You are on page 1of 68

Violinist Aaron Rosand on why memorisation is key to

In the latest in his series on violin technique the American maestro discusses the
importance of understanding a works cultural background and performing by memory
to convey this

Begin by studying the score with or without the violin in hand. Sing the line to yourself
to better understand how you want to hear it played. We must respect the composers
intentions, such as markings, dynamics, and notations before applying our personal
ideas. The score is the black and white canvas on which the artist, by using fingering
and bowing techniques, applies colour and character appropriate for each composer.
Vibrato and bowing technique varies depending on the country of origin of the
composer and must be tastefully applied.

Understanding the cultures and manners of a country will certainly give you a better
picture of how to interpret the music. With films and computers to aid us and stimulate
our imagination, we can get a better feeling of how to interpret a composer from
Germany, Russia, France, etc. Each requires a different bow technique and vibrato
variation to express the characteristics of a country. For example, the approach to
playing Bach is entirely different to playing music of Tchaikovsky. Bach needs bowing
restraint with minimal vibrato and, at times, none at all, whereas Tchaikovsky needs a
lush, throbbing vibrato with a more aggressive bowing style to depict Russian

Be honest with everything on the printed page. When beginning to learn a work, repeat
a section many times while keeping your eyes on the page. As soon as you possibly can,
close your eyes and play it from memory. Unknowingly, your eyes have already
photographed the music. If you lose a note, open your eyes and look again at the page.
Repeat the process until you can play it in your sleep.

Memorisation is a process of hearing each note before you play it followed by motor
reflex. You cannot fully express yourself in an interpretation if your eyes are riveted on
the music. This applies to every composition that you play whether it be a concerto or
sonata. Yes, sonatas are for two equal partners. In Beethovens case, he notated sonatas
as works for piano and violin. I would recommend learning them by memory or list the
pianists name first on your next program. Using a music stand may be acceptable in a
salon but not on a concert stage. It is distracting to see pages turned in the middle of a
Memorisation is the key to interpretation. The music must become a part of you if you
are completely immersed in what you play. Remain focused on expressing what your
inner ear wants to hear. Trust your memory and do not become preoccupied with
fingerings and technical problems. Repetitive practice will do its part and motor reflex
will take over. Concentrate on your bowing. The bow is your paint brush and capable of
providing all of the textures and nuances required if sensitively employed. It is also your
breathing process and breathes life into every note that you play. Imagine how
gratifying it can be when you can control your sound and characterise your music
making with the fingers of your right hand. Interpretation and memorisation are within
your grasp.

8 opinions on performance and career by violinist Ivry Gitlis

The great violinist reveals his sometimes surprising views on performance and the
music business to Ariane Todes to mark his 90th birthday in The Strads August 2012
On learning repertoire

I was never a workaholic, except when I had to work really hard, for example when I
agreed to record the Paganini caprices. I had never played them all, so I would come
home and practise until 4.30 in the morning and then get back into the studio for 9. To
learn a Paganini caprice overnight takes an eternity! Funnily enough, I had more
problems with the ones I knew better than with the ones I had just learnt, because I
really had to practise them. The lesson is that you should never rest on your laurels.
Everything you do, whether in your fingers or your mind, has to be continuously

On performing
A concert is an event for me. I dont play one concert exactly the same as another.
Today people might be playing in Tokyo one night, then flying to LA, then to Paris, and
then to New Delhi. I call this the jet lag way of playing. How can you live music in
that way? Im not accusing anybody, but it makes it so that youre trying to play evenly
not too much of this, not too little of that and that influences the whole interpretation
and expectations. People engage you if they know youre reliable. What does that
mean? Do you want music thats reliable? Do you think Schumann wrote his music for
someone who was reliable?

On making a career
Today you have to have the stamina to make the kind of career that is expected of you if
youre successful. What does it mean to be a successful musician? You can play a
hundred or a thousand concerts, as long as there are two or three occasions that you
remember yourself. If it meets what the audience wants, you made a good marriage, but
its more important that there is something that remains in your mind.

On managers
There was always business. Sol Hurok was the great European agent: he was my
manager and brought me to America. He didnt have 150 artists on his list, but the
artists he had were all individuals. When Horowitz, Piatigorksy and Milstein were
youngsters, they left Russia and came to play in bars and whorehouses. They came with
their friend Alexander Merovitch he was their manager because he believed in them.
He lived with them, suffered with them, played pranks with them. Those managers
dont exist now. You have people with business sense, who treat their artists like
potatoes. Its terrible, and people go along with it. But I see a new generation of
younger people who are beginning to play for themselves. That gives me hope.
On conflict in music
When people say, This quartet is wonderful the players all sound the same, its
terrible. What is democracy? Its not that everyone should think the same thats a
dictatorship. A real democracy is where people are individuals, and because of that they
have an interest in living together and they find things to agree or disagree with. When
you play together you shouldnt follow each other you should each be yourself and get
together somehow. Look at the Amadeus Quartet each one of them was a completely
different person, but what they did together was the most beautiful thing you can think

People talk about peace as if its something you put on a table. Its not. Life is a conflict
there is conflict every second. Of course, conflict where theres killing is bad, but
conflict in itself is a great thing if you live it and feel it, and see the contrasts.

On todays stars
When you think of the period between the First and Second World Wars, there were
many wonderful players, each one a monument in themselves: Elman, Kreisler, Heifetz,
Milstein, Menuhin, Busch, Sammons, Oistrakh, Francescatti, Huberman, Enescu,
Szigeti and thats not all. Each one of them playing the same music would be a
completely different work. Today you have marketable potential if you fit into a certain
format that one can sell without too much of a problem. Sometimes you see one or two
artists launched like that and after a couple of years you dont hear of them, and its
very cruel and very bad.

On emotion in music
I dont think players allow themselves to suffer, or get upset about things that dont
concern them personally. If you make music but you dont have the emotion to move
people, whats the point? In masterclasses, I try to make students understand that they
shouldnt only be motivated by perfect technique. It sounds like a clich to say music is
the most important thing its so obvious. Technique should be about gaining the
ability to play what you are feeling and what you want to give, to create a situation
where when you play, you forget about your work. If someone comes to me after a
concert and says, You must have practised a lot, it means I must have played badly.

On teaching
Everyone has talent all children are gifted in one way or another, until they are
educated. Education has become an industry and it leads towards dislocation. I
remember talking with Nathan Milstein, who was a good friend. He was an Auer pupil
and told me that Auer never talked about anything technical. Maybe thats the best way
to teach to bring out what is inside the pupil, not to say, Thats the way to do it. I
dont like the word teaching its pretentious. I dont consider myself so grand to
assume that I can teach you what to do.
How to develop great performing presence
Great stage actors have an aura of positive energy and openness that string players can
access, too. Acting coach Patsy Rodenburg tells Ariane Todes how

Sometimes it takes a person with a different perspective to be honest and objective.

Voice and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg has worked with some of the biggest names in
theatre, film and TV, and for 26 years has run the voice department at Londons
Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In her work with actors, and also with
musicians, she helps them maximise their performing presence by training them to be
aware of their body, how they breathe, use their voice, listen to others, and connect to
their audience and fellow performers. Here she gives string players tips on staying
centred, open and present, and offers some home truths about the classical music world.

I love working with musicians, because if you can find out what is going wrong,
they know-how to work on it.They understand what they have to do. They have
worked from a young age, even if its just 20 minutes a day. To make an actor do even
20 minutes of work is like pushing them up Everest. Actors understand right-brain
activity, but not that of the left brain, the sequential way of working on a problem and
getting it right.


String players forget how important their body and their breathing system are. If
youre breathing correctly, the breath is very low in the body, which takes pressure
away from the shoulders. Anatomically, were not designed to have tension in our
shoulders and upper chest. Were supposed to be open, to swing. If youre not breathing
from the diaphragm you cannot connect to your emotions. There is also a connection
between how a player breathes and the sound they make: you can hear the difference in
quality when you take a proper breath while youre playing.

I get quartets to breathe together. Rugby players get together before a match and
connect so they play better together. Many musicians are scared of these techniques:
they think theyre a bit airy-fairy. Actors understand them, though theyre social
animals. A great lead actor will knock on the door of every member of the company just
before the play starts and have a conversation, just to reconnect for the next time they
meet on stage. I get quartet players to sit forwards, breathe down, breathe with each
other and then to start playing. Eventually a group that works together breathes together,
but if you start like that youre in sync immediately.

A four-year-old watching TV is perfectly positioned. But life gets to you and

squashes you. If you watch great violinists, you see they are completely connected
through their bodies and theyre breathing properly.

String players should stand like actors do. You shouldnt be back on your heels, but
forwards on the balls of your feet with your knees released. When youre sitting, make
sure youre not slumped and that your feet are flat on the floor. If youre practising
incorrectly for hours every day, your body will eventually give up on you and you will
start to get injured.


Ive worked with young musicians who are clearly very good but have dreadful
presence. It can make the difference between being a very good musician and being
someone special. You should come on stage fully present before you play. As soon as
the audience sees you it makes a judgement as to whether it wants to listen to you.
Come on stage with that full presence, stop, take the audience in, and make contact with
it. You shouldnt do a generalised scan thats not authentic. It means youve been told
to look out, but you are not fully present. If you play looking down at the floor, after a
while the audience loses interest. It might be listening to your music, but its not fully
connected to you.

I divide presence into three circles of energy. When youre in the first circle, youre
very interested in yourself, so your energy is inward. This happens when you are
practising something intensely, or pulling your energy inwards. The habits of string
players tend to push them into this circle.

I call the second circle full presence. If someone were following you home with bad
intent, you would become present: your antennae would come up. In this circle you
connect to something beyond you. It could be your audience or another person on stage
with you. Were born present children have presence. Unless an actor is fully present
the audience doesnt get the full power of the piece. Any great performer is always in
the second circle.

The third circle is for people who push out their energy. Really bad acting is when
people just shout without connecting. They are heard but no one listens to them their
energy is going out in a generalised push.

Were living in a phase when life is stopping young people from being fully
present. I have to teach them to be present with each other, that otherwise its rude.
Being fully present is being gracious. It improves the music. If artists dont have best
practice with this, then what hope is there? The good ones have figured this out.

You spend years practising, but only by staying fully present can you excavate the
wonder of music. You have to offer something emotionally, and until people get
connected to themselves theyve got nothing to offer. A great actor finds something new
in a role every night and if youre fully connected you should always find something
new in music you never get to the end of it.
The solitary nature of being in a rehearsal studio alone, working on one specific
thing, obsessed by the craft of music, is necessary. However, it doesnt help you feel
connected when you play in a quartet or orchestra. Many musicians can play brilliantly,
but dont know how to be present with each other or with an audience.


Most great conductors are very present and this makes the orchestra become
present. Orchestras will test a young conductor but the conductor has to take them on. I
learnt a lot from stand-up comedians: if you have to deal with a heckler you do it in full
second-circle presence. And thats the same as a conductor holding their orchestra. If
everyone becomes present with the conductor, they become present with each other and
create better music. You cant get a really fine orchestra where deputies are being
pushed in and out, unless someone the conductor is asking them to come into

Some orchestral players have an attitude of, I just go in, play and leave. I dont
think thats very satisfactory for them, but more importantly it doesnt help the music or
the audience. I brought one of the greatest living musical theatre composers to the
Guildhall School and he was very moved by the young orchestra in the pit. He told me,
If only West End orchestras could be so present. But theyre not listening, theyre not
connected and theyre bored, and my music suffers.

You always have to respect each other when you work. The rehearsal room has to be
a safe place. If youre doing something that is dangerous trying to change the way
youre playing something and there are people in the room who arent respecting that,
then its very hard to progress.

A lot of musical training is based on cruelty but I dont think anything can be
taught through unkindness.Youve got to talk to students, to stay with them, and not
just make some clever put-down. You have to have compassion and to understand fear:
every great artist is fearful. Say something positive before you talk about the negative,
and help students out of their problem, otherwise theres no hope. You have to guide
them towards finding the solution. Thats what good teaching is. Its not sitting on high,
telling students theyre rubbish. How does that help?

In the music world there isnt room for hundreds of top soloists, so theres a sense
that wastage is justified. I dont think it is. Part of the problem with burnout is that
players are not given any time to reflect, to be present with themselves. Theyre on a
plane to the next city on their schedule rather than taking time out to make their
connection to their work enjoyable again. People who burn out are involved in a group
activity, playing with others, but theyre always alone. They need the orchestra, they
need the conductor, but they feel under pressure and isolated. Im not saying you should
go and drink with your colleagues, but aligning yourself to become connected with
them can be very gratifying.

Musicians understand routine much better than actors, because theyve had
routines from a young age.Ritual and routine are critical in order to focus ones energy
before performing. Everyone has their own routine, but a good warm-up includes a
preparation of the body, breath, mind and heart. Theres also an intellectual element,
which might be as simple as thinking, This is a very important story to tell. Its about
focus. All great art is about making order from chaos. Going on stage is nerve-racking
and you have to have some routines.

Its been said that someone going on stage for press night undergoes the same
stress as someone suffering a major car accident. Its a massive blow to the body in
terms of the adrenaline. When youre about to perform you have to stay centred and not
allow your shoulders or upper chest to tighten. Its important to keep your breath low
down in the body. One acting trick if youre nervous is to give yourself a hug. Part of
stage fright is the body going into panic mode, when the frontal lobe of the brain begins
to fuzz over. If you take in oxygen you have a chance to think again. Another trick is to
push against a wall, without tightening your shoulders, putting one foot in front of the
other, and to breathe. This gets you calm. If you watch someone failing in their
performance, youll either see them stop breathing, or sigh, or gasp. As soon as you see
them quietly getting the breath in you know theyve got a chance.

Before an audition, spend time centring yourself. Give yourself time out for your
work to distil, even if its just five minutes. Lie on the floor, get your breath down and
connect in that way again. Youve done the work, so take the worry away from yourself
and focus on wanting to play to somebody else. Youre playing for a reason: to give
others joy.

Ive never met a great performer who has ever played anything perfectly. Were
driving young people to an idea of perfection that doesnt exist. What makes music
exciting is a human being expressing something at a very high level.

You cant control whether an audience likes you or not. However, you can control
whether youre playing to the highest level of your humanity. Some people wont like it
and some will. You can only try to be your best and be open about it.


Its important that people should want to work with you. This means being open,
generous and gracious. Its obvious that if you audition for a job and youre easier to
work with than someone else, youre going to get the job. Even the way you walk into a
room is important many signs are subliminal. If you walk into an audition room, put
your coffee down and slump, youre saying something about your own self-esteem and
sending out a negative vibration. If you come in open and present, people are going to
be more interested in you.

In the theatre, and increasingly in the music world, we look at peoples physical beauty
rather than what theyve got to offer as a human being. This is ridiculous if someone
plays superbly, does it matter what they look like? And when the celebrity demands
about such things as weight start destroying the artistry, you wonder if everyone has
gone mad. I tell young actors that in order to play a major role they have to eat. You
cannot survive three hours on stage without eating.
Keeping perspective
At its highest level, the music world encourages conceitedness. Its very tempting to be
like that, but its not necessary. I tell my students to have someone around them who
will say no, someone to tell them the truth.


To communicate effectively, performers must be fully present and always operate in the
second circle of energy, says Patsy Rodenburg. You know when you are in the second
circle when you:

Feel centred and alert

Feel your body belongs to you
Feel the earth through your feet
Feel your breathing is easy and complete
Know you reach people and they hear you when you speak
Notice details in others their eyes, their moods, their anxieties
Are curious about a new idea not judgemental
Hear clearly
Acknowledge the feelings of others
See, hear, smell, touch something new, which focuses this energy in the whole of you
6 ways to perfect your double-stops
Tips from The Strads archive on producing even and finely tuned double-stops

The reason why the study of double-stops is so highly advantageous for the progress of
the student may be found in its great technical and musical value, which can be
distinguished in four directions:

1. All possible faults regarding holding of the hand and placing of the fingers are here
conspicuously exposed; double-stopping represents an excellent corrective of such
faults and an infallible means of training the correct position of hand and fingers.
2. It teaches further the relation of stops between two string (intervals), furthering thus
a thorough knowledge of the fingerboard as well as fingering.
3. It exacts great strengths, not only that of gripping, but in many cases of individual
hammer-strength of each finger.
4. Finally it provides an excellent and indispensable training of the ear, as regards
purity of intonation, as well as beauty of sound.

As regards the hand-position, the hand should be sufficiently raised so that the fingers
may be well rounded, stopping one string without touching the other. In normal stretch
this is comparatively easy, unless the fourth finger here is well founded and standing on
its tip, it will easily touch the A string and thus spoil the upper note.
Emil Krall, The Strad, May 1915

Three key points to watch playing in thirds are:

1. Position the hand slightly more in favour of the upper finger of each third than the
lower finger, and reach back with the lower finger. Do not base the hand position on the
lower finger, stretching the upper finger forward.
2. To play a double-stop at the same volume as a single-stop you have to play twice as
heavily with the bow, but the fingers should still stop the strings lightly.
3. If there is tension in the fourth finger, release it by relaxing the base knuckle joint of
the first finger.
Simon Fischer, the Strad, September 1996

Folk fiddle tunes with an E or A string drone are great tools for forcing students to bring
their hands up and over the fingerboard, curving their fingers so as not to stop the open
string and setting the left-hand fingers correctly.
Laura Reed, The Strad, September 2002

Many players find scale passages in thirds particularly difficult to play in tune. There
are frequent changes of position and to complicate matters further the intervals are
sometimes major and sometimes minor. If we study the movements of the left hand in a
typical passage, such as the G major scale, we find that the principal difficulty is to
control the spacing of the 1st and 3rd fingers at a change of position. As the hand slides
to the new position these fingers remain on the strings, and they must be set to the
correct spacing for the upper interval during the progress of the slide itself. While slight
final adjustments may be made by ear to secure exact intonation, it is important to
bring the fingers as nearly as possible to the correct stops before the interval is sounded
at all. During the shift the finger spacing between fingers 1 and 3 should remain
precisely constant.
Dr H.R. Allan, The Strad, On Playing Thirds in Tune

When playing double-stops, it is essential to keep the hand and fingers as soft and free
as they are when playing the simplest single notes in other words, as free as they are
when you are not even playing the violin. Doing mobility exercise is a good way to
discover how to give and release, in the hand and fingers, while still maintaining
enough muscle tone to play. When playing in octaves, one of the most important
elements is that the entire left hand is free of tension. A chief cause of tension comes
from not releasing between octaves, which is like pedalling a bicycle while continuing
to squeeze the brakes.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, April 2008 and November 2013

When children play with a poor quality of tone on double-stops, it is usually because the
angle of the bow is not correct and one string is getting more pressure from the bow
than is the other string.
Elizabeth A.H. Green, The Strad, September 2002
5 ways to improve playing in thirds
Tips for hand position, bow distribution and intonation from The Strad Archive

Three key points to watch in playing thirds are:

1. Position the hand slightly more in favour of the upper finger of each third than the
lower finger, and reach back with the lower finger. Do not base the hand position on the
lower finger, stretching the upper finger forward.

2. To play a double-stop at the same volume as a single-stop you have to play twice as
heavily with the bow, but the fingers should still stop the strings lightly.

3. If there is tension in the fourth finger, release it by relaxing the base knuckle joint of
the first finger.

Simon Fischer, The Strad, September 1996

A common mistake is the exclusive concentration on intonation without considering the

placement and angle of the left hand. When the hand position is not correct, ease and
agility in all positions, and thus good intonation, becomes impossible. To develop a
good position I first recommend exploring thirds with the following exercise:

Finger placement should be lightly rounded (note especially the angle of the little
finger) and should remain unchanged in all positions. This exercise also assists in
developing sensitivity to the difference between major and minor thirds.
Zakhar Bron, The Strad, May 1999

Many players find scale passages in thirds particularly difficult to play in tune. There
are frequent changes of position and to complicate matters further the intervals are
sometimes major and sometimes minor. If we study the movements of the left hand in a
typical passage, such as the G major scale, we find that the principal difficulty is to
control the spacing of the 1st and 3rd fingers at a change of position. As the hand slides
to the new position these fingers remain on the strings, and they must be set to the
correct spacing for the upper interval during the progress of the slide itself. While slight
final adjustments may be made by ear to secure exact intonation, it is important to
bring the fingers as nearly as possible to the correct stops before the interval is sounded
at all. During the shift the finger spacing between fingers 1 and 3 should remain
precisely constant.
Dr H.R. Allan, The Strad, On Playing Thirds in Tune, 1959

De Beriot, in his violin school, very wisely wrote: True intonation in double strings
requires an exquisite sense of harmony. In order to acquire this precious quality, the
pupil must become familiar with those thirds and sixths which are consonant with the
open strings G and D. These lower strings are only set in motion when the higher
stopping is played with the most perfect accuracy; then a third sound is produced, which
serves as a regulator to the ear and to the position of the fingers. This true intonation of
double strings once acquired will extend to all parts of the violin.
Percival Hodgson, The Strad, December 1916

You can improve your playing in 3rds by practising placing the fingers separately. Put
the third finger down on its own, without the first finger. Balance the hand so that the
third finger is naturally curved, relaxed and comfortable.

1. Without altering the balance of the hand, or the shape of the third finger, reach back
with your first finger and play a major or minor 3rd.

2. Without changing anything else, go back to playing only the third finger without the
first finger on the string. Imagine seeing two photos of your hand and third finger, one
taken before reaching back with the first finger and the other after removing it from the
string. The shape of your hand in both pictures should be identical.

Simon Fischer, The Strad, March 2012

7 ways to play perfect chords
Advice on unforced and resonant chord playing from The Strads archives

One of the greatest difficulties experienced by the student consists in making the chords
resonant and yet free from impurity of tone. They are apt to sound scratchy. The best
way to correct this fault is to avoid pressure at the impact of bow and string, and to
press only while the bow is in progress. Once this habit is formed it becomes quite
natural, and purity of tone is thereby ensured without loss of power.
Alfred M. Wall, The Strad, December 1913

Three common misconceptions about chords are that they must be played near the
fingerboard, with fast and long strokes. Although the strings are flatter nearer the
fingerboard, chords do not have to be played there. Thicker, fatter, more powerful
chords often need to be played nearer the bridge.
Near the fingerboard, chords can be played with a faster, lighter bow; but as you play
nearer to the bridge, you can play with a slower and more sustained bow. With the right
point of contact near to the bridge, it is possible to sustain three strings at the same time
for several seconds.
Although chords sometimes do require a lot of bow, often they can be played with very
little. You can even play chords with a heavy spiccato stroke at or near the point of
Simon Fischer, The Strad, January 2005

As for chords, what poverty the music suffers if they are always played forte! We must
divest chords of their aggression. They do not always serve as punctuation; most of the
time they simply provide harmony. Try playing them in many styles: rolled at various
speeds, with and without crescendo and at all dynamics. Try even caressing them as
lyrically as possible.
Ruth Waterman, The Strad, August 1997

A careful study of the technique of chord playing is of inestimable value to the whole
technique of bowing, for it develops sensitivity and subtleness in the hand and arm.
Harold Berkley, The Strad, August 2005
Pivoting is the movement of the bow around the string. At the same time as sustaining
an up or down bow on one string, pivoting gradually brings the bow closer to an
adjacent string. To pivot smoothly the bow must always begin to move towards the next
string before you want to play it. The later the pivot, the faster it has to move. Pivoting
enables seamless string crossings without accent or disturbance. Pivots are essential in
chord playing, joining together the bottom and top halves of the chord to create one,
unbroken sound.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, September 1994

The essence of the art of chord playing: the strings are not touched at the same time, but
they must sound simultaneously.
Yuri Yankelevich, The Strad August 2005

The weight that the left-hand fingers have to provide in order to stop the string
sufficiently for a clean note is the same whether you are stopping one note or four notes.
Excess pressure in stopping strings, as an unconscious reaction to the extra weight in the
bow when playing double stops, is one of the most common causes of left-hand tension.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, April 2008
How to make scales enjoyable
Encouraging students to practise scales neednt be an uphill struggle, says Paul Harris
in fact, it can even be fun!

You can have one biscuit now, or, if you tidy your room, you can have three when
youve finished! Thats known as delayed gratification, and its essential for pupils to
have at least some inkling of its significance if scale teaching and learning is going to be
anything other than a continual battle! None of us teachers or students underestimate
the importance of scales, but how many of us actually enjoy them?
Thorough scale learning will not, for most young players, reap immediate rewards.
Lets face it, practising scales is not as musically satisfying as unlocking the secrets of a
Romantic sonata, or as exciting as getting to grips with a showpiece for the next
concert. Well-played scales will get pupils better marks in exams, but their raison dtre
lies in the less tangible but essential area of basic musical development.

Its important to recognise the importance of scales, for youll never convince a pupil to
vote for scales if you dont believe in them absolutely yourself.

Scales improve technique

Yes, they do, but not just by paying them lip service. Simply playing through a couple
of scales during a practice session will have very little impact on a pupils technical
development. Slim-o-Food will only help you lose weight as part of a calorie-
controlled diet, the ads tell us. Similarly, scales will only affect technique if they are
part of a holistic approach to teaching. Time and concern must simultaneously be put
into posture, arm positions, precision of finger movement and positioning. In addition, it
is essential that the many connections with aural work are brought to the fore.

Scales help control tone

Every note has its own sound world resulting from its harmonic make-up. Practising
scales with precise and directed listening will help your pupil learn to match tonal and
dynamic levels.

Scales help playing in tune

They will if you really try to play them in tune! You wouldnt believe the number of
times Ive heard scales played appallingly out of tune in my work as an examiner. I find
this very frustrating a real waste of a golden opportunity to gain marks. Again, its all
connected with aural training: with active and musically perceptive listening.
Scales develop sense of key
Absolutely, and this is a very important reason for practising and playing them. But
again, only if they are approached with a sensitive ear and with brain fully in gear.

Scales improve sightreading

Again, yes. But only if they are learnt with music as well as by ear. Recognising scale
and arpeggio patterns will only become immediate and reliable if pupils know what
scales look like.

So scales can be worth their weight in gold. Our next job is to find a way to make them
more palatable. The secret is to devise several related activities which make as many
connections as possible with all other areas of musical development, prior to playing a
scale. In fact, you may decide to teach scales without pupils ever playing them! Spend
some time listing imaginative ways you can connect scales with aural, technique,
sightreading, rhythm, improvisation, composition and pieces. This is the basis of real
musical thinking.

With such connections in mind, here are some practical strategies for introducing a
pupil to a new scale. Notice, at no time do we (yet) actually play the scale.

Know the notes

Pupils should be able to say the sequence of notes up and down. Ive had many a debate
with teachers on the relevance of knowing the note names, but Im convinced that the
more ways we know something, the stronger the understanding will be. Youll be
surprised how difficult some pupils will find saying the notes descending!

Write out the scale

Preferably use manuscript paper with a pen or pencil. A computer is OK, but nothing
beats creating your own notated scale.

Sing the scale

Not to the taste of all students, but persevere with the more reluctant! For less
enthusiastic pupils begin with just the first three notes, then eventually progress to five
before finally having a go at the whole scale. It may take a long time to cajole them to
do this, but the ultimate rewards will be worth it.

Instruct pupils to pre-hear each note before they sing it

This is a very powerful though for some exceptionally difficult discipline. To
awaken the aural senses, play scales to your students. Make deliberate mistakes, either
wrong notes or more subtle errors of intonation, and see how confident they can become
in picking up inaccuracies.

Make up short exercises that cover particular technical manoeuvres

Sing the exercise first, slowly, pre-hearing notes and trying to hear and pitch the very
centre of each one. Then play these exercises slowly, concentrating on all appropriate
aspects of posture and finger movement. Make pupils realise how important it is to care
about the quality and intonation of every note, and to be patient this work will pay
great dividends.
Find a simple and effective study in the key
Apply the same process as above.

Improvise and/or compose a piece in the key

Dont underestimate the importance of such work. Over a period of time your students
will learn to produce interesting and effective pieces, which will really help their
musical development. Improvisation, along with aural and memory work, accesses the
all-important right side of the brain (notation and technique live in the left side). All-
round musical development must allow each half of the brain equal activity. Maybe you
can have a concert of pupils scale pieces from time to time.

Choose a well-known tune and play it by ear in the key

Dont worry about mistakes. Simply attempting to find the right notes is a very useful

None of these activities demand that the scale be played on its own. We are learning
about the scale (and related patterns). We are learning about the key. We are using the
time to gather all the necessary ingredients and we are learning to understand those
ingredients. You may simply like to leave it at that! Some pupils will not practise or
play scales whatever lengths you may go to. As long as they are enjoying their pieces
which, after all, are in a key and you are giving some scale-related backup (as
above), this may well be sufficient until that fine day when they wake up and finally say
to you, I now see how scales can really change my life when can we start?

For those students who are prepared to do so, its time to play the scale. Its a big
moment. Its an important moment and were not going to let it pass without appropriate
fanfares. Preparation is essential and were going to sing an octave, dead in tune, first.
Then were going to hear it through silently, in our heads. Then a few seconds of
stillness before the performance. The first time a new scale is played in full must be
savoured, must be enjoyed. The performance must be accurate, in tune and played with
a beautiful sound. This is not a romantic, idealistic and unattainable expectation. If you
care then your pupils will also begin to care its as simple as that.

What next? Continue to reinforce scale learning by revisiting all the above
activities and add the following as and when appropriate:

Play with varying bowings and articulations

Play with varying rhythmic patterns
Play with varying dynamics
Vary the style of ascent and descent (for example, up: bowed and forte, down: pizzicato
and piano. The number of variations is vast)
Vary the tempo (most pupils get into the habit of playing scales within a very narrow
band of tempos encourage experimentation at both ends of the metronome)
Vary the style (a scale in the style of Mozart, Brahms or Stravinsky for example)
Play both by ear and with music
Vary the starting note (eg G major beginning and ending on D or A or even F sharp!)
Start on the top note and play descending followed by ascending

If you wish your pupils to take scales (and all their related patterns) seriously, you will
need to devote quality time to their study. As in all good teaching, they must be
approached with a combination of imagination, fun and high expectations. But, above
all allow scales to play their vital role in developing the whole musician by making
connections and by treating them as your friends never as your enemy.
Scales and exercises are essential for all string players, says
Heinrich Schiff
Not all players regard exercises as important, but without a sound technical basis you
cannot achieve your expressive potential, writes the cellist

Some 25 years of teaching have taught me that we players must always define what
each of our motions at the cello represents this is essential in order for us to be
efficient artists capable of technical ease, great stamina, physical power and musical
depth. To have control I must develop the ability to use my physical gestures
economically and unconsciously. Craftsmanship the non-musical aspect of playing,
such as finger velocity, bowing technique, shifting and so on should be studied
separately from musical expression. Expressive possibilities are limited if the player is
not at home with the instrument, and the further one goes away from home the more
the basics are needed.

This is why I believe in etudes and studies and I still play scales as Heifetz
emphasised. I dont find this technical work pleasurable, but I do it anyway. A
wonderful part of instrumental fitness can be found in exercises by Feuillard and
Cossman for example..

Not all instrumentalists regard exercises as important; in fact, many artists think etudes
are rubbish and that one can learn technique through pieces. I say yes, if you understand
what you have to do. An etude is like a series of small limited structures and should be
played with complete control without the emotional distractions of your concerto. If you
apply that behaviour to your solo and find the pattern you need to work on, you can
practise the passage with the same sensibility that you would an etude. At this point all
enemies of this approach will say, Now the concerto will sound like an etude! They
are right. Anyone can describe what to do, but it takes knowledge of the basics to
approach the problem. Thats why I work on etudes.

Consider other musicians. All singers certainly begin the day with basic vocal exercises:
arpeggios, scales, exercises for tone and for intonation. They practise their routine in
every key, making sure their voices are properly supported. Wind players hold long
notes for endurance and breath control. We string players dont do this enough
especially young players, who should be trying to find their own voice. I suggest
starting on the open strings with or without vibrato. I concentrate on the physical
aspects of playing. I question myself. Is my body comfortable? Can I control the bow in
fast and slow speeds? How should I vary my vibrato? I keep the note plain then add
vibrato as a sheer physical exercise. If it sounds dry, I dont do it. Even when the
gesture is detached from the artistic act you must love the note, feel yourself relax,
enjoy your instrument and get addicted to the sound you produce in order to be able
always to find a home; otherwise, when the music makes increasingly difficult
demands, you could lose control. The more aware I am of my physical approach, the
easier artistic matters become.

A tactic I often use in masterclasses is to ask the student to play something quiet and
small, like a simple row of notes at a moderato tempo. Then we increase the dynamics
to mezzoforte or forte, playing full but not too loud. Perhaps we choose a few notes
from the concerto, maybe with a slide because it makes us nervous.

Sometimes I ask for a ev?k or Feuillard exercise we are looking for something
simple in order to come back to basics.

Basics include posture. When sitting at the instrument the torso must lean towards the
cello. You must find a position in which you can sit for many hours. I control my neck,
avoiding pushing away or pressing towards the cello, which causes tension. If I am
relaxed from the hips, my torso can help my arms produce the weight. Tension in the
hips reduces power. Likewise, lifting the shoulders (a mistake we all make) interrupts
the flow of energy into the fingers by creating stress. This applies to both arms.

Concerning power and cellists need a lot one can be lucky or one must train for
endurance. Producing sound from force is wrong. You must be strong, but use body
weight and gravity. Besides, we would have to develop more muscles than needed in
order to have reserve strength, since we should be able to play through three concertos
in the practice room in order to perform one. In the same way, I have to master passages
that are more difficult than the works I play on stage. So, I go back to etudes in order to
make the Dvo?k Concerto easier. You have to be fitter than required and you have to
have more skill than needed.

Developing the artistic ingredients and controlling emotions are difficult. We have
players who are well educated but lack imagination. Musicianship is, of course, as
important to prepare as the craftsmanship aspect. Generally I find artistic information
about composers has to do with performance practice. How did Beethovens violin
sonatas sound? There is a lot of information available and I think it is important to find
that information, but it takes time and energy.

Emotionally, though, I think the cellist has to try to develop colours and atmospheres
with the pressure and speed of the bow, vibrato and expressive shifting, and find a
repertoire of possibilities that are called personal, but are connected to the instrument. In
order to enrich the palette of human experience available to me I go to the theatre,
exhibitions, opera and ballet, as well as experiencing non-musical culture. I read. I learn
as much as possible about psychology, for example, in order to nourish myself as a
person and to become more knowledgeable. Gyrgy Ligeti speaks about finding
inspiration from scientists; their research makes him able to be creative as a composer. I
find listening to records is not enough to enable you to become an interesting artist. Its
fascinating, yes, and shouldnt be missed. But engage your mind more widely. Ask
questions that will make you a richer person.
As an end result, I adapt my ability to apply the etudes I practised to the Elgar Concerto.
In the performance I repeat my exercises of relaxation and subtlety. I bring together the
elements of vibrato and bow control with those of expression and, I hope, land at Elgar.
These are the rules I follow: Play scales to the end of your life! Practise slowly. Dont
play loud and fast. Control your body. Think like a singer and feel the breath from your
stomach. And finally, be patient and dont give up.
What is the best scale system for string students?
Teacher Talk: your string teaching questions answered by our panel of experts

What scale system do you recommend, and what is the best way to get students
to approach scales? Rebecca Jorden, Michigan, US

Boris Kuschnir: I recommend the scale system compiled by Elizabeth Gilels,

published by Sikorski. These are thorough, well-organised sets of scales with interesting
fingering and shifting suggestions. Many students practise scales first, then arpeggios,
and only after that double-stops, for which they often dont allow enough time. In
Gilelss system double-stops immediately follow the scales, and only after that come
arpeggios and chromatic scales. This helps to remind students to play double-stops and
to allow time for it.

It is very important to play octaves, 10ths and fingered octaves every day, from as
young an age as possible. They should all be practised in a slow tempo, then medium,
and it is also important to play them fast, even though sometimes intonation suffers.

It is helpful to play all the different variations with different bow strokes and on
different strings, and to include scales on one string up to higher positions, especially on
G, D and A. As a rule, I recommend playing all scales without vibrato.

Bruno Giuranna: A teacher who is convinced that scales practice is important will
inspire their pupils to study them properly. You should tell students that a significant
part of the Russian school is based on scales, and the results of that are not bad! Easy
scales can be used at first to develop an idea of what it means to play them well.
Students should get some decent fingerings and learn them thoroughly. But my theory is
that anyone who needs to read music to practise scales will have problems playing in
tune by memory.

Bruno Giuranna teaches viola at the Fondazione Stauffer in Cremona, the

Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano and the University of Limerick in

Boris Kuschnir is violin professor at the Vienna Conservatoire and at the University of
Music in Graz
The importance of lateral movement in the left hand for
string players
Surprisingly little has been said in the literature about the sideways left-hand movement,
although any passages over more than one string uses it. Rok Klopi researches

Lateral movements of the left hand are of the same importance as vertical or horizontal
ones. This fact is rarely, if ever acknowledged by leading authorities. They usually
consider one or two of the most obvious ones in a few cursory words only, never
assembling all the lateral movements in one complete picture.
The adjective lateral depends on the point of observation; the figure below clarifies
the different directions:

In every lateral movement there is a more or less pronounced steering motion of the left
hand, from the shoulder, to the left or right (according to Ion Voicu and
Konstantin Mostras). This movement is the smallest in the lateral half-movement, where
a finger moves from two strings to one string, as in this exercise by Henry Schradieck:

It is greatest in this exercise by Flesch:

In the past, lateral movements were acknowledged
only as the means to forming chords. Flesch published what he called chord exercises,
in his Urstudien (1900), which are still the best and serve as the most appropriate
gymnastic introduction to lateral chord movement. In his magnum opus The Art of
Violin Playing (1923) he changes the description of this movement to Streck
and Beugebewegungen, stretching and bending exercises, but still mentions its use in
chords only. At approximately the same time, 1921, Dounis, in his work The Artists
Technique of Violin Playing, describes the movement from the right to the left and
vice versa and, like Flesch, limits its use to chords in three or four notes only.

The ideal way of preparing chords is described by Mostras: all the necessary fingers
should be placed simultaneously on the strings. This is not often achieved, though, and
it is usually better to follow the advice of Francesco Sfilio, who recommends that the
setting of the chords should always start with the first finger with the other fingers
following in natural order second, third and fourth irrespective of the string.
The time taken between finger landings should be so short that they appear and sound

Another obvious type of lateral movement is the repeated crossing of fingers over two
or three strings. It is used a great deal in different studies and compositions,
attention usually directed to the problems of the right hand. The most difficult examples
can be found in Paganinis Caprice no.2. Similar but simpler exercises in one position
are given in evks op.1, while Rodolfo Lipizer offers more complicated versions
under the title Salti (jumps) in nos.19 and 31 of the second part of his La tecnica
superiore del violino.

When connecting some doublestops there can be a small lateral movement, acrossing
of the strings, as Galamian calls it. However, he does not describe it as lateral, but finds
in pairs of sixths and fourths a horizontal type of sliding motion without
completely lifting the fingers from the fingerboard. Clearly, the word lateral instead
of horizontal in the previous sentence would be more accurate. In connecting double-
stops we must frequently decide between horizontal and lateral movements. A good
illustration of this is a passage from Glazunovs Violin Concerto (example 1) as
fingered by two eminent Russians, David Oistrakh and Yuri Yankelevich whose
fingerings are shown above and below the stave respectively. Oistrakh makes a small
lateral movement in the shift to the double-stop on the third beat of the second bar,
whereas Yankelevich shifts horizontally.
The interval of the fifth over the string could be considered as a frozen lateral
movement although some violinists try to avoid playing fifths across strings with the
same finger. Example 2 is illuminating Flesch (top fingering) avoids the two D-G fifth
lateral movements by using two changes of position on the same string, whereas
Stern (bottom fingering) shifts for the first one but plays the second one across the
strings, appropriately changing the expression.

The following Menuhin exercise is a good preparation for such a realisation of fifths:

The interval of the fifth is linked to another movement which could be called a lateral
half-movement. In the literature it appears very rarely and often sounds unclean. An
example from the Bach Chaconne shows the problem, in the second beat, where the
third finger must move from holding the D-A fifth chord across two strings, to just
playing the A of the B-A chord:

Technical exercises for such movements are practically non-existent it is only

in Schradiecks School of Violin- Technics that we can find at least one exercise of this
sort, as shown earlier.

In investigating lateral movements it helps to examine them in different

passages, recognising that no passage over more than one string is possible without a
lateral movement. Flesch doesnt see the link between what he called chord movement
and change of strings. Nevertheless he recommends small lateral movements for
different scales and chordal passages, for example in the Bruch Concerto, where the
square notes show how you can make the lateral movement before the note is played:
The same technique is advocated by Harold Berkley in his Modern Technique of Violin
Bowing, who calls it advance fingering.

Some quick passages over many strings and positions can be telescoped into a basic
mixture of lateral movements and changes of position as a method of practising the
fundamental movements. Abram Yampolsky recommends practising the first passage
from Lalos Symphonie espagnole in a telescoped version (example 3, where the second
line is the telescoped version).

The importance of quick, precise lateral movements of the fingers in brilliant passages
is recognised by Mostras in his excellent Esquisse no.2, which should presumably be
played without preparing the fifth, so that both fingers are changing strings on each

Significantly this study was included by the best Soviet experts, Yampolsky, Y.I.
Rabinovich and M.B. Pitkus, in their collection of studies, Strengthening of the
Fingers and Development of Velocity.
6 ways to improve left-hand flexibility
Tips from The Strads archive on increasing suppleness of movement and reducing

One of the hallmarks of any good left hand is that the main movement of the fingers is
from the base knuckle joints. Heifetz is a wonderful example of this: his fingers had an
extraordinary, spongy liquidity of movement that was completely independent of the
hand, which remained quite still.The arms, legs and fingers all have three levers: the
upper sections of the leg, arm and finger are the strongest, and the large, main
movements originate from them. Violinists and violists must avoid the danger of
dropping and raising the fingers partly with a movement of the hand, rather than moving
from the base joints. This is like trying to walk by replacing part of the upper-leg
movement by rotating the back with each step.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, December 2008

The left hand should be loose. To fight tension you must have a sense that air can pass
through your hand; it should feel open. I use a slightly slanted position in the cello left
hand not too square with my palm slightly facing the floor. This way the hand
remains in the same shape in all positions, which is very efficient.
I am careful using extensions; they can freeze the left hand. My opinion is that
extensions are practicable as long as you release the tension caused by stretching the
hand. Once a note has sounded I stop pressing down on the string, releasing the
Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, The Strad, December 2003

The wrist must be flexible at all times and the hand free for the vibrato motion. Your
left elbow must be well under the violin and the left hand fingers held high to give the
finger tips the flexibility to rotate. Ideally, the thumb should not protrude above the
fingerboard. It should be placed, preferably, on the fleshy portion and positioned
slightly behind the index finger.
Aaron Rosand, the Strad, January 2014

The placing of the fingers on the string and the roles of different muscles in the arm and
hand during this action are very complicated. The dropping of the fingers should be
done with a live springing action, according to Paul Rolland. The authorities warn
against using too much force in this action. Ivan Galamian warns that banging and
pressing is apt to build tensions that are dangerous, against which Rolland suggests:
After an articulate impact, relax the finger and allow to vibrate.
Rok Klopi, The Strad, February 2005

You do not need to try to develop flexibility in your hands and fingers. You already
have it most of the time. Away from the violin, whenever you are engaged in everyday
activities, your hands are relaxed and soft. You must keep that softness and flexibility
when you play the violin. Athletes and musicians alike must guard against tensing up in
the fraction of a second before performing an action, in preparation for it. Consider this
1. Your hands are soft and pliable before you pick up the instrument; keep them like
that as you go to pick up the violin and bow; then keep them soft and pliable as you
move your fingers around the fingerboard.
2. Before you play any note, release the hand and fingers and keep them soft, balanced
and free of any sort of pressing or counter-pressing.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, April 2005

The thumb must be free. Its position is entirely dedicated by the action of the hand and
fingers as they go up and down the fingerboard; it simply goes along for the ride.
Often, due to poor instrument balance, students use the left hand to support and steady
the instrument. This, combined with a resultant insecurity in fingering and shifting and
concern about vibrato speed, leads to squeezing the neck of the instrument. While this
reaction is understandable, it stifles sensation, responsiveness and the ability to move.
Shifting and the vibrato impulse suffer, and the sound loses roundness because the
pads of the fingers are compressed into the strings.
Dr Robert Drew and Karen Tuttle, The Strad, October 1995
How to develop left-hand finger strength
Up and down movement is the basis of left-hand technique and many pedagogues have
invented fiendish exercises to improve it. Rok takes a look at some of them

To play even the most simple melody we must stop the string in order to define pitch,
making vertical finger motion the central element of left-hand technique. As a result it
has received much attention, many different kinds of exercises and more than the usual
amount of incorrect advice.

This includes the recommendation, made by Flesch, Dounis and Menuhin, that every
finger should fall with its natural weight. S. Mittelmann and Frantiek Ond??ek
disagree with this idea in their 1909 violin method. They argue that finger movements
are made with the fine-control muscles of the arm, hand and fingers. Natural weight,
therefore, cannot play any role; even if the fingers could function without muscles,
using their own weight, this would not involve enough force. To stop a string the
necessary weight is approximately between 170 and 360 grams, depending on the string
and the point of contact of the left-hand finger, as Otto Szende observes. Any
suggestion of the influence of gravity on fingers is equally invalid.

The placing of the fingers on the string and the roles of different muscles in the arm and
hand during this action are very complicated. The two aspects of the vertical movement
have been given different names: what Dounis describes as the down impulse is also
called finger fall by Galamian or finger drop by Rolland; Douniss corresponding
up impulse is termed lifting by both Galamian and Rolland, who also calls it the
release of the string. All these terms are clearly not in accordance with the physiology
of this movement. Nevertheless the terms dropping and lifting are generally used:
hopefully they will not obscure understanding of the real action.

The dropping of the fingers should be done with a live, springlike action, according to
Rolland. The authorities warn against using too much force in this action. Galamian
warns that banging and pressing is apt to build tensions that are dangerous, against
which Rolland suggests: After an articulate impact, relax the finger and allow it to
vibrate. Dounis offers the following way of judging whether the movement is relaxed
A free vibrato [is] the only real test of using fingers in a correct way.

Dounis also recommends that the lifting off should be done in the same energetic
manner as dropping the finger on to the string. Along with Rolland, he also
recommends practising with exaggerated action, although Galamian disagrees with this.
The most practical advice is that of Ricci, who urges practising oft-neglected left-hand

The trill is the most elaborate form of vertical finger movement. With its many variants
it is a sparkling element of virtuoso playing and provides a valuable area of violin
exercise. Short trills are a frequent and characteristic ornament from Tartini to
contemporary times, with Kreislers cadenza for Tartinis Devils Trill being one of
the most tricky examples. Among the most difficult types of trills are those on a pedal,
either above or below the melody, while thematic material is played on one of the
adjacent strings, for example in Wieniawskis Souvenir de Moscou. Even harder and
more expressive is the tremolo trill in different intervals above or under the melody.

There are countless exercises for vertical movement, the best of which aim at improving
the actual movement and the trill as well as the general mechanics. The works of Henry
Schradieck and Otakar ev?k recognise the importance of the vertical movement,
abounding with different approaches to the problems. Successors had dissenting
opinions of ev?ks works: Flesch praised them, while Yankelevich rarely used them.

In his Urstudien, Carl Flesch presents some exercises without the bow; among them are
some for vertical finger motion. Heifetz acclaimed these exercises, saying: Perhaps the
best studies for the trill and those I use myself are written by Carl Flesch.

According to Ricci: Short trills develop strength, but with elasticity, and he considers
Study no.6 from Donts op.35 as perhaps the best for this purpose. He has transcribed
it for left-hand pizzicato

Dounis wrote his work The Absolute Independence of the Fingers as a lifetime study
companion for developing what he describes as strength, solidity, surety, pliability and
individuality of the fingers in a phenomenal degree of perfection. is one of his
exercises in which there is a different type of movement happening on every string. On
the E string a note is held with the fourth finger; on the A string there is the vertical
movement of the third finger; on the D string the second finger moves horizontally; and
on the G string the first finger is engaged in lifting for the pizzicato. Dounis describes
this as combining all four movements, saying that it demands constant mental activity
and the utmost concentration of the brain.

It is important to practise all the variations of movement, and Mittelmann and Ond??ek
assert that exercises in the high positions deserve special attention. They strengthen the
small muscles in the hand. Konstantin Mostras invented exercises which bring
simultaneous metrorhythmic joining of notes with different values. He claims that
these exercises strengthen the fingers more than any other exercise, helping to attain
rhythmic discipline

For Henryk Szeryng, in the quest for excellent intonation it is not enough to practise
dropping the fingers in the right place. With small intervals one must be able to draw
the fingers close to each other, and to strengthen the appropriate muscles he
recommends practising thirds in the harmonic minor.

Harold Berkley recommends Paganinis Caprice no.6, saying that: Probably no finer
etude has ever been written for developing strength, independence and flexibility of the
fingers. In this piece tremolo illuminates the melody, but this exquisite beauty is
created by some sadistic combinations of concurrent vertical, horizontal and lateral
movements. Further left-hand pizzicato can be found in evcks op.1 no.4 and in many
compositions by Paganini and Sarasate, which can be used as an energising element for
vertical movement of the fingers and therefore ones whole technique.
8 ways to vary your vibrato
Tips from The Strads archive for varying vibrato speed, width, pressure and direction
to produce an infinite range of colour contrasts

The two main aspects of vibrato are speed and width. Both vary constantly with the
character and expression of each note. It is rare that even two consecutive notes have the
same proportions of speed and width. The most natural proportions are wide and slow,
narrow and fast, but, like an artist mixing primary colours to obtain an infinite range of
different shades, the musicians range of different vibratos extends all the way to wide
and fast, and slow and narrow.Simon Fischer, The Strad, April 2004

Vibrato is created through variations in width, speed and pressure and varying points of
emanation (finger, hand, arm). In classical repertory, pressure is supposedly not a factor,
but many string players use far too much finger pressure down into the fingerboard.
Excessive pressure precludes variations in vibrato and blocks ease in left-hand
articulation, inviting reciprocal pressure from the right hand. As you practise playing
scales or melodies without vibrato, take the opportunity to learn how to control finger
pressure. Think of placing each finger on the surface of the string and using gravity to
allow the finger to sink down to the surface of the fingerboard, only going as far as you
need to create a whole tone, and no more.
Julie Lyonn Lieberman, The Strad, January 2006

For a more advanced player, changing a well-established habit of always playing with a
fast narrow vibrato to a wider one can be extremely difficult and frustrating because the
muscles in the arm and hand usually tense up. The reverse, however, is comparatively
easy. Try shaking a small can of fruit juice either real or imaginary changing from
wide to narrow movements and vice versa and note how much easier it is to go from big
to small. Usually the solution for changing an old, undesirable vibrato is to stop
vibrating completely and take a new, vastly different approach.
Phyllis Young, The Strad, September 1999

Change in vibrato is easy to achieve since everything about vibrato is based on only a
few factors. An adjustment in any one of them will entirely change the overall quality of
1. The part of the fingertip you use change between a position nearer the tip and one
thats more on the pad.
2. The heaviness of the finger on the string change between releasing more and
releasing less during the backward movement
3. The width of the movement change between wider and narrower widths
4. The speed of the movement change between faster and slower movements
5. The direction of the movement change between a dotted rhythm (pulsing to the
upper pitch of the vibrato) and a more even rhythm in the vibrato movement.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, July 2007

The vexed question of when to use vibrato is a point only to be decided by each one
listening to the individual effect of his own playing. I see no harm in its presence at all
times if the player has such a perfect control that he can reduce it at will to such a slight
movement as to be inconspicuous and emotionless. On the other hand the owner of only
one vibrato effect must use his ears and discriminate. An enthusiastic and passionate
vibrato at uneventful moments is as seamless as a recitation of the alphabet with intense
emotion would be, and equally nauseous.
Percival Hodgson, The Strad, September 1916

Saturated with an artistic sense for the really beautiful, mastered by the controlling
mind, vibrato becomes a powerful means of expression in the hands of the skilful and
patient, well apt to impart the emotions of the player into the tone. It is a matter of taste
how much and how often vibrato should be applied. Those who condemn it entirely
only admit that they do not feel the music as deeply as those who use it to ennoble the
sensuous power of the tone in order to render its message more effective more
Emil Krall, The Strad, May 1912

If the period players were serious about their calling they would have a different
armoury of vibrato effects for every national style, if not for each composer. Hungarian
music would be played with the Hubay schools wide wah-wah vibrato, for instance,
while French music would have quite a silvery finger vibrato, with now and then a spot
of right-hand vibrato produced solely with the bow, as Capet used to do. But I am happy
if each player come before me on the concert platform with his or her own painstakingly
developed range of vibrato styles. I am also at ease with constant vibrato.
Tully Potter, The Strad, October 2009

Heinrich Schiff taught me that non-vibrato can be a wonderful addition to our tonal
palette. The ethereal first phrase of Beethovens Cello Sonata no.4 should be played
with absolutely no vibrato. According to Schiff, Vibrato on every note is like putting
ketchup all over the music.
Alban Gerhardt, The Strad, February 2011
7 tips for playing fast passages
Guidance from The Strads archive on increasing left-hand finger speed and minimising

Correct finger action is also important for facility. You will often hear me preach to my
students; Avoid hitting the fingerboard or merely placing the fingers: drop them.
Fingers should follow Newtons Universal Law of Gravitation, beginning slowly and
speeding up as gravity causes them to accelerate towards the fingerboard. The speed at
impact is the highest: this gives clarity to the sound. Instead of lifting the fingers
vertically between notes, I pull my fingers off sideways, making a little plucking
sound.Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, The Strad, December 2003

Fast fingers refers to the speed of the left-hand fingers towards or away from the
string, not the speed of the notes. In other words, you can play with fast fingers in slow
passages as well as in fast ones. Playing with fast fingers involves a sort of waiting
before moving a finger, then a fast movement of that finger.
*The faster the finger drops on to the string or lifts from it, the later the dropping or
lifting must begin.
*The later the finger drops or lifts, the longer the time between each finger action.
*The longer the time between each finger action, the slower the passage feels
So fast passages feel slower to a player with faster-moving fingers than they do to
someone with slower-moving fingers, even if both players use exactly the same tempo.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, July 2010

At the beginning of the lesson I confessed that with fast pieces like the Wieniawski I
expected myself to fail, but with unerring patience Burton Kaplan showed me how to
work on tidying it up, using rhythms and a metronome. This was not particularly
original in itself, but the specifics were more detailed and systematic, and the emphasis
was on maintaining the musical content and sound, and a consistent bow, even under
tempo. After a couple of days of doing this, my fingers were zinging away on the
Ariane Todes, The Strad, September 2014

Avoid all exaggerated, and especially all superfluous movements of the fingers. This
rule must be specified into two laws supplementing each other if we wish speedily to
obtain certainty of intonation, independence of action, strength and endurance: (a) No
finger should leave the string unless obliged to do so; (b) Wherever and whenever a
finger can take its place, before the bow has to play its tone, it should do so.
Carl Courvoisier, The Strad, March 1893

Passages that we worry about dont need more practice time, but rather more relaxation
as we execute them. Now, how to practise to be more relaxed? Certainly not by
repeating the passage over and over again, hundreds of times, in every possible way.
Rather, by distracting our mind exactly in the instant of execution.
One possibility can be, as you approach the scary bit, you slowly start moving your
head in a circle, possibly in a non-rhythmical and non-musical way. In doing this you
are forced to concentrate on the circle your head is drawing instead of worrying about
the passage you are about to play. The result is very often astonishing you just may
have played your most hated passage perfectly and with great ease! The next step is to
succeed in the same way on stage. There I suggest you do the same but this time make
it look natural and beautiful and with an inner smile! Still move your head slightly, but
rather THINK youre drawing a circle and you will again feel ease while you play.
Thomas Demenga, The Strad website, February 2014

The Russian cellist Daniil Shafran was totally unconscious of the cello. I saw him in
rehearsal playing the most devilishly difficult music and talking at the same time! He no
longer had to control his body. He was free to sense real, powerful emotion not just text.
When your mind is liberated you can become creative.
Leonid Gorokhov, The Strad, March 2004

A common image for the right degree of muscle involvement is of a spectrum with
complete relaxation at one end, tension at the other end and a balance point somewhere
in the middle, where you have enough muscle involvement to be able to hold and
manipulate things.
However, this image does not suit the light, quick action of violin playing: a middle
point between the two extremes is already too far towards tension or over-concentration
in the muscles. Instead, think of the amount of muscle strength required to hold and
move the bow, to move the fingers up and down on the violin, change position, stop the
strings, vibrate and so on, as being only just past the point of floppiness.
This immediately produces a wonderful sensation of lightness and ease. An
extraordinary new aliveness immediately comes into every action.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, April 2005
How to master bow speed and distribution
Physicists think of time and space as aspects of the same thing. Gerald Fischbach
applies the same theory to bow division

It was about a hundred years ago that a Swiss patent-office clerk turned our perception
of reality inside-out by proving that space and time were not distinct forms of
measurement, but two ways of looking at the same thing: the space-time continuum, as
it has come to be called. It takes some doing to wrap our minds around Einsteins
revolutionary insight, but string players have an easier time than most, because we
constantly live with our own double-perspective phenomenon: the bow-distribution-
speed continuum.
The analogy isnt perfect, but it is useful. When managing the bow, time is space and
vice versa. Its risky to keep track of only one and ignore the other. Continuous
awareness of bow placement, distribution, stroke duration and speed are hallmarks of
the highest levels of bow control.

Bow division and bow speed should be part of even the first year of study. Consider the
simple folk song Long, Long Ago. With bow speed as a constant, if we use a whole
bow on the crotchets the quavers take up half a bow. Or, if the amount of bow is the
constant and the speed of the crotchet whole bow is, say, 20mph, the quavers will be
twice as fast: 40mph.

Which plan is musically better? The bow-division plan seems better suited than the
bow-speed plan to the flowing nature of the music. Its constant bow speed facilitates
smooth connection of bow strokes; that also enables a constant bow pressure and
contact point, ensuring continuity of dynamics and tone colour.

Our standard terms for discussing bow division are rather limited: upper/ lower, middle,
frog, tip. Theyve served our needs so far, but in several of the ensuing examples, it will
be useful to talk about eighths of a bow, as indicated below. In the music examples
where these are used, the symbol indicates where the bow is at the beginning of a
Manipulation of bow speed and distribution is an endless skill. Early on the player
swishes back and forth like a windscreen wiper, until trouble raises its inelegant head.
More thoughtful approaches involve either symmetry or asymmetry. Symmetrical bow
distribution plans are the easiest, spending the same time on down and up bows,
requiring little planning to get right, often using hooked bowings. A passage from
Bachs A minor Concerto features hooked bowings in almost all editions, as indicated
above the stave.

Asymmetric bow distribution plans, where successive bow strokes last uneven lengths
of time, require more attention from the performer but can be more eloquent. I prefer to
play the Bach passage with the composers original markings, as indicated under the
stave. With these, the passage dances lightly on its feet in a way that the more
militaristic, hooked bowing cant emulate.

The opening of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is usually performed with hooked
bowings, as indicated above the stave. But the original markings, shown below the
stave, help to shape an undulating phrase of considerable beauty and interest:

This approach calls on more complicated bow-stroke arithmetic, subtracting a down

bow from the previous up bow, adding the subsequent up bow; being in control of
where the bow is at any moment. During the planning stage, this maths is combined
with a kind of bow-stroke time travel. One skips mentally to a future moment when the
bow needs to be at a particular point, and then works backwards to the present,
calculating the bow-stroke arithmetic to get there. In the Mendelssohn example we look
ahead to the soaring five-note down bow, where its clear we want a whole bow and
therefore must start at the frog. Working backwards yields the bow-division plan
indicated. The first bow stroke, minus the second, plus the third, minus the fourth, plus
the fifth equals a whole bow.

Asymmetric bow-distribution plans can lead to interesting musical shapes and

conversations. Asymmetric accidents, however, can cause unmusical lumps in a phrase.
The opening of the Bach Chaconne contains a classic example of this. The tendency is
to use almost a whole bow on the dotted crotchet chords, followed by a quaver bow
belch as it comes all the way back to the frog, creating an inadvertent accent on the
lightest metric moment of the bar. Well return to the Chaconne later to propose a
couple of solutions.

Alternatively, when a long bow stroke, inadequately planned for, causes a player to run
out of bow the result may be to play the next stroke early. The technical term for this is
rushing. From the teacher, the advice slow bow is usually more useful than dont

String players go to considerable lengths to organise longer note values on down bows.
My theory is that we are less embarrassed about running out of bow on a down than an
up bow: few things are worse than running out of bow when moving towards the frog!
This has led to some of the more serious sins of past editions and some unmusical
traditions. Consider the opening phrase of the solo violin in Mozars G major Concerto:

If we sing the melody, we naturally put an energetic emphasis on the down-beat note
and sing the second note lightly. However, most standard editions suggest either two
down bows or up-down. Both of these de-emphasise the downbeat and inspire an
ungainly stress on the second beat. Bowing these down-up puts our power stroke on the
down beat the chord (evidence that Mozart intended a stronger down-beat than second
beat), and works beautifully with Mozarts slurring of the following six semi-quavers.
Many editors correct this to three slurred couplets, in spite of the fact that Mozart slurs
them two plus four in every solo appearance.

Bow strokes have musical temperatures and sound density, depending on these
variables. It can be useful to think in the following terms:
Bow stroke temperature:
slow bow = warm; fast bow = cool
Bow stroke density:
slow = opaque; fast = transparent

Its a little more complicated than that. For a warm sound, the slow bow stroke is also
relatively close to the bridge and deep into the string, while a cool sound finds the fast
bow stroke further from the bridge and more on the surface of the string. The same goes
for opaque (close, deep) and transparent (further, lighter).

Bow speed when considered alone seems to have a linear relationship to dynamics:
faster = louder; slower = softer. But dynamic changes often imply colour changes and
therefore unexpected solutions can yield the most effective results. For instance,
pianissimo is not piano with something subtracted; it is an intensification of the piano
gesture. I usually think of piano as a warm dynamic and pianissimo as cool. Therefore, I
usually play pianissimo with a faster (and lighter and further-from-bridge) bow stroke
than piano.

At the higher levels of artistic control, bow speed is a variable variable: for expressive
or tactical reasons, even within a single bow stroke, one might start at one speed and
change speeds en route. In the demonic opening theme of the Franck Sonatas second
movement, each of the first three bow strokes might have three distinct speeds: a fast
beginning, a slower middle and a re-energised end, bringing to life the pickups to the
next bow stroke:

The dark side to this capability is demonstrated by the unskilled player who starts a long
bow stroke too fast, and runs out of bow towards the end of the stroke. Bow changes are
smoothest when the speed of the beginning of a new stroke matches that of the end of
the previous one. The player should organise a bow speed for the end of a stroke that
best serves the expressive needs of the moment and must take care to start the next
stroke with the same speed. An unskilled player may compound the lumpiness of a
phrase with a stroke that starts too fast and slows down at the end followed by one that
shoots in the other direction with a burst of speed.

A retake can sometimes be like a space-time warp, the bow magically relocating almost
instantaneously to another place, or in effect making the bow longer or shorter than it
actually is. The eminent 20th-century pedagogue Paul Rolland used to recommend a
retake solution for the quaver in the opening bars of the Bach Chaconne, as indicated
above the stave. This is an example of using a retake to effectively shorten the bow. My
preference has come to be an asymmetric plan, as shown below the stave:

Bow speed has a relationship to string thickness and length. The thicker, lower-pitched
strings prefer a relatively slow bow; the thinner, higher-pitched strings, faster. As you
climb up any given string with the left hand, thus shortening the vibrating string length,
the shorter string cries out for a faster bow stroke. You can literally hear the string
calling for a change of bow speed! Its call will be a pressed groan when too slow on the
higher strings in higher positions, or a kind of whistly pitch-deficient sound when the
bow is too fast on the lower strings in lower positions. For happiest tonal results, the
sounding point is relatively farther from the bridge for lower strings and pitches, closer
for higher. Likewise, long, thick strings prefer more pressure than short, thin ones.

Chords are classic examples of this relationship between bow speed and string
thickness. In an arpeggiated chord, the lower note or notes in most cases should be
played with a slower bow speed, the upper notes faster.

Harmonics require special attention regarding bow speed, as well as sound point and
pressure. The image we have of harmonics tends to be that of something requiring
lightness of touch. In fact, only one factor is appropriately described as light the
fourth-finger pressure (or sometimes that of the third finger). When the harmonic is a
strong gesture, then even that should be strong. The bow stroke should be authoritative
rather than light, with a markedly faster bow speed and correspondingly more bow than
for a stopped note. The bows sounding point should be four times as close to the bridge
as that of a firmly stopped finger.

Once you open the floodgates of awareness of bow speed and division, the endless
expressive possibilities wash over you and your universe of artistry is changed forever.
Violinist Hilary Hahn on practice and interpretation
In June 2012 violinist Hilary Hahn was guest editor of The Strads Conversations
special. The following five quotations on performance and interpretation are extracted
from that issue.

Hilary Hahn on

Practice and performing rituals

I used to have intentional rituals, but with the travelling I do, they went by the wayside.
Every day is different, but I do things habitually without realising. For practice, its
more that Im trying to get into a mindset. A routine doesnt come naturally. I like to
have a different setting almost every day; I think better if Im in a different place. On
concert days I try to take a nap before getting ready. Thats definitely become a ritual. It
tells me somethings coming.

Reaching a personal interpretation

What I focus on with set pieces is creating the interpretation, the meaning that I want to
convey. Of course the piece has meaning, but it can be turned in many different ways.
You have to think, What am I saying? I graduated at 19 and when I started working on
my own it took a while to understand my instincts. Now when I approach a piece I go
through the score, I listen to recordings, I talk to people about their experiences and
impressions, and try to build my interpretation from the ground up. When I perform the
work for the first time [in concert], it changes in unpredictable ways. After the first
performance I feel like I finally know what the piece is. It could have become any kind
of piece on stage, but its determined to show how it really wants to be, and it does.

Mental versus physical practice

When I was at school I practised up to five or six hours a day. Now I can practise for
eight hours but can be playing for less. The proportions have shifted. I play a little, I
write something in the music, I do some stretching exercises, I think about it, I come
back to it. I do a lot, but the amount of actual playing probably never exceeds four
hours. Thats about all I can do physically.

Where to feel the music

Expression is in the hands the emotional tools for conveying interpretation are there.
But for me its also in the legs. People dont see this because I usually wear a long
gown, but when I play standing, I move my legs with the music. The core and the back
are also important for allowing that feeling to go into the arms.
Finding a balance between work and rest
I have to remember to keep on top of all aspects of playing the instrument. The biggest
challenge for me these days is to find a consistent working mindset in the midst of the
constant changes of travelling life. Its weird on the one hand I try to keep a logical
balance of work and rest, and on the other, I constantly have work at the back of my
mind. Something I see or hear reminds me of something Ive been working on, or gives
me a new idea for a project. I love that push and pull.

Photo: Patrick OLeary

How I warm up: violist Maxim Rysanov
The Russian-born viola player gives an insight into his detailed warm-up regimen

My full warm-up routine usually takes about 3040 minutes. Normally I warm up with
a four-octave scale, four octaves of arpeggios, and two octaves of double-stops. The
scale I choose is always dictated by the work I have to learn or perform on that
particular day. If time allows, I also do some vibrato and shifting exercises.

First, I play a full scale in a very slow tempo one bow per note. I play each note for
around five or six seconds, trying to play piano, without pressure, and concentrating on
the equality of the sound of each note there should be no sudden crescendos or
diminuendos in any part of the bow. I also make sure that there are no unnecessary
movements in the right hand, not only during the note itself but also between notes. I
need to be able to make bow changes very smoothly: it allows me to make any sort of
phrase I want by freely changing the bow up or down without feeling dependent on the
bow changes. Then I increase the tempo, while still playing just one note per full bow.

Then I practise dtach strokes in the middle of the bow. (I use very little of the bow for
this.) At first I go slowly, then faster and faster. I try to listen to the connections
between the notes, so that the left-hand fingers fall in place along with the change of
bow direction. The whole thing should sound as legato as possible.

After that I play long spiccato, three times for each note, at the frog. I try to make each
note exactly the same length, as the common difficulty is that the bow is harder to lift
after a down bow. Again, I practise the exercise slowly at first, then faster. Then I return
to the middle of the bow: four notes dtach on the string, followed by four notes
spiccato. The sequence is to be practised in slow, medium and fast tempos, and then
very fast, using only spiccato. Spiccato should be a controlled stroke: it should not be
understood as a freely jumping bow. In very slow motion, spiccato is dtach with a lift
of the bow after each note.

The next thing I do is the dotted rhythm exercise. For this I use the full bow and start
in forte, gradually varying the dynamic and pressure but letting the bow rest on the
string not lifting it from the string. Before I get to the up bow, I hook the short note of
the dotted rhythm in at the tip of the bow. Then I start the up bow forte and repeat the

I then practise portato: four and eight notes per bow, concentrating on the elbow
movement open and closed, not stopping between notes. After that, I play legato
four, eight, sixteen and twenty-four notes per bow.
Then I continue with arpeggios. I play four notes in each bow, concentrating on shifting
and my left-hand position. I try to relax my left elbow, so that it can turn towards my
chest to feel comfortable in the high positions. The thumb can come out from under the
neck and lightly touch the side of the fingerboard when moving into a high position. For
violists to reach the higher positions freely, we can help ourselves by turning the elbow
and moving the thumb out, so that the left hand almost keeps the shape it has in third
position. On the shifts, I try to relax the pressure of the finger Im sliding on, to achieve
the feeling of playing a harmonic.

I start the arpeggios from the same note and vary them harmonically (for example:
minor; major; first and second inversions; dominant 7th).

I finish with two octaves of double-stops, in 3rds, 6ths and octaves. I find that practising
double-stops is a good exercise to keep the left hand in position, so that my fingers are
not being lifted too far from the string without a reason.
Ask the Experts: how to encourage students to trust their ears
Strad readers submit their problems and queries about string playing, teaching or
making to our experts

In the 15th of the series, a reader asks what can be done to help young students
trust their ears and develop their inner sense of tuning? Three teachers give their

The dilemma I have two students who are struggling with learning ABRSM Grade 6
and 7 scales. Both are attempting to commit all the sharps and flats to memory as high
and low finger positions rather than trusting their ears to hear the scale pattern be it
harmonic or melodic minor, dominant or diminished 7th and place their fingers
accordingly. This seems to be part of a wider problem for both students, who try to
place their fingers in a mathemati cal way, rather than allowing their ears to listen for
intonation issues and adjust their fingers to compensate. How do I get them to trust
their innate sense of tuning, and is there an easy system for learning scale patterns?

CECILY MENDELSSOHN I agree that it would be beneficial to your students if you

could help them play their scales by ear. It will mean you can also put away the scale
book for the next term!

First of all, can you get them to sing? They may be reluctant as young teenagers if
theyre not used to doing so, in which case you could try teaching them together. This
would also be more fun for them and for you.

Here are some ideas to build up their aural skills progressively, with scales in mind.
Start on the first finger for each of the following exercises:
*Play the first half of a major scale. Ask your pupils to play it back to you. You can
vary the rhythm to make it more interesting, and you can start anywhere on the
instrument as they improve some sliding around to find the notes is quite acceptable!
Then show them how the finger pattern of the first half matches that of the second half
its just on the next string.
*When your pupils are ready, repeat with the first half of a minor scale. In time, you can
repeat this idea with the second half of the minor scales, one at a time but be prepared
for this to take longer because the finger pattern is different.
Your students may not quite realise that they only have three scale tunes to learn! They
should soon be ready to sing and play a whole octave of any of the three (still starting
on the first finger each time), anywhere on the violin.

The next stage is to start on a specific note, playing each octave separately, and only
joining up the second or third octave when each one is known thoroughly. The same
applies when it comes to adding slurs. Although starting each octave on a first finger is
a simple pattern to learn, it may not be the most useful one for scales; and it can be hard
to pitch the notes on the way down. Also, starting on a first finger is no use at all for
diminished 7ths, so once the tune of the first octave is sung and played, it will be helpful
to have a finger chart to memorise. However, the good news is that starting on a first
finger works very well for major and minor arpeggios and dominant 7ths, so when you
next see your students, perhaps thats where you could begin!

YVONNE FRYE Any string player must be able to imagine the note theyre about to
play before putting their bow on the string. A good way to improve ones abilities in
this regard is to sing the notes with the help of sol fa notation: before students start to
play a note, see if they can sing it out loud.

Begin by giving them one-octave scales at a singable pitch. Then extend the range to
three octaves, letting the students sing an octave higher or lower depending on their
natural voice. You should find that their fingers will start to follow the ear and not the

To help with intonation, you could let the students play the whole scale with just one
finger. This prevents them from thinking in terms of finger patterns, and forces them to
follow the sound theyre making instead. In addition, while your students play a scale,
you can support the intonation by playing your own instrument an octave lower at the
same time.

At a later stage, you could ask the student to play one note of the scale and sing the next
one before moving on. Continue in this way through the whole scale. This exercise is
not as easy as the others, but it is very helpful when it comes to ear-training. If the
student sings the next note out of tune, the teacher can sing the correct one for them as a

Inner hearing skills should be taught from the very beginning. A great method that
provides this in a unique way is Colourstrings, for which there are many books to help
beginner violinists develop their inner hearing skills in addition to improving their

TERI EINFELDT There are three steps to this answer. The first is to make sure the
student truly understands intervals, whole tones, semitones and ringing tones. The
second is for the student to understand how each scale is constructed in terms of whole
tones, semitones and/or augmented 2nds. The third is for the student to be able to sing
or hum each of the aforementioned tones and intervals. If they can think of the distance
between each note of the scale (humming it beforehand) and know which notes of the
scale will ring if they are in tune, they will be successful. As with all new tasks, many
repetitions are required before it becomes a natural part of the process.
When putting together three octaves, always repeat the tonic note. This gives the ear a
chance to hear the scale from the beginning note, showing that the first time the tonic is
played, it is the last note of the first octave; and the second time, it serves as the first
note of the next octave. Once the second octave is secure, add the third. When all three
octaves are secure, remove the repeated tonic notes. You can ask the student to stop
before the last note of the octave, then have them hum the pitch and after that play the
tonic as the first note of the next octave.

I know too well how easy it is for my students to rely on their ear alone to play their
scales. It is my job to ensure they understand what they are playing as they utilise all the
advantages of their well-trained hearing. If there is a combination of intellectual and
aural understanding, it will be much easier to apply this knowledge to all other
repertoire they will encounter on their musical journey.

After a varied career of tutoring and playing, Cecily Mendelssohn teaches privately and
helps to run Stringwise childrens courses in the UK

Yvonne Frye has taught at the East Helsinki Music Institute since 2007, and teaches
violin pedagogy at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland

Teri Einfeldt is chair of the Suzuki department at the Hartt School Community Division
of the University of Hartford in Connecticut, US
6 ways to improve your string crossing
Tips for even and seamless string crossing from The Strads archive

One of the secrets of a smooth bow arm, and of seamless, legato string-crossings, is to
bow between the levels of the four strings. A good way to make string-crossings
rounded is to practise them as double-stops or to leave out the left hand and just play the
bowing pattern on open strings.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, December 2009

The whole arm from the shoulder should be used, and not the wrist, except in certain
exceptional cases. A flapping wrist is no help in crossing strings, but will cause
irregularity in tone and time. A supple wrist need not move to prove its suppleness, as
some enthusiastic players seem to think. The sound will tell everything and must be the
chief consideration.
Joy Calvert, The Strad, September 1948

For continual change of two strings, choose that elevation of the elbow which would
suit the stroke on both strings together, so that the hair will lie full on the farther
(thicker) string, but with its edge only on the nearer (thinner) one. Should you choose
the elevation according to any one string among the two, you would either roll the bow
over backwards on the far string, or overdo the bend of the hand on the nearer one.
Carl Courvoisier, The Strad, September 1893

When moving from G to C string on the cello, the wrist movement required for this
purpose is greater than on the other strings. But it must be remembered that the wrist
must never sink below the level with the forearm; nor should the movements of the
wrist be sudden or self-intentional.
E. Van Der Straeten, The Strad, November 1895

To cross smoothly from one string to another, the bow has to start moving towards the
new string while it is still playing the old string. This is a good example of technical
timing as opposed to musical timing. Musical timing is when you want the note to
sound; technical timing is always before the sound. If the string crossing movement is
made too late, so that the technical timing is almost the same as the musical timing, fast
passages may feel unnecessarily awkward; slow, legato passages may contain unwanted
accents. You can easily improve string crossing passages by deliberately crossing too
early. Play the note before the string crossing and the note after it as a double stop.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, January 1997
In crossing strings the wrist will be raised in crossing from a higher (or front) to a lower
(or back) string and reversely dip or bend downwards when crossing from a lower to a
higher string, and this whether up or down bow.
John Dunn, The Strad, March 1897
Every bow movement should be calculated, says violinist
Aaron Rosand
The American maestro discusses the need for relaxation and finesse for good tone

Auer stated that no hard-and-fast rule existed for how the second, third and fourth
fingers grasp the bow. I hold the violin as directly centred as possible. Someone with a
longer arm might have to move the violin over a couple of inches in order to always
play parallel to the bridge. I hold the bow with my third finger on the eye of the frog
and I usually keep it there. The hand is rounded, Im using all the fingers. The little
finger is always resting on the bow behind the third finger; it doesnt exert pressure but
balances the bow. The thumb is bent and presses on to the frog, where it rests all the
Much of the secret of good tone comes from control of the bow. The obsession today is
with big tone. Too often the tendency is to press harder, but all that happens is that the
player works harder and achieves less. The arm should not play a part in the production
of tone. Sometimes I tell my students: Look, youre not ironing a shirt; youre trying to
draw the sound out of the instrument, not press the tone into it. Something has to be
sacrificed when you are pressing hard like that.

Pressure actually decreases the sound. When you go past the centre of the bow and
press, the bow will begin to quiver. People who bow that way are afraid of losing
control of their bow and will often move rapidly away from the centre of it because
theyre afraid that it will shake or that they will drop it when sustaining a long note.
They also compensate by tightening the bow hair so much that theres no longer any
vibration of the stick. If the bow doesnt vibrate it will not produce the individual sound
that every fine bow can. Suddenly, the sound becomes smaller because about a third of
it is being lost.

Every move of the bow has to be calculated. I often compare bowing to a game of
billiards. Its not about knocking the ball into the pocket; its about where you set the
cue ball for the next shot. Not enough thought is given to where the bow should be for
the note after the one youre playing now.

There should be no break in the sound with the bow change. Drawing the bow to the tip,
there is a light turn that corresponds to a similar turn at the frog, so its like a figure of
eight. The result is seamless, lyric sound. People who havent learnt how to move the
bow to the frog never quite reach the frog or the tip and play in effect with two-thirds of
the bow.
Correct posture can significantly improve your playing,
writes Aaron Rosand
Good standing and sitting positions, and avoiding using a shoulder rest, are all
important for optimum performance, says the American violin virtuoso

Have you ever stopped to think that if it looks good it will sound
better? Appearance is an important part of the complete package, and more attention
should be given to this integral factor. Whether you play an audition or give a
performance, your appearance and deportment has a lot to do with your success. When
you look like you know what you are doing, the playing will exude confidence. This
may well be the key to succeeding in your endeavor.

For standing position, a good stance may be achieved by bearing in mind that your
body weight rests primarily on your left leg. Remember that the violin rests on your left
side and is the reason for the principal weight on that side for balance. Do not spread
your legs too far apart. Twelve to fourteen inches is enough to give you proper balance.
Keep your knees flexed, do not stiffen, and your right leg must be relaxed. When
shifting your weight, your right leg may move forward; always return to the normal
position with the right leg and do not start walking. Moving around is not a good habit.
Think of Jascha Heifetz whose legs were like a tree trunk. Focus all of your movement
on your hands and keep your mind solely focused on the music.

For sitting position, keep your back straight. Keep your violin in proper playing
position with scroll pointed to the music and not to the brass section. Do not slouch or
cross your legs or spread your legs too far apart. Make sure that you have enough space
to bow properly and get to the tip staying parallel to the bridge.

How do you hold the violin? This is a question that I frequently ask and most young
players cannot answer. They point to the shoulder rest which is a sorry excuse for
holding the violin. Heifetzs reply to a young student who said that he could not play
without one was Take up the cello! Yehudi Menuhin in his book states that it should
rest on the collar bone. Most of the great players that I have known are in total
agreement with this, and not one ever used the shoulder rest. When the violin is on the
collar bone, the left shoulder moves slightly under the violin. Your left elbow should
move inward and well under the back of the violin. This will put your left-hand fingers
in the ideal position for intonation and controlled vibrato. The violin is sometimes held
leaning on the fleshy part of the left thumb and at times with chin down for rapid
passage work or descending passages from higher positions. There is a constant
interplay of these parts and they must always be relaxed. Do not clutch the neck of the
violin with your left hand. The thumb must remain free to glide easily.

You must remember that the violin is an instrument that must be held. Your shoulders
must be bent slightly inward, and in this way the natural weight of your bow will
produce a beautiful sound without additional pressure. With a shoulder rest your right
arm is more extended. You have to put more pressure on the bow forcing the sound.

More and more violinists of today are obsessed with a big sound and pressing the bow
constantly, devoid of attention to dynamics. The nuances, subtleties, and textures are
neglected as a result of the position and angle of the violin when a shoulder rest is

Always stand straight and keep your head high. Avoid crouching and keep your neck
relaxed at all times. Tension in your neck will create problems. Breathe naturally while
playing, and do not hold your breath as it will cause grunting and unnecessary sounds
while you play.

The best solution to improve playing is to remember to be as comfortable as possible at

all times. If you have pain in your arms, neck, or back, stop what you are doing. Try to
analyse what the problem may be and experiment with other positions. Being
comfortable will help you achieve more gratification from your work and certainly
provide more enjoyment.
6 tips for improved coordination
Guidance from The Strads archive for greater synchronisation between left-hand
fingers and bow

Whenever we articulate with the left hand, there can be an almost imperceptible portato
in the bow: the right hand moves as we lift a left-hand finger, or as we put one down.
Its very hard to separate the two, and so we form bad habits. You can improve your
coordination by using almost any piece ever written. Begin by playing the piece you are
learning using just the right hand, doing all the bowings and string-crossings on open
strings.Julie Albers, The Strad, January 2015

In many cases it is easier for the bow to be ready to play a note than it is for the left
hand fingers to be ready on the string. The bow must always wait for the finger to be
down before the bow sounds the note. The left hand fingers always lead. If the finger is
not ready, a moment of fuzz is caused by bowing the half-stopped string. A simple
way to demonstrate perfect coordination is to play pizzicato: the difference in timing
between putting the finger down and plucking is then automatic.
Simon Fischer, The Strad , October 1993

The performance of a perfect messa di voce swelling and diminishing a long note
requires an interplay of tensions and relaxations that exists only in a perfectly balanced,
dextrous technique. To master the messe di voce, then, is to conquer technique and
coordinate yourself ideally at the instrument. The string, the bow stick and hair, and the
players arm are all flexible and resilient. Together they create a system of springs that
not only withstand pressure but thrive under it.
Pedro de Alcantara, the Strad, June 2004

Dont study op.35 no.6 Allegretto scherzoso concentrates on two main aspects of
technique: coordination, and speed and mobility of fingers when executing trills. The
more frequent mistake made by pupils working on coordination is found in the almost
automatic accent placed by the bow on the last note of each group. To avoid this I
recommend playing the figuration by isolating each first note. Then try to continue the
bowing in a similar way, irrespective of what the left hand is doing.
Zakhar Bron, The Strad, April 1999

The bow may easily get ahead of the fingers in fast passages because bowing actions are
often more straightforward than finger action. The bow may simply be moving up and
down on the same string while the left fingers have many complex actions to perform
changing shape from note to note, dropping from different heights, some being placed
early on the string, some being placed after shifts, and so on.
Simon Fischer, The Strad, October 1996

Avoid all exaggerated, and especially all superfluous movements of the fingers: (a) No
finger should leave the string unless obliged to do so; (b) Wherever and whenever a
finger can take its place, before the bow has to play its tone, it should do so. The
practice of deliberate anticipation and delay does not favour a want of precision in the
feeling of the fingers. On the contrary, it drills them into a far finer feeling for accuracy
of time then the habit of placing the fingers for the duration of their notes only; for it
compels them not merely to watch the moments of coming and going for their own
sake, but also to keep in conscious communication with the other fingers and with the
bow as to precision in time.
Carl Courvoisier, The Strad, March 1893
10 views on the benefits of slow practice
Debate on how best to harness slow practice from The Strad Archive

One of the most important considerations is the choice of tempo at which to practise.
Teachers with a more or less pronounced streak of sadism have forced students to
practise long segments almost exclusively at an extremely slow tempo the slower, the
better. Aside from being extremely tiring such an approach does not bring the desired
results. The most appropriate policy is to take a best-fit approach to practising divide
it according to the purpose of the exercise and then assign the most suitable tempo for it.
For example, work on intonation, due to the control required, should be attempted in
small segments and at a rather slow tempo. Larger segments should be practised at a
tempo that ideally allows all the positive attributes of slow and normal tempos
maximum control with right movements. The Russian professor M.M. Beljakov named
such a tempo working allegro.Rok Klopi, The Strad, October 2006

Doing slow, analytical practice and studying orchestral scores and piano
accompaniments are essential. At the moment I am preparing for a concert at the Royal
Festival Hall in London, where I am performing John Taveners The Protecting Veil.
When I practise, I have to concentrate on a particular kind of long and sustained sound
in the highest register of the A string. In order to prepare I practise regular scales and
arpeggios with very slow and long bows, always listening to the quality of sound.
Raphael Wallfisch, The Strad, November 2014

Play slowly and practise short sections. If too much happens too fast, the brain cannot
notice small differences. Learning needs to happen in manageable chunks, and slowly
enough for the brain to notice critical bits of information. The greater the detail that can
be noticed, the richer the feedback loop of learning. If we cannot manage the learning
process, it is simply because we have bitten off more than we can chew. By working
one step at a time, slowly enough, we ensure a successful process of achieving
Piet Koornhof, The Strad, September 2002

The most important reason for practising with a metronome is to keep you slow. As
string players, we are always engaged in multitasking and if you leave out any of these
tasks, the music and technique both suffer. Being able to think of as many tasks as
possible is one of the main reasons why its important to practise slowly. It is a proven
fact that the more tasks you are able to perform at the same time, the quicker you will
benefit from the process of osmosis. Because we all have the tendency to play too fast,
we need an outside influence to keep us slow.
Gary Karr, The Strad, July 2010
In his excellent book Practicing for Artistic Success: The Musicians Guide to Self-
Empowerment, Burton Kaplan urges the necessity of finding the Tempo of Consistent
Control. To find your Tempo of Consistent Control, you will need a metronome. Then
try this process:

*Set the metronome to the tempo at which you think you can play the passage
*Begin playing
*Stop when you make a mistake even a small one and set the metronome 5-10bpm

Repeat this process until you can play through the passage with no mistakes. After
trying this a few times, you will begin to recognise what a Tempo of Consistent Control
feels like it is a calm, centered feeling that is entirely devoid of anxiety. Stay with
your Tempo of Consistent Control for at least four days, before moving on to the next
comfortable place you will be surprised how much more secure you feel at the next
stop on the metronome now that your foundation is strong.
Shelly Trampoosh, The Strad, October 2011

I play each section slowly, working on intonation, character and building up my tempo.
I push myself gradually. Some passages will take longer than others to play at a faster
tempo, but I dont move on the overall speed of any section of the piece until I am ready
to play the whole thing at that speed. For me, this makes the learning process much
faster; it helps to make sure that there are no sections of the piece that I fear. If I move
the whole piece on, then slow down for one difficult section until I can play it properly,
I am more likely to dread that section when I have to play it up to speed in performance.
Natalia Lomeiko, The Strad, February 2016

On breaking up the piece into short segments I can carefully address particular technical
challenges, such as intonation and coordination, without trying to be particularly
musical. This might include practising in rhythms, trying different bowings, very slow
practice and so on. When I try to go through the piece and bring it up to tempo, I record
myself and put tick-marks by the spots that are still not perfect. When I start my next
session I go to those particular spots, and when I feel completely secure I erase the ticks.
When there are no more ticks I feel pretty good.
Almita Vamos, The Strad, July 2015

At the moment Im practising the Kodly Solo Sonata for a concert. In some of the
perpetual motion sections, the metronome marking is = 160. I start at = 120 and run
the section through at that tempo before breaking it down. Where there are semiquavers
and four beats to the bar, I start by holding the first note for one beat and playing the
other notes as written. Then I increase the speed to = 126 holding the second note of
each group, then to = 132 holding the third, = 128 holding the fourth, then = 144
for a group of eight. I gradually work up to = 160.
Alisa Weilerstein, The Strad, June 2015

Generally for Bach, tempo has to be built up with time. I have a week to practise the
Sixth Suite, so I start off playing the Prelude slowly, and only after three days, when my
body has had a chance to get used to each position, I start speeding up little by little. By
the sixth day Im finally playing at the correct tempo. That said, theres always a certain
degree of freedom in the Bach Suites Im more concerned with retaining the dancing
mood and the colours of the piece.
Maxim Rysanov, The Strad, January 2014

In difficult passages, I find it helps to tackle a two-minute excerpt by playing it through

at a moderate pace. Then evaluate and pick several smaller sections from that same
excerpt, and work on them, as slowly as necessary, until you understand what is wrong,
why, and what the solutions are. Build up speed, phrasing, dynamics and then try the
original excerpt again. You could try pretending you are giving yourself a lesson. What
would you tell the student you about the passage that isnt working? More often than
not, youll have a pretty good idea of where the answer lies.
Yevgeny Kutik, The Strad, December 2015
Never practise for more than five hours per day, says violinist
Itzhak Perlman
When you put a sponge in the water, after a while it reaches saturation point, just like
our brains

What are the pitfalls of practising? Well, if you dont practise thoroughly you can get
yourself into a situation where not only do you fail to accomplish what you set out to
achieve, but you can make the situation worse! A lot of practising involves repetition,
and if you repeat something out of tune for five hours a day, your brain will remember
that repetition. Thereafter, every time you play that passage, it will be out of tune. The
same goes, sometimes, for works you performed as a kid. If you played something at six
or seven years old, 10 or 20 years later, the mistakes of childhood will come back to
haunt you.
When kids ask me for an autograph, I always sign my name and then write, Practise
slowly! Thats my message to them. If you practise slowly, you forget slowly. If you
practise very quickly, maybe it will work for a day or two and then it will go away,
because it has not been absorbed by your brain. Its like putting a sponge in the water. If
you let it stay there it retains a lot of water.

I dont practice regularly any more just as needed. By now I have enough experience
to know when a particular passage needs work. I dont do scales and exercises but
young people should not copy me in this! I did my scales due diligence when I was
growing up especially with my first teacher, who was a scale fiend. I would practise
an hour of scales every day and an hour of etudes every day. These really helps when
you study new pieces with basic technical challenges. I tell my students, If you do your
scales properly it will save you a lot of time.

There are a lot of people who believe that the more you practise the greater the
improvement, but I dont believe that. Again I cite the sponge example. When you put a
sponge in the water, after a while it reaches saturation point. Keeping it in there for any
longer wont help, as its absorbed as much as it can. Thats the way our brain works.
Generally speaking, I never practise more than about three hours a day sometimes in
the summers I might practice an extra hour. I would say five hours is the absolute
maximum. After that it can cause physical problems.
Violinist Itzhak Perlman on conquering performance nerves
Know your enemy, says The Strads August 2015 issue cover star

Nerves are part of what we do and the thing is to be familiar with them. Its not about
getting rid of them; its having the ability to say, OK Im feeling nervous, so my
playing will be affected, but not in any way that I havent dealt with before. You want
to know your enemy so there are no surprises.
But nerves are a funny thing and they often appear when you least expect it. I still suffer
from them I can play a small concert in a small town and all of a sudden I will become
nervous for absolutely no reason, whereas the big concert in an important place will be
absolutely fine. If you assume that you will be nervous and then you arent, it will be
the icing on the cake.

You must always play for your audience. Trying to figure out what the composer wants
may be a personal process but ultimately you want to share this with your listeners and
to invite their involvement in your interpretation. The one thing you must not do is to
say, This is none of your business; Im going to play in my own little cubicle and you
just happen to be there. You have to communicate to the audience, Listen, this is what
I feel about this piece. If you can do that, despite the nerves, you have succeeded.
Children must develop early independence in learning, says
violinist Pinchas Zukerman
The veteran violinist and violist speaks to Charlotte Gardner about how personal
experience informs his teaching

A former student of my wife Amanda Forsyth decided to start a morning cello class
for two, three and four-year-olds. This wasnt Suzuki it was about real music. She
asked me if I would play to the kids, so as an experiment I performed a three-and-a-half
minute Sarabande by Bach no nursery rhymes this time and when I finished there
was a silence that you wouldnt believe. Then is sweet little blond guy of about
three said, IM ON FIRE!!! It was absolutely beautiful!

This isnt to say that Suzuki cant be a good start, but it doesnt help with the next
stages of development, when the child is six or seven and they have to start learning
how to read and spell. You cant just learn by rote or by ear. And especially if the child
doesnt have a natural ear if they require aural training Suzuki is really not going to
help at all. Of course, it is a good system for establishing a musical relationship between
parent and child because they can learn the steps together, but after six or eight months,
thats enough and the child has to learn to think for him or herself.

I would definitely rather teach a child without a parent in the room although
sometimes its very difficult to convince the parents of that! I want to be able to treat the
student in a mature way, and to establish a relationship, and thats very difficult with the
parent present. When I first started learning the violin, my father came with me, but my
teacher asked him to leave. Although my father couldnt believe it, I came on my own
to the next lesson walked on my own to the teachers house and it established
independence. This is why we have schools. The parents dont sit in the classroom, do

The first time I left home when I was 13, I flew all the way from Tel Aviv to New York.
For the first six months, maybe seven or so, I was a miserable little boy. I didnt know
what had happened to me. But at the same time I learned so much of what I still put into
practice today especially about relationships. It was only when I hit the bottom
psychologically and emotionally, that I developed a true understanding of life.

Nowadays when my students speak to me, they do so as a teacher, but also as someone
that really understands why, and what it is you have to do to become a better player, a
better musician, a better person.
How should string teachers deal with naturally unmusical
It may be sad to say, but some pupils have no gift for playing at all, says Royal
Northern College of Music senior lecturer in education, Philippa Bunting

Some pupils find playing a stringed instrument really difficult. Physically, aurally and
tonally, and despite the best efforts of teachers, pupil and probably parent, they really
just dont get it.

Im not talking here about the dont want to type of pupil. Any amount of resistance
can prevent a child from accepting instruction, and there can be any number of reasons
for it. Nor am I questioning the value of learning an instrument per se, as every child
has the right to learn music and discover the rich benefits it can bring. And I could not
deny that I have learnt more as a teacher from those pupils than any others. Im talking
about the children who want to improve their musicianship and are prepared to work
steadfastly at it, but who just genuinely cant get the hang of it. Some might inch
forward with such a tiny amount of progress that others around though not usually the
child lose patience.

Our relationship to pupils is somewhat different from that of a teacher of a compulsory

curriculum subject. Where there is an element of choice, especially if that choice has
implications in terms of time and money, the question of whether learning an instrument
is worthwhile becomes not only one of the quality of the experience itself, but of the
likely end result. People are used to getting concrete things in return for their money,
and parents or schools purchasing lessons for children are no different.

There was one pupil of mine who apparently had no elbows. He genuinely used his
arms as one unarticulated whole, making playing really difficult. Together we went
through what seemed like the entire available repertoire for beginner violinists. The
parents were supportive, we kept trying, eventually that elbow found its bend, and hes
still playing the violin today.

As we know, its not always like that. The parents of children who struggle can often be
those who are keenest on external marks of success, such as grades and scholarships.
This means that we, as teachers, are potentially caught in rather a nasty morass of guilt
and deception. How do you explain that, despite learning for three years, your pupil is
just not ready to be measured by even the tiniest external yardstick? You can engineer
positive performance opportunities right from the start of their lessons, but at some
point the fact that a pupil cant play a recognisable tune with any reliability is going to
get noticed.
We can blame it on lack of practice, and indeed sometimes that is the root cause, but
theres something else at play too. Look at drawing. Abstract splotches are all very well,
but if animals, houses and vaguely recognisable people dont start appearing soon,
parents worry. Only they wont usually have a teacher to blame.

Have I advised a pupil to give up? Yes, once, but she was a dont want to and a
teenager to boot. She came to my lesson with her mother the only part of the week
when they spent any time together. The two of them would almost always arrive on the
doorstep barely speaking and simmering with rage. The argument was always about the
same thing: mum wants daughter to learn the violin and take part in the family string
quartet; daughter is utterly determined to play the guitar, preferably plugged into
something very loud. Her lessons with me were like pulling teeth, every scratch, scrape
and infelicity of tone a reproach to her mother.

For the sake of their relationship, and perhaps my own sanity as well, I suggested she
give it up, or at the very least, take lessons in guitar too. Her violin playing improved
markedly just from the fact of having her voice heard. But she still stopped at the end of
that term.

Otherwise I have never asked a pupil to give up, on the basis that its not for me to
decide. Some children develop less quickly than others, and as long as they want to
continue playing, my job is to facilitate that the best way I can. Even if I might be
hoping that they dont tell too many people they learn with me. Not with thatbow hold.

As teachers in the 21st century, we often shy away from talking about achievement.
There was no such squeamishness in earlier times. To quote Arthur Broadleys Chats to
Cello Students from 1915: I do not know of a more pathetic sight than to see a youth
with no musical gifts whatever wasting the best years of his life and his or his parents
money in the study of an instrument for which he has no natural capabilities.
Music teachers must learn to correctly respond to student
Students learn most from making mistakes in their playing, and its up to the teacher to
find the right way of dealing with them, says Royal Northern College of Music senior
lecturer in music education Philippa Bunting

Have you ever made any teaching mistakes, I wonder? If so, how did you recover? Do
they still sit on your conscience, a terrible blot, or have you assimilated them? Learnt
something? Moved on? And what about your pupils? Have they ever misplayed,
mispitched, miscounted, miscommunicated or just downright misunderstood

All of us learn best from our mistakes. Painful as they may be to make, and agonising to
reflect upon, these are the moments when we grow the most. And the attitude we take to
the mistakes our pupils make will say a lot about us as teachers. Do we laugh,
encouragingly or otherwise? Do we wince visibly, emitting sharp little intakes of breath
every time a note is not perfectly in tune? Or, as I once observed in a very eminent
teaching studio, drop our collective head into our hands, collapse on to the desk and
mutter, barely audibly: Oh my God, how ghastly I cant listen to a note more.

We always tell our pupils that we would much rather they give a committed,
communicative performance with mistakes than a robotic, technically perfect one, and
they rarely ever believe us. Is there something in the culture they are picking up that we
could work on eliminating? Given that they are drinking in every detail of how we are
as people as well as musicians, are we ourselves modelling an approach to error that is
helpful, or pandering to the perfectionist that lurks so close to the surface?

Of course, standards and quality are key to our whole enterprise. And they are there all
along, not just in the heady upper ether, where the clinical perfection of the recording
studio provides yet another layer of criticality for our aspiring young musicians to
negotiate. But is the most healthy way to guard those standards always striving for, and
only tolerating, perfection? Are the best musicians necessarily those who make fewest

Recently, the question has been raised of whether teachers are too kind. Another
question whether criticism automatically makes better players than encouragement
has not. For me, that particular argument seems to suggest that there is only one kind of
teacher that suits everybody, and only one kind of teacher is best at all stages of
development. Both of those ideas are surely nonsense. Although undeserved praise is of
course fatuous, its opposite can leave scars.
There is a particularly sterile school of teaching, which goes something like this: pupil
starts playing a piece prepared at home, and plays through until the point at which
teacher identifies a mistake. Teacher stops pupil: No. Thats wrong. It should be X. Try

Pupil sighs inwardly, returns to the beginning and makes a second attempt, this time
aware of the potential wrongness and anticipating it. One of two things happens: pupil
passes the point safely and continues until the next problem is identified, or, mired in
anxiety, slips again.

All the energy of the lesson focuses on that point of negativity, and all phrasing is lost.
The interaction between teacher and student stems wholly from this central cause, a
kind of depressing and too frequent cadence point. The problem becomes the lesson.
And often not just the problem in toto, but localised to a particular point in a particular
piece of repertoire. It takes years of experience to be able to apply a solution developed
for one circumstance to other, similar ones, and that experience is exactly what
our pupils (in most cases not having lived as long as us) lack.

Logically speaking, the terminus of that idea is that the pupil needs to perform the entire
repertoire in front of the teacher until it is performed perfectly, the teacher is no longer
needed, and the pupil is free to go. Thats an awful lot of learning time long years
indeed, and potentially rather tedious ones.

Eighty per cent of what we teach is who we are, says Eric Booth, author of The Music
Teaching Artists Bible. How we handle mistakes, our own and those of our pupils, is
an important part of that 80 per cent. Do we focus on being good, or on getting better?
By striving for perfection, are we pretty much guaranteeing failure? In trying to avoid
mistakes, are we missing a whole lot of wonderful things along the way?

As musicians, we are human beings speaking to one another through art, and part of
that, surely, is allowing our vulnerability to show.
Why are string players today so afraid to use portamento?
Composers expected it and the music itself seems to demand it. Tully Potter argues for a
return to swoops and scoops

Two of the most basic characteristics of both singing and string playing are legato and
portamento. They are intimately connected indeed, connection is what portamento is
all about but for the past 50 or 60 years, many string players have misguidedly tried to
avoid any kind of slide. W.S. Gilbert would call this kind of idiocy good taste

Certainly, any string music written in the hundred years up to 1945 requires the use of
portamento even such modern composers as Ravel and Bartk would never have
encountered a violinist, violist or cellist who did not practise it. Had they realised
performers who wholly misunderstood their music would come along, these two
pernickety characters would no doubt have marked their scores even more meticulously.

Much of the time, when we speak of portamento we are thinking of the downward slide
or swoop. But the upward slide, or scoop, is often valuable as a means of giving a lift to
the rhythm, as vital in slow music as in fast. Portamento or glissando can even be used
as an embellishment listen to the way the cellist Emanuel Feuermann plays the finale
of Schuberts Arpeggione Sonata. Is it not exhilarating? We have become so po-faced in
both our execution and our appreciation of music that no one would dare to do anything
like it today.

I cannot believe that portamento was not in use even before the Romantic era. Would
Mozart have played the Adagio of his G major Violin Concerto without slides? The
phrases positively demand them, and in Leonid Kogans beautiful recordings we can
hear perfect execution of both downward and upward portamento. There are similar
passages in Bach, Handel and the Baroque Italians. The beginning of Beethovens B flat
major Quartet op.130 sounds so much more convincing if the phrases are joined up, as
they are by the Busch Quartet.

When I play friends the 1928 recording of Nedbals beautiful Valse triste by the evck
Quartet, in the arrangement by the groups second violinist, laughter is often the
response. I must admit that the players left hands are so constantly on the move that
they are hardly in one place for more than a millisecond; yet the tuning is lovely, and
the overall effect is uniquely evocative of its period. Less extreme but equally valuable
lessons in portamento can be heard on the Musical Art Quartets disc of Annie Laurie,
arranged by the players violist friend Lillian Fuchs, and the two Christmas carols
recorded by the Flonzaley Quartet in arrangements by its second violinist.
As I see it, the great players of the past used downward portamento in three ways: for
transport from one note to another; for joining up the notes into a coherent phrase, as a
singer would do (hence the expression breath glide); and for expressing spontaneous
emotion. I suppose it is this expressive portamento that attracts the most opprobrium
today, and I have to concede that Huberman sometimes executed it in an ugly way.
Tertis at times went too far on the viola, Sammons on the violin although I love them
both dearly. For my taste, Kreisler, Busch, Thibaud, Szigeti, Morini and Casals all
managed it pretty well. The old-timers often avoided the even-numbered positions and
worked on the principle of one phrase, one colour, one string, a maxim that still has
validity. String playing has undeniably progressed since the dawn of recording, yet we
should not throw out the connective-portamento baby with the expressive-portamento

I would be happy to rest my case on three violinists. Fritz Kreisler had a sublime feeling
for portamento, through which he contrived to transport us straight to the heart of
Vienna. David Oistrakh played with such expansive generosity that it was inevitable
portamento would form part of his armoury, yet his playing always had a kind of
nobility. Perhaps the finest master of portamento, however, was Jascha Heifetz, and the
better he knew the music he was playing, the more portamento he employed (try his
solo Bach the D minor Partita, which he performed most often, features the most
slides). You do not have to go along with everything that Heifetz did, and I do not. But
when it comes to portamento, he led the way.
Why cant players get vibrato right?
Vibrating need not compromise purity of tone if its done tastefully, says Tully Potter,
who takes to task those who overplay, misplay or completely disown it

We live in an age of too many certainties, and string playing has not escaped the
attentions of the fundamentalists. If I had a pound for every word of nonsense that has
been vented on the subject of vibrato, especially by Roger Norrington, I would be a rich
man. I hesitate to add to the stream of vibrato-guff, but at a time when modern
orchestras are prohibited from playing old music, while the period brigades move their
entrenchments forward to encompass Elgar, Mahler and the like, perhaps a mere listener
may have his say.

I do not like hearing Mozart, whose style is founded on singing, without vibrato,
although Haydns more bracing, contrapuntal style can take it. Nor do I enjoy
Beethovens music without vibrato: some passages can be effective when played senza
vibrato, and the greatest of all Beethoven players, Adolf Busch, employed that device.
But he told his students: If you play without vibrato, you could be feeling things as
deeply as anything, and no one would know it.

If the period players were serious about their calling they would have a different
armoury of vibrato effects for every national style, if not for each composer. Hungarian
music would be played with the Hubay schools wide wah-wah vibrato, for instance,
while French music would have quite a silvery finger vibrato, with now and then a spot
of right-hand vibrato produced solely with the bow, as Capet used to do. But I am happy
if each player comes before me on the concert platform with his or her own
painstakingly developed range of vibrato styles. I am also at ease with constant vibrato.

What I cannot stand, either musically or aesthetically, is the modern habit of beginning
a note straight and then starting to wobble in the middle of the note. It seems to have
started with the cellists Daniil Shafran being the most vulgar exponent but it has
spread to violists and violinists. When a player does it, I hear the note twice, as a sort of
uh-huh effect. It is jarring in a very tasteless way. If continuous vibrato is employed, it
should be continuous. As Lionel Tertis put it, The finger must remain and vibrate on
the string you are about to leave until you have actually begun to play the note on the
next string and this second note must immediately take up the vibrato of the note you
are just leaving.

String playing goes hand in hand with singing, although one discipline will be ahead of
the other at any given time. When modern orchestras began to play more and more
loudly, partly through the use of string vibrato, singers found they could compete better
if they too used vibrato. This use of vibrations to throw the sound evolved because
musicians had to play or sing in bigger and bigger auditoria, especially in America. I
dislike the later playing of Piatigorsky for this reason; and I can usually identify one of
his pupils within seconds.

Let us, by all means, encourage purity of tone in string playing. But that purity need not
rule out a tasteful use of vibrato, where the player really listens to himself or herself
when preparing and performing the music.