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mommag

Old school and New school?

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I just wanted to know if anyone can explain the difference between

old school and new school of violin study.  My so teacher is

from former USSR and while he was in an orchestra camp, One of the

counselor ( college student) approached my husband and started the

conversation.  When my husband mentioned my son's teacher's

name  , he replied, "Oh, She is a Russian.  Russian

school is an old school now.  Nobody really teaches in that

style anymore around here."  Well, I don't believe what he

says for a minute, but I know there are difference between

old school and new school.  I just don't know what

the differences are.  Can someone explain it to me?

 

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There are Russian bow hold and French bow hold. It is about bowing styles.

I don't know which one is old and which one is new. You may find a lot of informations on

internet. Try "Google" then " bow holds" The players I know most are French style (new?)

but many top soloists are Russian style (old ?). Fingers placement on the bow are slightly different.

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The bow hold and different bowing mechanism are the visible part that everyone sees. But it goes deeper than that. Googling "bow holds" can be deceiving, by the way. I did that a while back, and saw numerous people modifying the modern hold by seating it more deeply in the hand, and declaring that they were illustrating a Russian bow hold.

I think certain philosophies or approaches to music are also involved. I'm sketchy on this one: but do find myself at sea sometimes when I read modern discussion or listen to modern playing, since I am also being taught "old school". I could not pinpoint it that easily though.

Heifetz, Shtern, Stern too I think, Milstein off the top of my head. I, too, have been given to understand that it is hardly taught anymore. That makes it a privilege to be able to be part of it.

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They were good because they had musical talents. Without that, playing Stradivarious violins,

using Russian bow holds won't matter much.

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I remember Itzak Perlman's comment from the "Art of Violin" DVD, about Szigeti's bowing. "People say his bowing using the whole bow up and down, up and down. It is an old school. Now, people don't do that anymore, but was his sould old school? No!" He also talked about bow speed. Russians don't put too much pressure on the bow, but use speed to produce strong sound.

Maxim Vengerov, Vadim Repin and other successful Russian violinists, are they using old school style of violin playing or did they combine modern approach to their old school technique? I am not at the level of being able to distinguishing detailed differences of the players. At the same time if something is better than the other in certain area, I want to get an information and see if my son can make an improvement in that area. Thank you for your input.

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Russian bow holds are easily to be spotted. It is (more) like making a fist. Don't take the style

things too seriously. After a min of playing those top players could change it to something else.

It seemed they did it for photo opportunity as politicians holding babies.

hold (look for bow hold)

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Mommag, you sound like you are concerned, and that this began with the comment by the teacher at camp. If I understand correctly, because the camp teacher said that this is not taught any more, you are concerned that your son may be missing out on something, or not learning to play the modern way, or that he has weak areas. Would that be correct?

I am still a student without Yuen's decades of experience, but I do have experience with the Russian system because this is how I am being taught. I also have experience in having tried to mix it with the modern method because I did not know there were two methods, untangling myself, and that has given me some insights into the fact that there are some very big differences. It is not a matter of talent or merely a matter of the bow resting more deeply in the hand. I cannot identify with the photo of "Russian school". There are some composite photos of bow hands available including some of the players I have mentioned that are more representative. But I don't think this is necessary for your purposes. You already know what your son's teacher's and your son's bow hand look like!

Russian bowing functions a bit differently than modern bowing, and I am not expert enough to explain it. More flexibility in the wrist is used, less in the fingers, energy comes from from the arm and less in the hand, which, if done properly, creates a richer and deeper sound that as I understand also has some typical characteristics. Like any bow hold, individuals adjust it to suit themselves. There is flexibility in the technique on the "Russian bowing" side as there is anywhere else.

The important thing for you is to know that two ways exist, and people of the modern system often don't understand the other system. Thus you'll hear negative things about it. Also, some ways of playing in the one system don't cross over well with the other system i.e. if a student learning under one system takes lessons with another teacher of the other system. But then it is always better for a teacher to know ahead of time if a student plans to also study elsewhere, in case that might present a problem in the student's progress.

If your son's teacher is competent as a teacher and skilled in the violin, she will have anticipated how your son will develop in the various stages to give him a full complement of skills at the end of the road. Are you able to chat with his teacher, saying that you have heard that there are these two broad styles, and asking whether she could tell you more about it?

Are you able to pinpoint roughly where your concerns may lie?

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Stillnew, thank you for giving me a detailed explanation on Russian style. Indeed, flexibility of wrist is reinforced in my son's lessons. I am very happy with my son's teacher and have no intention of switching to another teacher anytime soon. It was more of curiosity that I wanted to know what is so different between the two schools. Ultimately, I don't care which technique is used if one can produce beautiful music. But like you said, I think I should know that two different school exist. My son's been with her for three years now after a year of Suzuki. I remember she told me when we were discussing who he should request for the master class teacher last year. There were several teachers on the list. She wanted me to request the teacher with Russian school background simply because she didn't want to confuse my son introducing different school (style) prematurely. She said when he is old enough and get the solid skill, she wanted him to explore other school technique, but not yet.

Yuen, thank you for explaining the difference in bow holds. My son holds his bow pretty much evenly distributed fingers, sort of close together, not like the index finger a little far from other fingers, or index and middle finger sort of together. Is his bow hold Russian style? I don't recall his teacher changing his bow hold at all when he switched from Suzuki. (Except, she fixed his curled up pinkie to relax and on the bow)

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The photo of Perlman's hand on the bottom of that page looks like the Russian hand as I know it. The bow sits deeply in the hand, the fingers are very slanted on the stick, and the hand is more pronated than in the modern school.

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Thank you, Stillnew and Yuen for the picture examples. Stillnew, I read your blog about bowhold comparison and from the pictures you provided, my son's bowhold is more like your examples of "Franco-Belgian" bow hold. Yuen, from the Sheila's page you provide, my son hold his bow exactly like the "Russian school" in that picture. Did "Franco-Belgian" stemmed from "Russian school" or is it totally developed from different school? If Heifetz is the typical example of "Russian school", my son is probably not holding in that manner. Well, his pinkie is very short, so if he were to hold his bow like heifetz, his pinkie will never reach the bow. For that reason, I think he is holding his bow deep in his fingers instinctively.

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Hi Mommag,

I have found a diplomat here. Well, among me and Stillnew, he is more into bow holds,

and is ,therefore better qualified to answer your question. How big is the difference? Imagine it is about

1.5 mm of the stick in one direction or other, (between first joint and second joint) rest on the first finger (next to the thumb) of your son. I am glad you have observed it.

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I read that there are actually two Russian schools. That hold in the comparing pictures does not look familiar to me, and maybe that is why. The main thing is that your son can play and has a good teacher to guide him.

Stillnew, a she

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Hi Mommag! I'm just back from a weekend away to the Mendocino coast.

I've been through a range of violin bow holds since I started playing in 1939. If your son's teacher is getting good results with your son - that's what counts. If one only observes what ta "bow hold"[ looks like, they are likely to miss what is really going on inside the player - and that is what determines the results.

Whatever the "bow hold" is, it is only fair to observe it in motion, because the "hold" changes depending on what the player is doing. At least it should! A stiff (nunchanging hold) will not work.

It is all about being able to exercise as complete control over the bow's motion and (consequently the sound produced) as possible. Because of different arm lengths, finger lengths, and bow and individual instrument characteristics there will be differences in how this is done.

I will often select which violin I play based on what music I will be playing (and how the sound is affected by the weather and the venue). I select which bow to use based on both whichall those factors, and there are aspects of how I use the bow that depend on all those factors - and I may vary some aspects of how I hold the bow to achieve my desired result based on all of that. What I'm after is a certain sound quality and a lot of factors go into that.

It is best to be able to use the larger motions of the muscles of the back, shoulder, upper arm, and elbow for larger motions of the bow and use the motions of the wrist and fingers to control smaller motions. You also have to be able to track the whole bow at any speed parallel to the bridge on the strings, or angle it as desired for certain effects. None of this is left to chance. If you watch great players in action you will see differences in how they use their body parts to get this done.

Going back the approximately 80 years that we have motion pictures of violin playing you can see some of the different schools of playing and even some evolution of the styles - but it might be tough to determine that the results of those factors are anywhere near as important as who is doing the playing.

Andy

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Guys, thank you for the replies. I am so glad that I'm gaining so much knowledge from you all. Andrew, you are absolutely right. I, too, think sound and the music you play is the most important thing. My son has a loooong way to go, but he is trying very hard. It is amazing that there are so many different bowing to learn (ie, spiccato, martale, etc.) Although I can't play violin, I'm observing his teacher very carefully and try to remember when she demonstrates some of them. My son gets a little irritated by his "Can't-playing-violin coach" at home, but hey, I was appointed by his teacher

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Possible oversight!

It is possible that your son's teacher is "old school" more in the manner of teaching and discipline than in technique. But if that is what was intended, by the camp instructor, then everything we have written is relatively inapplicable. That was not clear from what you wrote and we immediately focused on "bow hold."

Also, I too really like to have a parent participate with young students - to the extent that with one family I was actually giving violin lessons to the mother and cello lessons to the father at the same time I gave violin lessons to the young son (about age 6) - the son was the real object of the teaching plan.

With some other young students, too young to actually tune the instrument because of lack of strength, it is important (actually "critical") that a parent be able to assure the instrument is in tune at all times. I like to give a lesson to that parent at the same time as I do the student (no extra charge). The parent may continue to tune the child's instrument for way more than a year, but I often find that the child soon surpasses the parent in playing ability and wants the parent to stop telling them what to do and how to do it (often for good reasons).

I think it is a fine line that must be drawn between helping and encouraging the child and driving them past the point where they want to quit. I'm not discouraging parental participation, just urging that it be done with sensitivity on the part of the parent and the teacher and with the understanding that there should come a time when it ends.

Although my father was a very fine amateur violinist, he was never my teacher and he never participated in critiqiing my playing unless I requested it - and then he would give the assistance 5 requested.

Andy

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Andrew, good point. The councelor was a college student who is not a music major although he's been playing violin for several years, and he's never even met my son before nor his teacher. Just by given our son's teacher's Russian name, he told my husband that Russian style is an old school. So I wondered if this was really what's happening in the violin world. I admire Oistrakh, Milstein and Heifetz just to name a few. So I will be glad that if my son is getting some of the things those great violinists passed down to their later generations (His teacher was a student of Oistrakh) even if it is called "old school". But I was just curious, what is the real significant difference beside bowhold? Is it their music style or phrasing, or something else? Or is it a bowdistribution like Perlman said in the "Art of violin video"?

On helping during practice, yes, I am gradually backing out of his daily practice. His teacher told me a little while ago, it is about time I slowly pull myself out of it. So now, I take notes of the things he needs to pay attention and new things he needs to work on and so forth at each lesson. Tell him to look it over when he can't quite remember what he is supposed to be working on, and when he plays out of tune and doesn't correct it, I yell from the kitchen "That was out of tuuune! He is 10 going on 11. When do kids actually start wanting to practice without being reminded?

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"Old School" or "New School" I see only admiration for fiddlers of all epochs in the movie "The Art of Violin." The talk about "bow distribution" was taken up especially in reference to Micha Elman's playing and commented on strongly by Perlman and Hahn. The bow should always be used with forethough - "how much to use?"; "where to place it?; "what part of the bow?" "where does the bow have to be next?" "how will it get there?" "how fast should it move?" "how hard should you press?" and more!

I've played in community orchestras where it is obvious that many of the players have never given these things a thought, and even with the prodding of conductors and string coaches, it appears they never will.

A few things about intonation.

Some people don't really seem to hear it and they should definitely not play bowed string instruments.

Many players do hear intonatiion, but they tend to hear what they intend rather than what they actually do - they need to take the time to make those two perceptions congruent.

A violin should have sufficient resonances that the in-tune notes actually sound better (mostly) and the player shouldwork at creating that kind of sound.

Slower practice tempos help win these battles.

Andy

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In "Art of Violin" (video) Itzak Perlman talked about "old school" (older generation).

He meant "shifing" not

about "bow hold" One school's teaching emphasizes "shifting" a lot (old school ?)

Shifting is about left hand jumping from one position to another. He said " I wish I can

do that" (he was modest, of course he can, silly) Older genration did a lot of shiftings.

He wish he could do the same. (New genration) world class players do shiftings too, but

not as much.

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Thank you, Yuen, for clarifying Perlman's comment. When he said "back and forth, back and forth", I though he was talking about the bowing. Now, I see he was talking about shifting. So more shifting, less shifting, does it change anything in what they are playing, such as nuance, sound, etc?

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What Perlman meant was " older generation" were more disciplined and that they followed the

the "text-book" standard.

PS.The camp counselor might have the idea in mind to say that kids might be got

discouraged more easily if they follow the "old school" (disciplined) method, since kids were from

all places. ( it makes make more sense to me)

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I understand that "new school" goes for sound for its own sake - good strong sound, even, rich; continuous vibrato as a physics device to carry sound further; an even rich tone throughout; athletic prowess showing off one's skills in leaps, fast notes. There is an homogenous way of playing and interpretation: Art of Violin stresses that in Old School you can recognize the difference between players in a way that you cannot now. Some of the old players are criticized these days because they are measured against different standards.

"Old school" expresses the music itself in a nuanced and individually interpreted fashion, and differently somehow. Vibrato is a device of musical expression. A tone may not have the even quality of a modern tone; it sort of swells and ebbs in a single note in a manner that might not even be heard these days since our ears are not geared in that direction. Pitch with "tone colour" to express the message of the music: i.e. altered slightly to create a mood within the piece. I can't remember Perlman's statement anymore - haven't watched the movie for a long time.

There was a radio show a few decades back that featured Vivaldi's Winter played "old school" and then "new school", though the expression had not yet been coined. In the second "new" version, the playing was brilliant and impressive - you had to admire the violinists. Their playing was crisp, precise, every note and every bow stroke perfect, accurate. Fast passages were fast played with almost athletic prowess. The "old school" was not as precise and perfect, and to modern ears there were flaws. However, while in the new school you admired the musicians and their skill in executing difficult passages perfectly, in the new school you heard the message of the music. The expert expounding on the two versions summed it up this way, "In the old school playing of Vivaldi's Winter, you can hear the ice crack." You hardly noticed the musicians and their skill, because the imagery of the music took over.

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I am quite worried by this thread, and in particular this comment

" "Oh, She is a Russian. Russian school is an old school now. Nobody really teaches in that style anymore around here." "

At the risk of going out on a limb, I feel this is a remarkably negative comment about a fellow player/teacher, probably from a naive student (from what you have said).

In the old days when I posted frequently, I used to suggest that the world is shrinking and that we now have a more coherant "world approach" to pedagogy. However, despite the convergence of various "schools" of technique, some tribute needs to be paid to those that maintain a degree of traditional approach to their tuition style.

In my specialist institution, we have teachers from varying backgrounds and value them all. I am a product of a Russian teacher who accepted the influence of more modern technical approaches. He is in the top 5 UK teachers. We have a teacher (who works here) who simply follows everything he learned in Russia, undiluted (it would appear) by modern principles - his students are outstanding in every way. Bow holds and tone production aside, we all chase the same goal and to denegrate a teacher in such an immature way is not helpful - that is why you posted no doubt. Young players often think they know it all, and in celebrating the science behind their teacher's approach (which I totally understand) often forget that much of the "feel" and "general approach" of older schools are totally valid.

If I may be so bold, the greatest golfer in the world (TW) was created out of love and dedication from his family and friends and worked for many years with a coach who was not "new school" but believed in the core principles every player must consider. It is the same with the Violin, my teacher and most of my peers would all agree that fundamental basics are the same whatever the school.....there's no quick fix or modern approach that can bypass these......

I hope this makes sense - it's late here in the UK........

T_D

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Thank you for your comments, Technique Doc. I hope it's ok, Mommag, to quote part of what you wrote before:

quote:


The councelor was a college student who is not a music major although he's been playing violin for several years, and he's never even met my son before nor his teacher. Just by given our son's teacher's Russian name, he told my husband that Russian style is an old school.

I have heard that the more knowledgeable a musician is, the less prone he is to make blanket judgements, and more likely to know how little anyone knows. Those who know next to nothing will have an opinion about everything, and voice that opinion in a sure and certain manner.

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