Slow learner or just bad at practicing

December 26, 2014 at 05:08 AM · I've been learning violin for 6 years, adult student in 30s. I'm taking 1 hour lesson every other week, I practice 2 hours per day/max from Monday to Thursday, sometimes 1.5 hours. Usually get at least a two hour practice session on weekend at least, sometimes more.

I'm given:

One Sevcik(double-stopping) exercise

One Kreutzer 42 studies (if the etude is really long and hard, my teacher would assign me half of it, and finish the whole thing next time)

One concerto, I'm on Mendelssohn at the moment, usually one new page per lesson, but would repeat the page if my teacher thinks it's not good enough to go onto next page. So sometimes I would repeat the first two pages for a couple of months before learning the next page. (it took me 1 year for Bruch movt 1)

I would give concerto around 50 minutes, sometimes less, depend on how I'm going with other etudes.

I find myself "learning notes and getting intonation right" the first week of practicing, and "try to make it into a piece or etude" on the second week, try to perfecting some techniques, or do some work with right hand, or simple struggling with intonation.

During the years, my teacher would mentioned from time to time that "if I practice then blablabla would not happen", then he would be surprised that I actually practice almost everyday.

Last time, although I was assigned the second page of Mendelssohn, but I simply spend too much time trying to get the first page right, and didn't have time for second page, and I was merely satisfied only half of first page, and there were still lots of things I was told to work on.

And my teacher asked me again this last time that how long do I practice, and after hearing my explanation, he finally replied "maybe it's the age..."

I really don't think given the amount of work, I would be able to take lessons every week, it's impossible to imagine that I could learn all the things within one week, and have confident to go to lesson, that's how I feel everyday. I'm just upset that I cannot learn it, and why my teacher felt that I don't practice everyday...

Replies (57)

December 26, 2014 at 07:02 AM · If a player is truly ready to tackle Bruch and Mendelsshon after only 6 years, then they're not a slow learner. Quite the opposite and if you'd been 10 or 12 years old they'd hale you as prodigious.

I guess it's whether you really are ready, or are you very good and your teacher is pushing you too quickly through repertoire without giving you a chance to master stuff?

December 26, 2014 at 09:38 AM · I can't comment on the music you're learning, as I am twice your age and have been playing the violin again for only three years after giving up in childhood.

But it all sounds such an effort. So joyless. If it were me, I'd ask myself why I was learning - what I wanted to do with it.

I practise about the same amount of time as you, but my approach is that I'm learning because I want to learn the music that I love - which in my case is folk fiddle, Klezmer, early music and Baroque. I have made considerable progress in my playing, but of course, I'm talking about playing as a joy and as a passionate love for my retirement. I would like to play more in public, and maybe for dances eventually, but my main reason for going on with it is that fiddling is my passion.

If your teacher blames your age as an easy answer to your difficulties, that seems a bit offputting to me. Not very helpful - you need to have someone who can explain and analyse what your difficulties are in an encouraging way. You shouldn't have in your mind the idea that your age is going to stop you getting wherever it is that you want to go. If you do, then it *will* hinder you. But you have thirty years on me, so I wouldn't worry too much!

Surely you could be a bit stale - beavering away at one page for six months doesn't sound very joyful. It must be a bit demoralising. If you could vary it - find something to put in to make you feel that you were making progress? I couldn't play what you're playing, and I couldn't practise the way you are practising.

All I am saying is - what is this all *for*? Opportunities to play in public? A hobby? Personal fulfilment? To stretch the mind? If you sort that out in your own mind - or by talking to your teacher, if that is possible - then maybe you can find a way of practising that is less depressing. And once enjoyment is in there, I think your progress will be much greater. Then it will snowball, because you won't have the feeling any more of being stuck.

I look forward to reading replies from better violinists than me, and more knowledgeable musicians.

Good luck in your quest.

December 26, 2014 at 11:13 AM · You play Mendelssohn after six years of study and you are unhappy? Plenty of people would wish to be such slow learners. I think your teacher challenges you a lot because he can see the potential. Do not worry if some things are not perfect at first try, they need to mature over time and be practiced and checked by the teacher again and again.

December 26, 2014 at 12:16 PM · I think Mollie has a point; blaming it all on your age can be an easy answer - maybe too easy an answer. Your teacher may actually believe this, but then again he may be frustrated, or he may know only one way to teach (which he doesn't think you're "getting"). Blaming your age sounds like a convenient excuse for not trying to help you learn.

Maybe it would help to get a second opinion. Can you arrange to meet with a different teacher, to have him listen to you and evaluate your playing? He may be able to suggest ways you can improve. Sometimes all it takes is hearing someone make a suggestion in a different way.

December 26, 2014 at 01:19 PM ·

December 26, 2014 at 03:26 PM · Thanks everyone, to Pavel and Sharelle, I was even more depressed a few days ago when I saw a video of a girl playing. At first I watched a recent video (9 years of learning), I thought she was an adult student like me, but then I realized she was only 18. I looked back to previous videos and found out that she played Mendelssohn with 3.5 years into learning violin. I know I cannot compare to someone like that, but that just depressed me even more no matter what, but that did motivate me to go practicing.

To Mollie and Karen, even though I am depressed, but that doesn't stop me loving violin. Because I love it so much, it frustrates me when I can't get something right. My teacher said several times that he has no expectations or standards for me when I expressed my concern about feeling not well prepared for lessons sometimes. He would teach me depending on how I practiced, and tell me to go slow if I want to. Get someone else to listen and give me some advice is a good suggestion, I think I'll definitely try that.

to Liz, for new pieces or etudes, he would play it once for me, tell me to take not of few important parts. One of the "blablabla" I can remember was my left hand would become sore playing some etudes, he said if I practiced everyday then my muscle would be used to it and wouldn't be sore, but after a while we found out it was actually my left hand gripping problem.

He is a professor specialized in teaching music students ranging from elementary school to university, He probably has a hand full of adult students, but not quite sure, he thinks everyone is different, so we rarely talked about how others are progressing, that means I really don't have anyone to compare to. He is one of the most experienced teacher in this region, but perhaps it is time I seek out someone else, even only for advice, to give me more confidence...

p.s. My teacher said my techniques aren't well enough to play Bruch Movt 3 yet, or I'll have to take it slow. Although I can't imagine how slow would it be given I already spend one year on Movt 1. So I do think I'm not "that" advanced. I felt even more embarrassed thinking there must be something wrong with me to have to spend a week or more on finding notes when I'm already playing Mendelssohn.

December 26, 2014 at 04:07 PM ·

December 26, 2014 at 04:48 PM · I almost gave up the violin after hearing a 6-year-old playing Scherzo Tarantella at a masterclass. Her mother claimed that he learned that piece in three days!

There is indeed such a thing as efficient practice. One of my former teachers said violin playing is constant problem solving. You need to keep asking yourself questions. "What is it that you can't do?" "What do you need to do to overcome the difficulties?" A great teacher is a great problem solver. He/she spots what is the impediment almost right away and tells you what you can try and how to practice. I have been told that's how you learn the Paganini Caprices. Every bar is a problem to be solved. Once you have figured out how to practice, you can make tremendous progress.

December 26, 2014 at 04:54 PM · Jennifer,

I usually refrain from commenting on other teachers, but from your description of your lessons and repertoire, I do not believe you are being well served.

"...So sometimes I would repeat the first two pages for a couple of months before learning the next page. (it took me 1 year for Bruch movt 1)..."

The above is an indication that you are simply not ready to be tackling Bruch (or whatever takes you months per page). This is a recipe for frustration; I'm not sure how your teacher can even take it. You should be able to play through the first movement of Bruch in perhaps 3-4 lesson (unpolished).

I don't even think Sevcik double stops are that appropriate for you (Polo or Trott would be much better). You'd be better off playing repertoire with double stops, such as Handel sonatas, or Teleman.

A combination of repertoire years above you and a probable lack of efficiency will keep you from improving, and I wouldn't be surprised if you quit. Romantic concerti are the holy grail of the repertoire--they are long and difficult. Everyone thinks that because they can play the first like of Bruch that they can play the rest.

I think you need someone who:

-Can assign you APPROPRIATE repertoire. Have you played all of the concerti studied typically before the major romantic concerti?

Such as Bach, Vivaldi, Viotti, Kabalesky, etc? Have you gone through all of the etude books before Kreutzer? Did you do them well and not just slop through them?

-can teach you how to practice efficiently, rather than let you beat your head against a wall. Has your teacher taught you the system of practicing in groups and rhythms, not only for repertoire but for scales and etudes? I suspect not, and therefore everything you practice is taking 3x longer to begin with.

You need an efficiency expert, especially as you have limited time for practice. Very few teacher understand how to teach the art and science of practicing. In my experience, about 99% of all students waste most of their practice time.

December 26, 2014 at 05:34 PM · All of the above, especially Liz and Scott.

Which begs the question: who is selecting your repertoire? You or your teacher? I think all of us adult learners are prone to pick pieces that are far beyond oru actual level. I think there are two main reasons for this. One is reasonable - its the music we love and the reason we want to learn the instrument. We reach for the violin after we've heard the music. This is opposite to almost all child learners who get the violin first and only become aware of the repertoire as it is presented to them.

The other reason is not so reasonble - I think we like to delude ourselves into the idea that we are much more advanced than reality. I've done the same thing several times but at the beginning of last year resolved to fill in the holes. I found a great teacher, explained my problem (lack of fundamentals), my goal (I wanted to become good enough on the violin that people would like to listen to me!) and handed over the reins to him. This has been a lot of work on finger mechanics, violin hold, left arm fundamentals. Very boring but effective studies, a few fundamental etudes - and also repertoire thats appropriate for my level. I must admit I'm still inclined to push the envelope simply because there is so much music that I love and just have to play. But all in all I've stayed with the program.

I find myself now working on Handel VI - for what is probably the third time. But what a difference - instead of spending all my time struggling with the fingering and getting the notes I can work on bow pressure/division/speed, expression, phrasing. I now believe that if you are working on rep that does not allow you to do that then you are beyond your level.

December 26, 2014 at 06:21 PM · "can teach you how to practice efficiently ... system of practicing in groups and rhythms ... about 99% of all students waste most of their practice time."

Scott, that sounds interesting, could you please elaborate, exemplify or refer to appropriate literature.

December 26, 2014 at 06:42 PM · Pavel,

To which statement are you referring, the one concerning practicing in groups and rhythms, or my assertion that most students waste most of their time?

As far as the latter, then this is based on my experience teaching for 25 years. Typical scenarios from my interactions with students:

Student: "I keep missing this passage"

Me: "Did you use all the groups and rhythms I showed you?"

Student: "umm...I guess"

Me: "ok, show me 5 different ones"

Student: Shows me one, then can't think of others.

Other typical scenarios:

The student

-refuses to use a metronome

-never gets around to writing in fingerings

-never gets around to recording him/herself

-never gets around to watching a good performance on Youtube

-admits to mostly playing through an entire page without really stopping to perfect anything.

Let's face it: all of us, at one time or another, do (or refuse to do) the above. Very few of us are perfect students. The problem really comes when all or most of the above start to describe the student's practice techniques.

December 26, 2014 at 07:55 PM · I find the same as Scott. (Here!)

December 26, 2014 at 07:58 PM · Scott, thanks, the last two paragraphs of you contribution were interesting, practicing in groups and rhythms, and wasting practice time by students. You exemplified beautifully the latter.

At home we use we use Whistler, that is scales in rhythm and for further inspiration we can watch

For difficult places in repertoire we replace the individual notes with a rhythm, for example first twinkle rhythm.

But what is groups?

At home we have feeling that practice time is always too short and there are still things to do when the time is out.

The practice structure is mostly Warm up - inspired here, open string play - taken from here, Scales,

Finger Patterns from Fingerboard Geography by Barbara Barber, shifting, old pieces review and new pieces preparation.

December 27, 2014 at 12:51 AM · Pavel,

"Groups" simply refers to the method of quickly and efficiently learning passagework by grouping notes together. Some people might call this "acceleration exercises."

The basic idea is to start with small groups --two notes--and slowly add notes to make larger and larger groupings. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 16, etc. You can add the odd ones too, such as 7, 10, or whatever. But the whole idea is to start with small groups and work your way to large ones. But these groupings should also be used with different rhythms. This is what I have my students do with scales so that they internalize the method and have some tangible goal to work towards. On a 3-octave scale, the end result should be the ability to play the entire scale, ascending and descending, quickly and in one bow. If you do that and the scale is in tune, then you have practically mastered the scale. More importantly, you should be able to transfer the method to any repertoire with fast passage work, whether concerto, orchestral repertoire, etc.

This is also how I teach spicatto. It is difficult at first to bounce the bow evenly, and practicing in groups allows one to listen carefully to each group and build evenness into longer and longer sections. This method also helps to build the ability to focus.

Interestingly, I first learned this method from a piano teacher. Many people start with slow practice, which is fine. But slow practice makes one really good at...playing slowly. Acceleration exercises FORCE you to play faster a little bit at a time, and in a very short time.

December 27, 2014 at 12:55 AM · Six years to the Mendelssohn is NOT slow. It's remarkable progress for most adults, and it's quite fast for children, too. Many kids will start violin at the age of 5 and never actually reach Mendelssohn level by the time they finish high school. I suspect that the majority of the 2nd violinists in my community orchestra cannot and have never been able to play the Mendelssohn, after a lifetime of playing the violin.

There is a major BUT here, which other posters have already pointed out: But it does not sound like you are necessarily ready to play the Mendelssohn. (Your practice time is generous, especially for an adult. A good 2 hours a day should let you make excellent progress. It's an amount of practice that doesn't make Mendelssohn-in-6-years unfeasible.)

The combination of Mendelssohn + Kreutzer + Sevcik (presumably op. 1 book IV, or the op. 9, since you mention the double-stops) doesn't sound unreasonable, although many students will have finished doing Kreutzer by the time they start the Mendelssohn.

Also, learning a page of the Mendelssohn a week isn't unreasonable. (The first page, with its octaves, is not the easiest of openings, either.) But what does seem unreasonable is a full year spent on a single movement of the Bruch; it suggests that you weren't ready to play it when you learned it. With as much as you practice, you should be able to go through a full concerto each year, assuming you're preparing to a reasonable performance standard (i.e., good enough to play in your teacher's studio recital without embarrassment), and the repertoire is appropriate to your level.

This is one of those times when it would be really really informative to see and hear how you play. Got a smartphone? Take a YouTube of your movement of the Bruch, post the link. You are likely to get informed commentary.

What other repertoire and etudes have you played?

December 27, 2014 at 12:57 AM · "Finally, I would stop trying to compare yourself to other people. That's unnecessarily discouraging to do as a violin student of any age..."

Yes, if you go down that road--in any facet of life--you might as well not try to do anything.

December 27, 2014 at 12:59 AM · To add to Scott's comments, efficient practice is also thoughtful practice. Your teacher should be teaching you to figure out *why* things are wrong. Sometimes mechanically drilling a passage isn't always the most efficient route; you have to figure out how to fix what is going wrong mentally or physically. Group drills are great for just teaching your fingers to move fast enough, but if a passage feels clumsy, or is persistently out of tune in a particular way, something else becomes necessary.

I posted more on efficient practicing in a blog last year:

December 27, 2014 at 02:00 AM · This groups thing, Scott ... sounds a bit like what Sevcik does in his Great Concerto Preparatory Exercises?

If one's going to do Sevcik along with a Great Concerto, why not do the Sevcik geared to that Concerto?

As for your alternatves, Jennifer, may I suggest a third: " ... or massive inferiority complex?"?

December 27, 2014 at 01:52 PM · I went through Kayser, Mazas, Sevcik Op8(scale/shifting), then the current double stopping.

I did Seitz pupil concerto 1, mozart concerto 3, Kabalesky movt 1, vivaldi autumn, winter, beriot scene de ballet...(not in learning order). The only thing I ever asked my teacher was not make me do Kabalesky Movt 3, other pieces or etudes were chosen by him.

It's all done in around 80 lessons, near 4 years with this teacher. Sometimes I would delay lessons due to family activities, so when I say two months spend on first two pages on a concerto, sometimes it would probably be 2~3 lessons.

But it really doesn't concern me if I have to play Bruch for another half a year... I like it, but Yes, perhaps it is a bit over my ability, but then again my teacher did say pushing me to play over my ability will allow me to advance. When we finished Bruch movt 1, I told him we spend a year on it, but he didn't seem to realize that it did take that long, he probably thought it was only half a year.

"Finding notes", for example Mendelssohn page one were generally ok, except intonation I need to do some extra work especially on octaves, page two Part D double stops I got intonation problem that I have to do it slow or stop to check, E was a bit annoying trying to get the notes right or just finding the notes.

To Scott, yes he taught me groups and rhythms, where on fast passages with lots of notes, I would practice it with different rhythms etc. I do use a metronome but not as much as I would wish, write fingerings, sometimes do recordings, watch performances, and occasionally play through whole piece without stopping. I used to post my recordings online when I was a beginner, but after I started all those concertos, I became aware how bad I sound (or not up to my wish) on the recording, so I stopped posting recordings.

To Frieda, everytime I finish a concerto, I would pray to myself "please give me a shorter piece, or a showpiece", but no, I never really speak up, but on the other hand, it gives me some satifaction when he assigns me big concertos... LOL.

To Lydia, no, I play with embarrassment (lol), it's not up to performance standards, I just can't get everything right at one go, it takes lots and lots of luck for that.

This Bruch I just uploaded was around one month after I finished it, I picked it up one day and did the recording. There were... lots of glitches at the beginning that I would frown myself but other recordings would have problems in different parts.

(If it not showing, give it few minutes coz I just upload it)

December 27, 2014 at 02:27 PM · The OP sounds like she is making great progress on the violin and likely enjoying it otherwise she would not spend two hours a day on it.

I agree that you should talk to your teacher about the "why" behind what you are working on. Teachers who do not have a lot of adult students may not be accustomed to this question, so my suggestion is that you wait until AFTER your lesson and then send an email to your teaching indicating that you would like to discuss that at your NEXT lesson so that they are not taken off guard and can prepare and think about it some.

But you can also educate yourself a little about the logical (or at least typical) progression of studies and repertoire. For example, look up the RCM syllabus or the Sassmannshaus Violin Method (links below). Pay attention to the part where the levels are defined, as this is the framework of the pedagogy. Training without a plan is like building a skyscraper without a blueprint. You can get the first couple of floors up but the rest is doomed to collapse. If you haven't polished the Handel Sonatas or the Accolay Concerto to a fine gloss, then I think it is likely pointless to study the Bruch and Mendelssohn Concertos unless you are truly a genius of the violin who can skip such fundamental steps.

December 27, 2014 at 03:51 PM · May I put it this way:

Many of us lesser mortals take 10 years to reach the Mendelssohn level and then learn it in 6 months. If you start it after only 5 years, it might take the remaining 5 to get it good.

There is plenty of fine music to learn on the way!

Age? At 30 our minds are more lke a maze than the childlike "sponge"; and physically, our joints are well set in their ways.

But all is possible!

December 27, 2014 at 08:17 PM · I just listened to your YouTube link -- thanks for posting it. For playing 6 years and starting well into adulthood, you're doing great. Your practice is really paying off, so you should definitely congratulate yourself.

The sequence of repertoire that you've done is not unreasonable. I suspect, though, that your teacher chooses works based on what your left hand can manage to get through, rather than what you, as a whole-picture violinist, can do well. Your Bruch isn't entirely secure in the left hand, for instance, and the tempo is on the slow side, but you're playing cleanly and in tune for the most part -- whatever you did to practice did work, even if it apparently took you nigh-forever. I suspect you may be getting the notes through perseverance and mechanical drill rather than being innately comfortable with where they are.

But I suspect the thing that's making you say, "gosh, I don't sound as good as I'd like" is your right hand. You have the tone production of someone who is playing much less advanced repertoire (say, Vivaldi A minor level) -- an early-intermediate kind of sound, without much control over dynamics, much less nuance. And I suspect that you may be so intently focused on your left hand and not screwing up that you do not have the brainpower left to think about how you want something to sound musical.

What you need is some intensive focus on bowing technique, which probably means more time spent on etudes and less time on repertoire, although there's certainly a lot of repertoire that can give you heavy focus on bowing as well -- it's just likely to be short works rather than concertos. You also need time spent on general expressiveness, which will be a combination of left and right-hand, so you develop the ability to control tone color and shape a phrase. For that you need repertoire in a slow tempo, preferably that doesn't pose a big technical challenge. You could do slow works like the Meditation from Thais, say, or the Rachmaninoff Vocalise, or Elgar's Salut d'Amor.

Without video it's hard to tell if you're doing some specific things that are giving you issues. My suspicion is that you play with a fair amount of tension, at least in the right arm (which often bleeds over onto the left side as well).

December 29, 2014 at 06:03 AM · There is a method of teaching out there that I call 'zero to sixty method'. The teacher gives you new positions and keys, then they have you do a few scales, exercise etc... and then they will give you a new piece that is too fast or difficult for this new key and position. The 'zero to sixty method' contains pieces that that have too much shifting in them, slow areas for easy well know material, but too fast areas for the new key or position. The 'zero to 60 method' makes learning very difficult.

The easiest way to learn new keys and positions is to have several 2 octave, 16-32 bar pieces that you can transpose to new keys or adapt them for new positions.Fiddle tunes work perfect for this and 10 or more pieces is all that is needed.

2-4 slow pieces in 3/4 time. 2-4 slow-med. pieces in 6/8 time and 2-4 fast pieces in 4/4 time.


Ashokan Farewell

Waltzing Matilda

Road to Lisdoonvarna

Off to California

Maid behind the bar

The more pieces you adapt for the new position or key, the faster you will learn that new key or position. Variety and staying at a speed that is within your learning level is the real secret to learning quickly and easily.

December 29, 2014 at 12:29 PM ·

December 29, 2014 at 02:19 PM · I think for advancing adult learners, learning concertos is not as much fun as learning short pieces such as those by Kreisler or chamber music. Sure you can build up technique by learning romantic concertos but the fact is you almost never get to perform them and to find an accompanist just for fun is quite costly. And if you really need something showy and difficult, there are the Saint-Seans stuff like Introduction and Capriccio and Havanaise and of course things by Sarasate and Paganini.

The thing is that the Kreisler compositions and transcriptions cover a lot of ground technique-wise. But they are much shorter than concertos and therefore psychologically much more manageable. With the same amount of practice as one would put in Bruch mvt 1, one could play, for example, Praeludium and Allegro with reasonable finesse to be enjoyable and performable. That can help keep motivation and morale high.

And I cannot stress enough the value of chamber music. Some quartets are insanely difficult but the reward of playing with others is insanely satisfying. So you are not missing out on the technique and you get to have fun and interaction at the same time.

December 29, 2014 at 03:45 PM · Kevin, as an adult student, I agree with you completely. The early classical and baroque concertos are generally smaller in scope and therefore more manageable.

Jennifer, I know exactly what you mean about polishing and performing pieces. It's so darned hard to get everything to click in one go! When I work on a piece, let's say there are 10 things that are tricky, and the chance that I'll play my piece with at least 9 of those going well seems depressingly low. But if 90% is the overall standard (I chose that arbitrarily, but I think these days it would be considered low), then the standard for *each* tricky thing *individually* is a 99% success rate, because the tenth root of 0.9 is ca. 0.99. So, if one works on a piece for a long time and there are still passages that are below the 90% success rate level individually, that suggests that one's technique is just not ready for that piece. I think that's why teachers emphasize a very gradual progression and learning pieces to a very fine, performance-worthy polish, because that's how they can gauge exactly where the student is technique-wise and what they might be ready for next. And it's why practice methods include "punitive" measures like playing something X times in a row perfectly and starting over if you mess it up.

December 29, 2014 at 10:10 PM · I think that once you can play the real concerto repertoire (i.e. you're into Mozart concertos or the Romantic-and-beyond concertos), it's some of the most rewarding music that you can do, whether you're a child or an adult.

Before you hit that point, though, the commonly-played "student" concertos, like the Viotti concertos, the Accolay, etc., just aren't great music, even if they are pedagogically useful. I think it's much more musically rewarding to do short works and the sonata repertoire, if you're not yet ready for major concertos.

I think there's a lot to be said for having as much variety in repertoire as possible (again regardless of age). At the point that you're doing major concertos, you should still be playing something else as well, whether it's solo Bach or a short work or a sonata.

I think if you're ready to play something, you should be able to sight-read it competently under tempo. "Competently" here implies that you may miss some notes, and have some spots that you're not sure how to approach without instruction and/or some experimentation to figure it out -- but that you can more or less play it. If just getting the notes is a major struggle, you're probably not ready to play it.

December 29, 2014 at 10:27 PM · I don't know if I would lump Viotti with Accolay. A lot of pros had Viotti 22 in their repertoire, and I think it's a pretty nice concerto. Just because something is accessible at the student level doesn't mean that it shouldn't be heard. I've been reading a biography of Szekely, and he performed it a good amount. There are recordings of Oistrakh and Grumiaux playing it, and it was a favorite of Brahms and Joachim - Brahms even sprinkled some allusions to it in his violin concerto.

I always wonder who is going to be rehabilitated next as an "important" composer. Somehow it happened to Mahler.

December 29, 2014 at 11:14 PM · Christian, it was only in the English-speaking world that Mahler needed any rehabilitation. On the Continent he was always alongside the other late romantics.

Actually, one composer who was all the rage when I was a student and young adult was Stravinsky. How much do we hear of him now? And how much of Nielsen? The giant of the later 20th century seems these days to be Shostakovich - possibly partly because he was a much nicer guy than we thought at the time (He was strongly influenced by Mahler, by the way)?

December 29, 2014 at 11:50 PM · I was just being cheeky because my attention span is too low for Mahler. Stravinsky is still pretty important, although I guess I don't hear him performed a ton. Not to highjack the thread...

December 30, 2014 at 12:40 AM · I was reading recently that Viotti's concertos were all the rage in Beethoven's time, but I've never really warmed to any of them despite having learned several as a child. It is possible that I mostly feel this way because I've never heard any first-rate recordings of any of them in more than passing though. :-)

December 30, 2014 at 04:30 AM · I do believe that Itzhak Perlman recorded Viotti 22 (Concertos from My Childhood), as did Arthur Grumiaux. Not too shabby!

Here's the Grumiaux, with Concertgebouw (Solo starts 3:12 - very long orchestral intro!)

I think this piece can help a student get a bit more bold with the bow, especially if they are up to all the left-hand decorations, double-stops and general noodling. Not easy though.

December 30, 2014 at 03:43 PM · To Kevin and Paul, I agree completely, I'm actually feeling better now.

I went to lesson a couple of days ago, and my teacher asked me if I like the piece or not, if I don't like Mendelssohn, then we change it.

He thinks a musician's playing technique will reach a max at age 25, after that what matters are experiences which allows you to understand or express feeling of music.

And I agree that I would never be able to play like a pro started learning this late, so the main thing is if I'm happy playing these pieces or not.

He thinks Mendelssohn concerto is something that "can" be played, even for younger students, but of course to what degree is hard to say. However at least I will be able to play it and everyone will know I'm playing Mendelssohn and not some unrecognizable out of tune piece.

I do sometimes feel a bit lost without shorter show pieces that I can comfortably perform, I think I'll ask him in the future to do some of that, or simply learn myself and ask him to listen.

I joined (some sort of) a quartet..., although they're playing simple stuff like Mozart K525 Movt 3, but it's fun non the less.

December 30, 2014 at 04:03 PM · "He thinks a musician's playing technique will reach a max at age 25"

Yes, if we start at 5!

OK, at 30, the "prodigy" factor has long since been replaced by concious construction and maintenance, but I find folks at their "prime" well past 40! (And not just on the violin...)

December 30, 2014 at 05:29 PM · You can dive pretty deep into Mozart, actually. Don't be deceived by its seemingly "simple" nature! Enjoy, that sounds fun!

December 30, 2014 at 06:47 PM · "He thinks a musician's playing technique will reach a max at age 25."

This statement is BS, although it has its roots in scientific fact. In your late twenties (around age 26 to 28), your hands start to lose the ability to easily recover from microtears created by stretching, and tendon flexibility declines. That means that extreme stretches, like tenths, start to become dangerous if you're not used to doing them and if they're not properly prepared.

Note that this doesn't mean that you can't learn new technique after the age of 25, regardless of how well-established your technique is by then. Or for that matter, significantly alter your approach. My first return to the violin was at age 27, and my second return at 39. Both times I've managed to learn new techniques.

Speaking of tenths: I was taught to play tenths as a teenager, but my current teacher has gotten me to subtly change the alignment of my left hand and alter the way that I grab for a tenth, so that they've become miraculously doable (if still, as one expects, hard). Indeed, he's helped me learn to be comfortable in triadic extensions, which has resulted in significant changes in the way that I'll finger passages.

My teacher in my late twenties taught me how to do expressive shifts. (My childhood teacher was against portamento in 99% of the cases and always insisted on a clean shift with almost no exceptions.) That altered my shifting technique significantly.

My current teacher has emphasized rotating-wrist string crossings over the from-the-shoulder Milstein-esque technique that I was taught as a child. It's modified the way that I do fast crossings.

My current teacher has also been trying to get me to substantially change the level of my arm, to a fully Russian-style approach. (I still play with significant remnants of my Galamian-esque childhood.) This is a pretty major alteration in tone production and right-hand approach.

Those are just a couple of big examples. There are a pile of little things that I've learned along the way, too, and I came to playing the violin as an adult from an extremely thorough childhood technical foundation. I fully expect that I'm going to continue to learn more new technique.

December 30, 2014 at 07:10 PM · I also agree with Lydia. I'm 27 and my technique has been steadily improving. I would be wary of a teacher who believes that adults can't improve technique, if it becomes an excuse for not giving you their full attention or putting all or nothing expectations on you. Getting exercise, eating well and sleeping well keep your mind and body younger than not taking care of yourself, and they keep you more ready to learn in terms of both knowledge and motor coordination. Think about how many older adults as opposed to teenagers take up dancing.

Maybe there are limits to where older students can get, but focusing on these is only logical if you are trying to decide between violin and something else as a good use of time because you want to be X by Y time. If you are playing for your own sake, then it doesn't make sense to waste time on thoughts that can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies.

December 30, 2014 at 10:21 PM · If one can play the Mendelssohn at age 6, I can believe that one's technique won't improve anymore after 25 simply because there is not much room left for improvement. But if one is a late starter (or a late restarter like me), there is still a lot of room for improvement. I can now play things that I couldn't play 20 years ago though I am now quite a bit slower in sight reading. Yes, youth cannot be beat. But wisdom can often make up for it.

I hate to say this but having a teacher that understands adult learners is important.

December 31, 2014 at 06:10 AM · Greetings,

he thinks playing technique will reach a max at 25.?????

Founder member of dipsticks anonymous. I was going to use bS but Lydia got there first!

Another lazy teacher living in the dark ages. Oh well.....

That sort of brings me to the question of getting your own fresh perspedtive. Aside from getting a new teacher I suggest you get a copy of Simon Fischers book 'The Violin Lesson' I explain in some depth in my review 'Am I a Fischerman' why this book shows so clearly that -anyone at any age can develop any aspect of any part of their technique that they wish to do.' If this is different from maxing out then I apologize.

It is, I think the first book to show clearly why teachers who use age as an xcuse for their failings are not doing their job properly.



December 31, 2014 at 06:17 AM · PS in spite of he huge number of great violinist who have performed and recorded it the Viotti 22 concerto does nothing for me. I think it may be my age......

December 31, 2014 at 11:39 AM ·

December 31, 2014 at 12:08 PM · Hi there Burp, I mean Brevi, no, Buri (its been so long....).

I saw that <25 and I was so angry I decided to not write anything - which was a great idea since I see it has met with the derision it deserves.

I returned to the violin in my 50s (quit at age13) and now 7 years later am at least one exhibit for the prosecution of this teacher. Not only can you learn - you can even be reasonably proficient. I hope to make a recording to share this year to make my point - indeed its a new year's resolution!

December 31, 2014 at 12:39 PM · About this age thing, Kevin said he wouldn't expect improvement in the technique of a 25 year old student *who had learned the Mendelssohn by age six.* Why be offended? Its one of those vacuous statements that the internet has become known for, harmless because it doesn't actually apply to anyone.

I find "Basics" interesting, but its not a program, it's more of a reference. You have to pick atound in it. Read p. VIII, and you will see that Fischer has explained why.

December 31, 2014 at 01:05 PM · PPS I agree with Buri about the Viotti.

I thought I was the only one.

December 31, 2014 at 01:55 PM · What about Fischer's Practice?

December 31, 2014 at 01:59 PM ·

December 31, 2014 at 05:13 PM · I find "Basics" to be a great book. Indeed, I have all of the Simon Fischer books, but "Basics" is the one that really sees use, whenever I'm trying to find a focused exercise for something. It's the kind of book that you need to navigate with a knowledge of how things are done, though. But it's really "Basics" in the sense of an elemental breakdown of technical exercises, Sevcik-like, not "Basics" in the sense of early technique.

January 1, 2015 at 11:26 AM · So many discussions on the age 25, I do think he meant of course you can learn new techniques (or what the heck am I doing now?), but you won't be as good as if you learnt it before age 25, for example your fingers won't be as fast (or won't get substantially faster), or as flexible.

January 1, 2015 at 08:52 PM · Greeting,

yes, but that's all relative to some kind of ideal world. I once had a 32 year old student who had never picked up an instrument in her life. She learnt saint Sean's three after three years and played it brilliantly. Some kids who start at six never get to that level. Since we don't live in an ideal world it behoves the teacher to tailor the lessons according to the needs and strengths of the individual student , not follow some set path and then bring up the age thing when things are not going so well. The question is not 'What did you learn from the Mendelssohn?' but rather

'What did your teacher not learn from watching you learn the Mendelssohn?'



January 1, 2015 at 09:41 PM · Buri brings up a great point. You yourself might, at age 35, not be able to develop the same flexibility and speed in your body that you could have developed at age 19. But you might very well be able to develop more flexibility and speed than someone else, even if that someone else is sub-25. And that becomes doubly true if you're a two-hour-a-day practicer and someone else is a one-hour-a-day-or-less practicer.

The main physical factor in left-hand facility for a violinist is probably nerve conduction time, which is dependent on myelination. As you grow older, it takes more repetitions to build myelin and more effort to maintain it.

Overall body flexibility also decreases with age, but as any yoga practitioner or Alexander Technique practitioner can tell you, you can actively develop more of it. The older you get, the more effort it will take to do so, of course. However, you're playing the violin; you're not trying to do gymnastics or twist your body into a knot. There's a point where age-related deterioration will take its toll, but that will probably be in your 70s or later.

If you're not able to physically manage something on the violin, the answer (absent arthritis or other serious degenerative issues) is that you need more practice, preparation, or a different approach. Not "you're too old". But keep in mind that you might need gradual building of strength and flexibility.

January 2, 2015 at 11:49 PM · Jennifer,

Firstly - I listened to your recording. BRAVO!!! That was wonderful to listen to.

My teacher also once mentioned that with all the practice time I put in I should be advancing more, which then led to a discussion on how I practice. One lesson was spent with me practicing for 30 minutes and her just listening and watching without comment. What she observed was an eye opener to how I go about my daily practice routine. The remainder of the lesson was spent on how to practice.

Maybe an idea for you.

January 3, 2015 at 12:56 AM · Jennifer,

I finally got around to listening to your Bruch today. I too would like to say `Bravo!` You have made a good shot at it and the result is not at all unpleasant. That sounds like rather faint praise perhaps but that is quite an achievement in six years. You are certainly not a slow learner. Once you got past the histrionics of the first page you played some very sensitive phrasing and musical awareness which made me wish you were my student. Also a lot of undeveloped potential in left hand facility crept out in your trills. You are an interesting specimen!

I don`t want to discourage you (and anyway you've already conquered so much so its no loss) so just take it as an old farts opinion. But, this is completely the wrong thing for you to be playing right now. It is too far beyond your current technical level to polish up much more and it isn`t going to develop you that much. Indeed I suspect it might just ingrain some bad habits as your clearly deep musical instincts are in conflict with the tensions in your playing structure.

As Lydia said, the basic eases of bowing, control of speed and changes is still rudimentary and needs to be solved by some carefully considered exercises. You can do this yourself to a considerable degree through Simon Fischers books by the way!!!!!!! My gut feeling is that your right thumb is tense. It may be that you are icnreasing thumb counter pressure against the fingers as you go to the point, (correct) but not releasing it fully when you return to the heel. My guess is you are not very comfortable at the heel right now.

But the left hand is also clumsy and labored , not so much a sa technical problem , but rather you have not spent enough time using different rhythm and bowing patterns. There is also the concept of fast fingers. that is playing a fast passage through rather slowly but learning to raise or place the fingers at the absolute last minute. This gives huge gains in technical security. Or how about fast scales in a piece? Play one note in tempo and then stop. Then play two and stop. 3 stop. 4 stop. 5 stop. We can`t just do slow practice. I sort of sensed you are doing a bit to much laborious slow work when faster practice on small chunks which you gradually link together works better. Do we walk to train ourselves to sprint?

Galamian`s acceleration scales would be good for you I think.

But I also found that although you have a very good sense of pitch (wonderful!!!!!) you don`t have much sense of key. The first page sounded to me like tempered intonation and a lot of the dynamic tension of g minor was lost. IE b flats flatter, F# sharper and so on. The best way I can think of is to get Fischers scale book which show you how to tune scales as well as left hand efficiency explained and all the Galamian stuff as well.

Right now I think you should be playing some nice short pieces like the Tchaikovsky Melodie, maybe the Spring Sonata or a Mozart to work in tandem with bowing improvement (or Handel), lots of Kreisler and some unaccompanied Bach. The d minor is a good place to start.

I hope this doesn`t get you down. I`m annoyingly frank because i hate seeing talent go to waste.

Anyway, I am sure you will continue to do well so don`t put yourself down.

Best of luck,


PS I forgot. What Mendy says above about the teacher just watching you practice is one of the best ideas of all time.

January 3, 2015 at 05:32 PM · What teachers really mean when they say "you're too old" is "you're too old to service my teaching career." Which is fine if they feel that way, but then say that, not that the student is too old to learn.

There is a limit to how old you can start and still be a professional, as we've discussed here exhaustively. But there isn't a limit to how old you can start and still improve. I once had a granddaughter/grandmother duo take lessons with me, and the grandmother learned much faster than the nine-year-old, although she preferred to think that the child was outpacing her (and I didn't disabuse her of the notion).

Adults are a lot more concerned with whether they'll ever in their lifetimes be any "good," but I think that's the wrong question to ask for those who don't plan on playing professionally, which is virtually everyone. Give me an adult who's willing to work and enjoys the journey any day over the most talented kid who is lazy or thinks he already knows everything.

January 3, 2015 at 08:53 PM · "He thinks a musician's playing technique will reach a max at age 25"

What a load of rubbish!!!!!!

January 4, 2015 at 01:21 PM · Buri, aaarhh... I don't what to say about my right hand. My bow hold is not very stable , so my teacher needs to remind me of the correct bow hold from time to time, and he says I'm too tense (overall) when playing. I'll look through Simon Fishers book, and will try to remember about releasing the thumb pressure at heel.

For left hand, I tried different rhythm and bowing patterns, but there are simply too many passages that I need to work on, and I don't have enough time (in my mind). Even if I got this one passage correct and up to a moderate speed today, I'm back to square one the next day, and so I have to repeat it again and again everyday working on this one passage, and I get anxious about the rest of the piece that I haven't got time to go through, and so I drop that passage and work on something else...(that is so not right...) And I get anxious again about not be able to learn it fast enough.

I once spend few weeks solely on the first two lines of Bruch (that was when I was already few months well into it), and finally got it OK so that my teacher would not stop me whenever I play those lines.

And you're right, I only played/learned scales for less then one year, I think that was my second year into learning violin. So naturally I don't have any sense of what a key should sound like (and I am really bad at music theory by the way).

My technique foundation was rather poor, because I never done any etudes in my first year of learning, I even performed Canon as the first violinist (there were 4 in total, and do you believe they think I am the best of them all) when I only had 10 lessons (took me half a year). I started with end of Kayser and Mazas special studies during my second year, and I was made to play Beethoven Spring sonata/Butterfly lovers concerto by then. I was almost semi-self taught on vibrato, trill and some bowing techniques ... My teacher back then didn't even care if I changed the fingerings or up down bow when I played Spring sonata.

It is only when I changed to this teacher I was back on a kind of a systematic track of learning. Trills, bowing techniques were all learned afterwards when I encounter trouble when playing pieces or etudes of course.

I have Hrimaly scale book, I am back on it recently by myself, on C major.... I will look into the Fischer's scale book.

And Mendy, having teacher watching my practice is really a good idea.

Lastly, a joke, how my first teacher taught me vibrato:One day, (it was like the sixth lesson after I started learning violin), he said, I'm going to teach you vibrato, I don't like to tell students how it's technically done, but rather I want students to "feel" it, imagine it in your mind of the sound, and relax your hand, now you try.

Then he stood like ten feet away from me and turned his head away. I started playing Canon.

So I did this vibrato that I saw someone made a tutorial video on youtube a few weeks ago (later I found out it was like totally wrong).

After I played few notes, he turned back in disbelieve and said wow, I can't believe you learned it!

And vibrato was done. hooray...

January 4, 2015 at 10:02 PM · It's very clear that you're laboriously careful, but I imagine that you would actually progress much more quickly if your teacher helped you apply that care and attention to a methodical build-up of your technical foundation. By the time you get to major Romantic concertos like the Bruch, your playing should have a certain freedom and ease that comes from having mastered the fundamental mechanics.

There's another thread here -- click this link -- that goes into what you need in order to have the foundation for the Bruch. You might find that interesting reading.

You might benefit from a highly systematic approach in which you have a list of techniques to work on, and each technique is tackled through a combination of exercises, etudes, and appropriate repertoire. You would be going back substantially in the difficulty of what you're playing, I expect, but it would likely actually feel more rewarding in terms of time-spent-to-reward ratio.

The place to start, I think, would be the bow control necessary to produce a fluid legato, and a relaxed control over your vibrato. That would give you the tools necessary to express yourself more freely.

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