Getting into the music.

February 7, 2017 at 06:35 PM · As I continue my violin studies, I find that I am becoming more and more distant from the music. It seems that my mind is more pre-occupied with playing the right notes and proper technique and intonation, than creating beautiful phrasing. If I really concentrate, I can truly get absorbed in music making, but it is only for fleeting moments and not sustainable. When I was younger, I would sometimes lose myself in the music and be so into creating music that I could play for hours. But now, that out of body experience is rare. Are there any suggestions for getting into the music and having your mind be immersed in music making rather than technique. Any exercises?

Replies (67)

February 7, 2017 at 07:00 PM · Play things that are easy enough that you don't have to be preoccupied with the technique. :-)

In the end, technique is music. You can't create beautiful phrasing without everything being in the right place, and conversely, your instinctive technique will be driven by your intentional musical conception. You might have a beautiful experience in your head without the technique, which is what I suspect happens to many musical youngsters, but as you become a more conscientious practicer, you listen with a critic's ear to what is actually coming out of the instrument, which in turn leads to a feedback loop in which you become preoccupied with how to make the sounds that you want, and your standards for that become higher and higher as you advance.

Thus, you want to play things that are sufficiently easy technically that the only thing that you need to concentrate on is making it beautiful. You'll still find that this creates technical questions -- what's the right sounding point? bow weight and speed? speed and width of vibrato? where to shift and if there's portamento what should it be like? -- but at least these questions will be centered on how to make it sound the way that you want.

For myself, I'm finding that doing works at a mix of difficulty levels is highly beneficial for me. For repertoire, I always have a concerto, a show piece, solo Bach, and a recital piece assigned by my teacher. The recital pieces are intended to be performed with a relatively low investment of time -- call it 5 to 10 hours of total practice to get a 15-20 minute work ready -- and they are technically far simpler. There are plenty of fine violin/piano chamber works that don't have major technical challenges but are still enjoyable to play.

February 7, 2017 at 09:07 PM · What works for me is to go to a bluegrass jam. The tunes are simpler, and there's a lot of improvisation. Some time late at night the magic happens, and I'm at one with my instrument, the music, and the rest of the group.

The next day I can return to my studies, refreshed and invigorated.

February 8, 2017 at 12:30 AM · One thing helps me is to sing the phrases a few different ways to feel for the music. To me, to play any piece decently, the music has to make sense to me -- where it comes from and where it goes; why and how the connections are made between notes and phrases, etc. That's the first step. From there on things get more interesting. There is often something can be described in these notes, some sort of image or story line that the music seems to be depicting.

To quote Pamela Frank: "One’s imagination needs to be practiced." and "I can’t tell you how to feel, but please react to harmony."

Try to play with long phrases, especially romantic pieces. For instance, instead of counting four beats within a 4/4 bar, I would count one for 1, or even 2-3 bars, to feel the flow of the music line and know where to breath.

My teacher has great techniques but she is of the view that if I have a clear idea how the music should sound, the technical part gets easier, but not the other way around. This sounds crazy right? It really does work for me. For one thing, when I have clear concept about how the music should sound, I can work on exactly the appropriate technique to achieve it. If I focus on notes, I would end up playing fast notes sound like etudes, and slow notes hesitant or dry.

Another thing I do to avoid boring phrases is practice well-polished phrase (especially scale and arpeggio type of passages) a few times, each time try something different to make it interesting (like I've got something to tell). Eventually, something will happen to me emotionally, then I know I'm on to something.

February 8, 2017 at 02:31 AM · Great thoughts so far. If all that fails, buy a Porsche. :)

February 8, 2017 at 07:35 AM · Great ideas all around. I could drive a Porsche... :) I think Lydia's regimen is important, in particular the regular performing. I think Nate Cole has an article about that. Will try to dig it up.

But I disagree with the statement, "technique is music." Technique is music reverse engineered, kind of like what theory and analysis is to composition. Some people believe you can't be taught to be a composer, or a musician... So yes, definitely learn how to reverse engineer a phrase, or a run, a technical or lyrical passage, bow distribution, bow speed, sound point, vibrato, shifting, etc.. But dwell on the language of music itself, the unit of which is the interval. Play each interval against a tonic drone and see how you feel about each dissonance, consonance, resolution. What does it make you want to do with your vibrato? your bow speed or density? What kind of energy do you feel in the rhythm? How do the various chords feel? Do you sense space in the voicing of chords or registers? Is it wide and high or soaring? Is it tight, crunchy, claustrophobic? How does grouping notes into patterns convey motion, or shape, or a new beginning or ending? How can you bring out certain notes (give them an agogic stress) to convey the harmony? How can you withhold expectation? and then really give it... How can you take the similarities and differences in patterns, shapes, voicings, sections and organize them to deliver the main thing? Etc. As Yixi said, you gotta get to know the sound, each and every sound, and the whole sound. Practicing the imagination has to do with imagining the actual language. So, even if you never become fluent, or fully literate, you gotta speak it, and even if at first it's just about feelings, motion, colour, or whatever metaphor comes to mind, you gotta be able to tell the story through the language itself. Then study the masters, notice how they speak it, reverse engineer and reproduce it. Just keep doing that until you figure out what you have to say for yourself.

February 8, 2017 at 09:33 AM · Two-thirds of technique is between the notes, one third is heard. But the music itself is inside us - until we share it.

Technique means work: music is a grace. Technique can bring pleasure: music, joy.

But once out of childhood, the music can get lost or hidden: technique is then a means of seeking it out.

February 8, 2017 at 09:33 AM · Still only 2 centimes d'Euro..

February 8, 2017 at 12:41 PM · I have found that on the occasions when I am really into the music, the technique somehow becomes second nature. The notes become easier and the music flows. Technique improves. I asked a jazz musician what he thinks about when he is improvising. He replied nothing; he is just feeling the music. He said "thinking gets in the way." That is how I feel most of the time. I think about the notes and intonation and technique and all that thinking just gets in the way.

P.S. There was a time a couple of years ago, we played string quartets at my home. Lydia was there. The music just flowed. It was a good time. Did you feel the same way Lydia? You were playing 1st violin on Death and the Maiden. I think we also read through some Beethoven and Mozart.

February 8, 2017 at 01:32 PM · I think I understand "technique is music." Nobody wants to play out of tune, with incorrect rhythms, and with sloppy phrasing and such. That's true whether you're playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto or tunes out of an elementary method book. The degree of perfection needed will of course vary with the audience. Retirement homes are very forgiving, but I still know when I've made a flub. With that background, the point for me is that you can't really take your music farther than your technique will accommodate. I'm at the stage where improvement is glacially slow, and I'm facing the prospect of finding repertoire that I will be able to play with the tools at hand. I'm willing to work on stuff, but that's not the same thing as improving as a violinist overall. The funny thing is that I really "get into the music" when I'm playing studies -- like Kreutzer No. 10. That's my favorite. I can just play that for hours.

February 8, 2017 at 03:08 PM · That was a good reading session. :-)

I often find that chamber-music sessions can suddenly turn sublime. In that case it has nothing to do with technical perfection and everything to do with synchrony and chemistry in the group. The awareness of blended sound is magical.

February 8, 2017 at 03:11 PM · Paul, your technique is good enough for most violin/piano sonatas, isn't it?

February 8, 2017 at 03:16 PM · Has anyone ever watched videos of Benjamin Zander's masterclasses? They are about this specific area, I find. Taking musicians who play extremely well, and helping them feel and express the soul of the music.

Extremely powerful to watch.

February 8, 2017 at 03:37 PM · The human mind cannot create and critique at the same time. When someone tries to do both simultaneously, both suffer. There is a way to listen that supports creating. Greatly simplified, its like - ok, that was the last bar, now what do I do to complement/ornament/emphasize the next bar. That kind of thinking leads to being in the moment and creating music.

Critique is actually much more subjective - once you get past intonation. If it has any use at all to a musician, it is just to set some priorities for practice exercises. A lot of critique is of questionable value, if you as a musician have a statement to make.

February 8, 2017 at 03:46 PM · Really good point Mike. I think I might be reaching a new level in my violin playing. I have developed a much more critical ear. Basically, I hear my mistakes. Maybe practice should be segmented into two parts: 1) making music and 2) polishing. It is difficult (perhaps impossible) to do both at the same time.

Maybe some time should be devoted to just running through pieces without regard to intonation or polishing, just experiencing the music. That could be what is missing from my practice. With a more critical ear, I spend most my time critiquing and polishing and the musical side suffers as a result.

February 8, 2017 at 03:49 PM · oh dear, another one addicted to peak experiences?

The loss of ego-boundaries?

Complete synergy with the music?

Time stops?

There is no instrument, player, audience.... just music streaming?

Keep searching.... those moments are rare, but well worth the journey!

February 8, 2017 at 03:51 PM · G.A. yes I have seen some of Benjamin Zander's masterclasses. He is really good at bringing out the soul of the music. Here's one I like.

February 8, 2017 at 03:52 PM · You should spend a percentage of practice time in "performing mode" when it's solid enough -- it's important for getting the whole architecture of the work, recovering for mistakes, etc. I think it still requires you to listen critically, but you are listening for big things, not minor technical issues, at least part of the time.

February 8, 2017 at 04:03 PM · In the States, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a Porsche with a truly manual transmission. Everyone wants to drive fast, but no one wants to master the technique of operating a clutch.

As for the musical question, at one point I got excited about handling pieces that required increasingly difficult technique. I experienced what the OP experienced: soulless obsession with getting the technique correct.

What I found is that if a new piece presents more than 1 or 2 specific technical challenges, I am better off finding a different piece.

I always set aside time each week to take a piece I have committed to memory and presents no technical barriers, then play around with dynamics and bowing styles and altering rhythms and note runs just for the fun of it.

Very refreshing and makes it easier to dive back into some dense etude to improve an obscure technique that is used in a single passage of some rarely played work.

February 8, 2017 at 04:12 PM · Great observations Carmen.

Paul, You lost me. How would a Porsche help in my quest for making music? By the way, I am more of a Lamborghini guy :-).

February 8, 2017 at 06:15 PM · I listen to how my pianist does phrasing with rubato and dynamics.

February 8, 2017 at 09:38 PM · While a scale should be beautiful like a rainbow, many studies pretend to be music, but are not. I only use those which have musical sense. Life is too short to play fake music.

While working on technique, we can concentrazte on beauty of tone, intonation etc, then open out pour minds to harmony, modulation etc, then seek the musical "sense" in passages from real music.

February 8, 2017 at 11:34 PM · Andrian pointed out something I tend to agree. I was just thinking that Paul, instead of trying to make Kreutzer #10 musical, why not just playing some Bach and you can work on great music and technical stuff all at once?

On the other hand, years ago when I was working on Bruch concerto, in order to show me how important it is to let the bow sing the music, my teacher demonstrated this to me by playing a long open G string. It had so many colors and so emotional that still give me the goose bumps till this day when I think of it. I believe a really good violinist can make anything sounds beautiful and musical. This also applies to instrument.

So here is a big question for us to think about: while of course music being a performance art (as opposed to visual arts), it takes both composer and performer (also listener to some degree) to complete the music-making process, where does music PRIMARILY come from, from the thing written by the composer or something played by a player?

February 10, 2017 at 09:27 AM · The written score is "only" a series of instructions for the player..

The Music is discovered and rediscovered in performance , or in the memory of a performance, or in the imagination.

February 10, 2017 at 12:56 PM · OP,

Sometimes a little reflection will be helpful. Which music has inspired you lately or in the past? In what circumstances? Doing the chamber music with like-minded musicians may rekindle the love of music and help keep the focus on the beauty, not the mechanics.

By the way, I am a fan of Mr. Zander's approach. He really brings out the best music in people.

February 10, 2017 at 06:26 PM · Firstly, listening to inspiring music is an easy way of getting lost in the music. When you listen, then there truly is nothing but the sound of the music in your ears. Listen to as much as you can and allow yourself to get absorbed in the music, and this will slowly transfer into practice and performance as well.

Secondly, the only way to forget thinking about technique and worry only about the music is when technique becomes a second nature. So then how do you get into the music while still focusing on the technique?

Getting into the music for me is experiencing music. To stop thinking of music as an object is key. Music is not a thing, rather it is an experience, and when you think of it that way, then everything that happens is part of the experience. The right notes, the wrong notes, the slip ups, the brilliant moments, everything is a part of that experience and you are always into the music as long as you think of every aspect of the music as an experience, rather than an object. While you experience music, you will find yourself lost in it whether you are working on techniques, or just creating music casually. In order to start this process, try playing simple pieces and experience the music for what it is and work your way up while still experiencing every part of the music (slip ups, technique included).

February 10, 2017 at 07:06 PM · It seems to me that the art of musical performance has two aspects.

The first aspect is the technical, physical, intellectual, tangible side. The intricacies of technique alone for an instrument like the violin can become mind-boggling, all-consuming, and overly detailed in a manner that rivals almost any other pursuit in life.

The second aspect is the "musical," the emotional, the sense of "feeling," the aesthetic. In short, this is the more transcendent aspect of the meaning of a performing art such as music.

"Playing with feeling" (whatever that means) and playing it technically right and masterfully are tough to blend. One aspect is specific and detailed and teachable, and the other is emotional and in the clouds somewhere.

Some violinists truly blend both aspects routinely (the "greats"). Some do so on occasion (struggling students, us amateurs, and perhaps some professionals).

If there is anything more difficult to strive for in the arts, I'd like to know what it is.


PS. Elvis Presley: "I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to."

February 10, 2017 at 11:42 PM · I always love reading what Sandy have to say: always insightful, interesting and humorous. I don't know if you agree with me on this, Sandy, although there are many approaches to acquire musicality, we can simplify it by grouping them to the linear and the holistic approaches.

The linear kind is as you described -- you do the technical and boring stuff first, then add the music to the notes.

The holistic approach is perhaps less traditional. It let you learn the notes and the music through a single continuous process by working on technical stuff through the lens of the music. This approach seems to be adopted by some younger European violinists such as Henning Kraggerud and my own wonderful teacher. I guess the idea is that all the notes must be understood in the music context to be able to learned properly to begin with. If we learn them independently, the brain will have a hard time later on to switch and correct the previously learned way of playing.

Anyway, take a loot at Kraggerud's videos, I hope you'll be inspired as much as I have:

February 11, 2017 at 12:29 AM · Thanks Yixi ... that's just brilliant. PS did you buy the Topa violin?

February 11, 2017 at 01:11 AM · Paul, yes. I am very, very happy with my Topa. It turns out that there are at least two other people I know in our city bought Topa viola in the recent past, one is a very good professional violist and the other is a promising young violist at the conservatory.

February 11, 2017 at 01:46 AM · I recommend Roy Sonne's video on the Accolay Concerto ( ) It's in several parts on YouTube and was originally issued on a DVD that was available from SHAR and others. I recommend it as an example as an approach to visualizing music as an aid to "feeling" and phrasing that may be helpful to some people.

Roy recommends constructing your music around a scenario in this video. One can do this around large "stories" or just little scenes or "snippets" - whatever works for the musician. I'm sure there are musicians who can just use musical "images," but some of us may need help from other senses.

Roy Sonne is retired but spent his musical career as a first violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony and is still active as a teacher and "music ambassador."

February 11, 2017 at 02:29 AM · Yixi congratulations! Probably you told everyone before but I'm so happy for you.

And Andrew, I agree with you about Roy Sonne -- he's amazing. I'd love to drive up to Pittsburgh and have a lesson from him. His videos on the Beethoven F Major Romance are great too.

February 11, 2017 at 03:04 AM · Really great feedback. Thanks. I'm a little reluctant to put this up as there are quite a few mistakes, but what the heck. This is a rehearsal from yesterday. I think my vibrato has come a long way, but I still struggle with intonation and bow control. I think the music suffers as a result. Any constructive comments would be appreciated.

February 11, 2017 at 07:39 AM · Hey Smiley, that's really lovely playing! Thanks for sharing. Everything's really getting there and very close. I'll give you some really nit pickety stuff that will help polish intonation to m11.

The pitch is climbing from m1 to m5 (I think the first A is not in tune with open A you use in m2) so you might want to do a lot of slow, no rhythm tuning to a drone A. Practice placing the first A over and over. Nate Cole says to develop a ritual for all important entrances in a piece and practice them separately, constantly. Good advice.

There are so many perfect intervals you have to keep playing them across strings to really get them in your ear. Generally, always try to feel wholetone-semitone patterns in your hand, even when you don't use adjacent fingers. Always feel your guiding fingers.

m1 tune A to open A, tune A-D

tune D in m1 and D in m2. Keep it down, until you really feel the whole steps 1-2-3, in your fingers

m2 you don't have to shift D-C#, you could just extend back with 1; you might be anticipating the shift thereby flatting the D a bit; either way release 1 before and during the semitone slide

m3: G is out (A might be going flat as you sustain it making the G sound a bit sharp; release more vertically on the vibrato--it's kind of hard to tell what's what over speakers) practice sliding to the A, release, then snap into 5th position and play ABAGF#GA in frame, shift-snap-pattern, over and over until A-G is in tune (always be aware of whether your hand is in frame, extended/thrown forward, or contracted/pancake)

Feel 2-2/G-C# guiding shift;

tune B-E

tune m3 A m4 D (release 2 before doing the turn and spread out the turn--more next time on small notes.)

m4: tune D-A; practice 2-2/D-A before adding the high B

tune A-E, shift A-E/2-2, then plop 4 on G

tune C#-G# (play it across strings to hear it,) make sure the next C# is same as previous C#

tune A to open A to make sure you haven't drifted

m4 is a good place to do a pivot shift; currently your palm is in one position for the high B, then you shift it under to play G with 4 which is possible but can be unstable

You might try sliding to the B by throwing your hand forward and extending 3, as you do, but hit the crook with your thumb in a place where you can flip your hand back without changing thumb position, by extending the wrist and collapsing the hand (pancake hand,) to play the G with 4. To practice this just pivot 2-2/A-E back and forth to measure the pivot. Then add B/3, so 3-2/B-E (tune all perfect intervals,) then finally add the G/4 to the mix; play B-A-G-E/3-2-4-2 back and forth just by pivoting. This might feel more unstable at first, but once you get such pivots they'll be much more reliable, clean and quick (and can be more expressive in certain other contexts.) Just a thought. Either way, make sure you feel G# when you play E (always feel patterns, across strings too.)

keep tuning perfect 4ths

m6 shifting too early so you bend the D before shifting to C#, so the Ds are not the same; here's another good place to do a pivot; play F#-C# across strings in 1st position to tune it; then play high F#-C#; go back and forth to really hear it; play a wide aug 2nd C#-Bb, lead down into the A

m7 tune to open A & open E; tune subsequent unisons; even though you're extending for the A on A-str, practice shifting to 4th so you feel the final position of the pinky; then you can think of this as leaving the 1 in 3rd and shifting the arm to 4th OR extending to play a 1-4 unison, which is an extended 3, like in a fingered octave, plus a wholetone, so feel 1-3/A-D and add A across strings (tune the perfect 4th) and also 1-3/A-G, then place A/4

play a high E# to lead into F#

m8 tune F#-B; play to open E drone; tune B-E; keep feeling finger patterns; after you play D-C# semitone feel a D#-C# whole to prepare for the 2-2/C#-E and coming B; make sure Bs are the same; also feel C#-D-E/2-1-2, B-D/1-1 and make sure to release 2 before sliding to E; tune E-B

m9 tune A to open A; tune A-E across strings to hear it; I would do C#-E as a pivot, if not feel the thumb hit the crook which is 5th pos'n

m10 can't see your fingering, but make sure you practice your guiding shift down to B; tune F#-B across; tune B-E across; feel the second position pattern as you hold the F# before you shift to it

m10-11 make sure all your Bs are the same

make the chromatics lead into the diatonic notes, so A-A# wide, A#-B narrow, B-B# wide, B#-C# narrow

m11 tune C# to F# across; I would shift to 1/C# (that last figure is a triplet with no dotted rhythm)

Another principle of shifting is to coordinate with the bow especially for larger shifts. Right now there's a tendency to shoot the hand with the bow lagging behind. The number 1 rule for shifting is to spread it out over the time you have. So always practice shifts slowly by counting over the complete slide, e.g. m4 D-B/2-3: play the turn slowly, release 2. Practice 2-2/D-A spreading an even slide over 8 counts and feeling the beats through the bow and back down; then over 4 counts; then 2, 1, 1/2, dotted rhythms, tracking the bow as you speed up. Feel your hands coming together as you shift up and play up bow; feel them spread apart as you shift down and play down bow, always counting. When you get to dotted rhythms, keep coordinating the same distribution of speed for the rhthm in both left and right. This uneven distribution can be used for a really shmaltzy shift, but notice half the shmaltz comes from the acceleration of the bow (think Sibelius' giant scary leap.) You can also do a deceleration for the opposite affect. Repeat with vibrato. Use max vibrato on the bottom note with denser bow, release finger and bow pressure before and during the counted slide, as soon as you hit your target note, use max vibrato and denser bow, and back down.

You're probably aware of all this and I know it's a rehearsal. But I thought I'd lay out my thought process, how I would approach fine tuning had I been watching myself in a video.

Sometimes I'll write diamond noteheads in to remind me of where perfect intervals would occur in a passage, those not in the music, to remind of the feel of it to help tune in advance. 4ths are so important for tuning they should be in our daily regimen. I wouldn't be surprised if Paganini had this in mind composing this beautiful morsel, so he could just play it instead of doing exercises. Let me know if anything's unclear and if you have any specific questions on tuning in the rest of the piece. Next time I'll comment on the bow and phrasing. Hope it helps!

February 11, 2017 at 02:58 PM · Yixi: Thank you so much for your kind words and your thoughts, and those clips are great. I really consider it an honor to be able to have a say amongst such accomplished and articulate students, professionals, teachers, and amateurs.


February 11, 2017 at 03:25 PM · I just realized I missed some earlier questions/comments directed at me.

Lydia, no unfortunately my sonata rep is going to be limited to Handel and easier Mozart. I'm working on the Brahms Scherzo which is a sonata movement, but most of Brahms and Beethoven is out of reach for me. I did Beethoven No. 5 (Spring) but it wasn't performance quality. I worked on Mozart Cto. No. 5 (A Major) for about a year and got it to an 85% level. That's kind of where I stand technique-wise. But it's been hard over the past year to practice plus about 4 months ago I hurt my neck (long story, basically RSI, not *from* violin but aggravated by violin) and I had to stop completely for a time. I'm back now, thanks to physical therapy, but super busy at work.

Yixi, yes Bach is great too. I just played through one of the Siciliennes last night, very nice. And the Grazioli Adagio. And I just discovered Schumann Maerchenbilder for Viola, kind of hard but last movement is awesome. I heard it on the radio and I thought it was cello!! K10 is easier though, especially when I've had a 10 hour work day and it's 10 pm and I've already had a wee glass of scotch. :)

Smiley that's very soulful playing. You're a musician! I enjoy playing this piece too. See, I thought your first several bars were basically perfect, so it'll be instructive to me to read through Jeewon's comments. This is why violin teachers need to be **excellent** violinists. They hear stuff we don't.

At 1:40 you went for the high note, I think that's a B. You hit it, but you faded into it, where I think you want to blast it and work with your teacher to drench it in vibrato. No fear!! And then the following downward line at 1:50, I thought you could do more with that. It was kind of "I just nailed my high note, I'm taking a break for a few seconds now." Your mini-cadenza, the one that is about half-way down the page, that was nicely executed. Something I've been working on is trying to get more *color* in my vibrato, and I think this is a good piece for that. That's something we're not really going to hear in a camcorder job.

February 11, 2017 at 03:52 PM · Nice video, Smiley.

The thing that I persistently notice is that you're smearing your shifts. I think it's unintentional -- when you shift on a bow change, you can hear the shift occur on the edge of the note. That has to be carefully coordinated, with the bow pressure lightened more so that the shift occurs inaudibly. Sustain the sound of the previous note to cover for the gap so that it still sounds legato.

February 11, 2017 at 06:25 PM · Hi Jeewon,

Thank you for all the tips. It will take me a while to process all of that. You have an amazing ear to hear all of those notes that are off. My teacher is trying to get me to make the violin "ring" and that requires precise intonation, along with a light bow hold. It is a skill that I have not yet acquired.

Hi Paul,

You are right, I wimped out on that high note. That is exactly why I started this thread. Your term "no fear" is exactly what I need more of in my playing. Little kids seem to grasp that concept really well, but adults have too much baggage in the way. There is a book called "Fearless Golf" and it is the exact same concept. Fear inhibits our performance.

Hi Lydia,

I'll work on those shifts. Is there a particular spot where the "smear" is most noticeable? There are a few spots towards the end of the piece (2:55), also at the beginning (0:41), where I intentially slide to add some schmaltz. I assume you are not talking about that.

February 11, 2017 at 07:14 PM · Smiley, this is a really difficult piece to play well. I tried a few times, loved it each time but I'm afraid of it all the time. You are fearless and generous for sharing this. Thank you!

My general impression is that, like myself, you probably pay too much attention on your left hand so the bow hand is kind of left on its own device at times. This piece for me is mostly about how to let the bow sing. You have beautiful tone production in general, but I feel you may want to consider tweaking a bit on bow changes (particular at the frog) to make the phrases flow more seamless. Also, I noticed that you might be counting with bow rather than the left hand, especially in dotted notes. This tendency can be particularly noticeable when playing a melodic piece like this one.

Jeewon, what a great lesson you just gave to us. Thank you so much! I can't wait for your next one on the bow.

February 11, 2017 at 07:19 PM · On another listen (this time watching the video rather than with my eyes closed), it's not necessarily shift-associated. For instance, listen to your beginning. Can you hear how sometimes the previous note sounds a little bit on the next bow -- the change of bow and change of finger are not perfectly coordinated?

February 11, 2017 at 08:02 PM · BRAVO Smiley! by the way you don't look 56 or how old did you say you were? more like 45. to me it seems you still have a lot of good years, also violinistically, before you! also funny that you still have your Christmas tree up! when we had younger children they did not want it removed and we had it until March :-) sorry, no violin remarks except that from what I see and hear I am convinced you still very much have what it takes to improve, contrary to your initial sentiments. keep up the good stuff!

February 11, 2017 at 09:38 PM · I listened again, this is another observation, I'm not sure I'm right but for the sake of discussion, I throw it out there.

The triplets (eg. m12-m15) could be played more inwardly with singing quality. To me these are more important/delicious notes than the long notes and it can bring your play up to another level if played more thoughtfully. Also I like the 3r and 4th beats in m39 and m41 (start from low G#) to be a bit more "aching".

February 11, 2017 at 09:44 PM · Most welcome!

Smiley, I have pretty average ears, but have been working at this for about 26 years, with about 7.5 years of quality training. I'm not gonna count my first 13 years on the fiddle because I don't really remember how I practiced--not very well. I quit almost completely (except for a few performances here and there) for about 5 years after high school while I studied a bunch of things in my first go at university, finishing in philosophy. Then I started thinking about such things, probably for the first time, and technique and interpretation, and read every pedagogical book I could find, as I started teaching and conducting youth orchestras, and working. Then I finally got some proper training at 26 from my former teacher, the one I assisted for about 4 years, and from my quartet coaches, in my second go at university, and from summer festivals and masterclasses, etc. for about 3.5 years. But I'm quite serious when I say what I wrote above is how I work on tuning. And believe me when I say, most of us have to work at it as hard as you do, it's just that we might have more tools to work with, a larger spiral. You just gotta keep paying attention, once you know what to listen for, so that you refine your sense of pitch, and refine your left hand action, which needs to coordinate with the right. Your sense of pitch affects your finger action but your fingers also affect your sense of pitch, and sometimes we just don't notice. That's why we have to constantly refer to open strings and perfect intervals, pitch centers and angry cellists. String quartet is the only crucible in which you can forge a true understanding of what it is to tune a string instrument (but it's much easier when you have a cellist with an impeccable sense of pitch ;) Unless you have absolute pitch, you have to tune your fingers everyday, on every piece, in every ensemble. If you do have absolute pitch, you have to learn and hear when and where to compromise, and hope it doesn't drive you crazy (alas many cannot make the compromise.)

Yixi, you've got me started on a mission to prove that it doesn't take any special talent to play at a high level. All you have to do is learn how to work at a high level, which admittedly is no small task. I'm not talking about difficulty of pieces played, or ability to win jobs or competitions. I simply mean the ability to play in tune, in time, with good tone and with expression, these are skills which can be learnt incrementally over time, and starting at any age. There! I said it. (It might take me a while to finish the bowing stuff... :(

February 11, 2017 at 09:56 PM · Jeewon, you are also a philosopher!!! Do you know another great Canadian philosopher, poet and violinist Jan Zwicky? I took some of her courses and changed my life. Here is one of her poems:


for performance with Bach's E Major Partita for Solo Violin, BWV1006


There is, said Pythagoras, a sound

the planet makes: a kind of music

just outside our hearing, the proportion

and the resonance of things – not

the clang of theory or the wuthering

of human speech, not even

the bright song of sex or hunger, but

the unrung ringing that

supports them all.

The wife, no warning, dead

when you come home. Ducats

in the fishheads that you salvage

from the rubbish heap. Is the cosmos

laughing at us? No. It’s saying

improvise.  Everywhere you look

there’s beauty, and it’s rimed

with death. If you find injustice

you’ll find humans, and this means

that if you listen, you’ll find love.

The substance of the world is light,

is water: here, clear

even when it’s dying; even when the dying

seems unbearable, it runs.

Sorry about the digress, Smiley, but I hope you'll find it's not too far off the topic -- "Everywhere you look there’s beauty, and it’s rimed with death. If you find injustice you’ll find humans, and this means that if you listen, you’ll find love."

How to work at a high level? Jeewon, that's exciting to find out! I have a little taste of it lately since my resuming weekly lessons the last a few weeks. I wonder how fast I could progress should I be able to have my teacher move in with me ;)

February 11, 2017 at 10:05 PM · It's heart-rendingly beautiful. Thank you Yixi. I've not heard of her but am going to Amazon now. In the end I turned out to be a wannabe philosopher, but I'm still reading, still seeking and learning.

"move in with me..." many of us stayed over at my old teacher's house a lot. Some days you'd get there and practice while waiting and waiting and waiting for him to finish with the previous student. Hours would pass... 2, 3, 4. Then he'd come out and chat for an hour. Then he'd whip up some dinner. We'd have some wine. Some coffee. Chat some more. Then it'd be 8 or 9 o'clock at night and you'd still have a 3 hour lesson. Then we'd come back out and listen to records, and study scores. It kinda works :)

P.S. Just bought Chamber Music. Thanks!

February 11, 2017 at 10:18 PM · I really like her "Lyric Philosophy". She has eBook called "String Practice" (

Here is another one of my all time favorite poems in that book:

Open strings

e, laser of the ear, ear’s vinegar, bagpipes in a tux, the sky’s blue, pointed;

a, youngest of the four, cocksure and vulnerable, the white kid on the basketball team—immature, ambitious, charming, indispensable; apprenticed to desire;

D is the tailor who sewed the note “i shall always love you” into the hem of the village belle’s wedding dress, a note not discovered until ten years later in new york where, poor and abandoned, she was ripping up the skirt for curtains, and he came, and he married her;

g, cathedral of the breastbone, oak-light, earth:

it’s air they offer us, but not the cool draught of their half-brothers the harmonics, no, a bigger wind, the body snapped out like a towel, air like the sky above the foothills, like the desire to drown,

a place of worship, a laying down of arms.

Open strings are ambassadors from the republic of silence. they are the name of that moment when you realize clearly, for the first time, you will die. after illness, the first startled breath.

February 11, 2017 at 10:25 PM · Just bought String Practice also. Lyric is $400 at amazon! Time to renew my library card... so much for working on those bowing notes :)

"How to work at a high level? Jeewon, that's exciting to find out!"

The problem, really, is that there are no real secrets. No magic trick. It really just boils down to figuring out what to do, how you can make it work for yourself, and working at it really hard, and for long enough. I'm afraid you'll be disappointed...

Edit: A start on the bowing stuff:

I think there are two aspects to what Lydia is noticing in m1.

1. The string cross is not timed precisely

2. There's a slight seizing in the arm at bow changes

1. Approach the target string while playing the previous bow; i.e. follow the curve of the bridge. I don't know if you can still get it, but Ysaye has a scale and exercise book dedicated to drawing smooth string crosses. But the gist of it is this: play a whole bow, down on G string. Count 4/4. At each quarter pulse, at each quarter of the bow, cross a quarter of the way toward the D until you hit the D string precisely on the next count of 1. Start at the frog, as you draw the first quarter tilt a quarter, next quarter, tilt a quarter, at half bow, tilt another quarter, at 3 quarter bow, tilt the final quarter, the end of which your bow finishes on the double stop, at the count of the next 1, you play up bow on the D string. You can keep going like this crossing all the way to the E string. Then, instead of crossing a quarter step at a time, you cross smoothly counting so that at the end of the count of 4 you're at the tip of the bow and briefly touch the double stop, and precisely on the count of the next 1 you play the D on an up bow, keep counting and tilting, on the count next 1 you play A on down bow, etc. up to E string and back. You can use a metronome.

All of this presupposes that you can move in response to your brain counting, and in turn to the click of the metronome. Most students can't do this and they don't know it. But it's just like flipping a switch, turning on your inner counter. I've had students come to me working on the Sibelius who were unable to do this simple thing: Count 1, 2, 3, 4, and move the bow precisely on the next count of 1. Keep counting and commanding your arm when to move. Your brain, your counting needs to be in control of your bow action, not the other way around.

This is a principle of high level work. Count every action you make (making sure, of course you move in response to your inner sense of rhythm) when working on motion. This develops rhythm in your motion. Trains your movement to respond to metre and rhythm.

2. At the end of the first down bow, there's a slight whipping motion to make the cross. The above will presumably preclude the need to whip across. But if you look at the next down bow with no string cross, there's also a tugging motion at the elbow to finish the down bow before the up, with a bit of a flip of the elbow. I would guess there's a flexion in the biceps at the end of the down bow, braking the action of the triceps in anticipation of the up bow. Instead, simply stop the motion of one stroke simply by ceasing the action of the mover muscle, leaving the antagonist muscle released, until the precise change of direction. Again counting will help you be aware. Count a down bow, 1, 2, 3, 4. As you near the tip, count of 4, pay attention to what's happening in the bicep/tricep complex. At first, for days, simply observe. Do not try to correct. Do not judge. Withhold judgment. Often just the act of observing will resolve unwanted antagonist tension. (I know, very Zen, but observing works!) When you feel some automatic release you can start working some new actions, which are outside of the habit-action. There are various ideas behind bow change, but they're all kind of hard to convey. But here's a tried and true method, which I used to call something like, "finish the stroke" or "follow through with the hand." It helps to be able to already do a colle motion, a hand bowstroke (which is simply an extension of the finger only stroke.) But here goes:

Play a down bow and stop so that there is about 4 inches of bow remaining at the tip, so that the hand is still in a 'down bow' hand (wrist slightly extended, base knuckles open, fingers curled.) Stop. Finish the stroke, playing the remaining 4 inches of bow, with the hand only, flexing the wrist, closing the base knuckles and extending the finger, so the hand ends up with an 'up bow' hand. Stop. Play an up bow and stop with 4 inches remaining. Stop. Finish the stroke with the hand only, extending the wrist, opening the base knuckles, curling the fingers. So you have on down bow: arm stroke, hand stroke; up bow: arm stroke hand stroke. Then do that with a dotted rhythm, with the hand stroke on 4 (counting 4 quarters.) Then do that with a dotted rhythm, with the hand stroke on the final eighth pulse on the & of 4. So you play down bow with the arm and a down-bow hand, 1, 2, 3, 4&; finish the stroke with the hand on the & of 4; play up bow with the arm and up-bow hand, 1, 2, 3, 4&; finish the stroke with the hand on the & of 4. Then do double dots. At first use a staccato finish with the hand. Then move to a legato finish with the hand. Gradually slow the motion of the hand as it finishes each stroke so that it becomes the follow through motion, and preparation for the next stroke at the same time, in one smooth motion. Follow through should preclude the need to finish the bow with a kicking motion from the arm.

February 12, 2017 at 01:08 AM · Jeewon, regarding the bow changes, I just try to picture what you are saying. In essence, is your method much different from Nathan Cole's Zeno paradox?

February 12, 2017 at 01:40 AM · Hi Yixi. I love Nate's videos. I was going to mention something similar to his smooth bow change, which I call, "following the curve of the bow" later. But what I'm talking about has more to do with arm motion than sound.

Some people believe you need to involve finger and/or hand motion in order to be able to make a smooth bow change, but I agree with Nate, it has more to do with pressure and speed control at the tip, and managing the weight of the bow and speed control at the frog. Another way I talk about it: for a bow change at the frog, if you want an accent, dip the tip, keep it low (which causes you to do a string cross like, follow the curve of the bridge motion.) If you want a smooth change, raise the tip into the up/down bow change. If you can control finger motion with very fine control, it can add to the smoothness of the change, but I think Nate's idea is more important.

What I'm talking about is like a 'paintbrush' motion in detache, except just at the ends of longer, slower bow strokes. The follow through motion will help release braking at the elbow. In theory... Every time I've taught it in person, it helps create a smoother wave like motion. But now that I think about it, I don't know if that's because I end up training the wave like motion itself, or the follow through has any direct affect on the elbow. Does the follow through actually release anything? Or is it in the coordination, the incorporation of the follow through into the bow stroke? Is there a difference? I'm not sure anymore...

February 12, 2017 at 03:04 AM · Jeewon, I laughed when you wrote "it has more to do with pressure/weight and speed control" because, really, what else is there? Now, please don't infer any negativity on my part. I agree with what you're saying and I think your insight is amazing. (So is Nate's.) I've always considered those "special finger moves" and "the little lift of your elbow" etc. to be almost like parlor tricks for managing the bow change process. If they work, fine, but if you don't understand *how* they work then they're hard to apply to new circumstances.

February 12, 2017 at 04:18 AM · Paul, that is funny! For a real laugh you should see what it's like being stuck in my head trying to get ideas out! Everything seems lucid from the inside... But interestingly you've actually hit the crux of it. (For those who may not be familiar with what we're talking about.) Without pressure there is nothing, and that's the problem with changes at the tip. To make a smooth bow change at the tip you have to leave the bow change with the same pressure and speed as you applied when you entered the bow change. So when pressure is lost or speed changes suddenly, there is a loss or glitch in the sound (well duh! everything I try to write now sounds so obvious and ridiculous as what you experienced above.) The same applies at the frog, you need to maintain pressure and speed into and out of the change, but of course the problem is the opposite at the frog; it's easy for the weight of the bow itself to crush the string with too much pressure, if you don't counter the weight of the bow with the fingers. That's the problem with focusing only on finger motion to make the change. No matter how flexible and fluid the finger motion, if there isn't sufficient vertical counter pressure exerted from the fingers, there will be a bump in the bow change, don't cha know.

The speed/pressure regulation applies to dynamics too. If you accelerate into the change, to make it sound smooth you have to exit the bow change with the speed and pressure you accelerated to. Same... if you... decelerate into the change. So... uh... yeah... you're right... D'oh!

February 12, 2017 at 07:43 AM · Paul and Jeewon, you guys are channeling great pedagogues like Galamien, DeLay, Simon Fischer, etc. It's absolutely necessary to talk about the technical details in terms how and part of our body does. But "what else is there"? Well, I'll say that's not all there is. Maybe that's not it at all.

What's the issue here? When I practice performance, I can't be thinking about any of this without ruining the whole thing. There is a huge, and I would argue that is irreducible gap between the technical analysis and musical/artistic delivery.

My guess is there has to be something like a gestalt thingy happening so that I need to think about the meaning or emotion or storyline, my hands will do just that, the right music comes out. The connection is more direct from the head to the feeling of hands and fingers to the sound we produce. Like when you use a brush to paint. You can feel how much and where the "energy" goes on the paper; when you pet the cat, you know the touch will make the cat purr or turn around scratch you.

I also find it's fascinating that sometimes thinking alone is sufficient. For example, when play Bach solos, it's often sufficient to just be aware of the underlying bass motions without "doing" too much to these bass notes with my fingers or arm. Similarly, in Alexandra Technique, when thinking about something like allowing my shoulders to move away from your body is sufficient to let go of tension, yet it's counterproductive to think like a doctor or physiotherapist in more physical details how my body should relax.

Ideas and comments?

February 12, 2017 at 01:55 PM · I agree with Yixi. There is a catch 22 going on here. You can't make beautiful music unless you apply flawless technique, but thinking about the flawless technique hinders your ability to make beautiful music. It is almost as if the technique must be so ingrained that it happens automatically. But I will go one step further. When I am really immersed in music making, like really into the music, my technique rises to the challenge without me thinking about it. It is as if I am a better player. As soon as technique enters my mind, the music goes to pot, so does intonation, bow changes, etc.

It goes to show how difficult this instrument is. One must practice with the detail that Jeewon has posted. Practice, practice, practice until all of that becomes second nature. Then to make music, we must let it all go, and let our souls take over.

February 12, 2017 at 08:59 PM · Yixi and Smiley make great points. And I understand that's why we have those "tried and true methods" for doing things like changing bow directions smoothly. It's in the practice room where you drill down and understand how they work, and you explore the parameters empirically, and make sure that you explore that across different tempos, or whether you're playing in first position or seventh, etc. I think Fischer would agree.

February 12, 2017 at 10:09 PM · Simon Fischer is a genius and my technical god, and I have almost all his books. I sincerely hope he will write a book on how to go beyond technicality and become better in musicality, but I don't think he believes technicality and musicality can be approached differently. I have a weird feeling that too much technical thinking might necessarily limit musicality in one’s playing, even for great violinist like Fischer himself. I would love to be proven wrong so I’m going to make some comparisons, arguably quite unfairly, by showing a recording of his performance and how this Bloch’s Nigun was done by other young and older performers.

Please note that this comparison is in no way to suggest that Fischer isn’t a fantastic player; he played with wonderful tone and precision in this video. My point of making the comparison is only to test my hypothesis that there might be a point beyond which our very expertise in technicality can hinder our musicality.

Again, of course we must talk about and work really, really hard technically so that we'll have the necessary tools to make music. The issue is whether "tried and true methods" can be a double-edged sword? I think it is appropriate to raise this issue since Smiley is asking us to talk about musicality.

Simon Fischer:

A young violinist during the semifinals of the 2012 Queen E competition:

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Ivry Gitlis

February 13, 2017 at 04:08 AM · If the argument is that Fischer's playing of this piece is less musically charged, I'd say that's going to be hard to dissociate from the strong possibility that the other two players are also technically superior. Nobody wants to say Fischer is a "second rate" violinist. Far from that. But ... compared to Gitlis??

One thing strong technique gives you is superior confidence, and then you dig in more. Also if you know your hands are going to do the right thing, that frees up mental bandwidth for nuance of expression. Fischer got it right technically -- at least to my ears -- but was he closer to the limit of his technical ability than the other two? Did he have to apply more "technical thinking" out of necessity? I don't think you can conclude that Fischer's *approach* to playing as a whole is necessarily more "technically oriented" from this. A better comparison might be if all three players were playing something that's much much easier like "Vocalise" or some such. The other possibility is that Fischer simply favors more restraint (?) in his interpretations.

We can do this experiment on ourselves, just by examining how much "musicality" we're able to apply to a piece that is well within our technical grasp, and one that's right at the edge of what we can play accurately. The latter will be less musical, I'd wager.

February 13, 2017 at 04:23 AM · "We can do this experiment on ourselves, just by examining how much "musicality" we're able to apply to a piece that is well within our technical grasp, and one that's right at the edge of what we can play accurately. The latter will be less musical, I'd wager."

Paul, I'm afraid you misunderstood my point. Maybe I didn't make it clear enough. So I'll try again. No one is denying technical proficiency is a necessary condition for being a good violinist, but technical perfection may not sufficient to make one a great violinist/musician. The bone of contention here is whether musicality is equal/reducible to technicality. My answer is clearly no. Many technically polished young violinists couldn't even make to the final round in international competitions. What's missing? Why? I would go further to argue that technicality is a double-edged sword and overthinking about technical stuff can hurt one's playing.

BTW, your experiment won't work because playing "right at the edge of what we can play accurately" means we don't yet have the chops for that piece; therefore, the necessary condition for being a good violinist is not met, although we may still play musically and move our audience. I would assume Fischer is technically near perfection, and I'm sure you were not suggesting Nigun is right at the edge of what Fischer could play accurately.

Take another look at the Kraggerud's videos I previously posted, you'll see that two young players grew musically without within munities of coaching, without changing technical ability.

Edit: I' afraid I've opened a can of worms. I think I'll go practice and stay away from the for a bit.

February 13, 2017 at 03:11 PM · I'm just now getting around to processing Jeewon's comments from above. Amazing Jeewon that you are able to pick out all that stuff from the first few measures. I made it through m3 and realized how much was missing from my practice. And as I tuned the notes with open strings and other notes, I found that I started producing the "ringing" sound that my teacher has been trying to bring out in my playing. Perhaps with more detailed practice and really getting those notes under my fingers, I will be able to let go of all the technical anxiety and allow the music to flow.

February 13, 2017 at 03:39 PM · Yixi, you've got me thinking about the big questions, and maybe the biggest question, what is art?

I think Kraggerud agrees with you when he says practice is too much about technique these days, when we should be doing more exploration of the score to gain different perspectives, options, which gives us the freedom to decide what to do in concert. He talks about a lot of extra musical things, but always comes back to the harmonic language which informs the possibilities. But, that message is pretty par for the course from high level teachers. So I guess you could say, I think you did say somewhere, we need to incorporate such high level study, whatever stage we're at in our individual journeys. But I think we all agree we need a certain level of technical freedom to be able to create choices for ourselves.

You bring up gestalts :) and I think it's relevant to how we learn technique. I think you're right, technique for the sake of technique is a far ways a way from expression. But, as the saying goes, it's wholes all the way down, wholes all the way up, and sideways too. I think it's learning how to relate sideways wholes (e.g. technique and expression) which helps us integrate wholes the next step up. I know that's an analytical way to put it. And clearly as we see in our own attempts to integrate technique with expression, the parts don't necessarily produce the whole. Our bodies are not machines. You can't just juxtapose one motion to another and expect them to be a coordinated whole, because we are not simply built up from parts and run by a central program.[*] We are like a tensegrity model, where if you tweak one member it affects the model as a whole. So when we analyse partial motions, we have to observe how their motions propagate throughout the system, whether that's how motion at the wrist affects motion at the elbow, or how motion at the wrist affects sound. I think that should be the idea behind practicing technique, always keeping in mind how it fits into the larger picture.



Yay! That's great Smiley (I'm just glad I wasn't off my rocker listening through crummy speakers into the wee hours.) When I read your prior post above I was thinking about that, letting go of technical anxiety. I know the feeling well.

When asked what he thinks about when he peforms, Zukerman says he's thinking about bow division. That might be a prepackaged answer designed to underscore the pedagogical importance he places on bow control (he calls the bow arm his "bread and butter") but I think there's also truth in it. When Zukerman makes the act of performing conscious to himself, he simply observes the ingrained motions which are happening automatically. He might even notice unexpected irregularities, but he's been there before, observed such things under pressure hundreds, thousands of times. Depending on his mental state, it might even bother him enough for the audience to notice. But it's not the observing itself which derails performance, but rather thoughts of derailing, panic, fear, adrenaline spikes which cause us to go to pot as you say.

But even if one has such an underlying confidence problem, when consciousness is focused not on the self, but immersed, lost in the project at hand, thrown into the meaning, emotion, story, beauty of the music, there is no self-consciousness, no ego, no fear-induced panic or spike in adrenaline, no loss of control. Instead, we experience a kind of ecstacy (ek-'out' + histanai 'to place',) a standing outside of ourselves, an out of body, into the music kind of high. Imagine the high when we grow to trust in ourselves (which mostly just comes to us from exposing ourselves to stress repeatedly, simply observing, withholding judgment.)

February 13, 2017 at 10:18 PM · Jeewon, that's right " it's wholes all the way down, wholes all the way up, and sideways too"! That's why it's so hard to analyze something should be so intuitively clear and simple, as W.V.Quine once said truth is simple. It took me several sleepless nights to come up with my own conclusion that truth is simple in a sense that it is indivisible. You can't explain truth -- it just is, nothing can be added to it to make it more clear. This is why sometimes we have to point to something else, like in this video. Why Kraggerud was playing with this young violinist (I believe she is his daughter), not by playing a fancy concerto or Paganini, but something simple? What does he try to tell us by making these videos (12 of them) public?

February 14, 2017 at 12:06 AM · About Fischer, technique, etc.

Technique is fine. It is a tool towards a musical end. Not the focus, but important towards our musical goals.

There's a common false dichotomy between technical proficiency and musicality. While many important teachers emphasize technique so that the music comes "later", I find they are inseparable partners (and indeed, one can start to think about phrasing/special fingerings/etc. from the beginning of learning a piece, IMHO.) One doesn't get more technically proficient so one becomes less musical, nor being "musical" must mean lacking technical means.

Usually thinking too much is the problem, rather than technique. Although wsome players are just content with a perfect technical edifice within a piece, and fail to add their "own say", content to play beautifully but sometimes in a bit non-adventurous way. This is not necessarily caused by an over emphasis in the technical process, but possibly by overlooking musical opportunities within a piece.

In short, while overthinking is not always good, being technically proficient is never bad, nor does it make it harder to make incredibly musical moments. Lacking technical means gets in the way of what would otherwise be a lovely performance. Be technically proficient so you can better express your musical ideas, and so you don't even have to think much, just being able to "make music" happen.

I do understand why some would disagree, and I respect all of you-just don't think one can scietifically prove that being musical must mean "to he** with technique" or that being supremely technically proficient must mean lacking "genuine musical insight."

I do believe, however, that having an ample technical equipment and not making great music with it is a bit of a waste, and misses the point.

February 14, 2017 at 12:56 AM · "One doesn't get more technically proficient so one becomes less musical, nor being "musical" must mean lacking technical means."

Adalberto, very well said as always! Indeed, technique is a good thing in itself but overthinking about technique stuff is the problem. Overthinking might be bad in general, but as for musicality, I don't know we can think enough. What cracks me up is that, as soon as we try to talk about how to get into music, we automatically talk about technicality. "Music = technique" is so deflated. I simply can't accept! :)

Thank you, Smiley for starting this fascinating topic! I am also grateful for all the comments above. What a great discussion so far!

February 14, 2017 at 02:45 AM · I'm grateful that my daughters' teachers have emphasized musicality from the very outset of their lessons.

February 14, 2017 at 03:30 AM · Bow Speed 1: Backwards Bow Planning

Bow speed is of course connected to sound point and pressure. But it is one of the most useful expressive tools we have and worth considering on its own. Bow division is another way to think of bow speed so I consider them interchangeable for the sake of creating a basic phrase with the bow.

Keep in mind we're not doing music here, but stereotypical phrasings that will give the technical freedom, in this case using bow planning, to choose a real phrase you want to express. Use no vibrato at first. All the expression comes from the bow.

mm1-2 placement and beginning of down bow start really well, but there is a swell in the middle of the down bow, so I hear cresc-dim on A and also a cresc-dim on E in m2, before D-C#; so in the first phrase fragment, I hear two notes which are emphasized; the pitch pattern suggests a single arc, growing to and peaking on E, followed by a dim over D and C#

practice the phrase* in quarter notes: A-A-D-F#-E-D-C#

a) use even divisions of the bow for each quarter, but in stop motion; stop at the end of each quarter; make each quarter sound even with no change in dynamic

b) use uneven quarters, stop motion, even sound with no dynamic change within each quarter; just use bow division to shape the fragment: start down with 1/5 bow A; a little more than 1/5 on second A; up, more on D; more on F#--at this point, if you started at the extreme frog you might notice you don't have enough bow on the upbow for D-F#

N.B. you don't always have to start at the frog; to know where to start, work backwards from the peak, E; let's say you need half a bow on E; less on D, less on C#; that means F# on the previous up bow has to be less than 1/2 bow, the previous D, has to be less than F#; plan that backwards to the two As and you know where you have to start in the bow at the beginning; working backwards from the peak of a phrase will give you a good guideline to the approximate bow plan you need for the phrase


b) start down at balance point, use 4 inches for first A, 6 inches for second A, up 6" for D, to the frog for F#, down 1/2 bow for E, 5" for D, 5" for C# (since D will end up being an eighth note that division will give a nice tapering to the sound)

c) repeat in legato with no stopping, but use the same principle of bow division to create the phrase

d) use the actual rhythm

e) vary sound point with speed to see how you can maintain the same shape but add colour, airy with weak sound point and faster bow, denser with stronger sound point and slower bow, but don't think about pressure; all strokes should move across the string; always think of bowing out and in

f) add vibrato, but be aware of how you combine vibrato with bow speed; don't just try the tried and true; try opposites, e.g. slow vibrato with a very airy fast bow, fast vibrato with a slow dense bow; play around with colour

*when working on bowing, practice at least the smallest phrase fragment that makes sense, before working on any parts therein; I use the term phrase in a generic, common sense way, which in reality is kind of meaningless as the concept of musical phrases is a very complex topic


Yixi! That must be so fun for her! Are you taking us towards the idea of learning through play?

February 15, 2017 at 04:22 AM · Bow Speed 2: Delineation

With bow planning, you create a general outline to phrases, their large shapes and hierarchies of smaller phrases to create larger phrases. By using reverse bow planning and picking out your high points, you can actually create a road map on the score as precisely or approximately as you like. As you try it out on the fiddle, you can choose whether you want to go with or against what looks conventional, e.g. the shape of the first two measures doesn't have to rise to the F# and fall away--it could just gradually fall away from the first A, dimming through the E, growing a bit on the C# to give momentum to the A-A leap. This piece is open to so much nuance you could play it differently every time.

The outline is largely based on the beat, or multiples of the beat. But to get real nuance you have to look at how to distribute the bow for the smaller notes which subdivided each beat. Before I mentioned you could spread out the grace notes. To play lyrically, you have to sing all the small notes (which might include vibrating them.) It's a good idea to create a rhythm out of grace notes, in m4 turn the quarter into a dotted eighth and subdivide the subsequent eighth pulse with the grace notes. Use staccato, then parlando, then legato to fill the bow division with the fingers. To make dotted rhythms more singing and linear, it's good to distribute the bow evenly between the dotted note and the short note, to give the short note more length of bow and a chance for you to grow or diminish the sound. Here you could even do a slight rubato on the grace notes to really sing into the B. Afterwards, depending on how you want to direct the descending line, you can try different distributions on each sixteenth note.

E.g. m4 beats 2, 3 and 4

a) you could peak on the B and sustain through the tied A and fall away over G-E-C, but you'd want a little length on G#-A to emphasize the leading note, then you could give more-less-less on C#-B-A to taper away

b) you could cresc. into the B, then immediately slow the bow on the dotted eighth B, slight rubato on the B, and grow on the descending sixteenths, more-more-more on G-E-C# growing to the G#-A and taper away as before on the triplet sixteenths

c) instead of suspending on the B, you could just go through it, toss off the top dotted rhythm and syncopation and give more importance to the descending sixteenths, even grow through the triplet sixteenths to land on the A

So much choice. But how you give or save bow on the little notes can add a lot of nuance

m6 another example of possible uneven distribution on the shorter notes: on the triplet eighths, D to F#, you could grow into the top as the shape of the pattern suggests, so less-more on D-F# and taper away gradually; or you could do the same, grow on D-F# but pull away quickly from the top by giving a slow bow on the E; or you could pull away earlier, grow into the D: less-more-more/B-C#-D and then pull away to the top F# with speed over the fingerboard (will get to colour later,) slight rubato on the F# and a throbbing vibrato, add a nice gliss D-F# if you like, as if to halt slightly at the top of a hill, before cascading back down, and make sure to diminish the sound on the Bb. Whatever you do in m6, do it differently at m30. Do something different for all repeated or similar material.

As with m4, you can give uneven lengths in the short notes to shape it, bring out or diminish certain notes and intervals. For long ascending runs, it's a good idea to give more length to the first few notes, save in the middle of the run and spend as you get to the top.

m35, give length to B-C-D, giving a little less for each; you can start a bit slower and accelerate, saving until you get to the top, E-F#-G; if you want flare, you can grow right to the top and finish with a strong, operatic, C#-F#-E-D; or if you want subtlety, you can float E-F#-G with length and finish tenderly

February 16, 2017 at 02:30 AM · Planning gives you the broad strokes, the larger architecture of your interpretation. Delineation gives nuance and detail. There are artists who tend to lean toward one end of the spectrum over the other. Of course you're really doing both all the time, but in general, planning uses more gradual changes in speed and delineation more sudden changes. I just looked at some artist videos of the Cantabile and Hilary Hahn tends to be more of a planner, Vengerov, very much a nuance man. The opening of Hahn's interpretation is pretty much the bow plan I outlined above in Bow Speed 1. Vengerov's interpretation changes colour much more frequently and often in unexpected ways.

Bow Speed and Sound Point

Most students, though they know all about the 5 lanes and the basic concept of faster bows near the fingerboard versus slow bows near the bridge, and the accompanying pressures which can be supported at various sound points, don't automatically adjust enough, and so often end up with a compromised sound.

Later I'll bring up what I consider to be 'pushing the envelope' to get to a soloistic sound. Extreme use of sound point is included in that list. The ability to control playing-at-the-extremes is what I think allows the soloist to achieve maximum expression, and is a skill which sets concert artists apart.

I teach sound point by getting the student to 'feel the resistance of the string,' rather than thinking of lanes. Lanes are actually shifted by a few millimeters from string to string because of difference in thickness between strings, and can vary with brand of string (something about the interplay of tensions I suspect.) Lanes is a good way to introduce the topic. Feeling the string itself, through the bow, gets you to connect sound and feel. Basically, you need to ingrain the connection between shortening or lengthening the vibrating string length (whether by placing or removing a finger, or shifting, or crossing strings with different stopped lengths) and adjusting sound point. You can do exercises where you add and remove fingers within a position and move the sound point, by mm if doing sequential fingerings, and more when placing larger intervals. The difference in soundpoint between 1 and 4 is considerable. Do the same with shifting exercises. Sevcik Op.8 is useful. It's also useful to practice various speeds, how fast and how slow it's possible to move, on each lane and still produce a clean, solid tone.

Often, when the sound is weak, and we feel the pinky is weak, we compensate by pressing harder with the pinky and bearing down with the bow. Instead, simply move toward the bridge and release excess pressures. At other times, we cross to a lower strings (or grab the G string at the bottom of a chord--as in Bach chords,) and find the sound is strident or doesn't 'speak' well, so we lighten the bow or press. Instead, simply move toward the fingerboard. To be emphatic, we often press. Instead move the bow laterally and feel a better sound point.

m1 it's difficult to see precisely because of the angle, but it looks like you start the D on A-string suddenly closer to the fingerboard, you lose sound point. In the opening I hear a strong A, strong D, strong E. There are too many strong points for the fragment. If modelling e.g. Hilary Hahn's plan, I would start perhaps a little softer, a little closer to the fb, and make sure to either maintain soundpoint crossing to the A, or even nudge toward the bridge, making sure there's enough room to get closest to the bridge on the E, m2.

m2 much softer sound point on the dotted A, beat 4, much harder sound point for the high A (depending how big you want this;) relatively speaking, if you start the opening much softer, this high point would be much easier to bring out without effort

more bridge:

m4 B

m6 rework angles of bows on detache to maintain sound point into F#; right now the upper arm is swiping back; pump the elbow forward on down bows, i.e. angle frog away, tip toward you, slightly, on down bows; you get pretty close to bridge on the F#, but it looks like you overpress the left pinky to compensate--get 3 mm closer and relax the pinky to vibrate; save bow on the down bow C# (crawl along the bow) so you don't have to spend so much on the upbow D to get to the F#

m7 much closer to bridge for the second A on A-string

m17 you could use better distribution here, and if you lean into the bridge on the down bow, it'll be much easier to save bow

m19 you have a good sound point, but lose it on the last F#, beat 4, where you need the bridge the most; keep the sound point and lighten up to taper (that will help with tightness in the pinky)

m21 much more bridge for the upper E harmonic; less bow on the lower E, spread out the grace note, rit. even, and float into the high E; take your time and slide slowly, breathe (there's a dot on the sixteenth C#,) then play the C#; a nuance thing will help here also: the grace notes belong to the high E (note grouping) so on the down bow lower E, taper, slow the bow, do a parlando and faster bow speed for the grace notes, same speed as you do for the slide up into the harmonic (connect left and right); same in next measure

m22 slow bow on D, new bow speed on grace notes and shift to B (for practice, use 1st finger as guiding finger shifting to harmonic A + M9 for the B)

Once you feel connection between left and right, you can eliminate the nuance, or keep it if you like it :) I think it'd be easier to do the big leap on a down bow if you want it tender (like Hahn) and play it bold and juicy on an up bow (like Vengerov)

February 16, 2017 at 05:54 AM · Here are my suggestions for getting into the music and having your mind be immersed in music making rather than technique.

1. Try to attend as many shows and get to know other musicians to talk about how they go about inspiring themselves to be immersed in music.

2. Try go experimental techniques, something you haven't tried before

3. Learn from other musicians and maybe share your own music and get feedback. There's a website that allows you to do that like

February 16, 2017 at 05:11 PM · Bow Speed and Air Bowing

Sounds weird, but training how we move our bow arm through the air helps with how we move the bow across the string.

I suspect control of the arm through the air is the main ingredient for son file (spun sound.) It's like the tone arm on a turn table; it has to be balanced to allow the hand to track across the string. Weight is mostly from hand weight, with some from the forearm, especially for smaller arms.

Of course it's much more complex than that, since everything is always in constant flux. But we need to train the vertical motions in the arm to free lateral motion in the bow (like in a wheel and piston mechanism.)

Here are some basic exercises to develop bow arm motion:

1. air bow: move the bow in the air along the path of the bow, to feel suspension of bow in finger tips, and suspension of hanging hand from wrist, and suspension of whole arm from shoulder

2. big ellipses: explore the range of motion for the shoulder socket, to keep the bow along the approximate path of the bow; start in the air, then:

a. play 1/8" at extreme frog down bow, lift into the air and draw a big ellipse in the air, returning to play another 1/8" at the frog, repeat; move bow to the right as far as arm will allow, tip beyond the strings, circle back with frog to the left beyond the strings; don't crash

b. play 1/8" at extreme tip up bow, lift into the air and draw a big ellipse in the air, returning to play another 1/8" at the tip, repeat; move bow to the left as far as arm will allow, frog beyond the strings, circle back with tip to the right beyond the strings; don't let the bow bounce

3a. play 1/8" downbow at extreme frog, lift and circle back to frog, drawing ellipses using the lower quarter of the bow; start slowly, speed up; also start with small ellipses and draw bigger and bigger ellipses; keep the bow from crushing the sound; also start upbow in lower bow, starting at 1/4 bow, also starting at 1/8" and circling beyond the strings to the left

3b. play 1/8" upbow at extreme tip, lift and circle back to tip, drawing ellipses using the upper quarter of the bow; start slowly, speed up; also start with small ellipses and draw bigger and bigger ellipses; keep the bow from bouncing; also start downbow, starting at 3/4 bow, also 1/8" from tip, circling beyond the strings to the right

4. play 1/8" at extreme frog down bow, lift into the air, play 1/8" at extreme tip up bow, lift into the air, repeat; follow the curve of the bow; start slowly, speed up; start on E at one end, play on G at other end, using one motion, not in stages; start on G, end on E

5. practice grand detache (e.g. on K2)

6. practice a hand detache with a colle motion at the frog; allow the forearm to respond to the flapping of the hand by pumping vertically up and down; also at tip, where now the whole arm responds vertically to the flapping of the hand

7a. practice long bows with short detache strokes at either end; e.g. play 4 sixteenths at frog, dn-up-dn-up, followed by long downbow over 7 counts, play 4 sixteenths at tip, up-dn-up-dn, followed by long upbow over 7 counts, repeat; make the sixteenths sound clean and dense, the long bow clean and spun

7b. repeat 6a, except play sixteenths in ff, long bow in pp

8a. starting at frog down-up, play long short, long short, repeatedly, triplets or dotted rhythms i) allowing the bow to crawl along the bow using proportional bow lengths, return up-dn to the frog ii) playing equal bow lengths, so stationary, but the short note with an 'in the air' feeling with the arm, so the long and short notes have the same dynamic iii) as in ii) but lift the bow into the air on the short note to get back to the frog in time

8b. do 8a ii) and iii) starting up bow at tip

8c. also do 8a ii) and iii) and 8b ii) and iii) starting at middle and balance points

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