How to practice like a pro?

February 18, 2017 at 10:20 PM · We know that practice doesn’t make perfect but only builds habits -- best practice builds the good habits and brings best results. Nathan Cole’s practice guide called “Eight Practice Mistakes You’re Making Eight Now” raised a number of issues, which may not be obvious to many adult amateur students who are wondering why we don’t progress the way pros/pro-oriented students do. The mistakes include: You’re not succeeding. You’re making a bad sound. You’re working too hard. Your short-term expectations are too high, too low, or they don’t exist at all. You’re not practicing for performance. Your problem-solving is one-dimensional. You’re not getting feedback.

Also, among his numerous wonderful advices on practice, technique, musicality and health issues, Jeewon recently mentioned that he was also getting into this issue. I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Jeewon, but I must give you the credit for my current obsession :)

Let’s dig deep into how to practice at the highest level we can, no matter how old we are, how little practice time we’ve got and at what level we are.

Replies (79)

February 18, 2017 at 10:26 PM · Please, let's do that.

I will sit back and soak it in.

February 18, 2017 at 11:11 PM · Here is one good example that one gets into the music right away when learn a new piece. She is a very talented 10 yo and her approach to practice seems pretty professional to me. Notice how she commented on her practice: at around 7:35 "You've got to save the bow". Then at around 8:05, instead of worrying about perfecting the staccato, she said "It's very playful." Again, at around 11:17 she talked about her mistake in not reading the music carefully. Later, she talked about finding a piece too hard is also pretty hilarious.

I don't think most of us violin students can sight-read and learn as fast as she does. Also probably there's no perfect practice method or skill set, but this sort of thinking process I find to be very informative:

February 19, 2017 at 12:25 AM · Put a $100 bill in a glass jar next to your music stand. There you go.

February 19, 2017 at 02:40 AM · Hi,

Some of the best advice on slow practice that I have found comes from Hilary Hahn and can be found in the following link:

Sums up extremely well how most practice as professionals.


February 19, 2017 at 04:12 AM · Thanks for the link, Mr Vachon. Now I know where to go if I ever want a list of every single technique/ability/skill/effort (...) involved in playing/learning/expressing/mastering (...) the violin.

It's clearly intended for professionals, as you said. I will say that it completely overwhelmed me as a beginner! Interesting read, though. Good use of terms.

Don't know why I even decided to read this thread, when it's called "practice like a PRO". Ha ha, one day :)

February 19, 2017 at 08:06 AM · Lot's of interesting threads you and others have started as of late, Yixi! Lot's to keep track of ;)

One skill we know we have to develop is our attention, since we can only change what we notice. So it's worth spending at least a few minutes a day practicing attending, watching our attention from a third person perspective, whatever it is we're working on. As we get better at noticing we start being able to do it in the moment, in which we can describe, and eventually apprehend almost at once, what it is we do, what we wanted to do, and figure out the difference.

But because of the way we are, always acting on the world, we're often not very aware of what it feels like, what our bodies feel like, when doing some action. E.g. while shifting you can easily notice the feel of the string underneath the fingers, and even have a vague sense you're pressing too hard, but pressure regulation will be better controlled if you can switch your attention from what the string feels like, the feeling of metallic, wound, springy wire, to what your finger feels like during the shift, the feel of the pad sticking or sliding, the feel of the joints yielding or resisting, the feel of the response or lack thereof at the wrist, but also further afield, the rotation and any other motions at the shoulder, the response at the neck/chin, and everything that happens in the bow arm; or while playing a fast full bow, in addition to the feel of the stick and the weight of the bow, feel the fingers, the wrist, the elbow, the shoulder, the left side during the motion. When we're learning a new skill, or having problems with an old one, all motions require a double attending until the dual sensations become one and the same thing, until there's a complete interpenetration of the two.

In essence, learning to play an instrument is to embody it. Like a blind person who can feel with, and map out the world with the tip of a cane, the instrument becomes an extension of our bodies, our inner voices. Ultimately, we want to inhabit a sound world of our making, but I think even before we begin to sculpt that soundscape, or at least while we chip away at it, we have to refine our interaction with the instrument, the interface, so as to turn all interaction into a single action until we no longer need that interface. A similar dual attending has to happen between action and sound, until we embody sound. Too abstract?

P.S. I received Lyric today (early!) and am pondering slowly as I wander through it's pages. Really amazing stuff... the way she's unfolding her lyric thoughts... watching it happen is rather like opening an anticipated gift while struggling to keep the wrapper intact! But I can already tell it will be well worth the prolonged journey.

February 19, 2017 at 02:10 PM · Hi,

G.A. - glad you liked the link. Practicing in terms of concept doesn't change much between beginners and pros. Only the amount, and the length of the music. Ms. Hahn's advice well-applied to one from the beginning will produce better long term results as one evolves.

Although this is only my personal experience, and where I am at at this juncture of my life, if I look at my own current concert schedule, here is what I have on the menu for the next month or so. I am doing on orchestra programme consisting of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade, Dvorak Carnival Ouverture, and a Wind concerto by Morawetz. Then, there is Puccini's Tosca in a chamber version (basically meaning that I get the play the first violin part of the Opera as one player...) and then a concert of Mozart's Viennese Sonatas (K.376-380) with pianoforte and a period bow for me. I probably will end up with more things appearing on the docket I am sure in addition to this.

My days are pretty simple. First, intonation exercises to keep the ear sharp. Then scales - one key - Flesch's #5 slow and in tempo, and then thirds, sixths, octaves, fingered octaves and tenths. Then an etude for my own extra good. This I do all the time regardless of what else I have to play.

Then Mozart sonatas for the rehearsals (and other harder passages from the others) "Ms. Hahn style," meaning slow and then performing through them or rehearsing them, then learning the music for the Opera and Orchestral stuff combining learning new pages with revision of the previous learnt pages and extra work on passages that are more difficult for me.

I usually do 50 minute sessions with 10 minutes break if more than one in a row and I do as many of these as I can in a day.

At the same time, I keep an eye for any general issues that need attention/improving/focus on changing as needed.

The biggest change in my practice and playing these days is that I try to engage more my intuitive mind and less my analytical one rather than going through the reverse process. Much faster and more powerful.

Some ideas on this beautiful Sunday morning...


February 19, 2017 at 06:06 PM · Christian wrote, "Then an etude for my own extra good." What were the last two or three? Just to give us an idea what you'd pick.

"Then Mozart sonatas for the rehearsals (and other harder passages from the others) 'Ms. Hahn style,' meaning slow and then performing through them or rehearsing them."

Is there any value in increasing the speed gradually? Or do you just go directly from "slow" to "normal"?

How much of the slow thing should we expect to have to do on a passage to see demonstrable improvement? I realize that's very open ended and highly variable, but is there a way to get a feel for that?

February 19, 2017 at 08:02 PM · Good questions, Paul.

Christian, thank you so much for the advice! I also wonder if you could elaborate on "intonation exercises to keep the ear sharp"? You mean something like testing same note to hear slightly sharp and flat with "roll" of the same finger and/or tuning with open strings, etc.? I guess I would really like to know HOW a pro practice that makes it so effective: how do you listen to yourself? How do you spot issues and how do you fix them? What % of practice do you spend on the violin and % on studying the score? etc.


Jeewon, your blind person example is so powerful that kept me awake last night! :) I mean to say THANK YOU SO MUCH! It's so rich yet so clear and I can't think of any better way to describe how to learn kinesthetically. I have no doubt you and the Lyric Phil will be a great match.

Jan's works are not easily accessible to most her readers (grad students and profs)I know. I've been struggling with them since day one and never stop struggling each time I open her books. The thing is, and I think she'll agree, truth is the hardest thing to teach: you either see it or not. Once you see it, no more explanation is needed. If you don't see it, no amount of words can help. Once is a while I see what she is talking about. It's always so gorgeous that I want to cry. That's worth all the hard work for me.

February 20, 2017 at 04:10 AM · Yixi, I wish I could take credit for such an elegant illustration, but that's Merleau-Ponty, who was also well versed in Gestalt theory. I ended up in Continental Philosophy, having had an aversion to the analytic tradition, so it's great to delve into it guided by one who is well versed on both sides of that coin. Always meant to study Wittgenstein too but never got around to it. About time!


To me, meticulous slow practice is more about polishing and developing consistency than learning a new piece. I only get that obsessive once I've got the piece under my fingers. If I haven't done such slow practice, there's always a feeling of, "yikes, have I played this before?" at the first performance. I think it's a matter of familiarizing yourself with the piece as a whole, rather than piecemeal, practicing playing through large sections while preparing every move in advance. So on the one hand, it's about giving your brain the time to work out every detail you plan to bring out and trains playing-through. On the other hand, it trains foresight, so that the anticipation of and preparation for what comes next becomes part and parcel of what you're playing at the moment.

Keep in mind an artist of Hahn's stature doesn't really need to upload notes into her brain or develop technique. She's already learnt the notes decades ago, and she can sight read anything. Score study, thinking about interpretation, and slow practice pretty much takes up the bulk of her rep. practice. The rest of us still need to spend considerable time bow planning or smoothing out left hand difficulties or working out coordination issues, etc. before we get to that stage.

February 20, 2017 at 07:32 AM · Jeewon, this kind of clarification is exactly what I was looking for when I started this thread. There are so many books written on practice already. I look at my bookshelves and thought to myself, I've been buying and reading and using these books for years, and I can cite many rules, but why I don't practice like a pro? It's understandable that most instructions are so generic that they read like outlines/guidelines. Often after reading them, I still want to understand why, how and when to apply them to me in various situations.

Slow practice is a good example. For those of us didn't use to slow practice for most of our violin life, it's probably a good thing to do slow practice whenever we can make us do it. When I was learning Mozart vc #5 a few years ago, I was forced by my teacher to start learning every note at 60bpm for the entire 1st mvt. It did help me to build a slow practice habit and helped my intonation and tone production a great deal after this. But I can't see myself to do this with all the pieces I'm learning. So I'd do slow-fast-slow kind of pattern throughout the learning of a new piece. I slow down when things don't go well, of course but then gradually (20% - 50% each time depends on how complicated the spot is) speed up and stitch together with the rest.

Another thing I like to do is, when run into a problematic passage, instead of working on one passage or one bar, I'd zoom in to one note or a space between two notes and fix it. Then stitch them to a note before and after it. I know not everyone would agree this is necessarily a good way to fix problems and I'd love to hear what pros have to say about this boiling-down-to-one-note approach.

Lastly, I used to try to work on one spot until I completely nailed it and then move on to the next. It took me forever and by the time I got back to the earlier well-worked spots, I forgot a lot already. Now I'd work on a few passages (say 1/4 page new material) in one session, take a break, quickly move to the next a passage, and so on. This way I would do more review and revision and I don't get stuck in one place for too long. By doing so, I also get a whole picture of a piece better and it helps when I review the previously (imperfectly) worked parts, they make a lot more sense. Again, I don't know this is the most effective way of learning a piece, from pros' point of view.

February 20, 2017 at 11:24 AM · Hi,

Paul and Yixi: I will try to answer your questions as best as possible. I'll start will Paul...

Christian wrote, "Then an etude for my own extra good." What were the last two or three? Just to give us an idea what you'd pick.

It depends, but I keep returning again and again to Kreutzer etudes often. Sometime, I may use one for a bowing thing that I want to improve (#2, #5, #8, etc.) are good for that. At the moment, I am focusing of the ones in double-stops for certain things that I want to achieve in this regard.

Is there any value in increasing the speed gradually? Or do you just go directly from "slow" to "normal"?

For me, very personally, I don't find that increasing the speed gradually accomplishes anything except making it less accurate. So, it is slow to normal. If it doesn't translate or correlate, then there is usually something that I have done incorrectly when practicing slowly and I go back and change that. That said, I do need to play something in tempo to find out if the correlation works, but the work is done slowly.

How much of the slow thing should we expect to have to do on a passage to see demonstrable improvement? I realize that's very open ended and highly variable, but is there a way to get a feel for that.

It depends. If there is a general obstacle in the playing, then that takes a while because you have to know what it is. The basics of playing are most often the cause (things like pressing the thumb in the bow, playing from the shoulder instead of the elbow, not doing the intermediate notes properly or planning shifts, etc., etc.) so knowing that, you can fix thing pretty fast. The thing is that learning is a constant process. As of late, I use a different kind of mind and approach to the process that makes it easier. It is a process by which you see and observe rather than think and reason. So the answer comes differently but more rapidly, at least for me. Also, working on who you are and how you think changes things as well.

Hope this answers your questions Paul...

Yixi... First off, thank you; I am glad that post helped.

I also wonder if you could elaborate on "intonation exercises to keep the ear sharp"? You mean something like testing same note to hear slightly sharp and flat with "roll" of the same finger and/or tuning with open strings, etc.?

What I do, is something that I designed for myself. I used the idea of patterns from Robert Gerle with the idea of open strings by Flesch. So, I will select ones of the 4 basic patterns (one per day in cycles), and do from first to 8th position, one note per bow on each string against open strings. I will fix every note if needed, and try to do it as quickly as possible if it doesn't happen instantly and instinctively. Fixing intonation is a skill that I find very useful to have and happens with the ear first.

I guess I would really like to know HOW a pro practice that makes it so effective

I am not sure how to quite answer that one. I guess for me, learning to be more effective is an ongoing process. I have a lot of admiration for those who are more effective and get better results in less time than I do! But, in the end, like a former teaching colleague once said, everyone is different and it is about getting things done and the end result, not how much time it takes you to get there.

how do you listen to yourself?

As best as I can, but in time I have learnt that observational listening is more important than critical listening. Also, active listening rather than passive. So, you listen with the idea of what you want in the end, and try to to make the two meet.

How do you spot issues and how do you fix them?

Depends on the issue. Spotting an issue is pretty easy; we all know how we want things to sound like, and anything that doesn't is an issue. I find that most times, issues are caused by the most simple basics things, so I have to keep my mind attentive to these; for me, it is things like keeping the left shoulder down, bowing from the elbow not the shoulder, not pressing the fingers into the bow, intermediate notes, etc. I fix them in slow practice by making sure I do them to begin with, or fix them. And then, slow practice and repetition. Sometimes this can extend to a spot, a line or two, or a whole page depending on the difficulty. Kind of a quick answer, but hope that helps.

What % of practice do you spend on the violin and % on studying the score? etc.

That depends on what I am doing. A lot of work is done on the violin, but I am always watching people play, reading, or listening. Most of the score study happens with the instrument. And regardless of anything, listening a lot in rehearsals where I hear things very differently than I would ever hear in a recording.

For this Mozart project for example, it meant researching bows for what I needed, reading Leopold Mozart's work on violin playing, and now that I have the bow, basically relearning the Mozart Sonatas and doing what he wrote and what the bow does, rather than a more modern approach.

Hope this answers your questions Yixi...


February 20, 2017 at 01:28 PM · Christian, yes indeed that was helpful. For many of us we were taught that practicing means being able to play better whatever we're working on at the moment. When you're a little kid that works just fine. Not so much any more.

February 20, 2017 at 02:12 PM · This is a really interesting thread.

I generally do not do any fast practice on something that I am working on except to occasionally try to give it a run to see what is still breaking down at tempo, and to ensure that what I am doing slowly is useful (and that fingerings still make sense at tempo, etc.)

Similarly, I rarely play through in the initial stages of learning something. Stitching together sections takes place later -- possibly later in the process than it should, since this generally is where things fall apart when I play through in lessons. Furthermore, I generally do not speed up sections uniformly, which makes it harder to play through without changing tempos by section.

Whether or not I do gradual speed-ups depends on the passage. There are certainly fast passages where clicking it up notch by notch each day is useful, but in general, once I find the tempo where something breaks down, I return to a slower tempo (if perhaps not the slowest tempo) and work on it more before trying for more speed again. But most of the time, it's "work slowly" with occasional tries of "work at the fastest tempo that this can be cleanly played at" (which eventually becomes full tempo).

The simple fact of the matter is that fast practice is usually sloppy practice. You aren't training the mind to have full conscious control of the body and constant awareness of what you're doing. Consequently, even if it's (sometimes) more fun than slow practice, it is a much less efficient use of time.

I do use note-chaining -- building up from one note to the whole passage -- especially for practicing passagework, but for lyrical work, the phrase shape is important.

February 20, 2017 at 03:50 PM · Yes very interesting! Thanks for sharing how you practice Christian, Yixi and Lydia. The reality is that we don't really know much about how other people practice, as pros, as pro-oriented students, or amateur students, because it's not something we usually reveal. So thanks Yixi for starting this thread. I'll take Hilary Hahn's post at face value, but as valuable as it is, most of what she gave us was methods of practice more than the nitty gritty of what she goes through day in and day out. That would be interesting!

I suspect the more people post here about their personal experiences, which I hope people do, the more variety we will see than uniformity. And that is a challenge with the question of how pros practice, because we'll get such a variety of answers (which I suspect was Yixi's plan all along :)

But as Christian suggests, practice is a very personal thing. It's determined by our goals, habits, available time, mindset, etc. It's likely the most personal thing a musician does, because it's in the privacy of one's own studio that one faces oneself, the limitations and the possibilities, the fears and the challenges, and the struggle to overcome. So I think the prerequisite for good practice is self-knowledge (and acceptance), what motivates, and what drives you nuts, so that there is no false-hope, as J put it, but with determination, a plan for action. Cheesy, but has been true for many students and me.

My practice is mostly driven by the type of work I do (and my personality, my m.o.--which probably determines the type of work.) As a freelancer sometimes I'll be called on the morning of a rehearsal, sometimes it's a dress with a concert in the evening. So my tendency is to start with a quick-and-dirty approach. I try to play everything through at or near tempo (or sped up if it's a slow tempo,) going along and marking passages which are a disaster. Then I come back and look for the most difficult passage and try to fix things, or at least come up with a strategy I can use when coming back to it. If it's up to me, I'll rough in the bowings based on impressions of phrasing, and put in fingerings that aren't obvious (including guiding fingers or positions.) And work through all the rough spots in a cursory way. Usually, a lot of the stuff I couldn't sight read will be resolved with a better fingering or bowing. When I say I try to play up to tempo, that doesn't mean I'm able to play through it. I'll use chunking, pausing for as long as I need to to be able to execute the next chunk in my head perfectly, then try it out on the fiddle. If it's terrible I go over that chunk until I can get pretty close, and just leave it until next time. Chunking quickly reveals all the technical glitches, usually between two notes.

A more pedagogical, euphemistic way to put it, how I sold it to my students, is to call this phase the 'discovery' phase. Fancy.

For students I'd also suggest they figure out key centres and themes, the basic form, look for patterns of notes which might suggest phrasing at discovery also, and study the score throughout the whole process. The idea was to encourage investigation and experimenting. Some did more than others. A few were just waiting for 'the' fingerings and bowings.

Then, with however much time I have until rehearsal or performance, I will go through all the 'x'ed out passages in order of greatest to fewest difficulties and work them with rhythmic practice, rhythmic acceleration, slurred patterns and added accents permuting through various note groupings, until I can play it near tempo. I will use speeding up if I still need to practice playing through the passage without stopping. Otherwise I'll jump straight to playing larger and larger sections, depending on what the ensemble is (how exposed I am.) This is the workout phase.

In my line of work that's about as much as I usually get done before performances start. If it's one or a few concerts, that's all folks, until the next gig. If it's a longer run the work continues through each performance, hopefully becoming pretty stable by the end of previews.

But if it's a quartet recital or solo stuff, it's after such work that I start doing the slow meticulous practice which I find very difficult to do, and mentally and emotionally very taxing (frequent breaks :)

With students, to complete the pretty picture of a method of practice, after the discovery phase, I get them into the working phase all of which, e.g. for a movement of a larger work, is usually about 1 week or two before they get to try it out in masterclass. Then it's back to the drawing board to figure out what worked and what didn't, revise fingerings and bowings, and get back to the working phase, or if ready, move on to the polishing phase, test it out in performance, etc. None of it is as linear or as progressive as I make it out to be, but this cycle of discovery, work, performance, rediscovery, work, polish, performance is a pretty efficient way to prepare the work to a performance ready level. After the first performance, or a few, that's when the polishing really starts.

February 20, 2017 at 05:00 PM · Christian, Lydia and Jeewon, thank you! This is really helpful. A lot to absorb. Indeed, I'm asking something incredibly personal. It's very kind and generous of you to share your valuable experience. Jeewon is absolutely right. I didn't think there'll be one pro practice fits all. Learning varied and multi-dimensional ways of problem solving from pros has been one of the best ways for me to keep focused and improving.

February 20, 2017 at 07:20 PM · Jeewon's post reminds me that I don't learn orchestral music the same way I learn solo music. For orchestra parts, I sight-read it, work out and write down fingerings for any place where the fingering isn't intuitively obvious, go back and hit the places that are both difficult and exposed with the goal of ensuring that they are learned properly, and then go to the places that are difficult but not exposed and get them to the point where I'm not obviously muffing them. My focus is on ensuring that even if I have to fake bits of something, it'll be in tempo and clean and I will hit the structural notes in the passage. My goal is to minimize the time I have to spend on it, while still ensuring that I come to the first rehearsal well-prepared, so I generally spend basically no time on anything that's sight-readable.

In any given piece of music, you'll probably find that most of it is straightforward enough, but there are a handful of places that are just a bear, and will absorb the vast majority of practice time that you devote to the work.

February 20, 2017 at 07:32 PM · Hi,

Yixi, Paul and Jeewon: Thanks! I am glad it helped, and I also thank you for sharing as well! That is the beauty of sharing this; you never know when someone's ideas or knowledge might contain just what you need to overcome something at the moment!

Yixi, practicing is of course individual. From my understanding, Ms. Hahn really follows her words as her regular approach and I know many other top players who follow similar lines, so there are some things that seem consistent and universal. Pinchas Zukerman once said in a masterclass when asked about practicing and preparing for a competition that it doesn't change anything. The quality of practicing should be constant every day all the time, though you may have more or less to do depending on what is on the docket.

Lydia, thanks for your thoughts. For me, I approach orchestral music with the same attention, practice and end goal that I would for solo or chamber music.

Cheers and thanks everyone!

February 21, 2017 at 01:26 AM · J K - Your 'discovery' seems similar to my 'fluency' but on a higher level. Very informative thread.

February 21, 2017 at 02:08 AM · I was just pondering how much of the "get the orchestra music out of the way" has been inherited from my teachers, even the ones who were members of top-tier orchestras. I think most teachers tend to strongly de-emphasize the role of orchestra music in the lives of their students (and often chamber music as well) -- a sort of inconvenience that interferes with the "real" work of solo repertoire and technical work.

February 21, 2017 at 02:24 AM · I agree some aspects of practicing are universal. I find it encouraging to know that even HH goes through a painstakingly slow and detailed routine to achieve her level of polish and consistency (and what a level it is! Unmatched in someways.) Or, a more growth minded way of thinking of that, it's the slow, detailed practice which enables such a high level of polish and consistency.

But when she says her teachers believed "technical prowess and musicality are inextricably connected, so I’m used to working on both at once" I can't help but wonder, "yeah but... what does that look like without her prowess?" Philosophically I agree, as we've discussed elsewhere, we need to integrate musicality with technique as early in the process as possible, but how we get there is not so clear cut if we don't already possess the technique or the musicality, or awareness. Furthermore, if movement itself is interfering, it may be obscuring what our technique ("loudness, softness, tone control, bow distribution, articulation, rhythm, and vibrato") or musical sensibility tries to express.

Thinking back, the approach I used was most effective with students who could read well, who learned the notes quickly. Perhaps those who seemed to take longer than average to get to a preliminary performance level would have done well with a different approach, a less analytical, more integrative approach.

So I think it's important to develop awareness not only to integrate sound and movement, and the instrument into our sense of movement, but also to discover the way we process such integration, the way we learn.


Lydia, there'a at least one high level teacher at a major school in the US who focuses on excerpts at the expense of rep. I'm not sure if it's a tendency per se either way. Advanced students are expected to be able to handle orchestral rep, and any further teaching is often left to professional coaches in youth orchestra. All performance programs include orchestral rep classes, though they can be less than useful depending on who teaches it. But it is true a lot of high level teachers emphasize a certain kind of solo rep, at the expense of sonatas and salon pieces and what not. I do think the better ones promote chamber music, recognizing it's importance for string players.


Dave, 'fluency' sounds interesting. Would you expound on that a bit?

P.S. I'm currently polishing 2 quartets for 2nd and 3rd performances coming up, with 3 new quartets to learn over the summer. While I'm polishing anyways, I think I'll try Lydia's approach to learning the new quartets and will report back with any findings.

February 21, 2017 at 06:47 AM · Lydia, I just came back from a long orchestra rehearsal. I also put much less effort in orchestra work than the solo and chamber stuff -- no more than 10% of the total practice time was allocated to orchestra. I try to be a better sight-reader. Orchestra gives me good opportunity to practice sight-reading.

I'm sure I'm in the minority here that I much prefer playing with a small group and working on building repertoire than playing in an orchestra. I didn't grow up in an environment where there are youth orchestras and tons of community orchestras that one can and possibly expected to join at an early age. I tried a couple of community orchestras and didn't find terribly rewarding. However, this time I joined a conservatory orchestra with all the pro-oriented young players. It's fun and I'm learning a lot from their mindset.


Jeewon, regarding musicality, I recall Benjamin Zander said in one of his masterclasses that to be musical is to care, or something to that extent. I wish I could find the exact quote.

This is something I've been thinking and would love to hear what you think. Intention makes a lot difference in physical training, as they say you have to mean it when you work on certain muscles or you won't get the maximum result. In AT, thinking along, without doing anything like extending your neck or shoulders, can undo a lot of tension and bad habits. I believe when we play violin, often by mere thinking/feeling about the notes in a certain way can result us to play in a certain way that is quite different if such thought/feeling is absent.

Example: in the middle of the cadenza of Mendelssohn's VC, mvt 1, after the trilled part, comes the C# on G string (the first note of the triplet C#DG). When I think: "This is the most beautiful and sad moment...", it sounds in a certain way. Lovely. If I think about how to use the bow and vibrato, it sounds flat.

This is probably what Zander is talking about when he talks about "to care".

Edit: Of course thinking is doing. The Cartesian mind and body separation is not supportable. Our brain is our body with special functions such as thinking, willing, caring,etc.


Christian, thank you for reminding me Gerle's book. I've got his "The Art of Practicing the Violin" and I'm rereading it now. Wow, I found I missed a lot of great stuff in the past. Thank you again for taking the time answering all my questions in such detail!

February 21, 2017 at 01:49 PM · J K - Fluency - I'm sort of a mid-pack amateur with fiddle and some pop repertoire. For my limited scope, I perform from memory with the music as a reminder. When I'm not fluent, I can survive in a group but not solo.

February 21, 2017 at 06:23 PM · Yixi and Jeewon, I used not to read posts that need scrolling on my old screen (which is why my own posts try to be succinct) but thanks to you two, I now spend even more time on when I should be practicing like a professional..

February 21, 2017 at 10:01 PM · Gotcha Dave. That's the perfect word. If I may borrow it and put it in the context of what I wrote above, we achieve fluency by many different means, my favoured approach--thus far--being through analyzing and simplifying, then we polish with slow practice.


Adrian, I often read your concise posts and think to myself, "I'd pay a full € for some more of that." :)



§4 In an analysis, integration does not occur.

The aims of analysis are explicitly disintegrative.

Old-style synthesis, as the complementary technique to analysis, is additive rather than integrative. Its elements remain insular; the relative ordering within the sequence remains unalterable. Only the direction changes.

§5 Polydimensionality is a prerequisite of integrity.

Polydimensional meaning might be pictured as being dependent upon a spray of possible axes of association, whose relations to one another are neither necessarily symmetric nor orthogonal.

§6 In a polydimensional structure, integrated components may transmit motion to one another. Under certain conditions of attunement, a resonance-body is formed. Such a structure then is capable of complex resonance.

It has what might be called resonant form.

~Jan Zwicky, Lyric Philosophy

It gives me the shivers. When you started talking about this stuff (was it in Smiley's thread?) you stopped me in my tracks and my head was turned so fast I thought I might wake up with whip lash. More later.

February 21, 2017 at 10:43 PM · Thanks for starting this thread! Many of my thoughts are already summed up in the guide that you mentioned in the beginning, but I was thinking today that, for better and worse, a professional usually "needs" to practice for some specific reason: an upcoming performance, most likely.

I say better and worse because I love goal-oriented practicing; I think it's the only way to make long-term progress. But at the same time, there have been stretches in my professional life where I felt like I wasn't making any discoveries. I was just trying to learn music and stay above water. So that's the downside of professional practice.

But there have also been times where I felt free to experiment, to devote enormous amounts of time to projects that would never see the light of day. I could go at my own pace without feeling guilty, as though I had to get back to my "real job".

So I think it's important both for pros and amateurs to devote some time to both kinds of work, the goal-oriented and the free-form. I don't see either one as being valuable without the other.

February 22, 2017 at 03:55 AM · Zander is a genius of a teacher of musicality. He's not only able to communicate aspects of music we feel immediately, but also to elicit a change from the student, regardless of instrument played, right before our eyes. All over youtube. I worked with Gerald Stanick on viola (Fine Arts Quartet, 1963-68) at a summer camp and he was also like that. He never talked technique, only sound, and got you to hear yourself as you played, and got you to elevate your sound, sculpt your sound until it was a gorgeous phrase. What a sound he had! But you wouldn't know it to look at him. He was very tall, but hunched over when he played. Scroll pointing almost straight down. Fingers extended, almost rigid on the bow. Left hand clamping, almost chomping down. His movement was not very elegant, not to put too fine a point on it. And in a flash I thought to myself, at a stage in my life where my purpose for living was to "master" technique (so naive,) "huh! so it's not actually about technique at all."

Well it is and it isn't. After our discussions here I think I'll call effective technique, integrated, and ineffective, mechanical. Or maybe the good stuff should just be technique and the not as good stuff mechanics. You can perfect mechanics all you want (e.g. a paint brush motion in the fingers--looks very elegant) but if it doesn't effect the right sound at the right time (paint brush almost cancels sound if it's not timed right--rigid fingers following the curve of the bow can produce a connected bow change) if it's not integrated, it only looks pretty and can sound like whatever. But sometimes mechanics does get in the way, so you have to develop and integrate it to improve technique.

So when you said technique is not music, I got what you meant immediately (I guess I said it too--first?) I wrote something years ago about bowing and how all that really mattered was where and how the 'rubber meets the road' or something like that. I was thinking of Stanick. But if you think of technique as always integrative of musical meaning, a spray of possible interrelations, then like Lydia said way back, technique is music, when it strives for resonant form. If you look at HHs list of technique ("loudness, softness, tone control, bow distribution, articulation, rhythm, and vibrato") I think that's how she intends it, a list of already integrated technique (which begs my question, what do you do before it's integrated.)

If a single thought, an intention, can elicit a certain sound, then I'd say you have an integrated bow arm, integrated with emotion. And in trying to shape your interpretation, it's certainly better than reciting a short manual of motions to yourself to prepare for a bow stroke. Resonant words and gestures are the only tools a conductor has to play her instrument. Why not us too? But all along (thanks Dave for your word,) I've been thinking on one level about achieving fluency, wherein those manuals can be a real time saver until a new motion you're trying out is assimilated, a synthesis. In the opposite direction, analysis is probably the most efficient way to achieve fluency in a new piece. Fluency, in and of itself, might not necessarily have anything to do with musical thought, but it does give us the freedom to explore expression.

February 22, 2017 at 08:36 AM · Jeewon,

"§ 181 Integration is not fusion.

If the mind is not distinguishable from the heart, or hand, or voice, it cannot be responsive to them, nor they to it.


"§245 Gesture and interpretation: we do not grasp the meaning as something distinct from the gesture, something the gesture possesses in addition to being a gesture. Our understanding is unmediated."

In spoken language, fluency means we don't have to think or analyze each word when we say something convey our meaning/intention. The speech is made and understood more or less unmediated.

To achieve such fluency, it requires a lot of basic technical learning of a language. How do we learn it? Isn't it the quickest way to learn and practice a language by associating/integrate sound with meaning?

Analysis is, as it were, the finger that points to the moon. When we play/practice, wouldn't it be nice if we could see at the "moon" and forget about the "finger" as soon as possible?

This is what I've been struggling these days. When I was young, I just wanted to play and paid little attention to technicall analysis. Now as I'm getting older, my teacher told me "Just play!", as I've been over-analyzing.

February 22, 2017 at 03:02 PM · (Hey no fair! I'm only in my §20's)

Yes! I think we basically agree on everything, except I don't think the capacity to convey musical meaning is uniform or universal--we don't all start at the same starting blocks. I love this TED talk by Zander:

He proves we're all capable of grasping musical meaning. With a little guidance we're capable of recognizing/prerecognizing line in a phrase, or harmonic intention. A great communicator, a great teacher, can convey and lead us to a basic understanding of what's behind meaning in music, why it moves us. But to learn how to convey it, much less be convincing, is rather a long journey from there.

It's true that some people are innately equipped to understand the harmonic journey Chopin takes us on; but for most people such understanding must be learnt by studying harmony and analysis, a useful tool for reverse-engineering our performances.

Getting back to language, to gain spoken fluency, as with the Suzuki method, learning by immersion, rote, attaching sound to meaning is a great way to start, possibly the best way, in that it develops immediate connections. And there are some who can continue to grasp complex soundscapes and intuit them. But for most of us, Western Classical music becomes too complex at some point, especially when considering the variety of styles (kind of like sub-cultures and dialects in language) to understand without learning how to read, analyse, integrate, before we begin to interpret. Eventually, to interpret well, we have to go beyond casual conversation, to explication, to prose, to poetry, hermeneutics and incorporate all of that into our recitation. But then on top of all that we must absorb all the skills of elocution and ultimately prosody to give a truly convincing performance.

I was thinking about the finger pointing to the moon the other day too! (Did Bruce Lee rip that off or did he come up with it?) I think it's a perfect illustration, but sometimes we have to learn how to point first. It's true if we focus only on the arm and finger, we may never look up to see what we're aiming for. I know first hand 'cause I've been there. So we need both from the start in appropriate measure. And sometimes what's appropriate is something only a teacher can tell--I certainly was deaf to what I was told was appropriate until I saw/heard Stanick for myself! (I've been known to get a bit obsessive...)

So I think analysis is an important stage, whether of movement or music. It's by no means the final stage, as we're reminded when we watch a mechanical performance. But it quickly reveals glitches so we can address them expeditiously. To me, it's bracketing stuff we're getting to, so that we can get to it quicker. So in the cycle of phases:

  • discovery gets us immersed into the work, gives us the big picture, a rough idea of what to aim for; score study helps us see the whole
  • analyzing and simplifying (bracketing the big picture) helps achieve a basic fluency speaking, not yet conversing; score analysis helps us see the road map
  • a first preliminary performance makes us revisit and revise, rediscover so that our aim is a little more accurate

  • second analysis helps with further identifying of glitches, but we also fine tune elocution and plan the route we'll take, help stake the fence-posts
  • in slow practice, the polishing phase, we finally explore and integrate prosody, the intonational and rhythmic aspects of language, or in our case the aspects of soundspace and time, the sculpting of which is the art of musical interpretation

Rinse, repeat, but in a spiral learning way, each time sitting with Sisyphus, imagining him happy. (I too am prone to over-analyzing. And you're right, we shouldn't, we can't, do analysis and interpretation at once. So analyzing systematically and quickly helps minimize it. But hey, what we try to do is so complex and difficult, if I could achieve a clean, reverse engineered performance I'd be happy with that :)

February 22, 2017 at 04:42 PM · Jeewon,

Of course we almost agree on everything. We read the same books, don't we? :D What I'm doing here is simply, as a Chinese proverb says,"cast a brick to invite jade". I'm tossing some ideas out to get interesting discussion going. It's been a lot of fun so far, and hopefully, some shiny eyes.

February 22, 2017 at 05:13 PM · :D The truth indeed!

I like what Nate said about necessity and invention. The latter doesn't come only from the former. It's a different kind of exploration when we take it of our own accord, often a more fulfilling one. Being the way I am, I've done that with technique too, tried to get an overview of Sevcik Op. 1, or read through the Gavinies Matinées, nerd that I am. But in many ways, I envy the amateur prospective, a horizon of uncharted possibilities.

February 23, 2017 at 12:20 AM · "amateur prospective, a horizon of uncharted possibilities"? Welcome to 2017! ;)

Jeewon, thank you again for the detailed account of your cycle of phases, especially the first two phases you described at an earlier discussion. That's super helpful! Trying to execute the chunks in the head perfectly is just brilliant.

I so far haven't heard much talk about listening to recordings and studying performances on YouTube as part of the discovery phase. Is this intentional or just the pros don't have the time to do so?

February 23, 2017 at 10:41 AM · You're welcome!

I guess I was studying in an age where it was a bit frowned upon to go to recordings for ideas of interpretation as a first order of business. Seems ridiculous especially with the resources we now have at our fingertips, but has a certain logic to it. So even now my habit is to discover what I can and maybe go back later to see what others do. I think it's informative to record yourself fairly early on but after you have an idea of what you think you're doing, and hear what you're actually doing. Then go looking around for different ideas to incorporate. But no rules really.

P.S. If you don't mind, can you describe in what context your teacher tells you to keep it simple, not over analyze? Is it in response to something you say?

February 23, 2017 at 06:07 PM · Jeewon, my teacher told me to keep it simple for some time now, first Dvorak, now Mendelssohn. LOL. I tend to treat every note like I was working on Mozart or Bach, forever fuss over fingering, bowing, dynamic, trying to express various moods, imagery, storylines, etc. More than once my teacher pointed out to me that sometime music is in the notes so just play the notes will be enough. I understand that, by micromanaging like the way I did, I made it technically too complicated to serve the music (e.g., too many shifts, complicated bowing, etc). I also ruin the beauty of simplicity and elegance of the work by trying to make everything “meaningful” and “sexy”. Does it make sense?

I think part of my problems is that I’ve been listening these pieces too much for years. I have the tendency that, when I work on one piece, I'd listen to and watch all the versions I can get my hands on, then pick my favorites, listen to them again and again. So when it comes to learn the piece, I'm never lack of ideas, rather I've got too many ideas that competing with each other, too much emotion to mess up my head and music. Kind of insanity :D

February 23, 2017 at 08:32 PM · Ah... I see. I had the opposite problem when I was studying, trying to get every detail technically perfect before I felt ready to perform. It took me a while to understand that a) that's an impossible goal b) technical perfection is meaningless without musical intent c) you can only tell if your practicing well by testing it out in performance.

I wonder if an analytical approach might help you, bracketing the music, and just learning the notes (and other details.) I just read HH's post about slow practice in detail, having skimmed it except for the last bit. It didn't occur to me when I skimmed over it that everything before the 'icing on the cake' is what I consider to be stuff you do to gain fluency, just not all at once. Because she writes, "[s]tarting from the beginning of your piece..." I assume she suggests we notice all that detail while playing very slowly, but... I don't think most people can notice, much less absorb it all, so we have to break it down and work on one thing at a time, before we can work on 2 things, 3 things, etc. I can go into more detail about strategies if you like, comparing it to HH's list.

February 23, 2017 at 08:54 PM · I thought I have been too analytical, including the technical stuff, but maybe I'm not getting it. Yes, please tell us me more about strategies when you get a minute. Thanks!

February 23, 2017 at 09:36 PM · Maybe... but to me it sounds like you analyze musical aspects, but without seeing you I can't tell if you're analyzing your technique. I think your musical imagination can only be a creative advantage when you're in performance mode, but perhaps you haven't yet developed the technical fluency to be able to express your intentions(?) When I hear a teacher say, "just play the notes," it makes me think there are complications in the technique, not necessarily a deficit, but doing too much instead of what's needed. Much of fluency has to do with organizing the notes, the bowing, the left hand, as much as it has to do with organizing practice. To bring order, you don't necessarily need to flesh out the contents, but just need to categorize, prioritize--organize. It's not music yet, but that gives you the freedom to do with as you will.

February 23, 2017 at 10:05 PM · It's both. My teacher is very much against separating technique and music. You might know or heard of her playing(Muge Buyukcelen,the 1st violinist of the Aventa Ensemble, Emily Carr String Quartet, etc.). She has great technical mastery and considered a violin clinician, but she doesn't just teach technical stuff. The problem with me is that I'm just "doing" too much. Like you said, doing too much instead of what's needed. I definitely far from technically solid and I'm not consistent, but that doesn't seem to be my teacher's major concern in that she can usually help me fixing each technical detail quickly. The discovery phase has to be full of technical details informed by music, or we'd risk using the wrong technique (eg.a shift to achieve certain color which is somewhat superfluous or doesn't made good music sense overall when I can simply stay on one position). So when I'm learning the notes, I compare with different fingerings, bowings, etc. I have the music in my head, but don't use the best/most appropriate technique to execute. So when my music ideas are not appropriate for the piece or won't work in with piano or in an orchestra, which happens often, the more I explore and tweak, the more need to be corrected.

Ah, now I'm getting somewhere. That's why we need teacher/expert, right?

I really want to know more about how you simplify. I suspect it's more then having the technical ability to know how to simplify. I'm really curious.

February 24, 2017 at 04:34 AM · The goal of simplifying is to reduce the number of things you present to your attention at one time. If you can think of 10 things at once, that's great. If you can only do one thing at a time, that's fine too, that's what you need to do. To me, slow practice is reducing everything you need to in order to make yourself aware of what you do as you do it. The most obvious thing to do is play everything slower. But if you can play a passage fast and make yourself notice what you need to be aware of, that works too, as in 'chunking.' And what you need to be aware of changes with where you are in the learning process, and your larger goals.

Ultimately, once you've identified everything you need to be aware of in a passage, slow-detailed practice (from the perfect image in your head--which, for most of us who can't just upload stuff like we have a personal portable Matrix in our heads, exists because of all the fluency work we've done) is the only way to polish and make it consistent. Even then, you will notice more and more with each subsequent performance, and your interpretation will evolve over time.

I'll start with possibly the most important simplification: separating left from right, pitch from rhythm

For the left hand, that usually means making all different pitches in a passage equal length. There are several versions of this, but I like to take the sequence and do a rhythmic acceleration on it.

E.g. first fragment of Mendelssohn mm2-6. The pitch sequence is B-G-E-B-G-F#-E-C-E-B but for the left hand we have to include guiding fingers at first, which depends on the fingering. If you do


then, with guiding fingers in {},

B-G-{B}E-B[think target D]-{D}G-F#-E-C-E-{C}B

=3-1-{1}4-1[feel D with 3 and replace 3 with 1]-{1}4-4-3-1-3-{1}1

The sequence with guiding fingers is more complicated, but less complex; i.e. spelling out all the shift patterns makes it easier for us to identify and measure shifts, and makes it easier for us to notice accuracy. At first we play the guide notes equally, then turn them into shorter and shorter grace notes until they just become a feeling, a measurement in the hand, and then play only the main notes in the sequence.

When working on pitch, sing the next pitch while playing the current one and feel the interval (in your gut)--this is difficult at first if the interval is dissonant but feeling that dissonance informs how to shape the line later.

Start with 4 beats/pitch, then 2, 1, 1/2 (so if thinking in quarters: wholenote/pitch, half-note, quarter-note, eighth-note); you can slur the smaller note divisions so you're doing the same bow stroke throughout, or do different slurs or keep everything separate; then if you want to make stronger connections between left and right, you can do short-long/long-short triplets and dotted rhythms, and also permute added accents to eighth notes in various slur patterns. I like the rhythmic acceleration, added rhythms and added accents because it trains rhythm and control (assuming you command your every motion) and adds novelty to the exercise.

Do the complete exercise with no vib., then uniform vib., then expressive vib., expressive of the intervals and the line.

Still organizing my thoughts... more later.

Edit (nested to reply below): Excellent! Should I keep going? It's really just more of the same ;)

February 24, 2017 at 05:45 AM · Jeewon, so far this looks very much like what I've been doing. I called it "divide and conquer". I like your term "simplifying" better because it does make complex things simpler and more manageable. Thank you for writing it out! It's assuring that I'm going the right direction.

February 24, 2017 at 06:17 AM · Please keep going, if you don't mind.

On a second thought, Jeewon, you are so nice and polite. I am mindful how busy you professional musicians are. Your advice is always substantial and helpful, please don't feel obligated to write if you are busy.

Incidentally, my knee is still good. My physician husband is most impressed: "Amazing, what small adjustment can do!"

February 24, 2017 at 04:13 PM · Might as well finish the thought... :)

I'll post stuff as it occurs to me. But before continuing with strategies for achieving fluency I thought I'd write some general reasons why this approach is important (not in response to anyone in particular.)

Many students find such abstract, detailed work frustrating and tend to avoid it like the plague. Obviously if you don't need it there's no need to do it (unless you get obsessive, like me.) But if you do need it, though it feels like slow progress in the moment, it's the straightest path to fluency, and saves time over the long run.

After you've done this kind of slow practice, which is very different from polishing slow practice, you start to identify 'sticking points' which usually occur between two notes. So you don't have to do such slow practice over phrase fragments forever (though it's useful to go over the entire piece this way at least once over several days, even parts you can sight read.) You just need it in order to identify your 'sticking points.' Later, you may find easier solutions, such as a different fingering or bowing, or thinking the passage with better note grouping. But for the moment, mark all such points so you can easily come back to work on it directly on subsequent fluency sessions. To repeat, the goal here is to gain fluency as quickly as possible, so you can move on to polishing as soon as possible.

Bracketing is a powerful tool in developing fluency. Your aim is not to produce a finished product, but to come up with a first draft, to be edited and reworked and polished in 2nd, 3rd... nth drafts until it's 'published'/given a preliminary performance, then later to be edited, reworked, appended to in subsequent editions/performances of greater and greater importance. But you have to get that first draft done before you can proceed further. So you work on one thing at a time: pitch, shifting (big shifts, scalar, crawling, pivots,) finger patterns, positions, movement (thumb, fingers, hand, lower arm, upper arm,) coordination and timing with right arm, similarly all the details in the bow arm, while putting all other issues in brackets, until you're ready to move on to the next thing, bracketing all other issues, etc.

Looking at the bigger picture, that's where the cycle of phases is useful, you (and teacher) know what the current aim is, and it gives you permission to bracket other things (such as the imaginary, impossible, non-existent perfect performance) so that you get the first draft done as soon as possible.

Perfectionism in both students and teachers looks narrowly, myopically, only at what's directly before them. Of course knowing when to push and relax is a whole other skillset which great teachers and coaches know how and when to do. But the short-sightedness of perfectionism only serves to delay progress. We do ourselves no favour by being unreasonably demanding of ourselves in the short term. Have big long term goals; then bracket them--put processes in place so you don't have to think about them in the short term. The problem with our situation as musicians is that typically we have (can only afford) 1 lesson a week. Athletes have a clear advantage in that their coaches manage their training daily with the long term in mind, with a plan to help them peak when it counts. We can, in that regard, plan our 'seasons' in a similar way, ramping up 'assistive exercises' during a part of the year, tapering and working on mental training and practice performances, working with a road map leading up to those important goals for the year. So we need big goals and detailed processes. And we need to become our own coaches (but assisting, not interfering with our teachers :)

P.S. Yixi, so glad to hear about your new footwork! Or is it hipwork.

February 24, 2017 at 06:09 PM · A footwork is a hipwork and is a headwork ;) Jeewon, keep your thoughts coming please! I need to read and reread them so I'm taking notes and making outlines. Lots of important stuff to absorb and will have more questions later. Thank you!

February 24, 2017 at 08:31 PM · Jeewon, that last post is pretty great. Thank you.

February 25, 2017 at 05:38 AM · I've concluded this long ago that Jeewon is incapable of writing not great posts. This is why I keep asking questions hoping to get more from him :D

Here is another one for you, or for that matter, a question for everyone.

In a recent blog by Jacqueline Vanasse "Ida Kavafian: Having a plan and purpose in music", Ida Kavafian talked about practice this way:

one should make a specific plan about how they are going to do it differently. Differently is the key word here. Why repeat if it is going to stay the same? Therefore you need to know what to change. "During your practice session you should plan what you are going to think about. Sometimes it is very simple: 'My third finger must be lower, this shift is an up-bow.' These are very simple things that will focus your mind. And I find that if you make a plan while playing, then you get less nervous because your mind does not have the chance to go other places."

Jeewon, does fluency mean that we will not have to think about simple technical things such as described above? If you were asked to integrate Kavafian's advice into your cycle of all phases (the non-linear cycle of discovery, work, performance, rediscovery, work, and polish), what it would look like?

In that same blog, Kavafian made an interesting observation on how violinists can direct the judges what to focus on their playing:

During competitions performances, "sometimes, when somebody is trying to play everything perfectly, as a judge you suddenly find yourself counting their mistakes. The very thing that they are worried about is what makes us start counting," Kavafian said. "But if someone is truly expressing something musical, then that is what you hear. Strange as it may seem, competitors have the control to tell us judges what to focus on."

I think this phenomenon could easily occur among general audience. How do we practice performance in such a way that when we do perform, we don't attract people's attention to our flaws?

February 25, 2017 at 08:56 AM · Our strengths have to seem "bigger" than our weaknesses.

I tell my younger students that there are little devils tugging on the robes of the angels; the best solution is to invite far more angels (e.g. practice like a pro?) so the devils can be ignored.

February 25, 2017 at 11:55 AM · Thanks folks! :D Glad you liked the post Jason!

Yixi, I think fluency gives us the control to vary how we play a passage. Without it we're playing almost randomly no matter what we may perceive in our heads ;) Without control we're not hearing what we actually play, not accurately. It's likely everyone is affected by this to some extent at the early stages of learning a piece, but I doubt we could tell in an accomplished violinist. Fluency is as much about learning to hear accurately, to listen to what we actually do, as it is about learning control. They're two sides of the same coin. We can't create difference until we can hear difference, until we hear accurately. With control we can practice variety in the polishing phase.

I think most artists will also tell you something similar to what Kavafian says about the performers mind. Like most of us their minds will go to different places during a performance, including freaking a bit, wandering, focusing on minutiae, losing focus, etc. Of course they're able to 'enter the zone' deeper and longer than most of us. But I suspect it's due to the absolute control they achieve over every aspect of their playing, which gives them the ability to play the same thing in many different ways, which gives them choice, command and confidence over their performance. I don't think they go into a highly emotional, 'feel the music' kind of state (though that happens too--just not as a means of producing emotional content,) but rather, like she says, they play out a 'movie' or follow a choreography of a clear plan they have of pretty much every measure, in the context of the whole piece (I suspect they can apprehend the whole, not in temporal slices like most of us, and see where they, and all others, are in the whole as they play). It may not be verbal, or even visual, but definitely aural/musical/kinaesthetic. And it's because they have such control they also have the freedom to respond to what they hear around them, as well as to the spirit of the moment. So inspiration is also made possible because of practiced control, practiced variety and knowing the material and their plan intimately.

Having said that I know what you and she mean about a 'practiced' overly self-conscious performance. Not having ever achieved such high levels of performance, I can't say what it is to go from merely proficient to stirring. But as we know too, we can also be moved by 'non-artist' performers, for lack of a better word. My old teacher used to say 'perfunctory!' when he felt we were just dialing it in. And more often than not, something would change and we could feel a shift in focus. It possibly has something to do with hyperfocus on self, rather than striving to connect with fellow musicians and the audience--too much ego, not enough music. Somehow that special connection goes beyond the realm of control and polish, to communication, sharing, care, like you said before. It has something to do with an interrelating among composer, performer and audience. But that great artists are able to 'get to us' more frequently, more consistently, more convincingly than the rest of us, I still think that has a lot to do with mastery over their material and themselves--a complete understanding.

February 25, 2017 at 01:56 PM · That's a wonderful expression of what I call fluency - being in control - in my case so I can express.

February 25, 2017 at 05:11 PM · Very nice and very clear. I completely agree we have to have the chops for what we perform with ease and musicality. For years, I haven't had a lot of solo performance opportunities so the pieces I've worked on didn't get to that level of fluency. Even when I did play in masterclasses or performed in chamber workshops, I tend to move on to other stuff without further polishing the pieces I performed. No wonder I never feel solid. While comparing with other amateur players is meaningless, this is nevertheless how many of us consider a piece has been "tucked under our belt" when it's learned and preferably performed once or twice. Now I realize that this is not the right kind of mindset and approach to practice.

Come to think of it, a finished piece should be treated in ways like we polish our non-music works very much the same way: first, research and brainstorm with colleagues and friends, do a few drafts, get input from others by sharing it or making some presentation early on before finalizing the product.

Wow, Jeewon, thank you so much!

February 26, 2017 at 09:45 AM · You're welcome! I certainly would never have experienced this pro-oriented process without my old teacher--for the first time at 27(!). Your experience is probably quite common. My first 13 years of on and off lessons were certainly like that. Unless we make an effort to create performance opportunities for ourselves, it's rare we ever get to perform a piece more than once. And your comparison to how we prepare important work in the rest of life is so true. We should treat our musical endeavours with the same respect, give it the time it's due, and give ourselves a break!

February 26, 2017 at 12:04 PM · Ah, it worked.

February 26, 2017 at 12:53 PM · Hi,

Have missed quite a bit. Nice posts!

I also find with Ms. Kavafian about the idea that our intent and thoughts are transmitted to our audience.

In contrast to Jeewon's statement that "I don't think they go into a highly emotional, 'feel the music' kind of state", I find personally that being in this state is when my performances come out best - sort of the sensation of all music at each ever-present-moment, with essentially no thoughts, that's when the best things happen. Very hard to describe... I think that the technique and general idea is prepared but the music is spontaneous. In this sense, Jeewon's comment that these artists have "mastery over their material and themselves" resonates with me.

This can get delicate, so I will end it here.


February 26, 2017 at 01:19 PM · "Not having ever achieved such high levels of performance, I can't say what it is to go from merely proficient to stirring."

I hate to just come into this thread and nit-pick, but in my view this idea conveys a big mistake. You don't have to be a super star or even technically proficient to have a moving performance. It's in the music (or not), and isn't an abstract goal to reach "some day". I must have misunderstood you somehow though, because as a music lover, I can't believe that you don't see that.

February 26, 2017 at 02:51 PM · You can sometimes even hear a certain inherent musicality in beginners. Something about the way that they instinctively phrase, I think. Listen to a bunch of kids at different levels of developing technical proficiency and you can still easily hear which ones have a certain sense of musicianship.

(This is not a gift of mine, unfortunately. I can hear the interpretive gift, but I completely lack it myself.)

February 26, 2017 at 06:56 PM · Your suggestions are very interesting. With difficult passages, use various methods to clean it up. This depends on the type of passage and type of difficulty. Once you feel confident, repeat the passage many times for even more confidence.

March 3, 2017 at 05:56 AM · Hey folks, sorry to be slow to respond--it's been a busy week.

J, I should've been clearer but the statement you quoted was meant to be in contrast and subordinate to the subsequent statement, which suggests pretty much the same thing as what you say.


The extent of my solo playing, in contexts where I'm being paid more than it costs me to prepare and perform, is limited to little snippets, relatively speaking, within larger works and ensembles. So, not having ever prepared a large scale solo concerto to the level of concert artists, over many performances, I acknowledge there's much I've never experienced and a limit to my knowledge. But what I was trying to emphasize was that, even still, I doubt there's any secret method they employ to be able to perform the way they do. They certainly have a greater capacity for all aspects of violin playing, both musical and physical. But in terms of how they practice, I see them as being on one extreme end of the same continuum.

I know what J and Lydia mean when they say we are at times moved by performances of students or less-than-proficient musicians. But I would suggest we experience performances through filters of expectation, that those moments are mixed with meaning not necessarily directly taken from the actual 'violining' itself. When I think of a performance which is "stirring" at "such high levels," I mean a presentation on the scale of a solo concerto or a full recital, and giving a convincing rendition of the whole piece or for the duration of the recital, not just in a few moments here and there.

I have been lucky enough to have taught a number of kids with a seemingly innate musical sense for phrase and line, and natural technique. But even gifted students will have to work extremely hard to craft every phrase, to organize all the sections within the piece and relate the multiple movements to others to give a coherent interpretation. That is a rare achievement, and to be able to do that consistently, many times throughout a season, throughout a career is extremely rare.

But what's most germane to this thread, I don't believe giving a moving performance should or can be a goal of practicing. You can't plan to be moving, any more than you can plan to be moved--all you can do is try to be open to the possibility. Whether a performance is moving or not has as much to do with how it is received by the listener as by how it is given. Taste, knowledge, understanding, capacity for pure musical meaning, bias v. openness, acoustics, the weather, state of mind (e.g. anxious v. calm,) the state of our bowels, collective mood of the audience, can all affect how and what we perceive as listeners. A performance is an offering which must be received for there to be any real communication. I'm sure the manner in which it is offered makes a huge difference. But the listener has to be open, leave baggage behind, to give the offering a fair chance.

In the end all we can do to prepare a performance is hone every aspect of our craft to our utmost ability in our studios. And practice opening ourselves, offering all we have prepared without reservation and distractions of ego, in performance. The art of it is an interrelating which can only happen in a concert space, a perfect communion between performer and audience, and is something somehow bestowed rather than manipulated. For there to be any 'moving' of mind and spirit requires a certain vulnerability on the part of both performer and listener.

March 3, 2017 at 11:39 PM · Hi Jeewon, just as a cautionary tale, I want to mention that for some years as a teenager I had a dangerous combination of beliefs: that inspiration had to happen mainly on stage, and that I wasn't inherently an inspired player.

The result was some pretty clean but boring playing. Because I saw it as my task to refine things in the practice room, then let it catch fire on stage, that's what I tried to do. Unfortunately it rarely seemed to happen that way.

What broke me out of that? Learning just what it was about my performances that were flat, and what kinds of things move the listener. Then I had to practice that way. I wouldn't call it fakery exactly, but at first it did feel like putting the cart before the horse. I had to do it that way for a while before I was able to swing back round and let the inspiration take the lead sometimes too.

What Christian says is true, in my best performances, my emotions and those of the music are well matched. But if they happen not to be? I still have to move the listener! So I'm glad I went through that kind of practicing.

March 4, 2017 at 12:55 AM · Nathan, it sounds to me that you are saying we need to practice performance so that would include practice emotional aspect of performance. Am I right? I remember you also said that “the printed score from which we practice is not a recipe: it’s more like a menu. The notes on the page are the final product, waiting to be transformed by you into musical sounds!” I'm a no-recipe cook so I think I know what you mean. This is profound yet daunting for a player. One of the many problems I’ve got is that my playing is inconsistent. My teacher told me to practice consistency so when I am playing for others, I will more likely sound what I’ve practice/the way I want. I'm still trying to figure that one out.


Jeewon, I agree that we need to have the chops to play convincingly and we can’t plan to move an audience. They either like it or not. It's beyond my control. Here is my brick-tossing to attract a jade moment again: I can't say it's not within my control to choose to be moved or not by the music during practice and performance. This happens to be how I have been taught the past a few years by my teacher. I must not play every note movingly/beautifully or the whole piece will be a pot of syrup, but from the first try, there would be certain notes that if I can’t give myself a little goosebumps, my teacher will not let me get away with it. One can say it boils down to how I use the bow arm or vibrato or the tempo, etc. Yes, one needs sufficient skills for execution but without the emotion, I don’t have direct empirical evidence to tell whether I’ve appropriately applied the technique. No matter how many recipes I've tried and how much cooking technique I've got, how good is my doengiang-jigae? The test is in the taste of my tongue.

March 4, 2017 at 03:24 AM · I like Nathan's points.

I would add that because I've never considered myself to be an inspired player, and more importantly, neither did my teachers, in childhood neither myself nor my teachers ever focused on interpretation until I was well into my teens. Then a switch of teachers resulted in a teacher who said, "Technique is music!" and asserted that the reason that my playing was clean but boring was that no one had ever taught me how to properly execute, say, a nice phrase-ending. (I always did it the same way.) I remember he spent the better part of an hour doing nothing but demonstrating the combination of techniques to get a range of different phrase-endings -- how to taper, how to shift the sounding point, how to alter the vibrato, and so on, in order to get different colors and types of phrase endings. Effectively, he taught me a catalog of techniques from which I could draw -- I had all the building blocks technically but not the understanding of how to put them together effectively.

I learned other important things, too, like the criticality of listening to appropriate music to understand properly stylistic interpretation and whatnot. (I grew up never listening to anything other than Suzuki recordings, and then when I stopped doing Suzuki, I never heard anything I was working on, or other classical music, other than possibly what might be randomly on the radio on long car trips. I was 14 before I started buying classical music tapes to listen to, and that was a revelation.) Some degree of interpretation likely requires that inner library of music to draw from.

March 4, 2017 at 07:50 AM · Thanks for your perspective Nate. I think we largely agree. I've suggested here (was trying to suggest here) and in other threads that the emotional content of a performance is practiced ahead of time and revised and polished over many performances, all the while remaining open to the inspiration of the moment, and not something that needs to be emoted during performance. I've also said the more options you have at hand, the more control you have over the piece, the more freedom you have in performance to be creative in the moment.

And I think we also agree that what's most important in 'practicing like a pro' is developing the ability to give a convincing performance regardless of how we feel during performance, or indeed how we feel about the piece itself (something I'm acutely aware of right now in preparing for concerts this week.) I don't mean to be argumentative, but I think this is an important point for students who are serious. We frequently get questions here about what to study next, often expressing at the same time a dissatisfaction with an assigned piece. I've had students ask questions about how to feel the music. And we've all heard the joke, "this time with feeling." We all know music essentially expresses emotional content, sometimes too profound to express in any other way. But I believe to learn how to practice like a pro fundamentally means learning how to unlock the emotional content of a composition regardless of how we might personally feel about it, or how we respond emotionally (or whether we respond at all) to a composition.

I have no doubt we often feel the best about those performances when our "...emotions and those of the music are well matched." But there's no objective way to measure whether there's merely a correlation between an emotional high and a great performance or whether there's a causal connection (not that the success of a performance can be ascertained in a completely objective way.) I think the emotional high we often feel in what we perceive to be a good performance is a different phenomenon altogether from being in the zone. And what we want to achieve more than not is the clarity and awareness (not to be confused with self-awareness,) and the being-present-in-the-moment associated with flow states, rather than a heightened emotional response to the music. I've often been told by trusted sources that I'd performed well when I felt off during a performance. Some of the most moving performances I've witnessed came from performers I knew to be having a difficult time. One memorable performance was of a quartet which, I learned after the concert, had had a blow out seconds before walking on stage. I don't deny the emotional connection we sometimes feel during performance is a positive experience. I just don't think that's what is salient in practicing or performing like a pro.


Mmmmm haven't had a dose of doenjang jjigae in a while :)

Yixi, as practicing is a personal process, how we experience music is probably just as personal and probably much more so. J assumed we were all music lovers. I don't think I would characterize myself that way. Music is just a part of who I am and what I do right now. But I can't turn off the critical filter. There's a certain loss of innocence that comes with knowledge I think, partaking of the proverbial apple and what not. I'm not sure I experience music in the same way as when I discovered Strauss Lieder for the first time in my late rebellious teens for example. Hence the envy of true amateurs. Maybe I'll get it back one day, the pure joy of it...

When I'm working a lot the last thing I want to do in my time off is listen to music. I prefer silence. Any kind of music can be irritating and I don't want to be 'moved' by music when I'm fatigued (I so don't understand the whole Classical is relaxing marketing scheme.) So when I'm trying to interpret a new piece I'm actively looking for clues as to what the composer meant to say, regardless of whether it's Sondheim or Shostakovich, or some little ditty. Of course I have emotional reactions when I play certain things (more with Beethoven than with ditties :) but I'm looking for harmonic tension and release, shapes of tunes, note groupings, repeated and changing patterns, voicing, tempo changes, direction, arrival, etc. in addition to all the dynamics and other markings. And when I start playing I'm trying to bring out those clues I continue to dig up, with each pass. Then I'm often surprised listening to a recording of myself how what I think I'm doing is not coming through at all, or how something which felt right just sounds wrong, and I go back and revisit and revise and keep digging.

I'm not suggesting this is how it ought to be, just describing my experience of things at this stage in life.

March 4, 2017 at 08:41 AM · Two thoughts, (one centime d'Euro each!)

- If we only practice in black and white we may not find the colours in performance. Even scales should be like a rainbow.

- To prepare a Mozart concerto, I offered a student two recordings, Grumiaux and Menuhin to "nourish" her imagination.

March 4, 2017 at 12:15 PM · Good morning,

I found these three video-interview clips with advice from Maxim Vengerov that I think are very valuable, and they discuss the subject at hand about practicing, mindset, etc. Thought I would share:


March 4, 2017 at 11:28 PM · Lydia, I had much the same experience listening as you did: lots of Suzuki!

And Jeewon, pretty much everything that's said here has an "on the other hand" aspect to it, so I also agree with everything you've written! I mostly wanted to offer encouragement to those who feel that they lack that "inspired" feeling on a regular basis.

March 4, 2017 at 11:40 PM · Agreed Nate!

I just posted this video by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, in Lydia's critique me thread. She talks about the idea that genius is something which visits us from time to time, not something we are (or should strive for.) All we have to do for our part is to just show up every day and give it our all. [19m24s]

Inspiration is not something we do ourselves-- it's not about our own breath, it's something breathed into us.

Christian, thanks for the Vengerov interview!

March 5, 2017 at 12:58 AM · Ha! Jeewon, another EG fan here! And if you ever come to Victoria, I'll make you doenjang jjigae, Yanbian style ;)

Nathan, thank you for making this so clear. This is indeed a thread intended for "on the other hand" exchanges. I wish I had thought about it and put it in the sub-title.

March 5, 2017 at 01:29 AM · Yanbian style! Cool! My father-in-law taught in Yanbian for many years. Must invite myself over sometime! Victoria's closer than Yanbian :D

Of course we'd both be into EG (though I must confess I've never read EPL.) I've been reading her latest book Big Magic, which I think is the culmination of her thoughts in this talk [7m14s]:

She says "fear is boring!" Also, "[f]rustration is not an interruption of the process, frustration is the process."

March 5, 2017 at 05:05 AM · So, if frustration is the process for pros, then I think I'm on the right track. I took an early retirement from a cushy job that allowed me to do all sorts of cool stuff (research, learning and challengingg my boss whenever I felt appropriate while being well-paid), but I needed more time and freedom to practice violin. In fact, this retirement is a new job that I've created for myself that pays me nothing but it promises me to have endless frustration. In an odd way, I love it more than myself. Like EG said, finally, I'm home.

March 5, 2017 at 07:20 AM · Vengerov says, "[f]orget about yourself... This is the most important and most difficult thing for artists, to let go of your ego and to let the spirit guide you and to let the body be there for music..."

Here's another take on what it is to lose your 'self' [13m55s]:

I identify strongly with Thandie Newton's experience of self as otherness. And her talk goes way beyond any application to our musical endeavours, though perhaps in the end, it's all part of the same human journey. But I think what she eloquently presents for us is at the heart of what it is to lose ourselves, our egos, to the emotion of the music.

Her main thesis is that the 'self' is not the whole of who we are, not even our essence; what is primary is our oneness with others and the world. Though in our culture we almost completely identify with the 'self' as individual, it is, rather, merely a construct we develop since infanthood as we begin to differentiate our 'self' from the world, and an interface we use to interact with other 'selves' in the world.


...the greatest thing for an artist is to be able to transform the concert hall into a temple of art where everyone feels united...


But there is something that can give the self ultimate and infinite connection — and that thing is oneness, our essence. The self's struggle for authenticity and definition will never end unless it's connected to its creator — to you and to me. And that can happen with awareness — awareness of the reality of oneness and the projection of self-hood. For a start, we can think about all the times when we do lose ourselves. It happens when I dance, when I'm acting. I'm earthed in my essence, and my self is suspended. In those moments, I'm connected to everything — the ground, the air, the sounds, the energy from the audience. All my senses are alert and alive in much the same way as an infant might feel — that feeling of oneness.

In an interpretive art it's the composition which brings separate 'selves' together--which, in a succesful performance, reinstates our collective primary state of union. For that to happen both audience and performer have to leave the 'self' behind and enter into a vulnerable state of openness.

As we leave our 'selves' at the door, our job as interpreters is to enter into the reality of the composition. To lose ourselves in the music is not so much about feeling our own emotions as it is about abandoning them, losing them to the emotion of the music. (Is this what Christian, Nate, Yixi have been saying all along?)

Vengerov says the concert hall becomes a temple of art. I'm going to take the liberty of calling our interpretation of a composition the actual temple, the architecture of which is based on the blueprint of the score, which we build one stone at a time during practice until it stands tall, and which we enter and invite the audience to enter during performance.

But when we're just starting to lay our stones early in the process, what we lay down doesn't resemble the complete plan--those early stones only have to form a solid foundation which no one will even see in the performance (though they will sense the strength of it if the temple wobbles.) Those stones are reified, ossified, still cold versions of the emotional ideas the composer has left for us in the score. At the beginning we don't need to feel what the composer meant, we only need to identify the shape of the stones and how they might fit together. It's only as the structure takes shape the meaning becomes more clear and tangible, when the spirit of the music starts to take flight. (Tortured metaphor?)

March 5, 2017 at 05:57 PM · Jeewon, the question whether it is to lose ourselves in the music or feeling our own emotions is fascinating. I would like to look at it this way. I think it’s safe to assume that, in each case, giving a choice, we want to be happy/joyful rather than being sad. But then, why do we so willingly spend our precious time and money to watch sad movies or listen to sad music? We are not doing it to be sad. One thing maybe that it has to do with the differences between expression of the sadness as opposed to feeling of it. Note that, expressing X entails one's understanding or experience of X, or she wouldn't be able to know what she is trying to express. But when one expresses X in an artistically, she transcends X into something more universal, meaningful and even beautiful. Like what you have suggested, to lose ourselves in the music is not so much about feeling our own emotions, but to feel the emotion ego-free.

The only part that I remain skeptical is about the beginning/discovery phase of learning a piece. You said, "At the beginning we don't need to feel what the composer meant, we only need to identify the shape of the stones and how they might fit together." Is it possible or advisable, even for a non-professional violin student to practice, at the discovery phase, by immediately focusing on music? This is Vengerov's approach. But I think he is recommending this approach to everyone.

While it seems to be a narrow point, to me it is a significant departure. I’ve seen a lot of really polished young players in China showing up in international competitions, only being told that they were playing too cleanly. I sat next their parents during the 2012 Menuhin competition day after day listening to their frustration and lamentation. As an amateur learner, I don’t have the expertise to advocate let alone advise one or the other approach to these parents. But in my own practice room, I constantly wonder about the wisdom of separating technique and musicality in such a watertight compartment way. I was originally taught this way too, but my current teacher, a european trained concert violinist, is adamantly opposing the separation. I trust her but old habits hard to die. Practice is personal, yet, could best practice be universal?

March 5, 2017 at 06:54 PM · It depends on the individual. Some people are capable of looking at a score and hearing what they see, the whole system at once. They can study a symphony length score and have it memorized, every detail, in about an hour and be ready to practice or rehearse it almost immediately. Individual skillsets vary a lot ;) In theory we should all learn like HH or Vengerov, but in practice what does that actually look like.

I always try to start the student on the score, but sometimes we don't always have the time so I try to emphatically impress upon them the importance. Everyone should do score study as early in the process as possible and throughout the process, but as I've said what each person gleans from such study varies. So we make do when we have to. When I say you don't need to feel it at first, I mean you can just take notice of the elements and start to figure out how to realize them. See what bow planning or bow speeds or expressive shifts could work where. Some people can't see this from the score, so you read through, in discovery, identifying the broad features.

I don't know exactly what your teacher is asking for, but I've always tried to adapt to the needs of the student. I've taught kids where you don't have to talk about phrasing or bow speeds or shifting at all. That requires a very different approach from someone who needs a measure by measure road map to a phrase. So I can't say one way is the correct way. But she would know better than we exactly what you need at this stage in your journey and you should probably ignore me altogether ;)

Edit: having watched the Vengerov video again, I thought I'd add that score study, mental practice is not very different from physical practice for top musicians. We're all capable of it, and we can improve by practicing mentally. But a student who is still developing technique by learning new rep starts at a very different place from an artist who can already sight read the new work.

March 5, 2017 at 07:03 PM · Yixi, I suspect your poor contestants' playing was "too cautious" rather than "too neat". Heifetz, Milstein, and now Ms Hahn play incredibly neatly, but they reamain utterly engaging, unlike many other "neat" players.

March 5, 2017 at 11:40 PM · Adrian, that’s right, at least that’s how my teacher kept telling me to take some risk and not to overthink. Although Pamela Frank did tell a couple of contestants during a masterclass that “when you see a lot of notes, play messy!” It probably makes more sense in a situation where someone is consistently playing like a perfect violin machine.

Jeewon, my teacher talks about all the technical stuff that you have been talking about when she teaches me, but not after I've got all the notes right but right from the start. This is how I start to learn a new piece at the very first stage (at a stage of note-learning and sight-reading mixture): She would ask me what I think this piece is about, what and where the most important part of a phrase/passage/movement is, whether I could explain why my choices of fingering, bowing and phrasing make music sense. Sometimes my ideas won’t work and she’d suggest something else for me to try and think about. When my ideas are acceptable but I can’t execute appropriately, she’ll show me how to work on relevant technical details to achieve these ideas. This approach is not easy for me because I tend to do the drill (see quick results) and forget about integration. I just have to always remind myself, as soon as clean up a little spot, stich together and play the phrase as musically as I can.

March 6, 2017 at 01:15 AM · Yixi, I think this is a blind spot for me. Through all my ups and downs, and ons and offs, I suppose I could always turn a phrase, so when I tear things apart and put them back together I'm not sure exactly what that involves (well, I can describe the motions, like I was trying to do in Smiley's thread, which is how I teach it.) Elsewhere I've said bow speed/bow division is our main tool for phrasing, but I think you're asking what is the integrative sense which enables us to use those tools to create the emotional content of a phrase (?)

Will think on it some more.

March 6, 2017 at 01:29 AM · I watched my teacher Muge gave gifted kids lessons/masterclasses. That was over my head. She'd ask the kid in the middle of her playing: "You did something here. Do you really want to do this?" The kid nodded vigorously, smiled and apparently did something differently, and so on. All the time I listened very carefully but I couldn't hear any difference and didn't know what she was talking about. Again, nothing technical but all about music.

Edit: About integration, I'm thinking in terms of a shift of focus between technical thinking and music thinking: start with music thinking, then do a lot of technical cleaning. After cleaning up and nailing each tricky spot, I shouldn't be thinking about it all the time; rather, I should trust myself, take some chance, get out of the way and let the body do what I've trained it to do until another tricky spot comes up, then go through the cycle again and again. What I try not to do is attempting to clean up everything and then add music to the clean notes. Otherwise, I'd be learning different pieces for one score.

I choke easily. My teacher knows this and maybe that's why she tells me to stop overthinking, just play. As they say, let the basal ganglia do its work.

March 6, 2017 at 12:43 PM · Hi,


Jeewon, glad you liked the Vengerov interview segments! I would agree that one unites their emotions with that of the music as one in a successful moment. I think that Vengerov refers to the concert as becoming the temple, in the sense that the music, the performer and the audience unite as one. They are all part of the moment.

Segments like those by Vengerov, or Hilary Hahn's post are super valuable as they give us an insight into how they work and also how their minds work in the process. I find that the third segment by Vengerov has some of the most useful advice ever. I think that using this information will improve practice for anyone at any level.

Yixi, on the subject of mistakes and taking a chance, I was always struck how this is a recurring theme in the Heifetz masterclass videos for example, the point seeming to be that the fear of mistakes seems to be the greatest source of mistakes. Heifetz constantly told students to take a chance, "that it only hurts once." So, letting go of that fear is one of the biggest steps to success. Then, you try to practice to succeed rather than to avoiding mistakes; you practice to make things work. I find that wording commands as positive rather than negative helps for me. Many times, there is a tendency of how "not play the violin" (i.e. don't do this or that) which leads to the very problem one tries to avoid. So the command reflects that which we wish to accomplish. A quick example, let's say we have a problem of raising of the left shoulder. Rather than focusing on not raising the left shoulder, one should focus on keeping the shoulder down and open. Some ideas...

Have to run,


March 6, 2017 at 02:13 PM · Rainbow scales. In purely technical preparation, we can concentrate on articulations, shifts, string-crossings etc etc, but with varied tone colours and vibratos: each sound can be enjoyed to the full without an expressive agenda. Then we can sketch the music like a pencil drawing while imagining how we will draw on our full colour palette. Lastly we can unite intention and tone.

Special offer: only €0.01 !

March 7, 2017 at 02:17 AM · Christian, thank you for the affirmation of taking a chance! I am working on my tendency of "don't do this or that". When I hear something I don't like, I say to myself something like "ok, but surely you can do better here".

Adrian, rainbow scales indeed! Why only scales, why not rainbow everything just to try out options? I love colors. I find listening to singers such as Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel can be very instructive.

March 7, 2017 at 05:45 AM · Worth mentioning that this was one of Suzuki's core principles: he found that children only heard the "command" word, or the verb. So any instruction not to do something needed to be replaced with one to DO something! Works for us too!

Edited because as soon as I hit "Submit" i knew that I had misspelled "principles"... I really hate that.

March 7, 2017 at 11:53 PM · Hi,

Yixi: glad it helped! :-)

Nathan: Thank you for that information! I did not know that. Very cool!


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