Tear apart my Bach!

December 1, 2017, 7:57 PM · Feeling masochistic today, so I thought I'd record the Bach Adagio in G Minor and post it here. I recorded/posted this same piece something like half a year ago, and haven't looked at it much since then. I've been looking at the Fugue for the last couple of months.

It would also seem I can never get even 3 minutes of distraction-free playing in. I SWEAR, every time I try to record myself, something happens. In this particular video, my phone started buzzing (from a random caller) and I screwed up the rest of the lines of the song due to the resulting tension (starting about 2:35). I'd do another take, but I don't live alone and this was the only window of time that I had today, so there it is.


PS: I know I get offended easily, but please don't inhibit your criticisms. I put this here to be torn apart :)

Replies (24)

December 1, 2017, 9:29 PM · The microphone is more than likely not doing justice to your violin, shame. I really hate most amateur recorded violins, most recording devices make violins sound like trumpets ;(
December 1, 2017, 9:41 PM · Lol Tim, very true. I actually have a lot of good quality recording equipment, just not in that room. And it's a pain to set up.

But if you're used to hearing violin over camera mics, then you can filter through the lack of quality :)

December 1, 2017, 10:17 PM · I have to agree. You sound like a good player, but I can tell that the recording quality is taking some marks off your playing. Nice playing overall, though. I suspect there's tiny issues with intonation and perhaps a slightly choked sound at times (likely due to bad recording quality).
December 1, 2017, 10:37 PM · I'll see if I can get my old recording system set up again. The hard drive on my recording computer died a few months back, so I haven't messed with it since then.
December 1, 2017, 11:05 PM · What t kind of strings are on your violin? The sound is extremely bright and loud, it certainly lacks the nice warm sound that I expect from Bach.
December 2, 2017, 12:03 AM · It is a very loud violin. Probably far too powerful for even that size of a room (and it's not a small room). I'm using good ol' dominants :)
Edited: December 2, 2017, 4:31 AM · You have a very nice tone!
You chose a very slow tempo for this Adagio, and because of that, it seems to me your phrasing is a bit cut in pieces and quite beat-by-beat-y.
May I suggest that you try to think the tempo in quarter notes instead of eight notes?
As you might already know, Bach wrote in all the ornamentation between chords himself, but in pieces of the same style and epoch, often only the chords are written by the composer, and the player has to improvise in between them.
So it might be helpful to think of the chords as the foundation of the piece, and see everything in between as just a connection between chords.
All of the above could make the music much more flowing and improvisational-like.
Also your bowing is kinda crooked toward the tip, doesn’t seem to impact your sound, but I think it’s always good practice to watch one’s playing in a mirror, to make sure the bow stays straight from frog to tip.

I’ve watched a Nathan Cole video, about ‘purity practice’ the other day, and it has been a total eye-opener for me. I strongly recommend you watch it, it could help you gain a new perspective on this piece.

Onwards and upwards :)

December 2, 2017, 3:13 AM · Yeah, I definitely need to speed this one up! It also seems a lot harder to play well at such a slow tempo.
Edited: December 2, 2017, 3:38 AM · hi Erik, I think this is really OK, I don't think Bach is turning around in his grave, I listened through until the end although initially I wasn't planning to :-)

some small things I observed. by the way I don't personally think there is any issue with your violin being shrill or anything.

1. you include dynamics, playing some parts stronger and some parts softer, but the difference is not big enough. this is mainly because you don't make strong enough contact in the strings in the strong passages, the bow speed could also be faster in the strong passages. but then on the other hand, in the softer passages you do use fast bows which is good, but even close to the fingerboard, if the bow speed is high, you still need to use enough contact, and that is often not the case with your bow kind of skidding along the string. all in all I think your bowing is just a bit too "careful"/"bashful".

2. in some of the trickier chords and in some places where your concentration drops, the intonation is not 100%, but it seems you definitely would be able to rectify that by intense preparation.

3. finally, for me the tempo is just a tiny bit too slow, and then combined with the dynamics aspects mentioned above, the whole performance is just a little bit boring. thanks for sharing and all my best regards!

December 2, 2017, 5:01 AM · I think it's very good. Three things stuck out for me:

1. Vibrato is really heavy- I think too heavy for Bach. Conversely, some notes have no vibrato at all and those notes sound dead. I personally don't like the contrast between the wide, romantic vibrato and none, and think you should consider a narrower vibrato and make sure that if you want no vibrato on some notes, that it's an artistic choice. It seems like sometimes it's an oversight. I'd pick a performance you like and watch what they do note by note.
2. The bow speed is inconsistent. Bow speed can vary and should, but in your case, the difference between your fast and slow is too much, I think. And you accelerate toward bow changes occasionally which creates and unintentional accent.
3. Your 3 and 4 note chords aren't smooth enough, and too heavy on the initial attack.

Thanks for sharing!

December 2, 2017, 6:36 AM · I really enjoyed it. I can't comment technically sorry but I am impressed. How long have you been playing?
Edited: December 2, 2017, 7:21 AM · I liked it.

Playing back the embed defaulted to low definition, and hence lower audio quality, for me. That his how Youtube works, and the lower definition in the embed adds a touch of harshness. You can click on the bottom of the video to set it to HD for a better sound.

Earlier on the tip of the bow did not seem to work as well as it might. Towards the end of the performance, everything improves.

Well done for sharing!

December 2, 2017, 7:57 AM · I enjoyed it, very nice. There were at some spots I heard, where I think your bow went too much of an angle to the bridge, but overall not bad. Did you say how long you've been playing? Looking forward to your next video- please, do another one. Enjoyed it.
December 2, 2017, 8:21 AM · I've noticed a few people commenting on your bow angle. Changing the bow angle is a legitimate method of making a smooth bow change. It's also a way of controlling the dynamic level by changing the sounding point.
Edited: December 2, 2017, 8:28 AM · Very impressive and enjoyable. I just realized that I listened to it while my daughter is practicing the cello in the next room AND there's a Dvorak symphony on the radio in my room ... but your playing kept my total attention.

I agree with Julie that you can be more judicious with vibrato. There just seem to be some places where you seem to say to yourself, "Ah, here's a spot where I can really juice the vibrato" so that's what you do. Partly one notices this because of the tremendous contrast to notes where (also intentionally) there is no vibrato at all. It just sounds like your approach to vibrato is improvised on the fly rather than something you've planned as a part of the total package of this piece. Some of this might take care of itself if you increase the tempo because then you will not find yourself with so many "vibrato notes" to exploit.

For an example of narrower but much more constant ("motorized") vibrato, there is Grumiaux:


He actually takes his vibrato on the romantic side at 1:35. But not every other phrase. Players since (like Mutter) have shown us that vibrato can be a tremendous musical device but in solo Bach I think it has to be carefully chosen to match what is happening with the dynamics and other musical elements.

Also there is a brilliant masterclass on this subject (and with the same piece) with Vengerov, that's not to be missed. You can see that he aims for something that is more shimmering than voluptuous.


December 2, 2017, 2:10 PM · I think if I increase the tempo it'll definitely take away my temptation to juice the vibrato, as well as helping many of the other inconsistencies noted here.

I have difficulties with narrow vibrato because it's difficult for me to hear. I'm not great with subtleties in any area of life, and vibrato is no exception, so I tend to juice it up to make sure I can hear it :) I'll work on this.

Thanks for taking note of the smooth bow change method, Julie. Although my bow angles aren't always intentional, there are definitely some places where I'm attempting to soften the change with that technique.

Jean - sort of the same echo problem going on here, I think - when I'm playing live(even on this take), the dynamic changes seem much stronger, and the echo makes it so that playing very loudly seems like overkill because it overwhelms the room with sound. But on video, many of these dynamic changes are compressed (also due to recording with a dynamic mic rather than a condenser mic!).... ironically, dynamic mics don't capture dynamics very well at all, as they try to make everything the same output volume :P Still, I'll attempt to both modify my recording technique as well as my changes in dynamics.

For those of you who asked, I've played since I was 8 and I'm 27 now, so technically I've played 19 years. I took violin lessons from ages 8-12, then switched to viola (I guess because my mom thought I sucked) and did that from ages 13-17. I only took playing seriously from about 15-17, and then gave up on lessons after that. At about age 18, I had no work so I begin learning and teaching violin as well as viola. So most of the violin-work you see here is the result of a self-taught switch back to violin due to the fact that you can't make a living JUST teaching viola. However, "19 years" doesn't really tell you how many years I've put genuine effort into improving. I would say I've put the equivalent of 5 years of genuine effort into learning. I'm not disciplined, and this continues to be my main issue.

For those of you who might note the improvisational nature of the way I play, this is because improvisation is my strong point, rather than formalized playing. This, too, was due to me screwing around so much over the years, but it did lead to an ability to essentially be able to make up concertos on the spot, as well as accompany anyone on-the-fly. Still, my current goal seems to be to bring up my weakest link, which is the formal aspects of playing. I really do desire to at least play simple music, such as this Adagio, in a truly professional-sounding way (to where if a pro were to hear it recorded properly, they would assume it was a professional performer).

Ok, here's my summary so far:

1) Better recording quality
2) Consistent, narrow vibrato
3) More significant dynamic changes
4) Faster tempo
5) More phrase structure

6) A variety of specific things that can't be summarized here, but will be noted and fixed.

December 2, 2017, 3:24 PM · "ironically, dynamic mics don't capture dynamics very well at all, as they try to make everything the same output volume"

I don't think that's true; rather, it's a property of the preamplifier, which may have automatic gain control, especially if it's part of a camcorder or similar device.

December 2, 2017, 3:40 PM · It's interesting what has been said here about dynamics. My teacher wants large dynamic contrasts. But then when I listen to some pros, their dynamic contrasts seem less than mine. Especially in solo Bach.
December 2, 2017, 4:35 PM · Paul, I have noticed that much of the advice given, even by two equally accomplished pros, is extremely subjective. This is PARTICULARLY true when it comes to Bach, it seems. Heated debates will arise from Bach, much like shoulder rest debates!
Edited: December 2, 2017, 8:51 PM · A pro is more likely to create a color contrast than a contrast in the exact number of decibels being output.

I once heard this described in terms of "attitude": a piano attitude vs a forte attitude, maintaining a solid sound while create the contrast with color.

(Indeed, my teacher complains that I too often think of dynamics in terms of decibels. Particularly for concertos with orchestra and the like, you really can't afford to significantly drop your decibel output, and need to get your contrasts differently.)

December 2, 2017, 9:51 PM · People say your tempo is too slow because your basic unit of pulse is in the eighth-note level.

Check out Corelli Op. 5 sonatas with Corelli's ornaments. Bach synthesized Corelli's florid ornamentation that's not exact into a notation that is exact on the page. But playing the rhythm like a midi in this adagio before a fugue misses the point. Good luck!

Edited: December 2, 2017, 10:43 PM · Haha Dorian, I went fully on midi with this one because when I posted this same piece 6 months ago, I was told that my rhythm was all over the place. I agree that this one was very robotic, and played exactly as it is written on the page.

Still, I'm sure I can find something in the middle that pleases everyone :)

EDIT: yes, lydia, it seems in a solo setting that piano simply means "soft" like velvet soft, and forte means "strong" like a big piece of wood.

Edited: December 3, 2017, 12:58 AM · Not sure about the ‘constant, narrow vibrato’ though.
The old masters have started the fashion of heavy vibrato in Bach, and it subsits to this very day.

I think that it would be much more useful to practice without any vibrato, just working on the resonance, and bow use, and then adding just a bit of vibrato, for example on long notes. But then again, it should never be ‘mechanical and motorized’! You are not a robot! Do you sing with a mechanical motorized vibrato? Probably not!

My idea of sound in Bach is something much purer and crystalline.

Give a listen to Gordon Nikolic’s Adagio, to get an idea of the sound I’m talking about: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=R_zOpiTEdN0

EDIT: Also I agree with others that it’s more useful to think in terms of colors than loudness. Reminds me of something Pamela Frank said: ‘Dynamics are indications of carachter, not loudness’.

December 3, 2017, 1:19 AM · I also think vibrato in Bach has a lot to do with the size of the room. Nice, large churches with lots of echo don't really need anything to make the notes have "life." But in a smaller room, Bach would probably sound quite dead without it.

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