Stealing Techniques from Other Instruments

August 8, 2006 at 06:29 PM · Violinists can learn a lot by watching other instrumentalists.

Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg has stated in interviews that she occasionally tries to emphasize the singing nature of opera in her violin playing. Obviously she succeeds.

Because I play the guitar, there's a lot of overlap in technique. One thing I really picked up from guitar was the use of open strings and harmonics. For example, I'll play the Tchaikovsky 2nd movement with a succession of open D harmonics until it's time for the solid trill in the opening motif.

Watching my boss George Staerkel do his "screaming trumpet" thing with bands like Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson led me to utilize "screaming violin" when playing nonclassical repertoire. Basically one plays melodies on the E-string in what's probably the 10th or 11th positions. A great place to use this is the song "O Sole Mio" also known as "It's Now Or Never" sung by Elvis Presley.

Listening to many of the great Italian American pop crooners like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra taught me how to slide into a note from a passing tone. A lot of those kinds of slides are considered "old fashioned" or "schmaltzy" today, and how much I use them depends on the scenario.

So have you stolen any techniques from other instruments?

Replies (15)

August 8, 2006 at 06:53 PM · i have often thought of borrowing pete townshend's encore move on my violin...

August 8, 2006 at 07:35 PM · It changed my hand position. I now have a much more closed hand position, and my thumb comes up a lot more, from playing on a Les Paul with a thick neck. For me this works really well, and because of the stretching, I don't have to shift as much and can easily play tenths etc...

August 8, 2006 at 08:17 PM · I've learned a whole lot about shaping individual notes and phrasing to a specific note by watching really good cellists play. Maybe it's because the whole cello culture is not, on average, bent as much to technique as violinists are. Maybe it also has something to do with the greater depth of sound cellos produce - they have more to shape and play around with. Specific cellists which come to mind are Dave Requiro, an incredible cellist at my school studying with Richard Aaron, Rostropovich, and Yo-Yo Ma.

August 9, 2006 at 12:52 AM · Flamenco guitarists, in doing their "rasgueado", often hit the guitar body for a cajon-like drum effect while playing.

When I'm doing the strolling violin thing, I'll often do accents from the orchestra with my left hand by slamming my fingers down on the fingerboard in first position. It doesn't hurt the violin and creates a neat little percussive effect that can fill accents like in the 1st movement of the Sibelius concerto.

I also deeply admire bassist Edgar Meyer's excellent tone production. I used to imitate the small warbling vibrato he'd do. When I met him after one of his concerts, I asked him about his thoughts on vibrato because I had a feeling I knew what he was going to say. He told me exactly what I had thought he would, which was that the bass was essentially a medieval instrument that did not tolerate the "modern" style of vibrato. I was not surprised that Meyer felt the same way about vibrato on the violin.

August 9, 2006 at 10:53 AM · Not very specific techniques - but in a general way I have been influenced intuitively by fine singers, and intellectually by thoughtful pianists in books dealing with the piano, etc.

August 9, 2006 at 02:45 PM · I've learned almost as much from Richard Aaron as I have from my regular teacher! A lot of my good friends tell me about their lessons and I can always apply something they learned to my playing.

August 9, 2006 at 08:19 PM · I play jazz, mainly.

Phrasing from sax players and trumpeters. They breathe.

Line construction from pianists as well.

Percussive attention to the ends of notes from guitarists, also a kind of overtone bowing from electric guitar feedback.

Bouncing bow stuff from drummers cymbal techniques, also berimbau and cuica.


August 9, 2006 at 08:38 PM · Listen to enough gypsies and you'll play a heck of a Zigeunerweisen....

August 12, 2006 at 11:28 PM · One of my favorite gigs of all time was playing medieval music with a period band.

When I'd play with the wooden recorder player, it was interesting because his instrument was NOT in perfect pitch. Since it sounded jarring when I played perfectly in tune next to him, I'd deliberately play OUT OF TUNE in a way that would fit with his lines.

The other thing that I learned from that gig that I still do is "breathe" on the violin. Between phrases, that recorder player would take a breath before starting on the next motif. It's easy on the violin to not have to do that, but it sounds better (at least to my ears) when you phrase your violin playing in a way that reflects the reality of human breathing. So regularly, I will "take a breath" on the violin by inserting little unnoticeable pauses that don't break the musical line.

August 13, 2006 at 01:06 AM · Kevin, that sounds cool. Do you know if the recorder was tuned in just tuning or pythagorean tuning or something like that? Or maybe mean-tone?

August 13, 2006 at 02:55 AM · Honestly Nicholas, I don't remember. And if I did, I don't think I'd know anyway!

I just heard it and adjusted to it.

August 14, 2006 at 03:56 AM · I learned how to practice from the piano. I play it in addition to the violin, and I have always been amazed at how violinists don't think about this as much as pianists. Probably because they usually don't have to work with such a huge repertoire and thus do not have as many time management problems. I also have a favorite quote to play by (From a rather famous trumpet player-- Adolph Herseth) "Hear it better".

That and listening to lots of vocal music!


August 14, 2006 at 08:59 PM · working with a drum machine has helped my timing in so many ways.

many violinist techniques are also applicable to the guitar.

3rd and 4th finger endurance i've learned from playing trills on piano. i admit i could be more disciplined about this but it does help in developing hand strength and endurance.

i don't know if it's considered an instrument per se, but learning to use cubase has transformed the way i listen to music in general.

August 14, 2006 at 11:09 PM · Ah, Cubase!!!

For those that don't know, that's a MIDI sequencing reader that allows the user to create and edit electronic arrangements of music. Think karaoke but editable.

There are many great MIDI sequences available for purchase, Trantrax (sp??) being one of the best. Practically every sort of music can be purchased to the tune of about $10 per sequence. Many of those sequences are startlingly realistic and do NOT sound like computer programs.

I wonder if they have violin concertos sequenced on MIDI? That would allow a violinist to play with a virtual orchestra wherever he chose to set up his sound system.

What kinds of things have you been doing on Cubase, D Wright? I recently worked with "Love Story" by Mancini (sounds just like the original arrangement) as well as an incredibly realistic sounding "Theme from Summer Place" by the Percy Faith Orchestra.

August 19, 2006 at 12:39 AM · I find the piano an inspiration for violin playing. Not just for the vertical, harmony aspect but also the approach to playing a single line melody. On piano, the notes are 'struck', whether staccato or legato or anywhere in between. On violin, this is done either with the bow, or the left hand fingers either going down onto the fingerboard or coming off in slurs. Somehow, thinking this way helps me to play the violin with better clarity and neatness. How one plays the notes is like a pianist's touch on the keys. The thing to avoid is to play the violin (or the piano) percussively when this is not intended. Even so, I like to think of clearly defined notes.

Regarding the recorder playing, I remember listening carefully to Kreisler playing on some CDs once and I could hear him doing a lot of stopping and lifting of the bow between notes and phrases. They were like a wind player taking breaths.

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