Calvin Sieb

The Development of a Violinist

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Violin Techniques

The Opposing Techniques of Hans Letz and Ivan Galamian

Letz had the conception of a 'light', "chamber music" kind of sound. The idea of chamber music was really in a chamber - a chambre (French).  The chambre was probably a salon of a rich person who could afford to hire a small group of musicians to play in a private salon for an evening of special entertainment for a select and elite audience. It was a more delicate approach to a sonority that would be pleasant in a relatively small place.

Letz also insisted on a German bow hold with a high wrist at the frog.

He avoided flat hair bow, and emphasized a very small use of vibrato.

In order to avoid a rough sound at the frog, one was taught to lift the right wrist and turn it slightly clockwise as you approach the frog so that the wrist was taking the weight off at the frog and the bow was tilted so that only part of the hair was in contact with the string.. Of course if you lift the wrist and let the hand hang, there is no pressure, thus no scraping, but there is also no control by the fingers or the hand in that’ wilted flower’ position. One doesn’t turn a doorknob to open a door with the hand in that position.

I discovered that if I used my strong back muscles to lift the weight of the arm at the frog, I could play a light pianissimo at the frog with complete “door knob position” control.  Thus I could play from the E string to the G string at the frog by just twisting my hand (opening and closing the doorknob).  The motion is technically called supination and pronation. The bow stoke is controlled by suspending the bow arm from the strong back muscles. To feel that back muscle “lift,” try the following: 

1. Place your arms in front of the chest, the elbows bent at 90 degree angles and fingertips nearly touching. 

2. Lift your arms keeping that arms/hands position

3. In same starting position take a medium deep breath.

4. Same thing but this time, take a very deep breath and let your arms rise up as you breathe in.

I teach my students to use their right arm in what I call a “Position of Force” in order to achieve complete control in rotation of the bow hand That is, if I make a fist with my right arm as if to push something with much force , and then rotate that arm clockwise and counterclockwise, as if turning a doorknob back and forth, I arrive at the hand/wrist/forearm position that gives me the most amount of control where it counts , that is in the bow arm fingers, hand and wrist. 

Galamian used a solid "gutsy" sound that projected well in a large hall.  He insisted on a solid right hand bow grip and strong sound, using more flat hair position.  He explained how to produce a much warmer vibrato on notes long enough for vibration. He used a larger, slower wave of sound.


Vibrato is an embellishment of the sound that imparts an emotional color.  This enhances the music. An ordinary sustained note that does not vary is very plain and without warmth.  Vibrato can be considered as a wave of changing intonation where the note to be vibrated is played, descends in pitch slightly, returns up again to the note, and continues this undulating movement for the length of the note. The distance from the top and the bottom of the wave may vary between an 8th to a half of a tone below the note.

A round, rolling vibrato requires a soft, plaint pad, as opposed to a finger that is comparatively firm for clear articulation. Lowering the left hand can place the fingers in a lower, flatter and softer attitude, more or less on the fingerprint. This positioning of the flat finger on the string for the vibrato is the same as the finger position the cellist uses to create vibrato. The cellist uses the more fleshy part of the finger.


The vibrato is created by the finger rolling, oscillating, not sliding, back and forth on the string. The motion, from the point on the string that marks the intonation of that note, is always down in pitch and back again to the original pitch of the note. The sound replicates the natural vibrato of the human voice. As with the human voice, the amplitude and the speed of each wave is dictated by the emotion of the singer/player...slower for calmness and faster for excitement.

There are two techniques used to produce this rolling of the finger on the string:

1. The motive force is the arm:
     The movement of the forearm, passing through a straight wrist, moving the hand back and forth
     while the finger remains, oscillating, on the string.

2. The motive force is the hand alone:
     The hand, in a movement as if 'knocking at the door,' moves the hand back and forth through a
     flexible wrist, thereby rolling the finger back and forth on the string.

 As a musical line develops and changes in intensity, the vibrato should also develop
simultaneously, in the same way, becoming an integral part of the phrasing. I have devised a
preparatory exercise in order to imagine and then to control the type, shape and intensity of the vibrato that, ultimately, will enhance the musical line.

Suggested steps:

1. On any single note, place the finger that produces the best, round vibrato

2. Play the note with a small, round vibrato and begin to think and to sing to yourself the
    musical phrase to which you wish to add vibrato.

2. Without changing the pitch of the note, mentally 'sing' the phrase, continuing the vibrato on that
    same note. As you 'sing' (think) the phrase, you can change and shape the vibrato to correspond
    with the intensity of the melodic line in your mind.

This procedure will help you define more clearly the kind of vibrato you wish to use to color any specific phrase.  Aside from varying the speeds and pressures in bowing a phrase, the most important tool used in expressing the emotions of a phrase is the vibrato.

The vibrato does not basically change the original music, but rather it adds color to the music in a way that is similar to the addition of maquillage (makeup) to a face...not changing the essentials but heightening the effect.

Bow Techniques

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