Sunday, August 30, 2009

Re: Improving bowing 090830

But, if you want to see a hand and fingers that release, thereby reflecting the friction between bow and string, as opposed to the energy being transferred at the wrist, catch Frank Almond. Notice the changing shape of the index finger as it becomes the infamous “dead fish.” I guess this is why Rolland used the word “Action” in the title of his book. Thus far, I have found this bowing action in all of the Dorothy Delay and Galamian students that I have observed. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I contribute regularly to, wherein many of my responses re my approach to teaching and performing may be of interest to my students and/their parents. (This first post will be lengthy.)


Re: Bowing

Don't forget the tactile aspect. Play a slow stroke softly. The bow is vibrating. Can you feel this on the pad of your third finger?

Posted on July 26, 2009 at 08:55 PM

Re: Performance anxiety

Exposure is always a new experience. I revised my approach to all things musical starting in 1995. Have a look at my progress: video at - then click Bio. The Piazzolla was my third piece and I had been "shaken" by flash photography during the first. I will be happy to tell more if you are interested.

Posted on July 30, 2009 at 12:18 AM

Greetings, Dimitri-

Re: Changing teachers

You have not convinced me that you have a good reason to be looking for another teacher. Understanding music actually is more important than technique, so you may be luckier than you realize to have your present teacher. How long has the Russian pro been teaching? Is you present teacher an amateur violinist? Have you read THE TEACHING OF ACTION IN STRING PLAYING, Rolland and Mutschler, or any ot the Gordon Music Learning Theory books? More please..

Posted on July 26, 2009 at 08:40 PM

Re: Testing students

There are Iowa Tests of musical aptitude available from GIA, Chicago. Learn more about assessing aptitude at - where there may also be information re instrument selection.

Posted on July 30, 2009 at 12:33 AM

Yes, I guess "test" is a loaded word. At the same time there are development sequences that can - and I believe should, be monitored. I see these as a curriculum guide so, then, the purpose of any test might be to offer the teacher and/or the school feedback rather than to qualify a student's aptitude or progress.


Re: Bowing

I agree with Buri. What matters is what the bow does to the string. Inhibiting movement is questionable. Has anyone seen the Rolland videos?

To Marty Dalton

The first issue is a soul issue. Are we teaching audiation (Edwin Gordon) or decoding: “D1, 2 Low, etc.”?

GIA publishes audiation materials, Michael Martin’s JUMP RIGHT IN, THE INSTUMENTAL SERIES, Violin, Books 1,2. I am working on companion materials. Below is a list of what I believe beginning mbvn aterials should include

· Goal oriented multifaceted lessons

· Key and mode emphasis instead of Positions

· Systematic building of musicianship

Aural understanding before visual

Emphasis on audiation supported by AUDIATION ASSISTANT

Using solfege

Introducing rhythmic materials with smaller fractional units

Using “Du” based rhythm syllables

Using oral echoing to gauge audiation

· Separate highlighting for left and right hand actions

· Parallel teaching of movement along the (“whole”) string

· Poem form for beginner’s pieces, a single phrase per staff system

To Leonard Young (UK)

May 3, 2009

I am replying "off-list" to avoid comments re Internet Explorer. Evidently you will need IE7 to reach my video, VIOLIN FOR MUSICIANS. GRAPEFLIX.COM will require a small fee to view, but the video was produced with musicians, such as yourself, in mind so I believe that it will bring value for money. I do hope that I hear from you re this production.


April 30(?), 2009

Re Conflicting styles

I have a student who also studies Indian violin. Since the pedagogy is closely linked to singing and to what I call Indian solfege - and there is no inhibition re shifting - I could not be happier to have this parallel study.


What is Suzuki?

Laurie wrote:

Shinichi Suzuki was a great man, with a beautiful and inclusive philosophy: that every person possesses innate musical talent, and that if it is properly cultivated, this talent can be a source of lifelong joy and music-making.

Yes, “every person posses musical talent” but this implies that we are all the same and can, therefore, be “properly cultivated” with the same black-and-white approach. I see too little evidence of any “life-long joy of music making” or, for that matter, of music-listening since the insidious demise of the Classical concert audience has paralleled the expanding dominance of Suzuki.

Suzuki observed that all children learn to speak their native languages..

But the language/music parallel has now had sixty years of university-based research, the results of which may never break through the Suzuki tooling represented by the Ten Books. These studies also recommend specific musical development prior to instrumental study.

The problem, really, was that this method worked all too well..

Someday, I hope, the truth about the high-powered, Suzuki marketing in the sixties and seventies will emerge. All those visits to Japan for teachers? Who picked up the tab?

Your violin teacher needs to know how to play the violin..

But inspired teachers teach everyone differently. If the Player is limited by the approach experienced as a student, and has not elected essential pedagogy study, he or she may not be a very good teacher.

After that, you have to trust your teacher's methods, whatever they are..

Except that – unless the teacher’s Method is Suzuki – it probably does not have a name. So, when a parent calls and asks for the name of my Method, ¾ thanks to Suzuki marketing, ¾ a name that is unknown to them will probably fail to inspire confidence! This creates the marketing survival necessity of claiming to be a Suzuki teacher.

I think that to completely dismiss the Suzuki method is just ludicrous. I've seen the results of setting a person straight in front of music, the slouching, un-musical student who never really gets the feel of it.

Ah, the crux of Laurie’s reply: If I am not a Suzuki teacher, my students will have poor posture and “never get the feel of it.”

A little rote learning can be a VERY good thing in the beginning, as long as the reading happens at the proper time (which in my opinion, is no later than halfway through book 1, if you use Suzuki books!).

Does this mean that there is Suzuki training that does not use the Books? The Suzuki students that I have encountered, however, are reading the coordinates created by the tapes on the finger-board as these visual markers cross under the strings. They never forget that “D” = “A3.” And, the mothers of young children in the Triangle will actually call out the coordinates. No, they do not sing to their children, but then singing to children has become a debatable practice.

Also, it's not true that Suzuki students are taught in groups; in the traditional Suzuki setting, students have a private teacher and they also attend group class.

This double exposure is a practice that we all need to adopt!

And, we all need a Rolland workshop with Marla Mutschler – June 22-26 at George Mason University in Virginia:

But I guess we will have to call it Suzuki if we want our marketing to work.

Apr. 1, 09

It is difficult to talk about playing without a shoulder rest without feeling like the Emperor's tailor. I think that you have to believe that the left biceps muscle supports the instrument and, that until it "learns" this role you will feel uncomfortable attempting this change. I usually introduce adults to this new balance with repeated, third finger harmonics on the "G" string starting first with the octave (middle of string) and moving to the next octave (quarter) at the high end of the string -while ensuring that the shoulders remain unengaged. I shall not go on unless you are interested.



Yes, I endorse the concept of goal-oriented teaching, but I do include musical goals and believe that these should be viewed as supplying an essential foundation. There are also questions, then of readiness. How does one determine the neurological readiness of a child - re physical coordination? But the newborn is ready to listen and can actually sing before she physically can talk!

Singing will tell you where the child's development is re musical goals. Executive, technical, or physical goals need separate assessment. Bread-making requires appropriate ingredients, combined with skill, and then, time and space to rise before we bake it. Repeated baking of unleavened bread will simply destroy it.

090222 RE Teaching first student

Greetings Raymond!

Your public library will probably supply the following if you request them:

THE TEACHING OF ACTION IN STRING PLAYING, Rolland Mutschler, Pub. Boosey and Hawkes (also available through ASTA)


Of course purchase is also a good idea!

You might also want to explore BLINK or OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell. Do also consider the complications of verbal overshadowing.

Have fun!

Helen Martin

Re: Degrees of separation

Would you agree that the secret of teaching is sensing how to respond to each unique individual? Then, the next question is: How might this be taught?


?Reading ledger lines?

Please go to my personal website- using Internet Explorer - and then click on SURE START SAMPLES. There you will find THE ELEPHANT AND THE MONKEY. My text implies that your read the Elephant as "Do, Mi-Mi, Do, Mi, Fa," and the Monkey as "Sol, Sol-Sol, Sol, Sol-Sol, Sol-La-Sol- Fa-Mi-Fa-Sol. Could it be this simple?

?(How do you wish you had started?)

What an essential discussion!

FWIW - I started when I was five, won competitions in my early teens including Concertmaster of PA All-State and a scholarships to Eastman and Indiana where I won an "Unanimous A." for a Wieniawski performance from a jury that included Janos Starker. But I actually had no idea what I was doing. I had made no connection between those annoying Theory classes and actual performance. By the way no one questioned my sight-reading skills, especially since I was a Principal in the IU Opera orchestra. At age 32 I " gave up!"

At 34, I wanted to use Death and the Maiden in a play I was writing so I got the violin out. The two-year hiatus may have saved me, but I did not really start to understand technique until I attended a Rolland/Mutschler course; and, practical understanding of how we become musical came with exposure to Edwin Gordon. So my early start and my respectable resume` do not reflect the reality of dealing with inadequate training. I sometimes visit the NYC sites for Saturday programs. I think I need to respect the expert vision that they represent as I structure my own teaching.


Why solfege?

I believe we need solfege. I do understand the value of Fixed Do, but movable is an essential element of every musician's training.

When you say it is childish, it sounds like you think it bears resemblance to the Emperor's New Clothes, but in this instance it will actually bring you much closer to realizing your full musical potential. You will, however, benefit from parking the resistance. Solfege comprises the roots of your musical tree, intonationally speaking. It will also enhance your security when playing from memory. And then there is rhythmic solfege! More? Google "Edwin Gordon."

Another post asked about dealing with ledger lines. Solfege is the essential tool for this challenge. Please go to my personal website- using Internet Explorer - and then click on SURE START SAMPLES. There you will find THE ELEPHANT AND THE MONKEY. My text implies that your read the Elephant as "Do, Mi-Mi, Do, Mi, Fa," and the Monkey (always) as "Sol, Sol-Sol, Sol, Sol-Sol; Sol-La-Sol- Fa-Mi-Fa-Sol. Could it be this simple?

Joke: I want my money back! I was an Eastman student when numbers were taught instead of solfege. (So I had to re-root my audiation skills.)


1. I thought the Tower Hamlets project, under Sheila Nelson, that began in London in the 70s, was the most realistic approach to motivation. But I returned to the US in 1984. Can anyone update me re this project or did Maggie T. kill it?

2. The Gordon Audiation approach contrasts formal vs. informal study with the latter (informal) offering an essential foundation so that drill as well as visual detours, such as tapes for decoding, become superfluous. But this does make the string teacher responsible for an awareness of the student's responses and development re singing and movement. Is this what we have in mind when we teach?


Are you aware of "building a balanced left hand" a la THE TEACHING OF ACTION IN STRING PLAYING, Rolland and Mutschler, Pub. Boosey and Hawkes? If you start with open string pieces,- such as Stanley Fletcher's HOE-DOWN,- consider using the fourth finger at the octave harmonic instead of the open string. Fletcher's NEW TUNES support the Rolland concepts.


A few years back I met a young, Swedish violinist who bemoaned the fact that he had had only group lessons. I wish that I had not lost touch with him because I do want to know more about class teaching that produces violinists who easily deal with works such as Kreisler's, Praeludium and Allegro and Danse Espagnole!

I initiated the following discussion-

"In winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candle light.

In summer quite the other way I have to go to bed by day.." Bed in Summer by Robert Louis Stevenson

At age four my daughter could repeat this poem after only one reading. I think we are overusing repetition. Our goals need to include listening with understanding.

Response from John Skelton, Musician, Teacher, Fishkill, NY

Most of you are looking at this from a technical point of view, going so far as to even suggest that intonation is somehow a motor skill (more on that below). As is often done, the acquisition of skills on a violin is compared to learning a sport or anything else physical. No one denies the need for repetition - that is the very nature of practicing. However, efficient practicing requires self-correction, which is something that only the mind can do. The fact of the matter is that executive skills (i.e. technique) aee best learned AFTER a basic understanding has been instilled (and not the other way around). In other words, you can't mindlessly repeat things in the hope of "freeing yourself for artistry". All that teaches you is how to be a robot - putting the emphasis on quantity (how many times you do something) vs. quality (how well you can do something).

What Helen is talking about is best compared to how you learn language; arguably, the most important skill we acquire of a conscious level. Infants do not mindlessly repeat sounds when they babble. They are making an attempt to imitate the sounds they hear while concurrently processing the results. It is an act of comparison and analysis and the skill of moving their tongues, vocal cords, and mouths to make more intelligible sounds is secondary.

This, consequently, is why intonation is not even remotely a 'motor skill'. Nor is it acquired by 'repetition'. It is acquired by comparing sounds produced to sounds known (or heard from others). True, it usually takes more than one attempt to get things in tune, but it is not the repetition of putting a finger down that teaches intonation, it is the understanding of the analysis that makes it a skill. If I asked you to play an F# on the D string, would it really matter which finger you used? I know a LOT of kids who are taught to get the 'correct' finger down but who simply cannot make a distinguishable difference between F sharp and F natural. These are students who are taught with repetition alone.

Also, with all due respect to Suzuki (since I learned via his method), learning an instrument is about problem solving, not automation. If it takes the proverbial 10,000 times to fix something (which, of course is hyperbole) then I prefer Edison's view on this: "I haven't failed. I have found 10,000 ways which do not work." The difference here is that there is a qualitative process at work, and not a guarantee that X number of times equals skill.

The bottom line is that effective musical performance requires a transcendence of technique. A player needs to be able to speak through his or her instrument without thinking about technique. He or she chooses where to put a note, how to play it, and in what manner to articulate it based upon hearing that sound ahead of time in his or her head. If all you do is mindlessly repeat technical issues, this will never happen. I believe that all Helen is trying to say is that one needs to pay attention to the bigger picture (i.e. an understanding of the sounds being created) from the outset and not let it be some nebulous goal once muscle memory is achieved.

To put it in Dr. Edwin Gordon's terms, one needs to develop one's audiation instrument if one wants one's executive instrument to work properly.

2009 August

A loss of inspiration.Life in general: Trying (and failing) to rediscover my love of the instrument.

From S.D.
August 24, 2009 at 08:08 PM

Posted on August 26, 2009 at 04:21 PM

Have you tried a litte Piazzolla. (Lots on YouTube.) I guess if I were in London, I would also want to check out the LGO..

Re: Improving bow techinque
Looking for advice on correcting a wayward bowing technique and 'whooshing' sound


I am grateful to a colleague who said,”What matters is what the bow does to the string.”

I can not comment on the shape, release, or tension without personal contact. I am wondering, however, if there may be fewer factors involved. 1. Your own expectations re tone or sound. 2. The physical feedback – excluding the visual – when you like what you are hearing. There are books and DVDs that will help, especially Paul Rolland materials. An awareness of these will help in your discussions with a teacher!


Thank you for suggesting a broader perspective. I do agree that time away from the instrument offers the most efficient way to deal with changing muscle learning. Do we violinists tend to be idiomatic?



Yes, that is the popular pedagogy. I am glad that it works for you. I guess I just disagree since the wrist movement that you describe caused me to lock my fingers on the bow. My father taught me to do this since he was of the late nineteenth-century, German school of playing which, evidently, was still prevalent in the Germany of the 1930s. I see the wrist as a junction that will release if is not locked as will any joint - including those of the fingers. I do believe that a light, short stroke will happen quite naturally when muscles are toned and the concept of releasing the weight of the arm into the string is dominant - as opposed to producing a certain "look"- which is sort of cart before horse since the shape of the hand, I believe, is a "beyond conscious control" result of the friction between the bow and the string.


I see little freedom and a lot of pressing and forcing from the "twinkle" variations. Also a lot of emphasis on "lookism" with the instrument pulled to the front for visual rather than tactile feedback. (It belongs below the left side of the jaw closer to the ear, not “bridge below nose.”) I believe in function creating form. Form can fool us. Ask Hugh Grant or Merle Streep.


My Rolland-Action exposure convinced me that it is best to introduce bowing with the short stroke at the balance point, as in Stanly Fletcher's HOE-DOWN, - including the variations. The benefits are a released shoulder joint, a buoyant elbow, and access to all four strings. The next step is "walking" the bow which opens the full length of the bow and takes the fear out of sustained strokes. Sadly, I am not finding this approach in today's popular pedagogy. Am I simply looking in the wrong places?


Anyway, have you ever been asked by a prospective student's parents to play something for them? What are your thoughts on them requesting this? If you agreed, did you play something slow, fast, both? If the parents are completely unmusical, what do they think they are actually going to discern? If the parents are musical, does this change anything?

I decided to start all over, this time paying really close attention to the questions. How trusting and vulnerable we are when we invite persons that we barely know into our studios. I think that, having been asked to play, I might want to know why. Students are clients as opposed to customers, but there is a balance between client and customer that is fading precipitously, threatening the professionalism of anyone who teaches. We do need to question any suggestion that we audition. I guess, ideally, my prospective "clients" would respond to my questions as I orchestrate the interview. With the proper atmosphere, I might entertain their inquiries. But, has the "worm turned?" Do students - or, in this case, their parents, now expect the teacher to fulfill expectations? I knew a Russian teacher, who left many parents gasping into the phone as he announced his requisite, three hours daily (student) practice. I wish that could work for me!

090815 Re: age and performing

I was born in 1940. Trauma from surgery caused Rheumatoid Disease to surface when I was 32 . Yes, just when the kids were off to school and I was going to start playing more. Marla Mutschler showed me how to release my bowing technique (1981) and Edwin Gordon exposed the flaws in my musical training (1995). New therapies (2006) have actually healed some of the damage.

I doubt that I can balance on a fence, so I will just have to keep improving. I heard Piazzolla's Tango Etude, #3 on NPR early last fall, ordered the music, and got started. It is not a piece for reading so I analyzed it, memorized section by section, and then, luckily got an invitation to perform at a benefit. The best way to reach the video (June 2009) is to click on bio at and scroll down. Of course I want to do a better job, which means a little more work on that Tango, but not before I get into more Piazzolla! So, please do come back often. (You may wish to pause the flash player at the bottom of the screen.)

Technically, I want muscles that support my joints. I need exercise - walking, swimming - for that "sprung" feeling. I am grateful to a colleague who said: What really matters if what the bow does to the string.

090808 Re: Repertoire selection

You can listen and watch Piazzolla, Tango, and Etudes - which you will want in your repertoire anyway - on you Tube. I started with Number 3. I also find the Albania Tango - with its duality and super build-up to be a crowd pleaser but do be careful since some persons react with tears-

Re- testing students for “talent”

Of course, exposure affects aptitude. We also need to be aware of stages of development. Matching pitch orally is a good example. An inappropriate response may be due to vocal chords that are unable to respond because of neglect, but it can also be what Edwin Gordon calls prior to shedding egocentricity. Simply stated, the student has not noticed that her/his pitch is different from the instructor's. Tonal aptitude might be assessed by comparing sets of tonal patterns.

We all need a trip to Venezuela! I won't post a link because you can just Google "Dudamel" or Simon Bolivar Orchestra." The 60-Minute article is also on YouTube!

If you are looking for an audiation approach, do visit my website-

Re: Cramming a five-year-old

I find this thread disturbing. I am concerned about you and your child. I think that you sense that these "means" can not actually justify anything. Also:You have not mentioned that your 5-year-old sings the Minuet, only your two-year -old. What about solfege? Is it part of your child's training? There is such a thing as listening with understanding but I see no evidence of it in this thread. There are other ways of becoming musical, methods based on how we learn rather than how some one taught. Be brave, check out Edwin Gordon's Music Learning Theory:

Re: Recording lessons

I found that recording a lesson tended to encourage "dealing with things later." But I do believe that recording a recap of the lesson during the last 3-5 minutes may be a good idea.