When skills are out of sync

September 21, 2016 at 03:32 AM · When I watch other players, especially students, I ask myself how were they taught and how do they learn.

Sometimes I come across something that is just not congruent, like THIS .

And I find myself wondering, how would one fix that sort of problem with that level of student?

Replies (32)

September 21, 2016 at 04:14 AM · The first thing to do is to give the student an appropriate piece for his or her level. Once the student is playing a suitable piece, it's much easier to determine technical and musical strengths and weaknesses.

I once had a new student walk into his first lesson with Prokofiev concerto #2 as his "current" piece. This student was good, but not *that* good...I just said, "I will not teach you that piece," gave him a different piece (he was relieved; he knew the Prokofiev was too hard), and everything went well after that.

Editing in case I wasn't clear: the Beethoven is too hard for this student.

September 21, 2016 at 04:17 AM · [ Edit: Doh, Mary Ellen replied while I was typing this. I'd just have concurred with her otherwise! ]

I'd be curious what the rest of the movement (and the rest of the concerto) sounded like. And how much practice-time had been put into this cadenza. There are a bunch of wrong notes, suggesting the answer to that question is, "Very little." So whatever fundamental technical issues there are also compounded by inadequate time spent on the piece.

The fact that there's piano with that suggests that this could be a performance, but it actually seems more plausible for this to be an accompanied lesson -- possibly the first lesson, even, spent on this. (It'd be interesting to know more about the context here.)

At the same time, it also sounds like this student was taught Beethoven, or perhaps just this third movement, as part of a concerto sequence where a Classical concerto is considered "easy" -- after all, this does not have the pyrotechnics of many Romantic concertos. It makes me think that this student is someone who might play a marginally-acceptable Mozart 3, for instance, but instead of being taught a Beethoven Romance as the next step, has been taught the Beethoven concerto instead.

It doesn't sound to me like an asynchronicity problem -- a case where there's one huge problem marring what is otherwise fine playing. Rather, it sounds like more of a consistently intermediate-level player in terms of both left and right-hand technique -- the intonation issues, the rough control over the bow, the pressed sound, and so forth. They're not a very advanced student with a couple of issues in a tough work; they're just an intermediate-level player tackling too-difficult repertoire. You fix these issues by going back to more appropriate repertoire, where the player isn't expected to demonstrate this level of control.

I did love the Bugs Bunny imagery though!

September 21, 2016 at 04:41 AM · >> it actually seems more plausible for this to be an accompanied lesson -- possibly the first lesson<<, well, there is more of the performance (it was a VIOLIN SOLO of the BEETHOVEN CONCERTO, [hint]). The set up doesn't look as bad as the end result sounds. But no doubt you will see and hear something more (or less).

Looking at other examples on the same channel, of other students' recitals, the problem seems perpetuated - better bowing than intonation.

I guess the asynchronicity I was referring to, was in regards to choice of repertoire and skills of bowing and rhythm vs intonation.

And what do you do if a student can sort of get through a piece at that level but without getting the right notes. How much more likely are they to hear if they are in tune playing the Dvorak Sonatina or Dancla Aires? I suppose the answer would include 'scales', but what use is scales if the player doesn't anticipate how the scale should sound?

September 21, 2016 at 04:57 AM · "And what do you do if a student can sort of get through a piece at that level but without getting the right notes."

I don't know how I can be any more blunt: This student should not be playing Beethoven. This student is not ready for Beethoven. It is impossible to accurately determine this student's strengths and weaknesses because the Beethoven is too hard for this student.

I agree with Lydia's thorough analysis, btw, and would have simply concurred with her if she'd gotten in first. Ha.

September 21, 2016 at 05:04 AM · So, Mary Ellen, to take your example of the Prokofiev student, were you able to pick at that first session what the better level would be? What skill set did the person come along with that made you think aha, I'd like to see him doing X. What about if a student resisted that gear shift? Would you keep plugging away, or send them on their way.

September 21, 2016 at 05:19 AM · Well, first of all it is much easier to assess a student that one can see as well as hear. Plus in a first lesson, I always ask about all previous repertoire, not just what a student shows up with. So I have much more information to work with than is available in a blind youtube video.

The student in question was technically proficient but lacked a certain polish, struggled with a few difficult techniques, and had serious holes in his repertoire. I think I gave him Saint-Saens #3, but it's been awhile.

A student who resists my suggestions of appropriate repertoire is a student who would be happier studying with someone else. I can't teach someone who doesn't trust my judgment.

September 21, 2016 at 05:36 AM · After watching both PART 1 and PART 2 (even with the hint, not easy to find), I vote severe underpreparation rather than completely inability to play the work (although still too difficult for this player, probably). Part 2, which is the cadenza and beyond, deteriorates so seriously that it's clearly been worked on a whole lot less than part 1. And I suspect the awareness that everything is going off the rails destabilizes even the bits of the recap that reprise the bits from the exposition.

Don't underestimate how much of a b*tch this movement is, and in fact the whole concerto. As a player, you will hear every note that is out of tune -- and so will the audience. Moreover, because stylistically it should be very clean (at least in contemporary interpretation), you mostly can't slide to mask the difficulty of a shift, nor can you add a bunch of vibrato to mask a slightly out-of-tune note. Even if you know you're out of tune, it's very hard to fix it on the fly, and now the fact that this note is out of tune means that making the subsequent notes (which might be part of the same triad) in tune that much tougher. You're totally left hanging out to dry.

Also, the fingering patterns can be really inconvenient. The opening theme of the 3rd movement, in both its G-string and E-string incarnations, are cases in point; I have heard soloists miss these shifts in performance, even miss them repeatedly. This particular player slides to mask the difficulty of the G-string shift, and avoids some of the difficulties of the E-string repeat by staying in position and going to the A string, which compromises sound color for technical ease.

My teacher actually had me learn the Beethoven concerto because he felt it would force me to fix the intonation issues that have plagued me ever since I started playing the violin again three years ago, in the context of a work hard enough that it would really be an effort (we did Mozart 5 previously for a similar reason). It worked in part -- it made the intonation issues dramatically apparent and forced me to spend time trying to become more consistent, even if I have a lot of work left to do there.

September 21, 2016 at 06:01 AM · Missed the hint the first time through and I'm still not sure I found the right videos, but if I have, it's still fair to say that the Beethoven is beyond this student at the time of recording although the Bugs Bunny section is not necessarily representative of the performance as a whole.

If I have the right one, the student has the incredibly annoying habit of speeding up his bow resulting in an accent (and flourish) at the end of every phrase.

September 21, 2016 at 06:11 AM · Ah, but Lydia, we know you love a rabbit hole :). You and Mary Ellen are both so generous with your assistance, thank you. Ironically, I came across this video when I was surfing the utubes trying to find other up and comers like Hilary Hahn at her international debut aged 15. Needless to say, I didn't come up with much.

September 21, 2016 at 06:19 AM · I think you have the right ones. An adult woman rather than a college student, I think? Hard to tell age, but I am guessing "adult amateur".

September 21, 2016 at 06:21 AM · Try this YouTube channel: Daniel Lozakowitj

Menuhin winner. What's neat about the channel is that it looks like it's his dad's, just posting casual recital videos of his kid growing up playing the violin. You get to see performances evolve over the years, going from "hey, here's a maybe talented kid" to "wow".

September 21, 2016 at 06:25 AM · The one I found was a 12-year-old boy. I'll keep looking.

September 21, 2016 at 06:35 AM · I sent you an FB message with the link. (The v.com contact button seems not to work.)

September 21, 2016 at 06:47 AM · Thanks!

I still think the piece is too hard for her. She is struggling with it from the very beginning, and that's at a slightly slow tempo. Yes, I think adult amateur--the setting looks like "private teacher studio recital," not "college student recital."

Her teacher should have known better. Why do people underestimate Beethoven so much? You couldn't pay me enough to try to perform it in public at this stage of my life--way too much time-intensive practice necessary and even at that the intonation is very difficult. There are other difficult aspects as well of course but the intonation requirement is completely unforgiving. It's the musical equivalent of wearing nothing but a bikini and standing out in the middle of a busy street at high noon. There's nowhere to hide.

Editing to add that the page turn in the middle of the trill was a nice touch....

September 21, 2016 at 07:29 AM · Oh yes, I'd already found Daniel L. There are astoundingly good players out there - Daniil Bulayev seems to be going along that same path. (OT - HH at 15 had mastery, not just skill. When Fischer talks about violin playing being about proportion, its like HH has every single parameter of proportion under control in that performance).

Mary Ellen, I apologise for my obfuscation, despite the video being available on utube, I do't feel it is my position to advertise the link outright. Thank you to Lydia.

September 21, 2016 at 02:28 PM · So that YouTube is a teacher's channel, with lots of student-recital videos. To what degree is the teacher responsible for the quality of playing in such recitals, especially given the varying degrees of preparation that students bring to such performances?

Choosing appropriate repertoire is an important teaching skill, but at the same time, a piece that might be too hard to prep quickly might sound great given more time. That student playing Beethoven, for instance, is making so many mistakes that it suggests that they've barely begun learning the work. I'm not sure that there's a way to deal with some of those intonation problems without woodshedding the passage, for instance, which takes time, but may be a matter of pure patience and effort. Does this teacher routinely teach students in a way that results in poor intonation, give repertoire that's too hard, or have a lot of students who are underprepared to perform?

I learned the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Beethoven in the 6 weeks or so after my son's birth. I played in my teacher's student recital in a fog of sleep deprivation, where I lost my place in the easiest section of the cadenza and couldn't seem to make sense of the notes on the page any longer. Maybe I should post the video. ;-)

September 21, 2016 at 03:16 PM · Ummmm, did you just say you spent the first six weeks after your son was born learning the Beethoven concerto? Stop it.

September 21, 2016 at 04:02 PM · ^^^ WSS. :-O

September 21, 2016 at 04:56 PM · LOL. Yeah. Ironically, I actually had time to practice. ;-)

September 21, 2016 at 04:56 PM · ... while climbing Mount Everest and writing a PhD thesis? Right? ;)

September 21, 2016 at 06:40 PM · Hah. Fortunately not. :-)

September 21, 2016 at 07:14 PM · Unfortunately, I kind of "resemble that remark." Some of us just don't glow with talent, but we want to enjoy the violin anyway. It's frustrating to get to a "certain level" on the violin at the age of 50 and just realize that one is unlikely, within the other constraints of one's life, to ever make any truly serious concerto actually sound *good*.

So you've got two choices. Either you just play smaller works, salon pieces, and that kind of thing forever, or you take a crack at something that is at least not considered among the hardest repertoire and you do your best even though it's not great. And if you're an adult student, you might perform it at an all-adults recital or such, just because it's even more discouraging to work on something for a year without performing it, and then you move on. I've been working on the first movement of Mozart 5 for about a year. Y'all pros and teachers and highly skilled amateurs would cringe if you heard it. I'm going to perform it in February (and will surely embarrass myself), and then I'll probably go back to less demanding repertoire. But I will say in my defense that I did learn one hell of a lot about violin playing and I improved considerably by working on this devil of a violin concerto. So I have no regrets.

September 21, 2016 at 08:21 PM · I think some students improve most when challenged -- even really stretched to their limits. I think there's also preference amongst teachers about what to choose -- some prefer students to play at their limits, while others prefer to choose a level where reliable competence can be achieved.

The real answer is that there probably needs to be a mix of the two for most effective learning.

September 21, 2016 at 09:24 PM · I think you're right, Lydia. I've got other things I'm working on that are more moderate in difficulty. On the other hand it's one thing for me to decide to get up in front of a recital audience and play a concerto that is too hard for me, but I really feel bad for kids who are compelled to do that.

September 21, 2016 at 09:50 PM · I think the best learning happens when the student is working on a piece that is at the upper limit of what they can do, to solidify skills, or just a bit beyond, to stretch them. I don't believe in giving a student a piece that is much too hard for them, as that results in a lot of time and frustration expended for not a lot of return (ie an unsatisfying performance). However, thanks to the great state of Texas and its sometimes clueless TMEA, I spend every fall teaching material that is too hard for the majority of my students who are working on it. (This year the required All-State excerpts include Bartok Concerto for Orchestra.)

September 22, 2016 at 07:00 PM · Would someone mind posting a link to part 2 of the video, or message it to me? The hint provided hasn't helped me. I'm enjoying following along with the conversation.


September 22, 2016 at 07:06 PM · You don't have a contact button available on this site and there's no PM service on v.com. You'll need to give a Facebook or Twitter identity or something.

September 22, 2016 at 08:07 PM · Lydia,

Thanks you very much, I didn't realize I hadn't set that up; I just fixed it, though, so please send me the link when you have the opportunity. Thanks again!

September 23, 2016 at 09:57 AM · Jason, I have emailed you the links.

September 24, 2016 at 02:25 AM · I found that my progression hit a rapid halt when I tried repertoire too difficult. It becomes overwhelming and demoralizing very quickly.

September 24, 2016 at 08:40 AM · A bit of stretching to a certain piece but then again stepping a bit back in difficulty to consolidate the results: this zigzag course makes me progress the fastest. My teacher has a good feel for that. Of course, stretching only makes sense with pieces that are not entirely out of reach.

September 24, 2016 at 07:56 PM · Stretching is also more frustrating if the piece is long, or if it has several significantly stretchy things in it, that might make sense individually as stretches but when taken together they become overwhelming. In my experience that is the main problem with trying to stretch using concerto movements. I think from now on I'm going to try and do my stretching with studies.

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