Department for Violinists
Etude Magazine. December, 1918
Edited by ROBERT BRAINE
"If All Would Play First Violin We Could Get No Orchestra Together."—R. SCHUMANN
Why will people buy cheap, worthless violins to "learn on"? It seems to be owing to some queer crook in human nature that people who think nothing of paying $400 or $500, or even more, for a piano, think it is good policy to pay $5 or $10 for a cheap fiddle at the start. Now, it should be understood that these cheap fiddles are practically worthless so far as producing good musical results go. They are in the same category with $1.25 shoes, $8 suits of clothes and eyeglasses which are sold at the five and ten cent stores. They are like wooden razors, only made to sell.
The theory on which people buy these cheap violins is that they do not know whether the pupil will make a success of violin playing and do not want the instrument left on their hands if he does not. It is strange that they do not apply the same line of reasoning when purchasing a piano or a vast number of other articles which might be named.
Theodore Thomas, the late famous orchestral director, who was an excellent violinist himself, was always most emphatic in advising violin pupils to use violins with a good quality of tone. His theory was that the rough, crude, rasping tones of a cheap, worthless violin were a positive injury to the growing brain and artistic nature of a pupil obliged to use it.
Harsh Tones An Injury
How can a pupil enjoy practice on a rough-toned violin, and what inspiration can he hope for from the tones of such an instrument? The surest way to insure the failure of a violin pupil is to give him a violin every tone of which grates on his nerves and sickens him. A human being will not thrive on bad, unappetizing food, and a music pupil will not thrive with practice on an instrument which gives forth harsh, inartistic tones.
Beautiful tones are admired by everyone, and if the pupil has an instrument which produces such tones he will enjoy his practice and make a success of his violin work. If he has a poor instrument he will hate the sight of it.
Cheap violins are made of crude material, by the cheapest processes. It is impossible that the graduation of the top and back can be properly done. The whole object is to get up a cheap box which can be sold for a small price.
Poor Mechanical Details
Aside from the bad tone and being uneven in the higher positions, and with horrible "wolf" tones on the G string, the mechanical details of these cheap fiddles make them an abomination to the player. Instead of ebony trimmings they are usually fitted up with trimmings of some ordinary hard wood, stained black to resemble ebony. As a consequence the pressure of the fingers on the strings wear little gutters in the fingerboard in no time. Pegs of such wood also lack the rigidity of ebony, and twist in the sockets, and often twist in two, making it impossible to tune the violin properly. Then the pegs in such violins do not fit the holes closely, making tuning doubly difficult. It is worth paying a good price for a violin only to have a well-fitting set of genuine ebony pegs, and other ebony trimmings. These cheap violins are slapped up in such a hurry, that the sound-post does not fit, the bass bar is not properly made or adjusted, the bridge is the wrong height, and does not follow the curve of the violin, the nut too low or too high, with the notches for the strings badly spaced. Then, on such instruments, the fingerboard is usually placed at the wrong angle, making it too low or too high, and necessitating the use of a bridge either too low or too high. Many other defects in such instruments could be pointed out. It is often necessary to go to the expense of several dollars to put such a violin in even approximately correct playing condition. It is real economy to buy a violin of fairly good quality at the start.
It is hard to change human nature, and, recognizing the reluctance of people to buy violins of good quality until they are sure the pupil will not tire of the violin, and give it up in a short time, some teachers keep a few violins of good quality which they rent to pupils temporarily. It is also often possible to rent violins from violin dealers, and music dealers. Some dealers in old violins have an arrangement whereby they sell a violin, with an agreement that they will refund the money paid for it, less a reasonable commission, if the purchaser desires to return it at any time.
The idea of buying a very cheap violin to start with would not be so bad, if a better violin were purchased after a few weeks' trial, wherein it is seen whether the pupil will "take" to violin study. As a rule, however, the better violin is not bought, and the matter drifts on for months or years, before the pupil is provided with a good violin. Meanwhile the young violinist is tortured with the wretched first instrument, which has been bought, through false economy, to see whether he will study the violin permanently.
Joy in Hadyn (sic) and Wagner
In the pauses of a Haydn or Mozart symphony a word falls lightly from the lip; one is cheerfully exhilarated and happiness makes one communicative. After a Beethoven movement the lip is mute, because we are lifted above the world by his wondrous power of idealization.
In gazing upon landscape paintings we experience a similar effect. A smiling valley bathed in blissful fragrance and filled with vari-colored blossoms renders us gay and talkative; amid elevated mountain scenery, where the pathos of solitude, the overwhelming grandeur and silence of nature surround us, we walk silently side by side.—Ehlert, in From the Tone World.
A correspondent writes: "The trouble I am confronting at present is the counting of time. I have great difficulty to keep the time regularly on even a short piece from the beginning to the end. I understand that the lack of leisure for practice is one of the chief causes of my difficulty, but as a self-supporting student in the ————- Institute, I cannot afford to spend more than an hour a day. My aim is not to become a professional player, but to learn enough to amuse myself, if not my friends, although I am an ardent lover of the violin. I should like to hear if there is any way to cure my difficulty, i. e., the irregular counting of time while playing."
A Typical Case
Our correspondent's case is typical of that of thousands of violin students who are trying to learn the violin, either with incompetent instruction, or no instruction at all. Some students have a natural talent for playing in time, and learn it with hardly an effort, others only learn it after long continued study with a good teacher; others never do succeed in learning it, either from lack of talent, or because they do not give enough study to it, or do not have competent instruction.
The violin being a melody instrument, it is much more difficult for a violin student to learn to play in time than a student on the piano or organ, where, in so many passages, the accompaniment keeps the time of the melody straight, the left hand as it were counting for the right.
The first thing our correspondent should do is to master the theoretical part of playing in time, that is the number of beats and fraction of beats given to the various kinds of notes and rests, and the number of beats in a measure in the different kinds of time, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, 9/8, 4/2, etc. The theoretical part of time keeping is not difficult to master, and almost any instruction book has tables giving the time values of notes, rests, etc., or an elementary book on theory can be obtained.
It is in the practical application of these principles that the difficulty lies. The student may beat or count while he plays, at all times, and yet play atrociously out of time, for the simple reason that he beats or counts wrong, that is, unevenly, irregularly, hurrying up one measure and retarding another. Some students who cannot play in time, invariably slow up on the hard passages, and hurry up the easy ones.
Two Ways of Keeping Time
The violin student has the choice of two methods in keeping time, one beating with the foot, and the other counting audibly or inaudibly. If the time is kept by beating with the foot, it should be very softly, since loud stamping with the foot is very amateurish, and annoying to the listener. Although many teachers frown on this foot beating, there seems to be many pupils who do not seem to be able to keep time any other way. I have often noticed musicians of worldwide fame, even concert violinists and orchestral conductors at concert performances beating with the foot, and in public at that. If this method is employed, it is a good idea to mark in the music the notes or rests in the measure on which the beats fall. This can be done with a lead pencil very lightly so that the marks can be readily erased by the teacher if wrong.
Metronome a Help
It is very difficult for a violin student to learn to keep time regularly and evenly without a teacher to point out his mistakes. To such a student a metronome is a great help, although too much practice with a metronome is apt to result in a mechanical style of performance. In using the metronome at the start, very easy music, consisting principally of whole, half and quarter notes should be used. The metronome should be set at a very slow tempo so that the student can hear that the notes coincide with the beats of the metronome. When the student has acquired sufficient proficiency to play these easy exercises or pieces with the metronome, more difficult music, containing dotted notes, eighths, quarters, sixteenths, triplets, and the various rests, etc., can be taken up.
Another great help for the self-taught violinist is practice with others. Many Sunday and day schools have orchestras which the student might join. The music used is usually of an easy grade, and the student will find that the fact that he must play in time with the others, or lose his place in the music, will assist him greatly in gradually learning to play to conform to a steady beat. Playing with piano accompaniment, or in violin duets, trios, quartets, etc., is also an excellent help in learning to play in time. The self-taught pupil may imagine that he is playing a part in perfect time, but when he comes to play it with another, he finds that the two parts do not fit, owing to one of the performers playing in incorrect time. Mistakes in time which he never dreamed of will come to light when he plays with others. A violinist practicing alone like a hermit, cannot expect to learn to play in perfect time. A certain amount of practice with others is essential.
Advantage of Using Easy Music
Students trying to learn to play in time often fail because they use comparatively difficult pieces and exercises for the purpose. The first exercises should be very simple, first whole notes, then half, then quarter, then exercises containing all three combined with rests, and progressively eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, triplets, etc., etc., with the corresponding rests.
With many violin students the art of playing in good time is a matter of years. Not only must the student learn to keep strict time, but to gradually accelerate and ritard the movement at will at any given degree necessary for an artistic rendition of the composition. We have poco rit., a slight ritard; molto rit., a great ritard, and constantly changing degrees of tempo. Much experience and long study is necessary to master the science of keeping time.
The Italian words at the beginning of a composition indicate the speed of the beating. For instance, andante means slowly, allegretto, rather fast, presto, extremely fast, etc., all such terms should be known to the pupil. Many beginners in music have the idea that a certain note is always of the same duration in any composition, and it seems hard for them to understand, for instance, that in a very
slow movement an eighth note may be longer than a quarter note in very quick time.
Summing up the matter of learning to play in time, it is possible for a pupil of great talent and ingenuity, to learn to play in time if he have opportunities of hearing much music, and of playing with others, but without such talent, it is doubtful if it can be done. Pupils with poor talent often fail to learn time even with the assistance of a good teacher over a long period of years.
Etude Magazine. December, 1918
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