Simon Fishers "The Basics"

March 23, 2020, 3:11 PM · Couldn't decide where to put this post. Lessons and orchestra rehearsals have been suspended until 4/6, but now that Indiana has issued at stay-at-home order until 4/7 it is going to be at least a bit longer than that. Hopefully not much longer, but it will be as long as it takes. Considering increasing my reference materials during this time.

I do have "The Violin Lesson", which was published after "The Basics". I'm in Suzuki 3, working on 3rd position and learning what I call "pre-vibrato" (good I don't have a cat and live alone for this one!). Is there enough additional material for someone at my level to justify the purchase? I read on an old thread here that there is a lot of duplication between the two books, curious to read your thoughts on this.

Replies (44)

Edited: March 23, 2020, 3:34 PM · No, you don't need another book. "The Violin Lesson" and "Basics" have a lot of overlap, as you pointed out. What you really need are studies and repertoire that have been selected with the guidance of an expert teacher, so that you can work toward your goals along an appropriately graduated learning curve. Suzuki Book 3 is fine. Which piece(s) are you doing right now? Humoresque has good shifting opportunities. Take your time and use the "ghost note" concept that is, as I recall, explained in the book. Maybe find the Book 2 tunes that might be played with *some* third position. Wohlfahrt and Dont Op. 20 are good elementary studies, but again there are almost too many of them.
March 23, 2020, 3:44 PM · You can find free PDF copies of Basics online...
March 23, 2020, 4:04 PM · Putting aside my personal antipathy towards Basics, Basics is not a book I would recommend for someone that has been playing for fewer than, say 5 years. It is full of all kinds of specific exercises that I think you need to have a bit of context for, and not written for the beginner.

I think Flesch is a lot more readable, but even that probably wouldn't be of great use to you at this point.

Edited: March 23, 2020, 5:17 PM · I greatly appreciate the comments, and that was my basic assumption, but it helps to have that confirmed. I am currently working on "Gavotte in G" in Suzuki 3, we were going to start Humoresque at today's lesson...and we have a standing agreement that I do not jump ahead.

No matter, this is a really good time to focus deeply on my tone production, shifting (thinking about working out "Chorus from Judas Maccabaeus" in 3rd), "pre-vibrato", Disney (10 pieces for a wedding we're playing this summer- the bride really likes Disney), etc. The list looks short, but for this returned beginner, diving deep should pay off.

Edited: March 24, 2020, 3:07 AM · You can get all the Suzuki (old editions) as free pdfs online, and I'm sure the early stuff in volume 4 will be ok for you when you have finished volume 3. Also you could download some slow Corelli from IMSLP. There will be plenty to choose from once you start looking, but my mind is pretty blank at the moment. Anything but another Fischer book, lol! Of course, if you want explicit fingerings, that may take some thought. If you want to work more on 3rd position, there are a few gentle exercises in Sitt in IMSLP.
March 24, 2020, 3:16 AM · Sorry for Hijacking this thread, I can’t make another one because one of my threads is still active. Does anyone have any scale books to recommend? Like 3-4 octave ones with runs, arpeggios, octaves, and intervals?
Edited: March 24, 2020, 3:53 AM · Barbara Barber Scales for Advanced Violinists. No, that's only 3 octaves.

Stuff like Flesch will all be free online, no?
(I've never personally looked at it)

March 24, 2020, 4:42 AM · Hopefully lessons will be able to resume in 2-3 weeks. We've long had the standing agreement that I not "jump ahead" in the book - it may not come as a surprise that I tend to be an over-achiever.

So will continue to work on what I described above, apply what I've learned on "outside" pieces I've not worked on for a few months, and hopefully before we know it the virus that shall not be named will be behind us enough so life can get closer to normal.

Edited: March 24, 2020, 7:05 AM · "You can find free PDF copies of 'Basics' online..."

Unless those are there legally, please don't use them. I know that Simon's books are expensive, but personally, I find it hard to fault someone for making a good living by having written truly scholarly books.

I agree with Christian that "Basics" is for more advanced players. Fischer missed the chance at a humorous title: "Basics for Advanced Violinists."

March 24, 2020, 7:49 AM · How do you tell if they’re there legally or not? I found it in more than 1 site, and one quite openly had editions of lots of titles.
It works both ways too. After poking around basics, I then purchased 2 of his books anyway.
I am relieved to find that it’s ok that a lot of basics was over my head .
They are beautiful books, but does anyone have tips on how to get them to sit on a stand so you can play the excerpts ?
Edited: March 24, 2020, 8:18 AM · @Rosemary
"does anyone have tips on how to get them to sit on a stand so you can play the excerpts?"
I use these - they are good for outdoors too.

I guess all the negative reviews are from people who try using them for heavy duty carpentry.

March 24, 2020, 10:25 AM · I took my copy of The Violin Lesson to Staples and had the binding replaced with that thick rubber spiral binding (NOT comb binding). It's been a year, but it cost me $10 and is much easier to handle.
Edited: March 24, 2020, 12:11 PM · I'm sort of an "advanced intermediate" returnee student (Bruch, Bach Partita #3) who pushed through the intermediate and "easy" advanced repertoire as a teenager without learning technique. So I am needing to pick those skills up now. I use Basics to reinforce technique that my teacher has shown me. Particularly if I think I am struggling, Basics sometimes has an exercise that provides a different way to approach the problem, which can resolve my difficulties. I have had no luck trying to learn skills presented in Basics when I've had no one-on-one instruction on the skill. I think it's an excellent resource to solidify and refine skills, but it doesn't work to try to learn new skills from the book--at least not for me.

If you read the front matter of the book, Fischer decided to write it after watching a violinist playing in an opera struggle with posture. Frankly, someone like a freelance opera violinist--someone who has at least been instructed (if poorly) in the skills at least once, and who can play advanced repertoire--is the target audience, not beginners or even intermediate players.

Edited to address the OP's question regarding what sort of material she can use to supplement: recently I began playing in an orchestra (although obviously we're not rehearsing now) and I've found that my facility has increased rapidly just reading through and figuring out 30+ pages of repertoire (mostly in my range) over the past month or so. Perhaps the OP might consider doing something similar (as already suggested by others): reading through material at approximately her current level of playing?

March 24, 2020, 12:08 PM · Rosemary, if they're free, they're not legal. If they're legal, they're not free.

The exception would be, which does vets submissions around copyright date, and of course, if you get go directly to the writer / composer and they have licensed their work out for free.

March 24, 2020, 1:48 PM · I'm with Catherine. Just have the bindings cut off and replaced with spirals. I also agree: NOT comb bindings. The first books I did this with were the O'Connor books which are super stiff and will not lie flat on your stand no matter what you do. (Which is ironic because if O'Connor had chosen a simple paper cover like the Suzuki books, it would lie flat on your stand AND it would be cheaper too.)

I would probably do "The Violin Lesson" in two volumes because it's huge. So far, I haven't really been putting Fischer books on my stand all that much. I've mostly been trying to apply his philosophy and suggestions to the studies and rep that I'm already working on, which I think is ultimately the goal anyway. But I also concede that his actual studies would probably do me some good.

Edited: March 25, 2020, 4:59 AM · Fischer's books are neither methods nor treatises: they are resource books.
And he seems to have thought of everything (except maybe very small or slender hands).

To start with just one book, I recommend The Violin Lesson; it is easy reading and friendly in tone. It answers Why as well as What.

Basics, like Flesch's Urstüdien, has brief routines for busy violinists.

Practice shows how to break down difficult passage into manageable chunks and motions.

There are also slim volumes on tone and warming up, and thicker tomes of scale and double stops. The scale book has a viola version.

Fischer seems to have thought of all my own tips 'n' tricks, plus a whole lot more!

March 24, 2020, 5:37 PM · I do like The Violin Lesson - I had it rebound due to the horrible condition in which it arrived due to Amazon putting it in basically a manilla envelope for shipping - the seller was a violin shop in Seattle who uses Amazon as thier shipper. I didn't trust Amazon to not do a repeat if I returned it, so accepted a 40% refund from the seller after I provided pictures and had the binding replaced.

I really only use the book when my teacher isn't available. He doesn't mind my sending questions, and I do/will if it's something quick, but most of my questions these days are not.

Thanks again, I appreciate confirmation on The Basics. I just wish Fischer addressed small hands...but that isn't a surprise.

March 24, 2020, 5:37 PM · I do like The Violin Lesson - I had it rebound due to the horrible condition in which it arrived due to Amazon putting it in basically a manilla envelope for shipping - the seller was a violin shop in Seattle who uses Amazon as thier shipper. I didn't trust Amazon to not do a repeat if I returned it, so accepted a 40% refund from the seller after I provided pictures and had the binding replaced.

I really only use the book when my teacher isn't available. He doesn't mind my sending questions, and I do/will if it's something quick, but most of my questions these days are not.

Thanks again, I appreciate confirmation on The Basics. I just wish Fischer addressed small hands...but that isn't a surprise.

March 25, 2020, 6:31 AM · Catherine your last remark intrigued me. Could you indicate more concretely how you got the impression that Simon Fischer does not address people with smaller hands?

I recall you had another thread here on the forum, a few months ago, on your smaller hands. Anyway, it is well known that you can perfectly master the violin with small hands. Just look at Bomsori Kim for a shining example. But...your hands need to be soft and flexible and that does not come easy.

Edited: March 25, 2020, 10:39 AM · Jean, sorry, "jean"!
My fault. I checked: Basics has a brief paragraph on small hands (opening back from the second finger) but The Violin Lesson does not.
However, in either book, the photos do not show small hands!

Now that my students can film me on those smartphone thingies, I have set up my spare viola as a violin (viola G,D,and A strings and a very tense violin E!) So my hands seem small, on this 15.75 inch "mezzo" violin!
It has the added advantage of preserving my intonation as I switch back and forth form viola to violin.

This is a trick that Fischer didn't think of!

(In passage work, violists have to spend a lot of time and discomfort keeping our hands open and flexible while striking/holding the strings more firmly.)

However, he does indeed show all kinds of opening and stretching of the hands.

March 25, 2020, 8:43 AM · I'm in the minority here in that, I have Fischer's Scales and Basics book, and do not like them.
Edited: March 25, 2020, 9:05 AM · See The Violin Lesson page 160: "Players with small hands often find that when playing the descending scale...." I'll bet there are more direct mentions of how to manage with small hands peppered throughout. I just happened to be looking for fourth-finger strengthening exercises and found this one.
March 25, 2020, 9:28 AM · While Fischer does have a notion that each hand needs to find its natural position, he doesn't know this from experience, and so his material is biased toward large hands (not even medium hands.) Also, he doesn't account for the difference in length between middle finger and pinky; the greater the difference, the more it matters that you do the opposite of what he suggest. For those with smaller hands and big differences in finger length, we need to adopt a hand shape like he shows in figures 36 (a) and (b). If you add greater tilt to the fiddle (right bout dropping toward the floor, left bout rising) you're no longer cranking the elbow to the right. He tells us to "continually relax the hand completely..." but the very act of widening the base joints creates unnecessary tension.

He doesn't discuss dropping the height of the hand (contact of side of forefinger contact with neck) needed to open the hand, as Adrian mentions. For "the rest of us" we need a hand shape closer to this:

I can't keep my pinky as straight as Antal Zalai because it collapses. Notice he doesn't widen the base joint the way Fischer describes. That may happen on occasion for the pinky when it's balancing by itself, especially in high positions, or for very contorted finger patterns in nasty chords. But in general use, we open the hand by curling the lower finger toward the scroll, lowering the side contact as necessary) and by straightening the higher finger toward the bridge. If the hands are small relative to the stretch, we may even have to touch the index at its very tip, almost straight and pointing toward the scroll, with a completely straight pinky, like a guitarist would do, as Paganini would have done.

Edited: March 25, 2020, 10:41 AM · Jeewon, that reminds me of Ricci's book on Paganini.

Basically, everyone is dead right, but not at the same time!

Jocelyn, thanks you for spotting that one.

It's interesting to compare Hilary Hahn and Kyung Wha Chung: Small vs very small hands!

March 25, 2020, 11:17 AM · Indeed!

Ricci talks about more than hand posture, but you can see how he opens his hand here.

March 26, 2020, 7:57 AM · Antal Zalai seems to have very large hands, at least they seem very wide?
March 26, 2020, 8:37 AM · jean, I guess that's part of my point. Even with larger hands, a big difference in length between pinky and middle finger requires a certain posture of the hand.
March 26, 2020, 8:54 PM · I think there is a difference between someone with small hands who learns as a child and continues playing through life, and those of us with a 47 year gap. That being said, my 4th and other stretches are getting easier, finally.

Right now my teacher is having me do 1 octave D scales where my 1st and 4th are playing each note in both positions, my fingers/hand staying stretched the entire time. It's been a challenge that is paying off! It's gotten easy and am now working on picking up the tempo without going out of tune.

We are going to try out a lesson via Zoom tomorrow after work, crossing my fingers this works!

Edited: March 27, 2020, 6:21 AM · I was struggling to find #5 in the Zalai video to compare it with Kavakos. It took me a while to realise you can go by the colour-coded shirts!
Edited: March 27, 2020, 4:43 AM · Catherine: "I think there is a difference between someone with small hands who learns as a child and continues playing through life, and those of us with a 47 year gap."

Absolutely, and that probably nails your issue. But you can keep working on that flexibility and I still think that placing the hand based on a nicely rounded 4th finger and stretching down is the best way to practice and increase suppleness in the hand, even if, like Jeewon says, in "real time playing" it is not realistic to always keep that up. Keep up the good spirit!

March 27, 2020, 5:51 AM · My hands/shoulders/neck are far from "normal" due to arthritis and injuries from over the years. The miracle is that I can play the violin at all, and things are progressing well. I am thankful.

I've tried "reaching back" and for me, at least, this is far more difficult than the other direction. In the 1-octave scale in 2 positions that I attempted to describe above, it's much easier going up than down the scale, though going down is getting easier. I do have to move in a different way going down the scale with my 1st and 4th to make it happen, but it's working.

March 27, 2020, 6:26 AM · When you are older, hand size, hand shape, arthritis, the problems add up.
I have no desire to play Paganini caprices, except partially in private as technical études. I would like to play the Bach partitas, but arthritis will prevent me before I get there. Start young.
Edited: March 27, 2020, 7:38 AM · One of my long term goal pieces is the Biber Passagalia,at the very least well enough that it at least isn't painful to hear. I may never get there and that's ok. At the end of the day I want to become the best I am capable with this lovely instrument.

My hands are in much better shape now,for which I'm thankful. That doesn't change the underlying reality, but desire will take us far. And stubbornness, loads of that!

March 27, 2020, 12:46 PM · As I mentioned earlier, we can learn from videos of Kyung Wha Chung in e.g. the Brahms concerto: a lot of "reaching back" (which cost her a sabbatical of several years) with re-positioning for first finger vibrato etc.
March 29, 2020, 9:07 AM · I have just put up a thread on "high positions for small hands", including elements which are found in Basics, but not in The Violin Lesson.
March 31, 2020, 11:01 AM · Catherine I think I've said this earlier, but anyway: you write that for you it is nearly impossible to reach down. Are you sure this is not because you push your wrist too much away from you? When learning violin we are taught that the wrist should be straight, but taking this rule too rigidly we are sometimes exaggerating and actually pushing out the wrist away from us. This totally prohibits the "reaching-down" left-hand setup. In contrast, you should actually let your wrist ease in a bit. You can even exaggerate in the other direction for starters, to allow developing that stretch and flexibility. All the best -Jan
March 31, 2020, 11:14 AM · It's not the wrist, my teacher says that's fine. it's the arthritic hands/fingers. My 4th is finally responding, for which I'm thankful, but yeah, reaching back is very difficult. Th shape of my 1st finger is such that in order to use it I think it puts my hand in a bad position to reach back. I keep working at it though.
March 31, 2020, 11:35 AM · OK keep it up!
March 31, 2020, 5:46 PM · I think the 2 position 1-octave D scale my teacher has me doing is starting to help me figure out a better way to really stretch back when moving from 4th to 1st - the goal being to have them both engaged at the same time. It's very straightforward going up the scale, going down I have to do something different, but it seems to be working. Somehow :-)
March 31, 2020, 7:35 PM · Catherine, the Biber Passacaglia is waiting on my music rack! What a great piece, hope I get to it soon.
March 31, 2020, 7:40 PM · Isn't it beautiful? I've a long way to go first, especially with double-stops, and no doubt other things I don't know about yet.
Edited: April 1, 2020, 12:28 AM · Are you learning Humoresque? You should watch this video- I saw it wasting my time on youtube (twoset) and thought it was pretty magical-
April 1, 2020, 4:19 AM · Catherine, once again I'll take my cue from my lady violist friends.
We have to (try to) open the hand like a fan in some way to play fast scale passages reliably. In slower passages, we can allow the hand to relax, moving it between notes over a stable thumb, but relying on the tactile clues assembled during the faster playing.

Also, often allow ourselves contracted fingerings, inspired by cellists, notably 1-234, with frequent mini-shifts which may or may not include the thumb.

April 1, 2020, 6:00 AM · Yes, we started on Humoresque, it's fun. My teacher has me shifting between 1st and 3rd positions as much as possible, it's really the first time we've done it this way.

Thanks Adrian!

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