Sound advice from Ivan Galamian

It had been a few years since I had last seen my teacher, Jascha Brodsky, and it was great to just relax, have a cup of coffee and catch up. Our conversation eventually drifted to pedagogy when suddenly, he became very animated. He said he had just witnessed the best lesson he had ever experienced in his whole life.

Mr. B. was very good friends with Ivan Galamian and had been invited to sit in on a lesson that Galamian was giving to a new pupil at the Curtis Institute. According to Brodsky, the student came into the studio with his violin, bowed politely and said that he had prepared the first movement of the Bruch Violin Concerto in g minor. Galamian nodded, introduced Mr. B., sat down and asked the pupil to begin playing whenever he was ready.

The student, after tuning a bit self consciously, played to the end of the movement. Here, he paused and looked to Galamian for some comment and further direction. There was an uncomfortable silence. Galamian finally spoke, “Whenever you are ready… again, please.” Again, the student played through the movement from start to finish (the first movement lasts about nine minutes). Once more, that pause and, “Whenever you are ready … again, please.”

One can only imagine how the new student must have felt as he played through the movement a third time in front of the master and his guest. But play again he did and this time, when he ended Galamian rose from his seat and walked slowly over to him. Galamian asked him to raise his violin once more and then he pointed to the rosin which had fallen from the bow onto the fingerboard. “You see this? You would sound much better if this were not there. Move ze bow closer to the bridge. Thank you, Good day.”

Why do you think that this was such a great lesson? Surely Galamian could have easily spent the whole lesson on interpretation, on bow technique, etcetera. But Mr. B. thought that Galamian was very wise, less is more, the student would never forget Galamian’S few pointed words of advice. Playing the same selection continuously for the entire lesson in front of a critical audience was also a most valuable personal experience for the student.

For an excellent graphic illustration of bow contact points and the placement of the bow between bridge and fingerboard, go to

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Vivian Waters

Vivian Waters