Must read books for every violinist

February 6, 2021, 12:01 PM · Hello,
Are there any books you believe every violinist should read?

Replies (61)

February 6, 2021, 12:47 PM · Nikoleta, do you mean books on music that are specifically about the history and making of the violin, its playing technique, violinists' biographies or interviews? Or something more general?

If interviews with violinists is your interest then perhaps you need do no more than to scroll down to the end of the ads column on the opening page of this website, and take it from there.

February 6, 2021, 1:09 PM · What Every Violinist Needs to Know About the Body - Jennifer Johnson

This book helped me reestablish kinesthetic awareness and posture. Recommended by Nancy Zhou (via her social media).

February 6, 2021, 1:20 PM · "The Violin Lesson" by Simon Fischer.
Edited: February 6, 2021, 2:15 PM · If it's a history of the great ones, my favorite is Henry Roth's 1997 "Violin Virtuosos - From Paganini to the 21st Century." It's quite comprehensive and covers dozens and dozens of (depending on your evaluation) great and near-great players. Wonderfully well-written and informative read, and certainly provides the thorough history one would want to have as a violin player.
Edited: February 6, 2021, 5:04 PM · Last year my wife went through my "music book collection" (which is tilted toward string instruments) and listed the 242 titles and authors' names. My job-to-do was to look them all up on "bookfinder.com" for potential sale by a someday heir. I only got through about 5 of the 11 pages when I found (1) the used-book prices keep changing, (2) some of the out of print book prices are incredibly high and (3) I got tired and bored of the activity.

If you would like to have the list I can email it to you and you can find out something about most of them with a search of Amazon.com or other book seller. Even those that are not for sale at this time must be in libraries somewhere.

The specific nature of a "must read" book depends on an individual's interest at the time and in my experience it keeps changing (i.e., I'd rather call it "growing"). The more you learn, the more you know that you do not know and the more you want to learn. At some point you run out of shelf space or brain space or money - or your spouse says "ENOUGH." (Secret - Nowadays you can hide some of them on your KINDLE.)

February 6, 2021, 5:30 PM · Andrew -- that's the beauty of auctions. I knew a guy with hundreds of chess books, including some very rare, autographed, etc. I have one rare book that I'll probably never be able to sell for anywhere close to the "going price" because the "going price" is usually BS.
February 6, 2021, 5:43 PM · Make sure you sell that one before the estate tax people are forced to file a report!
February 6, 2021, 5:45 PM · Greetings,
Galamain, Auer, Robert Gerle, The Way The Play, Everything by Simon Fischer, the Roth book (above) , Heifetz (Axelrod), all of Szigeti’s books, violinist.com interviews, FM Alexander, Feldenkreis with Alfonso, the Seven Habits of Effective People, Charles Dickens and Tolstoy, my blogs going back ten years or so...
Cheers,
Buri
February 6, 2021, 5:49 PM · Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching, by Ivan Galamian
February 6, 2021, 6:06 PM ·

"The Simplicity of Playing the Violin"

By Herbert Whone.

February 6, 2021, 6:13 PM · Yampolsky-Principles of Violin Fingering
Geminiani Treatise ...
Pere Mozart’s book
Raphael Bronstein
The Inner Game of Tennis (Very Important). Much better than the Inner Game of Music BTW
Edited: February 6, 2021, 7:22 PM · Think outside the box. None of these books have violins in them, and yet, each will make your playing richer.

The Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Replace the word “Archery” with “Violin” and you have a wonderful guide to Zen through the art of the violin.

The Empty Space by Peter Brook. A wonderful book about the challenges, perils, and triumphs of performance by one of the great theatre directors.

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. An odyssey in the Himalayan mountains looking for the elusive Snow Leopard.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. A book about finding purpose and strength.

The Odyssey by Homer – Read Robert Fagles translation. Read the entire book. There is a lot more here than that truncated version you had in the ninth grade.

Stretch yourself. Be eclectic and open, to new ways of seeing life. You'll be more fun at parties - or these days - on Zoom.

February 6, 2021, 10:33 PM · The Violin Explained by James Beament
February 7, 2021, 1:48 AM · The Amadeus Book of the Violin: Construction, History and Music by Walter Kolneder
February 7, 2021, 3:32 AM · The Athletic Musician by Barbara Paull and Christine Harrison.
The Art of Quartet Playing by David Blum
February 7, 2021, 5:14 AM · Basics by Simon Fischer changed my life, as it organizes the set of things-to-know that, before, only circulated by word of mouth from conservatory teacher to student. Like Fischer states, violin playing is not rocket science, there's just a set of basic things you should know and if nobody ever told them to you, you are missing out. After that, it is "just" practicing (see below on that). If you are someone who is good at self-study through books, and you have had some decent violin education as a child, and have some minimal talent, then just through this book you can truly advance yourself significantly.

Now about practicing, this is also something you should learn effectively, otherwise you are wasting tremendous amounts of time, and the again fantastic book on that topic is "Practice" also by Simon Fischer.

February 7, 2021, 11:18 AM · For actual technical usefulness, I will add another vote for Szigeti's books, and, if you can find a copy, Flesch's big book on Violin Fingering, with a thousand specific examples.
February 7, 2021, 12:36 PM · I like Flesch quite a bit, and I found the Yankelevich book very interesting.
February 7, 2021, 2:38 PM · Thank you all very much for your advice! I had Galamian' s in mind but it seems there are quite a lot of books on violin playing. Thank you for your answers!
Edited: February 8, 2021, 7:27 AM · I like Galamian, can't stand Fischer.

I think my teacher thinks the same - she liked Fischer's first book, but thinks he's now gone crazy. His book on scales doesn't even touch double-stopping.

February 8, 2021, 3:51 AM · Greetings,
glad you like Galamian. His scale manual doesn’t include double stops either. Simon’s double stop book is packed full of exercises and advice so if you combined the two you would get a volume the size of the Tokyo yellow pages. can’t put on music stand...
I think it’s rather strange to suggest that Simon went from a good first book through to a state of insanity since a close reading suggests they all follow the same consistent, logical analytical approach. I wonder if you could offer the reasoning behind why you and your teacher arrived at the belief that Simon may have been Bed and Breakfasting in Bedlam?
Just Curious,
Buri
February 8, 2021, 4:54 AM · Dont know if anyone else has put this book in but, gone by min kym, its a great story, its true and its also a very cautionary tale for anyone with an expensive instrument.
February 8, 2021, 1:51 PM · Buri recommended Charles Dickens and Tolstoy - Well, there's also Conan Doyle.
February 8, 2021, 2:17 PM · Dostoyevsky, he should be on the list as well. Along with Willa Cather :-)
February 8, 2021, 3:54 PM · Maybe my teacher feared for my sanity if I read all of Fischer's books.
Either I had forgotten he also wrote one on double stopping, or it was beyond expensive and I decided To Hell with that.
February 8, 2021, 4:02 PM · The book I mentioned by Galamian isn't a scale or study book, it contains remarks about technique and has valuable sections on other subjects such as musicality. I'm just a beginner but it's been valuable to me.
February 8, 2021, 5:33 PM · I feel ya Gordon.
Edited: February 9, 2021, 4:18 AM · Greetings,
fair enough. Money is hard all round and we have to make decisions about what we are going to use it for. I find questions like ‘Is this book worth the same as fifteen cups of coffee at Starbucks to me or not?’. can put things in perspective.
I do have two questions I’d like to ask, hopefully in a constructive way:

1). Given that Simon spent years accumulating knowledge through his own hard work and then chose to publish it at the lowest possible price that covers the huge expense of publishing while still earning enough money to feed his family (yes, it’s his job) , do you genuinely think it is okay to try and take his material as free PDFs?
2) In one of the earlier posts, offensive words about Simon were attributed to a teacher. Does the teacher in question know about this? The reason I ask is he/she may not wish to be represented in front of thousands of people on line as someone who disrespects fellow professionals. I think that is something worth thinking about.
Cheers,
Buri

February 9, 2021, 8:27 AM · I agree with the perspective approach - I often buy a DVD then ditch it because it's cheaper than going to the cinema.

But with books like Fischer's complete works there's also the expenditure of your time, which isn't necessarily worse spent playing real music and listening to yourself and being aware of your aches and pains.

February 9, 2021, 10:19 AM · It may be an issue of learning styles. To me, reading Fischer is like reading a treatise on, say, running technique, where there are 20 exercises each for lifting the leg, then bending the knee, then bending the elbow, then swinging the arm, then lowering the leg, then touching the foot to the ground, and so on. One might totally forget how to run after reading such a thing.

It just strikes me as being totally divorced from the reality of playing, but my eyes tend to glaze over at very particularly explained or mechanical advice, and I recognize that many students may be of a bent to really resonate with such a level of specificity. Maybe that's my reason - Every time I read through Basics, I find a bunch of exercises that don't address what I'm looking for, and few or none that do, and I end up trying to figure out my own exercises instead, because the ones in there just don't make sense to me.

Also, in his books I don't find an overarching philosophy - More a bunch of widgets.

February 9, 2021, 5:36 PM · Greetings?
I guess the overarching philosophy in a nutshell is that everything we do on the violin can be addressed in terms of proportions. Thus, every time our ears tell us something is wrong or we want to improve a passage we can hone in on a single factor and try doing more or less of it. In this sense practice becomes a kind of experimentation that any one can do.
One of the biggest faults I find in the way people practice is they simply repeat something over and over in the hope that it will get better. Sometimes it does, but usually it doesn’t. The player then congratulates themselves on the time spent rather than on any tangible result. I think one of the may really important things Milstein said was to play a passage over without changing anything was a waste of time.
Cheers,
Buri
Edited: February 10, 2021, 4:43 AM · I have most of these, and all are amazing.

I didn't see Six Lessons with Yehudi Menuhin, which I find to be a remarkable attempt to recover the lost ease of his youth.

I followed the bowing chapters, and began to sound like him!
Of course we may not want to, but it is still remarkable for a purely written account.

Fischer's books include all the tips'n'tricks I have accumulated over the years...and a whole lot more!

Both Menuhin's book, and those of Fischer, seem to irritate some folk by their "over-thinking";
But I like to spend the first ten minutes of my practice time Over-Thinking, patiently translating this into Sound & Sensation, precisely so I can then play intuitively for an hour or two...

February 10, 2021, 9:26 AM · What's left of Six Lessons is on Youtube, but most of it is lost. Time and the BBC have not been kind to it.
February 10, 2021, 9:57 AM · I have amassed an incredible library of violin pedagogy books in my close to 50 years of playing and teaching the violin. Some of these books may have a few pearls of wisdom that anyone can benefit from. Others are simply worthless. You are much better off saving your money and going to YouTube instead. Listen and watch very, very carefully the great virtuosos. I've learned more from Nathan Milstein, Aaron Rosand, Pinchas Zukerman, Shmuel Ashkenasi, Antal Zalai, Augustin Hadelich, Kirill Troussov, and Maxim Vengerov than all the books I've ever read.
February 10, 2021, 11:10 AM · "You are much better off saving your money and going to YouTube instead."
Hear, hear!
Leopold Auer is not a "must read".
February 10, 2021, 12:41 PM · these are famous and very important italian books: Remy Principe: il violino-- Paolo Borciani: Il violino--- Enzo Porta :scuole violinistiche(violinistic schools)
Edited: March 6, 2021, 12:17 PM · I think I get more from listening than from watching, although I am sometimes surprised by the films of an artist I admire. Their gestures are not always the same as what I have to do to get the same result.

But written descriptions of motion and sensation are invaluable precisely because they take time: the time necessary to (re-)absorb things thoughtfully and precisely enough to subsequently "let go" and just "do it".

Edited: February 11, 2021, 6:25 AM · In support of Fischer, it depends how you define "read".
You don't read Fischer, you dip into him at most a page at a time when the need arises, as you decide by listening to yourself. But that doesn't make him essential, if you have a teacher.
February 13, 2021, 12:22 PM · While the language and treatment of cultures in the text are quite dated now, the interviews of artists by Samuel Applebaum in his series "The Way They Play" is fascinating reading. They are out of print, but can still be found in used bookstores (online) for $20-$30 apiece.

It took me about fifteen years, but I finally finished putting together my collection of all fourteen volumes!

February 13, 2021, 1:52 PM · What every Violinist needs to know about the Body, Jennifer Johnson.
Edited: February 14, 2021, 7:15 PM · My first thought was Economics for Dummies... but I suspect you have something else in mind ;-)
February 15, 2021, 10:21 AM · Roger, although you joke, I had been meaning to look for a book on macroeconomics, and I notice that there's a Macroeconomics for Dummies, but no cheap copies yet, so I've bookmarked it.
February 15, 2021, 12:49 PM · GENE - congratulations. I got started collecting that series as they were being published but quit with the 4th book that ends with Jack Benny. (Just too many virtuosos to keep track of - and then that!) I sort of continued with the same publisher's HEIFETZ and PAGANINI biographies by Axelrod in 1976 and '79 but that was it.
I was going hot and heavy trying to improve during those years in my early 40s and would search anywhere I might find a clue.

I can sure understand wanting to have the complete set.

February 15, 2021, 1:12 PM · Gene, as a bibliophile I envy you. I'd never heard of that series. I started looking around online... (Ann sighs, revising her book budget).
February 15, 2021, 2:32 PM · Greetings he first five books are a goldmine of data.
After that they are. a little hit and miss but they are still one of the greatest historical records of the art of the violin in existence. If you can put together a whole set it will take care of your retirement.
Cheers,
buri
February 16, 2021, 1:39 AM · Don't read Klaus Kinski's Paganini.
February 16, 2021, 4:06 AM · I have the first four Ways They Play. I wish I had got vol.5, for Kyung Wa Chung, but the other Theys were people I'd never heard of.
February 16, 2021, 1:59 PM · Even though it's a Piano book, I think it's valuable for musicians of all instruments. The "Fundamentals of Piano Practice" by Chuan C. Chang. It's free online: https://fundamentals-of-piano-practice.readthedocs.io/chapter1/index.html
You can apply most of the knowledge there from piano to violin, easily; I think the practice and memorization methodology is pretty valuable.
February 16, 2021, 8:47 PM · That looks interesting
Edited: February 17, 2021, 4:25 AM · Books I've read and would recommend are: -
The Cambridge Companion to the Violin, Robin Stowell;
Stradivarius, Toby Faber;
Unfinished Journey, Yehudi Menuhin;
Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching, Ivan Galamian.

I double-checked with my teacher. She currently likes everything Fischer has written.

Edited: February 18, 2021, 10:50 PM · I have about 150 books in my library dealing with the violin - some mostly about the instrument itself and some about playing. That does not include innumerable issues of the Strad, Strings, etc . So where to start?

I will try not to repeat recommendations already given, most of which I agree with and one or two with which I don’t.

I am thinking here of players relatively early in their journey and to that end right now will limit myself to two:

1. “The Glory of the Violin” by Joseph Wechtsberg. It deals with the instrument as such, as well as playing and players and it’s very enjoyable reading.

2. “My Violin Needs Help - a repair diagnostics guide for players and teachers” by Korinthia Klein. Gives you the nitty gritty of the parts of the instrument and bow and how they work to help you understand better and communicate more articulately with your luthier if something seems wrong.

March 3, 2021, 7:38 PM · Ricci in Glissando
The 2 books by Olga Dubossarskaya Kaler
The Art and Science of String Performance by Samuel Applebaum - wonderful book where I often find more practical insights than in Galamian
The book on bowing by Capet
March 3, 2021, 8:24 PM · Violinist has to practice 40 hours a day, doesn't have time to read books.
Edited: March 3, 2021, 8:43 PM · It is enough to practice just 20 hours a day. Then you have 20 more hours to read! :-D
March 4, 2021, 2:10 AM · Jeff,
; the applebaum is indeed a fantastic book.
cheers
buri
March 4, 2021, 2:10 AM · Jeff,
; the applebaum is indeed a fantastic book.
cheers
buri
Edited: March 4, 2021, 3:43 AM · If you dig this, I'll tell you where it's from.

"You must develop an awareness of that particular point along the course of an ellipse or circle at which the active impulse occurs. This usually happens as the result of a gravitational fall. It is also necessary to develop an awareness of the passive momentum which follows the active impulse. These sensations are not black and white - but rather a taking over one from another; the active grows out of the passive, just as the passive ebbs when the apex of the initiative is reached."

March 4, 2021, 7:58 AM · It reads like Menuhin. Wordy but pertinent.
March 4, 2021, 8:15 AM · Yes, it's Menuhin - description that can never work as prescription.
"the passive ebbs" lol!
March 4, 2021, 10:34 AM · Also from Menuhin, is the centipede story. Someone asked a centipede what order he used for putting down his 100 legs. He said, I don't know, I never thought about it. And from that moment, the centipede could not walk at all.
March 4, 2021, 11:07 AM · It's a bit older than Menuhin: -
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Centipede%27s_Dilemma


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