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An interesting issue has been coming up recently from my YouTube viewers, my “Fabulous
Fundamentals for Violin” participants, and a couple of my private students. It took me awhile,
but FINALLY I realized that this obviously is a common concern and might make a good topic for a post.
What is this issue that confounds violin students worldwide? Clean, Fast playing! We all wanna do it! But HOW do we develop those mad skills?
Speed on the violin involves basically 2 things:
- It involves learning to quickly put the fingers down, and quickly lift the fingers up, at the right time, and with the right energy. In other words, left hand articulation.
- It also involves getting the BOW and LEFT HAND perfectly in sync.
Each of these skills can and SHOULD be worked on separately, and I am going to tell you how
you can start. I’ll also share a wonderful method book that I have used for this very purpose, and last of all, I will include a link to my latest YouTube video demonstrating these (I still have to do this video) exercises…because it is hard as heck to explain it, and easy as pie to demonstrate! Click here to watch the video on speed and dexterity exercises.
The exercises I’m going to describe for you will be demonstrated on my YouTube video. I highly encourage you to speed-read the rest of this post, and then go over to my YouTube channel, where a picture is worth a thousand words!
I told you I would share with you a special left hand book which is pure gold, and it is my
favorite for building dexterity, speed, and articulation. The book is by Otakar Sevcik, Op.
1, “School of Violin Technics”. If all you did from this book was the first 4 exercises, it would
transform your technique!
No need to go out and buy it yet. You can download a PDF of my own “imitation” version of the Sevcik Op.1, exercise #1, SIMPLIFIED, and very much abbreviated. It is written in the key of C, but I have included a few other key signatures to encourage you to play this exercise in the 4 basic finger patterns. Namely, half step between fingers 2-3 (A Major, as well as other keys), half step between 1-2 (C Major plus other keys), half step between 3-4 (E Major as well as other keys), and whole steps between all 4 fingers (F Major as well as other keys).
If you do this exercise in all 4 finger patterns, on all 4 strings, at a minimum metronome marking of quarter note=60, you will be amazed at the results you get.
For now, just learn these 2 exercises by using my very basic and simplified note sequences, which you can download right here. Later, you can add to these exercises and apply them in about 1000 different ways! We will explore only two ways. Download the instructions for them here. And more instructions here.
EXERCISE 1: Developing Left Hand Speed, Dexterity, and Articulation
Use my exercise called “1—Building Left Hand Speed and Dexterity” for this exercise. (You
may also apply this method to scales, Sevcik, Etude by Suzuki, and many other etudes at a later time). Set your metronome to quarter note = 60 for starters. Suppose we are talking about a 4 note sequence:
- Play the 4 note sequence as if each note were a quarter note, i.e. play 1 note per click. Play 1 note per bow. You will play the sequence 1 time, and it will take you 4 clicks, and
- Play the same sequence of notes as if they were 8th notes. So you will play it twice as fast, slurring 2 notes per bow. You should play the sequence 2x, and it will take you 4 clicks,
and 4 bows.
- Play the same sequence as if they were 16th notes. So you will play it 4x as fast, slurring 4 notes per bow. You will play the sequence 4x, and it will take you 4 clicks, and 4 bows.
- When you have mastered this at a metronome setting of quarter note = 60, gradually speed it up to about 84 or so. But even if you only did it at 60, you will notice rapid left hand improvement.
A few after thoughts:
- On the slowest repetition, set your hand in a frame, and don’t allow it to deviate, especially on the faster repetitions. The true test is on the fastest repetition. Your hand will tend to spazz-out until you learn relaxed control.
- Keep your hand RELAXED, or you will defeat the purpose of this exercise. Don’t squeeze!
- Try to hit each note on the same spot on your fingertip every time.
- Use firm articulation, (little hammer strikes) but try to minimize the force of the hammer strike. (I think of little mice feet running along!)
Now, the other main hindrance to clean, fast playing in violin is Left/Right Hand coordination. Using the SAME printout as in Exercise 1, this exercise will help to get Left and Right hand SYNCHRONIZED. This exercise is all on one string. Keep in mind part of your synchronization challenge comes from string crossings, so you will have to deal with that issue later on. One layer at a time!
EXERCISE 2: Developing Left/Right Hand Coordination
(This is simplified to work well for beginners. You can make it more difficult by applying it to your 3 octave scales, or the Bach Presto in Gm, and other repertoire)
Refer to my downloadable exercise called, “Developing Left/Right Hand Coordination”.
Set your Metronome to 60, for starters. You will move it faster as you get better.
You will play this exercise as if it were 16th notes all the way through. The only thing that
changes is you will reduce the number of repetitions of each note. Before you know it, you will
be playing fast-moving 16th note passages!
- Play every note 4 times per click of the metronome. You’ll play the sequence 1 time and it will take you 4 clicks.
- Play every note only 2 times, but at the same speed as step 1. So, you will play 2 pitches in only 1 metronome click, but your bow will not change speeds. You will play the sequence 2 times within 4 clicks.
- Play every note 1 time, so you will change notes on EVERY bow change. Keep your bow moving at the SAME speed throughout all 3 steps!!! You will play the sequence 4 times, and it will take you 4 clicks.
Then, do the same exercise in factors of 3, because this fills in all the cracks!: This one is a
little bit weird until you completely grasp the concept of common denominators. If your chosen sequence is not divisible by 3, then you won’t be able to do the final step # 5 of this exercise.
1) Play every note in the sequence 12 times (3 for every metronome click)
2) Play every note 9 times. (still 3 reps for every metronome click)
3) Play every note 6 times (3 for every metronome click, but play the sequence twice)
4) Play every note 3 times (3 for every metronome click, but play the sequence 4x’s)
5) If your sequence is divisible by 3, play every note ONCE, (3 different notes per click!!!)
Play the sequence 4 times without stumbling!
Alright. Don’t waste any more time reading! Go get that violin out and TRY it! Prepare to be
amazed at the quick results you get from these 2 simple, POWERFUL exercises.
Don’t burn a hole through your fingerboard with all that new speed!
I have tried to print the PDFs of the exercises a couple of times and what prints is just lines and boxes on the staffs. Is there another way to get these? I have really enjoyed your youtube channel and can see improvements in my playing. I am hoping to take your fiddle lessons in the near future. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
I just printed the PDF with no issues, but if you are getting strange lines and boxes then I would try to update your print driver for your printer on your computer. It depends on the printer that you have, but if you go online and search for your printer, you should be able to find the drivers for it. Try that first and then try to update your PDF reader. If both of those don’t work, please let me know and we will go from there.
Red Desert Member Support
What a great help this is! I’ve been playing for 15 months and have been blocked for a while with poor coordination and also not such straight bowing. This is going to help– I started it today and feel it is helping already just mentally.
Thank you for taking the time to go through it so diligently.
I hope it will be of some benefit to you, Margaret. I hope it’s perfectly understandable and clear. If you have any questions, let me know!
After few years of playing, I still have a hard time playing fast. Any tip to play the first run in the Bach double (d c# d e f# g# a b c) faster ? For some reason i can’t go faster when playing the f# g#.
What’s frustrating is that i can play fast doing up but I can’t keep the same speed going down.
I may have some synchronization challenge from string crossings. Have you published the exercises for string crossing ?
That run has two issues in it: string crossings, and the high 3. Either of those can tangle you up or slow you down.
The best way I know of to sort out a run like that is to practice it in “rhythms”. I do a video demo on youtube of this magical technique. I can’t give you a link because i”m in a hotel and youtube is blocked here. But go to my Red Desert Violin youtube channel, and search, “practicing in rhythms”, and you’ll find it. Apply the 2-note rhythms to that run, and you’ll be in top shape very soon. That practice technique is POWERFUL.
Now, as far as your statement about being able to play fast going up, but not going down…..you have just solved that mystery in your statement, you just don’t know it! Think about what your fingers do when you are climbing up: they strike the fingerboard. Think about what they do when you go down: the simply lift off the string.
Which has more action? More articulation? Of course, striking the fingerboard does! So it’s easier to play fast and rhythmically when we go up a scale than down.
You have to train your fingers to lift off rhythmically and with action as much as when you put them down.
To do this, you can play a scale or even just a 4 note half scale WITH NO BOW…..just “ping” your fingers onto the strings so you can hear the pitches, then as you lift off, lift them with energy, so that you can sort of hear the pitch as you lift.
You can also lift with a SLIGHT side-ways motion, so your fingertip barely swipes the string as you lift. This gives a little pizzicato as you lift, which enhances the articulation. Try that. This is a good topic. I’ll probably do a video on this soon. Keep up the good work!
Hey, I recently attended Summer Namm in Nashville and a company called Sytem 5 was selling a new product called Power Fingers. They are a web design rubber type thing that you use to strengthen your fingers. You can also wear them while playing your instrument and doing any hand exercise.
Have you seen them – and what is your opinion on them?
(I did purchase some and like them, but am curious what you think). The website is : thepowerfingers.com
Hi CArolyn! Wow….your comment got buried….things are hoppin’ at RDV!
Ok, so I clicked on a link you sent me….and it showed a demo.
At first I was thinking, “No way, this is wreckless, and could injure. And it’s not necessary for violinists. And it could cause us to play out of tune.
But after I got over my panic moment, I got to thinking, and actually, I am intrigued.
I would DEFINITELY start on the easiest one.
But I do believe if you practiced a difficult passage with one of these on, it will do one of two things:
1) function as ankle weights to a runner. Train for a week with ankle weights on. Take ankle weights off. Running is now easier.
2) it could train you to work harder instead of focusing on relaxing. (so you get stronger so that you can endure more tension in your playing)
So…..I am intrigued, but I am concerned too. Be careful, and LET US KNOW what you discover!
I cannot download the PDF files, I get a ‘file not found’ message on each of the PDF links. Are they still available?
I alerted my technical advisor as soon as I saw your comment, and he took care of it last night. I assumed he had notified you that it was fixed….but in case he didn’t, IT IS FIXED!
Thanks for the heads up! Enjoy!
I am trying to find the article to download on Left/Right hand coordination?
Sorry to bother! I’m sure it’s here somewhere!?
I am confused about the switch to jig time in the exercises. Are you still playing four clicks per measure? If so what does playing 9 times in four clicks look like and 6 times etc.? Thanks, I hope to see improvement in that two weeks!
Hi Susan! Sorry for the confusion.
No….once you switch to the jig meter (6/8), then you go to TWO clicks per measure.
I would never construct an exercise that is anything but simple….so if you start thinking, “OMG, this is WEIRD”…then you probably have misunderstood.
And, when you do 9 repetitions, then it wouldn’t be 6/8 time, it would be 9/8 time.
But I don’t really even try to equate the exercise to a time signature….I just try to cover all the bases as far as repetitions….to get all the major rep groups: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 16. (for an extra advanced challenge, you can do 5, 7, 10, 11, etc., but I think asymmetrical and prime numbers have less value to the exercise)
I hope this helps. Don’t hesitate to tell me if I totally did not answer your question! 😉
Do you have any tips for more advanced violinists? I have played for 4-5 years and I wanted to speed up further in playing. Can I speed up the exercises you gave, or can you recommend more advanced exercises? Thanks.
Make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter. I send out TONS of helpful tips (well, not tons, but as many as I have time to put out). I think you will benefit from that. If you are not subscribed, write to “firstname.lastname@example.org” and ask him to subscribe you.
Some of the tips in my newsletters include: Developing internal rhythm, using a metronome, efficient practice, Speed and Dexterity for left hand, Left/Right Hand Coordination, Practicing in Rhythms, and maybe a couple more.
Also, I LOVE the Simon Fischer book called “Basics”. It is expensive, but it’s WORTH it. However, alot of what he says will be over the head of a beginner, so take that into consideration.
Finally, you probably are aware of my YouTube channel, but I also like Todd Ehle’s YouTube channel, he is also known as “Professor V”, and he has lots of GREAT videos on etudes and technique. Last but not least, every aspiring violinist should frequent “Violinist.com”. The community there is a TREASURE TROVE of expertise and information. I go there for answers very often.
Good luck to you!
No, no… It says PUBLIC DOMAIN… The version of that book and its copyright have expired! But if you do get thrown in jail, don’t worry we’ll bail you out!
Hey, that’s cool! You just answered a question I was too lazy to look up for myself. YAY! Ok, everyone…..DOWNLOAD IT! It’s exactly what I have at home!
How sweet….you’d bail me out?! 🙂
Hi, great exercises and your condensed exercises are very helpful also. Sevcik exercises are actually in Public Domain now for does who can’t buy the book at this time…! But I recommend having the book if you can!!
Wow…..that link was GREAT! Thanks for sharing! I hope it’s ok that the scanned files were of SCHIRMER publications. If I get thrown in jail, please write!
i would like to thank you for your great video about playing faster. very much it has helped me. however i dont know why left hand fingers stiffens when i play faster. i am left handed and surprisingly my right hand fingers are faster. sometimes i think of playing left handed. do you have any suggestion that could help me ( a left hander ) more?
i am 30 and started playing 1 year ago
thank you in advance
I would recommend that you visit http://www.Violinist.com and check out all the conversations involving left-handed violinists. It is an ongoing debate, and left-handers insist that it is a disadvantage to play a violin the normal way as a left-hand dominant person. They claim that it is the BOW control that gives them fits!
In other words, it helps if you play the BOW with your DOMINANT hand, because there is SO much finite nuance and complexity to bow technique.
But you struggle with your left hand playing the notes on the violin and relaxing.
My only advice for this problem is to practice on VERY EASY stuff, focusing on relaxing. Then, gradually add more complex stuff. For instance, practice a simple one-octave scale, with NO vibrato, and in an easy key. Once you can relax, then you can try it in other keys, and you can try to add vibrato. (you probably are not doing vibrato yet, but you get the concept)
Another thing to try: Often, we have a hard time separating the left side of our body from the right side…..we want to do things the same on both sides. So, if you are playing LOUD with your bow hand (more weight) you are going to try to play LOUD with your left hand, (more tension and pressure).
So, try practicing SOFT with both hands, then practice adding more power and volume with your BOW hand, but teach your left hand to ALWAYS play softly. Once you are consciously aware of this little phenomenon, you can quickly overcome it.
Good luck! You have a long career in violin ahead of you! Seize the moment! -Lora
Oh, and let me know how you like violinist.com. I LOVE that site!
Look forward to seeing you soon and thank you so much for Amelia’s violin lesson. We can’t wait!
Hi Loralyn: Your website looks great! Thanks for sharing your expertise with the rest of us.
Thank you, Katie! It’s nice to see you here! I can’t wait to hear Amelia play!
I’ve had a chance to dig into your left hand and bowing exercises, and I have to say, I really see, and feel an improvement. I will continue these exercises as needed.
Thanks so much!
I am so glad to hear that, Yvette!
You have NO IDEA how many people I hear that from! It’s like those exercises are a magical potion….all you have to do is DO THEM, and it transforms your left hand!
I remember how much it helped me. Thanks for checking in!
I can’t wait to try out these exercises! When I was learning basic scales my friend recommended that I keep the previous fingers down (eg. going up the scale if I press down my 2nd finger the 1st finger is still on the string). Do I have to lift my fingers for these exercises?
Thanks for all of you helpful tips : )
No, you don’t have to lift your fingers.
In fact, it is a VERY good rule to say, “Only lift a finger when you MUST move it”. So, you MUST lift a 3 to play a 2. But you don’t need to lift a 1 to play a 3.
I didn’t mention that in my videos or exercises, but since you brought it up, it would be very beneficial for you to also work on “efficiency” by keeping fingers down until you must lift them.
GREAT question. Good luck, let me know when it transforms your playing! (it will…..in about a month or so)
hi , your video lesson had been usfull to me to teach my student.
i can play the violin very well but when I teach my 6years old students, it really tough and hard to explain what is the problem is.
i live in south korea, and i’m a big fan of you.
thank you for your teaching and hope you keep the internet lesson 😉
Thank you, Jang!
I plan to keep doing my internet lessons for a very long time!
I’m very glad you find them helpful for your students!
In depth and comprehensive, yet simple enough for the beginner of any age. Excellent work with the curriculum you have developed.
I decided 3 weeks ago that I wanted to play the violin, you have helped and I saw progress from each video I watched as I try to emulated everything that you do.
Thanks for the kind words!
I’m so glad my videos are helping you. Watch out for my next few newsletters……they’ll be coming out soon, and they’ll be good ones!
I am enjoying the exercises, but approximately how long does it take to improve?
Most people who do these exercises start to notice a difference within 2 weeks, and they report a REMARKABLE difference in a month.
The differences they start to notice is improved coordination and speed in the left hand…..like they will go back to a passage that has given them problems in the past, and voila….they can play it now. Or, they will say their hand has found new “balance” and has better form.
One student didn’t notice changes or improvements in his technique, but he started NOTICING things about his left hand habits that were getting in his way, and he was able to make changes and corrections, and THAT led to improved technique.
How long have you been doing them, and how much time spent in a session?
It should only take 5-10 minutes per day, every day for 2-4 weeks.