Max Aronoff’s ‘Diet’ for the Left Hand …


When I was a student in Philadelphia, Pa., I was a member of Max Aronoff’s Technique Class. The class met weekly in the Concert Hall and consisted of advanced string students and a few professional orchestra musicians who were Max’s ex- students (and whom the rest of us students idolized).

Whatever our status, Max’s penetrating analysis of our individual playing was a given. He was great at remembering, organizing and confronting any technical difficulties with the greatest patience and persistence. Because his teachings were structured and often repeated in the same form, his students could not help but remember them. Besides, there was always the thought that one might suddenly be called to demonstrate an exercise to the rest of the class …

Max had a number of ‘diets’ that were not at all related to food. These diets were special courses of action which one diligently applied to gain mastery over a technical challenge.

One of the first ‘diets’ that I learned was for left hand agility and 4th finger mastery. Once learned, the 3 patterns are to be combined and repeated up the C/G (G/D) strings in ascending positions until one reaches the octave of the first note.

Pattern 1
Pattern 1
 Pattern 2 ... all of the above rhythms are repeated with this pattern.
Pattern 2 … all of the above rhythms are repeated with this pattern.
Pattern 3... again, repeat all of the above rhythms with this pattern.
Pattern 3… again, repeat all of the above rhythms with this pattern.

Now try linking the patterns together ………

Linked ... first position
Linked … first position
Linked ... 2nd position
Linked … 2nd position
Linked ... 3rd Position
Linked … 3rd Position

Not only are these exercises great for the left hand but the bow is practicing smooth string crossing.

This is a demanding ‘diet’ but the results are well worth the discipline.

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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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Zimbalist and the One – Minute Bow …

How long can you play a Down bow? How about an UP bow?
No fair stopping on the way …

When I was a student, it was reported that early each morning,
Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., would open the doors of the famous Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and begin his daily morning practice on his violin.
By the time the students had arrived, he was well into his scales with his one – minute bow per note.

Needless to say, even 40 second bows are less than satisfying to hear and the sounds of his humble practice were the first sounds to greet the students as they arrived. There were some humorous remarks exchanged between students but never anything that reached the master’s ears.

what a lesson they all learned …

Screen shot 2011-10-09 at 8.16.12 PM

A bit of history … Zimbalist, noted Russian violinist, composer, conductor, and teacher was the director of the world famous Curtis Institute from 1941 to 1968. Only the finest and most gifted students from all over the world are accepted at the Curtis Institute of Music.
Zimbalist was one of Leopold Auer’s outstanding pupils, had concertized extensively and had the reputation of being a very strict and demanding teacher. If you didn’t maintain Curtis standards, you were out …

Although Zimbalist officially retired from playing when he was about 60, he played the Mendelssohn Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra to celebrate his 80th birthday. It was a concert we will not soon forget. Obviously, his one – minute bow worked.

So how can we begin to learn this one – minute bow? Or even the 40 second bow…

  • First of all, you need to set your metronome at 60.
  • Next, place the bow very close to the bridge … begin to move as slowly as you can.
  • Sustain the same speed of bow throughout the entire stroke.
  • Holding the bow firmly,try to keep the same pressure at the point of contact throughout.

Be patient with your sound, maintain your focus and be aware of what is happening as you count each second.

Enjoy your disciplined, steady meditative approach, and know it brings results!

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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.


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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