April 6, 2015 at 03:10 AM · Accuracy is the overriding concern for most musicians in their quest for winning an audition for an orchestral position, or for that matter a good teaching position or for a solo career.

Perfect intonation, rhythm, tone production, and knowledge of style are among the elements needed for this. How do we teach a student to play musically but also play "perfectly" so they can feel like they have complete control over their instrument?

Replies (24)

April 6, 2015 at 04:51 AM · Along the same lines, what level of technical proficiency do we demand from ourselves or our students before delving into musical expression and style? Should we achieve command of the basic notes before focusing on musical expression? Right rhythms? Fingering? Bowing?

In my own teaching I have usually focused first on correct playing in all these areas before delving into expression and style. I have recently come to the POV that this has not been the most productive way. In my own practicing I always go for the music from day one. To practice a new piece in a purely technical way for a week or two would be unbearable for me. So I have started applying that approach in my teaching. We'll see how it develops. What do you folks think?

April 6, 2015 at 10:07 AM · Technical mastery allows us to choose and modify our expressive intent, instead of being constricted by our limitations. So when teaching a new piece or study, I hope that the "basics" I propose will permit playing with character straight away, but without cramping personal "√©lans".

April 6, 2015 at 11:27 AM ·

April 6, 2015 at 03:54 PM · As the printed page cannot indicate every single thing that the composer had in mind, a player who cannot turn a score into music is technically deficient in interpretation. :)

But aren't conductors interested in players who can play exactly what they (the conductors) want?

April 6, 2015 at 04:03 PM · Just as the printed page is not a complete set of instructions, neither are the conductors spoken requests.

Look at "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" from Suzuki Book 1, it's the third piece. If the student is taught that it's a melancholy piece, and the phrases should rise and fall to convey that feeling, then the student must implement that with the bow. And getting that just right is pretty hard! So the musical and technical demands go hand-in-hand. And I think that's much more rewarding for a student than taking a Wohlfardt study of pure 16th notes and saying, "play a diminuendo on each group of 4 starting from mf to pp" to teach the same dynamic control, effective though that might be.

April 6, 2015 at 07:16 PM · I've always been taught that playing musically is part of technique.

Of course, that may raise the question; but what about personal interpretation? Well, my teachers always tried to read the student, and would ask how I wanted to play, and adjusted my technique so I could learn how to interpret apiece to sound how I wanted.

I think it's a useful approach; instruct the student in style and technique, and do so rather strictly, and correct poor/really poor interpretation, but also try and get a feel of what the student wants to get from a piece of music.

Even my mean old-fashioned teachers understood that all students have different characters, and despite their yelling at technique issues, interpretation was always approached gently, and even little kids were treated to having their opinions listened to.

April 6, 2015 at 07:42 PM · Videotaping multiple practice sessions or performances over a period of time would be helpful for a student so they can identify areas for improvement and evaluate their progress towards meeting a goal set beforehand.


April 6, 2015 at 10:01 PM · I agree with those that technique and playing musically are the same. If one learns just the notes and then adds the expression later, the note practice goes out the window, because everything changes. I wonder about the efficacy of playing scales, for instance, without expression. Many years ago I asked Nathan Milstein how much he practiced on scales. His reply was, "Scales? There are plenty of scales to practice on in the music."

However, the question remains, how to practice for musical expression and also for accuracy. Why are there those who play expressively, but also accurately? Are there some artists who play accurately, but sacrifice expressive playing for this goal?

April 7, 2015 at 05:21 AM · Technical mastery includes that tonic flexibility which allows, rather than fabricates, expression.


April 7, 2015 at 06:14 PM · Clarify?

April 7, 2015 at 10:16 PM · I'll try.

Finger action can be squishy or poppy.

Bow action can imitate various consonants e.g.Ta, Cha, SHwa, MWa, or just Ah, or even Aaah.

Vibrato can be like a siren, a shimmer, or the twang of an arrow.

A bow stroke can be shaped like a leaf, a dart, a beam, or a tress.

If we can includes these variants in practicing scales & things, they will be available for "expression".

Edit: It's still a good idea to decide on a valid iterpretation before performing, as the "inspiration of the moment" can be away on leave!

April 11, 2015 at 10:19 AM · William Primrose, (the "Heifetz" of the viola?) advocated practicing everything, including scales, with vibrato; the hand should stay alive at all times.

May I suggest that when practicing for purely technical benefit, our Undivided Attention can be transfered to tone quality, intonation, articulation etc.

April 13, 2015 at 02:42 AM ·

---" How do we teach a student to play musically but also play "perfectly" so they can feel like they have complete control over their instrument?" ---

Many would say we are unable to teach this, and they may be correct to a certain degree. We can teach our students to be musical with less mistakes.

To me the question should be: How do we strengthen the mind so music memory, creativity and our proprioception sense are optimized? I find a lot of teaching methods suppress these three important abilities instead of strengthening them, and so students will become more reliant on imitating, teachers and education instead of growing into their own ways.

April 13, 2015 at 09:58 AM · Agreed! And the means merit much discussion.

April 13, 2015 at 03:10 PM · I believe that teaching a student how to think ahead plays a big part in increasing accuracy.

April 14, 2015 at 02:31 AM · Doesn't playing musically imply playing perfectly? Anything you could say was imperfect implies a loss in musicality.

April 14, 2015 at 03:21 AM · Nobody plays perfectly! Some come close. Some come close more often than others. I believe all great players would agree with this.

However many talented players stifle their musicality, and often paralyze their technical proficiency by trying too hard for perfection.

April 14, 2015 at 03:56 AM ·

Bruce, this is a good ideal in slow practice: whatever lags, place first, if it is lagging. I am not sure how we can do this with a piece that has a lot of notes and speed.

Another thing is our unconscious is 2-7 seconds ahead of our conscious mind 'with new decisions'.

For all we know, our unconscious mind may have the last note of a piece predetermined before we even play the first note.

edit: changed subconscious to unconscious

April 14, 2015 at 07:11 PM · Oh dear, imagine some psychic wispering in one's ear before the concert "psst, your last note will be flat."

April 16, 2015 at 02:40 AM · No, it not psychic nonsense or muscle memory nonsense, but the mind starting the engines early on past memories. How you played before will determined how you play now. If your conscious mind is able to control or get ahead of your unconscious mind, then you may be able to make changes on the fly.

April 16, 2015 at 12:26 PM ·

May 16, 2015 at 02:56 PM · An age old question from Bruce.

One of the problems as I see it is that if you only practice for the notes and perfect intonation, timing etc., then when you need to perform in front of anyone, you are then in a different ball-park, which is a minefield. Then it all goes pear shaped.

So no matter how you approach a note, a phrase, or a whole section, it has to be done with lots of other things in mind, such as the structure, the harmony, the nuances and inflections, the musical intent including the message you want to get accross. Only then is the technique serving the music. The whole sound, from the beginning of the note (or even before it starts) - to how that note will end, or lead into another note, are vital, and must be in the imagination. It takes alot of thinking about away from the violin.

May 16, 2015 at 03:06 PM ·

I found this video to be really helpful.

May 16, 2015 at 03:20 PM · Slow practice, slow practice, slow practice...One of my colleagues recently said that when he changed his practice routine to 75% slow and 95% with the metronome, he started making the finals of major orchestra auditions every time.

But also visualization as the performance/audition nears (Inner Game of Music), practice performances--just go grab some friends out of the practice rooms and play through something, recording yourself and listening to the playback, pencil in hand--I suggest that my students make a photocopy of their music that they can mark up with necessary corrections or spots to woodshed as they listen to the playback, in order to avoid completely defacing their part.

The more solidly the student is prepared for a performance, the more likely the student is to have that wonderful almost out-of-body experience of playing the music instead of just playing the violin.

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