My Journey with Violin

I have been playing the violin for more than 35 years. I started with Paul Ng, my secondary school classmate who played “Meditation” from Thais quite well. We normally skipped lunch and go to his small room after about 15 minutes walk from school during lunch break. There I picked up note by note. After a while I could not progress any more, but I was deeply in love with this instrument, I then started looking for a teacher. I remembered my first teacher was Mr Fung, the first official lesson I took was in Causeway Bay in a very old building which now stands the Renaissance Hotel.

Needless to say, the teaching was so-so. I did not progress like a prodigy, but like an adult. Using the shoulder rest made my neck stiff, my jaw had all kinds of rashes, pimples due to the pressure on the chin rest. After a while, Mr Fung decided to introduce me to his friend, Thomas.

He was one of the better teacher. I was asked to practice scales, bowing, spiccato, double stops , started to play some decent music, but never too good, intonation a problem, bowing execution also a problem. I still used my should rest.

At 18 my father bought me my first decent violin, before this, all my violins were made in China costing about HKD 50. The sound, by today’s standard was really terrible. This was a beautify violin with fabulous flame on the back. To add to its beauty, there is a small ivory shield at the back. It was not a bad violin, but at 18, this was almost like heaven.


German made violin labeled as Guadanini, but does not sound like

I went to university with a big ambition : to study music! However, when I heard other faculty major played, I realised that I was not even half as good as them, I decided to make music my minor subject.

I took violin performance and started to take lesson from Harrison. He was not a technician, but his playing reasonable. I learned music pieces, but nothing really stood out. I am still a mediocre player, not true in pitch, not beautiful tone.

How I started to improve? It was when a violin major student John told me to play one scale with different speed, until every note is as perfect and possible, follow by different bowings, I then starting to improve on tone and intonation. What happened to all my previous teacher? They did not really help me with my basic technique but only taught me how to play a piece. Looking backwards, I don’t think they all did me any favour.

I did not really pass my music minorship with flying colour, I guess I barely passed, in fact the teachers just gave it to me so that I could graduate.

After graduation, I started work. I put down the violin for many years, may be eight. In between, I tried to play once in a full moon, and sent the violin to different luthiers to improve the sound, some did a good job, some not so. That was when I decided to study into the sound production of the violin. I still could not play very well, but I realised that my playing improved.

Due to my love of the violin, I started to listen to violin music, when I compare the sound coming from a pair of speakers to the sound of my not so good violin, the real violin sounded much better, I then start to improve my Hi Fi equipment, reading magazine about it. I discovered an article in a Hong Kong Hi Fi magazine, Hi Fi Reivew, written by Professor Chang, who used to be head of violin faculty in Beijing conservatory. He explained the way how Heifetz held his violin. To use the collar bone as the fulcrum, but instead of adding force from the neck and the jaw, used his left hand to hold the violin. He said that by doing so, the violin is perfectly secured. I tried, but with great difficulties. Sometimes the violin slipped, sometimes, the left hand is stuck with the neck, nothing came by smoothly, but I did realized that my neck is no longer in pain, and my pimples had started to vanish.

I started to search for ways how famous teachers taught the violin. I gathered a small library of books on the subject, some of them out of print. The books cover from the making, the history of violin to different schools of violin methods. I was particularly interested in Chinese and Russian violin methods.

One book on fingering, written by Russian violin teacher Yanpolsky started to made changes in my playing. This is a very little book, with pin size character, translated from Russian in Chinese. I realized that the fingering on the fingerboard is not a simple 1,2 3,4, but with possibilities of stretching beyond one positions and contract to within half position. I also discovered that a piece can be easier or more difficult to play depending on which fingerings to use. I started to improve in my playing. Some pieces were actually quite okay.

more story to follow...

Wu Jian XinIMG_1040

Guarneri de Jesu copy made by Wu Jian Xin, Beijing, China