Kreutzer No. 2

kreuzter“Studies” are basically long exercises that focus on one or two crucial aspects of improving violin techniques. Some of these studies are just downright boring (Schradieck and Ševčík’s exercises come to mind), but we still use them nonetheless because they give you good results fast. Occasionally we also have the joy of playing more lyrical studies. Paganini’s 24 Caprices top that list. They are concert worthy works, let alone terrific exercises. I admit that I still find most of the caprices very difficult. When I was younger, I also played Kreutzer’s 42 Studies for Violin. I just didn’t know that I’d be playing them still.

When I was 17 I began my apprenticeship under Mr. Arthur Polson. At my first lesson, he told me I had too many deficiencies in my techniques. (He also told me that I needed a better violin, but that’s another story for another day.) I was eager to try difficult works, but have neglected to lay down a good foundation. As a result, my progress was beginning to stall. I was to go home and practice Kreutzer’s Study No. 2. I had played it for awhile when I was 11, and I thought that it was beneath me to have to play it ever again. Not so, said Mr. Polson, but we’re not going to play it like kids do. I spent the next 5 months practicing the study…and almost nothing else except scales and arpeggios. We started at what seemed like a snail’s pace, and worked on various bow and finger techniques. Slowly but surely we increased the speed to something I thought was completely beyond my abilities. The result was a near total transformation of my sound. My left hand fingers were stronger and more precise than ever. My intonation improved. All the while my right (bow) hand and wrist were more supple with better control.

It took a lot longer still to rebuild my techniques altogether, but it did show that you don’t always have to practice your pieces lots to be a better violinist. Smart practicing is as important as long practices.

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