Help with the Bach Partita II

May 5, 2015 at 02:17 PM ·

I have been playing for 2 years and 8 months now without a tutor (dad taught me the basics and i just used the internet and /r/violinist for help.

People on /r/violinist have told me to play something more appropriate for my level but i really like this piece and want to be able to play it well.

Replies (26)

May 5, 2015 at 02:48 PM · First, for someone who's only been playing for two and a half years, I think your playing is amazing.

However, for a start, you really need to work on intonation, which comment doesn't mean that I haven't heard worse. And get that really straight before you start to learn vibrato, which is a major tool for getting emotion into the playing, and the somewhat different bowing techniques for playing loudly, not so loudly, and softly. But NO technique can make up for lack of intonation. Work on it and get it perfect - I don't think it's just a fluke that SOME of your playing is in tune, so I'm sure you can do it. If you have difficulty, find a teacher (I'm sorry that you lost your father).

By the way, I would urge you to make sure that Laurie knows your surname and why you don't want to blazon it out on the site - I'm sure she will be sympathetic to a good reason.

May 5, 2015 at 02:57 PM · In music as in ALL aspects of life, conveying emotion is a matter of "technique." Study what other great artists are doing and then figure out how they do it.

It often helps if you can try to tell a story, or create a scenario to fit the music and then play in your way to convey that story.

Check out Roy Sonne's video on the Accolay concerto that is an outstanding example of story telling.


May 5, 2015 at 03:37 PM · The first half of the D Minor Allemande. Nice playing.

I know what you mean about not being able to put in as much emotion as you are feeling, but you have to understand that this piece is so beautiful that it is essentially bottomless in terms of its emotional capacity. So, you're not alone on this point!

I don't think the piece is "too hard" for you but I would encourage you to use it as a vehicle for improving not only your interpretive powers but also your general technique. Try to practice it without the rubatos or the "expressive tenuto" notes for a while, for the purpose of proving to yourself that you are not using some interpretive devices to make technical short cuts. Make sure your bow changes are smooth and no gaps where you change or cross strings. Keep listening to the masters with your score in front of you and mark the notes where they take "expressive tenuto" and try to get a sense for how much they take. I think you'll see their use of this device is more subtle than yours (here I am referring to 0:35 through 0:42 of your youtube).

As far as intonation is concerned, keep your F's and C's low. Practice slow D minor (natural minor and harmonic minor) scales and focus on exactly where your fingers need to go. Start with two octaves and mind the shift with great care. Three octave G major and A minor scales would be useful to you too, but I don't know whether you are shifting much yet. If you don't have a scale book, the one by Simon Fischer is really good, but if you are not shifting much yet, then the one by Hrimaly may be better. Wohlfardt etudes are good too.

There was a passage at about 0:50 and again in the last two bars where you need to check the actual notes of the music. Something sounded "off" in those spots.

A teacher can help you in all aspects of your playing. I see that you are playing this piece essentially all in first position, and some would say this is to be preferred, but there may be some opportunities to smooth things out and generate more expression by using some 2nd or 3rd position. Also in some places your bowings seemed kind of random. Are you following a published edition?

Finally, You look to me like you are elevating your left shoulder slightly and you readjust the placement of your violin on your shoulder frequently. It's hard to tell in this video but are you feeling a lot of pressure of the violin against the first joint of the first finger of your left hand? A teacher can help you deal with these things, and they must be dealt with because they can hold you back. I see that you are not using a shoulder rest, and that's fine, but whether you do or don't, it still helps to get some professional advice about setup, posture, hand positions, and the like.

May 5, 2015 at 07:00 PM · Poor intonation is sometimes an indication of poor left hand technique. You have a VERY VERY bad habit of lowering your index finger to play the F# on the e string(stop video at 0:54 bar 10), you also do this for the F naturals also. When playing on E string your index finger should be facing down the finger board (or at you)and not at an angle; which is happening now. You need to twist it a bit to play the F#. It is very, very important that you correct this.

Practice playing 1 octave scales starting on g,d and a strings. Try to have very little to no hand or thumb movements. Fingers movements should be a small as possible , also the lighter the touch the better.

Great potential, but the left hand needs better technique/form for advancement.

May 5, 2015 at 07:59 PM · Beth Blackerby's videos are very good, and the one that Jenny linked in her post is fine, but Beth's approach does seem to assume that the student will be using a shoulder rest.

May 5, 2015 at 08:12 PM · Greetings,

start up bow. There are a number of options for fingering the opening. Try:

4 4/0 12 1231 see we have stopped on c sharp. You are actually playing c natural. The first finger needs to be placed a semi tine higher on the g string to play on the g string to play this note. The tip of the finger will change from a square shape in relation to the second joint to a diamond shape. Going through the piece carefully and finding where the fingertip is squared and where it extends slightly may help. Also do this with basic studies by wolhfart.Good intonation depends on the shape of the end of the finger changing.

If you leave the a and b flat down on the d string and very slowly look at the relationship between the fingers you can see they are all close together. Then when you play the long e the following g needs to go back to it's original position on the d string.

Leave that g down as a guide as you play the following fingering for f csharp d a on the gstring.


notice that 3 goes next to second finger c sharp. that's a good example of a square shaped finger tip.

You don't need Hrimaly scales because the Fischer scale manual, excellent recommendation , has all the basic beginner scales. it's an expensive book but more than a scale manual it is absolutely full of technical advice. it is much more a self help boo for pplaying the violin.

Your bow hold is too far up the stick. the third finger pad curls over the frog and touches the pearl circle. the fourth finger lines up with where the frog ends. You can either put the thumb between the leather and the frog in that small space or just where the leather ends before that space.

look at videos by Todd Ehles, on the internet.

Best of luck


May 5, 2015 at 08:59 PM · Greetings,

and while we are on the subject of emotion, there is no need for you to transfer your emotion into the music. Human beings are innately self centered from an emotional perspective IE I have no interest in your feelings at all. Ijust watched a masterclass by Gitlis where he says ' keep your personal problems out of the -business- of playing the violin.'

What you are trying to do is let the music speak for itself so that the person listening feels an emotional response.

Bachs music is like the sea. it goes up and down in waves physically we can actually see this written on the page by the way the lines of music go up and down. So just by paying attention to increasing energy and intensity as the music goes up and vice versa you are already ahead of the game. Then you recognize that not all waves are equal and try to figure out the biggest wave. every other wave needs to be in proportion to that key moment in the work.

This constant ebb and flow of energy is done with technique. You increase energy by using more bow, more bow hair, faster vibrato, wider vibrato, closer to the bridge and so on. This is an over simplification but you get the idealike

The challenge of this piece is not playing the same figures in the same way. people get bored easily. For example , look at the three note patterns that repeat three times, as opposed to 16th notes. You can play the first two groups the same ie in time with no rythmic inflection but the third one played straight is boring. So how can you add a very small rubato to this last group.?

Basically you need to sing this music over and over, phrase by phrase and try to reproduce the music in the way you sang it. That is the keys

Going back to the opening again, I wonder what the meaning of those first two notes are? This work is a eulogy about his wife who just died. Bach and many others of his time were very interested in the astrological/number/prediction art which I forget the name of. So the thirteen letters of Anna Magdalena are woven into the musical structure which some people believe is why that ver annoying open d unison is necessat- it wasn't put there for dramatic effetct. Listen to the orchestral introduction to Paginini concerto number one and the first two notes of Ravel's Tzigane. They have a very different function to the opening of the Bach. Perhaps the difference is that Bach is trying to have av introspective conversation with the spirit of his dead wife so he wants to get her attention but he Probaly isn't going to shout at her.

On a less esoteric note, in your position I would strongly recommend watching and listening to a few great players over and over. Have the music in front of you and try to write down exactly what crescendos and rubato they do. try and notice what they do withe position and amount of boe, the vibrato etc. See if you can copy that. Many people hate this kind of approach but frankly we all listen to recordings all the time, and our teachers are our model for playing in the early stages, so make Szeryng, Grumiaux, Hahn and Mullova your teachers.! Why not? If it's your only option it's not so bad.....



i separated the technical and emotional discussion into two parts so it would be like Jane Austen' s novel 'Sense and Sensibility';)

May 5, 2015 at 09:19 PM · Hi Paul, you must have worked very hard to bring it to your current level, the "4th attempt." Just curious, are you learning all this music (that you've posted on YT) by ear, that is by listening then figuring it out and playing it on the violin? Or are you learning it from sheet music? I'd offer some suggestions but the way I say it will depend on your answer. It's great that you already seem to get certain aspects of musical expression, such as contour and pacing, ebb and flow.

But expression in classical music has not only to do with the melody, but also the implied scale and chords that go along with the melody. So you have to get in your ear the sound of the scale a piece is written in to truly express each note, because the feeling of each note depends on its relationship to other notes in the scale, particularly the first note in the scale, which we call the tonic (or degree 1; degrees, or notes, of a scale are commonly represented with Roman numerals; for the first degree, or tonic: I.) The emotion we express isn't necessarily the feeling we have for the music (though that plays its part) but rather the emotion the composer has written into the music, the contour, the rhythm, the pulse, but most of all the relationship between notes, the intervals. The interval is the unit of meaning and the basis for emotion locked into composed music. Hope that makes sense.

Edit: what Buri said :)

May 5, 2015 at 10:20 PM · For more details on the relation between Bach's violin unaccompanied and Maria Barbara, you might like to go to .

Anna Magdalena died on him at a much later date.

I must bow to the guys whose comments followed mine. Great advice, Paul, this is a great site to come to for it.

May 5, 2015 at 10:29 PM · Buri,

Annoying open d unison?

Personally, I find it to be a very powerful way to open a d minor chord.

May 5, 2015 at 11:10 PM · Greetings,

it's annoying when a lot of people play it because they use a wide vibrato which sounds awful.

the other logical fingering for the opening stars in fourth position but on a given day, when you are tired or not as focused as yu should be a small slip can contrast not so well with the open. That is why I use the simplest fingering starting in first position . great idea that Busch came up with honks ago.

Not George Bush....



May 5, 2015 at 11:17 PM · by the way, AM died in 1701 and Bach began composing these works -around- 1703 according to one Wikipedia site. But more profound scholarship, Ie I pulled a decent book out of my cupboard indicates she was born on 1701.

Fortunately the Japanese haiku

You only live twice

Ince when you are born

And once when you die

is still interesting. Statistics remain a lie as usual.



PS That's my story and I'm sticking to it because it's more fun.

May 5, 2015 at 11:26 PM · Greetings,

just to add to what Jeewon has already said. I forgot to put that intonation, ie the relationship between the notes of a scale creates the character of the music because keys have different colors. Listen to the Mozart e minor sonata written after his mothers death (unless she is still alive of course) and try and get the feeling for how that key differs. The sense that the 7th noe of the scale is desperate to resolve onto the tonic provides emotional tension and release. if the release does not occur it propels the listeners attention forward to the next passage. that is why c sharp, the leading note of the dim nor scale is the point of tension around this work and the c naturals you play instead in the opening are not a good pla.



May 6, 2015 at 04:19 AM · Greetings,

check this out

Its Baremboim doing a master class on the Beethoven Appasionata. I am not a piano player but I really felt I learnt a lot about music within a short space of time. But at around 35 minutes he talks about the need for `will` before any kind of expression can happen and how we need to understand music horizontally and vertically and be balanced as human beings in the same way. It seems to me this is the challenge of Bach . There is much to learn about all Bach/music in this video,



May 6, 2015 at 06:49 AM · Wow! thank you all for the many helpful tips!

I am going to focus on intonation and proper shifting.

It actually is a bit uncomfortable playing as i have a long neck. I will be getting a shoulder rest soon in july because i have to either lower my head way down or raise my shoulder up to keep it in grip. That is probably why my fingers are gripping the neck so badly.

also Jeewon Kim, for this piece, that is the partita II i have been using the score and listening to the versions by hillary hahn and Alina ibragimova.

The problem with my violin endeavor is i dont really know what im supposed to be focusing on. Im still getting the hang of 3rd position and still dont know how to come down from it. But from all that you have posted i am going to focus on intonation, scales, shifting in that order.

I will listen to the piece more to get an idea on how to change/improve my playing.

I feel a lot of problems may get solved once i get my shoulder rest as i grip too hard for my own good!

Also my father isnt dead lol :D

He just plays a lot of folk style music rather than classical based.

May 6, 2015 at 08:43 AM · can't t you stick some sponge or a dead animal under your shirt for now. You are doing things the hard way!

You might try a simple left hand exercise while you are at it. Imagine the finger resting on top of the string with zero pressure is number 5 A very slight finger pressure is 4. When you use enough to press the string halfway to the fingerboard it's 3. Three quarters of the way down is2 and touching is 1.

So everyday in adofferent position and string take one finger at a time and let it sink into the string as follows

5 1 5




or any other order you like. These might seem like incredibly small differences but sensitizing the fingertips to how much weight you are putting into the strings is very important. When you shift you actually release the string so the finger is resting on the surface and then the hand and arm move as one unit to the correct spot and pressure is reapplied.

You have a good ear so there is nothing to stop you doing simple shifting exercises. .Try some patterns like A string:

a(open) b- d (011 110)

model the sound first (013 310)

play them withe rhythm 8th8th quarter note and the opposite going back down.

Going back down seems head for you because your thumb is squeezing and anyway the restless technique is not so easy. Actually the thumb moves slightly ahead of the hand arm unit, but I think you should make it easier by getting some sponge.

Chevk your d's very carefully against open string. if you can hear a kind of beating noise the note is not in tune.

Of course you have the thumb issue. So, try placing the violin against a wall withe scroll resting on something soft to protect it. Take the thumb off the neck of the instrument and play without it.

For intonation play fingered notes that have the same pitch as the open string all over the finger board. don't worry if you go high up somtimes. Get the pitches exactly the same as the open strings. Check all unisons and octaves directly with the open string if it is adjacent.

In your piece make sure every eadg is the same as the open string of that name.



May 6, 2015 at 02:10 PM · There is a nice little piece that is good if you are just learning to shift. It's called "Humoresque" and it's in Suzuki Book 3. It's important initially to structure your shifts very methodically and then gradually increase the speed and smoothness of the shift. Intermediate pitches (ghost notes) are a good mechanism but ultimately they should be essentially inaudible.

May 6, 2015 at 03:14 PM · I feel you have a lot of talent. BUT you need a good teacher (how rare are they!) to point out certain details.

Lots of people have advice, but you really need some serious guidance. You have an obvious musical talent.

May 6, 2015 at 10:33 PM ·

Peter Charles is correct. It usually takes 1 or 2 months of hard work and focus from student and teacher to correct the problems Jenny and I mentioned. It's nice to dream, but you need to focus on what Jenny and I addressed, because you're going to hit a wall, and it's going to take the enjoyment out of playing.

May 7, 2015 at 01:06 AM · Paul, have you listened to these piece much, recently? That could help cure some of the wrong notes. I think some of them are actually fixed in your head wrong, rather than out-of-tune due to playing.

May 7, 2015 at 04:42 AM · Hi Paul, I think you are very talented, and have a good sense for phrasing. However, as others have said, the intonation problems definitely very hard to ignore.

Personally think it helps to not move around as much when you play, at least in the way that you are doing it video. If I attempt to move vertically like that, I know my intonation would be greatly affected.I would keep the movement minimal as you are learning the piece. After you get it kind of where you want it, you can bring the movements back. Keep practicing and listen to buri's advice. I agree with it completely.

Also, when you talking about struggling with the interpretation. i think aside from the intonation problems, you are doing a terrific job(not perfect but nobody is). I actually think you should tone back the "interpretation" slightly, and avoid holding notes for too long with rubato. With stuff like bach, you can sort of just let the music for itself for the most part. The phrasing is very tough, but a lot of the time, its about doing less, not more.

May 8, 2015 at 01:17 PM · Hi Paul, I also love this piece very much, and couldn't wait to learn it, however my teacher waited until I was halfway through 6th grade (ameb levels) before she introduced it to me. It became clear to me why, as whilst this piece seems not too hard on the face of it, she also gave me some very specific fingerings and bowings to use in the piece. They are markings she believes to have been passed down through generations of her teacher, and the teacher before, and so on. These can be important as they form the basis of achieving a sound as close to 'correct' as thought to have been the aim of the composer. They mean the difference between not holding a note for a fraction too long, or too short, or a slightly softer sound or a harmonic. Naturally, they make the piece harder to play but the end result is worth it. It also means doing the hard yards with a tutor for at least several years beforehand, but it doesn't hurt to compare early efforts with those many years hence, so have some fun with it now, but be aware it probably is somewhat beyond your level at the moment. Your playing in the video was pretty good all the same.

May 8, 2015 at 03:21 PM · If it helps, approach the piece like it is an etude. Slow it down, work out the intonation issues by checking notes against open strings. Do this measure by measure and do not move on until that measure is fine, then add it to the next. Especially since you have many issues with your techniques.

I would also be extremely careful trying to imitate recordings or artists as you seem to be doing. The piece itself doesn't need a whole lot of 'feelings' or whatever it is you're trying to incorporate while also losing any and all semblance of rhythm. It's a fairly straightforward Partita (aren't they all?) which can fall apart if you try adding what you think or heard is done. Invest in a metronome. Use it, learn it and love it.

Besides what others have touched on, the notes should all fluid, meaning there's no huge pauses or breaks between each of them. This goes back to your bowing technique and display your lack of string crossing technique, which is fairly basic to a much larger world of wonders.

It's fine playing for what it is, however as stated in your original post, I'd have to strongly agree this piece is beyond your capacity for right now until you get a handful of other items taken care of first. It's a deceiving piece and without either the technical background or a teacher to guide you, I would not approach this yet.

There is a huge selection of etudes, study guides, technique builders you should use and would benefit greatly from learning to be able to properly approach this and all pieces.

May 8, 2015 at 07:23 PM · Buri wrote,"Going back to the opening again, I wonder what the meaning of those first two notes are?" I just noticed something about the 2nd Partita that I hadn't noticed before: the end is the same as the beginning. Check the score, and you'll see that the same figure on D is repeated at the end of the Chaconne, only a sixteenth and dotted eighth have become amplified to an eighth and a dotted half note. "In my beginning is my end." Full circle. Very nice!

May 8, 2015 at 07:56 PM · John, it seems like there is always some revelation like that, in Bach!

May 8, 2015 at 08:03 PM · Greetings,

I like John A's very down to earth ideas. To expand on his comments g about bowing, one of the key aspects of this pice is that the bow mystery anticipate where it is going to play next. in other words, if you are playing a note before a note on a new string the bow must be moving toward the new string. one can go though this pice and identify/ practice every single example of this....



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