Intermediate to advanced student problems

June 24, 2022, 1:21 PM · What are the technical problems that are difficult to solve for intermediate to advanced students? Please not shoulder pads, rests, instrument set up, etc.

Replies (17)

Edited: June 24, 2022, 1:41 PM · Personally, I've found it difficult to really inject musicality into a student. The nice thing about true technical problems is that there's usually a way to solve them, even if it takes some effort in finding the exact solution for them. But having a "sense" of music is something that's very hard to develop in someone that doesn't already have that "Spark."

Sure, we can describe phrasing/dynamics/tone in a dry, literal sense. But it still yields a robotic sound, even if they do everything "correct."

I've found that a student's ability to imitate/replicate is highly tied into breaking this limitation. Thus, kids are much better at being "taught" musicality. They can watch videos of great players, and by mimicking some of their favorite elements, they start to develop their own voices. However, adult students will struggle much more with this, since their brains have switched off of the "mimicry" mode. If you play something for them and ask them to play the same way, they might tend to ask "ok, what did you do?" And this doesn't work, because describing all 100 things I did won't yield a musical result. Meanwhile, a younger student will just tend to imitate what you did, without asking exactly what the details were. And this openness to imitation is what leads to a strong musical intuition, since they are essentially doing 100 things without needing to know exactly what they were.

June 24, 2022, 2:35 PM · For me is was / is sajutillé and arpeggio (as in the Mendelssohn cadenza). In the left hand double stops, especially fifths and octaves.
June 24, 2022, 3:30 PM · The numbers of students who won't believe me when I tell them that sautille and spiccato are different sounding bow-strokes...
June 24, 2022, 4:07 PM · I would say the biggest is the development of sophisticated bow strokes, everything from spiccato to ricochet. Even just making a really, truly beautiful sound by coordinating bow speed/weight and vibrato is hard at this level. Generally, people at this level have a pretty uniform vibrato as well, so learning to vary that is a new skill for most. Finally, learning to play the harder double stops that are necessary for the "big" concertos, such as complicated series of thirds and sixths, lots of octaves in a row, and tenths.
Edited: June 25, 2022, 12:01 PM · @Susan, there is a teacher in my town who is sort of the go-to for students who are intermediate and who want to be advanced / competitive. He told me that when he takes on a new student at that stage, they always need a great deal of work on bow strokes. He immediately starts them on a steady diet of Sevcik. I know he works them hard on tone generation too. And this despite the fact that the other teachers that taught these students up to that point emphasize bow-strokes and tone quite appropriately from what I have seen and heard.
June 24, 2022, 8:56 PM · In the left hand, turning vibrato on and off, maybe an exercise perhaps best isolated and worked on when practicing scales. In the right hand, bringing out dynamics through bow placement, weight, and speed.

Edited: June 24, 2022, 10:00 PM · Musicality, developing facile advanced bow strokes. So far, I am not even to octaves and that stuff yet!

As far as sautille is concerned, the clearest example I have seen is here: In fact, this video shows a lot of great stuff. The string crossings at 6:15 are particularly exciting to a student like me.

I don't see how anybody can say that this sounds like spiccato which is not only more separated but often has a little "crunch" when the bow hits the string, which is lacking in sautille, probably because the hair doesn't travel as far vertically. Just a guess.

I'm approaching ricochet and hope to get there soon.

Edited: June 25, 2022, 1:22 AM · I consider myself to be at the intermediate level, and the following three are examples of playing that I've yet to master . . .

>> Flying Spiccato. (Arpeggio)

>> A good, repetitive staccato.

>> Climbing way high up on the fingerboard. (I can manage this on the piano, but not yet on the violin.)

Need I say that the list doesn't end there? But then, I'm not likely to need any of these playing in an orchestra.

June 25, 2022, 1:07 AM · For my daughter specifically, the hardest thing has been developing good practice habits. She basically powered through to where she is mainly on her raw abilities and instincts so she doesn't know how to practice mindfully. She thinks she can practice randomly and it'd just come together. Sigh.

Continuous and varied vibrato is also not coming along very well.

Controlled, powerful, and intentional bow strokes...She's really behind on this.

Being able to "sing" operatically on violin is yet another hurdle. Her teacher thinks this is the biggest challenge for advanced children/students.

June 25, 2022, 1:27 AM ·
QUOTE: Kiki White June 25, 2022, 1:07 AM
"For my daughter specifically, the hardest thing has been developing good practice habits. . . "

But one wonders, in spite of all of this, has a seed been planted?

Kids have so many competing interests. I didn't have good practice habits, when I was younger. But, I think I can say that a seed was indeed planted, and I've thoroughly enjoyed playing the violin since that time.

June 25, 2022, 1:43 AM · For me the main problems I’m frequently frustrated with are the following:

A good, reliable, easily replicated firm/upbow staccato. I’ll have it one minute, and then I can’t do it again.

Knowing how to structure my practice when I have multiple pieces of repertoire to learn without having to either split it up and do a few per day or practice each one for hour which can obviously result in me practicing 7-8 hours a day if I had enough pieces and was crazy enough to do that to myself.

Always being able to create a beautiful sound from my violin. Sometimes I can do it, but other times it’s not quite there.

Releasing tension in my right shoulder. I used to not use the bow beyond the balance point of my bow towards the frog, but now that I’m working on that with my teacher I’ve associated my shoulder raising with my ability to play closer to the frog. It’s getting better, but it’s a slow process of detaching my need to raise my shoulder to be able to bow closer to the frog. It’s purely psychological.

Musicality at times (which I think goes in hand with a beautiful sound) can be hard for me as well depending on what I’m playing. Pieces I’ve never heard before are hard to come up with an interpretation for. I also find Bach hard to play musical sometimes depending on what movement it is as well as memorizing Bach.

June 25, 2022, 9:17 AM · Based on my daughter, here are some of the ones not previously mentioned, and non-technical:

Fear. For instance, ‘That’s in the 455th position! I can’t play that!’ without even trying. Which brings us to…

Problem solving. Having the ability to figure out how to practice the problem spots. Have you seen something like this before? How did your teacher help you solve it? Can you apply those? Why or why not? Can you modify the previous approach?

Color, phrasing, and all the things that go into making music what it is. Part of this is not seeing notes as groupings, as having direction and impact, and identifying mood. I think she’s starting to figure out that she does better when she creates a story in her head, to help her keep these sort of things straight.

On the technical side, right hand technique for sure; having a well developed and controlled assortment of bow strokes. Which is not to say that the left is trouble free (fifths in high positions when you have tiny fingers, for instance). Fortunately, she has a naturally good vibrato, and good instincts for when to use it, so ends up sounding a more mature violinist than she is.

Edited: June 25, 2022, 9:56 AM · Yes, high positions!
Most method material in my possession stops at 7th position, just when things are getting interesting, and photos from the masters show huge hands.
As a stubby fingered violist, I had to find more personnalised solutions for myself and for my slender-handed young ladies (e.g. using two fingers on fifths!). Once they started taking videos on those smartphone thingies, I set up my spare viola as a violin so I would have slender hands too...
June 25, 2022, 9:56 AM · Someone said to my daughter recently that Rosand had told them that as a prodigy he had learned most of what he needed in his left hand by the time he was 10 or so. And that he had spent the next 70 years trying to improve his right.
Sound quality, projection. Conscious productive practice.
June 25, 2022, 6:57 PM · I think at the advanced level, it's detail -- beginning with awareness of the details, and then execution of the details.

Arguably one refinement is consistency, which requires sterling control. Moving from 'I can think and it happens' to a more conscious understanding of exactly how minor things contribute to a particular result is something of a leap. Practicing to really precisely control your muscles ought to be something taught early on -- yet often isn't.

June 26, 2022, 10:45 AM · Double-stop thirds: They are both physically awkward and difficult to exactly tune in just (chordal) intonation.

Sautille vs Spiccato vs Staccato?; Sometimes our technical jargon drifts away from the standard dictionary meanings. Sautille (french) does mean bounced. The Italian for bounced would be Saltando, but I do not recall ever seeing that in the printed music. Spiccato and Staccato appear to be synonyms, detached, distinct, not necessarily bounced. Our notation system doesn't help. Dots over the notes can can be either bounced or on-the-string staccato. Slurs with dots can be flying staccato, on-the-string up-bow staccato, or even portato, when slower. To sort this out we have our centuries old oral tradition among musicians, and we are allowed to have different opinions.
The equipment, the bow, really makes a difference for the advanced bowing techniques. The student really needs to have a bow that can do those things.

Edited: June 26, 2022, 11:20 AM · I find this to be a very interesting thread.

Whatever my aspirations and imagined past accomplishments, I have never been more than what I consider to be an intermediate player. However, one thing I learned some time ago was there was real benefit to learning what I called the "harmonic scale." These are the natural harmonics available by (single-finger) fingerings in the 1st to 4th position on all the strings (i.e., in the first octave above the nut), which are the same harmonics one sounds by fingering the octave just below the bridge. It provides great economies of motion and can quickly teach a student something about the "ledger-line notes" they might otherwise struggle over.

Off-string bowing has always been my problem. I thought it was due to my bows, but when I had my instruments and bows evaluated in 1980 for insurance purposes, the luthier/violinist who did the job evaluated my Lother Seifert violin bow as my best (despite that one of my bows is a F.N. Voirin) and he could do all kinds of off-string bowing with it; I sold it shortly thereafter (the 1980s was a good time to sell bows bought in the 1970s!!). I have tried a very few bows that I could "bounce" in a well-controlled manner, bows that seemed to read my mind - but they were either not for sale, did not produce good sound for me, or were too expensive for me.

I notice that Albrecht Zumbrunn mentioned the sautille arpeggios in the Mendelssohn cadenza. I recall seeing a video of Menuhin bowing that and he definitely DID NOT sautille it - he "whipped" through it with pretty long strokes (in my opinion). I did purchase a Berg Deluxe bow in the late 1990s just because it would sautille for me on that cadenza. I actually had it at home on trial for 2 weeks and sent it back because it was retailing for $4,100 (no sales tax across state lines in those days). I rethought it, telephoned and negotiated a better price and bought it - and still have it - but it is slightly deficient in sound compared to some of my pernambuco bows.

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