The biggest mysteries to playing the violin are....

June 28, 2019, 10:47 AM · Whats yours?

Here's one to start with: its so obvious when someone else is playing out of tune - and yet so hard to tell when you are. [OK, so maybe that is not true for perfect-pitchers, but I actually don't know...]

Replies (20)

June 28, 2019, 10:59 AM · How Hilary Hahn has perfect 4th finger vibrato in the highest positions
June 28, 2019, 11:22 AM · Elise, i like your own mistery....... :)

My own one, even if i saw it related to other activity and experiences, is the way things while playing violin seem to go in place by themselves when your rational mind is left behind and "body automatisms" take most of control.

I'm also an archer. I shoot with barebows (no aim aids, stabilizers, etc), and i thought many many times about the parallelism between playing violin (intonation, shifts, use of bow) and the tecnique of barebow, when after shooting thousands of arrows your body "knows" what to do even if you don't aim to the target. The body posture and you muscles know what to do, and you shoot in the yellow spot in the target..... :)
Playing violin, when things go the way they have to go, often i feel the same ... And it's a mistery for me ...... :)

June 28, 2019, 11:45 AM · How on Earth baroque players in the olden days played difficult repertoire without a chin rest or shoulder rest. We kind of know, but still...
June 28, 2019, 12:03 PM · Mysteries for me: how to play the severely stretched intervals reliably in tune: 10ths, the 2-4 octave. Also; the down-bow fast staccato.
Edited: June 28, 2019, 12:17 PM · Indeed, Marco, but how many hundreds of intentional repetitions we have to do to get to that blessed state!

...and stay there...

June 28, 2019, 12:22 PM · The great mystery? How can one put so much effort, over so much time into something and have so little to show for it. Then maybe the real great mystery is why keep trying over a lifetime? That's the beauty of it.
June 28, 2019, 12:42 PM · I'm with Tom... and how on earth so much sound comes out of two tiny f-shaped holes from a box!

Elise - I'm not a perfect-pitcher, but I have some mild synesthesia with sound - I can tell when I'm out of tune because I start to get this "icky" feeling in my body! Hearing another person play out of tune is physically uncomfortable for me. Talk about mysteries!

June 28, 2019, 12:56 PM · Pamela, yes I also get very uncomfortable when someone is playing out of tune and I dont have a perfect pitch either. When my daughter plays a note badly out of tune, my eyelashes start to twitch. And sometimes listening to a student recital is torture. I also start to feel a bit of nausea if something is transposed

But somehow I block it away if my own daughter is playing in the recital. And if and when I play out of tune myself or transpose, no negative feelings,

To me the whole violin playing is a mystery but the biggest mystery is that there is learning overnight just by sleepingt I mean that if my girl practises something and it doesnt sound so good and we just put the violin away and then the next day it is magically a lot better right from the start. So the brain continues to learn even when not practising. Im sure this true at least for children in general, not so sure about adults though.

June 28, 2019, 1:01 PM · It's true for adults too - but not as drastic as with children. Our neuroplasticity is not as... plastic as a child's. I've been struggling with intonation (LOL) for a series of double-stopped sixths, and did not practice it for two days, then pulled it back out and it had improved enough to give me hope that I'd get closer to not-nauseated intonation eventually.

Oh no, I am unable to block when I myself am playing. It's actually a bit of a barrier to enjoying playing oftentimes.

June 28, 2019, 1:05 PM · In general, it is easier to notice when someone else is making a mistake, or when we're listening to a recording of ourselves, than it is when we're playing. That's because our brains are already occupied with the task of playing itself, with less cognitive power left over for analysis. Or we "hear" what we expect to hear, rather than what is actually coming out of the violin.

For intonation specifically, even those of us with perfect pitch can get thrown by relative pitch, where if one note is out of tune, the notes around it are "mis-heard"; we estimate the correct pitch relative to where we've been.

Edited: June 28, 2019, 1:25 PM · My mystery: why are strings so darned expensive?

I mean, we all know they're marked up. A guitar E costs 90¢, if that. Yet, the exact same string at half the length and with fancy silk wrap on the ends costs 20-40 times more.
Even at Gamut, a standard-length (enough for two strings) guitar B string (the same diametre as a violin A) is half the cost of a single violin A made of the same gut.

June 28, 2019, 1:38 PM · Great topic, there are so many great misteries associated with violin playing and I can relate to many already mentionned. I often wonder how all of modern top students/soloists seem to be slim and attractive.
June 28, 2019, 2:32 PM · Imagine the amazing players who are not slim/attractive, or in general who were not given the support from teachers/institutions/jobs because of their perceived attractiveness or "potential"???

Indeed Lydia - we ask our brains to do a lot when we play the violin! I expect that when the brain has to work less hard to simply play/technically perform, that's when mastery of sound production (including intonation) become more readily accessible.

I don't understand what you are saying about perfect pitch players getting thrown by relative pitch? Do you mean when there is "expressive intonation" utilized?

June 28, 2019, 3:51 PM · I have an answer to one of those mysteries; Why do we put in so much time and repetitions and still not have the results we want ? Two reasons. 1) Practice does Not make perfect; it makes permanent. Repeating something wrong, out of tune, inefficient mechanics, won't make it right. Better results happen from as little as 3 repetitions done the way you want, every day, for several days, and let the back of the brain integrate it while you sleep. 2) Inadequate technique. If you give a sculpturer wood chisels and ask him to carve marble, he can bang away all day without results. I had a roommate who worked seriously on the Grieg piano concerto and never got anywhere with it - He never had piano lessons, zero technique.
June 28, 2019, 3:56 PM · The mystery of the human condition: trying to dominate/control/change what is happening in reality to our vision, whether our approach to said desire to change/control/etc is appropriate for the situation or not! It's so true Joel...
June 28, 2019, 5:03 PM ·
The biggest mystery is why I and so many other people spend hours that amount to days and eventually years of practice while not planning on performing.
Think about it — one hour of practicing scales could be one hour of reading a life-changing book or doing something that actually on the spot changes your life. And yet I never question myself when I spend, say, 3 hours straightening a scale and arpeggios out. I guess that's the beauty, that perfection on the violin is IMPOSSIBLE, because we are not machines, and machaenical playing is the last thing we want.
But I don't regret those hours practicing at all (on the contrary, I wish I practiced more when I was younger).
June 28, 2019, 11:09 PM · "why I and so many other people spend hours that amount to days and eventually years of practice while not planning on performing."

I believe every player is "performing" to some degree, even if for oneself. An audience is nice, but not essential and many people are getting much satisfaction from playing/performing for themself, myself included.

June 29, 2019, 12:02 AM · When you have perfect pitch, in theory you may compare the notes you're playing against a "reference pitch" in your head. Those references pitches are not necessarily entirely stable. They can be thrown off by finding yourself deriving relative pitch instead.
June 29, 2019, 8:30 AM · My mystery is why Mozart is so damned hard.
June 29, 2019, 10:44 AM · Cotton Mather: Because they know any pro violinist are willing to spend $10,000 on a violin. While great sounding and playing guitars can be had for $400

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