Learning about learning.

May 19, 2015 at 05:14 PM · I bought a non-pedigreed violin about 2 years ago from a local shop. People asked me why I bought this "terrible" violin?

Well, it so happened that back then I was lounging around the shop and I heard someone playing a beautiful violin. It was the luthiers wife playing one of the home made student versions. I wanted that sound. That violin.

When I got the violin home it was a bit of a disappointment.

The luthiers wife was much better. The only wisdom she passed along was "LIGHTER" meaning too much bow pressure.

The conclusion is, after 2 years, I can make the violin sound like the luthiers wife.

The interesting part of the story is "what did I do?" And the answer is "I have almost no idea"!

No special exercises. No traditional etudes. Just the memory of that sound.

The only reason I mention all this is as a speculation about things we may learn "in the background" and benefits of practicing even in a non-structured manner.

There are, of course, the formal methods and I do not question their value.

Replies (37)

May 19, 2015 at 05:57 PM · I think there's much to be said for having an idea of the sound that you're striving for.

My teacher always says "Chase the sound you're after." He encourages me to listen to great players to develop "the idea of a sound" - something to work towards.

James Ehnes said that *his* violin "has the sound closest to the one in my head."

May 19, 2015 at 07:01 PM · Come to think of it, without the example of the wife's demonstration, I probably would have achieved a lot less.

May 19, 2015 at 07:11 PM · Depending on the effect I want I often pretend I'm Perlman or Hilary Hahn. Sometimes other people, but those two are my favourite playing alter-egos.

May 19, 2015 at 08:34 PM · I happen to believe that playing the violin is as much mind-set as technique (maybe more) and taking on different roles sounds very legitimate to me.

In a similar incident I once was in a boutique where the owner insisted ( politely ) that customers allow the shop luthier to audition violins being sold. ( The luthier was a Russian trained musician.)

I still remember the audition but I never quite made it to his level before I sold the violin ( a.k.a. "dumb move")

I would like another chance now but it's too late.

May 19, 2015 at 09:26 PM · Greetings,

I'm not entirely sure how one interprets mind set but I guess your basic idea is one hundred percent correct. One shouldn't even separate the concepts of mind and technique. The mind controls the fingers, telling them what to do. That is why Galamian famously wrote that the purpose of practice is to strengthen the connection between the mind and the fingers/muscles. But I think sometimes this slightly misleads people into thinking it is only about what one might term facility. This impression tends to be reinforced by the proximity in his book of the great ideas on scales and left hand practice.

But I am sure what he was really saying embraces tone to absolutely the same degree so by default we are trying to strengthen the abilit to produce a fantastic sound on the violin and that must come from a mental concept.

If we have no concept of an ideal sound we want to produce why start out on the journey?????? What is the point of floating aimlessly around the mental practice room and hoping for a miracle?????

That's why beginning violinists (and above) would often be better advise to do a little les spractice and spend the free time listening to great violinists. But listening, not relaxing. You have to hang your ears on the sound and try to get it yourself. One should certainly spend time imagining oneself playing a passage as tough you were Heifetz, Oistrakh, or Vengerov, although silly facial expressions and the tango should generally be avoided. NLP and the like have long advocated this kind of approach. Perhaps even schedule it into your practice time. Play a scale like imagining you are Oistrakh and then try for the same sound Gitlis produces in the Bartok unaccompanied sonata. Why not?

The worst practice we can do is non creative, concept free (mindless) repetition while counting the number of hours we do in order to please a third party which sure as heck doesn't include my cat,



May 19, 2015 at 09:52 PM ·

"If we have no concept of an ideal sound we want to produce why start out on the journey?????? What is the point of floating aimlessly around the mental practice room and hoping for a miracle?????"

This idea is what greeted me when I slowly began to play without the subject being technique and I love the developing freedom in addition to the better music.

May 19, 2015 at 10:00 PM · Greetings,

while trying to avoid over focusing on technique or the opposite I think practice time needs to be divided into building vs performance time. Both Flesch and Galamian emphasize sthis point. One reason students play so badly in front of teachers is they are trying to give a performance when they have actually only practice the work in question.

Incidentally, there is no hidden meaning to the multiple question marks. My iPad spell checker automatically

corrects a single question mark to the work 'like' for no reason I can think of except perhaps it's another multi national company trying to stop us asking questions about anything.



May 19, 2015 at 10:29 PM · Possibly I have added another dimension to the practice/theory debates which seems to work for me. This is to study the music. To attempt to understand what is going on without violin in hand.

I know that is a very abstract idea but I'm beginning to need such study sessions to be more comfortable with the music.

What started all this was my attempt to play along with a recording. I had the sheet music but I could barely keep up with the recorded artist. NOT due to tempo but mainly due to a different "accent". The artist had personalized the music and I was clueless.

I saw in this the necessity for a lot more detail and thought in the preparation of my own music.


May 20, 2015 at 12:13 AM · "The finest instrument is the mind."

May 20, 2015 at 12:13 AM ·

May 20, 2015 at 12:31 AM · I think I understand what you are saying...

What music were you studying? What recording of it were you playing along with?

May 20, 2015 at 02:23 AM · The music on my music stand right now is a collection of church music but with violin obligattos. I'm trying to choose a few for actual possible performance and there are a few things for me to solve. The music will mostly be defined by the piano lead.

May 20, 2015 at 12:30 PM · @ N.A.

I'm not ignoring your specific question but I can not remember where the subject music is or the exact title. I eventually will and I will PM you the details. My "library" scattered around the music room has more than 100 items.

May 21, 2015 at 08:29 AM · I think mental practice (visualisation with a few finger twitches?) can only help if there has been enough previous real practice. Then the Inner Game has something to work on.

I read in a blog of Laurie's that practicing on an "air violin" is less effective than pure mental practice. Perhaps it's a bit like a mime artist pressing on an imaginary glass panel: he has to create his own panel, so the play of muscles is quite different from the real world.

Pure mental practice will evoke the real-life sensations?

May 21, 2015 at 11:42 AM · A question ....... If you were in a violin contest where all contestants were given the same music, what would be your strategy to make your performance outstanding?

May 21, 2015 at 12:35 PM · From what I have seen, if everyone plays the same competition piece, the one who plays every note perfect and obeys all the dynamic markings usually is among the top group. To win, one must add something more musically. It's about the nuances when the technical stuff is taken for granted.

May 21, 2015 at 01:16 PM · D R I don't think that you would have to put this question in the context of a contest to get the same answer. In any musical performance, be it audition, contest, group or solo, paid or amateur, make it music. A daunting palette of components to assemble in a way that you hope the audience will enjoy. I agree with you that setting a clear goal such as 'make this sound', goes a long way towards success and just may be enough to achieve the results. After all the music originates in the mind. If not, random repetition will allow a degree of unconscious changes, outside assistance would be fastest.

May 21, 2015 at 09:46 PM · Greetings,

Adrian, your point about the effectiveness of mental practice being a function of concert experience is well taken. However I think things can get muddled up by language. You may have noticed this recently...

You mention the inner game. The inner game of tennis became more or less required reading for Delay students according to at least one person;) For those not familiar with it, a top tennis pro felt that traditional explanation and step by step muddling through was basically a form of 'getting my money's worth, giving my money's worth' gratification. So he tried demonstrating a tennis serve ten times without explanation to someone picking up a racquet for the first time. That person then proceeded to give a half decent serve from the first lesson. They began to stumble the moment they started analyzing what they were doing and asking questions. This questioning and analysis is referee de to as 'the inner voice' and from this lesson emerged the wide sprea drecognition that in most fields of human endeavor it is this inner voice that screws us up and if we can find out effective and simple means to bypass it we can learn faster, better and combat nerves. As such it is worth intensive exploration by everyone. The 'Inner Game of Music' is generally highly rated but I actually prefer the original tennis book when thinking about violin playing.....

When we get to the point about visualization as in seeing your self playing Ij your minds eye, it is definitely better not to mime playing as , even though it is actually recommended by at last one extremely famous teacher. I have to ask'How can it not be benificial?' Any activity is based on the mind leading the body and this point Ned's to be understood as quickly as possible. I would suggest that most teaching ignores this point and that students learn and practice by doing something physical and then struggling to correct it, if they even recognize the existence of a problem, after the event. Conversly, by looking at videos of Oistrakh, absorbing the idea unconsciously that we use the full length of bow, we make efficient movements and no more, the violin doesn't point at the floor... And then imagining oneself looking like Oistrakh but playing twinkle will pay enormous dividneds. One can and should do his both in practice time and away from the instrument. A player who follows this kind of procedure will make rapid and unexpected gains and quickly internalize the kinds of sensations making the more personal visualization effective.

During practice even if one doesn't go as far as trying tolay looking like Oistrakh, the fundamental idea of imagining what you want to produce is crucial and it involves using much less contact with the instrument than one thinks. Usually we start out with good intentions , think a couple of times and then just start repeating stuff. But it is worthwhile remembering what Milstein said about 'never repeating the same ting the same way.' He wasn't saying one should be so exploratory we never take time to stabilize what actualily works. But rather exhorting us to get rid of the perennial habit of mindless repetition.

The use of visualization amd mental practice is so widely established and tested in other fields I hope the violin world will catch up with it as soon as possible. It should save us all a lot of grief. It goes a long way towards explaining why Greta players often get away with less practice . They've figured it out.



May 22, 2015 at 12:16 AM · Somebody once said that a person can get away with breaking the law but seldom violate tradition without serious penalties.

The violin has a reputation as a "hard" instrument and I suspect that some might want to keep it that way!

The future should be very interesting.

May 22, 2015 at 01:47 AM · Greetings,

I can understand the perspective but I can't honestly say I have ever met a serious teacher who wants to keep the violin as elusive. We are all scrabbling around trying to find the best way to help people. It's just sometimes we are in the wrong dark room...



May 22, 2015 at 02:11 AM · I'm sure that teachers as a group want to see genuine progress in their students.

I do think that manufacturers of violins and related accessories might be exploiting the market to some extent.

May 22, 2015 at 06:45 AM · One of my French colleagues, when I try to discuss students' difficulties, just says "they have to practice". The Mystery is a tradition here..

May 22, 2015 at 07:19 AM · I think it was Mahler who said 'tradition is an excuse for sloppinness .'



May 22, 2015 at 11:30 AM · Darlene

There are (in my opinion) two ways to learn to play the violin. (Probably applies to anything).

(1) The hard way - most people take this path.

(2) The easy way. Few find it. I'm still working at it.

Hard practice and repetition are often recommended - but usually this leads to bad learning, and bad habits. Mindless repetition is the cancer of musical furtherance.

May 22, 2015 at 01:10 PM · Mindset and basic technique are big determinants. I learned a long time ago to NEVER play on a kid's VSO to demonstrate to a parent why a better violin was necessary. I could get a sound that wasn't excruciating to their ears out of almost anything, so they would look at me like I was nuts.

May 22, 2015 at 01:46 PM · It might be that teachers are being judged unfairly in this thread.

I can take myself as a (bad) example of what happens (without teacher also).

I soon realized that I had to learn to play the violin before I could play the violin. Thus began a few years of drills along with occasional "fun" music.

I eventually did improve but carried that early drill mentality with me. And why would that not naturally happen to some extent ?

It is only now, some 5 years later, that I am seeing my music in a much different musically mature way. No, I have not become a great violinist by any means but my focus is rapidly shifting away from the "more practice" mentality.

Is there another way? Painless?

May 22, 2015 at 02:28 PM · Language is a damned funny thing. Can't really interpret what people mean. I've decided that I do not really understand the English language.

Can ANYONE explain what they think the word CONTACT means? (Obviously I'm talking about bowing here, and not contact lenses ...)

May 22, 2015 at 02:32 PM · "Is there another way? Painless?"

Only if you take pain killers (Useful when confronting some conductors ...)(wink) (joke)

WARNING: He/she who jokes lives dangerously.

There is no easy, painless way. Or rather, there is, but we fail to find it. I would like to know as well.

May 22, 2015 at 03:27 PM · Painless Medication

One Ct. community conductor suggested that nervous novices eat a banana just before the concert. This became a safety issue about banana peels and it did not work anyway.

May 22, 2015 at 08:57 PM · Greetings,

the pesticides content in bananas makes them a dangerous medication issue.



May 23, 2015 at 07:18 PM · I agree with Stephen. I don't think many, if any, teachers have a motivation to make the violin hard. It is hard on its own. Of course things that once were hard become easy; that's the learning process. But if nothing about violin playing feels hard, it's probably time to raise your standards. :)

May 23, 2015 at 09:15 PM · I see that the choice of the word "hard" did not fit my intended meaning. However, "hard" ALSO (excluding pedagogy in the mix ) also suggests "exclusive" such as the reports by Laurie about "good ole boy" complaints. Perhaps one has to "pay the dues" for that club So it just may be a little HARDer to be equally accepted on the forum.

The people who make 5 figure bows make is HARDer for the average amateur to ever own that quality.

So the equation might look like


This is not a gripe against teachers in any way. I don't have the experience or education to talk about that and I'm sure I lack the patience.

Incidentally, talking about maintaining the status (keep it "hard") quo. I bought one of the earliest VSO's when only EBay was selling. Wow, the flack I got was almost vicious. But I got mad and proceeded to buy a Chinese viola AND cello. (only the viola was garbage)

It ain"t easy being green.

May 23, 2015 at 10:14 PM · Contact - anyone?

ALSO, Darlene - can you enlarge on -

"However, "hard" ALSO (excluding pedagogy in the mix ) also suggests "exclusive" such as the reports by Laurie about "good ole boy" complaints. Perhaps one has to "pay the dues" for that club So it just may be a little HARDer to be equally accepted on the forum."

as my understanding of language is limited - and I only understand Yorkshire, or the grunts that are emmitted by conductors. (Known as CARVERS in Yorkshire, England). Quite right too!

I may be mis-understanding, but was this refering to the "Sexism in the Biz" thread and others? Just curious as I'm a bit of an ignorant bloke!

May 23, 2015 at 11:23 PM · Greetings,

I can believe some women may find this site has given them a feeling of an old boys club and I think that is sad. however, I am also wondering if it sometimes happens as a result of it being an instance of there being a group of males who happen to be chatting. At risk of getting extremely speculative I wonder if there is not some transfer from society in general rather than what is actually happening. in other words, women and other minority groups experience prejudice, exclusion , harassment , discrimination and violence regularly outside the forum and carry the reaction to that into the forum?? This doesn't make the feeling any less real, of couse.

On a more concrete note I do not think judgements and responses are usually made on a basis of paying ones dues or who you are. Questions are asked and taken seriously irrespective of who posts them. It can happen that a poster with a lot of experience (call 'has paid their dues' if you like) may reach a point in the discussion where they say 'on this issue you would do better to do this' with the implication that it is not productive to argue further because you don't have enough experience at the end of the day. Is that really such a bad thing? The question was presumably offered up to draw on the resources of people willing to offer exper advice that they have also gad to acquire by being in the position of a leaner. Presumably if one simply wanrpts a discussion on a level of equality then one simply frames a post in a way likely to elicit that response.

To tell the truth I am getting a little confused about what is being addressed here but clearly underneath the humor there are some very serious concerns so I hope this comment at least lands in the right ballpark.



May 24, 2015 at 03:13 AM · To tell the truth, I would welcome some other nice simple topic. Time to find a chin rest thread. : )

Besides, it is a great time to be outside in some deluxe NC weather.

May 25, 2015 at 10:10 AM · One or two failings in a teacher:

- We assume that what worked well for us will work well for everyone; thus we judge talent rather than seek it out.

- We teach least well those aspects which caused us personally little or no difficulty (e.g.intonation or note reading).

- We tend to protect our shaky prestige (and/or finances) by corporatism, hence the Club aspect (sexist or otherwise).

I find the vast majority of suggestions on v.com sincere and helpful. And Darlene's delightful discussions keep me thinking.

May 25, 2015 at 03:52 PM · Much obliged.

I'm also glad that you probably realize that I was not trying to attack teachers in any way and this thread began on a much different note (ha,ha)!

That does not mean that I do not have plenty of other gripes but I don't think this forum works best as a soap box which is why my remarks often seem incomplete.

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