Short but sweet

May 21, 2015 at 09:10 PM · Greetings,

here is a puzzle for you...

Imagine (or perhaps you are) a master violinist invited to do a masterclass in a prestigious setting. The first player up is :

What would you say? : )



Replies (39)

May 21, 2015 at 09:43 PM · Wow! Thanks for posting.

I would probably ask him what his teacher had to say about his bow hand and his right shoulder. His next video that pops up (P & A) is particularly interesting in this regard.

May 21, 2015 at 09:52 PM · Greetings,

he's one talented little dude isn't he.

I find the masterclass issue interesting because it is really hard to know if one is teaching, inspiring or whatever and the principle of 'do no harm ' must be a priority.

I agree about the bow arm comments. But then I wondered about how to non teach but address something in an interesting way. So I thought I might try asking him about his favorite players he like to watch and how they look. Then maybe linking that to his habit of dropping the violin on key intensity notes and see if we could play with that in a fun way.



May 21, 2015 at 10:17 PM · Sensitive comments.

I have found the "internalising" dip in much older chidren too.

I wouldn't underestimate an 8 year-old's intuition, though..

May 21, 2015 at 10:27 PM · Greetings,

Jenny, the dynamics you mention was another doorway I thought could be very productive. I considered jumping straight to the g string cadenza type fragment near the end (too lazy to locate it more precisely) and seeing what kinds of techniques one could use to make it more intense. (aside from the point you make that he needs to learn to take time first) Maybe after building that up go the other way and find a single phrase or section in the piece that is the complete opposite and see what kind of sounds one can make there.

Dynamics in terms of colors or intensity not volume!

Have to figure out if he is really smart or just musically oriented as quickly as possible;)



May 21, 2015 at 10:28 PM · And we should never stop internalizing cheese dip.

May 21, 2015 at 11:37 PM · His violin actually looks like it might be a little big for him. But, he'll grow into it!

I can imagine a master-class teacher picking some "topic" like "variation of vibrato" where this piece would be a good tool for exploration.

May 22, 2015 at 01:06 AM · I'd tell him to hire a different camera crew. I'm dizzy after watching that video!

May 22, 2015 at 01:38 AM · Is that a Russian bow hold I spy (perhaps because the bow is too long for him)?

May 22, 2015 at 11:35 AM · My thoughts are - amazing for one so young, and he plays musically.

But a hothouse environment? Possibly. Will he want to do this when aged 18? Will he have found better things than playing the fiddle? Possibly (And there actually ARE better things than playing the fiddle!) (Even if not that many).

May 22, 2015 at 11:57 AM · I agree with Marty. Whoever cut that video needs to spend a bit of time learning how to do edits.

May 22, 2015 at 11:59 AM · What is wrong with his right hand and shoulder. I see lots of pros playing like that.

May 22, 2015 at 01:35 PM · Kevin, that is the Russian bow hold as used by Heifetz, Kavakos etc.

More pronated hand gives you a more penetrating tone but makes bowing less flexible (usually, Kavakos modified his to still be flexible but I do not know how), and means that you use the upper bow more to balance out the sound (and not have to work at all for even upbows). :)

I myself use this grip, and get great results.

May 22, 2015 at 02:20 PM · Wow! I'd ask him when he's giving lessons! :D

May 22, 2015 at 03:35 PM · As I read the responses, I could see the gears churning in most people's heads: "what can I possibly say or demonstrate to this kid that can already out-play and out-express just about everyone I know? How will I fill the usual 30 minutes without humiliating myself? What niggling details can I wring out of this one so I can sound halfway intelligent?"

Unfortunately, most of us that have given masterclasses have suffered through exactly the opposite problem (and it may be wise to be prepared for either situation): a no-talent student that simply cant' play anything, or one that is utterly unprepared for a masterclass.

The "perfect" masterclass student is seldom found: a student that is fully prepared yet has issues that one can effectively address without stepping on toes (one, for example, doesn't want to redo fingerings or articulations wholesale while muttering and shaking one's head), and whose issues can be a source of good teaching for the audience. This is the "bullseye" masterclass student. Very often, traveling virtuosi have to contend with students who've been called at the last minute to fill a master class, students who aren't really prepared to play.

Those of you who are considering a doctoral program (or are candidates) should take heed, because you will HAVE to do masterclasses should you apply for a teaching position. And it could be ugly.

Consider some situations I've encountered:

-Tiny Rural College: the only person they could dig up (since school was out of session by the time they scheduled my interview) was a person in her 60s who couldn't play a note and had terrible setup and was too nervous to string together 2 notes. Or possibly, a student that hasn't practiced in 6 weeks because football season is on. And he's conveniently forgotten his Suzuki book 23 anyway...

-Flagship State University: a young, hotshot student who was supposed to have practiced Don Juan and other excerpts who hadn't practiced and constantly demonstrated her arrogance with eye-rolling and sighing.

-Regional Mediocre U.: No actual string students (the strings teacher hadn't recruited in years, by his own admission). Put in front of a wind band to see what golden dewdrops of music I could impart to a bunch of instruments I'd never known existed ("What IS that thing? Is it in E-Flat? B-Flat? Crap.").

The above situations will be much more common that the brilliant 8-year-old, but you still have to fill that 30 minutes. In both situations--utter incompetence, or prodigy--I'd try to consider the audience: can they learn something? Forgetting whatever was performed, what could he/she demonstrate via your instruction? what would benefit the average string player in attendance?

I've found, for example, that most students (even advanced) have never been taught such basics as how to practice scales or vibrato, or how to practice in groups and rhythms, and these can be demonstrated using the student. In many situations, this may be better than trying to pick apart an already fine performance (or salvage a mess). For the purposes of a faculty audition, it will also demonstrate your pedagogical ability. I believe it's perfectly acceptable to to simply acknowledge a fine performance and leave it alone, rather than grasp at nuances of interpretation that you happen to have learned. Turn the master class in a different direction for the benefit of all.

May 22, 2015 at 03:38 PM · I would suggest to him that his fingers on the bow arm should be straight on the up bow and curved on the down bow. If he can do that, then I would have him play open strings starting down bow ADADADAD. Then tell him to stay on the A string and recreate the feel he had when he did the ADADAD thing. (So that there are 2 levels of the elbow). This encourages finger flexibility.

May 22, 2015 at 04:06 PM · Cocky eye-rolling teenagers are fair game! :D


"Consider some situations I've encountered:

-Tiny Rural College: the only person they could dig up (since school was out of session by the time they scheduled my interview) was a person in her 60s who couldn't play a note and had terrible setup and was too nervous to string together 2 notes."

This person, on the other hand, fully deserves a medal of bravery. :thumbs up:

I have limited possibilities to attend MCs (and so far I only sit in the audience). You never know just how much of what you have taught will stick AFTER the MC is over either. You don't know what the student will have processed after the stress of performing in public is over -when they have time to think about what they were told and then attempt to implement it.

I learn a lot by watching. I learn things that I can apply to myself. I learn teaching techniques and tricks...what to do...and also what NOT to do. I have incorporated little things I've learned into my own (non-musical) teaching.

So what a good (or bad) instructor actually passes on...may be much more than what is offered in the moment.

May 22, 2015 at 05:21 PM · Many years ago the guitarist Julian Bream held a series of masterclasses live on British TV (there's courage for all concerned!). The masterclass fodder came generally well prepared but there was sufficient material played at slightly less than perfection for Bream to usefully comment on.

Except for one particular guitarist. Having listened to and watched this fellow, Bream immediately admitted he could not find anything to comment adversely on (an extremely rare occurrence), and so, since he had several minutes of the live broadcast to fill, he pulled out Plan B and gave a mini off-the-cuff lecture on the art of choosing a programme of pieces for a recital. Moral: always have a Plan B.

May 22, 2015 at 05:37 PM · Regarding the question of what could be wrong with his right shoulder: he hunches it, particularly on an up-bow near the frog. Hunching the right shoulder adds tension at the cost of sound, and provides nothing good in return.

The reason I said I would ask him what his teacher had to say about his bow hand is that I recognized the Russian grip. While I would like to address the issue of bow hand flexibility, it is important to do so in a way that does not confuse the student or step on the toes of the teacher (who is very likely sitting in the audience anyway).

Edited to add that while the boy is an impressive talent, I would not say that he could out-play or out-express nearly everyone I know. Every eight-year-old I know, definitely; nearly all the students I have known, yes. But not professionals.

May 22, 2015 at 06:38 PM · Based on the video's origin point, that kid is a student of Min Lee's (a student of Erick Friedman), so the Russian bowhold isn't surprising in that context.

I like his Kabalevsky better, too. (Probably an easier interpretive fit for a kid, I imagine.)

I also wonder if some of the movement is related to the fact that the instrument seems too big for him. (And some of the narrow tonal color is simply the instrument refusing to give anything more.)

May 22, 2015 at 09:21 PM · Greetings,

if you want to see him and his actual teacher playing together then check out the Wieniawski Caprice with Min Lee.



May 23, 2015 at 03:44 PM · Interesting--I distinctly remember Min Lee as a 9-year-old at Meadowmount, performing Paganini Caprice 24. She kind of got through it, and I remember wondering whether she was being being pushed too far too fast. I guess not. Interesting now to see her student.

May 23, 2015 at 04:31 PM · Who was the youngest player to play all 24 caprices somewhat decently?

May 23, 2015 at 08:28 PM · Greetings,

probably not the correct answer but I seem to recall a 14 year old (?) Jennifer Ko playing all 24 in her Carnegie Hall debut. There was quite a lot of commentary to the effect this was poor judgement on the part of whoever decided this. Such a feat probably required a little more artistic maturity and experience. it's not the most diversified and inteleftually stimulating program one could wish for either.

Fortunately she carried on to be an outstanding artist.


The correct answer may be Michael Rabin who recorded them for Colombia Records when 12 on the urging of Francescatti. I think it was all of them but I may be wrong .


May 23, 2015 at 11:46 PM · Found out that Mercedes Cheung recorded all 24 Caprices when she was 10.

BTW, she and I are not related.

May 24, 2015 at 12:50 AM · The reason he hunches his shoulder on the up bow near the frog is that his little finger is stiff. No joke.

May 24, 2015 at 01:00 AM · Greetings,

I have found the parrot to be perfect for this task. When they demonstrate the limiting effect of straight pinkies they actually fall off their perch. The down side is you have to buy an extra Starbucks to revive them. That is why my lessons are so expensive.



May 24, 2015 at 01:16 AM · I always put a get out claws in the contract.

May 24, 2015 at 01:46 AM · The youngest person to record the 24 caprices reminds me of the contest to see who can be the youngest chess grandmaster ... beating the next youngest by a few days and so on.

Well, I don't have the eye of a professional violin teacher -- far from it -- but if anyone can tell me how they know the boy playing the Cantabile in the YouTube video is being "hot-housed" please do let us know. I see a kid with breathtaking talent and corresponding skill. It is hard from his stage demeanor to know whether he is truly enjoying himself, but you could say the same about Leonid Kogan. Why the violin (or anything else) comes naturally to a select few young people is something I doubt will be explained in any of our lifetimes.

May 24, 2015 at 02:49 AM · Midori recorded the 24 Caprices at age 17. An excellent recording, too, that seems to have stood the test of time.

May 24, 2015 at 08:58 AM · I think it was me! The guilty person that mentioned a hothouse environment.

BUT, some kids just have lessons and play with great talent, and some are groomed to play lots of more and more challenging repertoir. So they are hothoused. It's difficult to recognise which is which.

I prefer the more laid back ones myself, because the ones from the hothouse may burn out, or find that without a teacher they can't keep the playing level up.

Let's face it, kids playing at a high level is not always what it seems, and in some cases this can be an unatural state.

If young Sam does what most kids do, kick a football, kick their siblings, play jokes, pinch apples, then he's normal. If he only lives to play the fiddle, then I would be worried.

May 24, 2015 at 09:46 AM · Greetings,

Peter, I agree that sch things are a serious concern. But I tend to see the concept of 'hothousing' as more negative, in the sense that monster parents and teachers force kids to do things beyond their capabilities that they may not be interested in anyway. the whole purpose being the gratification of the pusher.

I am not actually sure how much evidence there is that it is better to do more obviously childlike activities than to focus on a specific skill in a disciplined way , assuming a loving environment. indeed, it may even be that we assume the kind of activities you refer to are better because that is what we did. who is to say that if somewhat more rigorous parents had helped us learn discipline in practice when other kids hung around on street corners we would have been less happy or adjusted. I don't thin doing the violin thing necessarily deprives one of friends either. Summer camps. weekend orchestras and the like like all compensate and maybe even make for longer lasting relations.

I think kids are getting a lot more Internet exposure as violin schools are pushing them forward in part for publicity. Is this a bad thing? Depends on the kinds of expectations it sets up isuppose.



May 24, 2015 at 11:44 AM · Buri

My post was unclear. I did not mean that talented kids (or any for that matter) should not be taught discipline and spend time on music in all its forms rather than to be on the Internet, or hang around street corners.

By hothouse I meant that their lives may be dominated by teacher, parents, and practicing, to the detriment of having a normal life as well. So for every hour they spend in lesson, or playing, they should spend as much on normal pursuits, climbing trees, playing with the dog, building dens and the like.

That way they may become outstanding musicians in later life, and remain normal and balanced.

May 24, 2015 at 04:59 PM · Would Rabin be considered hothoused? His mother seemed a bit helicopterish.

May 24, 2015 at 05:57 PM · Michael Rabin's life was a tragedy.

May 24, 2015 at 07:51 PM · Greetings,

Peter, not really unclear. I didn`t think you meant completely pointless activities. I agree with the definition of hothouse but maybe (?)extend it slightly further to include music and events that are beyond the students capabilities even if that is not apparent at the time. You are probably thinking of that anyway.

However, what I am wondering about is if one takes out the hothouse aspect as far as is possible (hah!) and has a child in a relatively nurturing environment who chooses to devote her time to music? Or getting into the unsolvable debate about Asian versus western educational values. I think it has become extremely difficult to define what is a balanced range of activities for a child. I`m very much in agreement with your emphasis on outdoors. Essential for basic health and nutrients (vitamin d and so on) anyway. Japanese kids` bone strength and general health has deteriorated markedly over the last decades with too much time indoors.

I don`t get the impression the young man in question actually practices to an excessive degree yet.. Probably will in a few years....

Time to stop waffling,


May 25, 2015 at 04:18 AM · When I hear the term "hothouse" I think of tomatoes that are grown indoors very quickly and they may look very pretty but do not have the flavor of a local tomato in August. Peter may have introduced this term to the discussion but I'm sure he was not the only one thinking it. When this term is applied to violin students I infer that the concern is whether the child is pushed to perform advanced repertoire at the expense of fundamental technical development -- unsustainable shortcuts and so on. I don't really see how you can get much into the level of "real" concertos with that approach, but probably every Suzuki teacher experiences parents who want their kids to move up faster through the books than the teacher feels is appropriate.

May 25, 2015 at 06:49 AM · Greetings,

yes. Bhut one of the real difficluties with super talented kids is that they want to keep doing new things and have a tendency to get bored. Very difficult to find the balance in approach.



Oh, looks like my spell checker is from Thailand these days.

May 28, 2015 at 05:44 PM · "Bruce- Ha!

If I could train a parrot to say 'curve your pinky' and 'keep your left hand soft and round,' I think I could step out to Starbucks during my lessons and not be missed. jk (sort of). "

In order for the very simple approach which I use, the student must immediately feel more comfortable and also sound better. I have a way of doing that which works in most cases, especially for a talented person like this one.

May 30, 2015 at 02:01 AM · Buri if you were in Thailand would you order yourself a chip bhutty?

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