I’ve given myself one year to master the violin.

As an adult beginner, I should be playing Twinkle Twinkle; instead, I'm playing Paganini's 24th caprice.

Skeptics Among Us

The following is a comment made by a visitor to this blog.  He brings up some really great points about how I’m going about learning the violin.  After, is my response.  (and I apologize for the rather long blog entry)

Comment by RF:

You are doing well for a beginner, but you should by no means be trying anything by Paganini. First, you really need to work on your scales. With scales, your tone can improve significantly as well as your intonation. It seems that you have started the Paganini before you got serious about scales. That is extremely unhealthy for your learning. It seems that you think that since you are starting as an adult, you can do ten years of work in a few months, but the reality is that you are hurting yourself. You should practice scales at least 45 minutes a day in all positions. (yes, that means all 12 major scales in all positions between the first A flat on the G string and the third B on the E string. Once you can do that at any tempo and with a sound that resembles great players such as Heifetz and Anne Sophie Mutter, you can then begin simple concertos such as the Seitz student concertos and continuation with the Kreutzer. For you, Paganini is a long way off. If you disagree with me, read Violin playing as I teach it By Leopold Auer. You can get that for free from google books. If Danielle really believes that you should be attempting Paganini, you should consider a new teacher.

My response:

Hi RF,

Thanks for the comments, and you’re pretty much right on all counts.  The only difference though between me and a “normal student” isn’t that I think I can or should blow past the easy stuff and on to Paganini because I’m older or impatient, but just that blowing past the easy stuff is the point of the blog.

Think of it as an experiment: can you take a violin beginner (musician beginner really as I don’t play any instrument), give that beginner world class instruction (Danielle, my wife and teacher is Bob Lipsett’s assistant at the Colburn Conservatory) and have him play Paganini Caprice #24 in one year.  That’s the premise.  My wife Danielle is a very serious violin teacher with an extremely high level studio with students ranging from 8 to 21 years old.  She assigns repertoire very carefully, including the likes of student pieces such as the Seitz concerto you mentioned.  At first, she was against this whole Paganini idea of mine.  Read Danielle’s Disclaimer.  It’s one of the first few posts.

So you’re right – much of what we do is against traditional wisdom of what a beginner violin student should be doing, but my goal, interestingly, is not to become a violinist.  My goal is to play Paganini Caprice #24.  To be honest, I will have to be some kind of violinist at the end of this journey; it’s going to be quite intriguing to see what holes there are still to fill.  And to make a small point about the wisdom behind this and if it will hurt me as a violinist in the long run:  the funny thing is, this experiment and this blog are actually what’s making me a violinist in the first place.  I did try to take up the violin in October of 09, but I only practiced a couple times a week and ended up quitting in a couple of months.  This time, I practice several hours every day (and I’m twice as busy now outside the violin as I was then!).  In other words, as you know as an educator, finding the right motivator for some students is the key to success.  This is my motivator, and it’s doing a darn good job.

Thanks for the comments, and keep the tips coming!  Danielle was very glad that someone brought up the idea of scales with separate bows.  She doesn’t agree that slurring is a waste of time, but we have started with separate bows and it’s opening up a lot.  In fact, here is a video of me doing just that:

Thanks again for reading, and keep in touch!

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