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.

Cat out of the bag

OK, so I haven’t posted in a while.  This is, of course, the best time not to post anything since I have every excuse in the book with Thanksgiving, travel, and whatnot.  So I have all the excuses I need, except that they’re innocent as to why I’ve been a little hermitic lately, I’m sorry to say.  To be honest, I haven’t posted anything because I didn’t really know what to post.

Right about now you’re saying “why don’t you post some of the Paganini?”  Oh.  Yeah.  Er, about that.  Oh, Pags, why do you have to be so darn difficult?  I’ll just come out with it:  Paganini is too hard!  Yeah, yeah, all of the nay say-ers out there turned out to be, well, right.  (Where is RF when you need him?)  And also, wait, what?  No, don’t worry, I’m not quitting my little journey.  I’m letting the cat out of the bag.  If I was quitting, I would have titled this post “throwing in the towel.”

What cat is this, you ask?  About a week and a half ago it became obvious that I wasn’t going to debut Paganini come February, so Danielle and I went into bailout mode.  We had options.  An obvious thing I could have done is cut the thirds and chords and anything else remotely on that level of difficulty like the grace notes of variation 2 and that one variation that goes so high the treble clef can’t even handle it so they had to draw in that little dotted line:

After the trimmage, I would have a nice little incomplete ditty to show off my violin prowess.  I could have done that, and to be honest, something of that nature was what most of you were probably expecting.  The thing is, I want to play the whole thing!  Perhaps I could have learned the whole thing and then just screeched through it horribly, but hey, I played the whole thing!  Victory, right?  So let’s go with option 3:  I can play the whole thing, but let me have one more year.  No big deal, right?  Heh heh.  Everyone?  No biggie?  Yeah, I know, this experiment was supposed to be for one year, but how many experiments end differently than they began?  Lots of them!  Just ask the guy who invented the post it note.

So I’m giving myself one more year to learn the Paganini caprice 24.  Oh c’mon!  Don’t be that way!  It’s still pretty good for someone who’s played for two years to play a piece like that.  I’ll just be honest here.  I’m hitting a wall that’s just making violin not fun anymore.  Some of this Paganini stuff is so hard that I want to break my bow over my violin and then break my violin over the little shattered pieces of bow.  But that’s not the only reason for this decision.  If it was still possible then we still might give it a shot, as miserable as that might make me, but we’re reading the writing on the wall.  Given just a couple more months, there’s no way I’m going to have the whole piece memorized and if I forced it, some of the stuff wouldn’t simply be unpolished, but downright ugly.  I’m thinking of your ears here, not my embarrassment.  (I’m also thinking of my embarrassment)

But wait!  There’s an upside to all this.  I’m not getting out of performing, giving myself one more year to think of another excuse next November, giving myself one more year, etc, etc.  I’m still planning on playing come February, the only question is, what?  Hey, the title of this blog is “Vaughn vs Violin” not “Vaughn vs Paganini” or “Ryan vs Nicolo” or whatever.  And in the end, my goal is to still play the Paganini, I just need another year.  If you asked for another year, I’d give it to you…

So what should I play in the meantime?  Although twinkle twinkle would have some comic value with my tag line, we wanted something still challenging, but that I could realistically learn in the next couple of months.  The Kreutzer etude was an option, but we wanted something with a little more pizzazz.  We went, then, with, drumroll please…

The Bach Double Concerto!  The first movement of it anyway.  It’s funny; playing this piece has all of the reverse advantages and disadvantages as the Paganini.  Where Pags was ridiculously difficult with virtuoso trickery at every corner, Bach Double is much slower and more lyrical.  The up side to Paganini was that it’s so fast I didn’t have to really worry much about vibrato, which I have to do much more in the Bach Double, but hey, it turns out I’m pretty good at vibrato, so let’s just give it a go.  Other new challenges are things like playing with someone else and piano, so we’ll see how that turns out, but now I get to play something with Danielle!  So that’s a huge upside.  And still, let’s keep it in perspective here.  I still haven’t played violin for a whole year, and the Bach Double is by no means your typical beginner piece.

So there you have it.  We’re going in a slightly new direction, but just remember that even though I couldn’t play the Paganini (at least not yet) doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have tried.  I’ve learned the first few lines of the Bach so far and let me tell you, going from Paganini caprice 24 to Bach Double is like a large breath of fresh air.

Although Danielle tells me that because this piece is easier, other things like intonation had better be that much more perfect.  We’ll see.

12 Comments on “Cat out of the bag”

  1. Di says:


    the first movement of the Bach double is the last piece of the Suzuki book 4 (second violin). If you can play it well (intonation, etc), it’s a very nice result for your one-year effort. And you’ll have to play with the other violin, which is also difficult. This piece is sooooo beautiful. I’m addicted to it. The second movement always makes me cry of pure joy and awe.

    I think it’s a good decision and I’ll be looking forward to your Bach. Let’s face it: Bach is Bach, sublime pleasure! You’ll actually spoil us! If anyone complains, don’t give them a second thought.

    Now, if I can help you (I’m on that stage of Suzuki, already playing pieces of book 5, but forever polishing book 4): to learn the piece, I’ve slowed down the music and I’ve played it along, the same violin. Then, when I could play it at 80% of the tempo of the recording, I’ve started to play with a slowed down orchestra (recording, then slowed down). I think it worked, because I’m happy with my Bach double (second violin and only up to 80% of the recording’s tempo). There are three parts I find difficult (I call them cruxes, because of climbing) and I’ve practiced those three parts again and again, increasing tempo, with the slowed down recording.

    By the way, the Hot Canary was really, really nice.

  2. JRV says:

    Very good, rrv — I’m listening. In the meantime, I’m expecting some nice carol work come Christmas…

  3. sviolin1 says:

    I discovered your site today and am captivated by your story, your writing, and yes, your co urgent to mastering thus difficult instrument. Please continue your posts as they inspire me. Ah yes, I set a goal to play as well as my brother in a year. My goal is totally delusional but you have heard of sibling rivalry, right?
    I love your wife’s attitude!

  4. B.Rajkumar says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I welcome and respect your decision. Bach is divine. If you play it well, it will still be a great achievement. I am happy that your blog will continue for another year because I enjoy it and it keeps me inspired in my own humble violin learning.

  5. kjennings says:


    well….i guess it’s ok. I look forward to the Bach.

  6. Bart Meijer says:

    You still have my admiration for your courage, and my thanks for being an inspiration.

  7. John says:

    OK; you get an enlargement of time on the Paganini – I expect it to be all the better for it in a year from February.

    And you have a secret weapon here. Playing with somebody (and the piano) can actually serve as a prop to your playing, if they’re good (and Danielle is very, very good) – it actually makes the playing much easier.

    I’m enjoying your website, so the extension of time means I’ll get to read it that much longer. I played the Bach Double back when I was in high school and played the violin (shortly after its invention back in the Dark Ages) – it should not be an insurmountable challenge for you. Took up the cello 2.5 years ago.

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