Technique jumps!! How?

March 9, 2015 at 04:24 PM · Hello again everybody!

Since seating auditions in my orchestra are coming up and they will be on the new repertoire we just received, I started cracking down on the new music.

We played the Borodin before, and I practiced it to an okay extent as prep for rehearsal, and then I didn't touch the piece except during rehearsal. After a few months, the concert approached and I repracticed, this time at home, the Borodin (grammar :P). And I realized that due to the hectic speed which I didn't practice well enough to prepare for, and the loudness of other instruments that didn't allow me to hear myself, that my playing had developed so many bad habits and icky ness and uneven spots that were super ingrained already.

But anyway

So I decided to turn over a new slate with this new music. And I practiced very intensely!

Usually, my string crossings are not very even. Just a hole in my technique that I aim to improve on. I notice that on slurred scales...

Also, my intonation isn't super great

Shifts not quick

Weird bowings make my head spin (like playing b d b (g string) d b d (d and a string) in first position)

And slur patterns like

Sl-ur short! Short! Sl-ur short! Short!

As in two notes slurred and then two detache. Add string crossings to that, and speed, and then I am a mess

Anyway. There are some technique things that make me want to cry (not really. But ick!)

So today I practiced a lot on dvorak symphony g major. Intensely. And then, just because I was tired of it, I played my d major scale three octave (my daily scale right now).

And I realized that the string crossings were improved by AT LEAST 50%!!! So it was 50% smoother! I've been practicing this scale for about 3 months and it got better by so much in such a short period of time!

In particular, there is a weird intonation part in Dvorak for 2nd violins. Fourth movement, where it goes a g a Bb g a f g d b A# b c G# b f G# d c b c d b c G# a F# C# B# C# d B# ....

A ton of weird fast shifts. And then there are other places. But after this short period of practicing, I seem to have suddenly become super familiar with all the weird positions of the fingerboard! Without much practice! And they are lightning quick and in tune!

This is not the first instance. I went to the orchestra camp during summer of last year. It was very intense. But after a week of 19hrs/day (no joke), my technique had improved by soo much! Maybe a year's worth! (although i was not very focused before. I got serious with violin after the camp)

So, to get to the point, (sorry I tend to ramble), why does this happen? For you guys, does this kind of technique jump happen? If orchestra material is so effective at technique etc, we should just practice that instead of etudes and scales etc! (just kidding, but you know what I mean. As in, I don't really mean that, but it really is so effective!) or is there another explanation?

Thank you!


March 9, 2015 at 06:09 PM · Some orchestral passages are somewhat unviolinistic. Takes some good bow control to play such things smoothly.

March 9, 2015 at 07:25 PM · You have a good idea, if not a particularly new one:

March 9, 2015 at 07:34 PM · I've experienced the "technique jump" many times throughout my musical life, first as a cellist, and latterly as a violinist. It seems to happen a week or so after an intensive workshop, a lot of intensive orchestral playing (e.g. Sibelius 1-7), or a difficult lesson. Also, interestingly, when I've returned from vacation after being away from the instrument for a couple of weeks. Now I've come to expect it!

I reckon it's the brain sorting things out at its leisure.

March 9, 2015 at 09:08 PM · When practice time is limited I replace studies with selected fragments of solo and orchestral repertoire. Lots of basics, though.

March 10, 2015 at 01:04 AM · Greetings,

Adrians idea is important. Some times ther jest isn't time for exudes on top of basics. Auer recommended developing technique by practicing difficult passages from the repertoire. It sure makes a nice break to use scales from the Tchaikovsky concerto every now and again. Plenty of orchestral stuff of enormous technical value. Why nit apply all the ├ętude Bowings to something like Schumann four so that you are already have that under you fingers for the future.



March 10, 2015 at 12:56 PM · A number of years ago Stephen Shipps (prof. of violin, Univ. of Michigan) wrote an article in the American String Teachers journal advocating substitution of orchestral excerpts for etudes.

March 10, 2015 at 07:43 PM · My viola teacher can take a measure or two from an orchestral score and make a valuable exercise out of it. She offered to set me up with etude books if I insisted, but she'd rather find examples from "real life" material - it's just about as effective and a lot more fun. For example, there's a point in one of the pieces we're currently rehearsing where my left hand didn't feel comfortable. I took it to my teacher, thinking that I'd just get a few tips and be on my way. She wound up dissecting my left-hand technique - far more things needed correcting than I suspected. And all this for what was little more than a simple scale run. Now I'm busy practising the revisions to my technique - and when I'm done I'll not only be much more ready for the upcoming concert, but my left hand will be more prepared for whatever else the future brings.

March 10, 2015 at 09:14 PM · Violin etudes are generally written by violinists for violinists (even if it's Paganini writing for Paganini!). Therefore there is no problem in that the etudes are composed in order to improve and hone technique, and even if they are difficult and take time and effort to master they are inherently playable. Many are also quite musical, which is a bonus.

Sadly, the same cannot always be said about composers who do not play the violin, and the result is obvious when the unfortunate orchestral grunt is faced with a next to unplayable page of gibberish disguised as music notation.

The problem can be compounded when a modern non-violinist composer does his "composing" at a computer keyboard and his only knowledge of what it sounds like is through a MIDI playback. I've been on the receiving end of this nonsense in orchestra, and at a rehearsal at which the composer was present we didn't hesitate to make significant alterations on the hoof to make the score passably playable. The composer didn't notice.

March 10, 2015 at 09:21 PM · Greetings,

that is soooo true.

Actually Beethoven too is flawed on ocassion. For example, the opening of the fifth symphony. Much better to get rid of that opening 'fate knocking at the door' three note up beat. Just start the blooming piece on the first bar. It would help musicologists too.

No more knocking fate twaddle. Just a plain and simple door that anyone can undertsand.



March 11, 2015 at 10:18 AM · Neurons!!!

The violinist with the most neurons wins.

It's my opinion that when the brain reconsolidates memories, a new neuron is formed. When a new neuron is formed, we get this 'jump' in skill. For example, when we first learned vibrato there is very little improvement over a few weeks of practice, but then one day you pick up the violin, and presto you are able to wiggle your fingers: I would consider this a formation of a new neuron(s) or the reconsolidation of memories. It takes a few weeks of practice to get the brain to make new neurons, and it does this in our sleep, not during practice.

When something is enjoyed it is learn quickly, because memories(synapses) are formed with dopamine and serotonin.

March 11, 2015 at 11:32 PM · If you diligently study the technical parts of you orchestra music and dont allow yourself the indulgence of playing through the easy lyrical parts then you could indeed get a good workout. Kind of debatable as to whether it supersedes Kreutzer and scales. You practice it with the same critical ear and attention to detail that you would apply to your solo repertoire.

March 12, 2015 at 01:41 AM · Charles,

so basically, we improve by sleeping alot?

Would you say that in order to induce more technique jumps and "consolidation" we should practice 2 hrs and then sleep instead of 6 hours and sleep (sleep time) - 4 hours?

And by the way, what you describe in learning vibrato is EXACTLY HOW I LEARNED IT HOW DID YOU KNOW :D!


Yes I have to admit that I was lazy. I practiced it until I was satisfied, it was pretty good except for a few areas that were iffy, but the reasoning in my head was that "its okay, i will fix those through practice in rehearsal. Time to do solo stuff!"

Instead of fixing the technical problems in rehearsal, i developed bad habits due to not being able to hear myself and not having solidified the good parts either.

so this time I tried to turn over a new leaf. It's working! :)

And actually Paul, as a second violinist we don't have many lyrical parts haha. So that's not usually my problem -- I do go through the technical areas, but not enough. and not critically or diligently enough.

So does anybody know how to use these leaps in technique to advantage? Anyway to make them happen more often? :)

March 12, 2015 at 12:20 PM · Honestly I think the leaps are mental. You come to a sudden realization of how you can approach a problem and then when you pick up your violin you find that you have the physical resources to implement that approach. Or it could be that your violin playing has enjoyed sudden improvement because you're at a point in your life where you're calm and relaxed, getting enough rest, etc. If so, enjoy it while it lasts.

Buri wrote, "Why not apply all the ├ętude Bowings to something like Schumann four."

So, instead of Kreutzer No. 2 and Mazas No. 6, one could apply the K2 bowings to the "Double" movements out of solo Bach S&P? Sounds kind of fun actually (might be pretty hard though).

March 12, 2015 at 11:31 PM · Greetings,

but don`t we do this anyway? I mean in a passage we are having difficulty with we apply the tried and trusted rythm and bowing changes to make the problem -more- difficult.

The only thing I have found personally is that the more one practices really simple basic things aiming for the highest level of artistry the better difficult things get. makings things more difficult is not always the best route in my opinion. An example that springs to mind is the current discusison about using sevcik exercises on the Wieniawski. While reiterating that I do respect those exercises imagine you were having trouble with the second triplet of the group. Is because you are actually having trouble with it , or because your stretch is limited? In such a case one might well be better off exploring why ones stretch is limited and then practing absolutely simple stretching exercises everyday. The problem in question then simplky becomes one of vizualization since the technical reosurces now exist to deal with it.

As far as leaps are concerned, it is as people have suggested in various ways above, a question of mental restucturing. Sometimes the idea can be absorbed into the currnet structures quite easily resulting in a small step, and sometimes the whole edifice collapses and one actually appears to have got worse until things restabilize at a new level. Such changes must be induced with caution by the teacher....

Progress is about concentrating hard on a variety of things with clear goals for shorter periods than we commonly imagine. Plus getitng plenty of sleep. Violnists often repeat things becaus ethey know something is wrong. But they never get as far as step two, which is deciding what is wrong and what you are going to change as a possible soultion to the problem. Without this step the practice is indeed, as Bart said, `mindless` and big leaps are unlikely.



March 15, 2015 at 07:40 AM · Jeannie hits on a lot of key points, its a great post.

The way to get these technical 'jumps' is to create strong memories. When we have strong memories, recall of the memories (technique or notation etc..) becomes easier. When we do a number of repetitions of something, our mind takes this new information and processes it(stores or formats it)

How to develop strong memories recipe:

Repetition + processing time = easier recall

The challenge is how many repeats are required to get the mind to process the new information, and the how much processing time is required between practice sessions. Surprisingly the number is very low for repetition: 3-6 times. Processing time can be 4-8 hrs for new memories, and 20min. for well learned memories, or you can think of it as: easy things to do require 20 min. of processing time, and hard things to do require 4-8 hrs of processing time. Some memories require 8 hrs. of sleep to be processed.


Teacher is going away for a month, while she is away she wants Lisa and Chista to learn the B flat 3 octave scale with the arpeggio.

Lisa spends 45 min. practicing the scale on the first day, then 3 days later she practices the scale for another 30-45 min.. She continues this way for the month: 30-45 min. practice session 2-3 times a week; total practice time for week, 2 hrs. max.

Christa has a different practice method. She spends 5-10 min. in the morning playing the scale, then 5-10 min. in the afternoon, then 5-10min in the evening. She does this for the month: 5-10 min. short practices 2-3 times a day 4 days a week; total practice time for week, 2 hrs. max.

At the end of the month Lisa and Christa played the scale to the teacher. Christa play with good intonation and timing and was able to play the scale at different speeds and got an A :). Lisa rushed through the scale and arpeggios, and when ask to play them again at a slower speed, because of too many mistakes, she wasn't able to slow down. Lisa got an F:(

So why did this happen?

They practice for the same length of time, 2hrs a week, but if you were able to analyze the minds processing time, it would total approx. 16-24 hrs. a week for Lisa, and approx. 48 hrs. for Christa. That's more than double for Christa.

What also happen to Lisa, is what I call "Force Learning". Force learning is when you over repeat something in an attempt to learn it, but the practice is counterproductive. What ends up happening is the mind becomes over stimulated and hyper active. Once its in this hyper mode it becomes difficult to do something well, and mistakes are made, and if a mistake is made to often(more than 3 times) the mind will process this mistake. The mind should be able to learn this 'hyper mode' also, and if you are practicing this way too often, then this mode could automatically be applied at any unwanted time.

Symptoms of force learning:

-inability to slow down and focus

-practice without improvements

-constantly making mistakes

-frustration and anxiety


- shorter practice sessions throughout the day, or 2-3, 1/2-45min. sessions in the evening compared to 1, 2hr. session

- limit the amount of repetitions of bars, phrases, scales etc...

- repeating something more than 10-12 times can become counterproductive, 3-6 times is better.

-meditate when you notice you are in hyper mode, frustrated or unable to play cleanly

- Diet and exercise

-creative practice: variations, make up one's own

exercises etc....

March 15, 2015 at 11:55 AM · a

March 16, 2015 at 04:22 AM · Huh!

That's really interesting. Charles, sorry I don't understand how you got the processing time. is it the time immediately after practice? 8 hours after each 5-10 minute practice session for Christa?

And so when Lisa practices over and over, does she practice it correctly? So when she rushes in front of the teacher, is it nerves? Or does she practice rushed and mistake-full?

And another technique jump happened today!! :))))

I think there REALLY MAY BE something really important about the sleep thing! Yesterday I practiced the cadenza for Mozart K219 and I've always had trouble with the runs starting with G and descending, and also the run starting on a and going up, and also the fast parts right before the double stops. So I was tired yesterday and I concentrated for only a few times on each difficult area (even though I felt guilty I wasn't practicing more). But it WAS a "short term, clear goal". And today morning, I overslept more than 3 hours!!!

And when I practiced it again, the runs were MAGICALLY improved to another level! (I've been practicing this cadenza for more than 4 months, and the runs have always been unclear. Suddenly, they are much better!) However, this could have been also due to the TON of sevcik bowing and orchestra-difficult areas that I've been working on a LOT.

So this is the recipe for fast improvement!

March 16, 2015 at 05:12 AM · Greetings,

Charles' ideas on the subject are excellent.

Another reason Lisa and a slew of other people can't play well in front of their teacher is that they assume what they do in the practice room is the same as what they do in thlesson. In fact we often have a good few sessions of technical practice, go over our piec win detail many times, perform it and then assume we will be able to play it well at the lesson. In fact playing the piece straight through from cold is closer to th true reflection of what Lisa et all wil present to the teacher. We need to learn to be objective about what we are going to play inn front of people and be able to pick up the violin and play it without unrealistic expectations.



March 16, 2015 at 08:13 AM · I too totally agree with Charles, which happens quite often!, (when our bees-in-bonnets don't collide..)

In a conference on sleep patterns by a neurologist, I heard an additional factor: the practice we do on day 1 will have most effect on day 3, not day 2. (This is not an excuse for only practicing every other day..).

Any feedback?

March 17, 2015 at 02:35 AM · I find it really important to a violinist or music teacher to become an amateur neurologist and an amateur physiotherapist. This way we can understand how to learn effectively and efficiently, because we are constantly doing things the wrong way.

Eric Kandel lecture on memory

Letting the brain (hippocampus) process (moving and encoding information from short term to long term memory) the information is the utmost importance and we don't want to cause interference with the process. When interference happens, the brain either quits processing the memories or restarts from the beginning.

When we repeat something 3-6 times the brain will immediately start processing the information. The processing time can be as long as 4-8 hours.

Learning something new vs. recall vs. increasing speed--- I don't have time to finish this part today---

February 8, 2016 at 05:31 PM ·

This article on memory reconsolidating applies to this discussion. I think we've all experienced empirical evidence to support what works and doesn't work in terms of learning new motor skills. For example, playing a variety of rhythmic patterns on a passage of fast 16th notes thereby changing up the task slightly, is an effective way of getting to the end goal efficiently. Etudes also seem to have this 'subtle task changing' quality built in to them through variations on a theme. Beginning vibrato studies also seem to take advantage of this principle. I wonder where else it could be applied? And how, specifically, one can develop a regimen to maximize the results?

Maybe the awareness and belief in the application of reconsolidation will improve skills? Being that most of what we do is considered 'difficult,' this could boost the psychological component of how we approach difficult tasks.

I'm inspired to run an experiment on my practice routine to see if I can gain something by applying the information given here.

February 9, 2016 at 08:51 PM · I have been monitoring my own jumps for about 40 years from a time that jumps were called "incubation". My mind does have a life of its own.

February 13, 2016 at 09:17 AM · I tell my youger students that it's very difficult to pump up bicycle tyres while riding! Stop, deal carefully with the offending tyre, chain etc. then get back on and ride as fast as you like for many hours.

February 15, 2016 at 11:13 AM ·

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