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Free PDF: Jascha Heifetz – The Soul of a Violinist

Free PDF: Jascha Heifetz – The Soul of a Violinist

Get this free PDF to learn from Heifetz himself in this insightful interview dating back to the early 20th century.

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Contrary to the spoken quality of the Collé, legato is the singing quality of sound. This lesson segment is about how to coordinate the two hands and balance different parts of the right hand to create lyrical lines with the bow. Just like a singer, breathing is also a crucial element in violin playing! Schmidt shows us a few tips on how to coordinate the breaths with the bow.

The Challenge

Smooth phrasing is easier said than done! Our left-hand fingers have to act like hammers, while our right hand must be a smooth, connected unit.

Schmidt finds the key to smooth legato playing to be following the contour of the bridge with our bow. (One important point is that we aren’t trying to synchronize our hands, but to coordinate them. They are not doing the same thing at the same time.)


Coordinating the Hands

The elbow leads the right arm’s motion. The left hand, however, must be ahead of the right hand, especially when changing strings.

Right at a string crossing, when moving between the fourth and first fingers of the left hand, there is a brief moment when both fingers are placed on the fingerboard. You can test this by playing a double stop between any two adjacent strings at the moment between string crossings.

When the left hand anticipates the string crossing slightly, there is no gap between notes.

Legato Bow Stroke

The initiating motion of a legato bow stroke is similar to a pilot landing a plane; the bow should land while moving horizontally. Keep the right-hand fingers and the thumb bent.

There is no jagged stopping motion when coming from the air. Just as in the follow-through of a tennis racket, the motion of the bow is continuous across the chest from air to string. Let’s incorporate the dynamic motion here as well! Imagine a welcoming gesture inviting the audience to join you.


Giora Schmidt recommends looking at the opening of the Barber violin concerto is like a series of inhalations and exhalations.

Everything is very cantabile (sung), calling only for beauty, smoothness, and roundness of sound. Despite not requiring breath to directly produce a sound (and having a wooden box lodged against our throat!), we must learn to breathe properly while playing.

Breathing in tandem with proper physical mechanics does change the sound quite dramatically. Smooth legato isn’t innate on the violin! However, breathing is innate. If we can infuse our physical technique with the instinctual nature of our breath, we begin to bridge the two processes.

There are a number of reasons why breathing has such an impact on legato playing:

  • Breathing helps us move freely and beautifully; when our movements look effortless and beautiful, it most likely is going to sound beautiful as well
  • Breathing is a continuous process, and this actually steadies our bow and, therefore, our tone by preventing jerky movements
  • Breathing also connects us to phrasing, as if we were a vocalist; certain moments demand rubato while others require a quick breath.

The bow is a bit like a magic wand; if we learn how to wave it back and forth, the result is a singing legato.

Watch the rest of Giora Schmidt's 14-lesson course on bow technique on tonebase Violin!

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Dave McLellan

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