“The Art of Playing on the Violin”: Example I.

The first example in Geminiani’s treatise is an illustration of the fingerboard with all the natural notes on it and the whole and half steps labeled. It is very clear and useful for teaching a beginner. There are three octaves plus one note and Geminiani says these are what are (…) in the compass of the instrument (…), unlike the four octaves we employ today. He suggests that the beginner have his violin actually marked in this same manner. As a violin instructor myself I find this very amusing because Leopoldo Mozart, in his 1756 early classical violin treatise has the opposite to say. It’s interesting to see how two obviously great instructors can disagree on pedagogical topics. Mozart says, “At this point I cannot but touch on the foolish system of teaching which is pursued by some when instructing their pupils; namely, that of affixing little labels with the letters written thereon, on the fingerboard of the pupil’s violin, and even of marking the place of each note on the side of the fingerboard with a deep incision or, at least, a notch. If the pupil has a good musical ear, one must not avail oneself of such an extravagance. If, however, he lacks this, he is useless for music and it were better he took a wood-axe than a violin in his hand.” (Leopoldo Mozart, “A Treatise on the Fundamental Principals of Violin Playing”, translated by Editha Knocker, Oxford University Press, 1985, 62) There is some truth to this, but I maintain that many people who may not be able to hear much of anything initially can train themselves to have a good musical ear with patience and clear, consistent instruction. For such people I believe some reference points are often very helpful at first. What is your opinion?

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