A Glimpse into the Joachim Method
© 2019 Goh Tong Keat
Based on the publication of Karl Courvoisier, a student of Joseph Joachim, "The Technique of Violin Playing" presents a set of comprehensive violin instructions as pursued by Joachim himself. Violin pedagogy has changed tremendously since the 19th century. While some of the advice presented here may be outdated, irrelevant, or rigid, there are still a great deal of valuable information that we can benefit from.
The first part of the book discussed about the posture and the left hand. While these instructions came from a time where the chin rest was not widely used yet, it highlighted three important points for holding the violin:
- The strings must run horizontally from the bridge to the nut (i.e. parallel to the floor) to avoid the bow from slipping off its contact point.
- The violin should not be held "straight out" (i.e. right angle from the body) nor too far to the left.
- The right side of the violin should be tilted lower at about forty-five degree.
For the left hand, it is important that each finger tip comes in contact with the string perpendicularly. To allow for that, the position of the base joint of the first finger is extremely important. A simple rule that was quoted from the book is as follow: "Place the tip of the forefinger perpendicularly upon the proper place on the string, and draw the base of the finger as near it as possible."
The section on the positions and actions of the fingers are extremely helpful. The fingers should be trained to develop strength and independence by lifting up high and dropping them on the string with an "audible blow upon the fingerboard". The fingers should then stay on the string until it is necessary to be lifted up. There are further instructions on how we should prepare the fingers in different passages and change of positions.
The section on intonation touched on two points. The first is that beginners tend to treat whole steps, half steps, and the intervals too lightly. The chromatic change of an interval by the finger position on the string are usually greater than does the interval of a semitone in the diatonic scale. The second point talked about the resultant "third tone" from playing double stops on consonant intervals. Violinists should get used to listening to the third tone for better intonation.
The second part of the book discussed about the bow and tone production. No violin method would be complete without the inclusion of how to hold the bow. However, Joachim's method of bow hold may not be applicable for modern day violinists. He recommended that the thumb to be placed inside the frog, and if the gap is too narrow, remove the corners as much as necessary. Then, the nail of the thumb should rest against the metal ferule.
Regardless of that, it was highlighted that the bow hold needs to feel secure without excessive pressure from the fingers. The position and functions of each finger were discussed in details. The wrist, according to the book, is very important in facilitating string crossing. Hence, the hand needs to remain as horizontal as possible for the wrist to work. If the contact point of the first finger is too deep or too close to the base joint, it will change the angle of the hand and disrupt the function of the wrist.
For tone production, it is important to keep the bow playing at the right angle with the strings without changing the bow hold. Therefore, the upper arm, forearm, and wrist each has a role to play in maintaining the angle. It was suggested that if the bow was too long for a player that the wrist bends downward excessively at the tip, it is better to stop the bow stroke short and avoid using the very last part of the bow.
The book also mentioned that violinists should play with the edge of the hair because playing with flat hair causes dry and hard sound. Once again, this is debatable as some schools encourage the use of flat hair for more resistance and better tone production. Other sections of this part covered bow division, variation on dynamics, and various types of bowing technique.
*Download Joachim's "Violin School" for free HERE.