Preparing to possibly prepare for auditions?

December 28, 2018, 10:56 AM · Hello all,

I am going to make this a long first post...sorry about that, but there is just so much to say. I am searching for advice of sorts, so I figure I should probably tell the whole story - including a lot of details so that you all might be able assess as much as possible what I am wrestling with. Thanks in advance for reading and giving thought to my post!

I started learning to play the violin at age 14. i had wanted to for a long time, but lack of instrument, finances, and a teacher in the very rural area in which I lived prohibited that. I did, however, study piano from age 6 - that helped. The very first time I set bow to string, I knew that I had found what I could truly, endlessly love. I knew I wanted to make a life of it. As i was learning to play the Twinkle variations at the time, I kept this thought to myself for a few years.

I worked really hard. I performed the Bach Double on the exact 2 year anniversary of my first lesson. I found a music camp to go to in the summers I was 16, 17, and 18; there I got to experience playing in an orchestra for the first time, and I cried at the very first sound. It was incredible.

The first year at the music camp, with less than 2 years of playing, I made it into the advanced orchestra and was seated assistant concertmaster. That is, until the first rehearsal, when it became clear that I was really, really terrible at sight reading - (I had heard the sight reading excerpt for the audition played by 5 or 6 kids in front of me, and had eeked it out by ear, but could not keep up in rehearsal). Moved to the very back of the seconds!

I made it through book 6 of Suzuki by my senior year of high school and had started to play other things, as well. My teacher for my first 2 years of playing was a very advanced high school student herself (and I her first student), but when she left for college, her mother - a voice teacher - took over. She didn't play the violin, only knew a good deal from observing her daughter's lessons. So, I was really behind, especially technically. What's more, when I started telling people I wanted to study violin in college at around age 16, they all said, without exception (well, except my mom!), "you can't make it. it's a tough world. you started too late. you aren't talented enough." I knew I wouldn't be happy unless I tried it anyway, so I polished some piano pieces up along with preparing my violin audition pieces so that I could tell them “please accept me on my piano playing and let me study violin.” And I got in.

I went to a very small university, and the violin teacher there was really terrible. I won’t go into the details, but the worst part about it is that she insisted I play with an extremely bent left wrist, even though I insisted that it caused a lot of pain. I got tendonitis and neuritis as a result, and had to sit a large chuck of the year out (and go to hand specialists and physical therapists). My junior year, I petitioned to take lessons at a neighboring university, and was allowed to do so. That teacher was much better, and I started to play more standard pieces. I am still ashamed to say that I was incredibly behind on repertoire. For my senior recital, I played Beethoven’s Spring sonata, the full Bach g minor, and Romanza Andalusia by Sarasate. I had also worked on Mozart 4, but hadn’t played any other concertos. I felt like I had wasted my chance to get better during the first two years, and was pretty discouraged and ashamed. And everyone still said “you’re not good enough”.

There was one exception. I got into a music festival during the summer after my sophomore year, for an orchestral program. I was assigned a teacher who later told me that, after my first lesson, she met with the other teachers and said they should consider sending me home. She had asked me to play a 3-octave scale, but no one had ever taught me how to do that - she was shocked. She told me the fingerings, and when my second lesson came around the next week and I played it for her, she told me she thought I was incredibly naturally talented, that she thought I had the best ear that she had ever seen in a student, and that she was convinced I had just suffered under poor teaching. I cried and cried and cried. And tried to let her belief in me carry me through all the discouragement that still came my way - for example, a teacher at the same festival the next year told me that, if I couldn’t play an assignment from her perfectly the next week, it would prove I had no place in music. I failed - I was so nervous! and she told me to quit. I kept going, desperately trying to insist for myself, in my own head, that I could learn how to play well, how to make beautiful music with my violin. That’s all I wanted.

After university, I arranged with a teacher I had met at the festival (but not had lessons with) to move to where she was and take lessons with her privately, while working a day job, in order to improve technically in order to apply for a master after 2 years. I worked on more Bach with her and started the Mendelssohn Concerto, but we hit a standstill. She told me that she could see that I didn’t really think I could improve. She told me that she believed I could - she believed I could play beautifully and well - but my belief that I couldn’t was making me not progress past a certain point. She asked me to consider whether I could believe her, or whether I would continue to believe I couldn’t do it. This really surprised me. I went home and thought really hard. I recognized that, along the way, I had gotten so used to being so cruel to myself in my head that practicing was anxiety-producing, that my words to myself were incredibly toxic, but that I didn’t know how to change that. It’s like all those years of insisting to myself that I could do it, I just had to keep trying, even when people told me not to, had been secretly piling up in my soul, and that was all I really heard anymore. I called my teacher and told her I was going to stop playing.

And I did. It was the hardest, most painful decision of my life. I felt like a failure for giving up, but I didn’t feel like I could not give up. I had a sense that something else needed to change in my life, that I needed to learn how to think differently, and I had a sense that this couldn’t happen if I continued to pursue playing. Five years went by, lots of things happened - it would be far too much to say it all here. I am not sure why, but one summer I was ready to play again. A friend was getting married, and I offered to play Meditation from Thais for her wedding. I prepared it, I was nice(r) to myself, something was different in my mind. “Performing” at the wedding, I felt I was able to give to my friend and not focus on the fear of not playing perfectly. People told me they had been moved by the music, and that was incredible for me - I didn’t care that I had played some notes of out tune or missed a certain shift.

So now…it’s a few years later. I played as much as possible after that first performance, while working full time. I performed at every chance I got. Then I moved to Germany about a year ago to do a master in literature and cultural studies, which I find interesting, but I still feel this bug in my soul that playing the violin is the only thing I really, really want to do. I found an orchestra to play in here, and serve as the assistant concertmaster, and have performed in various other gigs. I started taking lessons again with a good teacher, and with him am focusing on some technique that I never learned. I’m playing Bach at the moment (the d minor, but not yet the Chaconne!)

So, my questions have to do with 2 things. First, I think I would like to work on a concerto. I am nervous - I think I still have a mental block about concertos, that “that is what good people play”, and “I am not good enough”…but I think that is a falsehood. I have only played (besides Bach A minor) the Mozart 4 and part of Mendelssohn. I don’t think I can go back to Mendelssohn. Does anyone have any opinions as to what might be a good next one to try out?

Secondly, I am wondering if I should/could make the decision to try to get into a master program in music here and, one last time, give it a shot. Give it my all again, and see if I can succeed (and by succeed, I mean love playing, learn how to give more and more freely with my playing, and not become overwhelmed with discouragement or negative thoughts if I try to pursue this.) It isn’t a practical thing, at 32, to be thinking about starting a whole new chapter (again), but I so often have the impression that if I don’t try it again, I will always regret it.

I am scared that it really is true that I am not talented enough. I am scared to hear more people say that. I am scared that I won’t be able to keep a clear head. But oh, if I were talented enough! If I could not be thrown by what people say, especially when they figure out how old I am and what my history is. oh, if I could keep a clear head….then being a violinist is the thing I would (still) choose.

So, to sum it ALL UP, I guess I am asking for any thoughts about what concerto might be a good one to study (I can answer any more specific questions about repertoire, etc, if need be, but I really haven’t played as much as would be considered normal)…and for any thoughts about how to decide whether I should give this all one more go.

Replies (133)

December 28, 2018, 2:47 PM · Oh my. You have truly suffered with poor teaching.

The first thing is to remove the entire question of "talent" and how much you have of it relative to others from your internal dialog. It is irrelevant.

What is relevant, I am sorry to say, is how far behind you are and how much ground there is to cover to get to where you want to be. The answers are (1) very and (2) a very large, possibly insurmountable amount if what you are seeking is ultimately to earn your living by playing the violin.

I don't think it is for strangers on the internet who haven't heard you play to recommend concertos. You are trying to do this out of order. The first thing is for you to find the best teacher you can, and then follow that teacher's recommendations for what to study. If you really need a piece to study before finding a teacher, I would suggest the Kabalevsky 1st movement. You should not try to do Mozart without guidance.

If your goal at this point is to learn to play the violin at the best possible level for you, and you have some other way to keep food on your table and a roof over your head, then go for it. With a good teacher, I am guessing you'll be able to advance quite far from where you are right now. You will most likely also be able (eventually) to teach beginner to intermediate level students, and probably to play for weddings if you have colleagues to work with and a winning personality for brides and/or their mothers.

It is very, very unlikely that you will become competitive in professional orchestra auditions except perhaps for some freeway philharmonics, but there certainly are more than a few people earning a living--not a great living but they aren't starving--by piecing together students and gigs.

Good luck!

December 28, 2018, 3:16 PM · Anita,

Your story is quite sad, filled with roadblocks and poor teachers. A master's in music may not be the path you need to take. While I am not familiar with the musical culture in Europe, my guess is that there are a lot of good community orchestra all over and that you can find a musical outlet while using your Literature and Culture credentials for your paid livelihood.

December 28, 2018, 4:04 PM · I don't have the expertise to address any aspect of your question but I did want to say that your story is so poignant and compelling, heartwrenching but also so inspiring re your tenacity. I think you are a very taletned writer with quite a story. I hope to read your happy 'ending', maybe in print one day!
December 28, 2018, 5:04 PM · Mary Ellen knows far more about the career prospects than I - she is being informative and straight with you. However, I can add that you sound rather similar to my current situation. Though I am much older I also dream of being a professional. On the other hand, I am also rational :) I have followed the course of a dedicated amateur violinist. This takes the pressure off you because you no longer have to set yourself up in comparison with the professional track. Face it, people as talented or even less talented than either of us have been playing the instrument for many many more years than us (in my case over 40). This has made me think not about competing but about what do I want to achieve? And my conclusion is to play the instrument to mend and melt hearts. After over 10 years of work (since I returned) I am at that goal. I really can play to bring people to tears and I can sit on the first desk of a community orchestra and perform to a crowd of 500. Not only that, but as an amateur violinist I take lessons, I hire and fire teachers as I choose, I go to summer festivals and perform sonatas and chamber music, and I play the music that I choose, not that I have to because of a pay check. In short, I am much more of the musician than many of the pros that I have met along the way that have had to compromise their artistic goals to the need of finding income.

So my advice is - get a job that pays well and that gives you a lot of latitude in time. Then embrace being an amateur. Don't 'give up' on being a pro - forget it as goal. Its not the only - indeed, for some its not the way at all - to be the violinist of your dreams.

December 28, 2018, 10:31 PM · So it sounds like you have a career and are studying towards it? And in your spare time, you are studying with a private teacher, practicing the violin, serving as the assistant concertmaster in an amateur volunteer orchestra, and playing some pro gigs?

What would make your musical life adequately satisfying? Do you want to be a full-time performer? Or would you be content if you could substitute teaching music to kids for your current day job?

I agree with Mary Ellen that the question of talent is irrelevant. I am also struck by your repeated use of the word "ashamed" to describe your progress, as if it were shameful to not progress by more than X amount each year.

I wonder if your need to fit your violin progression into an academic program in the past was actually suboptimal for your learning, resulting in a scattershot attempt to fulfill graduation requirements rather than a structured, methodical approach to learning to play the violin. That structured approach isn't just important for you -- it's important if you want to teach the instrument to others.

At this stage, I would suggest that your most effective route is to find a private teacher who can really help you learn the violin in a methodical and structured way that leaves no gaps and does not rush progression in an artificial fashion. Perhaps your current teacher already fits this role.

It takes time and good teaching to learn to play the violin well. It can't and shouldn't be rushed, and you need reasonable expectations of the process and yourself.

December 28, 2018, 11:11 PM · All that is great advice.

But you asked about concertos and nobody answered that part of your question. You did Mozart 4 at your peak, but how well you played it is anyone's guess. Maybe you could try Bach E Major. That's certainly a lot easier than Mendelssohn and it'll give you a chance to make sure your technique is solid before moving up. Or you could do Mozart 3 which is less difficult than either 4 or 5. If that goes swimmingly then I would recommend Bruch. I thought everyone did Bruch before Mendelssohn.

I had inferior teaching as a young person too. Not as bad as you. But I've enjoyed a life full of music of many types. And as others have said, it sure is nice knowing I have job security (university tenure) with a decent income (not spectacular) and excellent fringe benefits. Do I wish I could play violin better? Sure. Same for piano. Do I wish I had a higher profile as a researcher? Definitely. But all you can really do is try your best, and then learn to accept reality (especially the aspects that resulted from one's own decisions) and be happy with who you are and what you have.

December 28, 2018, 11:54 PM · It's hard to recommend anything without having some notion of how well the OP actually plays, regardless of repertoire learned.

It might be entirely possible that the correct concertos for the OP are the pedagogical ones, for instance -- the violinist-composer repertoire like Viotti, DeBeriot, Rode, Spohr, etc.

December 29, 2018, 10:22 AM · First of all, thank you all for your replies - I very much appreciate it. I have a big paper due in a few days, so I am having to be quite disciplined about how much I interact with other things - so I am sorry for the late reply!

Could someone explain why talent should be removed from the equation? I don't quite understand...perhaps it has been part of my mindset for too long. I would like to understand.

Yes, I have a teacher and I should talk to him about what to study next and concurrently with Bach. We have been focusing on my bow hand and interpretation in Bach - I am trying to get my bow arm to be more consistently relaxed than it is used to being, to engender a better sound. I really don't love the sounds I produce when it is tense.

My teacher is actually the (paid) concertmaster of the orchestra I am in, so we share a desk and he has heard me play both in lessons and in rehearsal, of course - vastly different types of music. I think he believes in me - he said he thinks I have everything I need, except a bit of technique...but I am a bit afraid to ask him if he thinks I have what I need for what I want. It will hurt to hear another "no". He is helping me address the techniques I missed, all sorts, including bow work and scales in thirds and so forth. There is a bit of a language....hedge. Not quite a wall. He doesn't speak English, and I find that my German slows down when I am focussing so intently on music. But it still works. At the end of my first lesson, he suggested we could work on a variety of things - concertos, shorter pieces, etc. The only things I remember him saying was once again working on Mendelssohn and perhaps Wieniawski (I remember that one because I am not a huge fan ;)...but in the new year, at my first lesson, I will ask him again if he thinks i am ready to begin another piece and, if so, what.

I am studying literature and cultural studies, yes, but it is not yet a career...I am new to that, as well - perhaps i could consider it a habit to be behind all my peers! I am halfway through a master degree, and I enjoy it, and am comfortable saying that I could consider a PhD afterward...or perhaps find a job of some sort, but none of that is certain either. I say that just to clarify that all of the potentials for the future are currently a bit murky. One thing that I do have quite a bit of experience in and really enjoy that could perhaps serve as a way to make money and have time to play quite a bit is editing (books, journals, etc), if I could work at it freelance, it could be a viable source of income. An additional factor to all of this is that education is free here in Germany, so I do believe that if I could get into the music school, I would just have to worry about living expenses - which are generally low here, lower than in the states. But anyway, I am getting besides the point!

It is a sad story in many ways, but I think I believe that the narrative of our lives is a creative process that we are involved in ourselves, so the way we tell our story effects the way we live it out. So, let me add something that I often like to remind myself of: I was able to start playing because my mother, without my saying anything to her, noted that I longed for it, and she, while cleaning out her mother's house after she passed away, found an old violin. She took it to a luthier, and he was able to fix it up, and then she brought it home for me. I consider it the most profound gift I have ever been given -that I, who desired it so deeply yet secretly, was provided a violin in such a poetic way..

Anyway, if I had to articulate my desires, I don't think it would be important to me to get a spot in a professional orchestra. If I could make beautiful music and had the opportunity to do so with frequency, and if I could be happy with my playing, and if I could take part in chamber music at a level that was satisfying, and if I could feel like I was always working towards creating beautiful moments/sounds with other people, I think I would be happy, even though I know the gigging life can be stressful monetarily. I am not too excited about the prospect of teaching - I am not sure why. I think partially because I never had motivation problems, and was never a young child learning the violin, so the thought of trying to come up with creative ways to inspire kids to want to practice...isn't very appealing...I hope that isn't selfish of me...

In the past few years, I have tried to perform as much as possible, and though I had terrible stage fright earlier in my life, I find I now love performing. I also know myself better and know better how to play to my strengths, how to learn efficiently, etc. (Though I still get discouraged at times...) When I was still in the States, I found a cellist to play weddings with, and we performed a piano trio as well in a small chamber concert - my first piano trio. What an incredible combination!

Here in Germany, I am just starting to develop connections. But I think a good goal for me this next year is to play a recital - I am going to try to make that happen. Beyond that, I need to at some point make the decision as to whether I want to try to do a master in music, and if so, figure out how to prepare for that. I am just not sure - perhaps I need to give myself more times before I think more about it, too.

Does that all make sense? I appreciate the feedback. Thank you, thank you.

Edited: December 29, 2018, 10:47 AM · Paul, I did suggest the first movement of Kabalevsky in my previous post.

“Talent” is irrelevant because whatever that word may mean to you, it is entirely out of your control. Focus on what you can control, which is choosing a teacher and practicing well with focus. You can evaluate your progress as time passes, but it is far more productive to interpret insufficient progress as a sign that you need to improve your practicing rather than as evidence of some sort of internal limitation you can do nothing about.

December 29, 2018, 11:04 AM · Some advice for people who want to audition for professional orchestras: Don't make the mistake of thinking that, by just winning an audition, the hard stuff is behind you. Nothing can be further from the truth. The higher levels of the repertoire are VERY difficult--certainly more difficult than a Mozart or Mendelssohn concerto.

You'd think that they use the most difficult orchestral music for auditions. Not true. My suggestion, before wanting to be a pro, is to actually look at the music you may have to play. It doesn't mean slop or fake through most of it. In a professional orchestra, you may end up sitting next to a very talented, diligent, highly trained person with lightning-quick reflexes who never seems to miss a note. That will put more pressure on you.

Here are some works to look at and ask yourself: could you learn this piece up to tempo in a short time?
-Don Juan: whole thing, not just first page
-Shostakovich 5th symphony, whole thing.
Hindemith-synphonic Metamorphosis or Mathis der Mahler
-Schoenberg-Verklaerte nacht
-Strauss-Zarathustra
-Copland 3rd symphony
-Prokofiev 5th symphony

Just a very small sampling of difficult works. Others can add to the list, and I'm sure there's even harder repertoire out there.

You don't have to merely win the job--you have to DO it as well.

Edited: December 29, 2018, 11:58 AM · One of the hardest things about music as a professional career, in my opinion, is not actually the playing level or "talent" or training required - lots of people have that. It's the psychological aspect of coping with constant criticism and rejection - everyone, even the ones who started at four and went through juilliard pre-college and to the big conservatory etc etc etc, gets told "no" hundreds of times more often than they get told "yes". And your playing is constantly critiqued, whether by yourself, your peers, a coach or teacher, a reviewer, and sometimes this can feel very personal. I think the constant rejection - going to audition after audition and not winning, submitting tapes and resumes etc - is why so many conservatory-trained musicians leave the field in, say, the first ten years after graduating. Is this something you would want or be prepared to deal with?

Given your stated goals above, I think a career along the same lines as what Lydia does would be great for you - a high level amateur, with the ability and financial freedom to play or not to play whatever you want. You could (and have, already) find likeminded players to play chamber music with, solo with community orchestras, etc. I don't know if this would require a master's degree - probably private lessons with a good teacher would let you tailor your learning toward your goals more precisely.

If, on the other hand, you decide to make music your primary source of income, you are almost guaranteed to spend a lot of time playing unrewarding literature - whether that be a symphonic work by a composer you're not crazy about, backup strings to a touring rock show, the same wedding arrangements hundreds of times...

Edited: December 29, 2018, 12:19 PM · Yes, Mary Ellen, I agree Kabalevsky would be a good option too. Sorry! I didn't read carefully enough! And I agree with Lydia that some of the violinist-pedagogical concertos could be very useful. For example Spohr No. 2 is nice and it's not super long. In terms of technical difficulty. I would put it between Mozart 3 and Bruch.
December 29, 2018, 12:49 PM · I find Scott's list interesting; other than the Schoenberg and Hindemith, I played all the other works in either youth symphony or a (semi-pro) community orchestra when I was still in my mid-teens. Back then I had the chops to learn them very quickly; I'm not convinced I could do that now as a less technically in-shape adult. :-)

I started gigging as a teenager, playing in pick-up orchestras and doing last-minute subbing, which gave me a taste of pro orchestra expectations -- and for most of these gigs, I'd see first-violin music maybe three days before a concert, only get one rehearsal, and still need to sound competent. It was a crash course in efficient practice, and it taught me (1) that I loved this kind of orchestral playing, (2) that it didn't really resemble the youth/community experience, and (3) it was not how I wanted to make a living. (I did the miscellaneous restaurant quartet gigs and whatnot too, which was awesome for a teenager but definitely not what I wanted to do for a living.) I think that anyone aiming for a professional career should have that experience as early as possible. It's utterly different from what most people envision when they think about a career as a violinist.

Anita, I think given your desires, you're better off just continuing to take violin lessons and look for performance opportunities. Pursue a career that gives you the freedom to play music for the love of it. If you play at a professional level, you can also pick and choose the gigs that you want to take. If you live in a city with freeway philharmonics, you might even play in one or more of them, while retaining your regular day job. The line between amateur and pro can sometimes be blurry these days. I know people who classify themselves as professional violinists because they have a do gig (and may have a conservatory degree), but their day job is clearly some other career (often a STEM field), rather than, say, teaching kids.

(Since others on the thread have referenced what I do: My background is in my v.com bio.)

Mary Ellen's explanation of "talent is irrelevant" is good. I would add that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and where your practice time goes will be dependent on those strengths and weaknesses. For example, I have an agile left hand and perfect pitch; I can learn most passagework really quickly. But I also have a terrible sense of rhythm, which means that I can spend excess time on anything that is even vaguely rhythmically complex.

Building fundamental technique is important for everyone. The stronger your fundamentals, the less time and effort it takes to learn repertoire. My guess is that the way you were taught has resulted in shaky fundamentals. Furthermore, you may not have been methodically taught how to practice -- how to diagnose problems, tackle them with "standard" solutions, and figure out how to design exercises that get at the heart of what's wrong. (A lot of practicing is fixing the way you think about a passage.)

Practicing efficiency is effectively the ratio between time invested and musically satisfactory results. When it is too low, the end product is frustration. Quick learners generally have higher practicing efficiency, but so much efficiency can be taught that the effects of, say, IQ, are minimal overall when you're talking about adults.

December 29, 2018, 3:17 PM · Lydia,
Yes, many people who went through the youth orchestra/college orchestra thing have played these war-horses. But many who fantasize about an orchestral career may not have. And they may have no clue about audition repertoire.

I still remember an Oregon Symphony audition years ago in which candidates had to play the Romanza from Eine Kleine. Seems easy? I'll bet it eliminated many candidates.

December 29, 2018, 4:07 PM · Not really relevant in the case of the OP, but: I'm always struck by the posts of the late starters, whether teenage or adult, who dream of an orchestral career but have never played in an ensemble.

Although the really tragic ones: All the people I have met who were recently-graduated with a music degree, expecting to play in an orchestra, and whose teachers have never once spoken to them about the process of actually getting an orchestra job.

December 29, 2018, 4:40 PM · So, this is kind of off the subject of the original post, but since it was mentioned...perhaps I could ask: how does one practice efficiently?

When I have to learn music quickly for a gig, I listen to the piece as much as possible, if it is available, preferably with the score. When I have the music, I play through it all once - mostly because I am not highly skilled at sight-reading and so even the easy stuff needs a run through. (Actually, often I can play the notes, but it is the bowings that I am just not good at quickly reading...is that weird?) If I have listened to the music with the score, if makes the process so much faster because then sight is connected in my head to sound, and then I can play/read intuitively. Without this connection, it is like staring at runes from ancient Mesopotamia.

Then I make stars beside difficult passages, and I work each of them very, very slowly, to make sure they are in tune and manageable at a slow pace. I work them up with the metronome, using varying rhythms if my fingers get mixed up. I try to get it to the point where I can play it faster than will be required. I reassess each day the priority of the passages.

In rehearsal, then, I also make note of sections that are trickier than I thought. If the piece is by that point familiar enough to me (from listening and playing), I often have the piece memorized after a few run-throughs and listening intently to other parts in the orchestra/group. This/these methods have worked to help me prepare orchestral music in less than a week, but I don't have a ton of time to practice (with school and job), so often I still can't play every note or section perfectly. :(

For solo stuff, I have less of a game plan, usually, and often feel like I am wandering around a forest without really knowing where the path is. I generally also try to play through the piece once (which is not a mindless activity for me, because reading is not automatic...I don't know how to really communicate how good or bad I am at sight-reading, because I am way better than I was 10 years ago, but it is not a strength). Then I usually start at the beginning and work my way phrase by phrase, in order to figure out all the shifts and positions and fingering. I think my strongest skill is memorization or auditory memory - if I play it through phrase by phrase like this, it is firmly memorized, sometimes before I know it. After this point, I still refer to the score like a signpost, to remind me where I need to work, but when I am working on phrases, I generally close my eyes or look in a mirror - looking constantly at the score is distracting.

But at this point, it is still shaky in terms of expression and bow technique and phrasing. Here is where I get lost. Sometimes I try to focus on only one thing (for example, playing without tension in my right arm), but I worry that in focusing on one thing, the rest of the things I need to think about don't happen and perhaps things I don't want are engrained in my playing. So then I try to go measure by measure and think about various things (bow arm, left hand finger placement without tension, shifts, intonation). Since I have mostly been working on Bach, I can say that I try to play through each movement that I am working on at least once a day, so I continue to hear the flow and continue to notice the harmonic progressions and new things that I might still need to discover (but if the piece were much, much longer, this probably wouldn't be the case).

But, I am guessing there is so much that I don't know to do, especially at this point, and would LOVE to hear from others any tips (or even about things I should ask my teacher to explain about the process). I hope that all makes sense.

December 29, 2018, 4:42 PM · Oh, and to be clear...I think there has been a little bit of a misunderstanding re. the title of the post... I am not preparing for orchestral auditions, nor do I have grandiose notions about the likelihood of that happening!
December 29, 2018, 5:32 PM · Yes, start with listening. You play the violin with your ears and memory as much as anything else. The anticipation of what's coming should result in automatic finger patterns and shifting, as well as automatic bow distribution.

For orchestra music (and for a great deal of solo repertoire), a lot of bowings and the like should be instinctive. You've learned a style (hopefully) and so the patterns should be intuitive. If they feel awkward, you may want to check out Martin Wulfhorst's books on orchestral playing.

For difficult passages, knowing which tactic to take is valuable. Starting slow and working it up with the metronome is essentially the crudest tactic you can take. In any given difficult passage there are probably a handful of notes that are more difficult than the surrounding passage. Dissecting that handful of notes with an efficient practice tactic is the place to start. Then work the rest of the passage in rhythms, especially fast groupings, or with other tactics depending on the passage.

Simon Fischer's "Practice" is a great compendium of standard practice methodologies. For a look at clever invented exercises that are not necessarily intuitive, look at Sevcik's editions of the major violin concertos, which come with a set of exercises for each difficult passage. (You can get these from IMSLP, or in printed editions edited by Stephen Shipps.)

The Bulletproof Musician blog is a great source for "practice hacks" -- basically brain tricks for maximizing how quickly you learn. That explains things like interleaved practice (frequent task-switching to keep your brain on high alert and learning at an optimal rate).

December 29, 2018, 5:52 PM · When I took the first movement of the Beethoven Concerto to an audition I was told that I played better than I normally do. That doesn't mean I was good (They might also have said it about my playing of the Brahms if I'd taken that along - the only problem is, I can't manage the notes!)!
You too might find a work that is you, and grabs you, and enables you to put your best into your playing.
December 29, 2018, 7:15 PM · "But at this point, it is still shaky in terms of expression and bow technique and phrasing. Here is where I get lost."

In essence, the solution is simple: Think of how you want it to sound, and then play it that way. If you are not sure, then sing along with a recording of the piece that you like, and when you can sing with the proper expression, then play it that way. Record yourself to see how close you are to your goal, i.e. to the way you want it to sound. When you listen to the recording of yourself, make careful note of any aspects that don't sound as you would like. Figure out how to fix each of these aspects. If there are some you don't know how to address, ask your teacher how to solve those particular problems.

December 31, 2018, 5:55 PM · I am jumping in to say that I too suffered from poor teaching as a kid. It's a miracle I was able to do what I did, and I am sorry that you too suffered from poor teaching. What Paul said rings true for me to (except I am not a university professor).
December 31, 2018, 8:12 PM · "how does one practice efficiently?"

Let's turn the question around: what kind of practice do people do that is inefficient?

1. Spend too little time on too much material. The Number One sin. And we all do it....
2. Not practice passagework with groups and rhythms.
3. Not use basic tools such as a metronome.
4. Assume that they "should get it" with 20 repetitions when what it really might take is 2000 repetitions. Or 20,000.
5. Allow themselves to make mistakes, thinking they will "correct it later."
6. Assume that the fingerings and bowings in their part are good ones (because it was edited by a "famous violinist"), and don't bother to experiment with all possible options.
7. Stick with fingering and bowings that obviously aren't working for them.

Do the opposite of the above.
Just a partial list, by the way.

January 1, 2019, 3:14 AM · If something is going to take 2000 repetitions, I generally look for another way around it, like rhythm practice for instance.
January 1, 2019, 9:42 AM · I am sure I did well over 2000 repetitions of the Schumann Scherzo (mostly well under tempo) when preparing for the audition for my current job, which obviously I won. That’s not to say rhythm practice doesn’t have its place; it does. But the more important and the more high stress the performance, the more a very high number of correct repetitions is money in the bank.
January 1, 2019, 12:19 PM · Correct mindful repetitions = Reliability.

I think one of the things you sacrifice most as an amateur performer is reliability. The time constraints make it possible to learn things reasonably well, but which might or might not break down under the stress of performance.

It's the difference between learning to do something, and being able to do it to a decent level No Matter What, under any circumstance.

Edited: January 1, 2019, 5:11 PM · Repetition has its place, once you are satisfied with how the passage sounds. I was referring to mindless repetition before the player has actually worked it out. i.e. "repeating to learn it" rather than "repeating to master it"
January 1, 2019, 6:39 PM · "Mindless repetition" is a waste of time whether it is times ten or times ten thousand.

ALL repetitions should be mindful, starting from the very beginning at the slowest possible tempo all the way up to presto (if that is the end goal).

January 2, 2019, 10:14 AM · Thank you, Lydia, for your book suggestions! They are new to me, but look very, very helpful.

And thanks everyone else, too, I appreciate all the thoughts on practice. I am interested (excited, nervous) to begin approaching practice in a new way. I hope I can manage it. I am also struck by the thought that, if I can spend time really re-doing the fundamentals so that tone is developed, intonation is consistent, and other techniques are at my fingertips (quite literally), then more and more things I desire would be within my reach.

I am wondering how this is to be best done - should I work for a while JUST on technique, and not start on a concerto? Or should I try to learn and apply the technique while learning a concerto? Is there a best way to do this?

Edited: January 2, 2019, 10:40 AM · Anita, these three books by Simon Fischer will be an endless source of help and inspiration for the rest of your life: Basics, Practice, and The Violin Lesson. Their titles are self-explanatory but Simon Fischer website gives summary of contents. These books are expensive but invaluable. You should also be warned that the process of getting more and more advanced on the violin may be highly addictive for certain persons, and I suspect you are one of such persons :-) So make sure to maintain balance with your non-violin life, work, studies, your future.

About your last question: working on a concerto will very quickly reveal your weaknesses in technique. You must be very critical and not allow any sloppiness, any unclear, messy playing. Listen to soloists to compare. With such a critical attitude you will probably find certain passages simply unplayable with your current level of technique. Then you can learn more about the required techniques and build up from there. So yes you can alternate between the concerto (those parts you can play, so it is "only" learning the notes) and technique (for the parts you cannot yet play).

You may quickly find that the journey (getting better and better on the violin and learning more and more about violin technique and beautiful playing) is more important than the destination (being able to completely play this or that concerto).

January 2, 2019, 10:50 AM · Anita, getting into music school may be a worthwhile goal for you, and I don't know exactly how the music scene is in Germany, but you can do a lot of good work with a good private teacher - Music school is not necessary for good instruction if you have a good teacher, although for someone looking to be a professional, it will provide many things you won't be able to get or that will be harder to get privately.

Your question about practice should be taken to your trusted teacher, and together, you can build up a practice regimen that makes sense. My advice is to find the best teacher you can and just work in that context. I believe that in Germany, they are pretty firm about making teachers at music schools retire at retirement age, so it may be possible to find high level teaching there in various contexts. Your teacher now may be the one to take you through this journey, as a big aspect is finding someone you are comfortable with and that you trust, and not the idiots that seemed to be working out their personal issues on you in the past.

January 2, 2019, 12:00 PM · I was so inspired to read that Mary Ellen did 2000 repetitions of something. Now I don't feel like an idiot if something still needs improvement after 100. Thank you!! You maybe don't know how uplifting it feels to see that someone who is actually a good player would need to work on something the same way they're teaching us to do it. Sure I know that seems obvious but for those of us who were taught as children to revere our superiors, it's nice to know that they practice what they preach.

About "mindful" repetitions, I remember attending a violin lesson of a ca. 10-year-old student and witnessing the following. The teacher had shown the student a simple regimen for practicing 3-octave scales with his own version of Galamian acceleration, and he had instructed her to do each "speed" twice as a basic starting point. So at the lesson naturally the student played her assigned scale that way. The discussion went something like this:

Teacher: That's good! Now, why do you play each one twice?
Student: That's what you said I should do.
Teacher: Yes but what's the point of doing the second one?
Student: Hmmm ... I'm not sure.
Teacher: The point is to play the second one better.

Now, instinctively the student knew that, but this exchange led to a lucid description of the various ways that a scale can always be played better and how you should listen to yourself, etc., before moving on to the specific problems the student was having.

January 2, 2019, 4:05 PM · This post (and others I have read here) have really been so helpful to me! I wish this site had been around when I was 14! My practice these last 2 days has felt very different to me, and I think I made a (mini)-breakthrough regarding tone...it is so motivating! I think this breakthrough stemmed in part from a mindset shift - the encouragement to not think about talent and instead think about practicing well (thank you Mary Ellen and others!)

If I were to only be able to afford one of the Fischer books at the moment, is there one which is the best choice? I would also love to get his DVD on tone, but...I don't have DVD player because computers these days are being made without them (and I don't have a tv....) :) What a funny problem to run into...

January 2, 2019, 4:08 PM · Given that you have a good teacher, I wouldn't necessarily feel compelled to get any of the Fischer books unless there's something specific you're looking to fill a gap with.
January 3, 2019, 4:41 AM · Anita given that you have a history of bad teaching, but currently have a good teacher who can help you with individual problems you encounter in technique or in practicing, I would choose "The Violin Lesson". It offers some really deep fundamental insights, and moreover has things copied from Basics and Practice.
January 3, 2019, 8:13 AM · Agree with Lydia (it's weird how the two threads I happen to open touch on the same point!)

Looking on your own is a bit like trying to self-diagnose off the internet instead of seeking a competent doctor.

You might be a good researcher and problem solver, in which case it might pay off. But if you already have a competent teacher you trust, all that searching is time away from doing what your teacher asked you to practice. Everything has an opportunity cost.

January 3, 2019, 8:32 AM · Whoa, just read the thread in more detail. Hope you're having a better time of it with your current lessons Anita!

Here's a thread from while back you might find intereseting: https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/29007/
Near the bottom, there are a bunch of links on mindset.

Check out Jackie Reardon's free 6 week mini-course based on her book: https://discover.friendlyeyes.com/ (You have to sign up to participate.)
Her website: https://friendlyeyes.com/
Reardon coached soprano/conductor Barbara Hannigan and Roger Federer.

More later...


January 3, 2019, 1:43 PM · Anita, I think you're already asking better questions now than at the beginning of your thread.

Others have addressed the talent question, but here's an article which underscores the effect of fixating on talent, or having a fixed (instead of a growth) mindset.

http://socialpsychonline.com/2016/07/psychology-success/

Here's an article which puts talent into perspective.

January 4, 2019, 10:44 AM · Jeewon, thank you for these suggestions! I will take a look!
January 5, 2019, 2:23 PM · I have been working on the Corrente from the Bach d minor for the past 2 weeks or so, but do not know where to go further with practice - how to correct the problems, what to focus on, how to make it more "reliable", etc...is this an occasion where I could post a video and get expert direction from you all as to where to go from where I am with it, or should I just wait until the next time I see my teacher? (I haven't brought it to him yet, due to the Christmas break).

I am a bit embarrassed to ask! I don't what to overstep the bounds here!

January 5, 2019, 8:59 PM · Anita, feel free to post a video. There are a couple of folks here who post awesome suggestions.

Ir might also be useful for you to describe your current process for learning a new work, and for troubleshooting problem spots.

January 5, 2019, 10:19 PM · "The Violin Lesson" seems to be the "central" Fischer book. It's huge. Also rather expensive. Does your teacher have it to borrow?
January 6, 2019, 6:58 AM · I was able to get my hands on a copy of "Practice" by Fischer...I have read through the contents, tried to asses what would be the most helpful for me, and am trying to decide how I should approach going through it. I think it will help me even to read through it and understand some general principles I seemed to have missed. For example, during my first lesson, my teacher said "of course you know there are several different zones you can draw the bow in (by the bridge, over the fingerboard, in the middle, etc)...I didn't know that! He said I was adjusting automatically most of the time, based on sound, but I think things like this will help me be able to diagnose problems when I am otherwise stuck.

There are definitely things in there that are out of my reach currently! I am TRYING not to be too anal or make myself too many rules or unrealistic expectations about going through it! trying! :)

January 6, 2019, 7:37 AM · I will post a video in hopes to get some good advice. I am, of course, nervous to do so, as I know that there is much that is cringe-worthy in what I recorded, but I would really value direction and thoughts and tips.

Like I previously mentioned, I began to get this under my fingers about 2 weeks ago. I read through it a few times to get the notes, bowings, and positions memorized. Then I began to isolate sections that had similar bowing patterns and play them slowly while trying to make sure my right arm was very relaxed and was getting a good tone. (I have been doing a lot of open string work to try to improve my tone, which generally disappoints me). I noticed that the ability to focus on tone disappeared when I sped up, so I have spent a lot of time doing it slowly and trying to memorize how it feels to let the bow make the strings ring. This has helped, but not fully translated into the piece.

I also isolated places where the shifts or other complications cause me to not hit the note truly in tune. I try to figure out why, but I don't always know. I try to determine what will make the shift (or finger placement) more reliable, what I need to be thinking about, whether the note is usually high or low, and try to adjust my thinking to combat the problem, and then do it slowly until it is consistent. (But then getting nervous about hitting the note in tune sometimes destroys all that and I miss it anyway).

I have no idea what to do about the chords/double stops. I have been playing open double stops, getting used to the feeling of letting the bow make the strings ring without pressure or tension, but I haven't succeeded in transferring this to the piece yet. This is a new endeavor for me - my double stops have usually been crunchy and tense. My guess is that it is mostly due to the bowhand, but I notice also that my left hand gets really tense (including the thumb). I just yesterday thought that if I move me knuckles closer the the neck, it might be easier to reach the finger positions without tension, but...I am not sure. I will continue to try to memorize how the right hand should feel to make the strings ring, and then add left-hand fingers to it and try to keep that sound. I think there is nothing more beautiful than the sound of two or more strings, perfectly in tune, ringing together - it sounds like a rich, velvety chocolate mousse or a deep, full-bodied, expensive wine! Mine do not sound like this. :(

That's about all, I think. I would eventually like it to go faster, of course, and be able to sound more sprightly and dance-like, but to speed it up now would be disastrous, I think. So I am not sure entirely where to go next!

Again, I appreciate helpful, constructive criticism and tips for continuing to practice and improve this piece, and things that can be applied to learning and polishing pieces in general. Thank you so much!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MRY4VLCMys&feature=youtu.be


January 6, 2019, 11:28 AM · Hi Anita,

I don't find anything "cringe-worthy" at all.

I think you're in a bit of a tricky situation right now because your teacher doesn't really know your larger goals. You mentioned the idea of fixing technical issues before learning rep., and there is merit to that if you're thinking of rapidly rehabbing your technique in order to get into a program within a couple of years or so. If I didn't know that, I wouldn't impose rehab on anyone. But if that's what you want, you should let your teacher know, i.e. ask him what he thinks is the quickest way to boost your baseline technique. He may think he's already doing that with you, or not.

Now some teachers don't like to do that, or don't really know how, apart from applying very general principles. If that's the case and you want to stay with such a teacher for other reasons, it makes sense to look for supplemental material like the Fischer books and try and figure out stuff on your own. But it kind of depends on your aptitudes and mindset. There is a reason many performers don't want to teach (Janine Jansen comes to mind; there's a very cool documentary on her early career which is fascinating): they don't want to know how they do things. From your history, it sounds like you're a more 'natural' performer, and you have no interest in teaching, so you may want to think twice before get into analyzing everything (you can't close that Pandora's box once you open it... I'm being a bit dramatic, but you get my meaning.)

There are a couple of ways you might want to progress right now: focus on how to practice better, or focus on nitty gritty motions to change technique. My hunch is that you should focus on practice skills, but I'll get back to you with some ideas on both when I have a bit more time to watch your video in more detail.

January 6, 2019, 2:35 PM · I agree with Jeewon.

I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but my immediate impression is that your left-hand fingers are often much too far from the fingerboard. You lift them a significant distance from the string and sometimes swing your hand a bit away from the fingerboard in a way that leaves your fourth finger especially distant. That slows your velocity, and makes it harder to maintain a stable hand-frame, which in turn affects your intonation.

Have you ever played any velocity exercises? Schradieck op. 1 book 1 (especially the first few exercises), Sevcik op. 7 trill studies, stuff like that?

January 6, 2019, 2:49 PM · Also, my second impression is that tone is fine in general, but it deteriorates when you experience trepidation about what's coming in the left hand. I suspect you tense up, and that tension transmits itself to the right hand, and combined with the hesitation, there ends up with a little more crunchiness in the sound. This happens even when it's not a double-stop.

When you play double-stops, the fingers need to be set firmly -- hold the string down all the way, solidly. And be careful that you're not touching the adjacent string with that finger / other fingers when you set the double-stop.

January 6, 2019, 5:25 PM · Jeewon and Lydia, thanks for your responses.

Hmmm...I am not sure which of the two methods I prefer, to be honest. I know I want to make progress, to play better/sound better, and be able to learn faster, to perform more and more comfortably, etc. And I did think that (re)learning technical things would help me with that. I don't think I do enough well, intuitively, to just focus on practice skills, no? What do you mean by 'natural' performer?

If I could ramble here for a moment...I do in general like to learn things "intuitively"...with languages, new skills...I would rather "absorb" something by jumping in blind and orienting myself as I am drowning :). (For example, for languages, I have tried taking classes and studying grammar and such, but generally do best if I listen a ton and read, even if it is too hard for me...and then figure out how the grammar works slowly, thus making connections and learning the rules. It takes longer, in some senses, but then feels more natural.) I don't know if that applies here at all. Generally I find I am always the "weird" one when it comes to how I take things in. On the other hand, I can be painstakingly analytical - I am a proofreader/editor, after all! I think I would be capable of breaking everything down to little pieces, and having the patience for the process.

(Incidentally, I think I would actually like teaching students - but I developed a strong aversion to the thought because I experienced such...unqualified teaching...and was sooooo deeply frustrated by it thatI would go home from a lesson and cry angry tears. So I vowed early on that if I didn't feel I could teach well, I wouldn't do it at all. I wouldn't become another teacher that someone would have to "get over". Currently, I would have no idea how to teach well, so I cannot in good conscience teach students, though people ask me to quite often. If I felt like I grasped the hows and whys well enough, I might like to teach...but until then, no...)

That was a bunch of babbling...back to the main point.

I could conceive of spending the next year, as I write my master thesis, working to build skills. I think I could make it work, financially, bureaucratically, scholastically. I (very thankfully) have a scholarship which means I don't have to work very many hours a week in order to have enough on which to live (very simply). I could aim to finish my thesis by next March, and wouldn't have many classes to take to complete my degree beyond the research and writing. This would give me the chance to see how far I could go in a year to build technique and work on rep? And if it comes to the end and I decide it isn't wise to pursue a master or music on a higher level, I will still have gotten much better and that will be worth it, no?

I certainly need to speak to my teacher, I know. I am very nervous about this - old, knee-jerk reaction, I suppose - what if he tells me I am no good and too behind and all the old things? what if he tells me he thinks I am just not able to get any better? What if he laughs at me?

Hmm, I do think I have Schradieck op. 1 - I left all books, except for Bach, in the States, so I will have to get it when I visit in March. I haven't done Sevcik 7 trill studies. I can see that about the hand position, and also that the trepidation about things to come does really throw me. I will ask him how I can work on keeping my hand closer to the fingerboard - I have a guess that my left hand needs in general to have more flexibility.

I feel a bit bad that this response isn't more "edited", AND I appreciate the willingness of you all to add energy in helping me puzzle this out. Thank you again.

Edited: January 6, 2019, 7:33 PM · It's not either/or really. Even if you decide to go the analytical route, you still have to learn how to practice well :) Your plan sounds like a good one.

By 'natural' I mean you have good proportions, coordination, flexibility, strength, good ears, musical memory, and obviously you have a good work ethic. In terms of musicality, from your 2 weeks of work, I can tell you have pretty good rhythm, and a sense for note grouping and a feel for phrasing. Don't take any of that for granted. Natural abilities are real (think of swimmers' body types, or how marathoners from the Kalenjin tribe of Kenya, and specifically the Nandi sub-tribe, have characteristically thin ankles and skinny calves.) It's just they don't automatically add up to much without the necessary environmental factors, and perhaps more importantly, mental factors, which are probably greatly shaped by environmental factors. And of course hard (and smart) work.

I think you have great flexibility in your hand. It looks like you tend to hyperextend your base knuckles which may be the cause of the fingers lifting too high. (I believe 'high-fingers' is more detrimental to people with smaller hands, but it's always good to train for efficiency.) But your motion looks a bit laboured to me. The lift/drop needs to snap more, in a discrete motion. There are a few threads where I've described some left hand exercises that might help. I'll see if I can dig them up.

I'll have to look again, but it may be that you tend to float the bow with your arm (you're kinda air-bowing on the surface of the string, instead of bowing into the string, and so you may be fighting that by pressing with the hand when you want to dig in a bit. In other words your arm and hand may be working at cross purposes a bit.)

One rhythmic detail. Make sure the dotted rhythms don't become triplets.

More later...

January 6, 2019, 6:53 PM · Oh, I forgot to add, your natural abilities allowed you to learn and play music without a lot of the usual pedagogical building blocks, like scales, and technique. That's what I mean by natural performer, you play by instinct, you produce the music without having to put together the finger patterns and bow patterns.
January 6, 2019, 7:02 PM · ...and consequently... :) for me it raises the question of whether you just need an insistent, demanding coach or teacher in your face, directing you to produce the sounds in your mind and in the score. That's a great way for people with a good musical memory to learn because once you've produced those sounds with your teacher you tend to internalize them, and the way it felt, and continue to practice from memory even away from the instruments. You can get through a lot of rep while learning applied technique at once.
January 6, 2019, 8:55 PM · To Jeewon's point about your right arm, when I watched the video, I thought your elbow looked high (even for a Russian-style arm) but the angle of the video may have contributed to that impression. I also noticed that you are dead center between bridge and fingerboard with pretty much no deviation, but as a result you aren't drawing the range of tonal colors that would otherwise be available. Your playing is very careful, and I'm not sure if that's an effect of the newness of the piece to you, or if you always approach the instrument this way.

You are certainly capable of getting better. Everyone is capable of getting better. But whether or not you can get sufficiently better in a timeframe that would allow you to make a living as a violinist within a reasonable period of time and financial investment, is a different question that I don't think any of us could answer. Your teacher, who knows the local conditions for training and making a living, and understands how quickly you learn, would likely be the best judge of that.

Technical rebuilds are intensive, tedious, and in some cases can leave all of your previously learned technique in little pieces on the floor, so to speak. The interim period can be frustrating because the old things you were doing don't entirely jive with the new things, but the new things aren't solidified yet. So it can leave you temporarily feeling like you've gone backwards and now can't play, which may not be a great experience for someone like you, given what seems to possibly be the possibility that you would self-berate and catastrophize and give up, rather than gritting your teeth and powering through that period to emerge on the other end with improved skills and a more solid foundation.

January 6, 2019, 10:25 PM · Here are a few discussions on left hand finger action.

"One handed clap" (throwing the fingers from their base-knuckles):
https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/21669/

Muscles you need to develop for good finger throwing action (near the bottom of the thread):
https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/26461/

Lifting the fingers with energy:
https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/26566/

Once you feel good action in the fingers, also consider independence of finger action, which is mentioned in the 'lifting finger with energy' thread. see Yost's Studies in Finger Action and Position Playing

January 6, 2019, 10:43 PM · Finally watched the video. Thanks for posting that!

I concur with Jeewon's excellent suggestions and with Lydia's comments. A couple of my own thoughts:

Jeewon mentioned not turning the dotted rhythms into triplets, and I heartily agree. When you start playing the rhythm correctly, the piece will become much more interesting. That actually bothered me more than just about anything else about your performance.

Not only do you have the high bow elbow which Lydia mentioned, I cannot tell for sure--it might be an artifact of the camera angle and/or your shirt--but you might be hunching your right shoulder, especially on up-bows and as you go to the G string. If your right shoulder hunches at any point, well, don't do that. Both shoulders should be in a relaxed position at all times.

January 7, 2019, 6:24 AM · I can't say much in response at the moment, between work and classes, but firstly, thank you for the thoughts and links and feedback, and secondly WOW. I hadn't noticed that I was playing the rhythm wrong! Thanks for pointing that out! I am itching to get back to my fiddle and try to think/play it correctly!

So far, I have just been subdividing in my head whilst snapping my fingers...drawing quite a few stares on public transportation... ;)

Edited: January 7, 2019, 6:37 AM · Anita your playing is smooth and linear. It's enviable that you can do that after having been at this piece a short time. But ... my violin professor said this piece should feel like a jolly country dance, and as such, it can have a rougher feel. Of course you can always dial that in later (and obviously the tempo makes a difference too), but my professor marked a lot more subdivided bowing than you're doing. Bow changes are opportunities to add that sense of roughness. And about the dotted rhythms, we've all played orchestra and solo pieces where the dotted rhythms are a little exaggerated to convey a more angular sense of rhythm. In my view that's what is happening here except the written dotted rhythms are really an exaggerated triplet. With that in mind, my own sense (a prerogative of amateurs!) is that you can experiment with exaggerating them even further in a few spots and see how it sounds and feels to you. Time is not you only means of exaggeration, of course. You also have dynamics and articulation.
Edited: January 7, 2019, 6:44 AM · Anita based on what you just posted I think you are doing just fine and you should just continue improving without looking back. At least to me it is not obvious that you must rebuild everything from scratch, or that you are bumping into some serious how-to-practice issues. Some natural things to work on in the future: tone (awareness of bowing on the five different lanes, with different bow speeds, always adapting pressure to achieve the maximum resonance, and including focused practice on bowing close to the bridge); Hrimaly and Flesch scales; Kreutzer; speed.
Edited: January 7, 2019, 8:47 AM · "At least to me it is not obvious that you must rebuild everything from scratch, or that you are bumping into some serious how-to-practice issues."

Depends on the rate at which you want to progress vs. what you're willing to sacrifice.

This is a good article for the new year:
https://jamesclear.com/goal-setting

The real challenge is not determining if you want the result, but if you are willing to accept the sacrifices required to achieve your goal. Do you want the lifestyle that comes with your quest? Do you want the boring and ugly process that comes before the exciting and glamorous outcome?

I like the rudders and oars metaphor, which helps illustrate the importance of having a system in place, once you've set your goal.


Imagine a small row boat. Your goals are like the rudder on the boat. They set the direction and determine where you go. If you commit to one goal, then the rudder stays put and you continue moving forward. If you flip-flop between goals, then the rudder moves all around and it is easy to find yourself rowing in circles.

However, there is another part of the boat that is even more important than the rudder: The oars. If the rudder is your goal, then the oars are your process for achieving it. While the rudder determines your direction, it is the oars that determine your progress.

His New York Times best selling book, Atomic Habits, is well worth the investment, and highly relevant to effective practicing.

There is a difference between how a 'professional' student (for lack of a better word) must practice/train, as compared to someone with a hobby. This is clear in any highly skilled endeavour. The question remains, "am I willing to do what it takes to achieve a high level of performance with no guarantee of 'success?'" (Success is in quotes because it means different things to different people, and how one measures it has a serious impact on the individual.)

January 7, 2019, 12:09 PM · Anita, I think Nathan Milstein does a great job of making the rhythm snappy. Try listening to this: VIDEO LINK

Jeewon, thanks for the excellent book recommendation. I hadn't heard of that book before.

Anita, I think that Jeewon's commentary on how a professional vs a hobbyist needs to train is really relevant here.

When I was in my mid-teens, I switched teachers and ended up doing a technical rebuild, which was basically a switch from Galamian-style technique to Russian-style technique. But it also involved radically altering they way I practiced and my standards for what was considered "good".

For instance, just some basic left-hand expectations:
(1) Fingers fall and lift snappily, with a little pop of articulation as the default.
(2) Fingers are placed with precision timing, regardless of tempo.
(3) With the exception of portamento, every shift is aimed, extremely fast, and entirely silent.
(4) Every pitch repeated in a passage is completely identical (assuming no change for harmonic purposes etc.)

It turns out that to obtain technique at that level -- where, for instance, your left hand is 100% under your control -- is a hell of a lot of initial work, and it has to be followed by continued maintenance, not just of your body but also of your mind. You have to maintain a hyper-vigilance and a total lack of tolerance for anything that is not perfect. The plus side is that the core technical skills make it much easier to learn repertoire as well as to sight-read.

As an amateur these days, I'm aware that these expectations are what I ought to be aiming for. But I don't maintain the technical routine that supports them. (I think I could get pretty close if I had a steady 90 minutes a day to practice, though... which I unfortunately don't.) And so I settle for "good enough" in a lot of respects.

The question for you is whether or not you want to deconstruct your technique (probably in both hands) and rebuild it with a much higher level of conscious control.

January 7, 2019, 12:55 PM · I've been skimming the discussion and haven't listened to / watched the video carefully but just wanted to point out there is a school of thought among the HIP people that promotes playing the dotted eighth-sixteenth rhythm as triplets in this context - the idea is the notation is one of convenience and would not have been performed as a cross rhythm. See for example Rachel Podger's recording. I think the key is maintaining a sense of lightness.
Edited: January 7, 2019, 1:59 PM · Most welcome, Lydia. It's a great book!

Thanks Irene. I've read about that too. Apparently the convention to use a quarter/eighth with a 3 in brackets wasn't used until the 19c and so the dotted rhythm was the only way to notate the long/short triplet figure. I think the argument for that points to some chorales where one voice has running triplet eighths and another is written in dotted rhythms, and they suppose Bach wouldn't have insisted on such cross rhythms.

I've also read that there is some ambiguity there. It begs the question why they didn't just write in a compound metre. Pedagogically, I think I'd err on the side of a literal reading, especially since it's more difficult and good for rhythmic training, and adjusting as the situation might require, e.g. playing for Rachel Podger in a masterclass:)

Edit: on the other hand... if you take a fast tempo (as I understand it a Corrente is supposed to be pretty brisk as opposed to the more leisurely Courante) it's almost impossible to avoid playing triplets, unless you hook the figure.

Edit 2: started surveying some recordings online, and interestingly Perlman plays triplets on those dotted rhythms

Edit 3: and Heifetz too!

January 7, 2019, 3:10 PM · I am having such a good time with these rhythms, it makes the piece so FUN to play!! :) :) It also makes me need to rethink certain things I had already gotten used to, so it's a bit rough...but in a good direction, I believe. I had to slow it down even further to think about the rhythms and the characters of the different parts. Paul, I think the rhythm differentiation will help the dance-like, rustic quality you talked about!

There is a lot to answer here, so I will do so in several posts both today and tomorrow (it's already after 10pm here)...

Mary Ellen, yes, I think I do raise my right shoulder periodically. I have been mindful of this, trying to get it to stay down, but it still creeps up. I will try to isolate the spots in this piece where it does so, and try to figure out why it does it AND how to relax it in those spots.

In my practice time this evening, I also tried to sense if my high arm is working against my hand - yes, I think it is. I will continue to play open strings to try to get a better tone, and pay attention to how the arm and hand feel. Anything specifically I could look for?

This might seem like a very elementary question, but...I don't know it...how does one decide which "lane" one draws the bow in (like jean and Lydia mentioned) to get the various sound qualities? How does one change the lane without lifting the bow off the string?

Jeewon and Lydia, yes - I can tell, when I must play very fast notes, that my left hand is like a teenager who grew 4 inches over the summer - it feels gangly and like it doesn't quite know how its limbs function. I will look closely at the left hand exercises...the first I didn't quite understand. Jeewon, could you explain for me what/where the overextension is? I am having trouble visualizing what you mean - though I dare say I imagine you are spot on. :)

Lydia, the Milstein video helped! It is much more obvious than in other recordings I frequent!

Jeewon, yes - I want to get the "system" for my goal figured out (and confirm for myself what my "goal" really is!) When I have a clear system, I enjoy working really hard. I think if I have a good teacher and they will lead me through the rebuild, I would want to do that. I want to do whatever it would take to develop as far as I can. I am trying to ask myself very honestly what I would be willing to sacrifice...it is hard to know, but as far as I can see...if I could remain with a healthy mental outlook, I think I would sacrifice a great deal.

The thought of having to supervise a rebuild myself is overwhelming, because how will I know up from down when it gets all disorienting? That gave me trouble in the past. I like my current teacher a great deal, but have only had about 5 lessons with him - I am not sure if he knows how much or little I can manage - due to schedule conflicts and sickness, etc, lessons were spotty (they began in October, I believe). I don't know if he would be willing to help me do a complete rebuild. (I know he mentioned that he went through such a period when he first started university.) Another slight concern for me is...how do I know if he (or any teacher) is a good match for me?

The idea of an insistent, demanding coach or teacher that helps me produce the sounds in my mind and in the score is suuuuper appealing - I think the best learning experience I had was with the teacher at the summer camp I attended in high school (which, though it was in my very small, rural town where I couldn't find lessons throughout the year...surprisingly, had an incredible teacher from Europe come every summer)...she would, more than anything, play something for me and have me "mimic" her - my sound would instantaneously improve. Don't know if that would still be the case or how reliable this method is in the long run, but I loved it at the time. Anyway, I guess I should ask my teacher if he would be willing to push me really hard?

Edited: January 7, 2019, 4:55 PM · Anita, I think you don't just hunch the shoulder. I think that it might be tight a significant percentage of the time, but becomes more so in some instances, especially at G-string level. I noticed that on the video as well, but wasn't sure if it was an artifact of the angle. For the level of the bow arm, think "forearm resting on a table" not "elbow flared" (which is the way that the Russian arm is sometimes described, but the "table" description is a better description of the way it actually works). My guess is that the hunched shoulder and the overly high elbow are paired.

For the "lane", all right-hand contribution to the color of the sound comes from a combination of sounding point (the "lane"), weight on the string, and bow-speed. The better the violin, the wider the range of viable possibilities. Generically, the closer you are to the bridge, the more likely greater weight and slower speed are necessary; the opposite is true closer to the fingerboard. But YMMV will vary based on the instrument.

You should experiment with what sounds you draw from your violin with those different combinations. Switching between these is a matter of drifting the bow in one direction or another. IIRC, Fischer's "Basics" has an exercise for this.

For a rebuild, you have to trust your teacher to guide you. If you don't have that confidence, I wouldn't do it. (FYI, during my teenage rebuild period, I stepped my practice up from 45 minutes a day to 4 hours a day during the rebuild. About three hours of that went to core technique -- scales, exercises, etudes/Paganini.)

Edited: January 8, 2019, 12:24 AM · Sorry to be unclear on those exercises, Anita. I will get back to them soon.

Have you seen the Saussmannshaus and Zweig sites? They are great resources.

Getting back to how to practice, it's worth taking a look at Saussmannshaus guides on practicing. It's kind of geared toward younger students, but it should help develop a process for your current needs.

Things to note:
How much should I practice? N.B. he shows minimum times.

Taken from his sample practice sheet for Basics:
Left Hand Basics
Shifting
Finger Dropping & Lifting
Vibrato
Pizzicato Left hand

Right Hand Basics
Bow Balance
Pressure, Speed, S. Point
Bow Changes
Detaché
Legato
Collé
Martelé
Staccato
Spiccato
Sautillé
Ricochet
3 Voice Chords
4 Voice Chords
Total Time:

Sample sheet for Scales:
Scales
MM=52 Bowing:2+2 Rhythm:2-4-6
MM= Bowing: Rhythm:
MM= Bowing: Rhythm:
MM= Bowing: Rhythm:
MM=40 Bowing: leg Rhythm:
MM= Bowing: Rhythm:

Arpeggios
Double Stops
Thirds
Thirds
Fourths
Fifths
Sixths
Octaves
Fingered Octaves
Tenths
Harmonics
Total

Sample Schedule for an advanced professional student:
Basics (30m)
Scales, Arp., Dbl Stops (30m)
Etude: Rode No. 4 (15m)
Bach Chaconne: (60m)
Prokofiev D maj: (90m)
Beethoven Sonata 8: (45m)
Wieniawski Polonaise D (30m)
Total (5h)

Not trying to discourage you in anyway, since you probably don't have that kind of time right now, but wanted to give an example of the kind of sacrifice young musicians make to get to where they are. (Just as a general 'aside': I've noted this before, but I find it curious that when you call someone a young athlete, it's assumed they're training like a pro, but somehow the idea is lost on young musicians.)

Edit: also take a look at Intonation, in particular his exercises, "Practicing at 40 pt. 1 and pt. 2".

On this thread I listed some basic left hand exercises I think we all need to do frequently, whether as isolated exercises, or as part of learning notes for a piece:

same finger chromatic motion
pressure control
finger patterns in positions
finger substitution
shifting (being aware of pressure control)

Also, check out Nathan Cole's site and watch all his videos.

One more thing, there's an excellent finger pattern book with a horrible title by Heidi Castleman,

Edited: January 8, 2019, 12:35 AM · The Tonal Application of Finger Patterns to Violin Scale Technique which is very useful.

Speaking of Heidi Castleman...
Job Description for a Viola Student
Recommended Technique Curriculum

January 8, 2019, 8:27 AM · Anita YOU choose which lane you want to play in, you are the artist! the general idea is to play louder you play closer to the bridge. nevertheless one can play also piano close to the bridge, if the bow speed is very slow, and one can play quite loud close to the fingerboard with very high bow speeds. indeed there is this enormous soundscape mentioned by Lydia to discover and to choose from. from your video I would advise you to practice once in a while on playing with full fast bows, using enough pressure to get the full resonance, in order to get some feeling of the "soloist" sound. it will be loud! make sure to use earplugs and practice in a dedicated practice room, or in lack thereof in a cellar or a woodshed :-) there are various Kreutzer etudes in 16th notes that you can work on with full bows even if that may not have been Kreutzers original intention.

the standard way of changing lanes is by angling the bow. angling towards you on a downbow lets the bow drift away from the bridge; on an upbow it drifts towards the bridge. angling away from you is the opposite effect.

Edited: January 8, 2019, 1:17 PM · "I think I do raise my right shoulder periodically."

Might be an issue with body mapping. Don't read beyond the next question until you have an answer!!!

Where is the joint in your shoulder?

If you thought there was a joint on top of your shoulder, half way between your neck and the tip of the shoulder, that would explain your current movement.

The only joint which connects the shoulder complex to the torso is at the inside tip of your collarbone (clavicle,) where it meets the sternum (the sternoclavicular joint.) At the other end of your clavicle is the socket (glenoid cavity) which meets with the ball at the top of your upper arm (humerus) to form the ball and socket joint (glenohumeral joint.) Your shoulderblade floats completely on muscles attached to the ribs and spine.

I'm not necessarily against the high elbow position in and of itself, but you need to learn how to engage your shoulder stabilizers if you're going to play like that. If the shoulders roll forward (stabilizers not working well) then it's hard to raise your upper arm smoothly at the ball and socket joint beyond a certain level, also your hands start at a lower level, which causes you to want to hunch the rest of the way. Instead, move the arm from the shoulder blades first (the feeling of 'elbows in your pocket') and that will raise the level of the hand by a good 6 inches or so and provide open space around your ball/socket joint to allow for smooth motion.

"I also tried to sense if my high arm is working against my hand - yes, I think it is."

What you want to avoid is pressing down from a high elbow. The high elbow is great to suspend your upper arm so you can fling the hand freely beneath it when you use lots of bow (many great players do this, and Carl Flesch endorsed it.) To control the weight of the upper arm, use finer control of the deltoids, supported by the deep shoulder stabilizers (intrinsic shoulder muscles.) So when you want to use more weight you simply release the deltoids, instead of squeezing the muscles below your arm pit. If you simultaneously engage the deltoids to keep your elbow up AND press from the muscles below (latissimus dorsi,) this simultaneous action seizes your shoulder ball/socket joint, further inhibiting motion there, and you produce a pressed sound.

"...how does one decide which "lane" one draws the bow..."

Like you, I like to do this by feel (see this discussion.) And you are already doing that, as you mentioned. It's not that you're unable to choose different lanes, but rather, the sound you're choosing to produce is dictating your sound points.

"...it feels gangly and like it doesn't quite know how its limbs function."

I think there maybe some alignment and mobility issues in your hand, which I'll get back to. But the more you map out all the motions your hand has to do, in ever finer detail, the more 'at home' you will become in your left hand function. You need to do same finger chromatics to feel the shapes each finger must make to create pitch/finger patterns, position scales/exercises to map finger patterns, especially how they shrink/expand along the fingerboard, lift/drop 'velocity' drills like Schradieck, finger substitution, pressure control, sliding fingers, shifting, vibrato, etc.

Re. hyperextension, I think sometimes you open at the baseknuckles for no reason, thereby adding unnecessary tension in the hand, especially in your pinky baseknuckle when it's in the air. I'll return to this topic when I describe the lift/drop action in the hand. But, for example, look at your very first D min chord (N.B. you should be able to just place the chord and start, but it looks like you place, lift, then place again after you play the open A to start. Just add a little rotation, move the knuckles up and over to the left a bit, just enough to clear the upper string.) The baseknuckle of the second finger actually extends further as you place it, instead of sticking out. That means as you place the tip, you curl the finger and pull the palm toward the neck, and likely tense the hand as a result; you're probably also pulling the hand simultaneously with the thumb by squeezing the ball of the thumb, between thumb and 1st baseknuckle (if you ever do read the Fischer books, I strongly disagree with his method for left hand setup, which I can explain if you need me to.) If you want more help with the thumb, make a video from the other side.

"I am trying to ask myself very honestly what I would be willing to sacrifice...it is hard to know, but as far as I can see...if I could remain with a healthy mental outlook, I think I would sacrifice a great deal."

I know it's hard! I struggle with my mental outlook all the time. Still! But, barring any medical issues, you can train and change your outlook too.

More later...

January 8, 2019, 1:41 PM · Talent, for the most part, is complete BS.
Here's a vid by a professional violinist on talent.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbtnCUTiDYo
January 8, 2019, 2:04 PM · I couldn't watch 20 minutes of that. That guy could have said the same thing in a small fraction of the time.

The question of HIP and the triplet vs. dotted notation is an interesting one. Okay so maybe the dotted notation stands for a triplet. But ... how is that played on the violin? Would the baroque-era violinist have exaggerated the rhythm a little more for activity and interest? I think this is hard to know unless this particular point we addressed in contemporaneous writings.

January 8, 2019, 2:11 PM · There is just so much here to take in, and I really appreciate all the time you are spending to send guidance my way! bless you!

It is really helpful to see/read the practice schedules and times and such. I was very on-the-go today, and have a big assignment that is taking attention due on Thursday, so haven't had much time to read the detailed exercises and other things very carefully, but read what I could and did a lot of reflecting while walking and sitting on busses. :) I think the main thing that makes me nervous about the rather daunting "pro training" schedule that would be ahead of me is the prospect of trying to do it without much guidance (again). If having a teacher that observes and guides is possible, then I think I sense inside of me a strong willingness to put in all the work.

What I realllllllly don't want again is the feeling that I am alone and have to figure it out for myself. If the 5+ hours a day feel like they are building towards improvement, no problem! If they feel like "I don't know if this is the way you do it, but it's the best I can figure out, so I hope it is...and I hope I am not just ingraining bad habits"...well, that would be awful (again). I am sure I am not the only one who has felt this way, but it is incredibly frustrating and feels like you are wandering in a fog without knowing what direction you are supposed to go. But to have such a teacher coupled with the conviction that I could improve, step by step...I almost don't dare to imagine!

I really do think I want to give this a go.

January 8, 2019, 3:01 PM · I do roll my shoulder forward! I also do tighten/seize the muscle below my armpit (and periodically suffer from pain there as a result).

Re. the left hand - yes, that sounds like where I experience tension. I will post a video as soon as I can from the other direction (and also from the front, but not from below like the last one) to show my thumb. Especially when I do double stops, the muscle in my hand below the thumb (the big fat thing) is very tired and tense. Another element that gave me trouble when I first started, especially my pinkie, and which might effect things (not sure) is that my joints are pretty stretchy (double joints, as the misnomer goes). My joints used to collapse backwards when I placed them, but I think they are now strong enough that it doesn't bear on how I use them?

An exercise I have been doing recently that my teacher suggested is having fingers down in various patterns and just slightly pulsing/giving pressure to the string, without then lifting the fingers again. I think the aim is to not need to pull the fingers back from the string so much.

Couple more questions from my end (again, I appreciate the opportunity to pose them so much!):

I used to play a series of arpeggios after a scale (say d minor - then Dmaj, bminor, Gmaj, gmin, etc...) I can't quite remember the whole things - I know it ended with a diminished 7th arpeggio...is there a standard way to practice 3 octave arpeggios? Can I find it somewhere?

In order to practice these finger placement exercises and so forth, should I be looking to a particular study or doing it in a particular systematic way, in order for my body and mind to "mark" the differences between the distances as I go up the fingerboard? My instinct is to start on a particular string and then move up, position by position, always knowing what position I am in? And then move to the next string, where the hand position and shape and all will be different. (In terms of finger patterns, I sort of see a kind of grid in my head when I think about the positions and the spaces between them...is that pretty normal? I try to use that "sense" in combination with the sound to think about where I am on the fiddle.)

Lastly, I have a lesson tomorrow! Should I spill all the beans?? Some of them? Tell him I want to rebuild, how much I am willing and able to work (after the end of the semester, only roughly 2.174 weeks away... ;), but not mention that I want to see how far I can go and MAYBE think about a master after a year or two? Should I wait until I have had a few more lessons with him? ..........

January 8, 2019, 8:32 PM · Anita, for most players, the only way to do a rebuild is with the guidance of a teacher. You have to find a teacher who has a strong idea of what the end-goal of a rebuild is and what that end-state looks like, and has a clear plan to get you from here to there.

I think all students should always be clear with their teacher as to what their goal is at all times. You MUST do that so that your teacher knows what sorts of expectations they should have of you, can plan your progression, and can tell you whether or not you are reaching the necessary milestones in a timeframe reasonable for your goals. All of your questions about the future, and your hopes, need to be laid out for your teacher.

For scales and arpeggios, try the Flesch or Galamian books, or Simon Fischer's "Scales". At this point in your progression, you should have an arpeggio fingering memorized, although honestly it's helpful to do arpeggios in multiple fingerings since you won't always be able to use the single memorized pattern in repertoire.

Edited: January 9, 2019, 7:15 AM · Agree with Lydia.

Also check out Lydia's guide for the time crunched.

Sorry to dump so much info at once! I was going to write next that you should make small changes and additions to make a gradual transition into serious practicing :) But if you feel you can jump in, that's great!

The main reasons I posted the Saussmannshaus schedule was for others to realize how much work it takes to play at a very high level (the flipside being, if you're not putting in that kind of effort, you really do have to adjust your expectations accordingly) and to offer some ideas about how one might start building a practice system. I didn't mean you should go full steam ahead with 5hrs. tomorrow!

If you can't get the scale books Lydia suggested right away, you can't go wrong with Sevcik, Op. 1 Bks. 3 & 4 (though the fingerings are a bit old fashioned: e.g. for the dim7 and dom7 arpeggios Flesch does 2-1-2-3/4-3-2-1 at the top, rather than Sevcik's 2-1-3-4/4-4-3-1, although that's viable too, for practicing pivots and extensions.) Flesch basically took those books and reorganized all the various exercises by key (omitting some useful exercises.) The arpeggio sequence you're looking for is in Bk. 3, #7. If you are on your own, you can't go wrong with doing all of Opp. 1, 2, 3, and 8, a little bit at a time. Sometimes just working on the right material does make a big difference, as long as you're very demanding with your ears.

Position exercises can be done any which way. Make up your own exercises.
E.g. choose a key and play all fingers on all strings, up and down, 1st position to 7th, keeping track of the degree of the scale of the first note in each position.

Or on one string, choose a key, play 1-2-3-4-4-3-2-1, shift to second position and repeat, all the way up to 7th; on the way down, play 4-3-2-1-1-2-3-4, shift on 4 down to 6th position, etc. Do the same on the other strings.

Or Dounis' Daily Dozen, First Exercise, C.
N.B. the two settings of the hand in A and B

Or do Sevcik Op. 1, Bk. 2

Edit: it's cool you can see a grid! I don't think that's very common at all.

January 9, 2019, 9:35 AM · I have been enjoying this thread! I relate to you quite a lot. I got lucky in my violin re-start a year ago with the exact right teacher. Many of my issues were mental, related to anxiety, and were tying up my joints and confusing my whole body with extraneous movements.

My teacher has helped me break the anxious patterns one by one, along with rebuilding my technique from the foundation. I’ve practed more scales and studies than repertoire all year actually. Now we are starting to do more rep and faster, but still under my “level” because I have to fix my issues with music reading. As a player of the more intuitive type also, I got through years of orchestra by ear and guesswork, lol. Consequently this helped me develop better pitch recall, memory, sense of the key etc. But now I need to understand the theory underneath.

If you are similar to me in this way, self confidence is perhaps the biggest barrier. And for me the way to address this was a rebuild. It is WORKING. I played for ten years, stopped any serious study for 15. I did a lot of ill-advised stuff in between like attaching contact mics to the poor violin... anyway, after one year concentrating on this rebuild, I am playing better than at any point when I played before. Technically the rep is easier, but I could play any of the old rep fine. I’m playing better on every level that counts, and it FEELS better to do so. Now when I get to harder pieces I’ll be ready to play them WELL! Being shoved through a bunch of suzuki rep and not liking how I sounded was kind of traumatizing! I want to spend time with everything and discover how I can play it so that it has meaning for me, even etudes.

January 9, 2019, 10:45 AM · Jeewon, I am so glad you are "dumping"all this info on me! :) I don't mind one bit - au contraire, I feel really lucky. As soon as I have a slow morning, I plan to write down in detail in a practice journal all of the helpful suggestions from you and all the others who have added to this conversation, to make sure I have a clear vision of everything I am learning here. :)

Yes, Leslie! that sounds like me! I am glad to hear from someone a little further along that the rebuild is working! I am so excited at the prospect of being able to solidify things that work and be able to depend on them.

Lydia, the link Jeewon posted of your discussion of practicing without a lot of time to spare was very helpful! And I will do my best to gather courage to discuss things with my teacher this evening at my lesson. I think I would feel comfortable saying "I would like to deconstruct and rebuild my technique so that I can play more consistently and reliably. Starting in February, I foresee being able to work my way up to practicing at least 5 hours a day in order to facilitate this rebuild. I would like to see how far I can progress in a year"....and whether I would at that point be ready to consider pursing music at a master level. (That last part is the part I feel really shy about adding...)

I am excited to see that I can find Sevcik and Flesch on IMSLP...I didn't realize that until now. :D

January 9, 2019, 11:43 AM · Just have a minute to say good luck, Anita! I think it's always better to know than not know, in this case, whether your teacher is able and willing to help you achieve your goals (once you know what they are.)

Also, keep in mind the 5 hours is for working on a full program on top of basics and scales.

For a rebuild I think 60 to 90m is good to start (2 or 3 x 30m sessions) gradually adding more time as you take on more applied work (etudes, snippets of rep, or shorter pieces.)

January 9, 2019, 12:20 PM · If you want to audition for a master's, you should tell your teacher now. That may change the prioritization for some technical work, plus he needs to think about what the repertoire might be.

Also, for your own planning purposes, you need his estimate of a timeframe, laid out with milestones. For instance, he might say, well, to audition for programs, you will need X repertoire at minimum, which will probably take Y time to learn. To get to the point where you can learn that repertoire well, you need to get to points 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. That gives you progress checkpoints, and a set of targets to hit.

And don't underestimate the toll that 5 hours a day of practice takes on your body. For that matter, remember that progression is not linear with time. Maximum efficiency takes place in the first two hours. There's a meaningful decline in efficiency over the third and fourth hours. Then it takes a pretty steep drop, so that you do make progress in hour 5 and beyond but far more slowly. As such, it's best to ensure that you get a reliable 2 hours every single day.

By the way, for position-by-position "where is my hand", I'd suggest doing scales in octaves on each pair of strings, which will teach you what the hand frame should be in each position. When those are comfortable, do 1-3 fingered octaves also, as the extended handframe is very useful. And consider doing the Kreutzer etudes that contain octaves.

To reinforce the handframe, try playing a single-octave scale, anchored by where the 1st finger is, moving up the fingerboard octave by octave. You can also do the position-based intonation exercises in Fischer's "Basics", which go over finger patterns in each position.

January 9, 2019, 3:54 PM · I'm grateful you started this thread Anita! As I stated way back, I feel for you as I did not get the proper training when I was young and am suffering for it now. I spent my first 6-12 months after returning rebuilding my technique, and sometimes I think I still need to strip it back and start all over again. I cannot imagine I played decently as a kid knowing what I know now other than just "doing it" as you (and Leslie!) have stated.

While I cannot devote 5 hours a day to practice (I never managed to make it past the 3 hour mark on the best of weekend days - too hard on my body), I am re-motivated to shoot again for 90-120 minutes on a consistent basis. Hard to squeeze that exercise in with a full time job, 2hr/day commute, and all the other "life" things that come with being employed full-time+.

Cannot wait to hear more about your progress, and what your teacher says!!! Good luck!

January 9, 2019, 4:58 PM · It's so nice to "meet" other people in similar situations! Thank you for chiming in, it is nice to feel the community. :)

BUT I TOTALLY CHICKENED OUT AND DIDN'T TALK TO MY TEACHER ABOUT REBUILD OR FUTURE. :( :(

I am very sorry about this - I had several chances - before tuning, after tuning, after scales and thirds, directly after the lesson, as we walked together toward the bus stop (about 20 minutes...)...but....I lost my nerve. Facepalm. :(

I will definitely speak to him - I am determined to. Next Wednesday. I will perhaps write out what I want to say, and even practice it in German. Oy.

He seemed really delighted with what I had done with the Corrente, and gave me some really helpful thoughts about things I felt stuck on re. sound, the character, the chords. He really helps me figure out how to get closer to the musicality I envision.

I was also able to briefly ask him a few things about the left hand tension, and he gave suggestions for how to practice scales this next week. But yes. I simply must tell him what I want and ask him if he would be willing to help me. I know it might seem so silly to be so nervous about having this conversation, but it feels like a big hurdle to climb over. I will climb it - I suppose I just need a few days to gather myself.

If it is still ok, I will make a video of my left hand while playing, to get some thoughts about it (tension, what is happening to make it gangly)?

And in the next week, along with prepping to have the "conversation", I can't wait to start some of the exercises you all have mentioned or shown here. I think 2 hours a day is possible most, if not all, days, with good time management! I use the pomodoro technique, which I find very helpful, to help me plan my day and to encourage me to focus intensely in short burst instead of half-focusing for longer periods of time. I really recommend it for life in general! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique) :)

January 9, 2019, 8:43 PM · It's always nice to see videos from people open to input. :-)
Edited: January 9, 2019, 11:21 PM · Yes, feel free to post as many as you like:) And no worries Anita! I think you need to be comfortable with this. As much as I thought you needed to involve your teacher in your plans, I also wondered whether it would be a bit premature. Should probably live with it a while.

I was thinking how I would react if a student brought up something like that suddenly, especially after a few months of sporadic lessons (I had a student who was on the fence about applying for undergrad performance, decided not to, then changed their mind to go for it 3 mos before preliminary tapes were due! Don't wait that long ;) It might be better to turn in a couple of months of regular lessons and make some solid progress, and then get into it. Of course keep asking questions, the more specific the better, and then you'll get a chance to see how he's able to guide you (kind of audition him.)

January 10, 2019, 12:36 AM · Have I just gotten lucky, or is it the norm for teachers to ask new students what their goals are? I've felt that my teachers, dating back to relatively early in my childhood, had a notion of what short-term and long-term goals they had for me, and the older I got, the more I was explicitly asked what my goals were.
Edited: January 10, 2019, 1:58 AM · I don't think I've been asked more than once or twice what my goals are. I think my current teacher has (correctly) assumed based on various observations, but no discussion has taken place.

I am concerned for those studying music who know nothing about the reality of being an orchestral player, and whose teachers never discuss it with them. Everyone deserves to know what they're getting themselves into.

Edited: January 10, 2019, 9:07 AM · Here's a pretty good video of exercises, based on Fischer's Basics:

https://youtu.be/samDRy0WyjA

11. Free Up the Thumb, is a bit limited, because it doesn't directly address the problem of how to move the thumb as part of the whole hand in real playing, but it can help show that you don't really need much counterpressure from the thumb to place the fingers. Along with the other finger pressure control exercises it will help.

Edit: for English turn on captions

Edited: January 11, 2019, 4:28 AM · There is an elephant in the room here in this thread that I have been wondering about since the beginning. On this forum people are routinely being discouraged of dreaming about becoming a professional violinist. However here it seems Anita is being actively encouraged?
January 10, 2019, 7:51 PM · Yeah, that's very odd.
Edited: January 10, 2019, 9:16 PM · Anita's goals aren't unreasonable. She's an adult that already has an undergraduate music degree, is in the midst of schooling in another discipline and a profession that can pay the bills in a flexible fashion, she has time to practice, and she lives in a country where pursuing further education is free. She has functional technique and has studied some advanced repertoire, and she lives somewhere she has access to good teaching.

In other words, she has a solid Plan A (a non-music career), but is thinking about professional music as a Plan B. She's willing to be an amateur if Plan B isn't viable, and the work she'll be putting in isn't wasted if Plan B doesn't work out. It's also likely that Plan A will provide her a flexible day job that might allow her to do some pro playing without needing to rely upon music for an income.

This is a situation that's quite different than most people who come to v.com asking about becoming a pro.

January 11, 2019, 10:14 AM · Thanks again, all, for your helpful replies. :) I am just so grateful.

Hmm...yes, I don't feel like anyone has said "you will succeed! go for it!" More like, as Lydia said, it seems like I have the opportunity to, for the next year, work my hardest toward the goal of professional playing while being able to continue my current trajectory with my master degree. In a year or so, I will see where I am. And I will try to be as honest as I can with myself, and accept the honesty of others as to whether it would then be advisable to go ahead and try the master or just enjoy the progress I have made as an amateur.

I never, ever thought I would do this...but I have posted a scale on youtube (!!!), with a front and back view. The things I am concerned about are possible tension in my bow hand and arm, (always), my shifts, which I feel are unreliable, possible tension in my thumb, and any more thoughts about how I put my fingers down. I will also still record the Corrente, because things might change with the amount of tension when I am playing a piece vs. a scale.

Thank you!!

https://youtu.be/8f2zTRu_xQA

January 11, 2019, 11:54 AM · To relax your shoulders, raise both shoulders up toward your ears and then let your shoulders drop. (To do this you just have to release the muscles and the shoulders will drop down by themselves.) Try this first without the violin. This will show you how your shoulders feel when they are relaxed.
Edited: January 11, 2019, 9:22 PM · Yes, but if you do more than core technique, you have to be extremely careful not to revert to old habits.

EDIT: The post I was responding to seems to have disappeared. I think Anita asked if it was okay to do more than 60-90 minutes of practice during a rebuild.

Edited: January 12, 2019, 1:46 AM · Hey you got rid of the 'hunch' in your right shoulder! That was fast!

I'd like to see a bit more 'give' in your bow hand knuckles (especially the base knuckles) and/or your wrist (some people play with more wrist cushion vs. knuckles cushion, or vice-versa, depending on the stroke and where they are in the bow; or you can do both.) You've got great articulation on the first note (wrist/base knuckles flexing, pinching = collé motion) which is fine as long as you mean to start with such an attack. But try floating the bow more after the pinch to get more of a 'ride' on the sound (that was a big thing with Oscar Shumsky, according to my teacher's notes, "pinch and ride".) You should also be able to start without the pinch, with just a clean legato.

Without the instruments, hold your bow-arm in playing position as if at the frog. Take your left hand palm up, and hook your fingers together, kind of like this, except right hand over left, and with the wrist a bit higher, elbow lower, as if you were really bowing (almost.) Pull your elbows apart in opposite directions, tugging gently at the interlocked hands, without resistance in your wrists (and baseknuckles) and feel how the joints are being slightly pulled apart.
Next hold the bow in playing position, but holding it up in the air with your left hand by the stick. Pull the bow with your left hand to the left to mimic a down bow. Push the bow right with your left hand to mimic an up bow.
Next resist with your left hand, and actually move your bow arm down bow, then up bow, and feel the similar tugging and pushing through your wrist.
Next bow on the violin, but push the bow down all the way into the strings with your left hand to prevent it from moving. Move the bow down bow, up bow, again feeling the tugging and pushing in the wrist and baseknuckles.
Next, with bow on the string in playing position on the violin, pinch the string and bend it sideways without moving the bow, like in the split second before a martele stroke. Allow the joints to give a little as you bend the string.
Next pinch, bend, release to play martele, feeling the same 'give' in the joints as you start playing, and during bow changes.
Next play legato, with the same feeling.

You do have a little flick at the bow changes, but I can't tell through video what your fingers do after the flick. Though, on your last note (front view) I see your pinky pressing into the stick at the bow change, clamping from its baseknuckle; let the fingers 'receive' the bow into the hand (i.e. allow the fingers to curl as the baseknuckles/wrist open.) Looks like you may be clamping simultaneously with 1 and 4 against the thumb.

With more flexibility in the hand you can then also follow-through more on your bow changes. To make a connected sounding bow change you have to have the same speed and density going into the change as you have coming out of it. Right now you have a slow bow speed at the endings of bows, and a brand new bow speed on the next bow. That breaks continuity in sound and strokes and is a great way to differentiate between phrases. You don't necessarily need a lot of follow-through in the bow changes to connect the sound, but it helps with fluid motion.

I can't tell if it's because of video/audio compression, but your tone sounds a bit tight, as if it could 'breathe' more, especially on the G-string. It might be due to the aforementioned 'clamping' from the baseknuckles. Try lifting the first finger off the stick and leaning in with the middle finger as you play down bow (and up bow at first; if it helps, try placing 1 and lifting pinky on up bow.) Put first finger back on and ease up on the pinching to mimic that sound you made with middle finger. (Or pull into the bridge with your current pressure and play louder--no don't ;)

There are several interrelated things happening in your left hand, but there is good movement there. I think it just needs some organizing.

You know how to balance your hand, which is great. But when playing scales and passage work, you should prepare the hand before you play, and, getting back to Lydia's suggestion about training the frame of the hand, know what the frame is for the coming pattern, maintaining alignment. Here you start with A maj frame, then change the frame to reach D# with your pinky. Instead, start with a A#-A#/1-4 frame and reach back with 1 to play E natural (balance the hand on weaker fingers and adjust with the stronger fingers.) In the same spirit of preparation, hover over, or even place 1 on E while you play D#/4. Ascending prepare 1 as you play 4. Descending prepare 4 as you play 1. The whole arm should automatically follow the preparatory finger. (Dont Op. 37 is great for preparatory motions in both hands/arms.)

Doing Schradieck velocity exercises, chromatic exercises, finger independence, double stop, and trill (and double stop trill) exercises will help you drill finger patterns and your frame (or Sevcik Op. 1.) Speed work is essential to getting rid of tension. For many exercises based on the quarter note (sixteenth notes) you want eventually to reach around mm quarter=200. Kayser Op. 20 No. 4 is great for working on the frame, extensions, and speed. Work up to at least quarter=180.

Also, do rhythmic acceleration on Galamian pattern scales (the pattern you're using for the current scale.)

What we're doing with all these exercises is refining body maps in the brain. The greater the differentiation of movement, the more control we have. For left hand function, we want to differention lift/drop (with gradients of pressure on the string,) finger shapes for patterns, the various postures of the hand: in frame easy setting, in frame difficult setting (in Dounis' terms), extended, contracted, pivoted forward and backward.

You have a good sense of finger shapes already on single strings. Your lifting action is pretty snappy, but it's mixed up with forearm rotation: maintain one rotation for the given pattern and lift fingers independently for good alignment. For snappy dropping, you need to throw the finger from its base knuckle. It's pretty good most of the time, but for extra snap, it helps to lift the previous finger simultaneously (finger independence) so the lifting action helps to throw the next finger. Once you've got that feeling of alternating action, you'll be able to do it without necessarily lifting the old finger.

Next time: thumbs and shifting...

January 12, 2019, 6:29 AM · Ah, this makes a lot of sense to me! I’m excited to try it all out!

I think the way you describe the hand frame and the unnecessary forearm rotation I do has helped the problem to become clearer to me. I had heard people say “you need to prepare the hand”, but it didn’t “click”...if I can train myself to really know which frame I need to use and then keep that in mind as I play, and only move the fingers from that frame, it would be so much more reliable and consistent...yes, I see and understand. It makes so much sense. I’m babbling now, but I think I have understood such a simple thing that will be possible to apply and will really help me - thank you!!

And the Nathan Cole trill exercise could help for the snappy finger independence, no? I will start doing that in my practice time.

I think the bow hand stuff is a little fuzzier for me to understand, but i will try to exercises you have written here and see if I can sense the tension that needs to be released. With the shoulder, I think it was easier to fix (at least during a scale ;) because I can sense when I am doing it and how the shoulder is supposed to feel when relaxed, as Mary said. But the knuckles and wrist of bow hand...several times my teacher has pointed out that they have been too stiff, but it’s not something that I yet notice myself, so I can’t “command” them to be different yet (tell them how to relax). But perhaps feeling the joints pull and push in these exercises will help me be aware!

If you have time, could you explain a little more about what should happen at bow changes to give a continuous, rich sound?

Looking forward to the thumb and shifting chapter. ;) I can’t say enough how grateful I am that you are taking the time to share with me!

Edited: January 12, 2019, 7:51 AM · Hope it's useful!

Go for the low hanging fruit first. I wouldn't spend much time on stuff you find fuzzy. Maybe it'll click when someone else puts it another way, or you're working on something else and you get an aha! I just scrolled back and noticed Lydia already mentioned the hand 'swinging away' and losing its frame. (It happens all the time to teachers: you mention something incessantly for months, but it takes someone else to say it just so for the point to drive home! D'oh! :)

Also, for rebuilds, take small bites and chew thoroughly. You should be doing the same material during each of those 2 or 3 thirty minute sessions.

Edit: re. Nathan Cole trills, exactly. Do those. Hadn't seen that one before!

January 12, 2019, 7:43 AM · Yes, I think what I hadn’t thought of before was that I might be in a particular hand frame and have to still extend “out” of the frame, but that I should use the frame that makes it most comfortable for my weakest finger...I don’t know why I hadn’t thought through that before... :)
January 12, 2019, 8:16 AM · Fantastic 'group lessons' on this thread!
January 12, 2019, 10:03 AM · I do better with "feel this general image" rather than specific technical instructions in many cases. For me, my teacher said, "Imagine that there's a towel flying behind the bow, and when you change bow, you want to do it in a way that keeps the towel flying".

Something about that makes my right hand relax and do whatever it needs to do. I don't know if that will work for you, but it might given that you have a more intuitive approach.

January 12, 2019, 11:56 AM · See how easy it is to fix your technique? All you need to do is 3-octave Galamian scales, Sevcik (various opuses), Dont, Schradieck (No. 1 only, tear it out and throw away the rest of the book), thirds, octaves, tenths, chromatic scales, and trills (Kreutzer and Nathan Cole). Man do I ever wish I had gotten this advice sooner. LOL
January 12, 2019, 4:51 PM ·
I tried that towel flying image! I think it helped...but I will have to continue to play with it and try to understand the movement. Trying to relax my base knuckles and wrist currently make my bow go all over the place (not straight) when I draw it...so there is something I need to figure out about it...

Hehe, Paul, yes - so easy.

I have a couple things I am wondering about. This evening, I was working my way up the fingerboard, position by position, on the g string. In the higher positions, are the fingers almost straight instead of curved? Like, coming straight down from above, so that they clear the rest of the violin? Also, as I was thinking about the hand frame and trying to put my frame down before I played the notes, to see if it was accurate...but of course, up in the higher positions, I have to scooch my fingers over for each other when there are half steps involved...so how does one keep a good frame with all that scooching? I hope that makes sense! It might be a really dumb question!

January 12, 2019, 5:45 PM · I think the answer to your question is basically yes. This is the sort of thing that Simon Fischer will probably address in detail in one of his 37 books.
January 12, 2019, 6:54 PM · HAHAHA Paul. Seriously.
January 12, 2019, 10:46 PM · Too bad you cannot "like" on here. :)
January 12, 2019, 11:15 PM · I just watched your scale video. In addition to what Jeewon mentioned, I noticed that your shifts aren't really "launched". The note before a shift should be properly set, there should be a mental aim, and then your hand should release and shoot upwards with a finger landed on arrival at the target spot. This has to be coordinated with the bow. This is really important for getting clean shifts, without any smearing of a shift after the departure note, or before the arrival note.

In the topmost positions of the violin, I generally do not do 1-2-3-4. I do 1-2-3 and sometimes even 1-2 1-2. Your fingers are longer than mine, though, so you may be able to maintain a reasonable hand frame in the upper positions on 1-4.

January 13, 2019, 9:58 AM · Yes, shifts! I didn't formally "learn" them, and they still scare me because I don't really know how they reliably work, beyond "hope for the best!" and to try to hear the note that I want in my head. I am sure there is a way I can work on this...I will start with Fischer, and see what he has to say. Other than that, I feel like I am just practicing bad habits when I try to work on shifts...
January 13, 2019, 2:57 PM · I am posting another video of the left hand from behind, this time with the first half of the Corrente. I am unhappy with so many little things in the piece, but I hope that it gives a good view of my fingers...

https://youtu.be/W2AK4Y8he0g

I suspect I might need to change my set-up - it has probably been noted that I don't use a chin rest. I always found chin rests really uncomfortable, so a few years ago, I decided to take it off and felt that it was much nicer to my neck! However, I think it might make me collapse forward too much. I am not sure! There is so much that needs to be addressed! I wish I could go to a month-long rebuild festival. Someone want to start one?? :)

Yesterday (and today) my back has really been hurting. It could be a number of things - it seemed to start when I had to sit still for 5 hours for a research group on a bad chair - but I hope it isn't due to tension while plaaaaaying. :(

Edited: January 13, 2019, 3:04 PM · I'm convinced most back issues are from bad sitting.

I taught myself a little thing that has improved my shifts a lot -- undoubtedly not to a pro level -- but I just find that it really really helps to just focus on the note *before* the shift. So many times those get smeared out because I'm looking ahead to the shift, and the note right before the shift gets ... short shrift. (Sorry!)

Edited: January 13, 2019, 3:05 PM · accidental empty post
January 13, 2019, 3:15 PM · Look at your thumb. See how it's bent back, even from the very start of the piece? It's at almost a 90 degree angle. I'm guessing you are hyperflexed; I couldn't do that even if I wanted to. And it's too far back relative to the rest of the fingers, forcing you to reach forward rather than reaching back.

Freeze the video at 16 seconds. (I just happened to stop it there, and then saw it was a perfect image: LINK to the still frame.) Your thumb is bent back, behind the hand. Your fingers are fanned out. That doesn't look relaxed to me, and there's something about your left wrist in the video that suggests tension.

And look at the tilt of the violin in that frozen image. You want it to be pretty flat -- close to parallel to the floor. You have it sharply tilted, and that means that you do not get the kind of solid contact with the bow that you need -- plus it makes executing all kinds of right hand technique problematic because the angle is wrong and there's no steady surface. In fact, that might be strongly related to your concerns about not getting the deep tone that you want.

It's quite possible that your lack of a chinrest is a significant contributor to your holding the violin at that kind of tilt, but look at your shoulder-rest (SR) configuration also. I use an SR myself but I think that it can be useful to try to fix tilt issues by taking it off, facing the wall, gently touching the wall with the scroll of the violin so you can feel safe that you won't drop it (or do it over the edge of the bed, that works too), and then rotating the violin so it feels more flat, since leaving the SR off will give you more freedom to experiment with placement. (Some tilt is okay.) When you find a comfortable position with that, find a chinrest and shoulder-rest combo that gives you that same feel.

Bad chairs are terrible, and will indeed cause your back to hurt. Just wait 'til your post-40 and anything that results in bad posture will cause pain. :-)

January 13, 2019, 3:15 PM · Hey Anita, am having a busy weekend. I was thinking about what to say about thumbs and shifting but am still thinking about what would be useful for you.

Shifting is a pretty huge topic, and thumbs, while not a huge topic, are kinda complex because they have such a big range of motion. I was also wondering if there's any overload happening, or are you good to go? Ideally, you want a teacher to guide you through this process, give you just what you need for the moment and build on it gradually.

As for vertical fingers, yes they will be more vertical if you try to maintain the frame the higher you go, and when you do have to play a scale pattern you keep the other fingers hovering as you scooch them out of the way of the placed finger. As was mentioned, practice octaves first, then do the Dounis' 1C linked above. The frame refers to the 1-4 perfect fourth or octave. There's no need to do general practice for the frame like that above 7 position, especially on the lower strings, as you can do that on specific passages on actual rep. 4 octave scales are still useful high on the E-string. When your fingers don't actually fit, you imagine the pattern within the frame before you place and scooch (the image of the pattern you recall should contain the scooch.) Arppegios are more important for very high playing. All runs should be broken down into their shift patterns too, which are like arpeggios.

There's a lot of info online and in books about shifting, but if you wanna discuss types, motion, exercises, etc. feel free to bring it up. Anyways, I'll just mention a few things about your shifting later tonight and will have a look at your new video.

I hadn't noticed the lack of a chinrest! I did think your thoracic spine is flexed forward (which might suggest a posterior pelvic tilt,) and your head is forward and down, hanging off the base of your neck (c6-c7 vertebrae.) Also your left shoulder looks thrust forward. But this is too much stuff to focus on all at once! Have you ever looked into movement techniques (Alexander Technique, Laban Movement Analysis, Feldenkrais Method)?

January 13, 2019, 3:32 PM · I have (crossed fingers) time to practice again, and have been thinking about what type of technical routine I want in my mornings -- figure 20 to 30 minutes of pure technique.

Jeewon's link to Heidi Castleman's technical curriculum is very interesting to me, because I did practically everything not viola-specific in that list during my childhood, starting by the time I was in Suzuki book 4, so by my mid-teens, we had covered all of that ground and a chunk of that (especially Sevcik) was part of my daily routine.

During my time of technical rebuild, various exercises from Schradieck op. 1 book 1, and double-stops from Sevcik op. 9 and Sevcik op. 1 book 4, and shifting from Sevcik op. 1 book 3, was part of the daily drill. For a period of time when I was coming back to the violin in my twenties, I did quite a bit of daily Casorti as well.

And old habits die really hard. When I came back to the violin after another decade break -- my most recent bout of playing -- I ended up reverting to my pre-rebuild Galamian-style technique by default. I've had to consciously go back to the post-rebuild Russian-style technique and in some cases I'm still trying to fish it out of the recesses of my memory.

January 13, 2019, 4:29 PM · Paul, I am such a huge fan of the pun. I appreciate that. :) Yes, I had heard that the note before the shift is really important. My teacher just instructed me to play the note after the shift with almost no finger pressure, like for a harmonic (just for practice). Not sure why...but what you said made me think of that - perhaps it is related?

Yes, Lydia, it can see that it looks really awful! and I do have tension in my hand - even in the middle part - especially when I do any double stops, but really all the time. My fingers can do some stretchy things that aren't "normal" and look very strange to those without stretchy tendons...but I agree, this is too much.

I do feel like the violin tilts too far forward. If I go to my local violin shop, will the luthier be able to help me set things up properly with shoulder rest and chin rest, or is that something I should ask my teacher to help me do or try to do on my own?

I started having back issues at age 8, because I grew very tall very quickly..yay. Haha. So I can't wait for my 40s... :)

Jeewon, there is a tiny bit of overload happening! I have to remind myself to be patient, because I want things to be fixed immediately...and I know better. I just want to play beautiful stuff like I hear it in my head! :( but...I have compiled all the information I am gleaning from these conversations in a big document, and I have made practice lists and goals in a notebook, so I am doing my best to assimilate everything and put it to good use. I think I can handle it. :) I really do wish I could have a lesson a day for a month and "attack" this stuff wholeheartedly...

I had heard about Alexander Technique from a violinist friend and old roommate in the States. I just looked it up - there is an "Alexander Technique for Musicians" practitioner in my city! The first appointment is free, so I will check it out and see how expensive it is... I had not heard of the other two but - wait for it, this is really delightful! - I checked at my university's sports facility, and they offer a Feldenkrais course for 22 euros per semester! woot woot! (It would start in April - I will definitely sign up. Thank you for the suggestion! :)

Yes, there are so many things that I need to work on that I do feel just a bit lost as to what to focus on first. For technique things for this week, I thought I would start with scales, arpeggios, thirds, octaves, open strings for tone and relaxing shoulder, wrist, and knuckles, and "hand frame" exercises, including the position-based finger exercises in Fischer's Basics, and the trill exercise suggested by Nathan Cole. That keeps me busy for a couple hours, to be honest, and I am not positive I am doing them in ways that will move me past the current problems I have. Then I also want to spend time with the Bach.

I really do need to have that conversation with my teacher and hope he will be willing to help me address all these issues.

January 13, 2019, 9:17 PM · Try your largest local violin shop -- they are the ones most likely to have a wide inventory of chinrests and shoulder-rests. Go at a time when the shop isn't normally busy.

Start by figuring out where you want the violin to be, ideally, before going to the shop. Then pick a chinrest at the shop that helps you get that placement. Fill in the remaining space with a shoulder-rest.

If you show the shop folks where you want the violin to be, they can probably get you started with suggestions (and they will probably put on and take off the chinrests for you).

January 13, 2019, 9:49 PM · If you look at top soloists their violins are very often farther back on their shoulders. That's what I've noticed anyway. I think it helps them reach the higher part of the fingerboard.
January 13, 2019, 10:27 PM · Holding the violin further left is more of a relaxation thing, I think. You can feel where your arm is pretty relaxed, versus where you have to rotate the shoulder a little if you want to hold it there.

Also, that flatter position, and sometimes pushing the violin a bit upwards into the bow, gets you a more solid contact between violin and bow, and therefore greater power. You'll see soloists sometimes tilt their heads/bodies a bit to temporarily take that position more assertively in high-volume passages.

Edited: January 13, 2019, 11:21 PM · Hey that's great! If you want to read up on movement from the perspective of Feldenkrais, Todd Hargrove's blog is a great place to start. He has some very inexpensive audio tutorials, including one on sitting, if you want to experience a verbal lesson. On top of everything such training methods can do to refine your movement, I think one of the greatest benefits is the way they train attention and your awareness of your movement (similar to meditation; Jackie Reardon calls focused, attentive practice "dynamic meditation.")

If you want a quicker fix, take a look at Esther Gokhale's method. It's more of a posture training method than general movement training (most movement training methods eschew the notion of a 'correct posture',) but I like her ideas of the 'J' spine, and of how to elongate and stack the spine, and tweak the shoulders to hang in a neutral way. There are lots of video seminars online.
TEDx Talk
Primal Posture, the theory.
Talks at Google

"My teacher just instructed me to play the note after the shift with almost no finger pressure..."

I was going to suggest a similar exercise. The reason we want to do this is to make sure you stop when you hear the target rather than guess and brake the shift with finger pressure. I know Lydia meant something else when she said 'shooting' but I use that word to describe an uncontrolled, unmeasured slide, which is launched toward its target without the primary guidance system (your sense of pitch) being in control. It's like a rocket with too much power for it's stabilizers and guidance system to contain. When you slide with minimal pressure you can still hear the whistling sound of the shift and hear it approaching the target pitch. All slides, no matter how big or small, must be done with the finger gliding along the surface of the string (unless you're making an audible portamento,) and must be smooth, continuous, and fully fill the time you have for the given rhythm. For now, I think it's good enough to just listen intently and make sure it's your ear telling you when to stop sliding and place the finger, rather than the finger grabbing for the target pitch.

You have a good sense for shifting with finger extension (almost as good for contraction when descending ;) what I used to call 'throughshifting' where the lower finger makes a substitution with the upper finger then pushes through the upper finger for the target pitch of the shift (or upper finger pushing through lower finger, descending.) That's a great way to play very rapid runs up and down. But... for the sake of training your positions and finger patterns I would always start with a 'classical' shift and make sure it's solid before doing other kinds of shifts. A classical shift is always a same finger shift from position to position + the finger pattern needed for the target note, whether you lift or place a finger for that pattern. E.g. ascending C#D#/21, practice C#ED#/221, gradually decreasing the length of the guide note until it's just a blip of a grace note, then ghosted. Feel the change in finger pattern from lower to upper position, and change the pattern during the slide. Descending ED#/13, practice EBD#/113. As you shorten the length of the guide note, pay attention to releasing pressure during the slide.

From your new video, I'm pretty certain your left hand posture and thumb pressure have to do with another body mapping issue. It's easy (and common) to think of forearm rotation as a single swivel joint like in a doll. But take a look at how your forearm works in this mildly annoying video: Ulna and Radius

So the thumb-side bone is the radius, and the pinky-side bone is the ulna. The thumb-side bone/radius has a rotating joint at the elbow, while the pinky-side bone/ulna has a hinge-like joint at the elbow. When you supinate, palm up, the two bones are parallel to each other. When you pronate, palm down, the thumb-side crosses over the pinky-side bone, which is possible because the thumb-side bone is able to rotate at its joint to the elbow. N.B. the pinky-side cannot rotate around the thumb-side.

In playing position, the left forearm is supinated. But it's possible to supinate a little further to get good alignment so the fingers can be placed along each string. What happens is that the thumb side rotates a little further as your palm is rotated to face more to the left.

But if you grab the neck first with side-of-first-finger and thumb, fixing the thumb-side in place, and try to reach the pinky toward the string, you're trying to rotate the pinky-side around the thumb-side, which is impossible, so you get a rigid forearm, and your thumb presses into the neck. Further, since such rotation is not possible, the pinky-side palm ends up folding over toward the thumb-side palm, causing unnecessary tension in the palm.

Instead, place the ring finger first (use a line from tip of ring finger to inside elbow as the axis of rotation) and rotate the forefinger clockwise (bird's-eye-view) around the ring finger to find good alignment. Slide your thumb lightly along the neck to make sure it's not grabbing. Whenever you go into playing position, feel the forefinger rotating away from you, so you can see the edge of pinky/palm before you place your fingers and thumb (this posture is for scales and passage work, where you need to maintain alignment.)

For thumb placement, experiment with how deep you hold the fiddle. I think currently you have it so the knuckle at the tip joint is pressing into the neck. If you move the neck just a bit deeper into the palm, the tip joint can flex a bit and wrap around the neck more. Or if you go a bit shallower, the tip touches the neck, and the tip joint can be allowed to flex aways from the neck. The thumb should never be fixed, but must always get into a posture which helps the fingers reach their targets.

Deeper hold:
Ray Chen
Shallower hold:

Edited: January 13, 2019, 11:24 PM · [sorry, busted the link]
Shallower hold:
Janine Jansen
January 13, 2019, 11:44 PM · To Jeewon's point, when I say "shoot", the image I use is that of a rail that connects your start point to your target point. Your hand moves smoothly and with very high velocity along the track. But the whole track is envisioned very clearly in that process, so your hand can zip along it.

Two of my past teachers studied with Rafael Bronstein, and he was an advocate for this style of shift. The second of those teachers abandoned this in favor of a different "gliding" approach (taught by Syoko Aki, I think) which is slower and as a result, allows greater room for course correction if there's an error. The Bronstein way requires you to maintain a very high degree of accuracy in your aim (because you're going so fast that you don't have much time to process the tactile feedback), which most players will find requires greater time for basic technical maintenance.

January 14, 2019, 5:17 AM · That's a cool distinction, Lydia! I guess it's the difference between "spraying the shot" and sinking the shot (even before shooting.)
January 14, 2019, 9:50 AM · I remember Nathan Cole's video on how to hit notes "out of the blue." That was very good.

I have to say that this is one of the best threads ever. I want to also say that I really enjoyed the title of the thread, right from the outset, because it seemed so tentative to a degree that I found charming. "I was thinking of possibly getting ready to get ready ... "

January 14, 2019, 9:57 AM · Lydia - my teacher uses the same imagery of a rail/track to follow.

Jeewon - I've always been a "throughshifter" but my teacher wants me to start using the "classical" method. I'm okay ascending, but descending I'm still having cognitive dissonance - I guess I need to slow down more? (I do have to say, I feel like the classical method has increased the accuracy of my shifts, so yay to tedious work!)

Anita - (echoing Jeewon here) - I'm hoping to start some Alexander Technique classes soon, as I tend to hunch into my violin (which is creating other problems) that I'm unable to resolve. Will let you know how they go! I KNOW that this hunching is from many years of crouching over tables drawing and other tedious desk/computer work. I have a musician friend who swears by Feldenkrais - which I may explore if AT does not work for me.

Loving this thread!!!

January 14, 2019, 10:21 AM · I don't have a lot of time to respond today, but thank you all!

I don't know of a huge music shop here, but I will ask the luthier (he replaced my bridge, which snapped a few months ago, and is a delightful person!) if he has a supply and would be willing to help me try them out. If not, maybe I can find a bigger shop somewhere within train distance.

I have a few quick questions: how does one decide whether to use a deep or shallow thumb placement? Does it depend upon finger length?

"Instead, place the ring finger first (use a line from tip of ring finger to inside elbow as the axis of rotation) and rotate the forefinger clockwise (bird's-eye-view) around the ring finger to find good alignment. Slide your thumb lightly along the neck to make sure it's not grabbing. Whenever you go into playing position, feel the forefinger rotating away from you, so you can see the edge of pinky/palm before you place your fingers and thumb (this posture is for scales and passage work, where you need to maintain alignment.)"

I THINK I understood this...but the rotation of the forefinger clockwise around the ring finger I was a bit unsure about.

And the knuckles of left hand should be about at fingerboard level? or does that vary?

Also, with shifting: when one shifts from second finger to first, ascending, it is recommended to practice that as a 2 - 2- 1 shift, no? I don't understand that, because that is not possible to do when actually playing, right? So that changes the feel of the shift when you actually have to play it without the secondary note?

January 14, 2019, 12:53 PM · "Does it depend upon finger length?" Not sure but Ray Chen has very long fingers.
January 14, 2019, 1:00 PM · Shifts should use one finger lightly on the string as a guide, if possible. Otherwise you get no tactile feedback and distance estimation is more difficult.

This can be either the starting finger or the ending finger. In some cases (especially in more difficult repertoire), this can even be a different finger, on a different string. (You may especially see that where you have an open string immediately followed by a shift.)

Edited: January 14, 2019, 5:26 PM · Classical shifts are the first principles of finding pitch along the fingerboard: position + finger pattern for a given key. They help find the shift pattern (the sequence of same finger shifts) plus prepare the finger pattern of the new position using the fingers of the actual passage. (Clear as mud.)

In B maj descending, using Anita's fingering (44321321321), the shift pattern is B-A#-E-B-F#/4-4-1-1-1. That pattern gives us the positions which serve as the 'skeleton' of the descending scale on E-str, and you need to be able to nail it. Then, you need to make sure the actual fingers used in the shift are in tune within each of those positions: E-D#/1-3, so we can play E-B-C#-D#/1-1-2-3, then E-B-D#/1-1-3, to check.

You haven't practiced shifting and basic pitch until you know with your conscious mind that the notes you are playing are correct. And going back to first principles helps us do that (that goes for rhythm too: you must figure things out from first principles to be sure-- sorry for the math analogy and the old-school-teacher-lecture :)

After that's secure, you can then apply other ways to make the passage sound smooth. All fast runs are essentially long slides on 1 finger interrupted by the other fingers to fill in the scale. That's another reason to make sure intermediate positions aren't landed with too much pressure. You don't want to apply the brakes until the final note. The feel of the arm should be smooth and continuous, not jerky and rushed ('spraying the shot' so to speak.) As you speed up, you reach a certain tempo where the arm is indeed continuously moving underneath the flying fingers.

~~~~~

"...how does one decide whether to use a deep or shallow thumb placement? Does it depend upon finger length?"

I think the main consideration is whether it gives you better overall freedom and movement (though any change will feel weird at first.) I don't know for sure, but I have a hunch it depends on the length of the metacarpals (the finger bones in the palm) relative to the length of the fingers, and of course the shape of the fingers (relative lengths of fingers, especially 2 relative to 4.) It maybe that your current placement is already ideal for you. Just try wiggling it about once in a while, so it doesn't stay hyperextended permanently. Introducing new movements will give you new brain maps for those movements, and eventually your thumb will respond naturally. Don't forget the baseknuckle of the thumb, which is near your wrist. If the ball of the thumb is rock hard when you play, then you're clamping with the thumb's baseknuckle (1st CMC=carpometacarpal joint, or TMC=trapeziometacarpal.)

"And the knuckles of left hand should be about at fingerboard level? or does that vary?"

I think that's one of those general rules, but it varies quite a bit. One thing you might try is to raise the knuckles higher and rotate over a bit to the left when you play on the G-string and vice-versa.

Edit: re. "...rotation of the forefinger clockwise around the ring finger..."

I should have stuck with thumbside: rotation of thumbside around the ring finger (pinky side) supinating a bit further to align the fingers...

January 14, 2019, 8:43 PM · Paul, I will check out that video!

Pamela, please do update me on AT, and I will write about how I find Feldenkrais, when I begin it. :) And I am loving this thread, too! hehe Everyone is so kind and helpful, even though I ask incessant questions!

Man, I had a closer look...Ray Chen sure does have long fingers. Scratch that theory! But with his deep position, it sometimes looks a little like he is throwing his fingers wildly - obviously not, but...https://twitter.com/raychenviolin/status/1058964239426043904

I took a break from playing today, to give my back a rest, but it feels much better now - am very glad! I just held my violin and experimented a bit with the ulna/radius rotation. ;) I don't think I ever realized that the bones cross like that. Changing the depth of thumb placement does feel really weird, but I will keep playing around with what works to give less tension.

Thanks for the clarification on shifting, Lydia and Jeewon! that makes sense. Looking forward to practicing it...:) :) (also, I had not listened to the Heifetz Chaconne in the longest time..)

And now for the happy news (at least, I think it is happy!): I wrote an email to my teacher explaining what I would like to do, what I think I need, and asking him if he would be willing to help me do it! I will wait until the morning to send it, because it is very late here (or early, depending upon your point of view), and I want to double-check that I have said everything I wanted to...but I feel relieved to have composed it and relieved at the thought that I can have some answers soon. It also feels like it is a step closer to being able to "start"! So, press your thumbs for me!

Edited: January 14, 2019, 8:48 PM · I just came back from a party where the hostess has a daughter studying cello at a good conservatory. One of the topics of conversation was the role of physical training and conditioning in stringed instrument study. The young woman's teacher apparently is very much of the mind that a musician needs to take the approach of becoming an athlete -- stretching, weight-training, etc. My wife finds that weight-training works wonders on her "computer back" too.
January 14, 2019, 9:58 PM · Anita, I've tried both Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique. They are different but I find Alexander to be superior. With Feldenkrais, you do a lot of exercises which can be translated to some extent (maybe more than I was able to) into daily life. With Alexander, there are exercises, but the focus is more on how you can integrate changes into your daily life, including violin playing of course, but starting with the very basics of how you organize yourself. I find Alexander to be a lot like violin playing, in the continual refinement of your movements. And I find Alexander to be very helpful for violin playing. But I also do Feldenkrais exercises on ocassion.
January 15, 2019, 11:34 AM · I do think that being strong enough AND knowing how to properly use your body are very important in the long run, if not in the short. When I developed neuritis and tendonitis in college, the hand specialist I went to said that the problem stemmed from weak back muscles - which I've had since I was a toddler...weak and overly stretchy, is the non-scientific way to describe it? :) Now, I know it stemmed from a lot of other things, too, which he couldn't see because I didn't play in front of him - poor setup, bent left wrist, etc - but still. A stronger back, he said, would have helped my arms be able to handle what I was asking of them.

An AT person used to come to my APARTMENT to give lessons to my roommate. I really, really wish I had taken the opportunity then to invest in lessons and paid more attention to what they did!

I sent the email to my teacher. Of course, now I am silently freaking out about whether he is going to think it's an absolutely foolish idea! I'm reading the other repertoire thread, and thinking about how much I just have never touched that I "should" have played...oy.

I'll survive the feeling, though! I am hoping he is willing to jump on board with crazy me!

January 16, 2019, 4:43 AM · Hi Anita, I just read this thread for the first time. I just want to say that I relate to your story SO much, there are so many parallels (even a traumatic aborted attempt at the Mendelssohn concerto, followed by a long break, then coming back in a better place). You also wrote about it really beautifully. I'm sorry you've gone through so much bad teaching, it sounds like a lot of bad luck, and think it's amazing you are continuing to perservere. I am rooting for you in your music journey 100%!!
I also wanted to ask you, if this not too intrusive a question, in which city in Germany do you live? I am thinking about possibly moving to Berlin to try and get into the music scene there and if that's where you are, I'd love to hear about your experience with the orchestra you play in, how you went about finding a good teacher, etc. All the best!
January 16, 2019, 7:29 AM · Hi Sylvie, nice to hear from you! I would love to hear more of your story - how did you decide to go back to music? what has that process been like? thank you for your sweet support. :)

I live in Nord-Rhein Westfalen. Berlin is great! Are you from the States? Do you speak German? (Pardon if you are German!)

I would be happy to give more specifics about the move and experience, if it would help you. The bureaucracy can be dizzying if you are coming from somewhere else.

As for how I found an orchestra and teacher...well, I saw a sign. :) The orchestra had a performance a few days after i arrived, and I saw a sign for it, and wondered if I could play with them. I googled the name and the first thing I saw on their website was "strings needed", so I emailed the director and went to the next rehearsal!

As for teacher...he's the concertmaster of the orchestra. When he explained things to the strings, he spoke in a way that made sense to me. His tone is beautiful, and there is zero tension in his playing...so I just asked him if he would be willing to teach me. I didn't audition teachers or search online or anything, so I wouldn't be much help in that regard.

But I do have one contact in Berlin who is a singer - she sang in a Requiem for which I played, and she might have some thoughts about the music scene there.

I go for my lesson this evening, and imagine will have "the conversation" with my teacher. I will also go to the violin shop today and see if I can find a chin rest that suits. I have been playing around with left hand position and thumb with Sevcik Op., bk, and exercise 1,. :) I have the sense that rotating my hand a little, so that the ulna and radius are more parallel to the neck, and moving my thumb a little closer to the body of the violin, generally, when I play is helping, but it also feels like doing that causes tension in my pectoral muscle (I think) and my elbow flexors. I am hoping that changing the setup of the chin/shoulder rest will help that. I will also ask my teacher this evening if he can make recommendations for the way I hold the violin. I know these little things are extremely important, so trying to be patient. :)

Edited: January 16, 2019, 8:52 AM · Sounds like finding a good playing setup and learning better body movement is priority #1. I would strongly advise learning those before piling on more time. Do everything in short, short spurts, multiple times a day, rather than longer sessions. I'm an extremist, so I tend to go all out with changes too. But... it's better to make small gradual changes :)

Making small, refined motions is one of the hardest things about playing the violin, so it's important to make very small adjustments, and perhaps even more important to feel how that affects other areas, especially those parts which are joined to the thing you're tweaking. Making large changes kind of freaks out your unconscious brain, which then retaliates by contracting the opposing muscles to prevent you from making them, in case they're harmful. Be gentle and gradual.

The biceps, which flex the elbows, are also responsible for supination (if you want to make your biceps bulge to their max, you flex the elbow, but also rotate and curl the whole arm, elbow in, fist out and twist.) Also, the extrinsic muscles of the hand are all located in the fattest part of the forearm near the elbow. They also assist in elbow flexion, though their main job is to curl the fingers (except for the base knuckles, which are controlled by the intrinsic muscles within the hand.) Elbow flexion and forearm supination are synergistic with finger flexion.

If you're now pushing your elbow forward (which can also raise your upper arm) due to a deeper hold, and/or making your elbow go more in front of your torso and to the right, that would further engage your pecs (keep your upper arm lower and at your side as you make these tweaks.)

To find your ideal default playing position you have to understand your proportions and ranges of motion. It's useful to see how others do things, but you can't copy directly unless you have the same body type and flexibility (which is unlikely--range of motion is determined by your bone structure; flexibility is determined by the programming your brain has received for movement.) When looking for similarities, you have to consider other proportions as well, so you understand the sum of angles created by your proportions. E.g. you might have longer arms and fingers, but wider shoulders may cancel some of that reach. Another e.g., while I understand the benefits of holding the fiddle flat, or holding it near the tailpiece (which makes you have to supinate more than holding closer to the left side of the lower bout) that's more fatiguing for my proportions, because of my wider shoulders and hand shape. The more hours you put in daily, weekly, throughout the year, the more important the tiniest angle becomes.

P.S. good luck with the conversation!

January 16, 2019, 10:39 AM · All such great shift tips. I came to lessons last year in a similar place in regards to shifts, I mean I had learned them, but maybe I'd forgotten all the detail, and I was trying to shoot and land on the spot, hope for best etc. My teacher had me insert the shift finger "guide" note (which for me currently is the first finger) into the scale for half of the length of the note following the shift, and then gradually shorten it over a umber of weeks, then up the tempo. Doing the 3-octave scale split into 2 bows now. The goal is not to make it totally invisible, she says, because the timing and speed of it have expressive possibilities and also there's no reason to hide the the skeleton of the shift, so to speak. "X-ray the shift" she was saying too.
January 16, 2019, 2:56 PM · The chinrest has immediately made some tension feel better! I think it’s going to be super helpful. There is still some left-hand and arm and pectoral and shoulderblade (all on left side) tension left, but my guess is that it’s mostly from things which became tight, and with some time and light playing, they will resolve. I will keep try to keep my tension awareness heightened and go light for a while - perhaps mostly Sevcik and scales and open strings.

He said yes to helping me prepare! He said eventually he will hook me up with a professor at the music school, to take a few lessons with them simultaneously. He said he of course can’t guarantee that I will make it, but thinks with a year’s work I could have a good shot.

We didn’t really develop a plan. I will email him on the next week some of my thoughts about what I might need. We discussed the need to study the repertoire I missed, and what I would need for the audition, but my impression is that I am a whole lot more worried than he is. It’s also a bit challenging to express everything in a second language, or to understand precisely everything he is saying. I think this will take a few conversations.) He suggested, which someone else on this thread mentioned, too, that we start with trying to address the setup and tension issues, and then, before digging into concertos, playing easier pieces to which I can apply the technical things I am working on.

I am excited! And trying to also believe I can learn and improve!

Edited: January 17, 2019, 12:47 PM · Hey, that's great news Anita! Best wishes on your new start!

You can only change what you notice (as in the case of your right shoulder.) So as mentioned you have to use a system which helps you notice and you have to improve your ability to differentiate.

E.g. of a system: make a set list of things to notice. Use the same short passage or exercise and repeat it, each time focusing on one item on the list. Bracket everything else on the list while your focus is on the one thing. If there's something that bothers you so much you just can't continue, write that thing down on a separate pad to return to later, or simply add it to your set list, and continue with the current item to finish it (always practice focus.)

To improve your senses you have to explore difference. E.g. if you're trying to tune octaves play: perfect, diminished, perfect, etc. and also: perfect, augmented, perfect, etc., while sliding smoothly and continuously with the changing finger, maintaining good alignment, and feeling how your frame changes. Similarly with other perfect intervals, and maj-->min-->maj for imperfect. For movement, you might experiment with ranges of motion you've not tried before, while paying attention to how that affects other parts.

You'll come to notice that the more you try to notice, the more things you will notice :) That does not mean things are getting worse, but it's far more likely you're refining your senses, which makes you aware of things you hadn't noticed before.

This may all seem very obvious, but it's actually very difficult to do and maintain consistently over the long haul. It's easy to get distracted or lose focus, especially in moments of frustration (Reardon's course!) The best teachers are expert noticers, and will hold up a 'mirror' in order that you can sense yourself better and stay on track. All this is a very long winded way of saying, yes, with a good teacher you can learn and improve, as long as you're willing and able to see/hear/feel what you do clearly.

Not that we ever needed science to tell us that practice makes better, but I find it most encouraging that the latest developments in neuroscience, with the help of technologies like fMRI, prove we can improve at any age: The brain is not some hardwired, fixed machine which only deteriorates with age and use. A new breed of neuroscientists pioneered the idea of neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to change itself, which became the foundation of mindset research.

A couple of books by psychiatrist Norman Doidge radically changed my outlook and led me to discover more about mindset and to reflect on my own.

"Norman Doidge: the man teaching us to change our minds"

So... now that you've got a teacher to work with, all you have to do is develop a good system for your immediate goals, buckle down and trust the process :)

"I would put it slightly differently: you don’t have to believe it, but you have to suspend your disbelief and just do it." ~Norman Doidge

Keep us posted!

January 17, 2019, 5:46 PM · Dear Jeewon, thank you again :)

Yes, I loved learning about neuroplasticity, and, as I always been very hard on myself and, especially as a child, really deeply disappointed if I didn't grasp something immediately, it is hopeful to remember that it's true. I try to encourage myself with this. I think the thing I am most nervous about in this process ahead of me is keeping my mindset positive and open and willing to think that I can succeed and improve. While journaling earlier in the week, I tried to ask myself why I thought I had such a fear always that I couldn't be a good musician - why was I so convinced that I couldn't do it? (It feels like, instead o being born with a healthy dose of self-confidence, I was born with the propensity to feel immense self-doubt).I recognize this in myself even now, thinking things like "I couldn't ever play tenths! I couldn't ever be good enough!" Why? I don't know, but I do see that this kind of automatic thought will PREVENT me from playing tenths, for example, if I don't combat it.

So, I will try the courses on mindset you suggested. :) And continue to try to be very aware of my thoughts. Sometimes it helps for me to write out "truths" in the morning, before I even try to do anything.

My arm and back and neck continue to be very stiff, so I am (trying) to not play very much and be very patient about it. I have a physiotherapy appointment early next week, and that usually sets me aright. I think my body learned how to be tense, and easily goes back to that. But, this is an opportunity, I think, to be fully aware of the importance of learning new ways of playing without tension. I am trying to skip being frustrated and instead focus on this!

And also, while I can't play so much, I will try to develop a good system. I am still trying to assimilate all the things I have learned from this thread and find a good way of structuring my time and energy so that I can make the best use of it. I don't have the solution yet, but your suggestion of a set list is helpful.

Again, I just want to say how much I appreciate everyone's thoughts and help and support. What a welcoming bunch of people. I would be happy to keep you posted!

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