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Etude books


Lydia Leong
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I think working on etudes or scale systems are invaluable, IMO. Obviously, there are two dimensions to knowing an instrument: learning/performing music and knowing your instrument (technique). The former is concerned with knowing a particular piece (particular notes) and your mental/muscular experience with or memory of that piece of music. Of course, this is the most important aspect of playing, and the reason why we all play: to perform to the best of our capability.

However, studying etudes or scale systems can help advance your technique (so that you may learn "real music" faster)....Not that you must necessarily do etudes or scale systems to learn pieces. However, I find that my advancement has a lot to do with my conscious feeling of comfort on the instrument. Physically, this means I must hold the violin and bow in a comfortable and efficient manner. However, mentally, this means that the more I inderstand *patterns*, the more comfortable I am when I play. The more patterns I learn, the more comfortable I am overall on the instrument. So, when I learn and understand scales, arpeggios, or parts thereof, I feel more comfortable on the instrument and feel more confident in general.

The key is, many of these patterns or fractions of patterns are applicable to "real" music. So, it's not a black-and-white issue, but if you become comfortable with scales and etudes, it will only help your playing. However, this must be a "fun" and organic understanding of technique, not technique for technique's sake, that is not the best "bang for your buck" (although slavishly practising technique will probably help you a little).

Personally, I don't do scales and arpeggios anymore, they bore me to death and I understand them enough so that if somebody asked me to play an f major arpeggio in 3 octaves I could do it. Point is, I would instinctively know how I would finger the arpeggio, based on my personal preferences and experience. When warming up, I do fractions of scales and arpeggios in different keys, whatever I feel like playing. I stress obtaining a cantabile quality in my playing, making sure my vibrato is applied to every note. Also, I concentrate on maintaining contact when I change bows at the frog and the tip. I practise various bow strokes: detache, spiccato, sautille, riccochet and parlando ("talking bow"). Also, the difference in tone colour when playing flautando over the bridge and playing in the "sweet spot" in-between the bridge and fingerboard. So I improvise, drawing upon the patterns that I'm comfortable with, and reinforcing the importance of certain fundamental vioinistic principles.

And, when I have time, I work on a Paganini etude. I find that working on such tecnically demanding passages helps my general level of playing greatly.

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