sounding like an advanced beginner

December 12, 2015 at 02:50 PM · Hi,

I, as many of you know am a violin teacher and have been so for like 10 years in different places. The most consistent students I have play in my class for around 6 or 7 years at most.

But I notice one thing regarding sound. Still after making some good progress on the violin, most students don't really develop a sound.

I work much on bow hold and direction of the bow and of course intonation. I had some students who came up with the idea to learn vibrato early on and to some extend some students learned that quite well, but they are the exceptions. Most of them still sound like advanced beginners. Meaning the sound is quite dead and not formed.

I know, that those students are not all in on the violin and that violin playing is a thing you have to invest good hours in. But maybe I can get some hints from other teachers here regarding the step from sounding like an beginner to sounding like a violinist. Or does that all have to do with the thing we call musicality?

What is your experience? Are the good sounding students the exceptions? What do you do, when there is a lack of sound imagination in a student?

Thanks in advance

edit: I might add, my students are aged 5- 18 years old. I am talking about the age 11-12, where there is the make it or break it moment, when they become more conscious of what they are doing. I usually have more problems with students that age than with very young ones, but I think the age 10- 13 is the most important for the development in a student


December 12, 2015 at 09:32 PM · The two areas that for me distinguish the advanced player from the "student" (once you get past simple pitch and cleanliness): the willingness and ability to use fast bow speed; and a flexible vibrato.

December 12, 2015 at 11:52 PM · Greetings,

I strongly recommend you make a careful study of Simon Fischers Tone production book and CD and then teach those exercises to your students. This will not only work wonders but also incorporate the points Nathan made above,



December 13, 2015 at 01:30 AM · I have observed how a couple of teachers whose students make good sound teach: they refuse to accept bad-sounding playing no matter what is played (scales, Etudes, repertoire). Obviously, more advanced students have a more refined sound. But if students aren't instructed to increase their sensitivity towards the sound they make, they will not learn to improve.

December 13, 2015 at 11:49 AM · My violin teacher, of the Suzuki school, concentrated on a good beautiful tone from the word go, and would jump on me if I let the quality lapse. She sometimes compared the production of good tone quality on a violin to the voice of a trained actor reading a poem, as against an untrained person mumbling through it without any expression or understanding; or a trained political speaker compared with your average pro tennis player giving a monotonic interview after a match (apparently, post-match interviews are often a requirement in their contracts).

Also, if a student has mastered the art of producing a good tone, the quality of the violin being played may not be quite such a significant issue, within reason of course. We've all come across players who can take a student violin that is a couple steps up from a beater and make it sound unexpectedly quite good.

December 13, 2015 at 11:57 AM · Stephen. Yes, I know Simon Fischers exercises and do them sometimes on my own, maybe for some students they are a good idea. But I often have the case, that when I make an easier exercise, f.e. on open strings, the sound is very good, bow straight and so on. Then we come back to the piece and everything gets out of order. maybe sometimes I am rushing with repertoire, but it doesn't feel that way actually.

To refuse to accept bad sound is a good thing ofc. But still some get it quite naturally and some seem to not understand it really and not care aswell. I know it has to do with too little practice most of the time. But I try to find the way out of the downward spiral, so that a good sound can motivate a student to practice more.

I have my students mostly just 30 minutes per week, some 45 minutes and in that time, we have lots of things to do, getting intonation in place and getting the right notes and rhythms. I sometimes think, if I just had the opportunity to practice everyday with them, it could be so easy. But some things are not in my hands, so I look for something, what can help the students getting more aware of their sound at home. Maybe doing exercises with differnet bow speed is also a good idea.

For me personally it always helped when i sang the melody I am going to play, before playing it. But most of my students don't sing so much.

December 13, 2015 at 02:37 PM · "Good sound" is a complex idea, but at a minimum it includes intonation, full and pleasant tone, and expression that's appropriate to the piece. The first of these comes mostly from repetition. The other two require a lot of experimentation while practicing. Experiments take time and imply that failure will occur often - until enough experiments are done. Many students in the age range you are most concerned about don't want to make mistakes. You will have to "row hard" against those student feelings (that are natural to the age) and make it safe and even adventurous to experiment, fail, and do more experiments towards something that they (not you) find pleasing. Absent an environment of experiments and support for the results, most students of that age will do something safe (and boring to hear).

December 13, 2015 at 03:36 PM · Hi Simon, an often neglected exercise in tonal control is the use of staccato, not only for pressure control, but also for bow division planning. The student should be able to play even divisions of the bow with absolutely even and equal sound at all parts of the bow; the attack, the middle, the finish, should be identical at all parts of the bow, so that if you close your eyes you shouldn't be able to tell what part of the bow is being used or which direction. (This stroke is more properly called 'stopped bowing,' or something like that, because we don't really want a short staccato sound. The middle of each division of the bow should be medium speed, dense and even sounding for its duration.)

This is an exercise for control, not musicality. Because of the asymmetry of the bow and arm, we have to train for evenness before we can produce intentional unevennes, namely a musical phrase. Such exercises should be applied to passages from repertoire also--make the abstract concrete. For example, play a passage, 4 notes to a bow in staccato, longer value notes subdivided, at first for evenness and control, then with varied density, then with varied lengths to achieve the desired phrase. The uneven bow division will train bow speed as well. Follow by softening the articulation (parlando,) then play legato, thinking of the bow divisions mentally. Of course this requires total comfort playing in the lower third and changing the bow at the frog, and also straight bowing (all of which can also be trained with staccato exercise, just with a different focus.)

Ultimately, as Kevin implied, the greatest thing we can do for students is to train their attention, and what they should attend to, what to hear, feel, see, and show them tricks, exercises to help them notice what they do as they do it. For that to happen, the teacher must be able to organize relevant information in ways the student can easily grasp and retain. Obvious, I know, but easier said than done (especially in 1hr/week much less 30m!)

December 13, 2015 at 06:18 PM · My present students are 11 to 14 year-old girls.

First, I try to treat them as grown-ups, more or less, which they seem to appreciate.

Then I try to interest them in tone, which has often been taken for granted: wispy andes flute sounds over the fingerboard, biting trumpet-like attacks nearer the bridge, romantic swells from a swinging bow arm.

Might I add that I treat the younger chidren to a similar diet..

December 13, 2015 at 07:49 PM · Thank you for the very insightful Ideas.

Mike, I like how you go in from the psychological side. Sometimes a different approach is important I think. It is for sure a good Idea to experiment with growing up children, so they get better ideas of sound.

Trevor, the metaphor with the actor reading a poem is very good. I have one student, who plays actually quite nice, but so timid and shy that one can hardly hear her when she plays with a pianist.

Jeewon, thank you for that exercise, that is also what I was looking for. But somehow its hard to make the students do exercises like that at home. Often I make technical exercises with my students or work on the music in a technical way and they just "forget" to do the exercises at home. And yes, 30 minutes is painfully short, especially when the student comes not well prepared and needs one or two runs to get warm... But for those students, more time wouldn't be the solution anyways I guess.

Adrian, I also take the young kids very serious and I always have quite good communication with them during the lesson, if not, I usually tell them they should change teacher, but that doesn't happen often.

As I was beginning to teach I thought I would prefer students around the age 11-13 who wants to start on the violin. I thought very young children are too stressful to teach. But Now after some years I realise, that there has to happen so much before the age of 11-13 so that you really start developing an good intuitive relationship with the instrument. I actually now prefer young starters at the age of 5-6. I feel more secure now, that I can teach them how to play and they don't worry too much about making mistakes at that age, wich is very important for learning quickly. And even if things get slowly when they get to the age of 11-13 they already have the basics learned. Also, if you start late, wich is also no problem I think, then school is over when you start to get "good" at the violin and life takes over. Very young kids just have much more sparetime. Also I came to realize, that they can be exceptionally funny and open hearted, so that the pleasure is on my side aswell.

December 13, 2015 at 10:25 PM · For tone exercises, try spending some time on them together in the lesson, being specific to *what* technically needs to change and see if they notice the difference in tone. Once you can get them to notice and want it, that's half the battle--

But, to get there you may need to be pretty specific as they may not know what to change technically. Some examples: pulling deeper through the core of the string (sometimes it's worth finding the "crunch point" and then working out of it by adding more bow); simply using more/faster bows (I find as buri saI'd this makes a HUGE difference between the dead vs the musical sounding players); checking bow path: a crooked bow or an uncontrolled contact point can destroy the resonance of the strings vibrations. Probably you know all that instinctively but they may not. I like to talk with my students about actually feeling/seeing the string vibrate to produce the sound. When they make that connection then we start to have a common vocabulary to work on sound production and actual musical communication.

December 14, 2015 at 12:20 AM · "Probably you know all that instinctively but they may not." Yea I know, that they don't know and I spend a lot of time correcting f.e. the direction of the bow and contact point. But as u say the key may be to get them to know, what actually is the difference. I guess many don't care so much about bowing straight as far as it sounds "ok" and its hard to really show them how they could sound, if they would work on straight bow regularly. I like the "crunch point" :)

Frieda: I try to get them to listen to better players, but its sometimes hard. I have one or two like role models, butthey are inconsistent sometimes aswell. I used to have a very good student, who came to me from an other teacher, but she left after she finished school.

I notice in my students of course very different kinds of talents. Some are very talented for movements, so I can tell them very clear how to move and they will do it right, but sometimes they lack musical intention and again we have a dead sound, or they don't notice if the tone is too high and too low. Usually those students can't or refuse to sing. Some really can' reproduce a note I play for them with their voice.

Then there is the type who has very lively musicality, but very clumsy coordination (that is what I come from myself). They sing like angels and hit the notes perfectly with the voice, but when it comes to the violin, everything gets in their way. Bowgrip isn't really their thing, holding the violin also.

I think I am now at the point where I have my first own students generation, wich I tought from age 5-6 until now 11-12, hitting a critical point where everything, what went wrong so far must be corrected now or never. That's why I ask here for advice, because some things you can learn in university and from books, but I learned a lot through experience myself so maybe here are more experienced teachers aswell. I also thought about getting my professor for pedagogy from university to listen to my students while I teach them for a day and see what she thinks.

I really find it not so easy watch students scrambling over years with one book and improving very slow over the years. I usually use the Doflein first book for beginners. I don't go through every piece in that book, but some of all finger positions. Besides that I tell them to go into beginner string orchestra and practice the notes with them in the lesson wich makes a huge positive impact on the learning curve. But somehow I have the feeling that I am missing some thing out. I got a lot of information here. Thanks a lot for that.

Actually many of my students are doing well, especially the younger ones, it feels like I am getting better with the small children, or I have more luck with good young students. But I think about those who should do better considering their inert musicality or motoric talents. As a fact some issues will be from our school system here, where pupils are having not much spare time from class 5 or so on. For example I have a student, who goes to middle school and can therefore spend much more time for music without getting behind in other courses. Others go to high school and have not much time left.

I will try the gutsy bow thing aswell. But like I said, technically I am usually working in exactly that direction with a lot of my students, but they don't really seem to grow on their own. Maybe I am also a little bit spoiled with some good students, where everything came easy and more or less from itself, like vibrato and good sound.

So my question actually is, can EVERYBODY actually sound good, or what percentage would you give me as a number of mankind could possibly be a good sounding student, lets make this more specific, add the country you are from, maybe also the city, since demographics change a lot here. Where I teach I must say I have pretty good demographics in that regard also for my region, but in percentage I would say maybe 20 % of players will develop an pleasing sound with vibrato on the violin, Hannover, Germany. That may seem a very small number but I would include also students who stop playing before getting to that point. Maybe that number is actually a little high.

Another question related to that: Do you play, when you play for or with young students with or without vibrato. I use to play without vibrato until they get to the point they can do it on their own. I wonder if that is a good choice, since they don't listen to many violin music anyways, so maybe they lack a reference sound. But I feel that small students are very fast distracted from vibrato and stop focusing on the bow for example. Good night and keep it going. If you have more ideas, it is very helpful to me!

edit: is that what you call ranting!? :D

December 14, 2015 at 03:48 AM · Lurking for info to help my own mediocre playing. ;)

December 14, 2015 at 08:54 AM · Simon I can only tell you what worked for me: learning to play a long etude of sixteenth notes (it doesn't really matter which one) fortissimo on soundpoint two (close to the bridge) with long bows and a lot of pressure. It should be really loud but clear sounding. This requires a lot of stamina and a whole new approach to the instrument, right arm, even left arm. After that I was transformed and could also play with a good sound in softer passages as well as slower passages.

December 14, 2015 at 11:16 AM · Maybe judicious use of a mirror. When I consciously try to use more and straighter bow, it feels exaggerated compared to the bad habits I have learned to perceive as normal (not to mention playing sharp!). A look in the mirror definitely helps with correcting this wrong perception.

December 14, 2015 at 12:19 PM · Jean's approach to improving tone is the exact opposite of mine: starting big before honing the tone down, while I start softly and grow the sound from the inside.

But I use either approaches depending on the temperament of the student.

December 14, 2015 at 01:54 PM · jean, I have the same experience with the Dont etude Nr. 2. One student of mine is still playing it. The accents make it even more effective and everything should be really in forte. In the parts, which are piano, I switch to small but intensive bow and finger movement. Its a very good exercise to warmup on aswell.

Mungo, mirrors are great to watch the bow. But I prefer students to play an easy tune or a scale by heart and watching the bow directly with the eyes, its more of an realistic view and the head position isn't changed.

December 14, 2015 at 06:44 PM · Simon, I'm totally with you on about the process of learning to teach well, and discoring the things I should have done differently with that first generation!

I find that it is never, never, never a waste of time to slow down and really sink into a particular goal,,especially if that is what is holding a student back. The longer I teach, the more I'm willing to be patient with foundations because I can see how it pays off in laterms progress. But even with students that have seemed to be missing aspects as they mature, taking time to go back and really really get that piece; not accepting, or allowing them to accept, mediocrity. Usually I find that requires working one aspect at a time, and being up front with them about how important it is, and that it might take a while to fully gel but once it does the difference they'll see. Sometimes it involves asking them to trust you and *do it* even if it doesn't seem like a big deal to them. Sometimes it involves admitting you let it slide too long, or calling them on it if they've been ignoring your advice :) Sometimes it involves getting creative on how to actually explain or practice or understand the concept. But very worth while. A few months will pay off with vastly improver progress and a difference the students can really see themselves.

I do think it's a great idea to have a master teacher come in, it could be for a matter class of it could just be to give you comments. Or, sit in on somebody else's teaching, or take a couple refresher lessons yourself. My teaching always improves when I am actively learning.

Hope that's some help and encouragement--I'm right there with you, hopefully in a few months you'll be coming back here and sharing success stories :)

December 14, 2015 at 09:08 PM · Both Auer and Flesch thought it was a bad idea to play along with the student (unless it is a different part.)

Go to to see how Mimi Zweig incorporate certain "games", some of which invented/inspired/influenced by Rolland.

If Suzuki were alive today, I think he would say that everyone who can play the violin can learn to play with a good sound.

December 14, 2015 at 09:55 PM · Greetings,

Simon, I dont think it is ranting. Probably closer to a mid life crisis or male menopause.

i think in this kind of situation it is important to move in somewhta closer to your students. Without scaring them , get 'in their faces,' as it were and have them experience the vibration and intensity of the violin at close range rather than standing back from the person. Also I would probably use vibrato and keep throwing the biggest , most beautiful sound at the student that I could.

Whether or not Simon Fischers exercises work ents depends, in my opinion, on helping the Ss nderstand the essence of violin tone is the relationship between speed, weight adn SP. How you do this is on a case by ase basis, but after achieving this somewhat intellectual understanding then one has the tools to verbalize what is going on when one is playing actuall music. So you might consider asking a student to actuall describe the sound they are producing in terms of whistling, crunching and so on and ebalizing solutions. This can be a very effective way of having the students model the thinking processes they need to use in their ownractice time.

I use an exercise somewhat similar to what Jee Won wa stalking about using the Polo etude book . I am especially fond of number one. Before doing the double stop version, Ss can focus on an upper or lower line and play four, thtee, two or whatver staccato (actually stopped, as Jee Won noted) notes in one bow. The teacher can accompany with the other line using sustained notes if required. Adding the double stops creates a new range of tonal problems which can lead to all kinds or possibilties such as playing differnet dynamics on the two strings. Usually the Ss has problems with bow speed in the lower half so I often work from a analytic perspective. That is they lean the stopped not in te bottom quarter of e bow. Then they add the next quarter and so on. Building up to the full use of the bow but often returning to the part of the bow that give sthem problems andracitcing that part in isolation.


December 14, 2015 at 10:00 PM · I don't know about tried and true methods, but I think there is a level of first having the student realize the importance of tone - I think a lot of students around that age don't really listen to themselves that much, and a lot of the young kids that play really well happen to have learned really good fundamentals.

For me, having my teacher demonstrate stuff would actually spur me to want to step my game up, because I realized how big the difference in tone was. A lot of that has been vibrato work, and having her push me to vibrate a lot more - At first I would wonder how it was possible to do it, but now certain things feel more comfortable. My teacher gave me some lyrical pieces this summer and really pushed for the vibrato, and I have seen a change. I think once the student understands the need, then the work can really begin. I used to think my tone is fine, but now that I am focused on it, my ears open up and I realize how much more work there is.

A lot of it was also my teacher reiterating the independence of the left and right hands, because as I would lighten my left hand and my fingering would improve, I would also let the weight out of my right hand and my tone would dissipate. Breaking that link is difficult, but my teacher very kindly but consistently reminds me of these things, so that they start coming to the forefront of my attention. Still a lot of work to do.

...if that makes sense.

December 14, 2015 at 10:30 PM · Don't be afraid of scratch. If you are not playing close to the limit where scratch starts, then you're not exploring the full range of your tone and learning well where that limit is. That is advice I got from a local pro and teacher. And I think it's consistent with what Jean wrote. My daughter's teacher is always asking her to play the detache 16th-note studies in a strong, constant forte.

December 15, 2015 at 05:40 AM · Ok for scratch..provided it is a real srategy and not just clumsy bowing, or satisfying a teacher whose ears are deadened by 100dB (measured under the ear) for hours on end..

Without a sense of beauty, loud or soft, maybe one should be discreet?

December 15, 2015 at 07:54 AM · yes. My dear departed mother told me to never scratch in public places. Trouble is she never told me which part of my anatomy constituted a public place. I shall consult with my steeeeenking cat.



December 15, 2015 at 12:19 PM · I'm with Adrian and Buri's late mother, younger (or beginner to intermediate) students should not be encouraged to scratch in public or in their home studios. Not that students should be made to fear anything, but there's so much work on tone production that needs to be done before even getting close to the envelope. They should be given a model of tone which is clean, dense, warm, and clean. Did I mention clean? Especially for the young'uns, early impressions are important. Students don't really need to learn projection until they start their first collaborative sonata with a real piano part.

December 15, 2015 at 12:19 PM · Oops

December 15, 2015 at 12:19 PM · [At Paul's behest below]

Feeling timid?

December 15, 2015 at 12:19 PM · Expand your limit...

December 15, 2015 at 12:20 PM · Feel free to dig in!

December 15, 2015 at 12:20 PM · And you'll be jiggin' with

December 15, 2015 at 12:20 PM · ARCUS scratch-free bows

ARCUS does not condone the use of pyschotropic, or mood altering substances, and guarantees scratch free bowing without the use of any substance whatsoever. 1 year limited warranty. Batteries and magic rosin not included.

[ok. that was pretty lame]

December 15, 2015 at 12:20 PM · Oops. Damn tablet! Apologies for the multiple posts and any confusion created... there should really be a delete button :(

[In response to Paul below]

But we're talking about Simon's students, 11-12, with 'a lack of sound imagination.' I agree there comes a point when every student needs to learn how to project, but it's not before they've 'developed reasonable tone generation, reliable vibrato' as you say. I bring this up because, though every student should be encouraged to stretch and grow and push beyond their comfort zone, trying to get a student who can't yet produce good tone to project, to approach the outer envelope of tone production on their instruments, especially beyond the capabilities of their undersized instruments, is discouraging and counterproductive. I've witnessed this first hand in a talented 11 or 12 yo cellist soloing with my youth orchestra many years ago, whose stage dad just couldn't let her be and play within her abilities, and her instruments' limits, at the dress rehearsal. I tried to intervene and get her to just focus on producing a beautiful sound, and not on projection, but the damage was done (probably mostly at home) and though she played well it was aggressive and edgy, forced; not at all what anyone would want in a Bach gamba sonata.

I'd also suggest that, apart from issues of stage fright and ensuing loss of control, those who sound timid have not yet developed good tone.

December 15, 2015 at 12:32 PM · Jeewon I see your point but this is advice that is given to high schoolers usually who have already developed reasonable tone generation, reliable vibrato, with some nuance. I agree with our local teacher that a student who never scratches or is mortally afraid to do so even in the practice studio is not finding the limits. Listening to a lot of students in my daughter's studio my observation is the much stronger tendency is to be too timid.

Maybe you could edit your un-deletable series of empty posts to give us a nice limerick or Burma Shave ad.

December 15, 2015 at 01:10 PM · My teacher got me to play like that in a lesson in which she was introducing me to expressing various emotions with the violin, in one instance asking me to play as if I was expressing the emotion of anger. She went on to say that a lot of scratchiness doesn't get through to the audience, which I knew already but hadn't taken on board at a personal playing level.

Undeletable empty posts (i.e. undeletable by us the members) will become significant when the number of posts in a discussion approaches the limit of 100, after which no more posting in that discussion will be possible. At the Editorial level such empty posts presumably are deletable, but perhaps in a specific case the Editor may need to be reminded as post #100 approaches - the presence of empty posts from way back in a discussion won't necessarily be noticed on a day-to-day basis.

December 15, 2015 at 06:20 PM · Greetings,

how to scratch a post may become a topic in of itself....One thing I have noticed in some students over the years is that they actually either have an intense dislike of having a big sound directly under the ear or even find it physically painful, especially in the upper register. I had one very talented student who really disliked pushing forte on the e string and much preferred bowing nearer the fingerboard than the bridge. In her case I adapted to the issue by having her use gut strings and playing with a faster bow stroke type playing. In an ideal world one should be able to use the whole spectrum of slow compact bowing and extremely rapid strokes although players tend to err in one particular direction.

I think the whole notion of projection is , in many cases, both overrated and misleading. I sometimes some modern players have been coerced, perhaps by the recording industry, into presenting the violin as something to be played with huge amounts of energy on heavy duty strings (Evah Pirazzis are a bug bear of mine) whereas the violin often sounds better played within the limits of what it is. I love Rosand`s comment that `the violin is not a trumpet.` Bow mechanics, distribution and articulation taught carefully for however long it takes should suffice in the beginning.



December 15, 2015 at 07:52 PM · I tried cotton plugs in the ears of my group of children. The more extrovert ones simply played louder; the more timid ones played with a different, more penetrating tone. If we can't respect and help timid children, perhaps we shouldn't teach..

December 15, 2015 at 09:59 PM · "Both Auer and Flesch thought it was a bad idea to play along with the student (unless it is a different part.)

Go to to see how Mimi Zweig incorporate certain "games", some of which invented/inspired/influenced by Rolland.

If Suzuki were alive today, I think he would say that everyone who can play the violin can learn to play with a good sound."

I usually only play along with students if they in no other way understand arythm or something, generally I play a second voice. I think that is indeed important.

About the comment on Suzuki. I can believe that he woul make people think so and there is truth in it. But there are many variables this generalisation doesn't touch, like social background and simply interest in music. There are children and parents who just don't care so much about music as we musicians think they should. So no, I don't think every child can learn to play with a beautiful sound in reality. Theoretically with 2 lessons per week and parental help in practicing every day, sure, they will learn some day. But that is disproportional and to some school systems impossible.

Stephen, I think you are right about the mid life crisis :D, but I worry about my students since I start teaching. In the beginning I had bad worries, that I can give them a good start, because I simply don't remember how I started and how fast things can or should go in the beginning. What I learn with time is that there is hardly any generalization that fits the variety of students one has to cope with.

I haven't tested the staccato exercise yet, but I will do when it fits the case. Today I was more about the faster bows with some students. But struggling with under preparation is taking a big part too.

I also would say, that sensible students tend to play too soft, because they don't want the violin so loud under their ear. But that means, that they bring the necessary tool for producing a really good sound, not just a loud one.

Vibrato may be a key at this stages. I will actually start playing with vibrato for every student who is not totally beginner.

Thanks for the advice so far.

I have actually also some students who are very good soundwise. I have a pair of daughters, from them one plays with beautiful tone and the other just sometimes, although she is older.

There is nothing more pleasing, than students who have that feeling for sound! As I said, its about 20% ...

December 15, 2015 at 10:08 PM · Greetings,

Simon, I think there is often some misunderstanding about what playing along with students might be referring to. Like you, i think playing an accompanying part with the students is absolutely invaluable. Like wise making extnesive use of duets is pedagogically very sound indeed. There used to be a great tradition knocking around in Europe of the teacher stumming or bowing the orchrstral part of a cocnerto as the student played. Gingold was reputed to be a master exponenet of this and stated he was carrying on a tradition derived directly from Ysaye.



December 15, 2015 at 10:16 PM · Jeewon, very nicely done! I love it.

I also have always wondered about the term "projection" and how this differs from just being loud. I suspect rather that it is much akin to the difference between weight and pressure.

I believe also that constantly playing along with your child in unison is not helping them develop their own tone or their own anything. But duets are terrific and right now we are having fun working on the 3rd movement of the Bach Double which is lively and clever with those bouncy triplet figures. As soon as I can read alto clef I want to start the Mozart Duos. They're fine! Pleyel and Mazas duets and Dont accompaniment parts never got much traction.

December 16, 2015 at 01:04 AM · "Another thing not yet mentioned here is equipment. For some students, it takes a switch to a decent, full-size instrument."

That is very true. I jsut today had a student, who had her instrument right back from the luthier, because he fixed a crack. The other thing the luthier should have done but he didn't was to fix the soundpost position, wich is very near to the bridge, causing the strings to react very strange. So I send her off to the luthier again. Its very important, that the instrument works alright. I regularly take violins from my students and play on them, not just tune them. So I can better understand where the problems are and make it more understandable for small students. I tell them "Look on your instrument you have to play nearer to the bridge" It works better than if I just say, play nearer to the bridge. Maybe because when I specifically talk about their instrument, they get more aware of it and how different it sound from mine for example and also what difference it makes, if they play f.e. nearer to the bridge.

Thank you all for your input, it helps me alot. I also think, I will take a lesson myself in near future, because I also can teach better and with better focus, when I reflect myself in other teachers. Also thats why I started the discussion here. Unfortunately other than on payed edvanced education programs for string teachers or something, many teachers that I know, don't talk much about their lessons. I sometimes exchange some thoughts with some friends and other instrumentalists, but there are just a few violinists that I know who are actually really interested in teaching.

December 16, 2015 at 07:04 AM · Tone can "project" without being very loud, if there is a formant around 3kHz; under the ear it will sound harsh. In inferior violins, the strong zone will be nearer 2kHz, which is more nasal. Lower still and the violin will howl.

Hear an opera singer in a small room: the 3kHz formant is intolerable.

In the opera-house, though..

December 16, 2015 at 01:37 PM · Adrian, that's interesting. Now about how to be bowing so as to produce more of the 3-kHz formant without producing more overall volume, on the same violin?

December 16, 2015 at 04:07 PM · "Formant", a term I was not familiar with until I saw it in Adrian's post, I now recognize as being the phenomenon I saw discussed a while ago on a TV programme about opera singers, about how top tenors and baritones produced frequencies in the 3k range, thus enabling them to project over the orchestra, whereas lesser singers were not able to produce those high frequencies. The term "formant" wasn't used in that programme, but spectrograms were shown in which you could clearly see the 3k frequencies spaced high above the normal singing frequencies.

In answer to Paul's question, I would suggest playing closer to the bridge (lanes 1 and 2). Look at a video of almost any top soloist projecting over an orchestra. A good vibrato also helps, because it produces sideband frequencies and activates resonant harmonics in the violin which may possibly extend into the 3k range. If a violinist can do all that then I would suggest they're starting to exit the "advanced beginner" stage. 

December 16, 2015 at 04:20 PM · Trevor, I find your proposal very logical. Playing closer to the bridge should produce more high overtones. In effect, what one is adding is basically distortion, but if done in a controlled way, we appreciate it as an enhancement in tone. Guitarists do the same thing by changing where they pluck. I also agree with what you say about vibrato too. Vibrato "catches the ear" of the listener.

My teacher has been encouraging me to play closer to the bridge for as long as I have been taking lessons, and these days I think I pretty well have that down (with some relapses when I get nervous, admittedly), but I really need to spend more effort understanding and optimizing bow pressure and especially bow speed.

I'm not worried about the "stage" that I'm at. I enjoy playing and practicing the violin and I'm improving. I learn a lot here on including some things that caused me to practice and play the violin differently and better. I also try to contribute my understanding of the violin to selected discussions. Sometimes I am corrected or even upbraided by those whose experience and training is superior who may disagree, but that won't stop me from making contributions in the future. This site is for all ages and abilities.

December 16, 2015 at 08:09 PM ·

December 17, 2015 at 04:11 AM · 2 more ways to project: articulation and tuning, that is playing on the sharp-side of in-tune (though some just like to sit on the sharp-side period.)

March 3, 2016 at 08:55 PM · This is something I have thought about, and came to the conclusion some time ago that the biggest thing missing for most students is the willingness to listen to good violin playing and hopefully attend live performances. There is really no excuse nowadays; almost everyone has access to Youtube and can hear amazing performances by top soloists. I post videos every week on my teaching page, and you would be shocked at how little response it gets. IMO for students there is nothing more neglected or more important. If one starts with no concept of sound apart from the snippets demo'd by the teacher, how can one reasonably expect to develop one? The other thing I think is true of beginners in general is that they really can't hear themselves much. Their mind is taken up with note-reading, technique, position, etc., etc. and really most have no idea what they sound like. A tape recorder will fix that, but if they won't bother to listen to a 10 minute recording once a week, what are the chances of them going that extra mile? Thanks, now I'll have some cheese with this whine :)

March 3, 2016 at 09:51 PM · Suzuki teacher-training made me treat tone as being as basic and as important as intonation and dexterity.

In practical terms, it means replacing the usual mee-owing straight-line bowing by a slightly swung, scooped stroke: the bow sinking into the string as it speeds up. This gives a depth of tone without the scratch at each end of the stroke.

There are no straight lines in nature - only very flat curves..

March 3, 2016 at 10:22 PM · As an adult student, speaking for myself, I can generally only think of one thing at a time. For me to focus on sound quality, i have to have the intonation, rhythms done. The left hand has to be at the point where muscle memory has taken over....then the cpu that sits above my shoulders can put all resources on bow speed, pressure, position. Current strategy by teacher is to use suzuki level 3 tunes that are now easy to play, but now focus on sound quality.....week after week. He really has to manage me

March 4, 2016 at 02:10 AM · Julie, do your students know what they should be listening for with each video that you post? "Good violin playing" is not really an answer. Students need to be taught how to listen, just as they need to be taught how to look at paintings or sculpture or how to read Shakespeare.

Here is an idea. Take a youtube of a performance, for example, a violin concerto movement. Write down 8-10 things your students should be listening and watching for, with the times during the video at which they occur. For example, "At 0:54 the chords are played with gritty, rustic strokes" -- or whatever. Then ask each student to contribute a couple of "timed observations" of their own. I had a wonderful piano teacher a long time ago who did something like this and it was really enlightening and enriching. You can make them progressively more challenging, such that students at all levels could benefit.

March 4, 2016 at 07:40 AM · Arnie, We can indeed only concentrate on one thing at a time, but we can concentrate on tone, together with pitch, as soon as we pick up the violin, for the smallest note or phrase. This will make the "grind" of notes and rythms more attractive to us...and our teachers!

March 9, 2016 at 08:17 PM · @Paul Deck: I'm speaking on a much more basic level, really. Many parents bring their kids for lessons knowing the benefit of musical training, but it doesn't mean they are classical music fans. A lot of families simply don't listen to classical music at all in the home, so where can the kid get an idea of what his instrument is supposed to sound like? Many of my students have never heard a violin concerto! Many come in inspired by either "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" or "Celtic Woman". aieeee

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