How to take violin playing to next level?

November 9, 2021, 12:38 PM · Hello. I am an amateur adult violinist. I started some years ago, and I am now playing Vivaldi A minor concert. I want to know which is the best way to take my violin playing from there to an upper intermediate level.

I go to class every week. I can play in 1st to 5th positions. My vibrato is not very good and gets tense and tired soon.

Also, what is some repertoire for my level?


Replies (35)

November 9, 2021, 12:51 PM · Practice more. :-)
And study with the best teacher you can get.

There is no substitute for daily, focused, well-structured practice. It's also hard to substitute for great teaching, and meticulously following the guidance of your teacher. Repertoire at this level should generally be pedagogical, though if you want to play things for fun, ask your teacher for guidance. You'll generally find supplemental repertoire for this level labeled by "grade" ("Suzuki book 4" level or "Grade 4" level).

November 9, 2021, 12:52 PM · You need to start regularly practicing scales and arpeggios. My teacher thinks that etudes are the key to building technique, and I'm likewise convinced.

Really, you need to learn how to practice thoughtfully and with relaxation. It can take a long time to build up good practice habits, because you have to really learn to listen to yourself.

What does your teacher say when you ask them this question? A good teacher is key, and they should have an answer for you - If they don't, they may not be the one that is capable of helping you level up.

November 9, 2021, 1:43 PM · Lydia suggests studying with the best teacher you can find. There is no substitute for that.

A great teacher can spot many of your weaknesses just hearing and watching you tune.

A great teacher can assign (or suggest) a regimen of etudes/studies and provide a list of progressive musical compositions for you to follow even if you cannot commit to regularly scheduled lessons.

November 9, 2021, 4:45 PM · It's about incremental progress. Each day, set small goals to improve aspects of your technique. Meeting these daily goals over a long period of time is what contributes to the perception of reaching the "next level" when viewed annually.
November 10, 2021, 5:17 AM · Try to find out if there is a technical fault with your vibrato.
If there is, there may be technical faults elsewhere.
If your teacher doesn't sort them out, then you may need a better teacher.
November 10, 2021, 10:46 AM · Vibrato takes time and CONSISTENT practice. As in most violin study the key is to take it slowly until the body and brain adapt; and in this case you develop the skill to be able to apply some pressure to the string while relaxing the last finger joint. As Lydia said - practice more!!
Edited: November 10, 2021, 11:51 AM · To advance to a higher level:

1. A commitment to practice
2. A purpose for each practice session: a plan of what you will practice before you start practicing
3. Practicing good habits (and not practicing bad habits!).
4. Having fun, enjoying what you are playing


I think the Vivaldi G minor and Bach D Minor concertos are similar level of difficulty as the A Minor. Some of the Bartok duos (the ones at the beginning of the book).

Edited: November 10, 2021, 12:22 PM · Thank you my friends. I never asked my teacher about this question. I will ask him. He plays in regional orchestra and I think he is good.

I have little time for practice. I have hard job and get home late and tired and don't concentrate well. Also I use a mute for not disturbing neighbours. But everyone answered the same: PRACTICE! So that is the secret.

How can I make short practise best? Any advices?

November 10, 2021, 12:49 PM · Ask your teacher for practice suggestions! Your teacher knows your strengths and weaknesses and what the next step for you should be. Get suggestions for how to make that next step. You can get a lot from short practice sessions, but you have to be very focused and have a purpose in mind. Also, it's much better if you stay consistent with practice, too. A short amount every day is much better than a long session once a week.
Edited: November 10, 2021, 1:54 PM · Vibrato is a technique that sounds awful in the learning stages. Do the vibrato training exercises without the bow, so you don't get discouraged or inhibited. Then one day it will suddenly click it. Technical progress , for both young and adults, students or pros, is not constant. There will be periods of consolidation followed by rapid breakthroughs. Keep plugging away at it. Arm- and wrist- vibrato are mechanically different. Be aware of which one your teacher wants.
November 10, 2021, 2:33 PM · Greetings,
aside from the vital points above there are so many possible suggestions the mind boggles.
However, I think there is something that may spoil the best organized practice that needs to be taken care of. You come home tired and stressed from work? Me too!
This is not a good condition for practicing. So I would recommend (if you are not doing it already) something like yoga (Yoga with Adriene is good) to get mind body and soul in order before you start. The one I just recommended has very short sessions that can dehumanize you before you start,
Best of luck,
November 10, 2021, 2:41 PM · Buri, yoga with Adriene would turn me into an animal as well.
November 10, 2021, 2:48 PM · OP, if you don't mind posting a video of you playing something, people here may also be able to provide specific advice/suggestions.

The gap you are talking about, from early-intermediate to upper-intermediate, is one of the toughest gaps to close. I would say that the "Vivaldi A Minor" level is where most students get truly stuck for the first time.

I think this is because subtlety becomes so important. Before this level, many problems can be solved by mechanical corrections. Basically, there are *obvious* problems to be solved up to this point. Afterwards, the music gets harder, but the expectation for a good sound also gets higher. And getting a good quality sound involves many small details which may initially be imperceptible to the amateur ear.

Once again, I think a video may be useful in giving you direction on how to move forward. But I think a good *general* piece of advice at this level is to work on some "sideways improvement", where you work on making a better quality sound with lower-level music. Take something very melodic and beautiful, and see if you can play it as nicely as possible. Record yourself and analyze what's missing, then practice it some more. Gradually increase the quality until you can say that it is definitely more beautiful than before, and you have a recording which you can compare to the first one.

Repeat that process with a few pieces over the course of a couple of months, and then get back to the hard music, and see if the improvement carries over.

November 10, 2021, 2:48 PM · 6 Easy Steps to Next Level Violin Playing™:

- Practise more (duh)
- Practise more. Play jazz, lift a rock guitar solo rock, learn a jigs. Anything to expand your vocabulary!
- Educate yourself. Study theory and common clichés in the music that you enjoy.
- Play in a at least two bands: one where the music is given to you and one where you make up your part yourself. Can often find less demanding gigs through church if you're religious.
- Learn to sing. It's good for your ear!
- Perform as often as you can. I love busking. Even now that it's cold you can still busk in the metro, or ask permission to busk in a shopping centre.

Optional: learn another instrument. Preferably one that's totally different, like piano or guitar. It serves both as a learning tool and a relaxation tool for when violin practise frustrates you.

November 10, 2021, 3:29 PM · My solution to the tired-at-the-end-of-work syndrome was to practice first thing. 30 minutes at 6 am is probably worth 60 at 6 pm anyway.
The really good thing about it is that (often) in the morning your time is your own so nothing will interfere.
November 10, 2021, 9:16 PM · I pre-plan practice sessions in 15 minute increments, writing down what I will play and what techniques to work on. Focusing on sticking points and fundamentals such as beginning always with scales and etudes are constants.

A "minor" note, I disagree that the Vivaldi G minor is similar in difficulty to the A minor especially if you are using the Suzuki books. There, the G minor has repeated shifting that is hard for a beginner to keep track of.

November 10, 2021, 11:21 PM · Greetings,
I think there is a very simple answer to the question how to improve: don’t keep repeating the same things over and over since this will strengthen the problem. Rather, an adult has the capacity to measure any aspect of their playing and then alter it and evaluate the result. Unless this principle is applied it actually doesn’t make any difference whether you are given the right pieces and etudes for your level. You will simply go on playing more and more difficult works with the same underlying problems controlling the outcome. For example, I was told by my teacher at college that the more sevcik I played the better violinist I would be. I played a lot of sevcik. I lived and breathed sevcik but you know what? It didn’t make a difference commensurate with the thousands of hours I put in on them. Hah :)
I strongly recommend you read a fantastic article on Simon Fischer’s website called ‘Improving at any stage and any age.’ This explains with great clarity what my above comment is about and the kinds of ‘basic’ things you can immediately start changing for immediate improvements. Howver, the list is actually infinite so it’s really just to make the point I think.
At a more concrete level, if you are following your teacher’s instructions are tired out by vibrato you are not being taught properly. I think you have the right to say explain this issue to your teacher and ask them to help you with the problem. In this situation students get a wide range of answers including such things as:
Be patient, it will take care of itself.
Your vibrato always will be narrow.
Listen to the great violinists and imitate them.
Practice the Simon Fischer exercises.
Watch what I do.
Practice without it for a year to get rid of the bad one then we can learn a correct one (vomit)
Alright let’s go back to the beginning and make sure you are clear about how vibrato works.
Let’s explore your overall degree of tension when you play.
They belong on a spectrum from useless to moderate helpful to whatever. If your teacher is at the end of the spectrum where they delegate responsibility to the (struggling) student then I am afrai it is time to find another teacher. Of course it is true that many great players and respected (I suppose) teachers developed their vibrato naturally and therefore had no idea how to teach it to a student. However, if you are going to call yourself a teacher there is no longer any excuse for this. There are so many good videos, books and the like available as resources any halfway decent teacher should be able to help a student with their vibrato issues and improve a naturally occurring one. Don’T forget, vibrato is a big deal for two main reasons. First, it is the only way you can -fully- express yourself on the instrument. Remember, the bow provides articulation and the vibrato color (citing Rodney Friend). Remember,, if the great violinists played without vibrato they would all sound basically the same. So do you want to express the unique you on the violin, or not?
The second reason vibrato is crucial is that it facilitates and demonstrates relaxation. It facilitates in the sense that a mobile and moving hand is often much freer to play other difficult techniques which is why Dounis insisted on it pretty much all the time and that is a dude who knew about physiology.
Then, if you are having the types of problems you refer to here the the vibrato is sending you a message that the overall organism is not working. It’s something you need to listen to and explore right now, as you have presumably realized since you appealed for help here.
I posted a reference to yoga earlier which did’t elicit much comment. Yoga is not the befall and end all. Alexander Technique (superb but expensive) or Feldenkreis with Alfons (beginners course youtube-free) are precursors to the movements found in yoga and would be of immense value. I learnt more about actual violin playing form an Alexander Teacher who didn’t even know what a violin bow was than all of my teacher’s at Royal Collge of Music who gave ‘musi’c rather than ‘violin’ lessons. Start your sessions asking your self what your feet are doing, are your knees locked back, do I need some head rolls and shoulder shrugs. Some slow breathes through the nose?
How do I put the violin up? Study Julia Bushkova videos on this very carefully.
Do you turn and drop the jaw simultaneously onto the jaw rest (wrong) or turn the head and then drop. C(Correct) ? Is ther ea space between the upper arm and the rib cage about the size of an egg? If not that is a major problem to start with re vibrato.
Is the thumb gripping ?(I am pretty sure it will be) What exercise or approach can help this?
Almost certain you are putting too much finger pressure into the strings. As mentioned in the article above, simple exercise for learning to measure this pressure and adjust it. Have you tried playing parts of the Vivaldi using zero LH pressure, then 25%, then 50 then 75% (probably enough) That will make a difference.
The fundamental movements of vibrato originates in the finger tip. Probably your first joint is stiff . How to check? Go to Kurganov on youtube and watch his vibrato videos from beginning to end and ponder deeply on what he is saying.
Kurganov also recommends an exercise I thought I cornered the market on (it’s never true in violin playing) Rest your scroll on a shelf on a sponge. Practice with the left arm hanging down on the fingertips. It’s a beautiful exercise. Do it as much as possible! Also follow Kurganov (not me) and add suspension on a sling since this more closely recreates the actually freedom of the violin during playing.
Non of this even touches on the bow arm which may well be adversely effecting your vibrato…
One crucial point is that the thumb increas pressure on the a stick as you approach the point and release as you approach the heel so that when you actually play at the heel zero thumb pressure is the default. Even professional players often release with a residual 2 or 3 % which limits their bowing for the whole ot their careers in some cases. Checking this point will improve your playing irrespective of how much it is adversely affecting your vibrato.
Warmest Regards,
November 11, 2021, 12:37 AM · Greetings,
perhaps even more relevant for the original poster is another article on Simon’s site about playing with freedom and ease. I’m off to reread all his stuff.
November 11, 2021, 6:50 AM · What amazes and impresses me about the human spirit and music is for instance that Roger writes this "I have a hard job and get home late and tired and don't concentrate well." and yet instead of chilling out watching TV or whatever (nothing wrong with that!) he is motivated to practice violin and not only that, to keep improving. What is it about us humans that we so want to do this? And thank goodness we do! I'm sure your drive to play and keep improving is enormously beneficial to your playing progress, however you figure out to keep improving. For me finding others to play with has vastly boosted my practicing motivation and variation and stretched my abilities but this may not be the best way. You sound plenty motivated already. Best of luck to you, Roger!
November 11, 2021, 8:09 AM · Thank you for all the replies. I will read them tonight or tomorrow. I can't read them well now. You are very kind.
Edited: November 11, 2021, 10:30 AM · "article on Simon’s site about playing with freedom and ease. I’m off to reread all his stuff."

All? (lol)

Edited: November 11, 2021, 10:46 AM · +1 to Karen Egee. I also admire you for being keen on improvement. My suggestion is to set aside any concern about the "level" of the pieces you're playing. Work with your teacher to pick pieces that will help you develop the parts of your playing that you want to improve, but also listen to how THEY think you should improve.

In all likelihood, you want to improve everything about your playing. This is why there are distinct advantages to using pedagogically sequenced repertoire and studies. Does your teacher use one, such as Suzuki or Whistler? Both of those are very good -- these days Suzuki is more popular. Shifting into third position appears in Suzuki Book 3. Books 1 and 2, if they are taught properly, will give you a secure foundation in first-position intonation, string changes, basic bow strokes, posture and hand positions, and tone production. Many teachers will wait until you are comfortable in third position before teaching vibrato, because vibrato is easier to do AND easier to teach in third position than in first position. That's just one example of pedagogical sequencing of concepts and skills.

November 11, 2021, 7:17 PM · Hi Roger,
another of the Fischer articles you may find very helpful:
‘Finding the next step to take’
November 13, 2021, 10:18 AM · Play a lot of scales, apreggios and etudes instead of repertoires
Edited: November 13, 2021, 11:00 AM · Lots of good advice on here already. I think I’ll just say that it’s better to practice less with full focus on fundamentals as opposed to practicing many hours and repeating out of tune notes and wrong rhythms. So practicing long hours sloppily does not necessarily translate into greater playing. Neither does just practicing scales or Kreutzer etudes without any clear goals or standards.
November 14, 2021, 11:11 PM · Greetings,
exactly Nate. Anyone can prescribe anything, but doing it well is another story. I’m still amazed that Rodney Friend can state in public forums that ‘2 hours a day of practice is enough…if you do it right.’ He may be exaggerating a bit, but probably not as much as one would think.
November 15, 2021, 5:15 AM · I find my playing level increases significantly after working on Bach for a while. Starting with the concertos and then moving into the sonatas and partitas in increasing difficulty seems for me to bust me over a plateau each time.
Edited: November 15, 2021, 12:05 PM · Oh yes Buri! Rodney Friend has an extremely analytical mind and I admire his playing very much. It wouldn’t surprise me if he can get a bulk of his work done in that timeframe.
Edited: November 16, 2021, 12:51 PM · In Bach's 220+ cantatas there is a wealth of violin gold in the shape of first violin parts, solos, and obbligato accompaniments to arias. There are also oboe solos that should transfer to the violin without much trouble. Bach, a pragmatic composer like Handel, wasn't averse to recycling a good tune, so, as one example of several, in one of his cantatas there is a keyboard transcription of the prelude to the E major violin partita - but in D. It's good fun for the keyboard player. I don't know which came first, the cantata version or the violin partita prelude.

Herewith is more information about the cantatas, the scores of which are available on IMSLP. The catalog numbers are BWV1 – BWV224, apparently not in chronological order. They have all been recorded on Naxos (easily reached through IMSLP) by Helmuth Rilling, with various ensembles and choirs from Stuttgart.

November 20, 2021, 9:46 AM · It's sometimes difficult with COVID, but make sure that you're getting full measure of enjoyment with the current technique that you've already achieved.

For example, do you have a community orchestra in your area that you can join? Do you have others in the area with which you can play? You have the technique to engage in these kinds of activities. Go see live performances. Maybe you're already doing these things?

As long as these types of experiences are present in your musical life, then technique improvement can occur, and I believe will occur, in a natural and organic fashion. Improvement will find a way.

Edited: November 21, 2021, 12:25 PM · Taking the violin to the next level for me involves carrying it up two flights of stairs to the loft level. Which is not as daft as it sounds - my loft has good thermal and sound insulation, so I'm not disturbed by domestic sounds downstairs, my good neighbors, or by traffic noise. And if I can't hear them, then surely they can't hear me ;)
Edited: November 21, 2021, 2:33 PM · You are on a good track! If you have conquered Vivaldi A minor then you have all kinds of good options, for example, the Bach Double and Vivaldi G minor. Keep progressing, learning new rep. Doflein Book 3 does wonders at the stage you are at, if you have not already studied from that book. More position and shifting work will also help you with your vibrato.
November 21, 2021, 3:47 PM · Sorry for late reply. I've been very busy last weeks. THANK YOU for your answers. You are amazing!
November 22, 2021, 12:54 PM · Thank you, Roger, for asking your question. The answers are helpful to me, and probably for many others lurking here as well.

Much respect to you! Keep up!

November 22, 2021, 2:04 PM · I've certainly heard the two hour advice more than once. That is to say, practice with focus. This combined with the thought that NO ONE can concentrate for 4 to 6 hours every day. These are not my ideas; I'm just repeating them. I generally concur, though, with the overall idea.

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