The Gift to see Ourselves as we see Others

I have been using video as a teaching tool since 1968. For many years I have listened to my students as they view their video playback …

“Hm, I looked better than I thought.”
“Oh, I see what you are talking about”
“Interesting! Can I try it again?”
“I felt like I was looking at someone else.”
“It’s a new, more objective awareness of myself.”

Have you ever heard anyone describe a photograph of themselves in those terms? Interesting …
Video is not static, it is dynamic …
it is very different from a frozen photograph.

A major difficulty in learning the violin or viola is that we cannot see what we are doing. Both arms are outside our field of vision and moving in completely different directions. There might be pictures in our books which demonstrate the correct positions but most of these cannot show us what we will see as we play our own instrument.

There is a desperate need for visual information at the beginning of any complex learning process. The student can only attempt to imitate the teacher, dependent on teacher feedback as to whether the imitation has been successful. Usually there are subtle corrections made by the teacher, the pupil then adapts and tries to remember what changes should be made. Perceptual agreement between the teacher and student is the goal.
Of course, when the student returns home to practice, there is no teacher present and it is quite probable that many of the movements will be practiced incorrectly until the following lesson.

The next lesson will repeat the same process. There seem to be many corrections that have caused confusion and student confidence may begin to fall. The teacher will then probably suggest the use of a mirror. That certainly could help but unfortunately the mirror image is perceived as the self image. Every time the student looks in a mirror there is an awareness of ‘me’ and all that is associated with that image. Also, using a mirror is very distracting while playing unless the music is memorized. Even then, both tactile and auditory information suffer as one turns one’s attention to the mirror.

Video has the potential to completely circumvent these problems. Through the consistent monitoring of our recordings we are able to directly influence our thinking and psychological make-up, greatly accelerate our learning, and perform with much greater confidence.

Video has the ability to give us the distance that we need to objectify our perspective of our playing. We can imitate our teachers using video, and, if we save our recordings, check our development in practice.

We can use slow and quick motion to see what is really happening.
We can magnify any movements of our hands that we want to see.
We can keep our eyes on our music, our ears on our tone,
and record … and record again.

What a gift to finally see ourselves as we see others. Maybe we can even say, ‘Hm, not bad!’

Finally, we can just play without any recording and just listen and feel. We will have all of the visual information we need and can turn our attention elsewhere.

For more practice tips and personal video lessons,

visit Online Violin Lessons

Creating speed and a strong, reliable left hand position

I have recently received a number of questions regarding the frame of the left hand and the position of the first finger. I thought I would share one of my favorite exercises which sets the hand and the first finger, increases dexterity … and strengthens the fourth finger as well.

As violinists, we search for a comfortable playing position. Since many of us lack that ‘perfect hand’, we need to find and mentally set our our basic position so we are able to reach all of the notes with the greatest economy of motion. I believe that the fourth finger, being the smallest finger, must be set on the fingerboard for this to happen.

Try the following exercises and see if they help you. I have adapted Sevcik’s School of Violin Technique, Opus 1, Part 1, # 1, by adding a silent 4th finger to stabilize and mentally clarify the inner and outer frame of the hand.

To begin, place the fourth finger on the E string. Play the four notes on the A string slowly, I suggest you repeat that first measure 4 times, adjusting the intonation and feeling any stretches between your fingers. Remember that the bow plays only the notes on the A string while the fourth finger remains silently on the E string.


The following rhythms should then be repeated 2 times each. Remember to release any tension in the thumb at the end of each measure. The fourth finger remains on the E string.


If there is difficulty with the second finger stretch you may want to begin with a C#.


More advanced players can experiment with other finger patterns.



This exercise strengthens the pinky isometrically while the first finger is
extended backwards to reach the B or Bflat.
By the time one reaches the third measure, the fourth finger moves to the A string and is able to play effortlessly as the hand is now balanced with the fingers over the notes.

With practice, hopefully the hand will soon ‘remember’ where it is supposed to be.

For more practice tips, visit, Online Violin Lessons

The fastest way to play Fast …

There is some controversy about how to learn to play a passage fast. Should we not play the selection slowly and then, using our metronome, gradually increase the speed until we can reach that final tempo?

If you follow that procedure exclusively, you will spend most of your practice time playing at a speed other than your final tempo. But, as violinists, our finger and bow connections change substantially as we vary speeds … We need a method of preparation that focuses on the repetition of our exact movements at the final tempo.

Try the following method for this fast détaché.

If it works for you, add it to your practice toolbox.

Here is an excerpt from the famous Paganini Perpetuum Mobile.


Play through the above selection very slowly in mid-bow, using a tiny amount of bow.
You want to imitate the amount of bow you will use when you are playing it at fast speed.

Don’t worry, it may sound a bit scratchy and choked …

Keep the left hand fingers as close to the string as you can.


If you know the notes and the rhythm, that is the end of slow practice,

onward …


A.Set your metronome for the final speed you would love to play and follow the notation above. Play near the middle of the bow, tiny bows … left hand fingers close to the fingerboard.


B. Next step, same speed, tiny bows, lift and retake bow in rests.
Pay close attention to what happens in string crossings.


C. Same speed, add another group of 4. Listen carefully to intonation.


D. Same speed, add two more groups of 4 and rest.
Make sure this is feeling good before you go on …


E. Same speed, two measures, rest at the end.

You have it! Once we can play 2 measures/rest,
we can play 4 measures/rest, etcetera.

Remember to repeat many times from step A while
refining your sound, intonation and string crossings.

Keep in mind that you are always practicing at final tempo.


Online Violin Lessons

The ‘Almost’ Silent Bow

When we don’t want to be heard …

Maybe we are in the Green Room surrounded by all those ‘great’ violinists, maybe we are waiting for an audition or lesson, or everyone in the house is asleep, or maybe we have just started to practice and can’t stand to listen to ourselves before we get our bearings.

We could start to tune the violin quietly at the tip like the polite pros do to get the feel …
or maybe we can just start silently with …

That Important Up Bow

  • Gently rest the bow at the tip on A string. Did it bounce when you put it down? Do it again until it behaves itself and you are in complete control. Check that the bow is parallel to the bridge.
  • Now, lift the bow and put it down at the middle on the same string, the same distance from the bridge as before. Check that the bow has remained parallel to the bridge.
  • Again, lift and rest the bow at the frog. Without turning your head, can you see or almost see the tip of the bow or … is it closer to your left ear?

What went Up bow must come Down bow

  • Lift the bow again, returning to the middle of the bow.But before you complete the down bow … remember that the upper arm will move forward as you move to the tip.
  • As the bow rests once more at the tip, is the bow still parallel to the bridge? If not, go back to the middle and repeat that challenging motion from middle to tip, watching the elbow closely until you see how your arm must move to maintain a parallel bow.

Onward, Upward and Downward

Try this on your other strings as well. If your arm is too short to go all the way to the tip, don’t worry, just adjust according to your arm length and stop short of the end of the bow.

If you repeat this simple 2 minute exercise when you first pick up your instrument, you will automatically program your bow to move correctly for the remainder of your practice. And if you have more than two minutes … you can have some fun deciding where you will touch down next, maybe in the middle on G, then at the tip on E, wherever you determine … go for it.

If someone is watching, all the better. They will know you are practicing fine bow control and be a bit envious.
Your real reward will be a beautiful sound as well as greater confidence in your control of your bow. Enjoy!

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Vivian Waters

Vivian Waters