Core Violin techniques to keep

November 29, 2022, 12:19 PM · As a hobbyist violinist, it is hard to have time and keep up with violin techniques. Daily practice for hours is not a possibility.
Given the limited time, say 1 hour/day, which main techniques one should focus on? Furthermore, what would be the best method book/lessons to practice with such a restricted time?

For a context, we are in between cycles in a community orchestra and the repertoire is mostly Classical and Romantic symphonies.

Replies (36)

November 29, 2022, 12:48 PM · Have you gone through (more or less) Kreutzer? If not, work on Kreutzer. Otherwise, pick an advanced piece, and work on that. Complement with Flesch scale practice, working on vibrato, and working on intonation. One hour per day is not so little, so if you can do that you must be quite advanced for an amateur! You can add variety to your practice by practicing random stuff from Simon Fischer "Basics" and "Practice".
Edited: November 29, 2022, 12:55 PM · I'm a (now retired) psychologist and amateur violinist. I got an article published in 1975 in The Instrumentalist journal. It was a suggestion for the amateur with little time and energy to practice daily.

The idea is simple - 3 minutes per day minimum (that's right - 3 minutes).

You can play anything or any amount of time after that, but that 3 minutes is your daily chore. And it has to be with full concentration on a technically important detail. Play it super slowly with FULL concentration.

You can do something different each day, but that 3 minutes is your daily chore.

Even if you don't play too much after that each day, just watch what happens after even one week of giving at least 3 minutes of full concentration to something.

I hope that helps.

November 29, 2022, 12:54 PM · Do you have a teacher? You might want to find one. That person could help ensure that you are the best violinist you can be and give you guidance on what pieces you need to play and techniques you need to learn and practice.
November 29, 2022, 1:36 PM · You really can't beat scales and etudes, especially if they're done with conviction and focus.
Edited: November 29, 2022, 4:10 PM · Greetings?
if I could choose one book that both sustains and improves the fundamental aspects of technique it would be Simon Fischer’s ‘Warming up.’ You can pick and choose from a highly manageable menu of time proven exercises according to how you feel on a given day. In particular the tapping, vibrato and straight bow exercises are invaluable.
Another possibility is Drew Lecher’s book on technique which was designed for people with no time to wade through etude books. However, unless you really know what you are doing it can be a little hard to get a handle on.
Edited: November 29, 2022, 6:11 PM · Jean - it sounds that Kreutzer must be always in the menu, right? I have to confess that 1hr/day is on my dreams only. Four hours/week would be more realistic.

Sander - interesting indeed. Thanks for sharing. I will look up for this article in case it is available in the internet.

Tom - after the passing of my teacher over 1 year ago, I feel really hard to find a replacement that would make sense. He was a real gem and only few can match passion to teach combined with professional experience.

Erik - scales are important but personally I have been more inclined to certain arpeggios in double stops developed by Mr. Milstein that has helped with intonation, left-hand strength and muscle memory.

Buri - Greetings! Simon Fischer’s ‘Warming up.’ also sounds very interesting so will check it out.

Thank you all so far for very good suggestions.

November 29, 2022, 5:04 PM · The Galamian 24 note scale, changing up the bowing variations and key each day (I like to do the scales in the key of the piece I'm working on) is great - I like to add some dynamics (forte at the tip, piano at the frog, for instance) to get even more out of this scale. It really helps with intonation and tone production, as well as shifting. With one hour, I'd suggest maybe doing these scales for 20 minutes, then literature for the rest. If you don't have any current literature, then as others have suggested, Kreutzer or Fiorillo. If those are a bit demanding, Sevcik op. 3 is a great primer - go through all variations, and do the bowing permutations. All of these things help focus your ears & your tone production - two of the three things we must all master (timing, tuning, tone).
November 29, 2022, 9:53 PM · Greetings,
I forgot another masterpiece which is rarely used these days. Sammons: the secrets of violin technique. Sammons was a brilliant player with an incredibly deep understanding of the instrument. I am puzzled this book isn’t still part of basic repertoire. It may be available on IMSLP. Its rather like warming up but three times bigger and covers everything you would find in the Lreutzer but faster…
Edited: November 30, 2022, 4:43 AM · I like Sander's post.
And another vote for Sammons (BTW look him up on U-toob..)

For my busy high-school (lycée) students I made five pages of "basics" called the First Two Minutes (in French, the Two First Minutes, which doesn't quite make sense..)
Each page, (intonation, vibrato, shifting, speed etc.) takes two minutes, but with an possibility to pic'n'mix.
The idea is to revive, or confirm, basic sounds and gestures with undivided attention for up to 10 minutes, before putting the violin away again, or before continuing with "dynamic" practice.

November 30, 2022, 6:42 AM · Interesting to learn about Sammons here. His "Secret of Technique in Violin Playing" is not on IMSLP but has been republished by Goodmusic Publishing. They cite a rather strong endorsement by Hugh Bean, so, like Buri said, it must be good!
November 30, 2022, 10:13 AM · Focus on the ones you need. Do you have music you like to or want to play? If you practise that, it will be obvious what you need to keep in shape. If you use your precious hour for only technique builders like scale, you will come to dread that hour very fast.
November 30, 2022, 12:38 PM · Welcome to our world. A lot can be accomplished with one hour per day. What has not been mentioned yet is that working pro musicians can find themselves in a similar situation; With multiple rehearsals and performances per week, plus some teaching, and the pesky to-do list of normal adult life, one hour might be all we can do on some days.
The maintenance hour: warm-ups and exercises, scales and arpeggios in one key per day, (I am not a fan of the Flesch book, too advanced and strenuous for me at this age, and I don't use those fingerings in real music), one new etude per week or one review etude per day, (I like Rode). For bowing: Sevcik Op. 3 variations.Then your orchestra excerpts. Also work on your orchestra parts for future concerts and seasons. If you are a section 2nd violin, challenge yourself with the 1st violin parts. Those are used for the audition at your next orchestra. All that will be about an hour.
December 1, 2022, 12:59 PM · For me the fundamental and most important thing to get right, before a student tackles any technical studies or scales, is posture, including how the instrument and bow are held. Get any of these wrong and there could well be problems further down the line.

For any amateur, especially those who haven't had lessons for a while, and could be experiencing problems, I would recommend a series of lessons in posture etc from a good observant teacher who has the answers. I was fortunate enough to find such a teacher in my early days as a late adult beginner.

December 1, 2022, 1:46 PM · Such a long thread and nobody answers the OP's question!

The answer obviously depends on your goals. For classical and romantic orchestral music in community orchestras I'd say you get along with about the following:

Left hand:
Decent intonation, vibrato, facility in positions 1 - 5 plus ability to learn some passages higher up (this last one primarily for 1st violin). Double stopping is not crucial; you can always play divisi.

Bow / right arm
dynamic from piano to forte, legato, détaché, spiccato, pizzicato.

December 1, 2022, 2:29 PM · Not true.
He asked about core techniques and method books. He was provided with method books and, at the very least , by implication of containment what to focus on.
Your ideas are excellent but not as efficient as the practice methods I use for me personally, establishing the obvious point that ‘core7 exercises also depend on the individual.
December 1, 2022, 2:38 PM · I was going to write a post akin to Albrecht's, which gets at the issue of what techniques may be particularly relevant to an orchestral player, so that's the gap in the discussion that Albrecht's post filled, that wasn't explicitly mentioned earlier, and which Cotton alluded to.
December 1, 2022, 3:50 PM · Thank you all for sharing your experiences with great suggestions and recommendations. Some were very specific and others pointing to new directions (at least for me). For instance I've never heard of Sammons before.

I feel there is enough material to apply to my maintenance hour (borrowing the term from Joel).

December 1, 2022, 8:03 PM · I reckon the core skill for intonation is playing your rep in tune with neighboring strings if not 5ths. No vibrato.

You can use a drone and blend well, but it's better to keep your ears awake to the harmonies of your violin.

December 2, 2022, 1:54 AM · Scales in different bow way
Edited: December 2, 2022, 10:54 AM · About the "non-practical" fingerings in Flesch scales alluded to by Joel. In contrast I find that just numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of each Flesch scale provide in compressed form almost all the shifting passagework you ever need to do. Especially if you use the alternative fingers in the Rostal edition (which is the most common edition anyway, I believe). Shifting a difference of just one position up or down is found routinely in the number 5 scale, the one with the intervals in thirds. Shifting a difference of two positions (in particular up from finger 2 to finger 1 or down from 1 to 2), either a minor third or a major third, naturally occurs in the minor scales on one string. Shifting a difference of three positions, which is so fundamental for the orchestral violinist, occurs in the major scales on one string (fingering 1231...). Then shifting a difference of four positions, in the arpeggios on one string, between a variety of finger pairs, really makes you see through a variety of "virtuosic" passages in the repertoire. Most such passages fit in one arpeggio or another, and if you have practiced the Flesch arpeggio's on one string, many such passages become very natural.
December 2, 2022, 10:55 AM · I also feel sometimes that Flesch (and Galamian or Fischer) 3-octave scale fingerings are impractical. We practice these scales that start high on the G string and then we've only got a couple of shifts toward the end to reach our goal on the E string. Then, along comes and orchestra or chamber part with a long scale, and we start in first position and do all our shifting on the E string. At least, I do.

So I find myself wondering whether I'd adopt different (more Flesch-like) fingerings for those kinds of orchestral or chamber passages if only I were *better* at playing scales Flesch's way, and whether that's what pro orchestral and chamber violinists do.

December 2, 2022, 11:08 AM · Well... over the years, my instincts have definitely moved from shifting almost entirely on the top string (viola A string) a decade ago, to doing much more of my shifting on the lower strings when an orchestral or chamber part has a long scale.
December 2, 2022, 12:06 PM · "If you use your precious hour for only technique builders like scales, you will come to dread that hour very fast."

Scales are like rainbows: not art, but still beautiful!
Scales, and scale-based patterns, allow Undivided Attention towards intonation and tone. One could do worse!

And we mustn't forget arpeggios, with their double-stop-type twists and stretches of finger and wrist.

December 2, 2022, 1:40 PM · hi Paul, from what I've seen (I'm just an amateur myself) but YES pro orchestral violinists play a lot of passages staying in position. whenever I go to a classical concert I have my opera glasses in hand and observe the violinists! I make sure to book a seat where I get a good view on their violin! often the violinist sitting directly behind the concertmaster is a veteran in the orchestra and very instructive to watch.
December 2, 2022, 2:51 PM · Paul, I agree with you, particularly for the viola. For the Galamian scales I play nearly every day, I start in first or 2nd position on the C string regardless of scale, sort of like playing "modes" which I think relates to a lot of passagework anyway. In other words, say for an A Major scale, I'll start on E on the C string and end on the high E on the A string. This is still plenty of high positions (especially for the viola) but is in a generally more "practical" range of positions 1-5 rather than 4-9.
December 2, 2022, 5:55 PM · All,-- I did not intend to suggest that the Flesch book was not useful. I just did not like it, and I got rid of my copy years ago,-that's my problem.
With wide finger-tips and a short 4th finger, I have worked out my own way of doing the 3-octave scales. I start and stay in 1st or 1/2 position then go up the E-string in a variety of patterns. My current favorite pattern for one octave high on the E-string will look a little odd: 1-2-3-2-3-2-3-3. For real music, the optimum fingerings depend a lot on the context, rhythm, and even the bowing. Lately, after attempting to do some of Ricci's book,(very advanced), I have been playing 1/2 steps with the same finger a lot more often.
December 2, 2022, 8:23 PM · Why practice scales if they aren't in tune?
December 5, 2022, 8:00 AM · Paul and Jean, to counter this a little: One of my teachers kept pointing out to me that a violins "sounds best in first position". I think he was right about that for the vast majority of instruments. The custom to prefer first position or at least low positions whenever possible makes sense.
December 5, 2022, 8:05 AM · Jim, because one day they might be.
Edited: December 5, 2022, 11:39 AM · Paul, I take it you're joking. Double stops can do wonders for intonation. I knew a director once that shouted out to his volunteers while beating his baton, "If you're not in tune, don't stay on the note." That's a core skill that double-stop diva Hilary Hahn must have learned.
December 5, 2022, 12:00 PM · Double stops are often arranged in scales, too.
December 5, 2022, 3:56 PM · @Albrecht - the tradition to prefer first position started with the Baroque period. It is one of the central tenets of the HIP/A-415 crowd.
December 6, 2022, 8:04 AM · I can recommend “the daily dozen”, by D.C.Dounis.

Besides that, I recommend to make sure that you start out with warm muscles. This can save you some time period of frustration as opposed to warming up with your instrument.

Some physical exercising/stretching, even a cup of hot tea- anything that you can squeeze in to get really warm from the inside.
Makes a HUGE difference for me, especially during the winter.

December 6, 2022, 8:05 AM · I can recommend “the daily dozen”, by D.C.Dounis.

Besides that, I recommend to make sure that you start out with warm muscles. This can save you some time period of frustration as opposed to warming up with your instrument.

Some physical exercising/stretching, even a cup of hot tea- anything that you can squeeze in to get really warm from the inside.
Makes a HUGE difference for me, especially during the winter.

December 8, 2022, 3:15 AM · Well, for what it's worth, Sammons is definitely not in IMSLP, though he should be. The book was first published in 1916, and Mr Sammons is long dead, so it is in the Public Domain, unless music publishers have been playing us for fools ...

One exercise I myself use is to start with a scale, then improvise from it, after going up and down at least once. You know, three notes up, drop down a second, jump to a fourth above, then run down to the second, climb in seconds til you reach the ninth, the fall back in thirds till you reach the seventh just below the tonic, jump to the second above, then finish on the tonic. Or whatever I feel like playing, that sort of thing. It tests my ears and fingers.

December 8, 2022, 3:44 AM · My inclination would be simply to keep up something I like and which can always be improved. If it's Bach S&P, all well and good. If it's the Pag caprices, all well and good. If it's Kreutzer or Kreisler, all well and good.
I can't answer for the OP, as I don't know their ability and I'm not sure how they would define core tehniques.

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