Was Paganini self taught?

February 22, 2006 at 05:30 AM · I heard that Paganini was entirely Self taught as a violinist

True, or not?

Replies (64)

February 22, 2006 at 06:37 AM · No. His father started him off and then he had I think a couple more teachers but when he went to a person who was supposed to be a great teacher and well known violinist, he said he had nothing to teach him. He was pretty young at this time too.

February 22, 2006 at 02:12 PM · Nope. Paganini first recieved violin lessons from his father. After that, he was sent to study with one of the best teachers in Genoa. His father was very hard on him and locked him in his room for long hours, often starving him until he practiced for 15 hours. His mother claimed that the angels from the heavens spoke to her in a dream and that they said that her son would be a violinist, and not just any violinist, but the best. This Teresa Paganini often told her son to confort him.

I belive that his teacher in Genoa set him to work on composing his first ever music and writing it down. This teacher often thought young Paganini's compositions were much to difficult for anyone to play and asked him why he would compose something of such difficulty. "Then I'll be the only one who could play it."

When Paganini was in his early teens, his current teacher could teach him no more and he set off to Parma, Italy to study. The teachers there told him they could do no more for him; He was too good already.

The rest is history. :P He wins the Guarnerius, goes on tour, escapes from his father, impresses the public with his tricks, is called the Devil, doesn't practice at all after the age of 30, yadayadaya. You get the point.

There is a movie "The Magic Bow" that followed the story of Paganini's life if you're interested. There are however, some misconceptions.

February 22, 2006 at 06:27 PM · This whole 'not practicing' thing is is a very common boast, take it with a pinch of prunes :-D

February 22, 2006 at 06:49 PM · Talent or not, learning to play the violin is hard, hard work and takes untold hours. 99.99% of the time it also takes excellent teachers at the beginning.

However, just because some of these spectacularly talented child prodigies (such as Paganini and Heifetz and Milstein) had teachers when they were young does not imply that the teacher was the only source of their learning. By all accounts, some of the teachers of these famous violinists were not necessarily outstanding teachers.

Obviously, Paganini intuitively developed his own devices. Heifetz and Milstein probably did, too. And so did many, many others. But that doesn't mean they didn't need teachers, either.

February 22, 2006 at 09:28 PM · I think he not only learned from his teachers, but he also learned some things on his own. I do the same and I know other violinists that do too. I wish they taught more music history in my middle school. we don't learn ANYTHING about music history and composers!!

February 22, 2006 at 11:54 PM · Kiana, how old are you exactly

February 23, 2006 at 01:38 AM · Hi,

Paganini studied with Alessandro Rolla. Having played some of Rolla's works, it is obvious that he was an influence on Paganini both in style and technique. Paganini also credits much to his discovery of the Locatelli Caprices.


February 23, 2006 at 03:14 AM · Stupid Locatelli caprices....

February 23, 2006 at 04:32 AM · "Obviously, Paganini intuitively developed his own devices. Heifetz and Milstein probably did, too. And so did many, many others. But that doesn't mean they didn't need teachers, either."

In his memoir, Milstein belittles the effect of Auer's instruction, and instead credits the environment of the classes (being surrounded by so many gifted violinists, all learning from each other) as the true source of his education. If I remember correctly, Milstein even disparaged Auer's pedagogical ability by pointing out that Auer had the comparatively easy task of turning brilliant children into brilliant musicians...

February 23, 2006 at 05:47 AM · O.o belittle Auer eh? Strange thought...

Anyway, since almost all of what Paganini did was not even...possible back then, I assume he did many things on his own, since I mean, locatelli is a early etude right? Like, practicing graceful bowing, intonation, double stops, and the clean technique of early violin technique. It's not practicing false harmonic double stops or something totally impossible like that is it? Paganini MUST have developed things entirely on his own.

But...he had several teachers and studied. he didn't just pick up the violin one day and start playing like a man possessed ~_~

February 23, 2006 at 06:24 AM · Greetings,

the Locatelli are bloody difficult,



February 23, 2006 at 07:20 AM · Locatelli caprices - the best tendinitis remedy.


February 23, 2006 at 07:53 AM · If played correctly...

February 23, 2006 at 07:54 AM · s***, I forgot to follow with a smiley;) Mattias is not helping either.


February 23, 2006 at 08:08 AM · I wasn't saying Locatelli isn't difficult. I've heard the Labyrinth and don't play to ATTEMPT to play THAT thing for a few years yet >____<

edit: not a few...

February 23, 2006 at 08:31 AM · The Labyrinth is probably one of the easier ones... it's just arpeggiando... some of the other ones are more difficult.

February 23, 2006 at 08:34 AM · Ilya,

How old were you when you did that Paganini CD?

I used to listen to that when I was younger, and didn't see it again until a few months ago. All this time I thought it was Vengerov (not remembering the playing, as now the distinction is much more clear), because your picture looks vaguely like the one on his CD that has the Schredin and Ysaye... add to that the cloudy memory...

You can clearly hear the gestures in Paganini caprices in Locatelli, and Paganini took it further in his own creations.

February 23, 2006 at 08:38 AM · i "recommend" the A Major one - don't miss the biggest stretch in violin literature (mwahahahahaha)


P.S. Buri, if you are in town, I'd love to see you on Tuesday. Casals Hall. There will be blood.

February 23, 2006 at 08:39 AM · Pieter,



February 23, 2006 at 11:06 AM · I saw you on a CD cover the other day, back to back with some youngster who I think had just begun puberty... don't remember what was on the CD.

In any case, I have the Paganini recording now in my collection and it is lovely. I hope you are practising for Shostakovich 2... in Montreal many people like to sit in the first row with a score.

February 23, 2006 at 12:03 PM · IG - I am never any help ;)

February 23, 2006 at 01:06 PM · I heard David Oistrakh play the Labyrinth live in a recital in Chicago years ago. The performance was astonishing, but the way he ended it was spectacular. Instead of ending on a big, loud chord, he made a gradual diminuendo (while furiously crossing strings) down to no sound at all. And musically it worked. It still stands as the most incredible demonstration of bow control I have ever seen.

February 23, 2006 at 02:44 PM · Sander,

Have you seen Oistrakh's performance of the Labrynth on the EMI Classic Archive DVD? (It has Brahms, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky on it). He does the same thing you describe at the end - a really cool diminuendo down to nothing. It must have been amazing to see him live - what else did he play on that recital?

February 23, 2006 at 03:16 PM · Pieter,

That "youngster" is now sitting last desk second violins of SP Phil...Shame though - he's had the most unbelievable technique I've ever seen live in a human being. He was simply incapable of playing a note out of tune. Recording with him was a blessing...


February 23, 2006 at 03:20 PM · I heard that W.A. Mozart was also a self-taught violinist, although he did use method books, if what I remember reading is what I really read in that Mozart biography...so it must be possible...a lot of what I do I taught myself with a method book.

February 23, 2006 at 07:02 PM · He sure used the 'Mozart' methode. His father was one of his times formost violin pedagoges :)

February 23, 2006 at 07:55 PM · Funny how things work out.

I will get this recording.

February 24, 2006 at 01:08 AM · Greetings,

Ilya, alas I am delivery a lecture on phonics Tuesday. There will be no blood but the audience is probably thicker than water....

one day I am going to catch you playing a concert!

Buy yourself a nice bottle of vodka after and send me the bill.



PS Mattias is helpful in doses so incrementally small he is probably best referred to as the homeopathic pedagogue

February 23, 2006 at 11:07 PM · According to the DG web site, Ilya's there for three days.

February 23, 2006 at 11:22 PM · Jim, you're right. Buri, there is no way you are getting out of this:)

I hate vodka.


February 23, 2006 at 11:42 PM · I drove 200 mi to meet Emil. It's fun. Reality is a lot more fun than this:)

February 23, 2006 at 11:54 PM · Ilya,

That doesn't seem to stop you from indulging, does it?

February 24, 2006 at 12:03 AM · Pieter,

Course not. Ah, the things you hate.


February 24, 2006 at 12:24 AM · i find it hard to see two things:

how anyone could hate vodka (unless they're allergic/have religious beliefs against alcohol etc) and also, how someone with the name Ilya Gringolts could hate vodka...

am I thinking you missed a smilie again?

February 24, 2006 at 12:28 AM · Ben,

I have religious beliefs against allergy. And am allergic to religious beliefs. And I still hate vodka.

OK, smiley it is.


February 24, 2006 at 12:42 AM · With all this discussion of vodka, I'm sure there is a Szeryng joke in there somewhere.

When I was in Russia, vodka was very popular. I tried the water there, big mistake (vvvvooooomit).

What's this thread about again...?

February 24, 2006 at 01:04 AM · who cares. it has become a chatroom a while ago.


February 24, 2006 at 01:04 AM · To get back on track it is obvious that Paganini did not fully develop modern violin technique, he just added to it. There are some now unpublished caprices which you can find in the library of Congress and elsewhere in 18th c. editions by Jean Gabriel Guillemain who antedated Paganini. They are of similar difficulty to the Paganini and in fact Guillmain has an extension back that is further than the one in the 3rd Paganini Caprice. There is also a profusion of double stops, 3rds, 6ths, 10ths and arpeggiated figures. The Guillemain works have little musical value, but demonstrate that the French had adopted Italian technique. This led to the establishment of the Paris Conservatory School's (Kreutzer, Rode, Baillot) dominance in the early 19th century of violin teaching and which continued for quite a while. Sorry for the lecture.

February 24, 2006 at 01:17 AM · Wodka for Bruce!

February 24, 2006 at 01:19 AM · Yeah but it cant be a chatroom cos no-one has said innit yet

February 24, 2006 at 02:03 AM · Innit?

I love that word!

On the same note, what do you call 17 cockneys in a file drawer?

Sorted. (Pronounce: Sor'ed but with no 'r')

February 24, 2006 at 03:02 AM · Here's one thing I'm willing to stick my neck out on.

Mozart was NOT self taught. His father was the most insane guy ever, training his son in harmony before normal people learn to read and write fluiently and making him complete all the exercieses from texts like "Gradus Ad Parnassum" (also at a very young age). Of course, things worked out for the music world in the end. That and his dad was, as already said, a violinist. I can't see him neglecting to train his son in his own instrument.

February 24, 2006 at 03:57 AM · Greetings,

how about `Londonderry Air?`



February 24, 2006 at 04:39 AM · looking forward to listening your bach next week, mr gringolts. i will be sitting on second row from the stage.

February 24, 2006 at 04:47 AM · no pressure:)


February 24, 2006 at 02:11 PM · "Mozart was NOT self taught. His father was the most insane guy ever, training his son in harmony before normal people learn to read and write fluiently and making him complete all the exercieses from texts like "Gradus Ad Parnassum" (also at a very young age). Of course, things worked out for the music world in the end. That and his dad was, as already said, a violinist. I can't see him neglecting to train his son in his own instrument. "

--I'd like to put in something to back up my arguement...

His dad DID play violin, but it was while his dad was out partying that young Wolfgang decided to teach himself using method books that he found lying around. Of course, I only know all this because I read a biography on WA Mozart.

I won't say he was entirely self-taught, though...he probably asked his dad for some help learning to shift and do vibrato and stuff one day, and his dad was like, "How do you know how to play?"

February 24, 2006 at 02:18 PM · Man, you've got it wrong. Leopold Mozart was not one to party. He was entirely devoted to the education and musical training of his children. Young Mozart as a grown-up was the party animal. Leopold was a distinguished man with a reputation to keep. I don't know what book you read, but I'd read the Maynard Soloman book on Mozart if you want the facts on Mozart.

February 24, 2006 at 02:26 PM · welllll, it has been about three years since I've read it...and it was written by one of his friends...

February 24, 2006 at 04:44 PM · Well, you got it partly right and partly wrong :)W.A. had lessons with his father but only practiced the basics, the other time he devoted to coposition practice and keyboard.

The famous story goes that there was a quartett practising in the hous and woffie asked if he could join on the second fiddle. Leppie said that he did not think that the child could do it but woffie insisted and managed to pull it off. He said that "you don't need to play the violin good to play second fiddle".

He was of cource correct in his own childish way, since the part was very simple, he knew the notes on his violin and had been _taught_ the basicas, could play in tune and could sightread since he was an very advanced keyboardplayer by now.

Leppie was known to supervise his son when he practised and he surly superviced his violinplaying.

And by the way, just about the only violinmethode that was around in the world was written by Leppie :-)

February 24, 2006 at 06:38 PM · Cool. Yeah, that's right, he was using the method books his father had written...

February 24, 2006 at 07:29 PM · I don't think that there is anyone who is 100% self-taught on the violin. The kazoo and the uke and the Jew's Harp (sorry, Minority Harp) and a few other instruments?...Maybe.

The famous guitar brothers duo (who played classical arrangements of Chopin), Los Indios Tabajares (spelling?), claimed they found a guitar on the road when they were kids and taught themselves. Well, I doubt it, but who knows.

But the violin? Even if you are the flaming genius prodigy of all time, you still need some sort of guidance (teacher or manual or observation or something). Not even Mozart could do it completely alone.

February 24, 2006 at 07:45 PM · That would be cool to just be driving down University Parkway going 55 in no traffic and suddenly spot a guitar lying in the middle of the road. I would stop, because no one uses that road, pick it up, and take it and pawn it for an e-fiddle.

February 24, 2006 at 08:40 PM · See, that's my point. You wouldn't automatically try to figure out how to play the guitar - you'd pawn in.

February 28, 2006 at 03:18 PM · Can-Can isn't exactly the easiest song for beginners. If you ask me, that was kind of unfair.

February 28, 2006 at 08:30 PM · What´s your vote for the greatest selftaught violinplayer you have ever heard about.

By selftaught I mean no formal training with a teacher.

Many of the greatest rock and jazzguitarist are selftaught like Hendrix, Van Halen,Shawn Lane and Allan Holdsworth

February 28, 2006 at 09:59 PM · Actually, in guitar land, Julian Bream and even Segovia were self-taught, and many more successes I'm sure. Segovia advertised the fact. The academics thought they'd foiled it when they uncovered some teachers. But really it was teacher only in the same passing sense that would apply to Hendrix and anybody else. Was it a liability? Who knows.

Link to interesting article about an aging Segovia

Now back to regularly scheduled violin programming. P.S. It would be a liability to a classical violin player, to say the least. Although not as much a liability as an unsuitable teacher.

February 28, 2006 at 11:15 PM · Thanks Rob. My orchestra director in middle school called it Cant-Cant because most people couldn't play it at the time.

February 28, 2006 at 11:26 PM · Greetings,

I love Julian Bream`s sound and musicianship. But i also recall him saying in a documentary many years ago how much he regretted it and how he had to work hard everyday to correct the old , inefficient habits he acquired.



March 1, 2006 at 03:16 AM · Some other timeline would have been some other timeline. I don't think it makes sense to debate what might have happened. And of course no player picks up everything he might regardless of circumstances. I do take everything in an interview, especially an on-camera one, with a big grain of salt but he might have felt he was missing something.

March 1, 2006 at 04:54 AM · actually he explained and demonstarted the problems with great clarity. Not sure where the salt comes in.

March 1, 2006 at 05:55 AM · Well, that was a good documentary then. Grain of salt was imagining the typical interview full of off the cuff remarks. In those situations at least, even if someone is trying hard to be truthful, the meaning of what gets said depends on a context we aren't privy to.

It sounds interesting. Any idea what it was called or how we could see it?

March 1, 2006 at 09:54 AM · Neither Bream or Segovia was entirely selftaught.

Bream's father was an accomplished Jazz guitarist and Julian himself studied at The Royal Conservatorie of bla bla bla. I suppose that the dvd Buri mentions is: Julian Bream: My Life In Music

Segovia took lessons from a flamenco (not suprisingly) guitarist in Granada.

March 1, 2006 at 09:32 PM · The teacher you mention died after just a few lessons. Don't know if anyone knows exactly how many:) Probably amounted to something like master classes or a workshop. I'll get the DVD unless they're charging 40 bux for it. Bream studied at the Bla Bla, but it was cello or something I think.

March 2, 2006 at 09:17 AM · Great piece that Bach Preludio- just don't trip up.

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