Self teaching experiences

Edited: July 21, 2019, 5:29 PM · As some of you eventually will remember, I'm a late starting adult amateur. I started at age 40, and after half a year with a teacher that wasn't a good match, I found a teacher I felt I could work with really well, except for our both time schedules, although I felt there was a bit too much "pieces" and not enough of "etudes" (basics, drill).
However, my right hand works surprisingly well, and I'm quite happy with my overall tone and bowing technique, regarding the short time I'm in yet (a bit more than three years now with violin, and viola for one year).
Things I've played up to an acceptable amateur performance level (and part of them dared to perform in public) were a handful Vivaldi concertos, the Bach double, M├ęditations de Thais, Shostakovichs 5 Pieces for 2 Violins and Piano, and on viola four of Bruchs 8 Pieces for Viola, Clarinet and Piano, and the Telemann Viola Concerto. Besides some early student concertos and some dozens of smaller pieces, this covers pretty well my current repertoire. Well, especially the Bach double wasn't top of the pop, just to give you an idea where I am.

Since this year, I couldn't take lessons anymore. New job, and life just came in between, the same old story that happens too often with us adult amateurs. But I won't give it up. Even if I can get a total of only about 2 hours of practice in an average week, I still feel that it's possible to make slow progress. The viola concert I studied completely on my own, and my teacher was friendly enough to sit in the audience and give some feedback afterwards. I'd prefer to continue lessons as soon as possible, but unfortunately I cannot see how this would happen in the near future, unless I'd find someone willing to give lessons on weekends. And even with one weekend lesson every other weekend, I could never be able to make sure there would be enough practice time to show up at least halfway prepared. There are not a few weeks when I cannot touch an instrument at all... So I'll have to get along with what I've got at the moment.

First I set out for a "daily etude challenge" when I tried to work on something completely new every practice session. While this mainly served my sight reading skills, it was too unstructured.
What would be great would be a resource for practicing the basic drills and patterns in a structured way. I came over Kayser Op.20 and Op.44, which I definitely like, since this is enough of drill, but doubtless real music at the same time, and part of it really beautiful. I don't want to spend the tiny amount of time that's left on things like Sevcik or Schradieck - I know things like that are necessary to consolidate transferable skills, but it's just too boring to have to work on it exclusively...

Someone else who might have been in my shoes, how did you cope, and what helped you stay on track and progress systematically? Are there some other and maybe even better etude books that would meet my criteria (progressive, musically attractive, but also containing enough of that healthy Sevcik-Schradieck-ingredients)? And, to the teachers out there, what do you think about the Kayser etudes and how they're structured? I'm only through the first few yet, and it seems they actually meet my current level. Any input welcome!

Replies (31)

July 21, 2019, 11:08 PM · I like the Kayser etudes. You might also like Mazas op. 36 and Dont op. 37, both of which are very playable in the early etudes although they might get harder faster than the Kayser as you progress through.
July 21, 2019, 11:27 PM · Also, consider taking the occasional lesson via Skype.
July 22, 2019, 1:50 AM · good on you for following through on meditation, i lost interest and switch pieces after the first half.

i prefer bach over just about anything else, so i'm biased in this regard, are you advanced enough to play chocanne? i would definitely give that a go.

Edited: July 25, 2019, 12:53 PM · Nuuska, It seems to me you have done very well for yourself.

I am probably (largely) self-taught although I had very good violin training from age 4 through 11 ending with 2 years at MSM in New York. Then I quit for a year and when I wanted to play again we had left New York. I joined the high school orchestra and became concertmaster the next year. I started cello lessons which continued for more than 2 years and progressed into the Bach Suites and concerto literature. Because my father also played violin we had a reasonable collection of violin music in the house. I added some solo albums with my weekly allowance - in those days a nice new thick sheet-music album including piano accompaniment could be bought for $1. On rare occassions my father and I would play duets: Mozart, Leclair, and the "Bach Double."

I worked on the Handel sonatas, Mozart concertos 3 and 5, and then the Mendelssohn E minor and then the Beethoven concertos. I joined my college orchestra and on my own I worked on the Bach concertos, and all of the 2nd Partita.

After college and grad school I moved to the west coast and participated in orchestras and chamber music for the next 57 years - and added viola playing to my quiver. I also continued to increase my "repertoire" of sonatas and concertos.

If I hear something I like I get the music and play it. IMSLP.org and Youtube have made this so easy. I am not a memorizer so I have been able to cover a lot of different music - so far.

When I was about 30 years old some parents asked if I would teach their kids; so I started that and continued for over 40 years at which time I felt I was losing too much to demonstrate what I wanted to teach the way I wanted to.

July 22, 2019, 9:53 AM · I would think that ViolinLab would be helpful for your situation Nuuska. And Skype lessons in general.
July 22, 2019, 10:06 AM · The possible dangers and drawbacks of being an autodidact on an inherently difficult instrument such as the violin usually become obvious to the person concerned, and they try to do something about it, such as finding a teacher and taking advice from experts. Sadly, the result for those who choose, for whatever reason, not to seek out a teacher and ignore advice from others is exemplified in the posts of a member here.
July 22, 2019, 10:16 AM · HAHAHA Trevor. They do not know when to stop...

July 22, 2019, 10:52 AM · The individual initiating the threads in question is not the only one who can't stop. Neither than those responding, apparently. Like moths to a flame ...
July 22, 2019, 11:08 AM · Indeed, Paul! Indeed.

I admit to offering hapless advice more often than not, but my intentions are well-meaning - albeit uninformed due to my level of playing/experience with the instrument. The more I learn, the less I know...

July 22, 2019, 11:14 AM · Nuuska, what you want is a set of two books called "Preparing for Kreutzer" by Whistler. They are a miniature all-in-one package of technical work. They consist primarily of abridged versions of important excerpts (the first volume has a lot of Kayser and Sitt, as you go along you get more Mazas and Dont) along with targeted technical drills from Schradieck, Sevcik, Dancla, etc. There are some great left-hand drills similar to Flesch "Urstudien" and Simon Fisher's "Warming Up" tapping drills that I haven't seen anyplace else. They're organized in a fairly useful way, and do not bomb you with an overwhelming sea of material (I.e., there's 1 page of bowing variations, not 50). You can get a reasonably comprehensive technical workout in 10 - 20 minutes.

You don't really need anything else, but IMO the scales coverage is a little weak, so you might want to get a scales book to supplement - Hrimaly if you're cheap, Simon Fischer if you don't mind ponying up the big bucks. :)

If you run into trouble, you should follow Whistler's own advice and get his other books. There are two positions books, and one double stops book. All together they are like a Reader's Digest condensed version of the entire library of beginning and intermediate violin technique work.

July 22, 2019, 12:39 PM · Peters Violinschulwerk (2 vols., Edition Peters), a well thought-out compilation of selected etudes (incl. not only Wohlfahrt, Kayser and Mazas, but also lots by Baklanowa, Jardanyi, Bloch, Martinu, Beriot, Sitt, Fiorillo and many others). Arranged according to the technical aspect they address.
July 22, 2019, 4:04 PM · I agree with Nate's suggestion--I had forgotten about those Whistler books "Preparing for Kreutzer" but they are indeed excellent. I would amend his scale book advice, however. For the OP, I think the Barbara Barber "Scales for Advanced Violinists" would be the most appropriate scale book.
July 22, 2019, 5:25 PM · Mary Ellen, that Barbara Barber book was not on my radar. Thanks for pointing it out - it looks great!
July 22, 2019, 5:38 PM · Thank you all for your kind advice. Lydia & Pamela, with Skype lessons it's the same as with lessons at a studio - I should be able to keep an appointment, which my current job actually doesn't allow me at all... Well, since I'm living in Europe, I could book a midnight lesson with a teacher in the US, but I wouldn't expect my neighbours and my family to appreciate this concept a lot...

Nate, thank you for bringing up the Whistler books. This really sounds like something I'd like to go through. And since Mary agrees, I feel that I can't go wrong with your advice. (BTW, my first teacher didn't bring up "preparing for Kreutzer", but Kreutzer himself, insisting on the Galamian edition. After 5 months... I'm still wondering if there was a concept behind that? For sure she was a competent violinist on her own right, but as a teacher...?) And thank you, Mary, for your trust in my abilities - but for someone like me, "Scales for Advanced Violinists" sounds a bit frightening. I'm glad if I get my simple two octave scales right, and am fighting with the third octave. And I wouldn't consider myself as an "Advanced Violinist" at all. Probably it's partially like Pamela put it, "the more I learn, the less I know"... Or is the title of the book misleading, and I'm expecting something too advanced?

Katarina, I'll also have a look on the Peters Edition. Most probably it's more available in the German speaking part of the world. I'm just a little afraid of adding too much to my pile. I've got a whole shelf full of sheet music and etude books, what's missing me is a concept, and the time to dig through. I'd prefer to stay with just one book at the moment, and follow the track one piece after another, not loosing too much time with thinking. Best would be something which was available as a PDF, so that I could have it straight on my iPad. But I'm afraid that's not an option.

kai lu, I also do love Bach more than anything. But I'm far from the Chaconne, and I wouldn't be disappointed if this would stay out of my reach forever. And then, I'm not looking for repertoire, but rather for done kind of curriculum.

Trevor, sure I'll have to revisit a lot when I'll start taking lessons again in the far future, but progress with error is still better than having to stop it at all. And I'm not DK, after all, but just one humble happy violin puppy...

Andrew, good to hear that it is possible to get along on one's own, as soon as one has built a technical fundament. Yours is farcmore solid than mine, I bet...

July 22, 2019, 6:24 PM · Nuuska, you are welcome. I can't say why someone would program Kreutzer so early that way; maybe just out of traditional thinking. TBH, I don't have much use for Kreutzer these days, and I wish I hadn't wasted so much time on it in highschool. It's an excruciatingly long slog, and the payoff is minimal, compared to more modern methods.
Edited: July 22, 2019, 9:48 PM · Increase speed of playing slowly might be useful to keep your ability stable, and this can be done with piece you already learn before.
Edited: July 23, 2019, 9:31 AM · I give the Barber "Scales for Advanced Violinists" to my intermediate students. It's three octave scales and arpeggios with accessible fingerings (I prefer them to the Flesch fingerings), and some basic double stop scales which I don't use the first time through the book. And it starts on the G string and goes up by half steps rather than working through the circle of fifths as Flesch does, so the first scales are really easy. Often I skip C#/Db the first time through (I have my students keep circling through the book, always adding something on each repetition--speed, keys we missed the first time, selected double stop scales, etc).

I think the word "Advanced" in the title is grade inflation, honestly.

Editing to add that occasionally I have skipped Ab the first time too, in an effort to make sure the student focuses on the scales in the keys most useful to them.

July 24, 2019, 3:46 PM · Mary Ellen, thanks again. Ordered Barbers Scale book and both volumes of the Whistlers today. They weren't hard to find via the world's largest online store even in Europe, and compared to many books of German origin, they're really not expensive.
I'll have them digitalized on my iPad as soon as they arrive and then store them away in my still increasing collection of music books!
July 25, 2019, 2:23 AM · Perhaps a usefull addition: there are teachers you can send a video. They give you feedback also by video. This is an example: https://artistworks.com/violin-lessons-richard-amoroso (I don't have experience with this, so I cant say anything about how it works or the quality) I suppose more teachers are willing to make such an arrangement when asked.
July 25, 2019, 4:07 AM · All the best with it Nuuska, keep it up!
July 25, 2019, 12:30 PM · M Snellen, that's an interesting idea I didn't think about yet. It will not be like the real thing since there will not be a constant feedback which in my opinion is elementary in good teaching, but it might be valuable as long as it would be about addressing a particular problem, and why certain things "just wouldn't work".

Jean, no employer will be able to make me stop. Promise. Just yesterday I brought my violin with me when I was on call, and sawed along some midnight hour downstairs in the basement, next to the pathology. Hope their patients didn't mind - at least noone complained...

Edited: July 25, 2019, 7:26 PM · I know of one adult violin learner on YouTube who is learning almost completely by video exchange because she lives in a remote part of South America and doesn't always have a consistent enough internet connection for Skype lessons. She seems to be progressing quite well, considering the obstacles.

I'm mostly self-taught from the very beginning (I was under the mistaken impression for years that no teacher would accept me), but I'm just getting around to this thread as I've been out of town for several days, so I don't have a lot of advice that people haven't already given. Whistler is excellent. Kayser is good as well. For scales, I used Hrimaly and then Galamian.

Also consider joining a community orchestra. People in community orchestras are often happy to offer technical pointers. I used that in lieu of lessons for a long time.

Edited: July 27, 2019, 9:29 AM · Hi back there. Whistlers 2 volumes arrived this morning, as well as Barbara Barbers scales. Didn't have the time to have a look at the scales (and already seeing myself making a big bow around it, finding endless excuses why it just shouldn't be today...), but the Whistlers are great.
My teacher preferred to work on new technics and patterns when they occurred in a piece, but not systematically. Maybe he thought that and aduld beginner who did this "just for fun" might prefer it that way. Etudes were only rarely taught (although my shelf is full of them, since I tried to find something useful by myself from time to time)
Today I went halfway through Whistlers Vol. 1 in fast forward mode, and given that they are meant to be progressive, they clearly show me my gaps and weak points. I've been able to sight read maybe half of them straight away, and with the rest I'm having one or another major problem.
What I also do like pretty much are the "daily practice" suggestions at the beginning of the books, and that it is always pretty obvious what the etude you're currently working on is meant to teach you. Looks like a good path to go for the time I'm doomed to be working all on my own. Should be enough for at least one year... And then there is still the scales awaiting... :-P
July 27, 2019, 5:03 PM · Make it a habit to begin each practice session with some scale practice! If you have only 20min, do it just 5mins, if you have an hour, do it 15mins. You will warm up and will be all the better for the fun Whistler part. Plus, your intonation will thank you!
July 27, 2019, 5:30 PM · Jean! My intonation is great! For a former pianist... okay, it sucks...
You're right, it's unhealthy not to invest some time in scales, no matter one's playing level.
July 28, 2019, 12:56 PM · ... on the other hand, there are many etudes included which let you to a lot of scale work anyway...
July 28, 2019, 1:09 PM · Yes, there is a little bit of scales work in the Whistler "Exercises for Daily Practice" too, especially in the second book with the "Cadenza" exercises. I wouldn't say they are sufficient to develop good scale skills, but they will at least "keep your hand in" if you go for a while without doing building practice for scales.

Glad they are working for you Nuuska! I still practice from those Whistler books, when I don't feel like hauling out the many pounds of Sevcik, Schradieck, Dont, etc., to get the unabridged versions. In fact, I was working on the Mazas "string skipping" etude in the second book today as a warm-up for Schumann. I like it better than the similar etude in Kreutzer! :)

July 30, 2019, 9:18 AM · This is a wonderful thread! I now have yet more books winging their way to me :)
July 30, 2019, 10:23 AM · Nate B: curious about that Mazas "string skipping" etude, precisely which number is that please?
Edited: July 30, 2019, 2:23 PM · Jean, in Whistler Vol. 2 (the blue one) it's on page 30 and is called "String Skipping Study No. 1"

In real life it's from Mazas Op. 36 - No. 11.

July 30, 2019, 3:06 PM · thanks!


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