how to take a lesson

January 30, 2019, 6:58 PM · I am afraid this might seem like a dumb question. I browsed other threads to see if this has been discussed before, and didn't really find I will ask what might seem obvious to others.

How do advanced players, post-high school, prepare for lessons?

When beginning a new piece, do you have it all the way learned by the time you bring it to the lesson? Do you play it through during the lesson or do you ask for help in specific spots with specific things? (or some of both)? How much do you direct this, how much does the teacher direct this?

How do you work on technique in the lesson? Do you bring up things you want to work on, or does your teacher?

Does you teacher help you decide what kinds of studies you need to do outside of the main repertoire, or do you plan and do this for yourself?

When working on several major works at once, how do you decide which to bring to the lesson? Do you do this, or does your teacher tell you want to bring the next week (or tell you what to play at that time)?

If teachers would like to weigh in on what they would prefer or expect, that would be great, too.

I ask because I am trying to figure out how to jump back into lessons after quite a long break (and make the most of them), and I have gotten so much older during the break that I am not sure my lesson-taking perspective is quite caught up with that. :)

I hope this all makes sense! thanks for your thoughts!

Replies (122)

Edited: January 30, 2019, 7:24 PM · This is not so much a function of age as a function of level of technique and readiness to set one's own goals, I think.

In my teens as an advanced player, my teacher would generally bracket out a chunk of a new piece as a "come with the notes learned by the next lesson". If I could do more, great, but that was the minimum expectation. It could also be implicitly an expectation, if the chunk was small, that it was either hard or it needed to be learned more thoroughly before we went on.

As an adult, my time to practice varies, and so the amount of a new piece to be learned in the first week is somewhat up to me. I would say that it's not unusual for my teacher to expect that the notes of a full concerto movement will be learned in a week, under tempo (and with the harder spots still requiring work). There have been occasions where my teacher has bracketed out sections to be learned each week, though (for instance, doing Paganini No. 1 starting with the hardest of the double-stop sections, rather than learning it sequentially, and more broadly, sometimes ensuring that the toughest section of a work is practiced starting from the start to maximize the time to learn it).

I generally prepare a mental list of questions (sometimes supplemented by Post-It Flags or dots in my music for a reminder) prior to a lesson, if I've encountered specific issues that I want to get help with. That's been my pattern since my teens.

My teacher assigns etudes. That's always been the case with my teachers. Those etudes are usually assigned with a clear purpose. I often do only the first few lines of an etude while I work on whatever technique it is that the etude is intended to teach. I don't learn the rest until the first few lines are pretty comfortable. That's also a pattern from my teens. The exceptions are Paganini Caprices, where the overall difficulty of the notes and novelty of the problems tend to make working on either tiny chunks or longer sections more profitable.

My current teacher doesn't assign exercises usually (Sevcik and I usually will pull out an exercise book if I feel I need something; by this point in my playing I generally know what I should do in that regard. He does assign things to be done with scales (usually bowing work), but usually leaves the question of what scales to me (though he may say something like "This passage would be easier if you practiced four-octave A-major scales" or something along those lines).

My teacher will say, at the end of a lesson, what he wants the next lesson to focus on. I may remind him that we haven't done something in a while, that we should focus on next time. Or various exigencies may arise that alter what we should focus on -- upcoming performances are probably the most significant. What I'm learning is frequently split between "things being learned to improve my overall level of playing" and "things being learned for a performance".

If I were actually practicing as diligently as I wish I could (i.e., a steady one to two hours a day), I'd probably need twice a week lessons to cover material at the frequency necessary.

January 30, 2019, 7:22 PM · This is actually a terrific question.
January 30, 2019, 8:15 PM · I'm in my late 50s and just started taking lessons again. At this point in my (amateur) career, I need something completely different than what I needed as a young person.

When you're young a teacher is like a guide taking you on a long winding journey -- you put yourself in that person's hands and they try to build you up (and sometimes break you down) and try to bring out the best in you as they help you build a technical and musical base.

But now, I don't need a guide. I like being my own guide. I play a very wide variety of music, and I want to set my own agenda. I think of my teacher more as a consultant/coach. Maybe like a swing coach for an middle-aged golfer. I love when my teacher can offer little insights into how to prepare a passage or how to interpret a line.

Sometimes there's a new way to approach a left hand problem. Or sometimes it's a good timely reminder to spend some practice time on, say, right-hand finger flexibility. I'm not interested in going back through Kreutzer and Dont etude by etude, but I'm definitely interested in revisiting individual etudes in the service of music I'm working on or technical weaknesses I'm trying to shore up.

January 30, 2019, 8:39 PM · If you have't done so already I would suggest meeting with a few different teachers, if available, to get an idea if you are a good match in terms of personality, schedules, and teaching styles. Then, your first lesson will be discussing the questions you have asked. I suggest to start with pieces a bit below your current capabilities and not terribly long. You and your new teacher may become a bit overwhelmed with a long and complicated piece. It is important that you follow your teacher's instructions, take notes, and practice as much as possible. Adults aren't always good in these areas. Let your teacher know what your aspirations are- what repertoire you are interested in and if you wish to perform regularly.
January 30, 2019, 9:48 PM · When I was a teenager, I would (unconvincingly) fake my way through something I hadn't practiced. As an adult, I would tell my teacher- sorry, busy week; I didn't even look at this. It's very freeing.
Edited: January 30, 2019, 9:50 PM · I am going to enjoy this thread!

At my lessons I usually start by playing scales or a study. I assign them to myself in a way that may seem haphazard but seems to work for me: I just find one that seems somewhat hard but not impossible, or that emphasizes something I find I'm weak on. This week I pulled out Schradieck Book 1 No. IX. During studies or scales my teacher is looking not only for places where I need to focus in the study, but also at my posture, hand positions, and so on, sometimes even walking around me to check from other angles.

Then I have pieces, which might be a movement of solo Bach (presently the E Major Gavotte en Rondeau), or a lyrical piece (currently Balakirev E Major Impromptu, but this week he heard my Salut d'Amour), or something faster (this week I played the Joachim cadenza from Mozart 5 -- and I really choked, but in the second run-through to look at the individual spots I did much better).

I always get practice tips for the specific things that are hard for me in my pieces. Sometimes there are more general suggestions and so on. Invariably we spend a few minutes talking about my daughter's progress too (same teacher) since I don't go to her lessons or practice with her (she's 16). But I feel I should be paying attention since she's preparing her "senior recital".

January 31, 2019, 9:30 AM · It’s great to hear these responses! I am trying to see where I need to adjust my expectations of myself - either expecting too little of myself or too much.

I think with my current teacher, I need to either ask him to give more guidance as to what technical stuff and/or studies I should do OR decide on my own and bring things to him (or just do things on my own)...?

I brought the exposition of Mozart 4 to the last lesson. (Small note here: I couldn’t play until the day before the lesson, and then still not so much, so I had only just started to refresh the 4...I had worked on it about 12 years ago. So when I say I brought that to the lesson, i mean a memorized but very slow version with lots of Boeing technique questions...)

Thinking about next week, I am unsure what I should focus on for my next lesson (and how much is possible). I thought about working up the cadenza, which I hadn’t worked on before, so it’s totally new) or possibly bringing the first part of Bruch, or possibly the g minor fugue, which I performed about 10 years ago. All these he mentioned as things I might bring. How normal is it to work on things simultaneously like this?

I take audio recordings of lessons so that I can trigger my memory of what he says or hear what I couldn’t hear in the moment. We talked about a lot during the hour, which of course I want to practice into the piece. Do I divide up my time spent practicing to include new note-learning practice, but also refining pieces practice?

I appreciate all the feedback! I think soon I won’t have as many questions all the time! Thanks for patience.

Edited: January 31, 2019, 9:56 AM · For me, my teacher assigns:

A concerto: We will go through the movements, and if I don't have major issues, we will generally work through the whole thing, rather than polishing a single movement at a time.

Another significant piece: This might be a Bach S&P (generally working on several movements at a time), a sonata (again, the whole thing), or a showpiece.

Two etudes: These may be two attacks on the same technique, or two different things to work on. Alternatively, there might be a single Paganini Caprice.

This has basically been the pattern of teacher assignments since I was a teenager, although previous teachers of mine had less emphasis on maintaining the coherence of being able to perform full works rather than single movements. And my previous teachers also assigned exercises.

I do not get to everything every day. This is enough to occupy a two-hour practice session, on the relatively rare occasion I have the luxury to get two hours to practice in a day.

For instance, my current assignment is the whole of the Dvorak concerto, the whole of the Franck sonata (I'm performing that a few times later this spring), and two etudes (one from Rode and one from Dont op. 35). I have a Bach partita on the back-burner (i.e. I dropped it before it was solidified and I should go back to it at some point).

January 31, 2019, 10:16 AM · I get assigned a lot of etudes/technique exercises and will work on a variety until my teacher(s) decide I can move on to the next etude/exercise. I'm apparently a slow learner re: the violin, so sometimes I'll be with an etude for longer than expected (or what I do with the etude is not what my teacher was looking for and I have to work on it some more).

My lessons typically look like this, in chronological order:

Etudes/exercises: I'm currently working on a mix of Kreutzer, Schradieck, Sevcik (bowing), Trott, Yost and of course scales. Whatever I've had time to work on and feel prepared to present, or have questions about, is what we will cover in the lesson. Based on how I do (or don't do), new etudes will be assigned or I'll be given more work to do within the etude.

Rep: this is tricky at the moment, as I have been preparing for a recital and it took precedence over learning new material.

I would typically work on something "new" to me - learning it, and play that for my teacher then get extra assistance/guidance within the piece

A piece that I am refining - for working on interpretation and whatnot.

Prior to recital prep, I was working on the Bach E Major Partita Preludio and the Lalo 1st Movement. Now that the recital has been completed, I'm returning to the Bach, and am thinking of switching from the Lalo to a less high-stakes piece like a Saint-Saens small piece (about 6 pages for violin/piano) since my pianist and I got along like gangbusters. We'll see what my teacher(s) say when we meet next. Maybe something entirely different will be suggested!

I've pretty much directed my rep choices up until now, in the sense that I have a list of what I want to learn, and my teacher chooses from my list, save the Bach which was assigned (I had already been working through some of the Telemann Fantasia solos). I was assigned another piece last year, but I hated it so was allowed to choose something else with my teacher's guidance. (I feel this is the beautiful part of being an adult learner - we can speak up for ourselves, own up to working/not working on things and go from there!)

I usually have a ton of questions prior to my lessons, and find that it's better if I play first then wait and see if my questions are answered within the context of my teacher's feedback (they usually are). We seem to get through more in a lesson when I wait to ask questions.

I get assigned enough that I would need three hours to do what's assigned justice, and would need a lesson every week. I have been taking a lesson every other week since returning, and know that once a week would be much better for my development. I practice an hour-plus per day, more on weekends, so have to be very efficient with my time and manage the workload carefully - otherwise I get overwhelmed with all there is to do.

Edited: January 31, 2019, 3:18 PM · The better you learn a piece, the easier it will be for your teacher to give constructive feedback. Generally it's fine to let them guide the lesson & most of your repertoire/etudes.

If I want to work on something specific that day, I'll mention it at the start of the lesson, but it really depends on the teacher as to how much authority you'll have over this.

January 31, 2019, 3:34 PM · Anita, I was re-reading your post, and thinking that in light of the fact that you have a very specific goal in mind, that your teacher should really be figuring out an organized way to get there.

Unless a student just wants to learn more repertoire, I think that a teacher should have specific technical points that they want you to improve on.

When I was younger, most of the lesson time would be focused on technique. (Even now, assuming we're not working on an easier work for performance, most of my lesson time is technique-focused.) You're probably still at the point where you could benefit from that.

January 31, 2019, 6:09 PM · I think I would feel so much better if I had a very organized plan to work on technique...I do feel like I need so much work before I can attack repertoire. I know that I address things as I play, and I do think I learn a lot by mimicking what my teacher shows me, without explanations, which can cause me to overthink things...but...

Is this something I really can ask him to do? The responsibility isn't mine? I have written up some prototype plans for myself, but am anxious that I don't really know what I am doing. So I haven't been able to devise a clear plan with clear foci, and it worries me. I only have a year.

I want to practice well and smart and with specific goals in mind. I am just a little lost about how to create those goals and how to make the best use of my time.

January 31, 2019, 6:29 PM · So he hasn't suggested a rebuild? To address unwanted tension?
January 31, 2019, 6:43 PM · We talked about the fact that I think I need to re-do both bow arm and left hand to learn how to play without tension - he agreed that would be a good idea. But do I ask him to plan it in detail?

He is teaching me at a very, very, very generous discount, so I think I feel bad asking him to do so much for me. But I don't really know how to diagnose myself, I think.

Another issue is that I don't have any books here, and find it difficult to read from my computer (from PDF files, though I am grateful to have them) everything feels like it's remaining on a very ambiguous plane. I only brought Bach with me! I will be able to get them when I visit home in March, but until then I must make do.

In terms of tension, he addresses it a great deal in the bow arm - mostly focussing on sound, which is a helpful way for me to try to access the concepts...but he said he has never had tension issues (part of what drew me to his playing), so he is not entirely sure how to address them, I think.

January 31, 2019, 7:23 PM · A good violin teacher doesn't usually need to spend any out-of-lesson time planning for what a roadmap looks like, especially if it starts with "fix these technical issues". I think all of my good teachers could pretty much pull that plan out with thirty seconds, if that, of thought. Even in a masterclass, the typical teacher who sees an issue can lay out, rapid-fire, the pile of things that you need to do to fix some particular issue.

Can't you print the PDF files?

Edited: February 1, 2019, 2:27 AM · Could there be a bit of a disconnect between you and your teacher with respect to learning styles?

Would you say you're a 'what learner' who likes to see a plan, step-by-step process to follow?

(The theory:

Edited: February 1, 2019, 5:06 AM · When reading through the different types, the "how does it work?" learning style hit the buttons for me!

I find it hard to assess these kinds of things, but sense with most things that I need to feel out and absorb a lot of information before I feel like I can learn concrete things. I don't do so well with absorbing rules or principles before I have intuitively understood them - though I try really hard. For example, I started learning French this last semester. The rules for pronunciation went in one ear and out the other - I just could not seem to get my brain to be interested in remembering them. And the teacher kept trying to get me to "give it a go" and read aloud, which I politely declined because I had NO sense of what I should do to form the correct sounds. So, over a weekend, I listened to a bunch of videos that included words (in text form) that were pronounced correctly, et violà...I could do it intuitively, and then when I made a mistake and someone said "you do it this way because of this rule", the rule finally stuck. So, learning by doing wasn't the answer, reading rules wasn't the seemed to be just waiting until I could absorb it and my brain could organize it in its own way.

From the theory links...I sense that I prefer first to watch (for a long time) rather than do... (my parents tell me I hardly made any sounds until I was nearly 3, not a lot of babbling, and then suddenly spoke in full sentences). And feel. I think learning works best for me when I can make my own connections (for example, connecting a certain bowing motion with an emotion or abstract sense) after watching a great deal and finally trying it with intention. So I think diverging?

Reviewing experiences and reflecting also feels most similar to my instinctive style.

I don't know if Myers Briggs plays any role in figuring this out, but I had to do an assessment for school and was INFJ.

Sorry if that was uninteresting to most!

In short, I think maybe I am feeling lost because I want to make the very best use of my time, and I know generally that being very specific about goals, etc, is the best way to accomplish things, but I don't feel like I am seeing the whole picture yet of what all I need to do, so how can I create for myself a plan? I know the general timeframe, but I don't know what needs to fit in there exactly - there is the disconnect, I think. I just don't want to get to the end of the year and think "if I had been organized, I could have done so much more". Does that make sense?

I think the way my teacher teaches is really helpful for me - I ask him to show me bow technique, for example, several times so that I can try to grasp how he's doing it. I am just worried about the big picture -are we aware of what all I am missing and what all I need to learn? there is so much!! - I don't want to have regrets at the end of the year and think, "oh darn, I should have worked on these other things all this time..."

Edited: February 1, 2019, 6:34 AM · (It does really help if learning is systematic, developing the big picture is easier)

Edited: Oh, and yes, I could print the music! But I don't want to print the whole books out...that gets expensive at the copy shop. It's a small thing, really - I am grateful to have the PDF versions AND I find it a whole lot easier to use the material when it's in book form...

February 1, 2019, 6:37 AM · I liked the post where you said your teacher worked on your "Boeing technique." I'll bet your lesson really took off from there!
February 1, 2019, 6:41 AM · Haha, Paul, I saw that later and decided not to edit because it delighted me. I was hoping someone else would be amused!
February 1, 2019, 6:56 AM · Thank goodness Anita’s in Germany where the air traffic controllers are getting regular paychecks, presumably...
February 1, 2019, 8:38 AM · This is an interesting question, since everyone learns in different ways. And by the time we're adults, we have an idea of how we best absorb information. Plus, since we're adults, we're paying for our own lessons instead of our parents, so we're more apt to want to optimize our time to get the most value.

I am probably a horribly difficult student to teach. First of all, I'm an adult beginner, which in itself poses problems to most teachers - they either teach beginning youngsters, or adults who have already played. But in addition, I've gotten to professional level on another instrument in the past, so there's a lot of scaffolding already in place. My first teacher tried to teach me the same way he taught his young beginners, and it didn't work out well at all. Fortunately I've found a teacher who serves me much better, and enjoys the challenge of teaching an advanced beginner as much as I'm enjoying the lessons.

I try to spend an hour or so to warm up and run through things before I arrive. Then I approach each lesson with a primary problem to solve - something that I feel has been holding me back that week. Sometimes it's a specific thing, like "How do I finger this passage?"; other times it's something vague like "My bowing sucks - what am I doing wrong?". We may spend the entire lesson on the problem or we might solve it in 5 minutes, but anything that's holding me back is addressed first.

After that, I'll usually play an etude I've been practicing that week. I'm still at the stage where etudes tend to introduce new techniques, so we don't always go all the way through the etude; sometimes we just review that I'm working on the new technique correctly and keep at it for the next lesson. She leaves it up to me when it's time to move on. Often, when I'm finishing up an etude, I'll look ahead at the next etude a day or two before my lesson and identify the problem that it's attempting to address, so I can ask about it then.

While I'm always working on a piece, I usually save this for the end of the lesson. I'm advanced enough musically that it's not the rhythms or dynamics or phrasing on any of that sort of refinement that's an issue - it's more a matter of getting my shifts and bowing correct at this stage.

I think the tendency among all the responses you read here is that while you should trust your teacher to identify and solve any issues you might be having, it's up to you to being these issues to your lesson. After you have the teacher fix the issues you know you're having, then you can learn about the stuff you didn't know that you didn't know. At any level, it's better to tackle the (relatively) big problems first before delving into the esoterica.

February 1, 2019, 9:46 AM · Tension issues are so common for violinists that I wonder how many pupils your teacher has had, Anita.

But even if he doesn't have specific exercises for resolving tension, he could consider the problem from scratch -- i.e., how would he teach a beginner to play tension-free?

Jeewon, very interesting bit on the learning styles! My style is Convergent (doing/thinking). I figure I should read up on these.

February 1, 2019, 1:40 PM · I bring whatever my teacher asked me, unless I really want to work on something specific. Usually etude and piece. I haven't been practicing my Bach for months though....
February 1, 2019, 3:02 PM · For me the dynamics are probably a bit different!

I always go to a lesson with something prepared - repertoire, etude, or both. Then we can spend time on anything from a single phrase to a full movement. Sometimes I've identified a technical problem to look at, sometimes my teacher identifies something in my playing, and we discuss studies/exercises to work on it. We virtually never look at repertoire that I haven't prepared, and we have quite broad conversations about what to work on next. For instance, before Christmas, we had a lesson on the first movement of the Bruch concerto, and my teacher had lots of points about musical phrasing and expression, so suggested I look at a late-Romantic sonata that would be technically manageable but musically very detailed, then mentioned about a dozen (not, as it happens, including the Debussy sonata that I ended up working on, though it perfectly fitted what he had in mind)

February 1, 2019, 5:40 PM · It's interesting to hear all the different experiences out there.

Lydia, my teacher does teach quite a bit - all day every week day, I think mostly kids. Also leads a youth orchestra and performs in a quartet. He does help me with tension in my right hand...he mentioned his inability to help with the setup. Maybe my tension in bow arm is just so much more significant than in left hand? I don't know. The language barrier does make it more difficult for me to explain myself like I would in English. (Also, from the way that you write, it makes sense that you are a convergent style! How fun! and lucky seems in this way, we are direct opposites. I would love some of your strengths!)

Ahhhhhh, yes. Overthinking is my game. On my backpack there is the phrase (in creative English) "we cannot over difficult, but we can overcome". I feel like I over difficult just fine...

Timothy, that describes my anxiety perfectly. I am overwhelmed by all the potential ways forward and worried that I won't pick the right one. I want someone else to be making those decisions for me, deciding what I should do, pushing me I could trust and just do my best to learn in my quirky way. I am confident in my ability to work with all my heart, but not in my ability to work smart or organized or pedago-logically. (Just made up a word.)

February 2, 2019, 12:07 PM · "Overthinking is my game." You've got company. It's the game of probably 2/3 of adult violin students.
February 2, 2019, 2:31 PM · Anita, how many of your teacher's students are conservatory-bound teenagers, or undergraduate / graduate students headed for professional careers?

If the answer to that question is "None", find someone else.

February 2, 2019, 3:59 PM · I actually have no idea about his other students. I doubt he has any undergraduate or graduate students - he doesn't teach at the Musikhochschule (conservatory). I tried to take lessons there, but was told I had to be enrolled in order to do that.

I would feel so bad....and I really do think he can teach me a lot. Perhaps I just need to ask him to assign me things and to expect a lot out of me (especially once I figure out my back/neck/arm issues and can practice a bit more)...

February 2, 2019, 5:21 PM · One of the things that seems to have characterized your musical experiences to date is poor teaching.

You need to break that pattern by finding someone who is able to work on your technique with a structured, disciplined, prescriptive approach -- and who can teach that technique to you in a way that works for your learning style.

Importantly, that teacher needs to be able to build a pre-professional foundation for you. What works as "good enough" for casual amateurs (and kids taking lessons for "enrichment") is often not a good enough base for professional playing. That includes consistently holding a student to a higher standard.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the teacher needs to routinely teach at the college level, but it does mean that they are someone who should routinely prepare violinists for a professional future.

February 3, 2019, 7:27 AM · I agree with Lydia. The most important responsibility a student has is to choose a suitable teacher. "Poor teaching" is not something that happens accidentally; it is the result of a poor choice of teachers. Every teacher has something different to offer, and only a few teachers have the skill to prepare students for successful conservatory auditions.
February 3, 2019, 10:24 AM · I am really going to have to give this some thought. If I were to go to a new teacher, I would want to leave this teacher in a way that was mutual - that he also didn't feel like he could give me what I would ask of him.
Edited: February 3, 2019, 2:06 PM · Anita if I have been following correctly, your goal is to get to a level that could gain you admission to a conservatory. So the most concrete path would be to start from a representative set of typical pieces you must be able to play at auditions for conservatories in Europe. Fix such a set with your teacher and then the goal should be pretty clear to your teacher also: to be able to play these pieces on a high enough level. If he thinks you should first work on intermediate pieces before going to such pieces, he will also suggest them. Also when technical weaknesses show up, well, they will show up so again it will be clear that you need to work on them and he will hopefully suggest exercises. So just let things become concrete!
February 3, 2019, 4:37 PM · Anita is hoping to get into a master's program, I believe, so the bar is even higher than conservatory admission.

Anita, since you've only had half a dozen lessons with this teacher, your relationship is only just getting established. Please go take some trial lessons from other teachers. Get an understanding of what these other teachers can offer you, and choose the teacher that is most likely to help you achieve your goals.

I don't believe students owe their teachers any form of mutual agreement that the relationship isn't working. This is a commercial relationship. (Even if it wasn't, I surely support the right for someone to break up with someone they're dating if it's not mutual. Or end a friendship. Etc.)

Remember, this is your life, and your life's dream. You owe it to yourself to have the self-assertiveness needed to successfully pursue that goal. The wrong teacher is the end of those dreams, period. You've had a whole succession of wrong teachers, and it's the most vital thing to fix if you want to succeed in the future.

Almost everything you're saying about this teacher is setting off red flags in my head. Note that just because he is helpful in some ways does not mean that he's either optimally helpful, or will be helpful in a way that will allow you to achieve your goals.

February 3, 2019, 7:09 PM · Lydia, thanks for your words - I appreciate the thoughtful advice. I do recognize that I need very, very expert help if I am going to accomplish the amount of growth in a year that I would need to enter a master program.

While I find it pretty uncomfortable to be this kind of assertive - how do I tell someone I don't think they are "good enough?? - I do want the chance to do this enough that I am sure I would be able to muster the courage. First I will research teachers and talk with the one person I know that teaches at the music school here (I played under her baton for a gig a few months ago), to see if she might have advice or contacts for me.

How do I know if a teacher is good or a good fit for helping me achieve this goal?

February 3, 2019, 8:16 PM · You don't phrase it as, "You're not good enough." You phrase it as, "Thank you, but I've found another teacher that I feel is an excellent fit for my needs." Don't burn the bridge, but don't be apologetic, either. Teachers are professionals who are used to students looking for the right fit, and changing teachers when they need a different approach.

Things I'd advise you to look for:

Good fit for teaching/learning style. You want a teacher who conveys information in a way that you can benefit from. You should be able to rapidly grasp their explanations (or demonstrations, if you're more "show me" than "tell me"), and improve meaningfully when you do as they ask. They should be comfortable answering your questions, and you should feel comfortable being open and curious with them.

Goal-oriented and structured. You need someone who understands how your dreams translate to concrete goals, and can devise a path to work methodically towards those goals. They should look at your playing systemically, and be able to teach you all the building blocks in a systematic fashion, including doing a technical rehab in an efficient way. They might also need to be able to teach you to practice effectively.

Experienced. Ideally, the teacher should be someone who has helped students achieve similar goals -- preferably on a routine basis. This almost certainly needs to be someone who normally teaches students on a pre-professional journey.

Exacting. Professional playing requires a level of precision that hobbyists don't need. This requires you to be very self-critical in a non-destructive way, and for the teacher to have high standards and hold you to them. Because you may have a catastrophizing mindset -- i.e. I think you might have the tendency to turn "I did not do this right" into "I will never get this right and lack the talent to do better" -- I don't know if a relentlessly exacting teacher is something you can handle, or if you are really going to need someone who is pretty gentle. I think you may want someone who is patient, but it might not hurt you to have someone who is blunt but isn't deliberately unkind.

February 3, 2019, 11:16 PM · Agree with everything Lydia says.

We can't truly know whether your teacher is good for you right now, but I'm feeling the same red flags. I think you said you were attracted to his very relaxed playing or that he played with ease? Has he been able to show you, or instill in you some of that relaxation? How long have you been working on your bow arm? For several lessons? Has your bowing changed dramatically over the last few weeks?

In my experience, a good teacher can change something fundamental in you almost instantaneously. Now it may not stick right away, depending on the kinesthetic ability of the student, if it's a physical thing, or musical ability, if it's a phrasing thing. But by the end of a lesson, there should be noticeable change in the thing you worked on, and depending on some of the other skills Lydia mentioned, you should then be able to take that home and work on it and show significant progress by next lesson. If you need significant rehab it's counterproductive to work on any repertoire, precisely because you want changes to stick before you work on the next thing. In rep there are just too many simultaneous things happening that you can't possibly focus on e.g. releasing your thumb or shoulder, working on finger action, or tweaking your bowing for long enough (perhaps he's focusing on your bowing right now, at the exclusion of your setup and left hand issues, which given your pain, seems a little backwards.)

E.g. my teacher was highly technical and showed you how to move to get a certain sound. He was very tactile (benign, but maybe too touchy for our current climate) in that he would flop his heavy arm onto your shoulder to get you to feel the dead weight of an arm and get you to do the same to him, or he would brush your arm with his hand to show you the difference between a slow bow and a fast bow, and sing in his gruff voice to get you to hear what such motions should effect in your sound, etc.: very demonstrative! My first lesson, he tweaked my right wrist, showing me how to keep my hand over the fingers and over the stick, how to place the weight of my arm onto my fingertips and onto the stick, and completely changed my tone within a few minutes. He was equally capable of showing you, by singing, grunting, gesturing, how to phrase or colour or articulate and interpret. I'm pretty certain he would've been as effective had we not been able to communicate verbally (well I know, because he did teach quite a few students without strong English, including one student from Kazakhstan with almost none.)

E.g. another teacher I had for a few weeks at a summer camp taught absolutely no technique, and yet all of his students had the most gorgeous, singing tone, and impeccable phrasing, much like his own playing (though it was a bit painful to watch him play because he himself looked so stiff.) You'd start playing and he'd be all over it, blurting "slower bow, bridge, don't lose the sound, flat hair, don't scrape the stick, more sound, cleaner, save, spend, more bow, clean, clean, clean..." etc., etc. He'd make you hear everything you were actually doing as you did it, and by the end of the lesson you'd be transformed.

Neither of those great teachers, who produced hundreds of working musicians across Canada, were very good with setup for those with atypical issues. But even if they may not have been able to develop the best setup for everyone, they were able to produce functional setup. From what I've seen, there aren't many teachers able to do this well, and those who need extra attention tend to fall by the wayside (I won't get into those teachers, including high profile teachers who whip shoulder rests across rooms, who dogmatically impose their own setup solution onto every student, and let's not even mention such dogmatic members on who incessantly repeat inane jokes and blanket statements without further consideration.)

I don't want to complicate things for you, especially when you have a good financial arrangement with your current teacher, but it's one of those tough decisions that should be made for the long term. If you truly feel your AT teacher can fix your setup and tension issues and your current teacher can transform your playing in short order, then it may be worth trying out for a while longer. But there's no harm in looking around as Lydia suggests.

To give you an idea of time frame, you should be able to fundamentally change your technique and have a workable solution for setup within 2 to 3 months if you are focused and work hard with a knowledgeable teacher.

February 3, 2019, 11:32 PM · What Jeewon says is definitely true.

When I have walked out of brief masterclass or workshop experiences in my life, those teachers have almost always been able to say at least one thing that seriously impacted some aspect of my playing, immediately.

And when I have worked with a new teacher (including my current teacher), the results have generally been immediately apparent. Within the six lessons you've had, you should have already achieved at least one major insightful correction -- perhaps several. (You'll note that Jeewon, Mary Ellen and I all immediately saw things in your video -- and I don't even teach.)

February 4, 2019, 6:46 AM · I really appreciate that both of you would take the time to give me these thoughts.

In short, I can't imagine, at our current pace and method of working, that I would see fundamental changes in 2-3 months. I don't THINK I have experienced profound changes in any one thing in one lesson. (I don't know how to be entirely sure that this isn't my "fault"?)

I reached out to the AT teacher (a professional pianist), and used your points, Lydia, to describe the kind of teacher i would be looking for - she said she gave AT lessons to someone in the Düsseldorf Symphony, and can ask her if she is taking new students. I am also attempting to contact the conductor I sort-of know (her partner teaches in my department at the university and I have worked for her) who teaches at the conservatory here. I also found the emails of all the professors at the conservatory - I haven't yet emailed them, though. Is it the kind of thing where I could send emails to all of them describing what I want/think I need, and see who gets back to me and then take probatory lessons with each and then decide? At the back of my mind, as well, is the worry that...well, what if they don't think I am good enough to invest in?

February 4, 2019, 1:01 PM · How important is who the potential teacher was taught by?
February 5, 2019, 11:23 AM · Nothing about you suggests that you don't listen or you can't learn. If a teacher isn't able to make major improvements in what you are doing, they are the wrong teacher for you, even if they are great with other students.

Typically, when you approach a bunch of teachers, you write a brief message such as, "I am a violinist with a bachelor's degree in violin performance, and I am interested in applying to an MM program. I would like to engage in intensive study in order to prepare for the audition. Do you currently have openings for a private student? If not, is there a colleague that you would recommend?"

If they say yes, great, schedule a trial lesson. Save the details of your background for when they ask (and when asked, start with, "I was a late beginner and never received good teaching. I'm willing to work hard at whatever you ask me to do, though.")

You have to get past your self-doubts.

The pedigree of a teacher is less important than the results that they produce. Great teachers have often been taught by great teachers, but that's not universally the case.

February 5, 2019, 4:14 PM · Lydia, how did you know that I am a catastrophizer?? I thought that was a well-kept secret. :)

Thanks for your response.

I'm working on mindset. (Actually got and read the book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck...found it really helpful.) I think mindset is one of my biggest challenges, and I'm looking forward to learning how to shift out of negative thoughts more readily.

I have read up on all the teachers at the music school here, and found some of their material on youtube. One talked a lot about talent and how you either have it or you don't, and that made me a little queasy. Another gave an interview with an old student for adults who were learning the violin for the first time, and mentioned that the reason he became a professional violinist was in part because he wanted to help other people figure out the things he figured out. He talked about struggling with things and learning them...this kind of a person seems like he might be a better fit for me (of course, I can't tell that without a lesson!)

Incidentally, I believe he is the professor that my current teacher knows, who he had mentioned he could possibly arrange a lesson for me with.

I meet the conductor I played for who teaches at the conservatory on Thursday morning - I will ask her what her recommendations might be.

Still don't know what I will say to my teacher, but I will wait until I have a clearer picture. Many things in the air. I will keep you all posted.

February 6, 2019, 1:12 AM · I haven't had lessons for along time. But if I took some I would want to get as much as possible out of my teacher. I would therefor primarily ask for the teacher's guidance as regards both technique and repertoire.

If the teacher cares about the music she will be able to give deeper insight than on some piece I chose but she has not much familiarity with. This has the added advantage that I will get my musical horizon enlarged rather than just staying within my comfort zone.

If I get taught aspects of technique that the teacher finds important (and is very likely good at teaching) my progress will be greater than if I try to get taught what I choose.

Besides one thing is certain: My teacher will be a better teacher than I am and therefor should make (most of) the decisions.

Obviously that would not keep me from occasionally asking for something I like or need (for example for an upcoming chamber music work shop).

Edited: February 6, 2019, 1:07 PM · Here's something too: Sometimes I feel I'm not getting a lot out of my teacher. But then, I have to ask, how much am I putting in? Last lesson I played Elgar Salut d'Amour, which frankly is kind of an easy piece even though obviously I do not play it perfectly. I didn't really receive very many comments. But since I know my teacher quite well, I understood what he was (tacitly) saying: "You don't need my help with this." I know because he has used those words in the past. He means that I've already got the tools I need to fix the problems and I should just be applying those, which is true -- in the case of the Elgar I was thinking about using it for the "three hour challenge" so I had to stop working on it before it was well polished. If I press with specific questions, then of course he always has solid answers. When my lesson turned to a concerto cadenza, then there were many specific recommendations.
February 7, 2019, 6:58 PM · Had a really wonderful meeting with this conductor and professor of music psychology (I didn’t know that before today!)

She diagnosed, as I spoke, the three things she believes I need: Alexander technique lessons (check! ??), mindset remapping (the falseness of the concept of talent, the neuroplasticity of the brain, the possibility for growth, letting go of black and white thinking - a lot of what has been mentioned here on my various threads!)...she gave me a list of book recommendations, which I can share, if there is interest), and...she had a no-hesitation recommendation for one of the teachers at the conservatory. She said this teacher is warm, kind, really good with technique, plays with a relaxed body, and that her students all sound phenomenal. (She said she also thinks we would click on a personal level, too.)

I sent an email, per her recommendation, and mentioned that the suggestion came from her. If I don’t hear from her, she said she would talk to her about me.

So...cross your fingers for me! I really hope this might be possible!

February 7, 2019, 7:45 PM · Sounds fantastic! Best of luck! The book list would indeed be very interesting.
Edited: February 8, 2019, 10:16 AM · She recommended:

Blakeslee, Sandra, and Matthew Blakeslee. The body has a mind of its own: How body maps in your brain help you do (almost) everything better. Random House Incorporated, 2007.

Dweck, Carol. Mindset-updated edition: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Hachette UK, 2017.

Gallwey, W. Timothy, and Barry Green. The inner game of music. Pan Macmillan, 2015.

Syed, Matthew. Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes--But Some Do. Penguin, 2015.

Syed, Matthew. "Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power ofPractice." (2011).

Not sure if all the reference details are correct, hastily copied from google scholar and don’t know how to italicize in this box! But that’s the jist of it.

February 8, 2019, 12:55 PM · ....and the teacher responded. I call tomorrow morning to set up a meeting with her.

So obviously I’m simultaneously very happy and freaking out. I know it doesn’t help to think very negative things, so I’m doing my best to turn down the critic and remember that I’m not secretly cursed to not be able to play or something like that...

February 8, 2019, 1:10 PM · Good luck Anita! You are very focused and now have a good plan for what you want/what you are looking for in a teacher, so I think it will be very fruitful and go well! It is inspiring following your journey and progress in figuring this out in such a short time with such great help from here!
February 8, 2019, 2:08 PM · You might also want to warn your new teacher, Anita, that you're prone to these kinds of negative thoughts.

Remember that the core of learning is being open to being taught. I think you're very open, and you should do very well under the right teacher.

February 8, 2019, 3:02 PM · Hey that's great Anita! Things are falling into place :)

As for your current teacher (I think Lydia may have addressed this) you've already been given a legitimate reason for finding someone else: he admitted he doesn't know how to teach setup and resolve your left-side tension issues. And I'm sure he knows that finding a solution is a priority for you. You could even leave it very open, say you'd love to play for him again after you're more comfortable playing.

Re. freaking out and negativity: just notice and acknowledge when it happens, observe without judgment (friendly eyes!) It can get scary (I know!) the more you jump over little hurdles and get closer to achieving your goal, because you have less and less excuses for your own success or failure.

But the only way to crash through those feelings of inadequacy or shame is to become open, like Lydia said, to embrace your vulnerability, which is the highest form of courage. Good luck and "dare greatly!"

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

Listening to shame | Brené Brown

February 9, 2019, 8:53 AM · Thank you, Karen! :)

Yes, I will, Lydia...good idea.

Jeewon, yes, they are! :) I listened to "the power of vulnerability" about 5 years ago, I think? I found it profoundly inspiring. It's time for another listen!

I will wait until after my "trial lesson" with this new teacher (Thursday) to talk to my old...but yes...that's good advice. THURSDAY! :D

What kinds of things do others play for trial lessons!? How "prepared" should what you choose be?

(I am thinking about doing Mozart 4, even though I just picked it back up it better to do part of the d minor partita, though? I think I could polish either the first or second movement by Thursday...Mozart wouldn't be polished, but it probably shows more of a range, no?)

My back/shoulder blade area is still pretty painful, and I'm a bit frustrated that I can't play for more than 10-20 minutes without having to stop - worried that I won't be able to prepare as much as I would want to for the lesson. At the same time, I am trying to envision myself playing with open, tension-free shoulders, without panic, trying to express as much as I can, trying to remain grounded...

Edited: February 9, 2019, 9:43 AM · I wouldn't worry about "polishing" anything before your lesson. Since you're in pain, and you want to benefit as much as possible from your lesson, why don't you REST and hire a massage or two before Thursday? Spend your practice time stretching and taking hot baths. Seriously! We hire teachers so that they can help us. Not so that we can impress a captive audience-of-one. We all tend to fall into that trap though. Tell your new teacher, "I haven't practiced in a few days. I have tension issues. My old teacher wasn't able to help me solve them. That's why I'm here." Then open with your D Minor Allemande -- nice and comfy.
February 9, 2019, 10:31 AM · For my recent teacher, I played what I had "completed" to date with my other teacher as it was planned for a recital in a few months - it still needed some help, and during this first lesson the teacher got right to the heart of the issue. I also brought my etude books and other repertoire that was on the recital program - we did a bit with the other repertoire which was very informative.

Anita - we must be cut from the same cloth, I struggle greatly with similar issues! I'm reading Rising Strong from Brown at the moment, and books written by "high performers" in other fields ("adventure" sports in particular). What athletes have to say about "daring greatly" and taking risks is so helpful. What's more helpful, for someone like me, is the "recovery" from mistakes and the focus on what is working and how to integrate the mistakes into teachable/learning moments vs life/death ones.

Jeewon - I think this is probably why a lot of adults struggle as learners (returners, starters, etc.) as we've closed ourselves off to that vulnerability-courage due to those no-longer-helpful responses to previous life experiences (much like how the body maintains it's no-longer-useful patterns post-injury, etc.). Meditation helps a lot, but it is not everything as you have to put the meditation practice into everyday practice.

February 9, 2019, 1:35 PM · Ah, yes...thankfully I have PT (which is, in part, massage, and he’s really good!) on Tuesday...hoping he can help relieve the blockage. A long walk and yes! a bath today also helped.

Pamela, indeed! I too often get discouraged from the mistakes/failures instead of recovering from them or learning from them. Something I’m trying to change. Have you read “mindset” by Dweck? In my estimation, that’s what the book was all about...and compelling!

I listened to The Power of Vulnerability on my walk. Favorite quotes: “It’s a long walk from ‘what will people think’ to ‘I am enough’” and “if courage is a value that we hold as important, vulnerability is the only way in and through“.

As much as I practice this week, I want to also practice planning to give my all when I play - everything I think and feel in the music, to the best of my ability, no matter how vulnerable that feels! (How vulnerable? Extremely.)

I think I really want to try the mozaaaaart....

February 9, 2019, 2:38 PM · If you have rotator-cuff issues, which it sounds like you might have, NSAIDs, hot showers (water as hot as you can stand against your shoulder), and PT-recommended stretching exercises will help a lot.

For trial lessons, you simply show up. You can bring what you're currently working on, but more than anything else, a trial lesson is kind of like a first date or maybe a first doctor's appointment -- it's an assessment without preparation, to see how you fit and what needs to be done.

February 10, 2019, 1:03 PM · May I post a video here of the beginning part of Mozart?

There are parts that I obviously know catch me up or that I messed up on in this recording...and besides slow practice, I am not sure what to do to work on it.

Sometimes I also don't know, for example, if it's a left hand fingers issues or a bow issue...

It's also under tempo and of course nowhere near perfect...

February 10, 2019, 1:55 PM · Yes, please post!
February 10, 2019, 2:13 PM · Ok! thank you!

a quick note: the part near the end of what I play here that is a series of pairs of sixteenth notes on the offbeats...I can't get them to be rhythmically accurate...I slow down. I am trying to subdivide and think of them as the last two notes in groups of four, but...I can still feel that I am sluggish when I play them. Any idea for how to get them to be more accurate?

This is a bit vulnerable, for sure...

Edited: February 10, 2019, 11:14 PM · There are lots of great things to build on there Anita. I can tell your technique and movement are holding you back a bit, but nothing you shouldn't be able to resolve over the next few months.

I don't know if I can cover everything I have to say by your lesson but we'll see...

The first thing I would do is keep working on intonation.

m42 the first E. You need to practice this like you were learning first position for the first time. Play it as a harmonic. But practice it 'blind,' i.e. start each time with your arm dropped at your side (if this hurts your neck, extend your arm and grab the scroll, and/or hold the right lower bout with thumb and forefinger of your bow arm while you place the finger) then place and play. Do not adjust after you play, no matter how much it bothers you ;) If it's wrong, think of how you will adjust it for the next time. Each time, practice hearing pitch, feeling the position/contact points of the thumb, palm and fingers, feeling finger pattern (1st finger-wholetone-2nd finger, i.e. feel 6th position,) placing finger, and play. Try to get it 5 to 10 times in a row correctly. If it's wrong, start from 0. Do this for a few minutes at a time, several times throughout the day.

m43 play octave lower to really hear the pitch; play against open A string in double stops; play D-E-F#-G-A and back to hear the scale pattern, paying attention to where F# is and measure the extension to A. But... use Pythagorean tuning, i.e. make sure the E and F# are slightly sharp to your open A string. Keep checking with open A, since your D and A should be in tune with it.

m45 shift D-A, 1-1; always practice classical shifts to tune from first principles; make sure D-A are in tune with open A string; play scale up to D to find it; tune D-C# to open A; C# should float a little high against open A

m46 make sure D and A are in tune with open A; B should be in tune with open E (tune f2/E on A-string to open E; tune B on E-string with E, perfect 5th; always look for perfect 5ths (and 4ths) to tune; even if they aren't a part of the written music, add 4ths and 5ths across strings to tune them)

m47 make sure the C# trill floats high; tune B to open E and make A# close to B, not the other way around;

m48 tune every note as above; time the shift from A to G with the new bow, i.e. don't move the bow until you have the G; also don't emphasize the G with either length of bow or finger pressure as it's on a weak beat; use more length on beat one, B

m49/50 again, don't emphasize the high D, but rather start softer, increase bow distribution and go for the F# in the next measure, resolving on the G;

m50/51 similar to previous measure, start with less bow and increase bow distribution to the C#-D, but this is a deceptive cadence so it should be softer the previous figure

m51 make sure the octave B's are in tune (B on E-string is flat,) and tuned to open E string

m52/53 tune
-tune B on A-str to open E; find octave B-B; play double stops: hold B on A-str, play on E-str BAGF#GAB
-practice the shift with classical shift; tune A and D to open A; get the semitone C#-D closer; in 3rd position, tune D on A-str to open D; tune perfect 5th D-A; play double stops: hold D on A-string; play on E-str ABC#DC#BA (N.B. your second finger presses too hard most of the time; descending from high D, keep pressure light; focus on lifting the higher finger--not too high, just snappy--rather than pressing the lower finger; focus on your thumb as you lift 4 and 3, make sure it's not pressing; keep 4 hovering over it's place as you play B with 2
-shift to C# and E are good, but find the best position for your palm; for both 5th and 7th positions, the palm could be a bit higher on the bout; feel the difference between patterns in 5th and 7th positions by play both patterns in each position: in 5th, play C#DEF# and back down, then C#D#EF# and back; in 7th, play EFGA and back, then EF#GA and back; make sure you shift the pattern in your head as you shift into 7th position; make semitones closer, pushing up into the higher note

m53/54 make sure your As and F#s stay in tune as you go back and forth; tune to open A string, floating the F#s high

For added stability in higher positions, it helps to lean the lower fingers (f1 and f2) against the lower string, in this case the A, as you play on the higher string, E; so you're almost playing on the fingerboard in between strings touching the left side of the string; this will help you rotate over the strings more to help the weaker fingers, f3 and f4; but also, it helps with down-shifts

When you shift F# to D, you're currently releasing the fingers from the string which means you're shifting blindly; as always, practice the classical shift first so you know where the guide finger goes (in this case F#-B/2-2); ideally it's useful to be doing a pivot shift here, but that will take some extra training; using the above strategy, if you keep your lower fingers, their nails actually, sliding on the right edge of the A-string, you can shift down while sliding on the A-string with the nail of the first finger, and a very slight touch on the left edge of the E-string, and as with all classical shifts, release all pressure on the guide finger and glide along the surface of the string; make sure D and A are in tune with open A, and D is in tune with open D; float F# and E high against the open D

For all trills, release pressure on the lower finger; use almost harmonic pressure on the lower finger and the trilling action will be enough to make it sound

Tune the whole section with this kind of analysis and attention, then solidify using Saussmannhaus' method, Intonation: Practicing at 40: Part 1 and Part 2

February 10, 2019, 11:14 PM · My first recommendation would be to practice without using any vibrato at all. You want the hand to feel loose and balanced, and you also don't want to distort the pitch / mask intonation errors with vibrato. Adding the vibrato once the left hand is solidly learned is easy. Also, the exercise of no vibrato forces you to maximize expressiveness with the bow.

I also wonder if you're moving so much that you're not providing a stable platform for your bow -- and if trying to keep the violin held through big body movements is contributing to tension. It's good to keep your knees loose, but see if you can avoid bigger motion in practice.

An exercise for stability: Play near a wall. Put your scroll against the wall, lightly -- just enough that you can keep the violin in place with zero effort, and you're not worried about the violin falling, and everything feels comfortable. Stay in that position to practice for a bit.

I echo something Jeewon said -- make sure that that D and A are consistently in tune against the open strings, across the entire work. And in general, within a passage, a given note needs to be placed identically the whole way through.

February 11, 2019, 1:54 AM · This thread has moved on a lot since the original question, but I would offer one simple suggestion: keep a practice/lesson diary. Even the most obtuse player (that's me) will start to notice when writing for the tenth time "equalise up bows!" or "keep bow straight on the E string!". So part of lesson preparation should be trying to show progress on those persistent bad habits.
February 11, 2019, 6:54 AM · I just want to say that I teared up a bit when I saw how many specific things you addressed, Jeewon, THANK YOU. I am excited to get to work, after I do all my AT exercises and stretches and so forth. Again, I am overwhelmed by the time you spent just to help me!

Omg, this Pythagorean tuning is blowing my mind a little. I was also confused/frustrated by the aural feedback from double stops and intonation...I'm going to have to watch that again and think through it deeply, but glad to know that there is a framework by which to do that.

Lydia, does intonation consistency ever get easier? I wonder if my problem is hearing, hand frame, tension...or something else? I will practice slowly and without vibrato... :)

I don't even think about my movement, really, but I should. My AT teacher said that I tend to lock my hips and loose connection with the ground, especially in higher passages (aka, when I feel insecure, I think). I will try playing with a still violin against the wall and see what I observe.

Yes, Mungo, sorry, I managed to make it a lot about myself. :( I notice that keeping a practice/lesson diary helps, and still I struggle to do it consistently. But worth building the habit, I believe.

February 11, 2019, 7:37 AM · I don't know if intonation consistency gets easier, but over time the delta by which you miss a note will narrow.

The first aspect is the aural one. I don't think you have a problem with your ear -- I think you can hear when it's out of tune and in which direction you should correct. This can be an attention thing as well -- if you are juggling a lot cognitively, there's not leftover brainpower to pay attention to details of intonation.

The second aspect is a physical one. Your fingers need to land where they're aimed. That means consistent trajectories, which is a function of physical relationship to the violin, as well as fine motor control. One of my teachers made me do Schradieck for this -- velocity and precision, so that every finger goes where intended and the habit is built of striking the exact same spots. This requires time to establish and maintain.

The third aspect is the way you shift. This is at least in part a problem with the way you physically execute shifts, especially when you abandon the use of a guide note.

Edited: February 11, 2019, 8:56 AM · You're welcome! :)

Another way to think of Pythagorean tuning is to tune up to the dominant for lower tetrachord (and supertonic for upper tetrachord) rather than down to the tonic (and dominant.) Sevcik covers this approach in his Op. 11. For open string keys, tune to the upper strings (for D Maj, tune to A string=dominant and E string=supertonic.)

The second thing you might add, just for self preservation before the lesson, is to practice intentional release, by which I mean, for everything you work on reserve 1 min to repeat what you just did with a list of things you want to release:

E.g. finding first E-D of Mozart
1. Chin off
2. Swivel head, like an oscillating fan, to the right, to the left
3. Swing left thumb along neck
4. Do a half squat to feel hip hinge

If you're afraid of dropping fiddles and bows, practice over a mattress. Notice where things become unstable, but resist the urge to stabilize by clamping down. This is an exercise in getting to know release, not perfecting the thing you're using to practice with.

This kind of selective noticing is also great training for your attention, which you can also practice by doing mobilizations, or selective relaxation.

At the very beginning of the video notice your sternocleidomastoid is much more prominent after you place your head. It normally sticks out a bit when you turn your head to face away from the one that sticks out. It also bends your neck forward. When you turn your head into playing position it looks fairly released but contracts strongly when you start to play. Which makes me wonder if there's excess downward clamping into the chinrest. Add it to your 1 minute list; maybe just after 1. Chin off and 2. Swivel head. 3. Place head, but focus on keeping the sternocleidomastoid more relaxed (the image of you before you start playing in the video) and do it on everything you practice.

February 11, 2019, 9:43 AM · Wow! What great advice - and I haven't even watched your latest video yet!
I have the Dweck Mindset book requested with my library, hopefully will get it soon.
That said, I found that performing at my recent recital to be super valuable in not getting bogged down in the mistakes/"failures" and instead celebrating what was right, not taking the mistakes personally, moving on from them, and later learning from them. I have previews from the audio that was taken (professionally!) for the recital, and it’s nowhere near perfect, or even great, but it isn’t terrible either. All in all, I was/am proud of what I was able to do in my couple of returnee years – warts and all. Let’s hope it will be even better at the next recital (and less shakey). It showed me also that I can be vulnerable, and petrified, and “survive” the experience. The next step is to thrive while vulnerable (or at the very least remove the petrification aspect of being vulnerable).
Re: changing mindsets - I've found plastering positive notes around my home to be super helpful (definitely helped with the recital jitters), my favorite one was "I am enough" and "I am capable". Seems trite, and it is not scientific, but hey, whatever works.
Crossing-threads here, but I’ve found this shoulder/chinrest/Alexander Technique/Body Mapping work is bringing up a lot in vulnerability and how we overcompensate for perceived “threats” to us, and how our mindset is no different than how our bodies are held. Should be an interesting next few months noticing the crossovers and links between the perceived body/mind divide. My AT teacher said that I should keep a diary of my experiences and thoughts since beginning this work, did yours as well?
Going to watch your video, and the intonation ones as well now…
February 11, 2019, 12:58 PM · ok, I'm pausing in the midst of practice to just quickly's so wonderful that the intonation of the notes shift to pull towards the tonic! It's like they are saying, in this case, "D, we want you to shine, so we are going to lean a little toward you to support it will be clear that it's about you".

I know, I know, that's super cheesy...but I like imagining the different scale degrees as having different personality characteristics...

February 11, 2019, 1:44 PM · Anita, yes. The diatonic scales have their own intrinsic musicality.
February 11, 2019, 2:41 PM · Pamela, my absolute favorite quote from Mindset: "a person's true potential is unknown (and unknowable); [...] it's impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training." It makes me excited every time I read it.

And it's no small thing that you are able to celebrate what was right in your performance without getting slogged down by what was wrong! Brava. If you are like me, it's so much easier to see the "bad" stuff and ignore the good, and also to be afraid of being bad and therefore never really learn from it. (...just wait for Mindset! :), she didn't suggest a diary. What kinds of things do you record? You might also really like to read "The Body has a Mind of its Own". I haven't yet...hoping to find it in the library when I visit home...but I read an excerpt on amazon, and it sounds like it's all about the body/mind connection.

Oh man. This is a big part of it for me - the perceived necessity to protect myself when others hear me. I am SURE it is translating into the technical stuff, as well. I suspect that addressing tension will be one part relearning technique and one part learning how to think differently.

My roomie has a headache, so I had to stop practicing earlier than I had planned, and didn't get through all the slow practice. :( I took this entirely for my own benefit, so I could hear in the recording what I didn't necessarily hear under my ear, but I will post it too. If I am doing something crazy, please feel free to say! :)

It is SO HARD to not vibrate! It is also SO HARD to not correct the wrong pitch when practicing the opening! :)

February 12, 2019, 9:23 AM · I have heard great things about violinlab and I have seen a few of the sample videos. The only issue with violin lab is the subscription fee. When you compare that to the cost of weekly lessons, it's not much. But the other side of that coin is that when you're already paying for weekly lessons (for two children) plus occasional lessons for yourself, then you start to pinch pennies a little harder elsewhere in your budget.
February 12, 2019, 9:34 AM · I wonder if the vibrato is actually part of the manifestation of tension. You can get a little bit of an automatic vibrato when the hand is really relaxed and balanced, but I don't think that what you're getting is that.

On the opening, try a visualization. Pause between each note of the triad, close your eyes, and imagine the kinesthetic feel of placing the next note. Then actually place the note that way. Check the pitch.

You will get to the point when you know that something is about to be wrong. I just closed my eyes to imagine placing that triad and could immediately feel that I would have placed the top A sharp!

February 12, 2019, 10:56 AM · "It is SO HARD to not vibrate! It is also SO HARD to not correct the wrong pitch when practicing the opening! :)"

Yep. :)
But now you (and we) can notice what's goin' on.

My go-to description of what's happening is that your left hand/arm is disorganized.

What I see is that your wrist keeps moving as you place and lift fingers. You reach from your wrist when placing fingers. When using lower fingers your wrist tends to cave in and/or you're throwing your hand back away from you. When using higher fingers your wrist tends to stick out and/or you're throwing your hand forward toward your face. Those are pivot motions, which help with fast shifting, but you must not pivot within a single position. By pivoting the wrist with finger placement you're changing the 1-4 frame as you lift and place fingers, that is, you're constantly changing all the spacing between fingers which is kind of like trying to hit a target with arms flailing.

You need to develop a stable wrist configuration, train your frame on that stable wrist, which shrinks and expands along the fingerboard, then train lift/drop (which is pinging nicely by the way) and finger curling/extending for patterns. These need to be mapped out independently in your brain for you to be able to control them. Then and only then should you start to retrain your vibrato.

You have to do this kind of rebuilding with very specific and isolated exercises so you can focus solely on specific actions. Can't really do it on rep.

But keep doing the slow practice. It will still help.

February 12, 2019, 11:25 AM · And will a good teacher help me know all of these things and help me develop a way to practice it all so that it will gradually get better?? If not, then I don't know how to manage it!

My first lesson on shifts was when I started the Bach double, almost 2 years into playing...I had listened to it so much that I just wildly shot my hand up and somehow hit the right note...and my teacher (the high school student) said "oh, you're doing it! that's how you shift!" I have felt nervous about every. single. shift. since.

Will this all get better?

(this is a moment of angst. FYI)

Edited: February 12, 2019, 7:19 PM · Yes, of course it will get better! Compare your last two videos for pitch (with the previous video slowed to 50%): within one session you're already starting to adjust your pitch, and play with greater consistency!

Another teacher might not frame things the way I do or use the same materials, but yes, if they know how to build technique you will be able to fix all of these little details with lots of hard work and time. Be patient with yourself(!)

And you can always come back here for additional materials if you feel you need them:)

I can't really be sure of what's happening through video, but I suspect your 3rd and 4th finger placement is a little weak, and so you compensate from the wrist. With some isolation work and trill exercises you should be able to solve that quickly.

There's a series by Pavel Bytovetzski, Progressive Graded Technics for the Violin, of which only volume two, "Double Stopping", seems to remain in print. The first volume, "Development of Finger Strength and Independence in All Positions", is very useful for just this situation. (If you want a copy shoot me an email.)

Basically it has you dropping and lifting all the fingers across all 4 strings. Ex. 1 goes GAGA x4 in sixteenths, ABAB, etc. all the way up to ABAB on the E-string and back down, BABA AGAG, in G maj (but you can use whatever key is useful.)

The instructions read:
"The fingers must fall on strings with force and elasticity, from a sufficient height. The ticking of the fingers on the strings should be distinctly heard. Fingers to remain on strings as much as possible. The hand remains perfectly quiet."

My old teacher had us place the fingers you're not using on the adjacent string. So for:

GAGA/0101, hold other fingers on F#GA/234 on the D-string
ABAB/1212, others on GA/34 on the D-string, etc

The very first exercise we did was to raise the active finger quite high from its baseknuckle, but remaining in its natural curl, and lower it slowly and smoothly over 4 counts, landing on the next count of 1, where we'd have to lift it explosively as fast and hard as we could, and slowly lower it again over the 4 counts. (Apparently, for an older generation, he used to hold a little card at the back of the hand and wanted you to try and flick it.) The finger is to land gently and with only harmonic pressure. This trains the lifting muscles.

Then we'd go through various short long, long short rhythms, triplets, fast groups with pauses (GAGA G, rest, etc.) the usual stuff to create evenness and speed. After you'd built good form, sufficient strength and agility, he'd have you play Nos. 1-25 without stopping to build stamina. These make great silent exercises as well, where you can really lift fingers to feel the 4 beats in each measure.

P.S. to practice releasing the thumb, stop playing every 4 notes to swing it back and forth along the neck, or curl and uncurl; later check every measure, then every line, then whenever you remember to check. Later, play regularly, but focus on the thumb, letting it respond naturally to finger motion.

February 12, 2019, 5:34 PM ·
Edited: February 13, 2019, 8:12 AM · Some light reading for winter break or summer...

How To Master The Violin: A Practical Guide for Students and Teachers

download link

February 13, 2019, 7:12 AM · Ok. Yes. Time and hard work. And a good teacher.

Some questions!

When I rest my fingers on the higher string while playing with the first or second on the lower feels difficult/awkward to use pressure greater than a harmonic that normal? Should the sound be good and clear?

Jeez, 1-25 without pause? Stamina indeed! do I send you an email? :)

(I know everyone’s fourth finger is weak, but my third is quite wobbly as well. It’s a lot stronger now, but it still easily collapses at the first knuckle (double jointed - I can make a good natural curve with that finger...only backward). Perhaps I am compensating for these two fingers’ weaknesses with my wrist.)

February 13, 2019, 8:38 AM · The contact button on my profile should give you my email.

Keeping fingers down on the other string should feel a bit awkward, but if you can't make the active fingers sound it might mean there is too much pressure from the thumb (any squeezing in the ball of the thumb?). Pretend the neck is fragile crystal, or an egg, or... what do people use? So the sound might not be great, especially as you shuffle fingers back to the other string, etc. But it should be clear.

To clarify, once you have stability in your alignment and good finger action, you remove the restraints so to speak, take the fingers off the other string. Then as Bytovetzski suggests, leave fingers on as much as possible (like you'd do in other finger preservation exercises, e.g. Dont op. 37), then for speed and stamina remove all restraints.

At first I would do very short bouts of this kind of work at a time, until all excess tension is gone and you have good mobility. Only then would you pour on all the rhythmic exercises, speed and stamina.

It's good to start this kind of work without the bow, without thinking about the sound and pitch, so that you can focus exclusively on finger action, releasing tension, finding balance, alignment and stability.

All of my fingers are collapsible. (Apparently, if you follow her on Instagram, HH has been having some issues with her vibrato lately, and found her 3rd finger has been collapsing at its tip joint--good company:) The only way to control that is by controlling pressure and re-balancing the muscles used to flex the fingers. This is why it's useful to differentiate the action at the base knuckles (intrinsic muscles of the hand: lumbricals) from the curling action of the fingers (extrinsic muscles of the hand: flexors.)

Start with Mimi Zweig's elevator exercise:

Practice with almost no pressure (ghosting,) or pulsing pressure from harmonic pressure to bottom of the elevator, is a good way to practice, especially for relieving excess tension in the hand. If you ghost with just a little pressure, you can hear the pitch, and that is an example of a good state of reversibility (in Feldenkrais' terms) before you commit to playing the note. People with great intonation spend a lot of their time in the realm of reversibility.

Mimi Zweig String Pedagogy

February 13, 2019, 9:01 AM · Some more light reading by the fireplace... ;)

How to Practice: Problems of Violin Technic and Suggestions for Mastering Them

Apparently you can only download the whole pdf if you belong to an institutional member of HathiTrust. You can still copy page at a time. This is the first time I've seen finger substitution shifting (what I've called 'through-shifting') in print. But N.B. "For Fairly Advanced Players" in the heading.

From the Preface:
"...I should say that the safest guide in practicing is to listen carefully to one's own playing. Often the imagination is so engrossed in the conception that the player fails to realize how far below his ideal is the actual performance. It is necessary, therefore, constantly to keep alive the faculty of impersonal self-criticism." ~Alexander Bloch

Edited: February 13, 2019, 10:14 AM · Just skimming the Bloch book.


There has been so much discussion of the Principle of Relaxation Utilization of Dead-Weight, Muscular Control, etc, that an attempt at clarification may not be amiss.
Some contend that we must be utterly relaxed in playing the violin. This is absurdity. If we were in this condition (and it usually only hapens when we are either sleeping or dead) the violin and bow would fall from our listless hands and we ourselves would collapse in a heap. But although we cannot be utterly relaxed, we certainly must avoid tightening our muscles and nerves into knots. We cannot possibly play under such conditions; the left hand grips the fiddle frantically, each shift in position becomes a spasmodic jerk, and the bow-arm seems of one piece without wrist or elbow joint.
The way to avoid this general tenseness is to confine the effort to those muscles that have to do the work, to localize whatever tenseness is temporarily required. This is not as complicated as it sounds because the action of our muscles is a question of mental control. For example we can press thumb and fingers together, so that the entire arm tightens, or (by consciously willing it) we can keep the arm relaxed and confine the tension to the immediate vicinity of the fingers. And in playing the violin, the muscles will obey the brain in exactly the same way. Therefore, if we find ourselves tightening, the method of cure is to stop, consciously relax and begin again.

To that end:
The Skill of Relaxation
Parasitic Movements
and, for good measure:
Why Do Muscles Feel Tight?

Some info about static stretching and why you might not want or need to do it right before practicing:

How and why foam rolling might work, and how to benefit (perhaps in between warmup sets, e.g. palpating trigger points in the hands/forearms between sets of finger action exercises):

Importance of thoracic mobility and shoulder stability for shoulder mobility:

Thoracic mobility:
Thoracic Mobility and the Cat-Camel Exercise

Thoracic Mobility Routine:

Shoulder Screwdriver for the Rotator Cuff:

February 13, 2019, 9:53 AM · Anita - I have not read the book you mentioned, but I've done a bunch of other work/reading with the body in regards to trauma/pattern processing and holding, and so on; so a lot of this is not new to me in one aspect (although it is new in the sense that I'm associating things with playing the violin now).

Indeed, no one can say what can be accomplished with years of effort! And, we often forget how long it took those who succeed to get to where they are now ("successes"), and the toil they have put in. No one comes out of the gate fully ready to go in their field, and our potential is unknown (as humans, as individuals)! In a way, it's our responsibility to give it our all and see what comes of it.

I'm having a talk with my teacher this week at lesson about all the things like goals, what will it take to get there, and mileposts in between, and so on. Should be eye-opening! This is well timed since post-recital I am realizing all of the things that should be corrected before moving back into the rep that I was working on previous to the recital.

I haven't recorded anything yet in the journal, but I've been emailing with a friend who used to do AT: about the things that have come up for me, how I notice how I hold my body in various circumstances, and so on. I don't think one needs AT to do this though, any other number of body-specialties can help with this (yoga, qi gong, tai chi, Feldenkrais, etc.) - I think it depends on what resonates within each of us.

Re: shifting... have we led similar paths with our early "training" - for better or worse, right? And I feel you on the angst, I was working with a fantastic teacher who just didn't bother to drill what needed to be drilled with me, or teach me how to practice, or anything that was needed to become a really good player. I can get really upset about it if I let it, but at the same time, now we know what poor teaching is, that we can persevere given rotten training, and we still love the instrument. I have friends (and family) who don't understand why I am so serious and motivated with this "hobby" of mine, but you (and others here) get it.

My current teacher is insisting on classical shifts, and I always want to do through-shifting. It's mentally draining to do the classical shift, and seems wrong for me who has been willy-nilly shifting all these years, but I'm doing it because my shifts have improved in accuracy since they've insisted on the classical shifts! Old habits die hard.

Jeewon - with that page you posted, my teacher had me do all of that with Schradieck I before working on the speed aspect in all different types of fingering patterns, what a job that was, and still is as I'm now doing the same type of work with other Schradieck exercises! It never ends :)

Great quote! Impersonal self-criticism... it's when we start thinking that our self-worth is intertwined with our performance/improvement/etc. that things get awfully ugly internally.

Re: egg, whatnot - I often imagine holding a baby chick (for left hand tension, and right hand "openness") - seems to do the job because I don't want to crush the chick.

Edited: February 13, 2019, 10:50 AM · "It never ends :)"


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Back to the small stuff. #urstudien #100daysofpractice

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HH is using Flesch's Urstudien I believe.

The Schradieck is great stuff! The reason I suggested the Bytovetzski to Anita was to start with isolating the motion of each finger while keeping the rest of the hand/wrist/arm stable and aligned, "quiet." But Schradieck is great for developing controlled rolling motions of the whole hand which does involve coordinated motions at the wrist, which promotes freedom and helps with speed.

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So hard to stabilize the hand. #100daysofpractice

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Guess the piece. #100daysofpractice

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Post-flight patterns. #100daysofpractice

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February 13, 2019, 10:55 AM · I am too busy panicking right now to respond, but I will read everything probably tomorrow after the lesson!! 0.0

The contact button doesn't work for me...

February 13, 2019, 11:09 AM · About the "collapsing" of HH's third finger, as far as I understand it is actually very important that your last joint is really loose while playing, as it enables vibrato to be immediately available, so to speak. For example, this masterclass by Grigory Kalinovsky.
Edited: February 13, 2019, 11:28 AM · Releasing, yes. Collapsing implies a lack of control.

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Started to #practice and felt like I’d somehow lost my #vibrato. It’s one of those days. So I recorded some of the “reboot” to see it from the outside. No answers — it’s a process. Every day is different; you never know what will surprise you, whether unnerving or exciting. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a concert day or not! #Prokofiev1

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Update: Been chipping away at this pesky #vibrato situation. As you may recall, a week or so ago, vibrato suddenly and persistently felt foreign to me. That happens to everyone at some point, with technique, musicality, attitude, purpose... because life. You wake up and everything looks different for no apparent reason. Totally normal. Anyway, I realized that I’ve fallen into a weird habit of collapsing my third finger end joint because of the very basic challenge of trying to keep my hand in approximately the same position whether playing on the longest finger, the second, or the shortest, the pinkie. In my case, without my noticing, over time, my third finger got kind of stuck in an awkward in-between situation. And it’s not just when vibrating, it was in fast passages too! So I’m working on that alongside everything else at the moment. I can’t explain how exactly I’m working on it, I’m just aware of it and am finding new ways to play better. As a result, my hand feels much freer. To the point that my fingers don’t quite know where they are anymore, and yesterday, I wound up falling off the fingerboard a few times! But this is all good. I have new opportunities to relax my technique and greater musical freedom as a result. This is my practice video from my session this morning when I was checking the arch of that finger in a passage of the soon-to-be-premiered Two Serenades by #Rautavaara. I figured it might be a relief for some of you to be reminded that we’re all working towards something, little bits at a time, every day!

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Edited: February 13, 2019, 12:43 PM · Go Anita go! And stop reading this forum ;)

Deep breaths. Remember to exhale. And have a blast tomorrow!

P.S. my email is my name with a dot between first and last at gmail
P.P.S. "I figured it might be a relief for some of you to be reminded that we’re all working towards something, little bits at a time, every day!" ~HH above

Nice sentiment from a master.

Edited: February 13, 2019, 3:40 PM · OK Jeewon. in a sense it is very "satisfying" (can't find a better word) to hear that the absolute best must keep working on the very same basics that everyone has to work on. it somehow confirms that violin playing is an art that can be learned, but I am not expressing myself clearly.

edit: only now actually looked at the last video and read her comment which, at the end, says exactly what I wanted to say. now from the video it seems she has not too much to worry about :-)

February 13, 2019, 9:07 PM · Yes jean! It's very heartening and I'm grateful she shares like that. So down to earth and humble!
February 14, 2019, 5:59 AM · How is it that suddenly one feels like one has never before seen a violin, much less held it or even played it??
February 14, 2019, 8:33 AM · It is better to think of how far you have come than how much more you have to travel.
February 14, 2019, 9:11 AM · I feel that way every time I have a lesson, and far too often in practice when integrating new concepts/techniques, Anita! How was your lesson? What happened? Did you click?

I appreciate HH's openness about what she is working on, it definitely makes me feel better to know that she has stuff to tease out to bring her playing to the next level.

February 14, 2019, 12:05 PM · Ok...Survived the lesson! :)

I don’t exactly know how to think about it! First of all, she said - though I feel I played pretty terribly, with so much less presence than i can alone in my room, with a lot of nerves - that she would teach me! (She said specifically “well, we have a lot of work to do! But I would like to help you...”)

She said that she never teaches “lightly”, but takes a lot of responsibility for each student and would really take care that I make progress. We will start with Sevcik and bow hand.

The thing that concerns me just a bit is that, though she noted that I played with tons of tension, she wants to address the bow hand first. She wants me to hold my pinkie not right on top of the bow, but just a tad closer to me, and wrap my fingers (way) further over the bow. I told her I am having a lot of pain in my neck/back, but she said the way I hold the violin seems fine and she doesn’t think I need a different chin rest. (Curious? Is all this pain simply from being tense in the proper setup?)

I will have a full lesson on Monday. It’s rather expensive, but I’m going to try to make it work. Overall, I got a good impression - that she will be methodical about helping me with all my issues. She said she appreciated working with students like me, who will work hard and have a good attitude and really want to learn.

I don’t feel euphoric about it, which I think I expected I would. So, so far my feelings are kind of mixed! Perhaps I will get a better feel after the first lesson...perhaps I was a bit too nervous today to really assess, too focused on the fact that she would either accept or reject me after hearing me.

Any thoughts??

February 14, 2019, 1:12 PM · I think that sounds very promising!

It's entirely possible that your set-up is fine in terms of physical equipment and the pain is caused by the biomechanics of what you're doing, yes.

You will probably find that your AT work will start making you much more aware of how the way you're standing / moving is causing tension, or imbalance, etc.

February 14, 2019, 7:56 PM · Congratulations!

"I would like to help you...”
"...she never teaches “lightly”, but takes a lot of responsibility for each student and would really take care that I make progress."

Couldn't ask for a better! Especially coming from an experienced teacher: "...warm, kind, really good with technique, plays with a relaxed body, and that her students all sound phenomenal."

Remember to always take what you get on this forum with a grain of salt. There is no way we can assess your situation better than an experienced teacher can in person.

I never got to your bow arm, but there can be a lot of unnecessary tension generated there too. When you bow vigorously (fast detache) do you feel your hips rotating, or your body being pulled side to side? In response do you tend to lock your left arm, or do you feel it move in response, in a counter-motion? Try, without the instruments, a fast jabbing/punching motion. Next try swinging your upper arm side to side, as if you were repeatedly elbowing someone to your right. When bowing fast, does it feel more like the jabbing or swinging? On top of that, locked knees, tucked pelvis, stuck thoracic back, rigid neck/head, all these things can contribute to upper back tension, most of which we can't really see very well through video. From what I can tell, it looks like your elbow is locking when you go into a faster detache, though I can't see your elbow. Also, sometimes your down bows look a little bit 'muscled' instead of released. But good up bow motion in the lower half of the bow! A deeper hold on the bow can help you sink the weight of the arm onto the bow, rather than holding up the stick with rigid fingers. A relaxed bowing motion will release a lot of tension everywhere (but it's hard--impossible--to teach over the internet :)

You got into her class! Celebrate! And give it time... on the order of several months, not weeks, not days, not hours! Be patient with yourself.

Edited: February 15, 2019, 2:13 AM · For what it’s worth, I started up again with a teacher from the former soviet era. I have two books, Schradiek and Wohlfahrt, from time to time she pulls out something written in Cyrillic and she says it’s Lully or Haydn. That’s it ! Check your vibrata at the door, practice slow, and follow the process! I’m a “trust the process” guy. While I have played some amazing, fun repertoire in my past, my process now is playing lines 1-6 of Schradiek I, 4 notes legata, 8 notes legata, 16 notes legata, and Wohlfahrt #16 for bow control and finger strengthening. I have noticed such an amazing transformation in my playing, I think I am playing the best I have ever played now. Hang in there. I really enjoy this forum and how there is so much positivity and support to get us to the next level. I am looking forward to the day she wants me to use vibrata. That will be the indication that intonation is solid, tone is good and we are moving forward. Trust the process!
February 15, 2019, 5:31 AM · Ok, then I will be excited!! :)

I really, really hope I can learn to relax and breathe and express. It seems like a long road, but step by step is always the way to go.

Yes, I know there are major, major problems with locking my bow arm, and I have never been able to figure out how to unlock it. I am pretty sure I jab. :) and lock everything in response. Right now it’s hard to imagine it can get better...but I will try to be open in my imagination that it can be.

February 15, 2019, 11:03 AM · Quick question that I don’t want to start a whole new thread for... :)

With a hand wrapped a great deal around the bow, pinkie resting in between the side and top of the bow, just below the circle mark in the frog, and the first finger wrapped to after the second knuckle...what is that bow hold called? I want to watch some videos of folks who use this hold, to get an idea of what it looks like.

Thank you!

February 15, 2019, 11:05 AM · Index finger contacts the bow at the second joint, and the index finger is placed close to the second finger? That's the Russian hold. Heifetz
February 15, 2019, 11:16 AM · All 4 fingers draped on the far side of the frog away from you? (Picture?)

That would be a cello-like hold, a temporary hold used to inhibit parasitic action of the fingers, and emphasize control of weight transfer from the arm, through the wrist and baseknuckles.

February 15, 2019, 11:17 AM · Ok! I wasn’t sure. The pinkie position she was asking for didn’t look as extreme as Heifetz...

She removed her thumb while the bow was straight (up and down, perpendicular to the floor), and I still don’t understand how that happened!

February 15, 2019, 11:22 AM · Jeewon, I believe it’s what she also uses? In other words, not just a temporary thing?
February 15, 2019, 11:33 AM · Having trouble picturing it... Is her pinky touching the top of the stick with the underside, like the other fingers, or its tip?

William Primrose used to train the thumbless hold, but his hold was more conventional. Basically you hold the stick by curling the middle finger into the stick/frog while resisting with 1 and 4 (or just 4 if it's on the opposite side of the stick.)

The only person I know who played with pinky hanging over the stick was Oscar Shumsky. But it is unconventional.

Edited: February 15, 2019, 11:40 AM · See 3m20s

February 15, 2019, 11:42 AM · Oh, sorry, no...the pinkie is placed on the side close to the body. On one plane down from the top. Does that make sense?

I’m in a train, but I can post a picture (to the best of my ability to copy it) later!

Edited: February 15, 2019, 12:01 PM · Yes, that would be more conventional, on the inside-top facet of the octagon. Then what Lydia said: Russian (as defined by Carl Flesch. Heifetz' hold was deeper than second knuckle with the 1st finger, and he often used the 3rd finger to balance the bow with pinky lifted.)

February 15, 2019, 11:52 AM · Anita - oh I feel for you so much.

My teacher and I, at my request, just had a discussion about where I want to go in terms of my playing/repertoire and it's going to be a very very very long road. I have a serious amount of work to do.

I'm now on a program with simple repertoire (instead of the "fun" harder stuff that I was working on previously), and lots of Schradieck, Yost, Trott, Sevcik and so on.

I'm not a "trust the process" kind of person, so this will be a challenge. That said, my playing has improved a lot since I started working with this current teacher - much more secure, which is so great. I'm still surprised they are willing to work with me; they've been really helpful, supportive, up front, and kind.

Anita, you'll like this, even my teacher said there's no telling what I'll be able to do with time and effort. :D

I just wish I had more hours in the day to practice than I do... If only I had married rich! HA!

Edited: February 15, 2019, 12:26 PM · Kavakos talks about his use of the Russian hold in this interview (2/3s to the end.)

But as Julia Bushkova explains, it's not very Russian at all:

February 16, 2019, 1:53 AM · By the way... Re.:

"I am pretty sure I jab. :) and lock everything in response."

Actually you want a jabbing/punching/pumping motion in your upper arm for the upper half of the bow, not a swinging/swiping motion.

February 17, 2019, 3:15 PM · ohhhhh...I seee. Yes, well, that's good then! :)

I have consistently been told that my wrist is far too stiff. Is it easier with the Russian hold to unlock the wrist? because the forearm is used more for bow changes?

I know this thread has moved very far away from the original question...but...why don't more people use the Russian hold?

February 17, 2019, 3:55 PM · Bow-holds all involve some trade-offs, but people tend to use what they are taught, since the hold is integral to your whole right-hand/arm technique. The most popular modern bow hold is the Galamian-style hold, which fuses some elements of the Russian with some elements of the Franco-Belgian.

Arguably the Russian hold results in less finger flex, in return for more power. For me, I find the Russian hold to be much more comfortable. I also use the adaptations for shorter arms, drawing the bow with a bit of drop-back at the tip rather than keeping a fully straight bow, in order to deal with the fact that I have to hyperextend my short arm in order to reach the tip otherwise.

There are variants within the general school of thought, too. For instance, I was taught a Russian hold with Milstein-style technique that tends to emphasize the use of big muscles. My current teacher favors more economy of motion using smaller muscles (though still with a Russian hold), and I've learned to play his way.

February 18, 2019, 5:13 PM · Just a little update, post-first full lesson!

I really like my teacher! She wants me to play without a shoulder rest for a while, to learn how to be free with my neck/shoulder. She said generally that my setup looks ok, my left hand looks ok, except the profound amount of tension in my thumb and the fact that I lift my fingers too high. My bow hand has little flexibility - thumb and pinkie both need to be rounder... :( that pesky bow hand. I want to learn how to use it well.

She wants to focus on taking the tension out of my thumb and my right hand. She says she thinks it's just because I have been playing that way for so long, not any major other issue. She says I play with fear, and I need to learn how to play without fear.

We basically worked from a scale, the first page of Carl Flesch. Talked a bit about shifts. It was a strange feeling, without a shoulder rest. She also gave me the Rode Caprices, Sevcik Op. 2 pt 4 to make copies from, and suggested we work on Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro.

I don’t quite understand why I feel all the pain and stiffness in my shoulder. :( I didn't play all weekend, but when I woke up this morning, my shoulder blade area felt "dead" or disconnected from blood flow - that's the only way I know how to describe it. I stretched and stretched and stretched....but it remained like that. (This used to happen in the years I didn't play a lot, too, after I quit...but I was lifting and maneuvering huge wheels and blocks of cheese - 40-90 lbs. - on a regular basis during that time, so I figured that was an irritant. I did have a nerve test done a few years ago, and they said there was no damage. It's a frustrating mystery to me...)

She said to take frequent breaks when I practice, which I will, and play with the wall supporting the scroll at times.

And ohmygoodness, she played on my instrument and made it sound fantastic. She said I will eventually need a better bow, it's not that great, but my violin she feels sounds good enough to suffice through my master and to be played professionally. First of all, I think I blushed for my instrument's sake - it has humble origins. Second of all, I was surprised and encouraged that she seems to be taking my hopes seriously, and somehow isn't thrown off by how far behind I am or where my technique is today. I am grateful for this!

February 19, 2019, 3:45 PM · Anita - fantastic!!!!

I'm still trying to transition to the Belvelin shoulder pad, but I'm not sure I'll be able to stick with it long-term. Shifting feels too weird with it.

Have you been to an osteopath (or another practitioner) about your shoulder? Is your sleeping arrangement ideal for your shoulder? (Do you sleep on your side, or non-sleeping related: carry a bag on that one shoulder regularly, etc.) Impossible to help via a forum though... I hope you get it figured out and get to be pain-free ASAP!

Did your new teacher have recommendations for how to practice playing without fear?

February 19, 2019, 4:00 PM · Hi Anita, I finally took the plunge and registered to this website after years of lurking, and I just wanted to say that your story is inspiring! Even though I have no aspirations to become a professional, I am in love with the violin and do plan to go as far as I can with the instrument.

I wish you the best of luck on your journey and will happily keep reading your updates!

February 20, 2019, 4:25 AM · Pamela, thanks! :) yes, shifting feels super weird. Because everything feels so different, it seems I can notice tension more. I’m trying to use this as a chance to release tension - stopping everytime I feel it and resetting. This might seem crazy, but I even feel like I hold my throat tight. How I came up with that, I don’t know...

Yes, I go to an osteopath every 3 weeks or so. I do like to fall asleep on my left side, with everything that could possible be scrunched up all in a tangle :). But I have been consciously laying more on my back, and bought a great pillow - that helped.

But perhaps the best thing I can do is focus on releasing various points as I play.

She did not yet give a solution to playing with/without fear! But I will share if she does. :)

Hi Jes! Hello! Aw, thanks :) I’m glad you registered! Folks here are super wonderfully helpful and knowledgeable - I have already learned so much. Hey, we are the same age! Well, I’m rooting for you too, now - I’ll watch out for your posts. :)

February 21, 2019, 11:01 AM · I feel like I close my chest off, so I understand what you mean about holding your throat tight! I have to remind myself to allow my chest to be open (it's a very vulnerable feeling, but also empowering).

Inspired by your recent post, I did a round of shifts with the Belvelin shoulder pad instead of my regular shoulder rest, then switched to my regular shoulder rest. I don't know if I'll ever feel comfortable enough to let the shoulder rest go, but we will see.

I should probably re-read the Inner Game of Music and practice the various points in something non-violin related. (Nathan Cole talks about this in a recent Mind Over Finger podcast.) Still waiting on the Dweck book from my library. If you come upon any a-ha's with the fear aspect, would love to hear it if you are willing to share.

Edited: February 23, 2019, 7:11 AM · I’m listening to the book Bounce...and the author just talked about the effects of doubt (close to fear!) and how to deal with it...

I guess it's a portion from the inner game of tennis...he said that when you approach something like a golf putt with a sense of doubt (“I won’t be able to make this”), your muscles contract and you ARE less likely to make it. That reinforces that doubt, and then you are performing under your ability.

He suggests using mental association to connect what you are afraid of or experience doubt about with something that is simple, like (for golf) picking the ball out of the hole. When you associate what you perceive as difficult with something that is so easy as to be fail-proof, there is no room for left for doubt.

I am not totally sure I understand how to do this...but he mentioned there are other techniques in the inner game, as well. I plan to read this one, too!

I am feeling a bit discouraged and scared that I will fall into the same thoughts/problems as I try to improve. I think I should probably tell my teacher, in case she can't see it, that I have this fear that I won't be able to play musically or beautifully. I don't know where it comes from, exactly, but it is strong.

I wonder if I should force myself to perform at a church or fight that fear...

February 23, 2019, 12:09 PM · A detail.

Like Jeewon, I like a punching motion as my hand starts near my chin, an finishes out in directly in front of my right shoulder.

But with my slightly hanging elbow, there is often a small swinging component, out and forward, in the upper arm. The stoke can scoop into the string, but be weightless while the bow changes direction.
(Better on viola than violin, though.)

February 23, 2019, 2:06 PM · I think I am a bit lost re. this jabbing vs. swinging motion...I can't picture...I think because my bow hand is such a mess in the first place!
February 23, 2019, 3:01 PM · Downbow: if the elbow is as high as the hand, it will stick out to the right until we reach the tip of the bow, when the arm will be straight ou in front. But if the elbow is hanging below the hand n(as proposed by Suzuki), there will be an added momentum from the upper arm swinging forward. If the elbow adopts a half-lowered position, this momentum will be less.
The advantage of the slight swinging "ingredient" is that it provides some arm "weight" in the middle of the stroke while lightening the bow-changes. This is the "crescent" shaped stroke in the thread of Jeewon's link.. Thus I find the actions of fingers and thumb to be integrated into a more global motion and less likely to stiffen.

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