The mice from the CMJO have come to the masterclass
Pinchas Zukerman masterclass. Sydney, Australia. August 31, 2000: - Renowned violinist/violist Pinchas Zukerman, visiting Australia as part
of the 2000 Olympics Arts Festival, presented masterclasses in three
cities. Students from around the country auditioned by tape for the
chance to participate and four were chosen to perform at each class.
In Sydney, the students were all violinists; most were prize winners of
local and international competitions with impressive resumes and all
were about 18 years old and currently undertaking tertiary training. Of
course, violin and viola students and teachers came from near and far to
watch, learn and take the rare opportunity to ask questions of the
The selected students played:
1. Concert fantasy on Bizet's Carmen, op 25 by Pablo de Sarasate
2. Polonaise in D, op 4 by Henryk Wienawski
3. Tzigane by Maurice Ravel
4. Violin concerto no 2 in g minor (first movement) by Sergei Prokofiev
Zukerman opened the class with a sometimes-humourous introduction,
explaining to the large audience that although this was a public lesson
for advanced students, he would focus on fundamentals of technique,
rather than on the music they played because he believes that before one
can make music, one must learn to make the sound. None of the students
played his or her entire piece; Zukerman listened carefully for about
five minutes before interrupting to discuss what he had observed. Here
are some of those observations:
The former Galamian student obviously has great respect for his late
teacher's bowing methodology. All four students were shown Galamian
exercises [there is a method book available] designed to improve bowing,
from open string exercises and slow bowing to finger flexibility
techniques. While 20 minutes a day for six months of, say, an
open-string bowing exercise might seem like an incredibly boring chore,
it's vital if one aspires to make music at the highest level and there
is no magic substitute, he advised those in attendance.
Zukerman repeatedly emphasised the importance of bowing technique
because, he said, 85 per cent of the sound comes from the right arm.
"The right arm is your bank account," he joked at one point. Even the
bow hold itself came in for special attention. "Bend the fingers, bend
the thumb," he repeatedly told one student. Keep them flexible, if you
move your fingers apart on up bow, move them back on down.
Use the whole bow, "you've paid for all of it", he told another student,
with whom he demonstrated effective bow division. (In the Prokofiev, the
student had to play four short-bowed, down-bowed quavers starting at the
tip of the bow, followed by a long bow beginning at the frog. Zukerman
advised him not to play all of the quavers at the tip. He suggested the
student divide the bow into four and move down with each note, that is,
play one quaver on each quarter of the bow so that he ended at the frog,
ready for the long note that came next.)
Zukerman praised one student's use of both arm and wrist vibrato to
achieve different objectives. The student had been learning wrist
vibrato for only about six months, so welcomed some suggestions on how
to improve this technique. Zukerman believes the down motion is the most
important in wrist vibrato, because the up motion will occur naturally
if the down is correct, that is, the hand will bounce back up of its own
accord. Rather than the "wave to yourself" analogy familiar to many
beginning vibrato students, he used "knocking" with the back of the hand
to demonstrate. He seems to favour a wide vibrato, but silky smooth.
He showed the student an exercise to help with control of vibrato:
divide a long bow into four beats, vibrate once for each beat; the next
time, vibrate twice for each beat, then three times, then four...
When vibrating on sharps, start just a little sharper than the
designated note, he suggested to another student.
A student who dipped and swayed while playing was scolded. "That's a
Julliard thing. Something all the Julliard students seem to have started
doing in the last 10 years or so. I hate it. Don't do it," Zukerman
said. Swaying the violin was also out. All this movement was unnecessary
and energy-wasting because the sound comes from the bow, not artificial
movements, he said.
One student was also advised that good posture is the key to overcoming
nervousness. "Where do nerves come from? Adrenalin. We need to control
that and use it for the performance," Zukerman said. Controlling the
adrenalin was easier if the posture was correct and confident. Plant
your feet, hold your violin up, look straight down the fingerboard...
He suggested a student, and others in general, discard a well-known
brand of shoulder rest in favour of home-made padding moulded by the
individual for comfort - foam or a folded cloth. The only commercial
shoulder rest he thought was okay was the Play On Air, which could be
adjusted individually. His argument against the well-known brand and
others was that they don't place the instrument in the proper playing
position on the shoulder and that the resulting angle of the instrument
is incorrect when using such a rest.
An audience member asked if he recommended the use of French bows
(obviously thinking about expensive Tourtes, etc). Zukerman said he
owned one French bow which he rarely used; his own preferred bows were
from a contemporary bowmaker.
Surprisingly, no one asked him about strings...
"These tiny kids watch and listen to other people playing, then pick up
these pieces of wood and string and out comes ... [plays the opening
bars of the Bach double]." This drew an appreciative laugh from the
audience. But joking aside, while some leading performers are detractors
of this popular teaching method, Zukerman is a Suzuki fan, believing it
provides an excellent foundation to violin playing.
While Zukerman has some well-defined ideas on how certain things can be
achieved, individual players of course must try different ideas in order
to discover what works best for them. But his advice certainly held
substance for the first student, who went backstage and practised what
Zukerman showed her, then came back later to demonstrate what she'd
accomplished using his ideas. In only about 20 minutes, there was a
noticeable improvement in her bowing and the resulting sound quality.
And the students in the audience were buzzing with enthusiasm after the
class, keen to get home and try some of the tips for themselves.
1. Arrive on time - do not disrupt the proceedings by making a late entrance.
2. Usually a ticket is required or at least a sign-up. Master classes fill up
quickly and may have a limited number of spaces. Arrange to attend early.
3. Do not expect to play unless you have been asked.
4. Before attending, find out who the violinist conducting the masterclass is and read about him/her.
Listen to some of his/her recordings.
5. Find out ahead of time the music that will be used , if possible the edition, and become
familiar with it. Take a copy of the music with you, and a pencil.
6. Take a notbook to take notes in, a taperecorder is nice, HOWEVER! you must ask permission to use
it and they may be prohibited.
7. It is not a social period. It is a class. Sit where you can give your full attention to the teacher
and student, not with your buddies so you can comment on happenings.
8. There is usually a question and answer period. Have your question written down either before the class or about something during the class.
After the question is answered take written notes on the answer.
9. If you are one of those who has been chosen to play, have your solo MEMORIZED, but also do bring the music
to write things on afterwards.
10. Remember different teachers interpret different music and technique differently. And that is a good thing ;o)