When are you done with a piece?

Edited: December 11, 2019, 11:45 AM · In another thread, there was a discussion of what's necessary progression to prepare for more advanced repertoire, and I tried providing a taxonomy for how well one might learn a given piece of music.

This has made me curious to what level various people choose to prepare their repertoire, and how this changes throughout their playing life.

Here's the (slightly modified) taxonomy, dividing "learning" from "performing":

I think the tendency is for children to be taught repertoire to the Performable level if they're serious violin students (the really serious get to Immaculate), but the teachers of adults often move them on at Fluent, and adult autodidacts may be happy to get to Stumbling.

So: When are you done with a piece? How does your personal sense of when you're ready to be done with something differ from your teacher's sense of that? :-)

Replies (60)

December 9, 2019, 4:31 PM · I am an adult returner who started taking lessons in February after a long hiatus. I think my teacher tries to get me to at least Fluent, although I don't perform every piece that I work on. I'm about to play in my first of his student recitals, so we shall see if I am Fluent or Inconsistent!
Edited: December 10, 2019, 3:53 AM · I almost never learn a piece all at once. I tend to bring pieces to L3 on first learning (and have a large number of pieces at that level), then return to some of them and polish them to P2 standard (P3 if intending to perform or use in an audition) later when I have more free time. Usually the return to a piece is between 6 months and 2 years later.

This is mostly a function of limited time and energy as an adult amateur.

Edited: December 9, 2019, 5:02 PM · Level 2 to L3 might be accurate for me, although the question might be better formulated for me as when is a piece done with me ;-)
December 9, 2019, 9:25 PM · P3

My daughter’s teacher will not let her move if he thinks a judge will find any flaws. Very frustrating to her since she thinks P1 is good enough.

December 9, 2019, 9:54 PM · In my childhood, repertoire needed to be learned to that P3 level, much to my frustration. P2's always felt good enough for me; the added work in polishing super fine details and getting something bulletproof (P3) has rarely felt worthwhile. (For works to be performed with orchestra, P3 has to be the goal, though.)

Now, I generally feel P1 is good enough for pieces I don't particularly love. I might give up on things at the L3 level, in which case they are not so much completed as abandoned.

Edited: December 9, 2019, 10:33 PM · Realistically P1 is pretty much what I'm shooting for. I don't think it's fair to count stuff we've abandoned because they turned out to be too hard.

How about a level called "PL". You think it's fantastic. Everyone else thinks it's crap.

December 9, 2019, 11:56 PM · P1 to P2.

That's pretty much all I can get whatever I'm working on to in a semester depedning on the rep and my schedule as a college student. Usually that's plenty when it comes to juries and whenever I have my junior and senior recitals. I was thinking of participating in my university's concerto competition next year, so obviously for that I'd have to get whatever I play to the P3 level.

Edited: December 10, 2019, 1:26 AM · To my belief; a student by definition does not have the necessary mastery and experience therefore cannot achieve a P3 level. In other words, can only achieve said level for the pieces under his/her level of capability.

My daughter's teacher is an advocate of being exposed to as many pieces as possible. So apart from conventional graded repertoire, she is assigned lots of side pieces.

This makes it practically impossible to polish every piece to the highest level.

The pieces planned for a performance or a competition are always polished to P2 level. Besides that; milestone pieces which are not necessarily scheduled to be used are treated the same way. P2 or P1 can be accepted for those depending on the wokload and circumstances.

For the rest, somewhere between L3-P1 is good enough. There might be outliers above or below that range depending on how my daughter connects to the piece.

December 10, 2019, 1:54 AM · For lessons, we usually move on at L2. For student recitals, I'd like to reach at least P1, but in practice we always pick something that's too hard and I perform at L3, worrying that I will mess up so badly that I'll have to stop mid-piece. That hasn't happened so far, but missed and badly out-of-tune notes in both quick and slow parts do happen. At recital time, I'll have been working on that piece for four months.

The teacher claims that I'll progress faster if I work on tough piecees, both performance pieces and etudes. (I've seen posts here like "we did one Kreutzer etude every week", which I can't imagine me doing.)

In the meantime, I have nothing in my repertoire that I'd play for friends if they ask me to "play something". :-(

December 10, 2019, 3:09 AM · p2
December 10, 2019, 4:20 AM · #Ali K, you raise a very interesting (to me) philosophical question with your first paragraph, quoted here: "To my belief; a student by definition does not have the necessary mastery and experience therefore cannot achieve a P3 level. In other words, can only achieve said level for the pieces under his/her level of capability."

If a student can't achieve a P3 level, is that music really at his/her level of capability? It may be the level they are working towards achieving, but if they can't achieve full mastery of the music then in my opinion it's not that person's level of capability.

I think I would agree with your statement if you had changed the end of that paragraph so that "capability" was changed to "pieces under the level they are currently working to master."

I think your daughter's teacher's idea of introducing her to a lot of different pieces is a very good one. The musical world is full of great music (not great because the culture has declared it "great" but great because it's fun to play and fun to listen to) and I have run into musicians who are in total control of their instrument and in total control of the few works they've been forced to master to a P3 level but they can't sight-read their way out of a paper bag, nor can they simply relax and play music for enjoyment. And that, in my opinion, is sad.

Your daughter will know there are the major pieces she is expected to master but she will be aware of a much larger musical universe that she will be able to explore more as she gets older. And I hope she will be able to enjoy the exhilaration of playing for sheer fun.

#Han N -- I think you need to explore music outside the level you're currently working on -- simpler things so that you'll have music you can play for friends when they ask. There is a vast universe of music I'm sure you can already play, if you only look for it. Church solos, folk songs, fiddle tunes, broadway show and movie tunes in simplified versions. Find music that's fun to play and not challenging I think you may find that the stress of the difficult music you're working on might feel less stressful.

December 10, 2019, 5:29 AM · P2 or P3. It depends on the purpose of the piece. P3 applies if it is an exam piece for myself on viola or my violin students. P2 if it’s a piece just for repertoire.

I also expect students to memorise their pieces, so that helps with the perfecting part!

Edited: December 10, 2019, 7:50 AM · This is very interesting--thanks for posting, Lydia. I've never performed a piece that was beyond the P1 level. Usually I've performed at the L3 level. My teachers throughout grade school and high school never prepared students beyond these levels (students frequently didn't get to the L3), and I would have no idea how to get from the P1/L3 level to P2. I did take some lessons through college, and it is my responsibility for not practicing sufficiently due to a very heavy academic load--that is to say I do not know if I could have gotten further with those teachers.

I wonder why teachers do or do not prepare students beyond very flawed performances. Do they not know how to do it? Does it require extra effort on the teacher's part?

I've been back at it for 18 months, but I've only had reasonable stamina for about 4 or 5. I don't have any performance plans in the near future, but I would like to get to P1 with my current repertoire though. That seems to be my implicit standard.

Edited to address M. Zilpah's comment: I can easily memorize something that I can play only at the L1 level, so memorization isn't any indicator of more thorough preparation for me.

December 10, 2019, 8:25 AM · P1. For an amateur player, this level, as you defined it, is a realistic expectation and can be achieved with reasonable daily, but not all day, practice. It is satisfying for me to get a piece at this level, and I enjoy listening to pieces performed at this level.

For a professional, P2 should be the minimum standard, IMO. It also requires quite a commitment to practice and technical development.

I would expect P3 level from a world class performer. Do most orchestra players really need this level of performance?

December 10, 2019, 8:30 AM · As an adult amateur, I aim for P1 for pieces I want to play for my own pleasure, but acknowledge that the goal may in some cases take place gradually over years. Some pieces that I am working on mainly to stretch my technical ability (e.g. I know it is hard and I am playing it in part to make other things easier) I sometimes only work on until L1-L2 level.

I only work to get (my own, not orchestra) things above P1 if I am actually going to perform or audition with them, and for the very rare solo performance, I typically select things well below the level of the warhorses I am fighting to get to P1. (I.e. I can get it to about P2 fairly easily because it is well below my technical level.) I spend playing for myself things in the L1-L2 range above that honestly I don't know if I could get to P2 without a massive increase in total practice time (heh, including a lot more scales).

Edited: December 10, 2019, 3:25 PM · I'm glad you broached this topic, as lately I've been wondering when it is acceptable to shelve a piece for a little while. I'm an amateur-returner, perform rarely, and don't have a lot of interest in performing.

I'm ready to shelve a piece when progress becomes stagnant, or I become disinterested in refining the piece and go through the motions of practicing just to keep it fresh, or I feel I have nothing left to "say" with the piece/my ability to communicate as such through the piece is just not happening right now.

In short: I'm usually satisfied at the L3-P1 level, but I feel my teacher pushes for a solid P1+ level (personal artistry).

December 10, 2019, 12:07 PM · I'm slightly confused about the definition of P3. If you truly mean immaculate in every sense of the word (as I believe Carmen is interpreting it), the only people who ever get repertoire up to this standard are world class soloists (i.e. the people who win/place at Queen Elisabeth and similar competitions). I am a professional musician, but when I hear people of this quality, it's hard for me to label anything I put forward as immaculate, regardless of how technically and artistically good it may be. I suspect Lydia's definition simply implies that, if they performed in front of seasoned musicians, the performer would be viewed as technically sound and artistic. I feel most of the works I prepare meet this level. This is quite a difference, after all.

I think the reason this discrepancy exists is because of the mentioning of "errors" in the tier descriptions. Most seasoned musicians will not get through a long piece like a concerto without some type of minor slip, even if that slip is imperceptible to those who do not know the piece super well. This slip could be an actual memory slip, a lapse in bow control and vibrato, or a minor intonation mistake. I actually think that the ability to regularly perform long works without any slips of this nature is a large part of what makes soloists. However, do these barely noticeable and rarely occurring slips deprive a performance of a P3 status? The tier descriptions make it sound this way, so I can see why Carmen would interpret P3 the way she did.

Edited: December 10, 2019, 1:26 PM · As an adult late starter, I don't have any illusions about P3. I'm satisfied with P1 and occasional allow myself the idle hope that it might be near P2, especially for easier things slightly "below" my current level that I study for solo performance, mostly baroque (thinking of Telemann viola concerto or Bach double concerto this summer).
With most pieces I tackle, I'm reaching my limits at L3 and keep them up for later refinement (I don't want to fruitlessly play them to death), and since I currently don't see a teacher and speed of progress isn't my main goal, I try to stand clear of repertoire where I don't see a realistic chance of getting there.

My last (and hopefully future) teacher pushed me a bit harder. I remember two years ago when we were working on my Vivaldi A minor for almost a year until he was satisfied with something like L2 and allowed me to lay it down for further polishing in the future. (Certainly we did not work on Vivaldi exclusively during that time, for God's sake...) I think he believes learning through pieces would be more "fun" than etudes, while I rather prefer working on etudes until I have the skills to learn a certain piece within an acceptable amount of time. But that's a different story and probably worth anoth thread...

December 10, 2019, 2:57 PM · Hi,
When I'm playing for myself or playing "secretly" pieces , I always go to "Perfomable" level
With my teacher we're always at immaculate level


December 10, 2019, 2:57 PM · Hi,
When I'm playing for myself or playing "secretly" pieces , I always go to "Perfomable" level
With my teacher we're always at immaculate level


December 10, 2019, 4:13 PM · My answer to the title question is: I depends. If I stop liking a piece I stop working on it without any regret--assuming I have no commitment to anybody involving the piece in question.

If I want to perform I drive it to the highest achievable level. I am not going to self grade here; it is bad enough that we have to do that for ACMP. But I am as conscientious as I can with my technique, background and energy.

If I work on a piece to get to know it or to learn something from it of for some other reason I stop whenever I feel I have achieved what I set out to achieve. I don't care about the level reached at that point. As an amateur I can afford to do this. We amateurs have our privileges.

December 10, 2019, 4:42 PM · I would disagree with Ali. I think that students can indeed reach a P3 level when the work is fully within their technical capabilities. Sure, they're not going to sound like Heifetz or Hahn, but a "high standard" doesn't mean a "very best in the world standard". There's still room for refinement.

Jocelyn, I think teachers vary in how well they expect students to play repertoire and how much they push students to the edge of their technical capabilities. Some teachers instruct in a way that results in "advancing without improving", with students playing increasingly difficult repertoire on top of a shaky technical foundation.

Carmen, the standard for professional orchestra auditions is essentially flawlessness, so yes, P3 has to be the target for anyone pursuing that path.

Evan, my intent for P3 is competition/audition-quality. Any technical flaws in such a performance are going to get you marked down, even if your performance is not quite as perfect each time as you might have hoped. (I've edited slightly.)

December 10, 2019, 4:53 PM · Looking at this from a slightly different perspective there are a few orchestral pieces (symphonies, tone poems, overtures) that I'm glad to see the back of when the concert performance is over! No names no pack drill, but technical difficulties are generally not the reason.
December 11, 2019, 12:38 AM · Ali, I interpret P3 as being competition/audition ready, rather than attaining mastery over the art of violin.
December 11, 2019, 1:05 AM · @David Bailey

"pieces under the level they are currently working to master."

That is exactly what i was trying to say. Since i am not a native English speaker, i may not have chosen the correct words.

Further, we might also add the phrase "relative to" following with age, maturity, level etc. just so to be clear. Because i still would like to think P3 simply as:

A potential to produce a memorable performance close or even competing a soloist level.

This is a completely different level. It is a realm of diminishing returns, which requires deep understanding on every aspect of violin playing, especially the fundemental side. Also requires a certain way of thinking and execution generally correlated with maturity and experience.

To me; a student is still a learner and cannot have such command and experience by definition. Therefore we can only talk about a P3 level relative to his/her capability.

Edited: December 11, 2019, 5:51 AM · But this is so hard.to say. I really cannot believe that almost any young child can polish several pieces in a year to P3. Or they would have to spend hours a day in very good practise. If I think of my girl I dont really think she has ever reached P3 yet. But for me P3 is like the performances of professional violinists and so it would actually be nearly impossible for a child to reach that stage.

Its all how you define P3.

Also if P2 is defined by errors that are not noticable I dont she has ever reached P2 either as I do notice the errors.

So its all how you define P2 too.

In my opinion most of her pieces are L3 or P1 but some are only L2 as her teacher does treat pieces like stepping stones. She may easily learn the learning point of the piece in the Suzuki book but it would take months for her to learn them by heart without mistakes (Book 5 now) so there is no point in not going forward.

Bu I bet this is so different for different people. If you have high standards then of course you may never reach P3 without being a professional, but if you cannot hear the mistakes then you would easily think you have reached a higher level than you have. We have had plenty of good examples of this in this forum too.

The point of playig the pieces is learning to play the violin and learning technique in my opinion and not how you olay the pieces.

Edited: December 11, 2019, 5:50 AM · As a kid it was P1 or P2, always getting me in the top 3 in local music festivals.
Now it's a different ball game. I have catch-up to do, so I just play at each grade for 2 months, then automatically drop it for the next grade. Probably L2. When I can do the Spring Sonata at L2, if I'm ever foolish enough to agree to perform a solo, I'll choose a much, much, much easier piece!
December 11, 2019, 9:10 AM · Lydia, thank you so much for this schema. It's a really nice way to think about things and to help guide practice. I really think when you are done with a piece varies widely based on your age, level, and aspirations.

I would say for my son, who has professional aspirations, most pieces are "done" at P1 or P2. The P1 pieces tend to be things we know he will revisit in college, like harder movements of solo Bach and harder Paganini Caprices. The P2 pieces tend to be his current rep that he is performing. Most are designed to stretch has capabilities. He does try to get some pieces up to P3 for competitions, but to do so he usually puts the piece away for at least a few weeks, comes back to it, and polishes it up. Typically, his main issue getting beyond P1 is intonation and occasionally bow cleanliness. He tends to play more out of tune when nervous.

For my younger one (age 10), who does not have professional aspirations but plays well for her age, she is almost always in the high L3 range unless the piece is easy. She just doesn't have the patience to perfect beyond that. Since she plays for fun, I don't have an issue with that.

Edited: December 11, 2019, 9:57 AM · What is competition-quality for a student is of course dependent upon their level. A kid playing a competition-quality Gossec Gavotte (end of Suzuki book 1) is still going to sound kind of beginner-ish -- no vibrato, none of the fancy bowing technique that you'll see done by someone like Elman in this work -- but it will have nice sound, it will be clean, every note will be in tune, the marked dynamics will be respected (and there will be proper phrasing), and it will be in rhythm and in tempo.

When I was a kid, I generally did NOT learn a lot of repertoire each year, BECAUSE my teachers wanted P3 levels of perfection. Indeed, this was frustrating to me and my parents, because I did not have the patience to perfect things, and what limited enthusiasm I had for practicing pretty much evaporated during the polishing stage, which of course meant that it took extra-super-duper forever to get to the point where my teacher was satisfied.

But we did cycle through an awful lot of etudes, which I suspect is how I managed to make reasonably steady progress despite not-uncommonly doing just one or two pieces a year.

Now it seems like between all the repertoire I'm juggling for public performance, we generally get roughly through two concertos per year (one of them possibly for performance with orchestra, the other simply for student studio recital), one or two major sonatas (or similar works with piano), and sometimes one or two short recital works (these generally pose no technical challenge). Etudes often get neglected. (I generally have at least five sets of orchestra music to learn, plus two major chamber works, as well.)

In practice my current work never gets above the P2 level, even if I'd really prefer P3 for concertos-with-orchestra.

December 11, 2019, 10:18 AM · Lydia - was your 1-2 pieces per year period also at the time of intermediate-level purgatory?
December 11, 2019, 11:00 AM · Really helpful thread. And I wanted to mention how much I enjoy Susan’s posts. I feel like I could take a masterclass in violin parenting from you.
The discussion helps me understand or guess what people are saying when they say “I have learned Mozart 5”.
As a parent I hear every mistake or missed intonation. I’m not critical but just very involved, present during lessons and practice. She played on stage last night and I would say it fell in that P1-P2 range. I heard a few things (perfect intonation at the start of P&A seems hard!, with nerves and all) but the general audience seemed impressed.
Edited: December 11, 2019, 11:41 AM · Pamela M: Yes! But even my Suzuki teachers insisted on near-perfection (at least to the extent that any beginner can achieve it); I felt like I was moving through the books much slower than many other kids, but the slower pace meant I was mastering the technical content of each piece which ultimately gave me the foundation to move faster later. I suspect the intermediate-years frustration, however, indicated that the P3 was not really warranted; I might have been better served cycling through more repertoire learned to P1/P2 level (at the very least it would have gotten me to practice more).

I'd consider Susan's son's Wieniawski 2 with orchestra (on YouTube) to be a P3-level performance, and his means of achieving it typical. Students generally get to P3 not by grinding relentlessly on the single work, but by getting it to the P1 or P2 level, dropping it, and coming back often months later to revisit, sometimes multiple times. In the course of getting it to the higher level, they often perform it several times (for instance, it might be done at a studio recital, and informally for some seniors in a retirement home, and then at a lesser competition, before being played for something high-stakes).

December 11, 2019, 11:55 AM · Matthew, one of the distinctions that I'm trying to draw is the role that luck plays in how well something comes off under stress -- basically, a measure of consistency.

Dead-on perfect, artistic intonation is nearly unachievable, but solidly-on-pitch (with any very minor miss instantly correctable by a bit of vibrato or tiny basically unnoticeable slide of the finger) should be the norm for anything learned to performance level.

There are some passages in some works that will be dangerous no matter what -- that remain a leap of faith. There are others where when solidly learned (and the level of the piece is appropriate for the player), reliability should be a given. I would say the opening of P&A one of those places where reliability should be a given.

P3 pieces are typically "owned for life" -- they often stay memorized for a decade or more even if you neither touch them or listen to them again. (I think I can play the first three, maybe four, books of Suzuki from memory still, and a fair chunk through book 6, more than three decades since I last touched them. Along with a nontrivial amount of intermediate-level repertoire and some concertos, though not in their entirety.)

December 11, 2019, 12:13 PM · 6 weeks out, my student's audition piece is at L3 (played recently in a casual, low stakes performance as an alert to what still needs to be done - "did not induce terror" is exactly right!). If last year is any indication, this particular audition context is not super competitive and P1 is likely to garner an acceptable result although not a top result. After that we will "abandon" and go back to taking Suzuki pieces to P2-P3. I think working deeply on pieces should be part of students' learning experience, but not every piece needs to be studied deeply, so we have a "core" of Suzuki plus a bunch of side stuff. I also often tell students, this is a book 1 way of doing things, this is a book 2 way, a book 5 way, etc. P3 would be different for a book 1 student playing a book 1 piece, book 5 student playing a book 3 piece, etc.

There is one surviving/accessible recording of a performance from when I was a teen, and I thought it was so bad that it was a chore finishing listening to it. It makes me wonder if my teacher was not picky enough or if I'm currently too picky as a teacher.

These days I don't prepare solo repertoire for serious performance, so there is only playing "for leisure" and community orchestra. I like Paul's idea of shooting for P1 and not counting abandoned stuff. Put other way, if something reached P1, I could say that I've "played it", whereas anything I may have dabbled in at L1-L2 wouldn't get mentioned.

December 11, 2019, 12:21 PM · She’s put together the P&A in about 6 weeks. So it may be a case where we set it aside for holidays and come back. Just a couple things and, yes mostly covered by vibrato. She does not get enough performance where we live,
better in practice. She’s had a lot of music on her plate this year and is just getting to the kind of pieces she will likely play as part of a continuing repertoire. So your thoughts on revisiting P1-P2 pieces is useful. Summer camp auditions are coming up in February, so likely we will be choosing things previously learned to polish for those. Maybe I’ll tell the 11 year old she needs to shoot for P3, she’ll like the jargon.
Edited: December 11, 2019, 3:25 PM · Matthew Metz, thank you so much for your kind words on my violin parenting. My kids would probably disagree! I made my 10yo cry yesterday making her redo a syncopation she kept getting wrong, and my son and I had a 10 minute long argument about how American players do too many smooth bow changes and German players change more aggressively and which is better.

And Lydia, it's funny you would consider his Wieniawski 2 P3. He had at least 10 things he didn't like about his performance. I think both he and I have unreasonable expectations at times.

I think there is definitely a mistake to be made in staying on repertoire for a really long time trying to get above P1 or P2. Unless you are preparing for a specific major audition, I think you are better off keeping progress steady and moving on more quickly. That last little polish will happen if and when you return to the piece.

I see two schools of thought in the kids who are playing at a high level in my city. There are those who spend a whole year playing one piece. And there are those who spend 3 months on a full concerto. It's hard to know which is the better alternative, because some of those kids who play the same movement for a year end up winning a lot of competitions. But at the same time, if you compare their list of learned repertoire, they are WAY behind in where I would expect a kid going for conservatory would be.

December 11, 2019, 3:38 PM · You have to take diminishing returns into account.
December 11, 2019, 4:14 PM · Susan, at P3, on advanced repertoire, everyone hears things they wish they'd done better, because they don't sound like Heifetz. And Heifetz always heard things he'd wished he'd done better, too. ;-)

At P3, a competition jury will always have things they think you could do better, but different jurors will have different opinions!

December 11, 2019, 4:15 PM · Lydia - ah, I will stop feeling so bad about my seemingly miserably slow progress then if you did 1-2 pieces per year!
December 12, 2019, 7:02 AM · Susan wrote, "But at the same time, if you compare their list of learned repertoire, they are WAY behind in where I would expect a kid going for conservatory would be."

That's surely true, but if a student can play a half-baked Lalo, a choppy Tchaik, and a so-so Sibelius, none of those is going to make for a successful conservatory audition tape. The rep list doesn't make the violinist. That's just my opinion. Moreover the process of polishing needs to be learned too -- there is a lot of ear training that takes place.

Are there really differences in the way American vs. German violinists change bows?

December 12, 2019, 8:10 AM · I don't think it's a national phenomenon so much as it is a function of the Russian (Auer) vs the American (Galamian) vs the Franco-Belgian (Ysaye) "schools" of bowing. The Galamian "figure 8" tends to produce a crescendo-decrescendo effect with each stroke. (For a classic example, listen to anything Joshua Bell has recorded.)

In general, regardless of one's technical approach, any violinist ought to be able to produce a nigh-inaudible bow change when desired, and start any stroke with any desired level of articulation. Some individuals will prefer more articulation, which may possibly be more desirable for projection reasons under some circumstances. We don't have national schools of interpretation anymore because the whole art has become so extremely global.

Edited: December 12, 2019, 8:32 AM · When are you done with a piece?

The way this question was phrased turned my mind in a different direction. I still play music I first played 72 years ago, guess I was not done with it. (Although my playing goes back 81 years the pieces I play now do not.) In fact it's getting so it may soon be the only level of music I CAN play. I seem to play it differently now than I did when I was 13.

And that led me to recall watching a video of Ivry Gitlis performing some solos at the Verbier Festival a few years ago at the age of about 92 (the festival is an annual event in the Swiss Alps). My first impression was that he should not have been doing that in front of people, but I warmed to him rather quickly. Gitlis, born in 1922 hit the world stage around 1949 and became one of the most idiosyncratic violin virtuosos of the 20th century. His idiosyncricity is still apparent in his 90s, even if his virtuosity is not. Gitlis (talking) was very prominent in the video "The Art of Violin."


Edited: December 12, 2019, 10:44 AM · Thanks for this Lydia - a really good characterization. I scanned (but confess did not read thoroughly) the responses above and get the feeling that one person's L3 is another persons P3 ;)

As an adult returner (Going on for 11 years of obsession), I am in the interesting no-man's land of playing in a good community orchestra, performing solo/sonatas, getting together for chamber music evenings etc while still taking private lessons (now from a conservatory soloist/professor).

The level of attainment depends entirely on the planned outcome. For my solo work I do try to get to P2 (judging by responses I think I got there for last weekends performance of the Massenet Meditation :) :) ). As noted, such pieces have to be well within your technical prowess.

However, for orchestra I am doing well if I'm at L3 and sometimes L2 (we have masses of rep as we do 8-10 performances a year) while for private chamber music we are all working at L1-L3 - often sight reading substantial passages. As long as we do not drop out its generally accepted that its all good and fun!

The point is that the level of achievement really depends on the purpose of the piece. I feel sorry for people who have to work solely on one piece until its finished. Granted it is essential that some pieces are 'completed' else you will never learn the nuances of playing the instrument while learning what constitutes a performance-ready piece is an essential part of both training and of being an accomplished musician. However, it is equally important to be exposed to a wide variety of repertoire to broaden your technical abilities and most important also your musical understanding and expression.

Edited: December 12, 2019, 10:23 AM · Wow, I never "tagged" or "classified" performance levels that way. It's interesting!

Nevertheless, I feel like there's an abrupt leap between P2 and P3. There should be at least 1 or 2 levels between P2 and P3, you can't go from "OK for the casual listener" to "perfection, as a God".

I would include there some levels like:

Technically solid (level P2.5): There are almost no errors when performing the piece for an audience, but the piece lacks originality and feeling. The performer can achieve technically and "pass" all the difficulties in the road, but doesn't know where is going sometimes. It felt like there was something missing, something was clearly not quite right for the hardcore listener that really knows how the piece goes. Does not really excel.

Soloist (level P2.9): All the piece is played with ease and even the hardest passages appear to the eye so easy to play. It's very satisfying for a violinist listener to see how easy everything seems to be. The work has an inner soul that is conducted by the performer, showing the own personal touches, and it moves you. You can spot here and there a few errors (I'm assuming the piece is very difficult, like a sonata or concert). Some may dislike the personal flavor of the performer, but only an ignorant could not see the excellence of the performer. Clearly trying to reach the maestro (P3) level.

That's what I think is missing in your ratings.

December 12, 2019, 10:54 AM · My teacher moves me on between L2/3, at least he has up until now. He does teach everything through assigned pieces rather than etudes/other excercises for the most part.

We are now starting to focus on what sounds like P1 fluency. It's not an especially difficult piece for me so it seems a good candidate for that. The only slightly confusing bit is that A Minor key...hah! Practice addresses that..

December 12, 2019, 8:06 PM · Paul N, I think the difference between your concept and mine is by and large, I do not separate technique from interpretation. Truly *original* interpretation is not a function of polish so much as it is of personality. (Original also often means quirky, i.e. someone like Ivry Gitlis.)

The gap between P2 and P3 is indeed a humongous amount of work. Getting the last 5%, especially last 1% of polish can take many times more effort/time than getting the notes learned.

Edited: December 12, 2019, 8:33 PM · I think that Lydia's rating scale is, as it appears to me, meant to sit within the context of one's abilities. An intermediate player's P3 is not a professional's P3. Paul N, I think your conception of the different ratings is more in line with a player's general level of mastery of the instrument. P3 isn't really the "maestro" level; it is the level one achieves on a work if they devote enormous time and energy to polishing it. For some very fine violinists out there, that may be the "maestro" level, but for many others, it will just be their personal best, and there is nothing wrong with that.

I agree with Lydia that technique is meant to be in service of interpretation, and therefore, one is not separable from the other. I have heard top soloists (even Hilary Hahn) perform interpretations of pieces that didn't move me, even though their execution of each and every passage was practically flawless. "Originality" and "feeling", as Paul N describes, are largely subjective, and what one person may find moving, another could fine totally bland. Just because I may not have personally loved these performances does not mean that I think they are any less than P3 with flying colors. There is no accounting for taste, but I think the criteria for Lydia's scale are mostly objective things that, if lacking, can make a performance seem much less impressive and convincing.

December 13, 2019, 4:25 AM · "The gap between P2 and P3 is indeed a humongous amount of work"

...and that's why I told you I think there are some missing levels in between. I disagree with some things you said. For example, the originality of an interpretation is not only a matter of personal preferences and subjective decisions, it doesn't simply come "naturally" and that's it, and some players have it and others don't. Originality and truly meaning of the piece come after a lot of work and thought about the piece, sometimes you have to think outside the box and try different things, many times you ignore the indications because you feel you're not really squeezing the passage, it's not sounding as good as you know it can. It's the difference between robotic playing (no passion, same as others) and a performer that takes the next step. By no means I meant that something original is take a Bach work and play it in a jazz unconventional way. Not at all. Don't mix originality with different and unconventional. The adjective "original" should never simply mean "different", because there's nothing original 'per se' about making a rock version of a classical piece. It can lead to an original interpretation, but not because you played it in a rock flavor.

Evan, if that's right and the ratings or levels are not universal, then they are useless... What you're saying is like failing you math test with a 27/50 score but get an A+ because "that's your personal level of P3". Absurd.

About moving... sure, that's personal and subjective, you can get moved by your 7 years old daughter playing Bach so badly. Nonetheless, that's another kind of moving that is not musical at all, let's not mix those with getting moved by the musical excellence of a performance, to be overwhelmed by the piece itself and the performer. This can happen in P2 level, so I'm not saying that to achieve P2.9 or whatever a piece has to move you.

December 13, 2019, 4:47 AM · why would it not make sense to grade how well someone plays something relative to their current technical abilities? it would grade how hard&smart she has worked on the piece which, I think, is the purpose of lydia's proposed scale.
Edited: December 13, 2019, 8:44 AM · I've come very late to this thread and I must say I find it a rather curious idea. Maybe I'm P2 for some pieces, certainly L1 for others, but to whom is this of interest or importance? As a measure of overall competence the UK system of grades 1 to 8 seems perfectly adequate.
December 13, 2019, 6:51 AM · Because, Jean, whatever your personal maximum current abilities and skills are, no one cares as it doesn't matter and says absolutely nothing about the piece or your performance. Indeed I already said the rating is already comparing and pretends to be universal. According to what you are saying, all beginners start at P3 level, because they are playing as good as they can, with a lot of work. While, in reality, they are at the lowest point.
Edited: December 13, 2019, 8:15 AM · I think some posters are confounding a third-person perspective on performance quality with the first-person learners' perspective. The latter is what this scale intends to represent. This scale is a heuristic useful to the learner (and his or her teacher), not the reviewer. The reviewer really has no interest in where in the learning process the performer is, and assesses a performance based on the performance only. You need a different set of criteria to assess performances. That said, most professional performers are probably at the P3 level. (But who would care if we found out that some soloist plays beautifully and sells out the hall at P2?)
December 13, 2019, 9:02 AM · Jean and Jocelyn capture it exactly. There are some objective elements here, but primarily this is to gauge depth of learning on a given work. I am personally of the opinion that if a player, even a beginner, is not able to get, at tempo, the right notes, the right intonation. the right bowstroke, and the printed dynamics, the work is too hard.
Edited: December 13, 2019, 9:10 AM · Maybe it's another transatlantic cultural difference, two nations divided by a common language and a radically different work ethic. I'm still at a loss to understand how self-classification on a vague, arbitrary scale can help a learner progress. In some sports you can measure your performance against objective criteria, but music isn't a sport and to declare your own performance L3, P6 etc is in no sense objective. Even if it were, I don't think any performer ever sits back with a sigh and thinks "Now I've mastered that one I can move on to something else"
December 13, 2019, 1:41 PM · then again it may be another brexit thing, since i think I do understand it :-) it is a tool in planning your violin studies basically. which pieces am I going to work on TO WHICH DEPTH, so that I make most efficient progress overall?
Edited: December 13, 2019, 1:49 PM · As a beginner, and that is a big caveat, I like how Jean describes it as a tool in addressing violin studies. Less an objective ranking system than prioritizing different pieces/studies. This provides a bit more constructive way to think about it. For myself it sounds helpful, but I am no professional.
December 13, 2019, 2:30 PM · I also feel it is a way to decide the depth of progess that can/will be/is made with given piece. To try to keep things in perspective, and allow decisions to be made about time spent (especially for an amateur like me).
December 13, 2019, 2:39 PM · Yes, what Pamela said. Also, it's a way of providing something of a measuring stick when someone says, "Yeah, I've learned X piece" -- when someone says they're playing Tchaikovsky, it matters a lot (in many discussions) whether they are playing it at, say, a P1 or P2 level, versus an L1 level. This is to some degree semi-independent of violinistic capability (obviously a player who is more than technically adept enough for the challenges of a work will learn a simple piece to a P-level in short order).
Edited: December 13, 2019, 3:11 PM · I'd say "memorized" usually means it's at P2 or P3. But for me, memorized means that a student has learned to play the notes and also the other markings: correct bowings, articulations, dynamics, etc. And for a student, there has to be the reasonable judgment of something being performance-ready at their level, or we'd be doing "Minuet 3" for several years. The expectation for a "finished product" rises as their ability does. And is the "musical magic" there? Maybe that is "P4"!

I did once have a student come to me; she told me she was at Suzuki Book 6 level. She actually could not play anything at all, from any book. It was an interesting situation; I think she'd never "mastered" anything along the way.

December 14, 2019, 11:12 AM · Just a quick note to say that I love these levels...may use with my students to get them to self-assess. :)

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