM · Long & Slow, Short & Fast...

Said it before. It works for me , and my students..

December 7, 2014 at 03:28 PM · Darlene, that clip you posted recently of an American folk tune being demonstrated very slooow (far too slow) - and which btw are the first beats of the bars? - reminded me all too vividly of some Irish tune-learning workshops that I used to go to when I was playing Irish fiddle in the years before I started taking real violin lessons.

The big problem with that dreadful sort of slo-mo demo - leaving aside the variable intonation(!) - is that you get no idea whatsoever of what the tune sounds like, or even whether it is a jig, polka, reel or whatever unless you are told beforehand. All you are hearing is a boring mindless succession of apparently random notes with no rhythmic or other sort of musical connection between them. The sad result is almost inevitable; assuming the learner does manage get that succession of notes into their head and fingers all they end up playing is that succession of notes and no more, possibly a little faster but with no insight into the subtle rhythmic and melodic structures of the music.

Many is the time I've heard people who have been "taught" tunes that way, and a couple of years later, even though they may be "note-perfect" (in the MIDI sense) they'll still be playing a lively polka like a dirge. A major part of the problem, imo, is that 2/4 Irish polkas, for example, are taught to beginners far too early because they seem easy, not recognizing that the all-important subtle off-beat accents within the notes take a lot of experience and very good bowing technique to execute. Good basic fiddle technique is rarely taught in these workshops, although there is the occasional honorable exception.

Irish music is full of these subtle and very important rhythmic structures which take a lot of learning from a good teacher, and of course a lot of listening to the best performers. A tutor in the better tune workshops I've been to, and still go to occasionally, will first play the tune through a couple of times at performance speed, and then a little slower (90%) to give the class a good idea of what the music should sound like in real life. He will then go through the tune two bars at a time at a slower pace but - and this is so important - still as a recognizable tune, for as long as it takes for the class to learn it. And then proceed to the next two bars, so building the tune up bit by bit. Finally, after an hour or so the class is able to play through the complete tune (usually 32 bars) at a respectable speed. Most tutors finish by playing the tune through a couple of times for the benefit of students with recording devices. Bear in mind that there is no sheet music used at these workshops, although the instructor may hand it out afterwards, recognizing that human memory is fallible.

December 7, 2014 at 03:28 PM · AH

That is a bit humorous. You would not consider a presto passage high speed and minute in close (finger) quarters?

Come to think of it I spent some time with a Russian trained and luthier violinist and, up close, his left hand looked just like a typewriter!

December 7, 2014 at 03:55 PM · Trevor

I totally agree that it is best to include the recognizable tune in the learning process.

As I read this thread I get the impression that if I can't play it fast than I should play it slow but playing slow is not allowed. Check mate :)

Personally, I practice slow but it is not really practice at that point. I may have to include comments about fingering, special bowing tricks or whatever else may need a decision.

I think this thread contains viewpoints for both novice and pro and that has to generate some friction.

How would you describe the playing background/education of your "class" ?

December 7, 2014 at 10:36 PM · In summary:

Get a teacher that you respect and trust.

Listen to what they are trying to teach you.

Doing so saves YEARS of wandering in the wilderness.

December 7, 2014 at 11:55 PM · Trevor

If this thread runs out, please private message me regarding my question about the age and musical education of the "class" you refer to. I'm curious about your answer.


December 8, 2014 at 04:21 PM · BTW Darlene, on an abacus we have to play the right notes all the time, but staying in tune just means holding it horizontally. And no need to keep strict time!

December 31, 2014 at 11:52 PM · Greetings,

as Lydia points out, doing only slow practice will not necessarily lead to control of fast passages. we talk about slow practice as an antidote or reaction to the unthinking scramble that so many are guilty of. however, we cannot assume that the directive to practice slowly will solve the problem. What is crucial is the underlying concept that unites Lydia's precise description with the equally valid idea that one can learn a Schumann symphony excerpt using the approach described. That is, whatever the speed of the music , the mind must be programmed in such a way that it can calmly and clearly issue the smallest number of directives at a calm and relaxed pace. by practicing in chunks at sipeed we issue a directive for something we can control. when combined with a new small chunk that we have under control it becomes a larger chunk that the brain triggers with just one order. in the end phrases, lines pages and even whole moto perpetual us are triggered leaving the mind free for higher order processing.

practicing very slowly is also essential. Some of the highest level of practicing involves stopping between each note and eliminating the slightest unnecessary little twinges, odd movements of the hand etc that exist in most players to some degree and add up to quite an obstruction in the long run.At the same time not moving on until you have clearly visualized the pitch and sound quality of the next note programs the computer superbly for playing faster.

in practice I think that students sometimes forget we need to grasp the work as a whole so I fo think playing through a work or part of it at something approximating tempo, warts and all, is useful. this does not ingrained bad habits, but rather reminds us of where we need to focus our practice next time,



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