Paganini Caprice Difficulty

July 7, 2021, 9:34 PM · When I first started seriously practicing the violin, I have always thought Paganini caprices were something I’d never be able to do. Nowadays, I’m thinking when will I be able to start learning my first one. To give some background, I’ve finished Bruch, Mozart 4, and the D minor(No Chaconne) and E Major Bach Partitas. I love Paganini’s 9th caprice and I’ve heard it’s actually one of his easiest. It it comparable to anything I’ve learned so far? I would ask my teacher, but I’m afraid I would sound like an idiot if it really does require a different level of playing than I currently have.

Replies (24)

July 7, 2021, 9:38 PM · I would probably suggest starting with 13 or 14 first as 9 is harder than it looks to play well. I think my son started learning Paganini caprices around the time he was playing maybe Wieniawski 2, so a bit more advanced than where you are currently.
July 7, 2021, 9:50 PM · Greetings,
you might consider starting with the Barucuba Variations before diving into the caprices. The second half of the caprices are somewhat more accessible than the first. 16 is one of my favorites of the ‘easier’ ones.
To really understand what they are about check out Ilya Gringolts blog on them on this site.
July 7, 2021, 9:58 PM · Greetings,
I’m very attached to the following extract from that interview…
‘They are very hard to play, that's exactly what I mean. They're incredibly taxing on every level. I have a great student now that is preparing for a competition, and she plays No. 2, and she does a great job with it. I'm happy to consult her on whatever issues she might have, musical as well as technical. But otherwise, I have more important agendas for my students. For one thing, you have to learn to play Mozart Concerto convincingly. That to me is a hugely difficult task, and it can take a lot of time. And then of course there are also all sorts of other problems to solve. So to me, teaching Paganini is not a priority.’
July 8, 2021, 12:32 AM · If Bruch is the most difficult thing you learned (and this pretty heavily depends on your execution of the 3rd movement), the "easier" caprices will still be a bit of a stretch for you.

It's probably not a completely undoable stretch, but it will introduce you to techniques that you probably don't have any experience in, and may or may not be frustratingly difficult in execution.

July 8, 2021, 9:07 AM · Another vote here for Paganini 16, but I agree with Buri on his other points as well.
July 8, 2021, 10:32 AM · I wasn't even aware of the Baracuba Variations before - I have not printed some off to play! thanks Buri!
July 8, 2021, 10:37 AM · It is fascinating that the second half of the Caprices are remarkably more manageable than the first twelve...the difficulties one encounters in 4, 8, and 12 simply don't appear in the last twelve.

I've found that doing some of the lesser-played Caprices can make for an interesting encore choice - 19, 23, 2, and 22.

This discussion has probably been done to death - but favorite Caprices recordings? Rabin and Midori for me.

July 8, 2021, 11:24 AM · "I would ask my teacher, but I’m afraid I would sound like an idiot if it really does require a different level of playing than I currently have."

Why wouldn't you be able to talk to your teacher about goals? That's the person in the best position to evaluate how prepared you are to tackle a Paganini Caprice, and could potentially provide you with a road map for getting there.

FWIW, my eleven year old's goal is to be able to play Paganini Caprices well, some day. Obviously, she is many, many, many, many years from being able to do so, but it is something her teacher is aware of, and no, he hasn't laughed at her. In fact, he was laying out to her all the work that comes ahead of it, just yesterday (was some random thing that popped up, not that we were discussing it), along the lines of 'you'll be doing Rode, Dont and Wieniawski caprices before attempting Paganini'.

Edited: July 8, 2021, 2:27 PM · I started with 6 because I thought it was beautiful. I find it pretty easy now. As a matter of fact, I used it for my uni audition.

I think the caprices are not difficult if you are careful in your work. Obviously the amount of work required is considerable, and gruelling, but once you can do it you can do it.
They are harmonically straightforward and don't ask anything absurd of you technically (ie you can look at a passage and conceive of how you might perform it successfully).

Start with whichever one you like the most. At the end of the day, that's what will motivate you to pull through in learning it.

PS: Alexander Markov played them best, hands down!

July 8, 2021, 3:07 PM · I would say start with 16, but I didn't start with 16, and Cotton makes a very good point. Of course, you could start with an easier one and work your way up to the harder ones. It's a tried and true method of learning the caprices and other repertoires. But if you start with the one you want to play you'll practice it more because you want to learn it. You can always go back and learn 16 and other easier ones later.

I started with 5 and 6, then went to 18, 17, 20, and now I'm currently learning 2 and 16. I also started 15 at some point after learning 6, but I never finished it. I got stuck on the up-bow staccato, but now that I can do it I should probably go back and finish learning that one at some point.

July 8, 2021, 3:28 PM · For some young students, the prospect of learning Paganini caprices really get them to practice.

I wish soloists stop playing them for encore.

Edited: July 8, 2021, 7:15 PM · There is the old "fish tale" about the teacher who sent home a very young student with a Paganini Caprice with the instructions to do only the first two lines and play it excruciatingly slowly, and the student comes back the next week with the whole caprice polished at performance tempo.

My daughter's teacher did something like that a few times. He'd assign just the "hard passage" from the Vivaldi A Minor, for example, a couple of months ahead of time. The identifying marks would be cut away and it would be titled "Study No. 3" or something, with instructions to practice it very slowly. Then, when the Vivaldi A Minor actually came around, the "hard part" would already be fairly well in hand, and the student would not be spending two months on that one piece just because of the "hard part." It's not a bad scheme as long as the "study" doesn't have anything that the student truly isn't ready for. But of course, you only get away with that for so long before the student learns to look ahead in the book and find out what piece the "study" actually comes from. So you have to keep making the "studies" from repertoire that is farther and farther afield. I imagine a page from the the third movement of the Barber would probably make a good study. Also the "Doubles" from the Bach solo S&P. You have to admit they're more interesting than Dont etudes, with their wrenching harmonic cadences.

I think for encores soloists should play something pretty. Like how Jansen plays Tchaikovsky's "Melodie" as an encore, for example.

Edited: July 9, 2021, 3:02 AM · The relatively short E minor sonata is much easier in my opinion than the caprices. That might be a good introduction to Paganini; it’s very left hand friendly.
Edited: July 9, 2021, 5:10 AM · It's hard to tell whether you're up to the level of Paganini caprices simply based on the pieces you listed. Did you work on any other Etudes/Caprices before, such as Kreutzer, Rode, or Dont Op. 35?

The difficulty could vary depending on your strengths and weaknesses.
Speaking from my experience, my teacher assigned 16 and 24 as my first two Paganini caprices, but I found 6, 9, and 13 a lot easier. If you have big hands, you might find some others like 2 or others with a bunch of fingered octaves/tenths easier, but generally speaking, the easiest ones are 9, 13, 14, and 16. My only problem with #16 was that I really didn't like it, so I didn't want to practice it. It certainly is neither the ``cool' one nor the ``great-sounding' one IMO...

Finally, I'll repost Sean Lee's YouTube video on choosing a Paganini caprice learning order:

July 9, 2021, 9:22 AM · 24 contains variations, some of which are easier than others.
I've got an étude book that selects 3 or 4 of them and puts them at grade 5.
Edited: July 13, 2021, 1:57 PM · If you take out Var 6 and 11 from the 24th, then that. I find that 16 is the easiest because of all the simple detache bow strokes and lack of hard left hand patterns.
July 13, 2021, 7:14 AM · This is a pretty interesting list. I am surprised that 4 isn't a 9.
July 13, 2021, 11:35 AM · For easy Paganini (!) try this...
July 14, 2021, 8:41 PM · When I first studied these, my teacher had me start them in the following order: 16, 13, 2, 5, 6, 11. Then we did 1, and the rest in numerical order to 24 minus the six that we started with. I was told at the time that this was because 16 is the most straight-forward, and he believed that 13, 2, 5, 6 and 11 contained the core of Paganini's "technical toolkit" that would be applied to the rest of the caprices. It worked for me, but I don't know if this is standard or if it was based on what my technical abilities were at the time.
July 14, 2021, 9:00 PM · Ricochet for #5?
July 15, 2021, 4:05 PM · Here is how to unlock the Paganini Caprices: First turn clockwise to 16. Then go around one entire turn counter-clockwise to 13, and then clockwise again to 24.
July 15, 2021, 4:20 PM · Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A.
July 15, 2021, 6:06 PM · Nope.
The key is the bowing in no5. RLLL, RLLL, RLLL.
July 15, 2021, 8:06 PM · Nice, Mike! I'm glad someone else here has invested time in the Konami Etudes. ;)

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