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I've been working on the Devil's Trill sonata as my semester project this year, and yesterday in my lesson I finally thought I had it down enough to play it from memory for my teacher. He made an interesting comment: "Its performance ready, but if you recorded that you'd be laughed at by every violinist who listened".

This is my problem. Im too sloppy in everything i do. I just cant seem to reach the next level of playing that is perfection, at least to the naked ear. Ive lately been waking up at 4 in the morning to get in 3 1/2 extra hours of practice, and it helps, but in scales, etudes, everything there are little idiosyncrasies (sic) in my intonation and my bowing. Im just so close, but it seems as if ive reached an impasse and nothing i can do can take me further.

Im sure many of you have had similar experiences and will have some wisdom to share on how you progressed.

Im going neurotic over this. Any response is appreciated.

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There is, no doubt, a tempo at which your indoyncracies dissappear. The secret of playing fast is to increase the speed of that tempo rather than the tempo of particular pieces you play. That's one of the reasons why we practice and practice and practice and do all those etudes, etc.

Of course, you can always play faster than that, but not without the risks of the rule of the Peter Principle (reaching [and perhaps exceeding] the point of one's own incompetence). (Don't ask me why it's called The Peter Principle, I don't remember - but I did read the book - years ago when the principle was first recognized (pop psych) to seem true of most managers.)


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I feel the same way: all I can play today is wrong notes, and I have to play the Mendelssohn in competetion two and a half weeks away. I struggle with depression and utter revulsion towards the violin, combined with compulsive mechanical practicing and general ill-humour towards society. I can't stand not practicing and I can't stand practicing.

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Your teacher's words were not very well chosen--a bit too blunt, I think.

Your performance is probably a lot better than your teacher is letting you know by at least having admitted that the work is at performance level.

Just take THAT information and enjoy your remaining practice sessions. Experiment with the tempo--play a laid-back, gently movin' down the river "Devil's Trill"--the devil's just wakin' up and ain't got much to do that day; or a moderate tempo--the devil's just casin' the joint. Have fun and enjoy the music in the music. Also, let 'er rip a little bit and have fun with that, too.

Take a lot of pride in the fact that you're able to study music of that level--and think of yourself as being privileged to work with it. Don't listen to anyone else's "Devil's Trill" between now and your evaluation. Make the work your own--and if your tempo picks up, great; if not, enjoy the tempo you can maintain and make it as musical as possible, milking your strong spots.

Someone here--a country fiddler, I think--said that he or she works small bits as fast as possible rather than with a metronome building up to fast tempi. I've tried that approach on piano because I thought it was kind of interesting when I read it here. It actually works. I didn't think it would, but it does. So now I combine lots of steady work with the metronome along with taking phrases and even parts of phrases and playing them like the blazes.

Best regards and lots of joy in your work,


[This message has been edited by Theresa (edited 11-04-2000).]

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If you're practicing as much as you are on a single piece and STILL not getting results, you need to completely redo your posture.

Judging from what your teacher said, I am sure that he is INCAPABLE of helping your technique.

Get some sleep. Without sleep and rest, the neural circuitry you need to be a great violinist will never develop.

Strongly recommended: put the left thumb on the tip or the distal digit. Otherwise, you'll have trouble hitting the stretches without breaking your hand in half.

Remember that although Fritz Kreisler transcribed this work, this is supposed to be a BAROQUE composition (no modern violining!)

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Guys, I think you misunderstood my teachers meaning when i paraphrased his wisdom. The moral of what he said was that you can be sloppier in performances than on records. He went on to tell of a time when he was recording tchaikovsky w/Isaac Stern and National Symphony. They rehearsed for 6 days, performed the darn piece, but Stern refused to release the recording because it was too sloppy, fearing harsh criticisms from his colleagues.

HKV, This isnt the blush.gifnly: piece ive been working on. This is in addition to paganini, rode, fiorillo, scales, unnacc bach, and intro + rondo (my other semester project, also sloppy but more admissibly so due to its romantic nature). Also, i do wake up at 4:00, but i go to sleep at 8:00.

Ive decided to be of the philosophy, for at least the next few weeks, that fanaticism is the solution to all my problems. by fanaticism, i mean of kubelikian proportions. I mean, while i will at times attempt the suzuki style metronome technique

mentioned by theresa, every day i will set the metronome at 50 and work it up in increments of :::1::: till its at 120 (my computer metronome will do this). Then start over the next day. Playing scales fanatically until im happy that its at the level that heifetz would accept me as a student were he to hear it. Then do the same thing the next day.

In my opinion, my teacher is the next step down from G_o_d and my mother. Every thing he says has profound wisdom to it and is only a means to trick me into getting better. It hurts me deeply when you guys bash him like that, and that is the main reason for this new post; to defend him.

Thank you all for your suggestions, especially Mr Victor. You pretty much hit the nail on the head. HKV I think that this was one of your more abstract posts. I love to take your suggestions to heart, but you assumed a lot of things here. Usually your assumptions are very perceptive, but here they hardly apply.

Much obliged,


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I think he tried to be helpful.

I would add to the relevant things others have said, that you must really love the idea of perfection, and feel a part of it.

Even if you do things slowly for a long time, or practice for less time, often. Practice with patience and love, and unstressed by anything else.

That should help for technique. But you also need to be spirited, in order for the will power to solve many other problems.

How to be spirited? That's not such a simple question, but I think it is the second key to true accomplishment.

I think that those are the two special components of being a great soloist.

Patience and spirit (as described above)

Both can be aquired, but the latter might not be a simple thing to learn quickly.

(Personality development, including self-discipline, Cruel streak? What is that? maybe one of the components of SELF-discipline? OK!)

For sure, posture affects perfection and neatness very much.


HKV, and other great experts, Do you agree with what I have written here?


[This message has been edited by staylor (edited 11-05-2000).]

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Zarnath, I stand by my original statement even more strongly now that you have given us more details.

Not only is your teacher not assisting you on how to master this piece (if he is, why are you asking US and why are you floundering about at 4 AM?) but he's creating even more problems by spreading you overly thin with too many pieces all at once.

My advice - START with metronome ~120 and work DOWNWARDS.

Not only that, make sure your technique is smooth and buttery. In the Devil's Trill, transitional movements are the key. No forcing, no bow jerking.

Also strongly recommended: lose the shoulder rest.

You will have truly mastered the Devil's Trill if you can play it at metronome = ~40.

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Originally posted by HuangKaiVun:

Also strongly recommended: lose the shoulder rest.

HKV, remember that this is not always possible for some people. It can completely throw one's alignment out the window and make things worse if they have a long neck and don't use a shoulder rest. I have a long neck and only attained proper alignment and positioning when I finally switched to a higher shoulder rest. It has improved my playing, tone, and abiblity to play for longer periods of time.

I think it would be wiser to advise someone to throw away their shoulder rest only if you have SEEN them and their posture/positioning/alignment. Also, it may be a bit harsh to judege one's teaching ability until you have experienced it yourself. I understand that you have been able to work with some really good teachers. So have I, but it doesn't mean that I can tell right off if a teacher is good or not just by two posts.

Just some suggestions.



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I think he was refering to Devils Trill in particular, when you need to reach well over the strings, to get the ornaments etc.

(re. loosening the shoulder pad)

Do people think violin playing is so simple? It involves various contorted positions sometimes to get around the notes etc.

But I'm no expert really, but that's what I think is true!

S. Taylor.

( N.B. would the experts kindly like to take a quick look at my previous edited post, above. Thanks!)S.T.

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I echo Andy's advice: Slow down.

If you cannot play a piece perfectly when you play it slowly, it won't be better when you speed it up -- it'll just be harder to hear the mistakes. (With the slight exception of bowing techniques that are very difficult to execute slowly.)

The correct time to learn a piece slowly is when you first learn it. This way, you don't practice in bad habits.

If you have already learned bad habits, then you have to "relearn" the piece, slowly, just as if you were learning it from scratch. This can be torturous.

You need to be careful that your practice time doesn't turn into mindless repetition of a routine. It doesn't sound like you're really making as efficient use of time as you could be.

Don't worry about running through all of your scales. Work on ONE scale, and get it right. This doesn't mean that you just play the same straight scale over and over again, of course -- try it with different bowings, start on different notes ("modes"), play it in various combinations of double-stops, skip notes (Simon Fischer describes a technique for tuning perfect octaves, then leading notes, then the rest of the notes, in his "Basics", which I find very useful), and so forth.

Or, more generally: It is better to improve one single thing, even if it's tiny, in the course of a practice session, than it is to run through a ton of things but not make any of them better than they were earlier. ("Better" means that tomorrow, when you try the same thing, it will start out at a higher level than it was at today.)

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Hi Zarnath,

Please don't take the following comment in the wrong way - I'm not actually criticising your teacher at all (after all, I have not heard them teach or play). But this bit that you posted did ring a few alarm bells in my mind.

"In my opinion, my teacher is the next step down from G_o_d and my mother. Every thing he says has profound wisdom to it and is only a means to trick me into getting better. It hurts me deeply when you guys bash him like that..."

It sounds as though you have tremendous faith in, and are perhaps in awe of, your teacher. From my own experience, I have found that viewing a teacher in this way can result in problems. Here is my reasoning. These points would apply to a teacher who is a truly wonderful musician:

1)Even if the teacher has a flawless technique, what they do might not be exactly appropriate for your own physique and degree of flexibility. So you do need to question what you are taught and be prepared to discuss alternatives.

2)Every violinist has a tendency to some fault or other, even if they compensate for this in some way or constantly work to iron the problem out. If in awe of a teacher, the student is likely to learn his or her same fault. You do need to be able to look at your teacher critically - OF COURSE NOT IN A NASTY WAY.

3)I feel that a two-way friendship (or at least supportive relationship) between the teacher and the student is more conducive to learning than is the situation in which everything the master says goes unquestioned. If there is lots of feedback and questionning going on then the student's imagination and thinking ability will be stimulated.

4)If the student is in awe of their teacher, they will not develop their own self-critical ability. You need to know FOR YOURSELF at every moment if you are creating a good sound, and if you have good posture, and if your playing is musical.

5)Playing music is an individual creative thing. The teacher can give you wonderful ideas, but you have to develop you own ability to play what you yourself feel.

Please do reply to this if you have time, as its a subject that I'm very interested in.

Happy learning!


PS: To whoever asked, the "distal digit" is the very tip of your finger or thumb.

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