Bach Fuga in G Minor (1st sonata)

October 18, 2017, 2:20 PM · I'm currently working on this. I started attempting to learn it like a year or two ago, put about 5 hours in, and then gave up (I'm REAL disciplined, folks).

Anyways, recently I've actually started to practice every day (for the first time since I was in my teens, probably) and now have spent 20-30 hours on it, and still don't feel confidence in my overall sound. I know I'll get there if I put another 30 or so hours in, but it just seems remarkably difficult to sound "professional" on. Probably doesn't help that my violin is a very "tight" and powerful instrument with ZERO forgiveness. Definitely not a "bach violin."

Anyhow, my actual question is this: who here has played this piece, and gotten it to a level that you were satisfied with (performable)? How long do you remember it taking you? (hours-wise). Am I simply underestimating this piece and feeling like a failure as a result? Is this piece considered very difficult? I remember it being rated similarly to the chaccone but it seems way more difficult to me, and I can find far more videos of "ordinary" violinists playing the chaccone if I search on youtube, whereas it's almost exclusively soloists playing the Fuga if I search for that.

Also, I'll post the piece once I feel it's ready. Don't hold your breath.

Replies (81)

October 18, 2017, 2:38 PM · I played the g minor fugue on my Master's recital; I played the Chaconne on my senior recital a couple of years before (there's no implication in this sequence other than Indiana required an Adagio and Fugue on recitals). In my memory, the Chaconne was harder but I don't think there's a significant difference. I don't remember the hours I put in.

I teach the g minor Adagio and Fugue to advanced high school students in preparation for conservatory auditions, and to college performance majors. It's not an easy piece but it's not insurmountable either.

I suspect that you would learn the fugue much more efficiently with a teacher to point out technical issues, but you knew I was going to say that. :-)

Edited: October 18, 2017, 3:48 PM · Hmmm I wonder if my particular difficulty with it has to do with not having any independent control of my pinky in relation to my ring finger. It's heavily tied into my 3rd finger movement. Obviously this won't prevent me from learning it, but might cause extra difficulty.

Edit: also my left shoulder has poor mobility, which disallows me from bringing the left fingers over the fingerboard easily. Rather, they must reach of their own accord. Poor me.

When your students learn this piece, how many weeks do they usually take to master it?

October 18, 2017, 4:09 PM · Depends on the student. Several weeks to a few months usually, but they're also working on other repertoire.

Poor mobility in your left shoulder is a problem--have you tried bringing the violin back slightly closer to center (still angled left but not quite so much)? Or do your shoulder issues preclude that?

October 18, 2017, 7:55 PM · I'm an amateur who returned to the violin about a year ago. I started the G minor fugue in May or June. I practiced it for a couple of months, memorized it, but cannot claim to have mastered it. I had played a few other double-stop heavy movements of solo Bach, but none of the other fugues or chaconne.

At first, the biggest challenge was organizing the left hand -- playing the chords in tune without tensing up. I used several techniques to help with this, such as arpeggiating the 3- and 4-note chords and playing them repeatedly, playing without my left thumb touching, playing without the base joint touching, and lifting fingers to harmonic level to train myself not to press too hard. I also did lots of slow practice with the metronome.

At this point, my left hand is fairly comfortable, and my main challenges are getting it up to tempo and adding greater articulation with the bow. My teacher has encouraged me to play the 3- and 4-note chords with greater attack from the frog a la Szeryng, though I prefer some of the more recent performances like those of Rachel Barton Pine and Isabelle Faust, who tend to arpeggiate more of the chords and play with what seems like a lighter touch. I'm still trying to find what works best for me.

After working on the fugue for a couple of months, I got kind of bored with it, though it was not yet mastered. I've since moved on to other movements but still revisit it from time to time. One of the benefits of learning the fugue is that the double stops in other movements, like the Largo, Andante, and Sarabande, all feel easy by comparison.

October 18, 2017, 8:33 PM · Yes Mary, my shoulder mobility is probably my biggest issue overall. In the past I've attempted to compensate by adding excessive tilt to the violin via shoulder rest or chin rest adjustment, and this makes my left hand 10x better when it comes to chordal pieces, but ruins my bow form since my bow is practically upside down by the time it gets to the E string.

When you say "bringing the violin back slightly closer to center", do you mean the actual BACK (as in the endpin) of the violin being moved closer to the center of my chest, while the overall leftward angle of the violin remains the same? Or do you instead mean bringing the scroll of the violin in front of me more?

If the former, I have actually had some success using a very-side-mounted chinrest so that the endpin of the violin is slid closer to the center of my chest (this relieves my shoulder tension by allowing my left palm to rotate more towards my face), but this has the same kind of issue as the tilt-method, where it makes my bow unusable for anything complex.

So the tilt method has proven to be an issue, as has the moving-endpin-more-center method, both due to the bow issues they cause. The last thing that has worked is moving my scroll to the left more, which frees up my fingers to wrap around the fingerboard more effectively (since it allows my fingers 1-4 to naturally line up with the strings), but once again this just causes bow issues because I can no longer utilize the bow effectively when the violin is pointed so far left.

I remember when I went in for my lesson with Barbini about 6 months ago and he was explaining a lot of different things (and we were discussing shoulder rest usage), and I was like "I CAN'T do that," at which point I grabbed his left elbow and rotated it inward, and then did the same with mine. His probably has 20 degrees more rotational mobility inward than mine. WAY MORE. He can practically point his left elbow sideways (to the right), which allows his fingers to just nicely dance on the top of the strings, even with a 4th finger on the G string. I'm so jealous of this ability, as it would make literally everything 100x easier on the violin, particularly chords.

Now, regarding chords, the shoulder mobility issues might not be the end of the world if my middle finger wasn't so dang long compared to everything else, particularly my pinky. Maybe 2" longer than my pinky. So during chords where both my 2nd and 4th finger are used, my long 2nd finger inevitably pushes the 4th finger AWAY from the fingerboard, and then the 4th has to compensate by jutting out in less-curved fashion, which causes issues if the 4 happens to need to be on the G-string. All of this, and I also don't have pinky-independence from my ring finger (as discussed in that other topic recently).

I do think there's a solution, and I have discovered some small things that seem to work under certain circumstances, such as modifying my left hand position entirely based on the requirements of each chord, but that causes a lot of consistency issues.

Funnily enough, in posting this and seeing your response, I had a lightbulb moment and was able to change my form in a way that I think will be favorable for this application. I need a shallower angle of attack with my fingers, rather than trying to come in vertically. Basically more lumbrical and less flexor. That way I can use my relatively long fingers to compensate for the lack of shoulder mobility.

Edited: October 18, 2017, 9:39 PM · Erik I think you and I have a lot in common with respect to our proportions and challenges. Also it seems we've come up with many similar solutions. Can you describe in more detail the problems your setup tweaks cause for your bowing?

"..modifying my left hand position entirely based on the requirements of each chord." That's exactly my strategy. You just need to develop a good feel for 'default', snapping back into frame. Feel solid 'anchor' fingers between chord changes and shifts.

"So during chords where both my 2nd and 4th finger are used, my long 2nd finger inevitably pushes the 4th finger AWAY from the fingerboard..."
Sometimes my middle finger is leaning way over to compensate for a good pinky posture.

If you're comfortable with it you might post small fragments of the fugue on video, and we might be able to help get you 'there' quicker.

October 18, 2017, 9:27 PM · "When you say "bringing the violin back slightly closer to center", do you mean the actual BACK (as in the endpin) of the violin being moved closer to the center of my chest, while the overall leftward angle of the violin remains the same? Or do you instead mean bringing the scroll of the violin in front of me more?"

I meant bringing the scroll slightly more towards center, but whatever works. Glad I appear to have sparked a helpful train of thought.

Not to sound like a broken record (if you're old enough to catch that reference) but a good teacher can save you quite a bit of time by spotting solutions that you may not yet have tried.

Edited: October 18, 2017, 9:59 PM · "...but a good teacher can save you quite a bit of time by spotting solutions that you may not yet have tried."

While I agree wholeheartedly with Mary Ellen's encouraging Erik to get a teacher, I've not found that to be true for setup and specific issues related to body type. Quite the opposite actually.

Erik, just watched a bit of your Adagio video. Your left hand looks pretty good to me, though it's a bit hard to see from the angle. Seeing the specific left hand issues you have in the fugue would help us understand better how what you've written above is affecting your technique. I agree with getting your scroll to point more to the right. But to do that you might have to get creative with chinrest/shoulderest combo. My tilt is steeper than yours in that video. I've got it so that when I place pinky on G-string in 1st position, my elbow is pointing straight down. That way, I only tuck in a bit more in high positions when necessary. As I go to E-string my elbow points to the left, so that my upper arm is about 30 degrees from vertical. My setup is not perfect yet, but enables me to keep playing quite a busy schedule after having injured my left shoulder about 11 years ago.

October 18, 2017, 9:59 PM · Haha that would explain why we both know unusual amounts of anatomy, Jeewon :)

Regarding the side-mounted chinrest solution, where the endpin of the violin rotates closer to my chest to allow my left palm to face me more:

This made it so I had to bow "out" way too much. This made it difficult to stay parallel when approaching the tip of the bow, and also made articulations more difficult - both at the frog and tip - since the further "out" my arm is, the less I can use the weight of my arm to do certain actions, because the weight is overall further from my body. In addition, it makes it more difficult to use the bending of the wrist to articulate, since I'm able to reach the frog without having the bend the wrist much at all. As example, if I start from the frog and do a downbow, my wrist begins nearly straight and immediately starts bending out, so there's never a point in the bow where my wrist is bent in the "good" (inward) direction enough to properly articulate anything.

Regarding the shoulder-rest-tilt method, where I would raise the left part of the shoulder rest and lower the right part, in order to angle the violin more towards my center:

The main issue I had here was that gravity was no longer consistently influencing my bow, which affected my articulation ability (particularly on something like hammer bows) on my A and E strings. Any advantages I gained in comfort on the G and D strings were balanced out by disadvantages on the A and E strings, due to me essentially bowing upside down on the E, and far too vertically on the A as well. Also, it's very uncomfortable to bow "down" rather than "across" my body.

Regarding the "point the scroll left more" method:

Pretty much the same difficulties as the other two, where the right wrist ends up not being bent enough at the frog, the weight of my arm is too far away from me most of the time, and I lose a parallel bow as I approach the tip, because the wrist can't bend that far outward. However, with this method, all of these challenges were less so, and I think if I encouraged myself to actually get used to this position, then it might be feasible for me to use. I have found myself moving to this position more and more since I began practicing the Fugue, and when I do, my intonation improves significantly, with only a slight decrease in the quality of the "attacks" with the bow. The best way I can describe the effect of this is that it makes all of my fingers feel like they are a similar length. This is, of course, because as the violin rotates left, it allows the 4th finger to NATURALLY hover over the same string as the 1st finger. I do have to use an earplug in the left ear though, as rotating the violin left makes that ear burden ALL of the sound of my very powerful violin.

To come back to the other points:

Yes, I've developed as many "anchor points" within the Fugue as possible. Any areas where I can keep a finger down to ensure the success of the next chord, or perhaps using a strategic pause in the bow to allow my hand to "jump" into the next chord-position without causing issues. I've definitely programmed as many advantages into the piece as I can get.

It's funny that you mention your middle finger leaning way over, as mine does precisely the same thing, to the extent that I've filed my 2nd finger nail down so far into the nailbed that I can use it upside down effectively, in order to keep a "good looking" 4th finger. It wouldn't be an issue if either my 4th finger was longer or my 2nd finger was shorter!!

I'll post some videos once I feel like I'm not totally ashamed of the sound :)

Edited: October 18, 2017, 10:18 PM · :) Gotta keep lookin' for answers right (even as we grumble all the way!)?

I'll take a closer look at your Adagio again tomorrow. But quickly, take a look at this thread posted by Yixi. Near the bottom we had a brief discussion about feet and stance:

I suspect your bowing issues can be solved by expanding your technique. For articulation practice 'pinch and ride.' That's how Shumsky put it to my teacher. You need to instill the ability to pinch and release pressure abruptly and ride the bow with an appropriate weight and/or speed for the sound point. To be able to bow well with a 'crooked' bow, you need to almost pull the whole bow toward the bridge as the bow goes crooked, so you don't lose sound point. Also, experimenting with various ways of angling the bow within a stroke will help get you the sound you want. That's not to say you should stop looking for a better setup. Anyways, more later.

October 18, 2017, 10:23 PM · Agh, responses happened while I wrote the above essay! Jeewon, my form/setup has changed somewhat since even that video was taken. At some point in the recent past I definitely had my setup to a similar tilt level that you describe. Have you tried playing the fugue with such a high tilt level? Are you still able to attack the notes properly?

In response to Mary: I'm sure that if I was able to find the RIGHT teacher (one who understands that different bodies work differently, and knows how to work around these types of issues), that I would definitely be happy to have lessons every week! It's just really hard to find a local teacher who both understands that, and is able to play at a high level. But, it's on my to-do list! Actually, right now I'm in the process of "preparing" for lessons again, because I told myself that if I can't practice every day, then I can't really validate lessons. So I'm trying to get the routine of practice in place before attempting to get a teacher.

Regarding what Jeewon said about in response to Mary:

My last lesson, roughly 6 months ago, was the reason I attempted to switch back to a "typical" setup, which has caused me discomfort. It was also the reason that I tried, yet again, a non-shoulder rest setup. So, I think the key is to finding a good teacher that also understands different body types, rather than a conformist type. For example,
someone like Heifetz would not have been a good teacher for me despite being so excellent for others, since we would have INSISTED I not use a shoulder rest.

October 19, 2017, 4:11 AM · "Have you tried playing the fugue with such a high tilt level? Are you still able to attack the notes properly?"

Yes. The "attack" comes from finger pressure and release, colle motion. See:

With greater tilt you have to add more leverage with more general lean into the bow, the more vertical the bow gets.

October 19, 2017, 3:11 PM · I can tell you a story related to that piece, which is quite telling regarding your question:
I once talked to a student violinist and found out, that he will play in a local international violin competition. I thought he was a good player and continued to ask him, what he will play in the first round. He told me amongst other pieces, that he will play the Bach G-Minor Adagio and Fugue. Because I played those movements before I said to him: "respect! the g-minor fugue is very hard!"
His answer was shocking for me, he said: "No it is not hard!"
I was shocked, because I thought maybe I am just a bad violinist and it is easy for him...
When the competition started I attended his first round performance on the live-stream and he had quite a beautiful sound with the obligatory piece. Then came the Bach and it was terrible! Everything what is hard in the Fugue went wrong and the mishaps ranged from bad intonation and clumsy chord playing to memory slips... So he learned the hard way!
1. Never underestimate Bach Solo
2. NOTHING is easy when you want to perform on a high level, being arrogant will make you look stupid afterwards.

I felt bad for him, but at the same time my world was in order again. Noone can tell me the G-minor fugue is easy! Ever heard any violinst play that as an encore? Why not?

There are places in the Fugue which need very very good chord technique and left hand control. It is fast and the chords have 4 voices. And in the end it should even sound like music!

October 19, 2017, 4:15 PM · I was about to post a video I took, but honestly, the cellphone audio is just too bad. I know it's just a form-check, essentially, but my inner perfectionist can't let this be posted. I'll use my actual camera later and see if it helps.

October 19, 2017, 4:34 PM · If you are doing a video so that people can check your form, for goodness sake, play something easy.
Edited: October 19, 2017, 5:19 PM · Idk what it is about the violin, but recording it on a cellphone sounds AWFUL. I was even watching Hilary Hahn’s Instagram posts of the 100daysofpractice challenge and even HER violin sounded bad on a cell phone.
October 19, 2017, 5:45 PM · Paul, if you read back, you'll see that the form is relevant only to this particular piece of music, due to tension issues associated with playing multiple difficult chords in a row.

Plus, the Fugue in G Minor IS easy! Didn't you hear?

Christopher, funny enough I love the way violin sounds through cellphone speakers as opposed to normal speakers, as it seems to capture the "Crispness" of each note much better, but yes, the recording is awful, especially to someone like me who is used to recording with decently expensive equipment (out of commission at the moment, otherwise I'd use it to record this as well).

October 19, 2017, 10:41 PM · Ok, I took a video at the end of today. It's only the first page about, but the rest of the piece is up to a similar standard. A work in progress, clearly.

I actually took some significant time today to tweak my shoulder rest and violin angle, which is the first setup-adjustment I've made in at least 6 months. Luckily, I found that tilting it back to what it was 6 months ago (before my lesson) helped tremendously. I guess I just needed someone else's "OK" to consider doing it again (thanks, Jeewon :))

Anyways, because this is a new setup for me, you'll notice my bow is not parallel in the video. I'd also like to apologize in advance for the mistakes and lack of delicacy overall. My violin doesn't like to be played quietly. Also, the sound is very "roomy" because if I setup the camera any closer to me, then you wouldn't be able to see my overall form. Please take note of my thumb rising above the fingerboard constantly, in an attempt to bring my 4 closer to the fingerboard whenever I have to play a 2 at the same time.

Edited: October 20, 2017, 8:53 AM · 1. Raise your scroll about 4 inches so the fingerboard is parallel with the ground, not sloping downward. This is part of why you don't like your sound - you're fighting against gravity pulling the bow toward the fingerboard, so everything is more crunchy than it would be if you used gravity to push the bow in toward the bridge.
2. Right now you're standing very hunched forward. Engage your core and stand with your chest proud, shoulders back and down so your posture is more upright - this might feel like you're leaning slightly backward at first. Should also help with point 1.
Edited: October 20, 2017, 9:32 AM · Hey that's great Erik. I'll just comment on a few things at a time, as I have time to do so. Right now you're attacking all chords from the air, kind of like big chords in a romantic concerto (e.g. Bruch.) For the Bach you have to train chords from the string for control, using a colle motion, plucking the strings with the bow. I would suggest a long period of slow, soft practice, waaaaaay over the fingerboard (fb), to develop this, and also to organize your bow strokes in general.

To be able to play over the fb, your arm will have to be very light. The advantage is that it's easy to grab multiple strings at a soft sound point, so you don't have to force the attack to make them all sound. Later of course you will vary the sound point according to context.

First practice playing double stops at fb and make a clean, even tone, with even pressure on two strings. Then, without changing anything in the arm, pivot the bow with the fingers only, to change which string you play on (you can practice this on K35.) You can actually cross strings but also play the double stop with more pressure on one string or the other to emphasize that note like you'd do for K35 (use e.g. K7 near the frog, starting up bow to practice pivot-crossing; only change arm level to either D string level, to pivot-cross to G/D/A or to A string level, to pivot-cross to D/A/E.)

Then, you can grab 3 strings and pivot to finish the stroke on one of those strings. That's how you emphasize voices within chords. Do the same, grabbing 4 strings (for which you may wish to arpeggiate a bit, or not, if you want to develop very subtle touch with your bow.)

I won't get into phrasing in detail right now, but you have to phrase to the middle of the subject, each time. So for example in m2, the G/A must be louder than the G/Eb or the F/D. For now just stop the bow before each fugal entry. Finish the last note of the previous subject with a slow bow. That way, when you start the next fugal entry with a faster bow speed, you'll be delineating the subject.

I suspect when you have more control over the bow (i.e. when you're no longer playing all chords heavy and the same) you will have more attention span for organizing your left hand also.

More later...

October 20, 2017, 10:52 AM · I don't have time to look at the video right now--apologies--but one suggestion I make to all my students learning this piece is to play through much of the first page following *only* the fugue subject (no double stops). This is not particularly helpful technically but it makes the necessary phrasing obvious.
Edited: October 20, 2017, 11:36 AM · Yes! What Mary Ellen says. At first, make sure each time you play the subject they are all identical to each other, played without double stops and chords. (To that end, I would play down, up, up for the 1/8-1/16-1/16 figure, especially in the first line.) When you add back the other voices (which you can do in stages, add 1 voice for double stops, then 2 for triple, then quads,) again, make sure they all sound the same until you have full control. The same is true of every stroke, until you have full control, make them all equally detached, regardless of length of bow used, or dynamic. Sameness helps train control. Once you have it, you can then introduce difference to express your interpretation.
October 20, 2017, 1:37 PM · One issue I have in particular with Bach is that my violin is very, very tight, and so in order to play softly without "skimming" the top of the strings (not a full-bodied sound), I would need to literally play about 2" OVER the fingerboard, which would actually be fine with me, except on the chords where an E string is involved, because I would hit the wood of the violin in this way. I have tried very soft strings (which I currently have on) and they help, but don't fix the issue. I also whine to my luthier practically every week, but that also hasn't fixed the issue. Eventually I want to obtain a violin whose sounding points are closer to the bridge so that I don't have to play so far away to achieve a nice, soft response.

When I played a vuillaume a few months back (a guarneri model), Bach suddenly felt SO much easier, because I could add subtlety to the notes and they would still sound clearly. And this was only with 5 minutes of playing. I didn't even take it home (I figured there was no point, since I'm unlikely to buy a quarter-million dollar instrument).

Still, I will continue striving for a softer, more subtle attack to the best of my ability. I know that with proper control and technique, I can work around the characteristics of any particular violin.

Irene, I agree that my violin needs to be held higher. That's a common bad habit of mine that I always notice when watching myself in recordings.

Alright, back to the practice-room for me. There's so much information here (about half of it I knew and was denying to myself because it's hard to do, the other half I wasn't sure about).

Have you guys noticed that on youtube, every player seems to approach this in a very different way, bow-wise? I think I was trying to mimic how Isaac Stern does it, but either I failed to do so, or maybe he's just playing it in a way that's not considered appropriate. Here is the video:

Please inform me on whether or not I should be approaching it in the same way as him, or if perhaps I think I'm playing it similarly but just failing to do so effectively.

All of the phrasing points you wrote make perfect sense to me, but of course I can't easily get to them until I figure out how to make the notes sound clear and consistent through proper bow control.

Lots of work to do! Will update you in 5-10 years! :D

October 20, 2017, 3:10 PM · I took up the violin as an adult, and had a terrible time with my shoulder and overall flexibility. The solution was to switch to the cello! I can play forever with no pain.
October 20, 2017, 3:39 PM · What you see in the Stern video is what I mentioned in my earlier reply. He attacks most of the chords from the frog. On the triple stops, he often strikes 3 strings simultaneously with a heavy attack. With all due respect to the legendary Mr. Stern, I find that performance to be just awful. In addition to the heavy-handedness, the articulation palette is limited, and it's horribly out of tune. (A similar approach, though better executed than Stern, can be seen in this video of Szeryng:

Contrast Stern's recording to this one of Isabelle Faust (unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a live performance on YouTube):

In Faust's performance, I hear a lot of arpeggiated chords, a broad articulation palette including many lifted strokes, and a lighter touch in general. To me, this sounds like Bach.

Edited: October 20, 2017, 4:14 PM · If you'll notice, every stroke in Stern's playing is incisive and has a clean edge to it. That's because for each stroke he grips the string before drawing the bow, and releases precisely at the beginning of each stroke, Shumsky's pinch/release or "catch" as Zukerman likes to say. To train that timing you have to learn colle motion, and a floating arm motion.

Playing softly is not the main goal of practicing over the fb. The soft sound point makes it easier to grip 3 or 4 strings at once and also forces you to float the arm. It's all about the articulation and differentiating contrary finger and arm actions.

Re. interpretation, yes there are many different approaches, more than ever before, considering HIP influence. But I wouldn't worry too much about it. Pick a style and learn it that way. If you walked into anybody's studio and sounded like Stern I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be any complaints ;)

But I would insist a student learn how to delineate voicing and shape phrases much more clearly than Stern does (kind of the way he insists when teaching.)

Edit: having listened to it more carefully, I'll just say that the shapes and delineation is all there in Stern's performance. It is aggressive compared to what's becoming the norm these days, and sure he favours virtuosity over nuance, but it's all very controlled. But I would suggest, if you do want to model his performance, start way within the envelope to start.

October 20, 2017, 4:16 PM · Jeewon, where you hear "incisive", I hear "crunch". I suppose we can chalk this up to differences in taste and the influences of HIP between Stern's recording and Faust's. But Stern's intonation undeniably awful in this particular performance!

I will definitely try the fingerboard and pinch/release idea that you described above. I always appreciate your detailed practice tips.

October 20, 2017, 4:36 PM · Jeewon, I really appreciate your detail analysis of the issues involved in this piece. Thanks for the wonderful insight.
October 20, 2017, 4:53 PM · Most welcome folks!

Jason, I hear ya. I'm very much in favour of HIP influence. But in Stern's playing I don't hear any distortion, which I would equate with a crunch, a cracking tone. To me it sounds very clean, though miked close, and what we perceive as a heavy attack he's probably employing to project all the way to the back of Carnegie. It's a different priority. When it comes to projection we really need to learn to "hear from afar," so to speak, though not many of us will need such extended technique.

October 20, 2017, 4:55 PM · Eric, have you tried different bows for a softer sound?
October 20, 2017, 5:01 PM · Jeewon, what would you recommend regarding the level of the right elbow when playing 3 and 4 note chords in this piece? Would you say that the elbow should be at the level of the string with the voice that we're trying to bring out? Or the top note, with hand and forearm reaching for the lower strings? What about elbow level when playing the the arpeggios near the top of the second page (assuming you play these as arpeggios and not, e.g., 2+2)?
Edited: October 20, 2017, 5:56 PM · In general, I'd say move the elbow to the string on which the tune is being played. So:
m2 D-string
m3 E-string
In general, you want the elbow to be in the middle string(s) of a 3 or 4 note chord, so the elbow could swing from the middle string to the string with the tune.
So in m11, you could stay on A-string, or E-string, or swing a bit.
m12, you finish on E-string, but I would quickly move to D-string on 3rd quarter beat, so you pivot A/D to D on each of those sixteenth duples

m21 D-string (starting from the subject entry, half bar of m20) but notice the last eighth in m21 the subject starts rather buried on the A-string--so for the last 4 eighths in m21 elbow goes D-string, E-string, E-string, A-string to start the subject... etc. Of course it's not so exact and clinical as all that, the elbow is always following the fingers and the hand (or preparing the way for the hand and finger.) But learning to reach strings with finger-pivot makes bowing much more efficient in stuff like this.

Re. arpeggios m 34 half bar, I would practice moving the elbow from D/A to A/E, it all depends on your proportions, but practicing that way helps to keep the shoulder from seizing. Later it might just rock from the left 'edge' of A string to the right 'edge'.

But! m36 half bar, I would swing from D string all the way to E-string to emphasize the moving lines on those strings, and then back to what your were doing m37.

Edit: fixed some measure #s

October 20, 2017, 6:29 PM · Ok, so I started messing with my strings today and swapped them for the low-tension strings that I'd been using about 6-12 months ago.

OH MY GOD it makes all the difference in the world. I'm able to get a soft/easy response out of the strings, which is allowing me to not have to smash the strings into submission through hammer-blows. Now, my violin rings again, which it wasn't before. Just - everything is better. Now I feel far more comfortable playing this piece less aggressively because the strings are 10x more responsive. And because of that, I can apply proper articulation and phrasing much more easily. I'm not "battling my violin."

I know I make a lot of excuses, but this one was apparently valid. Now I need to do everything that Jeewon stated, which will take me god knows how long.

Jeewon, you are the only other person besides me that consistently writes full-on essays on this site, which of course is tremendously appreciated by all of those who implement your advice - myself included :) You're a real gem here.

October 20, 2017, 8:33 PM · Going back to the original question; I have always considered the Bach Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas as at three levels of difficulty; the single-note pieces, the pieces with a lot of double stops, and then the fugues and the Chaconne. I would rather have a student master the high positions, the high notes that they will encounter in the orchestra first violin parts, before tackling the chords. Double-stops are three times harder to tune than single notes. To work up to those Bach sonatas consider first doing; Transcriptions of the Cello suites, the Telemann Fantasias, the Bach concertos, and the Bach violin-keyboard sonatas. jq
October 21, 2017, 2:38 AM · You play very well! You tackle some difficulties with ease! Many suggestions have already been made. I have nothing to add other than to enforce, that you should try to stay closer to the string between the chords and use your fingers more to roll the bow to the lower strings between the chords. Slow intonation practice can't hurt you either.
About playability: It can have to do with the shape and height of the bridge! Maybe check that before upgrading to a Vuillaume ;)
Edited: October 21, 2017, 5:50 PM · Hey Erik, thanks for your kind words. Glad to be of any help.

Did you want more detailed commentary? Or are you good to go? If you like I could also just give a more general list of what to watch out for.

October 21, 2017, 4:51 PM · Hmmm I think I'll work with what you gave me for now. Honestly, bringing out the leading line is probably going to take me quite a while before it sounds decent. I'm finding that if I tightly vibrato only the leading note in a chord then it helps distinguish it, in addition to the bow-control aspect.

In some areas it's difficult to tell exactly where the leading line is, and I've realized that I've always been treating the highest note in a chord like the melody, but in some cases it appears that I should be playing the chord from the top down, rather than from the bottom up.

Haha, it would nice if Bach had color-coded the notes so the melodic line was always obvious!

Now that I know where I should be going next with this piece, I think it might take me another 20-30 hours to feel comfortable bringing out the individual voices effectively, and at that point I will probably post another video and see if there's anything left to criticize :)

Edited: October 21, 2017, 6:13 PM · "Haha, it would nice if Bach had color-coded the notes so the melodic line was always obvious!"

The next best thing:

Also, if you follow Mary Ellen's advice, it becomes pretty clear. Do that for the other movements too.

October 21, 2017, 6:21 PM · It is relatively easy to distinguish the voices in the fugue, but I find it more difficult on some of the non-double stoppy movements. There was an example on this site a few months ago where a teacher/composer had broken apart the Allemande, placing different voices on different staves. I wish something like this were available for the complete S&P.
Edited: October 21, 2017, 8:42 PM · That would be cool to have. But you can try to unravel it yourself. Some knowledge of intervals and chords will help, so you might want to take some harmony/analysis lessons. There's a duet version of some movements from each sonata/partita on imslp and Schumann wrote a piano accompaniment, though I'm not sure if it's readily available. I'd also get Joel Lester's Bach's Works for Solo Violin, though it doesn't cover everything.

But what you want to do is start with bass function. And separate out notes that look to be by themselves on the bottom and circle them. You'll see that there's a moving line if you look across several measures. Even in the Gmin Presto, bottoms of arpeggios and runs form a bass function. Of course it would help to be able to read the chords and understand harmonic progression, but you gotta start somewhere :)

Next you look for melodic shapes and see if they get passed around in different registers. Look also for anything that looks like a moving line against or along with such melodic shapes. Etc.

October 22, 2017, 7:10 AM · "In some areas it's difficult to tell exactly where the leading line is"

I am extremely skeptical about the advice to enforce the "leading voice" in Bach Solo.
Main reason: There are many voices and they are equally as important. If you enforce the Melody and dismiss the middle voices or even the bass dynamically it sounds one dimensional, what is for sure not what Bach intended.
It is polyphonic music and if we reduce it to one melody and degrade the rest of the voices to harmonic functions we end up doing a very violinistic thing: Not to multitask properly. Bach was much more than a violinist.
For me a Fugue where the Theme is always put under attention sounds much less interesting than a dynamically more equal approach, which draws more attention to the variations, since the melody is clear anyways after a few bars.
Of course in the beginning putting attention on the main voice is the first step to make everything clearer and can help to get a steady tempo in the case of the g-minor fugue, but there is much more to it and the danger is, to miss the other ongoing melodies.
I think the main goal should be to make everything (!) what is going on hearable and clear to the listener. And only things get clear for the listener, that are in the attention of the performer as well and are worked out properly. Attention to the main melody will only bring you that far!

October 22, 2017, 8:10 AM · Nobody is arguing to dismiss the middle or bass voices. Obviously they're important. But in an orchestra it is important to understand when you are the main voice (hauptstimme) and when you are not. Bach fugues are no different.

Attention to the main melody will only bring you so far and no further, true, but that "so far" is a very important step in learning how to perform the piece.

Edited: October 22, 2017, 3:54 PM · OMG, I finally figured out the (obvious) answer to most of my bowing troubles: tilt.

So amazingly helpful to tilt the bow forward for less aggressive chords (tilt meaning using the SIDE of the hair)

It's funny because I would notice it in a student immediately if I was watching them struggle with chords, but somehow I just didn't notice that I was barely tilting my bow compared to how much it needs to be tilted. Anyways, that's the epiphany of the day, which now makes this piece about 2x as easy.

PS: and yes, Mary, a weekly teacher probably would have noticed pretty quick :)

October 23, 2017, 2:14 AM · I am not saying, that it is bad advice to concentrate on a melody, when practicing. But I am skeptical towards this advice, because too often this is presented as the way it has to sound. Even in Orchestra playing it is important to know, that there are more subtleties than main voice, bass and others. (Depending on the composer) Some music requires a more broad attention and for me Bach is definitely one of that kind.
To me the "main melody" in the fugue is just as important as any other note that is to be played. In terms of clarity and loudness I would not say, that the focus must be on that melody. But it requires a lot of control to make all the melodic lines hearable on the violin. So one could say, that this is a task which can be tackled later. But I think Erik plays already very well and should go more into depth of reading and making connections in the mental score. Focusing on the main melody is more like simplifying. Helps the tempo and is a good way to clear the structure, before going into other voicings.
October 23, 2017, 12:13 PM · I had a nice 5-6 hour practice yesterday, which is the longest I've ever practiced in a day in my entire life, and realized some interesting things.

After practicing, I went back and listened to some of the recordings that are generally considered "Good" (such as perlman). In doing so, I realized that the most important thing is to simply match the phrasing of the piece to the leading line, and then drawing out the leading line with a bit more length or pressure, but only if applicable. When applicable, I draw out the leading line with more pressure relative to the other voice, but generally I find this is only fruitful on double stops, and not so much triple and quadruple chords. But, although this is noticeable, it seems to draw much more attention to the motif in general if I match the phrasing to the motif, rather than thinking too much about bow pressure on the string that is playing the leading line. This is particularly true on the 3-note or 4-note chords.

So to simplify what I'm now doing:

In areas where there is only 1 voice: follow logical phrasing for the motif

In areas where there are 2 voices: follow phrasing for the motif, as well as adding more bow pressure to the leading notes

In areas where there are 3 or 4 voices: follow phrasing for the motif, and draw out the length of the leading note at the end of each big chord, but similar bow pressure throughout the entire chord, since "leaning" towards one note seems impossible in this context without sacrificing the tonal quality of one note or another. I also make sure to hit the chord as one stroke in this context, so the lower voices don't get mistaken for the melody.

I see precisely what you're saying, Simon. It's interesting the way you give advice, as it reminds me of the way I give advice as opposed to some other teachers. If I were to guess, you deal with a lot of students who get discouraged easily (adult beginners?), so you're more conscious of how you phrase advice, in fear that you'll ask too much of a student all at once, and they'll lose motivation before the task has been accomplished. You're also very conscious of giving positive reinforcement along with guidance, to keep the student feeling good to counterbalance the discipline aspect of careful practice.

I also try to apply these principles in my teaching because of the 7 teachers I had growing up, only 1 made consistent efforts to make me feel good about what I had accomplished each week. (I think many teachers assume that the student already feels good about what they have done in a week, and that there's no need for excessive praise).

On the other hand, one can also see a lot of critique without praise as a compliment, since it implies that the advice-giver assumes the student is of a high-enough level to handle all of that advice. But, I can only see that connection in my adult years, and I still enjoy and benefit from praise when it's not required :D

Anyhow, I think I'm getting closer now to the general idea that Jeewon stated, but still don't have the absolute control that it would require to bring 100% clarity to the melodic lines. Still, the "shape" and "direction" of the piece is much more structured now. I'll keep working.

October 23, 2017, 2:48 PM · You are right Erik! I mainly teach beginners, but they are veery small :) Had a few adult ones too, but very little percentage. Still I am not the teacher who shouts and yells if the students ambition is only to have fun. I have some students, where the intensity is a bit higher though.
Regarding Bach I might be a little stubborn. But for real I heard so many technically good interpretations which made me fall asleep though. I just want to prevent you from simplifying too much. The beauty of the bach Pieces is, that they are always changing somehow. There is no rigid way of interpretation, because there is so much of culture, history and emotions to discover in this music. I am looking forward to your next video! And maybe play the whole thing! ;)
October 23, 2017, 4:56 PM · I agree that Bach has a very improvisational feel to it, and one of the great things about Bach is that we get to feel quite creative with the structure as we learn the piece. We can make it our own, since he wasn't very specific about how it was to be played.

And with that said, I must also respect some level of tradition with how it must be approached. As I've stubbornly learned over the years, "it must be done the teacher's way first, and then your way." Never start with your way, because then you don't learn anything!

I also appreciate how simple Bach seems to an outsider - and in fact, the better it's played, the simpler it seems. So if you do a really good job, no one but other violinists will really appreciate the difficulty :)

But to me, Bach is the foundation of most good playing, because it's so rooted in scales and tonal consistency, and of course in bow control when it comes to something difficult like the Fugue.

I'll post a video once I get a good 3-page play-through :) (Might be a while)

Edited: October 23, 2017, 5:37 PM · "I agree that Bach has a very improvisational feel to it, and one of the great things about Bach is that we get to feel quite creative with the structure as we learn the piece. We can make it our own, since he wasn't very specific about how it was to be played."

On one hand I agree, that working on bach always is a creative process as well as technical.
But I wouldn't say that Bach was not specific in general. Only regarding dynamics maybe. But for example the G-Minor Adagio is full of quasi written down improvisation and ornaments. So I also wouldn't take the freedom to make my ornaments like some modern players do in the name of "HIP", since Bach was very well able to write them down, if he wanted them. But I think even when we stick to the written notes there are other factors, which we can use. Micro rhythmical accents and rubati without getting in the way of the steady tempo, changing of sound-colours with bow speed and contact point, playing with the articulation of the different bow strokes, fingerings and so on. But I always feel when playing the Bach Solo S&P, that there is ONE way that Bach played it and sometimes it is very clear to find out (because there is no other way) and sometimes it is like searching for the key to a passage. Because it is all written very violinistically there is always a key.
There are just a few places where we do not know, how Bach played it exactly. For example in the g-minor Fugue from bar 38 ongoing. There are many ways to make that Drone D-String ring through the melody in thirds and later in sixths and there are good arguments for all the different ways to execute those bars and maybe the way of playing this passage should be different in different accoustics as well?! I would give my left big toe to listen to Bach play those kind of places!

Edited: October 23, 2017, 6:24 PM · "It is polyphonic music and if we reduce it to one melody and degrade the rest of the voices to harmonic functions we end up doing a very violinistic thing: Not to multitask properly."

Simon, it is precisely to bring out the polyphony in the Fugue that we must learn to pivot the bow to the melodic line.

Consider a simpler example in the opening of the Adagio. It is an alto line which descends from the soprano note of the opening chord. At each chordal cadence we must pivot the bow to remain on the alto line, including the last G min chord, which we do by sustaining the Bb a bit longer than the rest of the chord. As the tune gets passed around different voices (SATB) we have to make sure it's not buried by poor bowing technique. In solo Bach we emphasize moving bass lines and the melody, wherever it may lie in texture, and also counterpoint, when it occurs.

October 23, 2017, 6:30 PM · Yes Jeawon, I understand! I didn't mean to say, that it is in every case wrong. Some places are simple and the voicings are kind of marked by the different lengths of the notes in the chord by Bach himself. But in other places the advice to focus on the obvious "main line" or melody can limit the attention of the careful listener.
An obvious example is in the a-minor fugue from bar 18: I like it when a performer has as well the "main melody" as well as the chromatic line very clear as such. Fortunately in this place it is technically easy to achieve.

With the advice to emphasize the bass lines. It is a good advice if someone is not aware of them but leads sometimes to blatant playing of the bass lines, while the attention to the middle voices is dismissed. That is just my observation from listening to countless first rounds of violin competitions and recordings of all kinds. Also todays top soloists sometimes play Bach technically good but in a very strange way which makes me question, if they have a true understanding for Bach or simply follow some advice being passed to them or something they read somewhere they should do.
I can only say, that I am physically tired of listening this kind of playing. For me it is like listening to a teacher who always preaches with a lifted index finger and doesn't tell anything new. No offense, just a metaphor to how that kind of Bach speaks to me. Maybe it is the first step to understanding Bach more deeply.
Or maybe it is with Bach like some say with Sibelius with Finland. You have to know the Finish nature and culture to be able to play Sibelius music accordingly. Still it is beautiful music anyways, but when you are a Finish musician, you recognize a true performance.
And with Bach maybe one has to imagine the logical and structured German language, with long complicated sentences and many commas, consonants and strong rhythm. For example Szeryng spoke very clear and structured German language! His Bach is convincing to say the least.
I don't know if this is still of any help what I write. I am not questioning any ones competence. I just want to question given facts, also if they are in the end still facts. Music is so full of facts and rules sometimes, that I start to wonder, if the composers themselves did die out of boredom.

October 23, 2017, 7:18 PM · Simon, I don't think we are disagreeing on anything, just emphasizing different stages in the process of learning.

I don't think a student can get from here to there without going through the process of learning bow control and analysis, that's all. As I always like to emphasize, work on sameness to gain control, figure out difference to express yourself.

In your A min fugue example, I would insist the student identify and delineate the melodic fragment first, leaving slight gaps between them, playing each identically, taking note of how they ascend sequentially, and how the voicing moves from the alto to soprano. Then play the sequence of chromatic counterpoint which switches from soprano to alto. Then put them together and voice it evenly at first. Then, see how increasing lengths of strokes emphasizes each ascending sequence. Then try different shaping within each fragment to add variety. Then figure out how to make the soprano statement different from the alto statement. Then see if voicing the tune and the chromatic line in various ways can add something to the passage. Unless, that is, the student can already play the passage in a convincing way. Or if the student can't vary bow speeds to differentiate between the sequential statements, then there's more rudimentary work to be done.

I don't claim such a process is sufficient to give an inspired performance, but it is necessary for most of us before we can even try.

Edited: October 24, 2017, 3:22 PM · That is indeed a tidy approach to the a minor example and I am sure it works very well with good students! Having all this details experimented with and planned out is for sure a good thing. I personally would only do that if a student lacks initiative on his own or to show on an example how it can be planned out and be structured. Usually when someone reaches the level of Solo Bach there can be more freedom I think and I would actually work more technically when I would tackle this fugue. The room of interpretation is at that place quite small in my opinion. I wouldn't mind if a student plays this place without a fix idea as long as he can make everything sound clear, in tempo and convincing.
Maybe that is because my personal approach to Bach is also not too much planned out. I had played Bach with all my teachers, but the best advice my last teacher gave me was: play it like it is written. I enjoy the freedom (dynamically to some extend), but don't need to take much of it, because the music already has so much freedom in it.
I had teachers who wanted to work with me on phrasing and stuff, but they didn't mind too much that the rhythm broke or that the tempo suffered. To quote Milstein freely: "For a good Bach you have to play the notes in tune and good rhythm"

Of course there are many silly thing you should not do musically with Bach. But if you are playing those pieces in tune and rhythmically there is not much room for bad stuff that can happen. On top of that adding qualities and meaning to Bach Solo is very high craftsmanship and to me has also to do with depth of the personality.
Or after Bruce Lee: "It is like a finger pointing to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory"
I think there is a danger of getting lost in how to play it, which in some cases can prevent you from experiencing the essence of it.
So I would say: Rhythm, intonation, tempo...convincing dynamics... and you are ready for the next Grammy!

October 26, 2017, 12:09 PM · What do you guys consider an excellent recording (on youtube) of the Fugue? There are so many different ways that people play it, so it's hard to get an auditory idea of what I'm aiming for.
October 29, 2017, 7:18 PM · I would go with Nathan Milstein. So breathing and violinistically wonderful playful while being tasteful!

From the living I think James Ehnes is also very solid and tasteful!
November 10, 2017, 6:59 PM · Well, I thought I'd record another video to update you guys on how it's coming along. Still a LOT more work to do, but at least it's (mostly) memorized now. Most of the obvious mistakes are due to memory lapses, or my impossible-to-prevent whistling E. Work in progress. Here's the video:

November 10, 2017, 9:09 PM · Have you tried a Warchal Amber E to try to fix the whistling?
Edited: November 10, 2017, 9:18 PM · Also, I noticed something interesting about your bowing -- you are very close to the fingerboard pretty much all the time. So much so, in fact, that you have extensive rosin-dust on your fingerboard (which you really should try to clean after every practice session). I would think you'd get better results out of a more traditional placement.

EDIT: I see you mentioned earlier in this thread that your violin won't respond when the bow isn't very close to the fingerboard. I think that's the kind of thing that warrants trading a violin in. It's not only bad for your own technique but it probably is bad for demonstration purposes when you're teaching.

November 10, 2017, 11:45 PM · I have a Warchal E, it's about as effective as the string I have on right now. They're both pretty good at mitigating the whistling but certain double stops - when played perfectly in tune - just cause the E to whistle no matter what else I do.

Regarding the fingerboard-playing, I honestly don't know if it's me or the violin. I've actually sampled quite a few violins and their near-fingerboard playability doesn't seem any worse than mine. The only two 2 violins I've played that had better near-bridge playability were a Burgess violin and a Vuillaume, both which I consider among my favorites that I've tried. Barbini played my violin and said it was extremely good. I think I might just have a specific tonal preference/response I'm trying to reach.... I really dislike any "wispiness" in the tone under the ear. I desire a very "round" tone, particularly in Bach, so that's why I'm playing so much over the fingerboard. Even in hearing many professionals play, I often hear that hint of "wisp" in their tone and find it highly aggravating. I really wish bouts were longer on violins because of this, because then I could played over the fingerboard more often without being punished by running into the corners on occasion.

Also, if I played closer to the bridge, it requires me to break each chord more, which prevents me from getting as much of a soft, warm string crossing. To some extent, this could be mitigated by a flatter bridge.

Just out of curiosity, are you taking note of it because the resulting sound is undesirable, or simply because you feel it's improper to play over the fingerboard from a visual/traditional standpoint?

November 11, 2017, 7:06 AM · If you can't use a full range of sounding points on a violin, that violin's ability to produce a range of tone colors at different volumes is very limited.
Edited: November 11, 2017, 10:22 AM · You have improved a lot on this! Congratulations on the hard work. Your preferred style is not really to my taste; I think you play too legato on much of it, with too much vibrato. But if you're going to play this way, then please be consistent and vibrate the musical line at 30 - 32 (the top notes).

I didn't listen to the entire performance, sorry (in between students right now), but you are playing a wrong note in bar 32 (1'46")--you're playing a B natural instead of a B flat in the bass, and it happens twice so I know you're doing it on purpose.

I agree 100% with Lydia about your bow placement (sounding point). You seem to have a bit of a negative kneejerk reaction when you think things are only due to tradition (your question to Lydia regarding whether she simply felt it was improper to play over the fingerboard from a visual standpoint). Please consider that standard pedagogy/tradition/whatever you want to call it became that way for a reason. In this case, the *reason* teachers don't want students playing over the fingerboard all the time is because it is extremely limiting in terms of sound color and range. You need to get away from the fingerboard and develop the ability to play well at every possible sounding point from near the bridge to near the fingerboard depending on the sound desired.

Sorry, had your video playing on background while typing this comment and caught another wrong note--two actually--you are adding a superfluous open A on the next to last note of measure 84, and you are playing A instead of C as the middle note in the chord at the very end of measure 84. I wasn't specifically listening for wrong notes so there may be others, but those caught my ear.

November 11, 2017, 2:38 PM · Honestly, my preferred style isn't legato, either (for this piece). My luthier keeps telling me I need to play it smoother, so then I go in that direction. I also feel that I've been using a staccato sound to cover up a lot of the inconsistencies within my playing, so that's another reason I've temporarily opted for the legato route. It's my long-term goal to play this staccato, though.

There are definitely some wrong notes in there; I don't believe I play them when looking at the music, but since I'm doing it by memory I'm still working out a couple of memory-kinks.

Regarding sounding point, I don't feel that I normally play so much over the fingerboard as in this piece. I don't know if it's the soft string roll I'm trying to get, or a certain tonal color, or whatever, but it just seems to produce the right sound for this song, for this instrument, for this player, etc... In other words, at this moment, it makes sense to me and seems to produce the sound I'm looking for. So it's not that I'm being purposely defiant, as much as wondering if the technique leads to the desired sound, then what's wrong with it? And as you noted, it limits my range of colors.

I love the idea of playing traditionally, it's just that it's good to be reminded of WHY that tradition has come to fruition, so that I can explain it to others when necessary. With that said, I never let any of my students get away with playing over the fingerboard like I do. It simply doesn't work for them, and it causes issues. Of course, they're not playing solo Bach.

I definitely have been looking for a violin with more colors for a while now. I really don't like the feeling of HAVING to play close to the fingerboard to get the response and warmth that I'm looking to create in the sound. But, it's hard to trial violins. I've tried every single violin at Ifshins, which is the closest big shop to me, and the only violin there I was really satisfied with is way out of my price range. I guess my next step could be Los Angeles.

Either way, I'll keep working on this. There's still a TON of work for it to be a satisfying recording to me. My tone is not consistent, and that bothers me deeply. My intonation is better than it was, and more easily replicated, but still quite a bit off. And my technique doesn't look beautiful to me, either, which I feel is important.

Edited: November 11, 2017, 8:14 PM · Glancing at your other YouTube videos, it appears that you do indeed play rather close to the fingerboard all of the time. (The amount of rosin build-up on your fingerboard is telling, too.)

I'm not convinced, though the recording may be misleading, that you're really getting the right sound for Bach. There should be more vibrance and ring to the sound, and I think by playing that close to the fingerboard, you're missing that element.

Importantly, the sound we generate should be aimed at what the audience hears, not what is best under our own ear.

Also, I think your E-string whistle is due to your angle of attack, especially on your triple-stops. In fact, you can sometimes hear a faint whistle on the other notes in the chord. You are sometimes hitting the E-string at an angle that is causing the bow to slide against it, which I suspect is resulting in the vibrational pattern of a whistle.

To avoid breaking the triple-stops, you need to be at a sounding-point where you can use the arm-weight to "flatten" the strings. That's not going to be by the fingerboard. Also, arcing the triple-stops with the curved attack you're using has a high probability of causing the top string to whistle.

I suspect that some of the tonal inconsistencies are due to not fully preparing the arm for the triple-stops, either. The arm level needs to be raised before the chord or you get this effect of sort of trying to grab for the chord, and you lose the resonance and clean attack you would otherwise get.

Your next step should be to look in the other shops in the Bay Area, rather than going all the way to LA. Joan Balter in Berkeley sometimes has great deals on consignments. Roland Feller in San Francisco carries a range of fine violins, as does Cremona in San Francisco. If you go south, there's Stevens in San Jose. If you're looking in the sub-$20k range, you should also check out Kamimoto in San Jose, and maybe Heaney in Mountain View (it opened after I moved out of the area, so I haven't been there myself).

Francis Kuttner, an extremely fine contemporary maker, resides in San Francisco; he might be worth contacting. Scott Cao's workshop is in Campbell (near San Jose), and his personal work is very nice, plus he often has violins for sale that have been individually made by his apprentices and other makers in his shop.

November 11, 2017, 10:08 PM · I believe Kuttners now go for around $35K.
November 12, 2017, 1:27 PM · I hadn't heard about Kuttner; I'll have to check him out :) 35k is a heck of a lot better than 250k.

I also need to stop posting unfinished products! I'm aware of a lot of these things that you're mentioning; I just haven't been able to implement them yet. Something to consider is that this fugue is the first piece I've actually looked at in any true detail (e.g. more than 5 hours spent learning) in probably 10 years, so it's not like it's just the next step in a series of carefully planned segments that have been titrated upwards. It's a serious leap for me, thus the fact that I'm fixing so many technical details while simultaneously learning the fugue itself. I also am finding it much harder than any of the romantic concertos that I've looked at, so perhaps the techniques involved are just specifically difficult for me.

Either way, I think I have a better idea of which direction I need to be taking the fugue now. I know I whine about my violin a lot but I really don't believe it to be the main problem. I'm the main problem.

Will update once I feel an improvement has been made.

November 12, 2017, 4:49 PM · Ok, just made an honest effort to play closer to bridge. I hereby blame my violin.
November 12, 2017, 6:10 PM · Well, if you are looking for feedback, posting work-in-progress is much more useful than posting a "finished" product. :-)
November 12, 2017, 7:26 PM · Haha, true. I guess I'm just really bad at receiving criticism, even when it's constructive or put nicely. What I really want to hear, deep down, is "wow that was perfect, there's nothing more to work on!". Even though that's so clearly not the case. My ego battles with my logical self daily.
November 12, 2017, 7:46 PM · If you know that there's work to be done, why would you want people to think that it was already perfect? All that would do is prove other people are ignorant. ;-)
Edited: November 12, 2017, 10:43 PM · "...posting work-in-progress is much more useful than posting a "finished" product. :-)"

One could say the same about taking lessons. Shouldn't worry about final products when working-in-progress.

"What I really want to hear, deep down, is "wow that was perfect, there's nothing more to work on!""

Been there, done that. I think that kind of ego is the greatest impediment to progress, and probably more prevalent once you become aware of how things ought to be (beyond say age 9-10.) Gotta learn to see and accept how things are before true change is possible. Tough for the adult learner. Check out mindset psychology (Carol Dweck) and stuff like, Big Magic, and letting go of the illusion of self (see videos below). Gotta just show up and do our part, become one with the process--let go of ego and get on with the true project. "Simple awareness is where it begins."

When I realized and really understood that my self is a projection and that it has a function, a funny thing happened. I stopped giving it so much authority. I give it its due. I take it to therapy. I've become very familiar with its dysfunctional behavior. But I'm not ashamed of my self. In fact, I respect my self and its function. And over time and with practice, I've tried to live more and more from my essence. And if you can do that, incredible things happen.
~Thandie Newton

"Your elusive creative genius"
"Success, failure and the drive to keep creating"
"Embracing otherness, embracing myself.."

But kudos! Listened briefly and I agree you've made significant progress--no longer forcing the sound and working too hard. I'm not as concerned about playing over the fingerboard for the fugue (it would be a different story for a romantic concerto) as I believe it's useful to learn to control the sound with a pinch/release, especially for chords. But... whether you use longer or shorter strokes there must be a clean start to each stroke which is immediately fast from the beginning of the stroke, as opposed to a medium speed, or sometimes even, slow + accelerating stroke. I also have a preference for a shorter (sounding) stroke with decay for Bach fugues. But even if you want a more sustained sound you need to learn colle motion to give it the proper incisive attack. Staccato, or martele, is the first step towards learning control over bow speed, the opposite of which is learning to slow the bow to finish the stroke. You need both to delineate lines and voicing in Bach.

To me Yoojin Jang plays the perfect "pedagogical" Bach (I just happen to really like her rendition too--like Gould on the fiddle.)

She uses very similar sound points as you do. N.B.
1) the clean strokes resulting from catching the string and use of bow
2) varied bow lengths, bow distribution, to create shape
3) uniformity of style; regardless of bow length/speed, there is a consistency in type of stroke for similar sections
4) abrupt changes in bow speed (slow to finish old phrase, faster to start new phrase) to delineate voicing
5) time taken to finish a phrase or section before starting the next, breathing

Keep up the great work!

Edit: also check out Saussmanhaus' brief video on the fugue:

Notice how Saussmanhaus is able to slow down the bow speed of each stroke, even on big chords, whereas the student pushes the stroke, so that there is no taper or decay to her sound. And notice the consistency in character between eighths and sixteenths (at 1:14.) The student plays a detached eighth (though still somewhat pushed) and plays almost legato sixteenths. Sometimes the eighths are also randomly legato. So staccato is a good place to start, but what I look for is a kind of gentle, stately martele, a clean start with a slight decay to each stroke, and consistency, unless there's a reason to change it up, to demonstrate impeccable bow control.

Also take a look at his videos on colle.

November 13, 2017, 12:06 AM · Haha, I just watched that Yoojin Jang video earlier! I was very impressed by how clean it is! Ideally I'd like to be able to play this piece in a proficient legato way as well as a proficient staccato way. I'll keep working.
November 14, 2017, 4:38 AM · Another observation: You usually play further away from the bridge the closer to the tip you get - very pronounced on the E string though the opposite appears to happen at times on the G. That's probably contributing to the "whistling E" problem as and a few snatched-sounding notes, and is probably overall impeding your control of your tone.

To solve this issue I think you need to look at the whole setup of your right arm and the way you are making a bowstroke on each string.

November 14, 2017, 8:36 AM · Chris Keating better described what I called the curved attack. :-)
November 14, 2017, 10:34 AM · The great thing about pinch/release is you don't have to worry so much about the trajectory of the bow, only finding the best sound point for the context and preparing for the next stroke. :)

I think whistling has a lot to do with overtones and instrument set up. But you can mitigate it somewhat by making sure to catch the string before drawing the bow.

November 14, 2017, 12:33 PM · Believe it or not, what you're now seeing is a tremendous improvement on my "curved attacks" even as little as a month ago! That was heavily engrained into my technique, so it's taking a lot of grinding to fix it.
November 14, 2017, 5:53 PM · I watched your video some days ago. It is quite good. Regarding the whistling and general sound quality you should review your bow angle. Your bow is often in a bad angle with the string. With this kind of repertoire such small mistakes optically can have an big impact in the audible result. This is all I remember now, I hope I don't double someone here. Just didn't have the time to read through it all, just wanted to tell you the thing I observed about your bow. I think it is very important to watch those habitual movements in detail.
Edited: November 15, 2017, 8:31 AM · Can't really tell from video, but your elbow might be a bit frozen, not well coordinated with shoulder and wrist. It looks like you're 'holding' the elbow, tensing the bicep before you start. You might be doing that in general. The elbow needs to swing freely, which means the biceps and triceps have to alternate smoothly, each releasing upon activation of it's agonist. Don't antagonize your agonists! :)

Think of reaching for and placing something, or drawing a straight line with chalk and imagine how your joints should move when drawing a short line back and forth, or moving a chess piece back and forth. Imagine drawing a long line and retracing it. The shoulder, elbow and wrist need to 'pop' open and close freely to allow your fingers to go where they want.

"The Bow must always be drawn parallel with the Bridge, (which can't be done if it is held stiff)..." ~Geminiani, 1751. He might've added, "which can't be done if the arm is held stiff."

Edited: November 15, 2017, 10:37 AM · I recall a blog post and video about the "circle bow" a few months ago, but now I cannot find it. I remember seeing a Pinchas Zuckerman masterclass video (either on his site or youtube) where he goes into detail about this a little bit.

I was scrolling through this thread a bit (it is long!), you really cannot find a good teacher in your area? I find that hard to believe.

Edited: November 15, 2017, 1:54 PM · Pamela: I found a good teacher and took one lesson about 6 months ago. It's just that I found myself unable to commit to the amount of practice that I had promised, so then I quit. I truly plan on going back once I've proven to myself that I have the commitment to validate lessons.

I believe what you're referring to is what I've learned to refer to as a "crescent bow." It's something I've been actively fixing for about a month now. What you're seeing is an improvement, but keep in mind my way of doing it has been reinforced by 19 years of using my bow incorrectly and never being fixed even in my 9 years of private lessons from ages 8-17. (of course I never let my own students get away with such atrocious form).

*Edited for spelling.

November 15, 2017, 1:54 PM · Erik - at least you know what I'm talking about, even with the wrong phrase. (I'm afraid that I'm terrible with the pedagogical language when having to discuss this outside of the lesson or practice room. I'm sure that will come in time.)

I never had mine fixed when I took private lessons as a kid, but when I returned it was fixed in the first lesson with my current teacher. Imagine my amazement when I went from playing scratchy-whistley notes to clean, smooth and clear notes in one lesson.

Ah, I wish I could practice more than I do (imagine the progress I could make!) but my teacher is fine with the time that I can put in, and I see her every other week vs every week (I know I would not be able to maintain that pace and feel good about what I would accomplish on a lesson to lesson basis) - so I understand. We all have our realities that we need to deal with and work with what we can, and you want to be a good example for your students, if you catch my not-so-subtle drift.

Anyway... I'm not playing this piece yet, and it's nice to see someone else's progress with it. And your bravery for putting something up for help with, takes a lot of courage to put works in progress up.

November 15, 2017, 2:01 PM · Yes, I found it especially hard to practice sufficiently when I already teach about 40 students every week. It takes the energy out of my "me time" when I already spend so much time thinking about how to improve others.

Regarding bravery; my faults are my faults, and they need to be fixed. I ask students to be vulnerable on a weekly basis to criticisms, so I like to think I should be willing to do the same.

Also, I don't think "crescent bows" are an official name. They're just what I've personally learned to call them :)

November 15, 2017, 2:14 PM · Ah, no wonder I called it a "circle bow" then. I am also calling the type of movement with a spiccato (the gross/large movement) a "circle bow".... Sometimes I think of it as a figure 8 movement between the tip of the bow and my hand. Anyway...

Very true re: criticism, and all the little things we have to continually work on! It never ends!

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