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CrazyManAndy

Some help & advice needed...

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Howdy,

I'm new to the forum, so I'll start with a little background if

that is all right.

My name is Andy and I am a music lover. I picked up the violin

around two or so years ago. For quite some time I wasn't very

motivated so I didn't do too much with it until my brothers and I

formed a band. My progress greatly increased and I became much more

motivated. I am still trying to get better and better.

Now, my problem:

I've neither had access to, nor the money for a teacher. I feel

this has in many ways hindered me, even though I have enjoyed the

freedom to some extent. I don't have much instruction material and

my practices can't even be considered practices. Since I don't

really know "how" to practice, I just play around with things and

eventually I get bored from the lack of structure/goals; this puts

my practices at about 20 to 30 minutes a day, if I'm lucky. I've

been using the "Don't Fret" thing which has helped with accurate

finger placement; however, it has become a little bit of a crutch,

and a very embarrassing one at that. I can play ok without it

(compared to playing with it) but not really at a "performance"

level, in my opinion. I think a lack of confidence/tensing up has a

lot to do with that though.

Popular music doesn't really require a lot of technical virtuosity;

many players don't even get out of the first position that often.

Generally speaking, the focus is on simplistic but distinct and

catchy playing (hooks), regardless of the instrument in question.

Since that is what we play (country/folk/pop/rock, I can't really

decide where to put it), I've gotten by without too much trouble.

But, it is still very frustrating. I lack the technical abilities

to accurately and effectively portray what my mind hears. I can

usually "play" it, but I can't express all the soul and

"musicality" of it that I feel inside. And besides, I'd rather have

the technical ability and not use it all than constantly fight an

up-hill battle.

All of this hasn't been that much of an issue, outside of my

personal journey with playing the violin, until we started to get

serious about our music and trying make something of it. It is no

longer just me and my bros kickin' back and writin' some tunes.

There is so much more to it now, along with a lot of added

pressure. Plus, I don't want the music to suffer. The way I have

been "practicing" isn't working and I've hit a plateau; I might

even be getting worse, lol. It's time for a change.

In order to wrap this post up, I think I'll just go ahead with some

questions (while trying not to sound too ignorant ):

1. How does one practice? Is there a good basic framework?

2. What is some great practice material to get (books, tapes, dvds,

etc.)? I've read about doing scales and etudes but I don't really

know much about them or implementing them.

3. How does one incorporate goals into practicing such as working

on left-hand technique or changing positions or getting rid of the

d*mn sticker?

4. What are some of the best ways to gain progress quickly? I fully

understand it is a constant journey, but I am eager to break this

plateau and make up for lost time.

I can't think of anything else to ask right now; besides, I already

have quite a lot to answer there. I know a teacher is usually

recommended but I can't get one at the moment. I will as soon as I

can though, hopefully before or when I turn 18 and can drive (I'm

currently 17 as of August 8th). Any comments and advice are

welcome.

Thanks for your patience!

Andy

(P.S. I don't know if it would matter, but you can hear a little of

my playing here: http://www.myspace.com/bobandbillmusic)

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Some suggestions:

1. Get a teacher. I know that's not possible, now, but maintain it as a goal.

The rest of the suggestions are for you working alone:

2. Get rid of the marking device on the fingerboard (whatever that is) and use your ear to tell you that the fingers are in tune. This assumes that every time you put your finger down, you think about whether it's in tune.

3. Work on the right hand alone for maybe 10 minutes a day. Bow open strings, sometimes with short, fast strokes, sometimes with slow, long strokes. Listen to the sound. Adjust the pressure you put on the bow and the position of the bow relative to the bridge so that you get a full sound that doesn't have any scratching in it. Bow parallel to the bridge.

4. Work on left hand alone, using the right hand for plucking the strings, instead of bowing. In first position, make up exercises that involve the first three fingers, such as open string alternating with first finger, a whole step away. Then open, whole step first finger, followed by whole step 2nd finger. Then do open, first, second, half step to third. Do this on all strings. Listen to intonation. Think about applying just enough pressure to the string to allow for a nice ringing sound, but avoid pressing so hard that you can't scoot the fingers up and down to adjust intonation.

5. Put the 2 hands together, playing your 0, 1, 2, 3 fingered pattern with bow. Listen always to the sound. Is it in tune? Move the fingers if not. Is it a pleasant sound? If not, think about your bowing as in 3 above. Make up more complicated finger patterns, such as 0, 2, 3, 1, 0, and try those patterns on all strings.

What I've outlined is about 3 months worth of work, 1/2 to 1 hour per day. Take your time. Practice slowly, always listening to intonation and the quality of your sound. You don't need books for these exercises. Vary the exercises to stress the things you have the most problems with. Having trouble with long strokes? Then do more exercises using long bow strokes than short ones.

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Hi Andy,

I must say you are a very talented (or gifted) young man.

My advice for you is that you should pay attention of building up "some basic" on the side. I recommend

(1) Practical method, by Hohmann Book 1 to 5. Play all the books, complete a bit every day (rain or shine). and

(2) Suzuki books 1 to 10.

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skiingfiddler, sounds like you gave good advice. I'm starting on

Viola myself. I've had mine since the first of the month and I feel

like I'm progressing well. I just might use your advice as

well.

Andy, this might help you too. I'm not able to get an instructor

yet myself. I'm going to be deploying to Afghanistan soon. I've

been using Essential Elements 2000 Book1 that has a cd and dvd

with some music to play along with. As far as making sure I'm

getting a good tone, I got an electronic tuner so I can make sure

I'm hitting the right notes and I try to play each set of tones on

all the strings enough times that I try to train my ear too. I'll

go without the tuner sometimes and bring use it to make sure I'm

still doing well and practice again as needed. So far, I seem to be

doing well. In about two weeks, I'm just past half way in the book.

I'm getting to more difficult stuff (for me) so it'll probably slow

down. Another thing I do is, I use a microphone to my computer and

record some of my practice so I can better focus on hearing my tone

and see where I could use some work.

I'm having fun with this. Even with my obligation with the

military, I'm still practicing about an hour a two during the week

and weekend, like today about 3 or 4 hours. I tend to go backwards

too to better perfect my playing by building up the muscle memory.

I'm looking forward to when I'll be able to play some of the more

demanding pieces.

Good luck to you,

Dan

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I also use "Don't Fret" thing, and have not been hindered or clutched by it. In the beginning, I used it to know more or less exactly where the notes were. Then I used it to check. I still have the sticker on my violin, but I could play my classmate's violin with good accuracy on intonation. My classmate on the other hand got rid of her tape before she learned where the notes were. After the jury, our teacher put tapes on her violin again...

If you don't need a device to learn something, that's great. If you do, try to use it wisely; not to let it hinder you. Take the Don't Fret for example, try to learn the relative distance/position/sound of the notes, but don't fix your eyes on it.

In addition, if you cannot afford or access a teacher, I would recommend that you find someone who knows how to play the violin to check on your progress at least once a while.

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I think putting tape or stickers on a violin, even for a complete novice, is a fatal error. I would much rather suffer the pains of listening to a beginner grope for the right notes than to witness pseudo frets on a violin.

I am also convinced that some teachers use this as a cover to hide their inadequate teaching skills. I have seen beginners who never seem to move from the first plateau due to stickers (which the teacher insists must stay on until who knows when). They should be banned entirely (such teachers and the stickers).

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I remember when I took typing in high school.  At first I

looked to find where the letters where,  I simply could not

type without cheating and looking for the letters.  Then the

teacher had us cover the letters and forced us to remember where

the letters were.  I was impressed, after a few days of

struggling, how naturally my fingers went to the keys when I was

not allowed to 'look' at the keyboard.  The extra effort

it took to remember, vastly improved my typing ability, and taught

me how far a little extra brain power can take you.

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You might try weaning yourself from the stickers rather than going cold turkey. Just put a two or three dark colored dot stickers to orient yourself. You will be able to feel the sticker a bit but not so much see it.. Eventually take them off altogether. I don't think they are a fatal crutch.

You might try going to a couple of one day fiddlers workshops. They are usually pretty inexpensive. Sometimes music stores will offer them to get people in the shop. Sometimes workshops are offered during festivals. They are good places to meet people and learn some technique.

Try practising scales seperately from playing. Take 10 minutes in the morning to work on scales. Then do a regular playing practise in the afternoon.

Good luck

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Put a note saying " violin student want a student teacher" in your local music store. $15/ hour for

two seesions. Learn all basics for $30.

Forget the tape or stickers. Use your ears only.

Always start with a correct bow hold, slowly to pick up speed. Relax your whole arm (no tension)

You will take off like a plane.

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I think nothing beats learning how to read music and then set a goal of being able to play through this book and that. Also, even getting a single lesson from someone who is willing to immpart the basic principles to you would be very worthwhile. Besides intonation (which actually is applied physics too), string instrument playing is all physics (mechanics) in the application of the right muscles in the right way, balance, and the use of gravity. Applied according to simple principles results in fine playing. Unfortuneately, doing this is as difficult as gymnastics, and becoming and remaining mindful of these principles is the reason people take years of lessons - in addition to the mentoring, motivational, (coaching) and culturally educational aspects.

5 years ago my son was visiting and wanted to play the violin "again." He had played violin for one week when he was 12 years old and had gotten through bost of Suzuki book 1. (He is very musical and composes music and songs and plays many other instruments.) This time, at age 36 (24 years later) he got through all of Suzuki book 1. So I bought him a violin at the local music store, a few more Suzuki books and the Fiddler Fake Book to take when he left to resume his perapatetic life style.

He has continued to play violin (along with all his other instruments) - we did a little more on his vist the next year. Two years ago when we visited his home we did a little more playing and instructing. This week he is visiting us again and we had a little lesson the other day to relax his bow arm so he can get more wrist and finger "action."

He does well, he plays in groups as his work takes him around the country. Other violinists and fiddlers who hear him will give advice, which he takes.

He has a nice tone, good intonation, a gentle vibrato - and massive hands like Itzak Perlmann (and I do), which is a disadvantage in viollin playing. He is no longer limited to first position.

The few lessons we have had together and the advice from other fiddler/violinsts have been critical to hiis progress.

Andy

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If you want a good book about practicing, one of the gold standards is Madeline Bruser's The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music From the Heart.

I see nothing wrong with using tapes in order to assist you with intonation. Your first obstacle is developing some of the muscle memory that is required to play and having tapes will aid you... it's also cool if you want to take them off and just concentrate or use a tuner or something... but that's more difficult and I've seen hundreds of students succeed using tapes.

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Using a tuner does the same thing that tapes does - create a reflex based on vision, with sound being secondary, and touch a distant third. If at least you use your ears for the third and fourth finger which correspond to open strings, you will develop a reflex that goes from sound to touch. Another way to use a tuner or piano is to play the two notes as an interval, or the note by itself that you want to play, listen carefully to what it sounds like, and then imitate it afterward. You are training your senses, and creating reflexes based on the senses. Tapes and tuners are a way of learning to play the notes, but they are not the only way even if you don't have a teacher. In fact, I don't think a teacher's main role is telling you whethe you are playing in tune, but in helping you use your hands and instrument properly, so that it becomes easy to play in tune with a good tone.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
DSutton

I remember when I took typing in high school. At first I

looked to find where the letters where, I simply could not

type without cheating and looking for the letters. Then the

teacher had us cover the letters and forced us to remember where

the letters were. I was impressed, after a few days of

struggling, how naturally my fingers went to the keys when I was

not allowed to 'look' at the keyboard. The extra effort

it took to remember, vastly improved my typing ability, and taught

me how far a little extra brain power can take you.

Yes, the "key" (no pun intended) is not to look at it all the time, but before one gets enough orientation to know WHERE to go.

For those who think using a tape/Don't Fret to learn note positions is a (fatal) error, may I ask how you get to a place from another without a map when you are in an unfamiliar place without a guide?

I have been using Don't Fret on one of my violins for lessons, but I can also play violins without No Fret with good intonation. So what is the "fatal error" about? Does learning have anything to do with how you get there? Like learning a foreign language, the best way to learn it is to live in the country where people speak the language of your interest. But what if you cannot afford to live there for any reason? Under such circumstances, you cannot learn the foreign language then?

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quote:


Originally posted by:
GMM22

I think putting tape or stickers on a violin, even for a complete novice, is a fatal error. I would much rather suffer the pains of listening to a beginner grope for the right notes than to witness pseudo frets on a violin.

I am also convinced that some teachers use this as a cover to hide their inadequate teaching skills. I have seen beginners who never seem to move from the first plateau due to stickers (which the teacher insists must stay on until who knows when). They should be banned entirely (such teachers and the stickers).

GM22,

Have you had any experience with such device or such teachers? How did you conclude that beginners who never seem to move from the first plateau was the direct result of such device or teachers?

Just thought you might also want to include me in your stats, I am now learning shifting for moving to the third position. I am an adult beginner and have been using Don't Fret for two semesters with 3 months summer vacation in between. I have no problem picking up a "regular" violin and play in tune.

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quote:


Like learning a foreign language, the best way to learn it is to

live in the country where people speak the language of your

interest.

This is very true. Due to many trips to south america, I have been

able to pick up Spanish. I'm not great at it, but I'm still working

on it. There is always different ways to get to where you want to

go. It all depends on Time, Money, and motivation.

You just need to ask your self where you are at, where you want to

be, and work with it.

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I think it is ok to have the tapes as a beginner, but as soon as

you can get the feeling of the tape under the strings without

looking is when most of the tape should be taken off except for

maybe the third finger tape.  Practicing scales, arpeggios,

and other variations on them is the way to ween yourself completely

off of the tape.  Remember to check how your fingered notes

sound in relation to open strings (a perfectly tuned instrument is

a must).  Eventually, you will be able to hear and feel(if

your the really sensitive type) if the note is out of tune.

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hi all,

i am one of those who started with tapes and tuners.....

i felt i was doing good as i was able to hit the 'right' pitch or tone or whatever you word you use.... after a couple of months the tapes and tuners were gone.... and i was moving to higher positions... i progressed pretty fast and good...

then a year later, i had changed to another teacher... she had commented that most of the time, my fingers were either slightly sharper or flatter in the first position..... and i figured out that the tapes and tuners may be the cause of this.... my fingers were guiding my ears and not the other ways round.... in the process of learning with tapes and tuners, my ears got lazy and eventually kinda switched off....

i had to unlearn and relearn.... and this is a painful process....

maybe the above only applies to me.... but this may be a caution to the other learners... always use your ears to guide your fingers and hands... like they say, if you dont use it, you'll lose it....

steve

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quote:


Originally posted by:
stevenwong

i am one of those who started with tapes and tuners.....

i felt i was doing good as i was able to hit the 'right' pitch or tone or whatever you word you use.... after a couple of months the tapes and tuners were gone.... and i was moving to higher positions... i progressed pretty fast and good...

then a year later, i had changed to another teacher... she had commented that most of the time, my fingers were either slightly sharper or flatter in the first position..... and i figured out that the tapes and tuners may be the cause of this.... my fingers were guiding my ears and not the other ways round.... in the process of learning with tapes and tuners, my ears got lazy and eventually kinda switched off....

i had to unlearn and relearn.... and this is a painful process....

maybe the above only applies to me.... but this may be a caution to the other learners... always use your ears to guide your fingers and hands... like they say, if you dont use it, you'll lose it....


Steve,

Thank you for sharing your experience. However, I have a few questions:

(1) It seems that you have problems with first position. Do you have problems with higher positions?

(2) Had your first teacher commented on/corrected your pitch being too high or too low?

It sounds like the problem might not be just the tape, but your teacher. If your notes are either a tad too high or too low, your first teacher should have corrected you. My teacher does that a lot with my C on A string, which I still have to pay a great deal of attention/make great effort in order to get the pitch right. If your teacher doesn't correct, what's the good of having a teacher?

Regardless how a bad habit is formed, once it is formed, it always takes a lot more time and effort to undone it. That was the precise reason why I did not follow advice given on this board to start playing without a teacher.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
stevenwong

my fingers were guiding my ears and not the other ways round.... in the process of learning with tapes and tuners, my ears got lazy and eventually kinda switched off....

i had to unlearn and relearn.... and this is a painful process....

maybe the above only applies to me....

steve

Steve,

You are absolutely right. And what you say does apply to others including advanced players. You can get used to playing certain passages, a note here and there, out of tune, and pretty soon, you no longer hear it as out of tune.

Good intonation is something a string player will fight to achieve for the rest of his life. There's no such thing as reaching a certain level of ability where intonation is no longer a problem. It's a constant, ongoing struggle, and if you don't have a good method from the beginning (namely checking for correct intonation using your ear) then you've pretty much lost the struggle at the very beginning.

This reliance on the ear does assume that the player knows when it is in tune, ie, the player can hear the pitches before playing them. Then you make the fingers match the pitch you have in your head. I'm not talking about perfect pitch; good relative pitch will work fine once the open strings of the fiddle are properly in tune.

How do you get the pitches in your head? If you have no idea how first finger E on the D string should sound after playing an open D, then go to a well tuned piano (or keyboard) that you've tuned your fiddle to and play D followed by E. Play it on the keyboard as often as you need to in order to remember it. Try singing it. Now play it on the violin.

Continue this keyboard first approach until you've worked through the entire one octave D scale. Train your ear as you train your fingers.

The proof for me (besides my own experience) that intonation is an ongoing struggle that requires persistance and patience is Itzhak Perlman's remark on a video I have that players (and he's talking about players that he would be teaching) need to practice slowly in order to get intonation right. In other words, even advanced players can't take intonation for granted.

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"Have you had any experience with such device or such teachers? How did you conclude that beginners who never seem to move from the first plateau was the direct result of such device or teachers?

Miles,"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I have. First, a disclaimer of sorts with regards to the knowledge or experience of particular Maestronet posters:

One often forms opinions of a poster's knowledge based on the content of their posts, however, such opinions are often inaccurate. Here are two examples:

For a long time, I was under the impression that a particular regular poster was inexperienced in violins and/or violin making. I then learned he won a tone award for his violin at the last VSA competition. I had mistaken his candid posts as inexperience whereas it was merely unpretentiousness. The other example is you. I have read many of your posts and up until very recently, I was under the impression you were a seasoned player with many years of experience. This is a compliment to your general insight into violins (with the exception of the current topic of stickers).

One never really knows the extent of experience of another, but one hopes that others would have the good sense to be truthful in their accounts.

I have experience with these stickers as I am usually taking them off violins that I set up for customers. I have contact with both players and teachers. For me, the correlation is very simple and absolute. The good teachers have good students that are competent, and they never used stickers. People who are not good despite how long they have been playing or how long they have been taking lessons play the violins that have stickers, and they are taught by those who insist they need them. The evidence is very plain to see, especially for returning customers where an interval allows some observation over time.

The teachers that use stickers are adequate players, but they are not good instructors on most levels. The ability to teach is directly proportional to the ability to communicate effectively, and telling a student they need stickers in spite of the fact that literally millions of players past and present did not, is ineffective communication of the art of playing the violin.

They also interfere with intonation and greatly mess with the sensitive tactile response of the fingertips. They are awful and do not belong anywhere on the violin.

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Thank you for the compliments, GM22. That's very nice of you.

My position with a sticker on the violin is like other things I believe in: If one doesn't need any device to facilitate ones learning, great! But if one is not fortunate enough to have such ability, then using an aid with a clear purpose in mind. That is to say, using an aid to help bridge the gap in ones natural ability, not to use the aid as a clutch. As an experience shared by Steve, his problem with intonation seemed to be the fact that his ears "got lazy" and his first teacher might not have caught it. Or even worse, that could be the pitches his first teacher instilliing in him. If ones ears get lazy, will it matter whether one uses a tape/sticker or not? Unless that person is a born genius, most likely he/she will have problems with intonation. Using a sticker is a means of checking against ones perception of the pitches without a teacher, which should not be confused as a replacement for the process of learning the pitches by the ear.

Frankly speaking I don't really need the tape/sticker, but I really like the colors on the Don't Fret sticker. However, I do have hard time with rhythm, which is almost a defect at birth.

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Miles, it is the "science" of impeding the true feel and association with the fingerboard that I find most objectionable. Perhaps you can reconsider the issue in this new light.

If the indicators were dead flat (i.e., painted on) and used for say less than two or three weeks, I suppose one could accept it to some degree.

I am not familiar with the actual product you discuss, but I would assume they are similar to the tape or decals that I see cut up and used. If so, they are somewhere between .004" and .008" thick. This greatly affects what the player feels and is not the true physical sensation under the fingers they will have to know in the future. You may solve one problem but at the cost of adding two others, namely, disruption of proper tactile feel and response, and proximal location/tone association.

Labels permanently etched flat into the violin will not help anyway unless one is resigned to playing the same one forever. All violins intonate slightly differently. One often hears teachers profess worry about bad habits forming. What if one were to cross the fundamental foundations of violin learning (something that can happen only once) by mapping an intonation pattern and feel into the brain only to have that map mangled at the first setup or violin change?

They can also shift, smear, and become a mess.

I could see its use (maybe) for a few weeks, merely to show approximate intervals, but for the above reasons (and others that are harder to articulate) I am positive it is impedance to learning.

While it is certainly desirable, I am sure natural talent is not a prerequisite for becoming a decent stickerless musician. Many many people of very plain initial musical attributes have learned violin from day one without them.

Now as far as rhythm goes, I am afraid they do not make a sticker for that, or do they?

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Here is what Leopold Mozart has to say on the subject:

"At this point I cannot but touch on the foolish system of teaching which is pursued by some when instructing their pupils; namely, that of affixing little labels with the letters written thereon, on the finger-board of the pupil's violin, and even of marking the place of each note on the side of the finger-board with a deep incision or, at least, with a notch. If the pupil has a good musical ear, one must not avail oneself of such an extravagance. If, however, he lacks this, he is useless for music and it were better he took a wood-axe than a violin in his hand."

I agree with what he says until the very end. See, I believe, that with enough exposure to music even one without a musical ear can learn, however, it can take years to truly hear intonation accurately, and giving people a crutch on which to rely until they can truly hear will bring them the joy of music performance when they otherwise would still be training their ear playing scales and arpeggios.

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hi miles,

wow... so many had posted before i can answer your questions.... lol...

for a moment, i felt i was the subject of the investigation...... lol... anyway here are the answers to your questions...

(1) It seems that you have problems with first position. Do you have problems with higher positions?

i am not sure if i had a problem with the higher positions as i was focused at fixing the first postion then.... but i felt that after i had fixed the first position, the others appeared to be ok...

(2) Had your first teacher commented on/corrected your pitch being too high or too low?

unfortunately, the teacher did not highlighted any problem with them.... in fact, i had developed many bad habits which the later teacher corrected them all.... the earlier teacher was more eager to move on from one exercise to the next.... i think this made us believed that i progressed....

in my humble opinion (of course i may be wrong), i felt that the the bad intonation was a result of many things....

1. i had one 30-minute lesson a week. i spent most of the time practising at home without the guidance of a teacher. in this case, i believed that i had to rely on the tuner for intonation....

2. the teacher was more interested in moving on to the next exercise and not focused on basics, such as bow hold, drawing bow across strings, bowing arm, intonation, putting fingers to the fingerboard, etc. i understand that the place which i learn violin is/was some commercial music school and 30-minute lesson was too short to cover everything.... frankly speaking, during then, i wished i had the time to ask questions or even chat with the teacher.... *sigh*

it was only later when i realised i was not producing a good sound or right sound, i moved on to other private tutor.... this tutor saw the desire in me to play the violin, despite the awful sounds coming from me.... lol... and the unlearning and relearn was tough and painful!!!!! my lessons with the new teacher would lasted a couple of hours... i pay the first hour, the rest of the time are free of charge.....

this teacher is really one of a kind....

steve

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