Historic Violin Pedagogical Treatises and Teaching


For violinists, the development of their technique is an important process as it can influence their performance significantly. Constant practice can lead to remarkable results, but violinists need a strong educational foundation to develop their technique in the most appropriate manner and succeed as a performer (Hann 2; Stowell 24). However, to improve the approach to playing the instrument, it is necessary to refer to historical violin pedagogical treatises that demonstrate how this or that technique was formed and adopted by violinists. Modern teaching methods are based on the information presented in these pedagogical treatises because educators usually refer to ideas regarding the development of a technique that was presented by prominent theorists and violinists of the past. This approach allows for formulating effective instruction grounded on traditional prescriptions regarding this or that method or element to help young violinists understand the basic principles and master their technique (Baker 24). From this perspective, the impact of violin pedagogical treatises on modern performance and teaching is significant, and educators need to focus on improving their teaching approaches and refer to techniques and prescriptions stated by the violinists of the past with an emphasis on left-hand and bowing techniques among others to provide students with opportunities to master their playing.

In their teaching and practice, educators and young violinists can use many examples and instructions provided in the historical and modern literature. As a result, it is possible to consult these works in order to study various technical elements related to playing the violin without any difficulties. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the modern knowledge regarding violin techniques and principles of teaching is based on the information presented in violin pedagogical treatises that were written centuries ago (Deverich 12; He 34). In this context, the focus should be on such authors of historical violin treatises as Francesco Geminiani, Leopold Mozart, José Herrando, L’Abbé le Fils, Louis Spohr, and Pierre Marie François de Sales Baillot. Thus, this paper aims to address the following questions: Why do educators discuss pedagogical treatises written by these violinists as influential and valuable? What similarities and differences related to positioning, choosing a posture, as well as for left-hand, fingering, and bowing techniques, can be observed in these treatises? It is important to review and analyze the literature that discusses the most actively used treatises to answer the stated questions and conclude regarding these treatises’ impact on violin teaching and performance.

History and Development of Violin Techniques

In the late part of the sixteenth century, musicians used the violin mainly to accompany public gatherings, dances, and songs. Thus, the violin was initially used for entertainment, as well as to support singing, but it was not used for teaching music in classes for noble persons (Lawson and Stowell 57; Shock 16). However, the situation changed in the seventeenth century, when the violin became actively used by musicians in the orchestra, and composers began to create pieces in which the main focus was on the violin (Pollens 34; Stowell 37). As a result, it was important to standardize the violin technique at this stage in order to address the expectations of composers and violinists regarding the performance of musical pieces (Hann 2). The reason was in the fact that, during the seventeenth century, the violin was very popular in France and Italy, where musicians chose this instrument to accompany dances.

Thus, it is important to state that the first principles of the violin technique that could be used by performers during public gatherings were formulated by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), the Italian composer and virtuoso, who composed many sonatas, including Sonata de Chiesa, to be accompanied by the violin (Taruskin 64). Corelli created his unique style of playing the instrument that was imitated by other musicians who came to hear his pieces from different European countries (Hann 4; Taruskin 68). Thus, Corelli’s approach to playing the violin and performing complex works influenced composers’ and musicians’ visions of violin techniques (Masin 5; Stowell 120). In addition, it also affected the development of the Italian School of violin playing because many followers of Corelli began to use his methods as standard ones (Hann 4; Masin 5). Thus, in the eighteenth century, violinists began to formulate their ideas regarding violin techniques that were influenced by Corelli’s approach in pedagogical treatises, and they tried to propose specific instructions that could contribute to the development of the technique.

Violin Pedagogical Treatises and Violin Techniques

In the eighteenth century, talented violinists focused on declaring the principles of the violin technique in many works, and they are known today as violin pedagogical treatises. According to researchers and educators, the manuals created by Geminiani, Mozart, Herrando, L’Abbé le Fils, Spohr, and Baillot provide the foundations for playing the violin with the focus on the French, Italian, Spanish, and German traditions (Lawson and Stowell 57). As it was stated by Robin Stowell, the treatises written by the mentioned authors could be discussed as “seminal works of violin instruction” (qt. in Masin 47). Even though the treatises by Geminiani, Mozart, Herrando, L’Abbé le Fils, Spohr, and Baillot were written centuries ago, they influenced the violin pedagogy, teaching, and practice significantly, and they should be discussed in detail.

Francesco Geminiani and The Art of Playing on the Violin (1751)

Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) was one of the most famous violinists of his period, and he was also known as the talented student of Corelli, who influenced Geminiani’s technique (Hann 3). In 1751, Geminiani presented his ideas regarding the principles of playing the violin in the treatise known as The Art of Playing on the Violin (Silvela 56; Stowell 124). The work became the author’s reconsideration of Corelli’s technique with the focus on his own interpretation and approaches. According to Hann, in his manual, Geminiani “emphasized a migration from traditional music to solo and orchestral works” (3). Thus, in his treatise, the violinist concentrated on explaining many techniques, such as vibrato and trills among other ones, discussed the unique posture that influenced the development of left-hand techniques, and proposed effective positions to use by young violinists (Hann 3). Geminiani analyzed tone patterns and advocated “playing with a continuous vibrato and using ornamentation for the expression” (Masin 48). These details were associated with the violinist’s own approach to playing the instrument.

Much attention was paid to describing the posture of a violinist who was expected to hold the violin “just below the collarbone without support from the chin” (Masin 48). In addition to discussing the violinist’s posture, Geminiani provided instructions regarding the use of the fingerboard (Silvela 56). The violinist gave advice to mark the tones on the instrument according to his map of tones and semi-tones in order to guide a student (Silvela 56). For the left hand, Geminiani proposed a unique position that could contribute to playing the instrument. It was noted in his The Art of Playing on the Violin that a student was expected to “Place the first Finger on the first String upon F; the second Finger on the second String upon C; the third Finger on the third String upon G; and the fourth Finger correctly on fourth String on D” (qt. in Hann 3). Thus, the focus was on the ‘Geminiani grip’, the specific position of fingers, a wrist, and an elbow of a violinist’s left hand (Masin 48). The details of the ‘Geminiani grip’ can be observed in Example 1.

‘Geminiani grip’
Example 1. ‘Geminiani grip’ (Stowell 123).

This approach is used in the teaching practice even today. According to Stowell, ‘Geminiani grip’ “remained the most common guide to correct elbow, hand, wrist and finger placement (in first position) until well into the current century, the hand and fingers generally forming a curve with the fingers well over the strings” (123). Thus, proposing such technique, Geminiani “employed one finger for each note,” and it was viewed as effective to control the movements of a violinist (Stowell 129). Stowell referred to the practices typical of the twentieth century, but it is possible to note that ‘Geminiani grip’ is also explained by educators in modern classes.

In addition to discussing the ‘Geminiani grip’, the violinist also concentrated on explaining the tone and intonation production in his treatise. Thus, it is important to describe the bow technique proposed by Geminiani for producing effective sounds and tones (Silvela 57). According to the violinist, “the bow should be held between the thumb and first joint of the fingers and tilted inward,” and then, “with free, relaxed joints, the player can draw the bow parallel to the bridge with the weight of only the index finger” (Hann 3). It is important to state that a Baroque bow that was referred to by the violinist in his work was shorter than a bow that is used today, and it was convex (Silvela 57; Stowell 124). From this point, in The Art of Playing on the Violin, Geminiani explained violin techniques concerning a Baroque bow, and this fact should be taken into account while using the violinist’s recommendations in modern teaching and performance practices (Hann 3). Thus, the techniques proposed by the violinist should be modified if they are used in modern classes.

Even though Geminiani mostly focused on describing effective positions and hand placements in his work in order to guide young violinists in their playing the violin, he also emphasized the role of a posture and techniques in adding to the expressiveness of performance (Hann 3; Silvela 57). All these details can be discussed concerning Geminiani’s pieces that were composed for the violin, such as violin sonatas. The most remarkable example is Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major that represented Geminiani’s vision of using the vibrato and trembling, ornaments, and intonation (Silvela 57). The violinist provided guidelines to support this work and help performers do their best while applying the proposed violin technique (Hann 3; Silvela 57). From this point, Geminiani seemed to reflect his style of playing in the theoretical work to share his experience with younger violinists.

Leopold Mozart and A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing (1756)

Despite the fact that Geminiani was viewed as a virtuoso violinist and an important figure of the eighteenth century, his treatise written in 1751 was not as popular among composers, musicians, and educators as the treatise created by Leopold Mozart (1719-1787). Although Mozart was not famous as a great violinist, his pedagogical guidelines influenced the development of violin techniques and teaching practices significantly (Silvela 83). A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing was printed in 1756 (Hann 5; Todd and Williams 126). As it was stated by the author, the purpose of creating such treatise was to “pave a way for music-loving youth which shall guide them with certainty to good taste in music” (qtd. in Masin 49). The work included twelve chapters, and the author paid attention to the discussion of aspects of notation, the use of rhythms, as well as the use of ornamentation and embellishments (Hann 5; Stowell 123). In addition, Mozart described his experience in working with young violinists who had problems with their technique, and he provided many guidelines regarding the use of a bow, changes of finger positions, and sound production.

The treatise was valued by contemporaries of Mozart. According to Stowell, the significance of the treatise “is mirrored by its demand,” and the work “achieved four German editions by 1800, as well as versions in Dutch (1766) and French (c. 1770)” (226). Furthermore, Stowell pays attention to the fact that “intended to lay ‘the foundation of good style’, the parameters of this treatise far exceed that of any previous publication, its 264 pages incorporating copious examples and constituting a detailed, systematic survey of violin playing” (226). It was one of the most successful theoretical works of the period that could be used by teachers (Nelson 85). As a result, the treatise can be discussed as important to add not only to music theory but also to the practice of playing the violin.

In his work, Mozart noted that, to become successful or proficient in playing the instrument, violinists needed to develop their theoretical knowledge with a focus on notation, the history of music, and the history of string instruments (Todd and Williams 127). Students could begin to practice playing the violin only after learning those details, and the main focus was on approaches to holding the violin and a bow (Silvela 83). Mozart proposed to hold the violin following two different approaches. According to the first approach, a violinist was expected to put a tail of the violin against the collarbone in a way to guarantee that a bow could “be pushed upward instead of back” (Hann 5). However, such position could be uncomfortable for some players. The second approach was declared by Mozart to be more appropriate for use by many violinists: “the violin [is] placed against the neck so that it lies somewhat in front of the shoulder and the side on which the E (thinnest) string lies under the chin” (qt. in Hann 5). This technique can be discussed as more traditional and familiar to modern violinists. As it is noted by Stowell, Mozart typically did not use the first position in his practice, and “necessity, convenience, and elegance were the reasons for using positions other than the first” (124). Thus, the treatise provided the detailed discussion of the posture with the focus on the practice of holding the violin.

The discussions of left-hand fingering techniques and chromatic scales were also presented in A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing. Mozart proposed focusing on “a ‘slide’ fingering” and accentuated “different fingerings for chromatic scales written in sharps from those written in flats” (Stowell 129). While applying this technique, the composer also determined three types of vibrato that were “slow, accelerating, and fast” (Stowell 130). Example 3 shows Mozart’s approach to fingering while using chromatic scales, and this technique was described in the treatise in detail.

Mozart’s approach to fingering, chromatic scales
Example 2. Mozart’s approach to fingering, chromatic scales (in A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing) (Stowell 129).

In addition to providing strict recommendations for placing the violin against the neck and using associated left-hand techniques, Mozart also focused on standardizing the bowing technique. The author of the treatise stated in his work: “if the first crotchet of a bar does not begin with a rest … one endeavor to take the first note of each bar with a downstroke, and this even if two downstrokes should follow each other” (qt. in Hann 5). The ideas presented in Mozart’s work can be applied even today. However, some rules can be discussed as rather confusing today. For instance, Mozart proposed to begin bars with a bow that was held down (Masin 49; Silvela 83). Furthermore, Mozart’s discussions of the natural, whole, and half positions are different from definitions of positions that are used today. Thus, the natural position is related to the modern first position, the whole position is associated with the third, fifth, and seventh positions, and the half position, in its turn, is correlated with the second, fourth, and sixth positions (Hann 5; Masin 49; Silvela 83).

In his analysis of the treatises, Stowell also refers to the problem of using the positions that were mentioned by Mozart in his work. The researcher notes that “modern half and second positions assumed greater importance from c. 1750 onwards, from which time most advanced violin treatises incorporated position-work up to at least seventh position (some extended to the eleventh position and beyond in supplementary study material)” (Stowell 124). Thus, Mozart’s A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing was one of the major works that described a range of positions that could be used as standards during that time. All the positions mentioned in the treatise were further modified to be adopted in modern classes.

In the context of positions, it is also important to refer to shifts that were used by violinists in the eighteenth century. Stowell pays attention to the fact that until the late part of the eighteenth century, “shifts were generally made when the punctuation of the music allowed” (124). Therefore, the first variant was “on the beat or on repeated notes,” as it is described in Mozart’s A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing and presented in Example 3 (Stowell 124). The second variant of punctuation is made “by the phrase in sequences,” and it is presented in Example 4 (Stowell 124). The third variant is “after an open string,” and the fourth variant is “on a rest or pause between staccato notes or after a dotted figure where the bow was generally lifted off the string,” as is noted in Examples 5 and 6 (Stowell 124). In these examples, the composer also accentuated “the role of the thumb in following the fingers (as opposed to the modern ideals of the hand moving more as a unit)” (Stowell 124). From this point, the presented rules seemed to be modified for modern practice.

Mozart’s first variant of using shifts
Example 3. Mozart’s first variant of using shifts (Stowell 125).
Mozart’s second variant of using shifts
Example 4. Mozart’s second variant of using shifts (Stowell 125).
Mozart’s third variant of using shifts
Example 5. Mozart’s third variant of using shifts (Stowell 125).
Mozart’s fourth variant of using shifts
Example 6. Mozart’s fourth variant of using shifts (Stowell 125).

It is also significant to state that, in his explanations of the violin practice and techniques, Mozart referred to the works by Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770), who seemed to influence the violinist’s vision of the music theory and principles of performance (Silvela 83; Todd and Williams 127). Therefore, in his work, Mozart declared not only German standards of the instrumental music related to the practice of playing the violin but also rules and standards typical of the Italian School. As a result, the treatise includes a range of recommendations that follow both German and Italian traditions of playing the violin (Stowell 125; Todd and Williams 126). The realization of Mozart’s ideas can be observed in such pieces as his sonatas and duets for violins. In these compositions, Mozart focused on reflecting his interpretation of all discussed techniques (Masin 49; Silvela 83). While discussing A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, it is important to note that the work was targeted at teachers rather than on young violinists because it included a lot of instruction and pedagogical principles to be realized during lessons.

José Herrando and Arte y Puntual Explicación Del Modo de Tocar el Violín (1756)

During that period when Mozart was in the process of creating his famous treatise for violinists, José Herrando (1680-1763) also was working on his own treatise known as Arte y Puntual Explicación Del Modo de Tocar el Violín (Galeazzi et al. 34). The work was oriented to presenting the details of the Spanish approach to playing the violin. Herrando was also regarded as a follower of Corelli’s ideas when he “performed for the court of the duke of Alba,” and these visions were reflected in the violinist’s theoretical work (Silvela 345). It was important for Herrando to explain the principles of music theory and performance in relation to playing the violin for the Spanish public, with the focus on amateur violinists (Galeazzi et al. 34; Werner 530). From this perspective, Arte y Puntual Explicación Del Modo de Tocar el Violín became the first Spanish treatise that included all details regarding the theory and practice related to playing the instrument and performing pieces composed for the violin.

In the early part of the eighteenth century, there were no standards regarding the approach to holding the violin. Still, in 1756, Mozart proposed two alternative variants with a focus on their convenience, efficiency, and elegance (Werner 530). In his Arte y Puntual Explicación Del Modo de Tocar el Violín that was printed in the same year, Herrando also focused on standardizing the approach to holding the violin, but his recommendation was rather simple. He stated that a violinist needed to hold the tail of the violin under a chin and turn a head to the right in order to make the posture more comfortable (Galeazzi et al. 34; Werner 530). Stowell also agrees that, during the early part of the nineteenth century, a violinist’s left hand “was gradually relieved of its semi-supporting role and the common right-arm position (closer to the player’s side than formerly) required the instrument to be inclined more to the right for optimum bowing facility on the lowest string” (123). From this point, the second variant proposed by Mozart and described by Herrando became viewed as standard.

It is also important to state that the approach to using the violin technique that was described by Herrando in his work influenced the modern teaching practice in Spain, and the most remarkable features of the Spanish method of playing the violin could be observed in Pablo de Sarasate’s technique that became the model for later violinists in Spain and Latin American countries (Lee 22; Yu 26). As a result, it is possible to state that the performance of such pieces as Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saëns can be viewed as an example to demonstrate specific features of the Spanish style of playing the violin that was discussed by Herrando in his treatise. The reason is that Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso was composed to be performed by Pablo de Sarasate, and the author focused on reflecting the Spanish traditional motives and elements of the violin technique in the composition (Lee 18). Therefore, Herrando’s contribution to the modern teaching of the violin technique and the performance practice can be viewed as significant because he described the Spanish traditions in his famous treatise.

L’Abbé le Fils and Principes du Violon (1761)

In 1761, L’Abbé le Fils (1727-1803) wrote his Principes du Violon that attracted the public’s attention because of musicians’ interest in the French musical tradition, as well as dance music (Hann 6; Nelson 125). In addition to focusing on the aspects of the French music style and discussing the elements of dance music, L’Abbé le Fils also analyzed Italian sonatas and approaches to playing the violin in order to address the tendencies of the eighteenth century. It is important to focus on the violinist’s vision of the left-hand techniques and an approach to holding the violin. L’Abbé le Fils proposed young performers hold the violin “over their shoulder, its tailpiece against their neck, stabilized by the chin” (Hann 6). This approach was also described by Mozart in his treatise of 1756, but Mozart did not speak about stabilizing the instrument (Nelson 125; Strange and Strange 19). However, it is important to pay attention to the fact that in spite of being convenient, the proposed practice was not adopted by musicians until the late part of the eighteenth century. It is also significant to pay attention to a difference in the techniques proposed by the two authors. L’Abbé le Fils accentuated the role of a chin “to brace the violin on the side of the G string” (Hann 6). However, Mozart referred to the E string in his treatise (Nelson 125).

While focusing on these details of holding the violin, it is important to discuss the typical position followed in the eighteenth century. According to Stowell, while holding the instrument, violinists often “positioned the elbow well under the middle of the instrument, much closer to the body than nowadays,” and “the wrist was turned inwards to avoid contact between the palm and the violin neck, which was not allowed to sink into the hollow between the thumb and index finger” (123). Furthermore, according to the author, “the thumb, occasionally employed in multiple stopping, generally assumed a position ‘opposite the A natural on the G string’; or … it was placed ‘more forward towards the second and third fingers than backward towards the first without projecting too far over the fingerboard’” (Stowell 123). This practice was accepted by other violinists later, but theorists and performers were divided into those persons who supported L’Abbé’s approach and those individuals who chose to criticize the theorist’s technique.

In his treatise, L’Abbé le Fils also described details of the bowing techniques that could contribute to the sound production (Hann 6; Nelson 125). The violinist proposed performers focus on individual movements of fingers. According to the author, a bow could be controlled and directed by the index finger, and the pressure was put on the first and second joints (Nelson 127; Stowell 123). Furthermore, L’Abbé le Fils described his technique the following way: “the little finger is to be placed on the part of the bow stick fastened to the frog, whereas the thumb is positioned opposite of the middle finger” (qtd. in Hann 6). Furthermore, it is also important to focus on L’Abbé’s approach to fingering which is discussed as the foundation for the modern style of fingering that is used by many young violinists.

For many young violinists, the focus on harmonics was often a challenging task because of the necessity to control movements of fingers strictly and slightly touch a string to produce overtones (Hann 6; Nelson 130; Strange and Strange 19). The main aspect that was accentuated by L’Abbé le Fils regarding harmonics was the use of ‘two-fingered’ harmonics. In contrast to the previous visions of this element of the violin technique, L’Abbé le Fils proposed to stop the movement of a string with the help of the first finger and touch it with the help of the indicated finger to achieve the unique sound of a note that was two octaves above the first stopped note (Hann 6). In addition, the violinist emphasized the use of diatonic and chromatic scales and accentuated other details that were not discussed in the previously written treatises. This approach was illustrated in L’Abbé’s Suite de Jolis Airs de Differents Auteurs Varies pour un Violon Seul (Example 7).

L’Abbé’s approach to fingering
Example 7. L’Abbé’s approach to fingering (Stowell 125).

Furthermore, this technique was presented in L’Abbé’s violin sonatas. Therefore, Principes du Violon is discussed by educators and researchers as a remarkable work. The reason is that L’Abbé le Fils also paid attention to the question of harmonics while providing the detailed guidelines to his readers (Hann 6; Nelson 130; Strange and Strange 20). It was expected that his violin sonatas would be performed by violinists who were familiar with the basic principles of L’Abbé’s technique. From this point, it is important to note that L’Abbé le Fils contributed to developing both theoretical and practical rules that should be used by young violinists to improve their performance even today.

Louis Spohr and Violinschule (1832)

Louis Spohr (1784-1859) was one more representative of the German School who followed the ideas declared by Mozart and presented his vision of the violin technique and performance strategies in Violinschule that was written in 1832 (Nelson 139). Although Spohr followed the rules declared by the German School, as a violinist, he also was interested in techniques typical of the French School, and he paid much attention to studying the work of Pierre Rode (1774-1830), the French virtuoso (Masin 51). As a result, in his Violinschule, the author presented his views regarding the violin technique that were influenced by both German and French ideas.

Spohr wrote his work while orienting to both teachers and young violinists who needed the support while making their first steps in playing the violin. Therefore, his treatise was also proposed as a guide in comparison to the other pedagogical works written in the eighteenth century. As a result, the violinist included only concise and effective explanations and exercises in his treatise to stimulate the practice of students (Masin 51; Nelson 139). This feature makes the work rather practical, and modern teachers often use it in their classes. Violinschule was divided by the author into three large parts. The construction of the violin was discussed in the first part of the work. This section also provided information regarding the use of bows and the chin rest technique (Masin 52). The second part of the work included the information about the violin technique. In this section, much attention was paid to methods of holding the violin. It is an important point that Spohr was viewed by his contemporaries as the author of the chin rest technique; therefore, the section described variants of placing the chin on the violin and holding the instrument in detail. The violinist was focused on seeing students that had a noble posture while playing the violin (Nelson 139). The third section of the treatise described the aspects of music style, interpretation of notes, and performance. Researchers agree that this treatise is good in order to provide students with the important information regarding the appropriate work with notes, as well as regarding the use of the best performing strategies.

While discussing left-hand techniques, Spohr concentrated on fingering that could be used for different types of scales. According to Masin, Spohr recommended “the use of unsounded anticipatory notes when changing positions, a device still used today by pedagogues” (53). However, in contrast to Mozart, Spohr did not support the application of the specific sliding effect. Thus, Spohr was rather “careful to distinguish between a glissando that arises because of lazy changing of position, and the use of audible slides for the purpose of expressive effect” (Masin 53). The violinist also declared his ideas regarding the issue of double-stopping as an advanced technique. Spohr paid attention to the bow pressure made to affect the strings, and he distinguished between different types of pressure that could influence various sounds (Nelson 140). Furthermore, the violinist proposed to play “pizzicato chords with the violin held like a guitar, plucking the notes with the right-hand thumb” (Masin 53). These ways of interpreting the violin techniques were discussed by contemporaries as rather innovative, and they were actively followed by young violinists.

In addition to discussing Mozart’s vision of the vibrato concept, it is important to refer to Spohr’s ideas. The author of Violinschule also identified the fast movement to make accents on separate notes and the slow movement. Spohr was also among those violinists who accentuated the necessity of accuracy in the violin technique (Masin 53; Silvela 132). The author stated that young performers needed to practice all day long to effectively use ornaments, refer to fingering, focus on a rhythm, and emphasize the intonation (Nelson 140; Silvela 133). In this context, a student needed to learn how to interpret the notation and follow it strictly. Today, many educators support the idea that young performers should improve their skills in reading the notes in order to be able to play accurately, and only then, students can develop as masters.

Pierre Marie François de Sales Baillot and L’Art du Violon (1835)

The French violinists contributed to standardizing the violin technique significantly while writing many treatises. Pierre Marie François de Sales Baillot (1771-1842) was one of the famous French violinists who were assigned to the committee at Conservatoire de Musique in Paris in order to develop the guidelines for the violin technique related to playing the instrument (Hann 7; Masin 55; Silvela 109). The results of the committee’s work were printed in 1835. Baillot’s treatise L’Art du Violon became one of the most actively used manuals oriented to improving violinists’ techniques.

Similar to other authors of treatises, Baillot also focused on the clear and detailed discussion of a violinist’s posture, positioning, bowing, as well as left-hand and right-hand techniques. Much attention was paid to standardizing and describing movements of fingers to explain which movements could lead to the expected sound effects (Hann 7; Silvela 110). Thus, the author proposed a list of his own recommendations regarding the most appropriate posture and techniques (Masin 55; Silvela 109). Baillot accentuated the necessity of keeping a relaxed and comfortable posture, “with the feet placed in a natural position and the emphasis of body weight to the left side” (Masin 55). He also emphasized the advantages of holding the instrument “at a 45-degree angle, with the chin to the left of the tailpiece, and the possibility of using padding to aid a comfortable hold on the instrument” (Masin 55). To achieve the ideal sound, it was important to concentrate on positioning, and Baillot proposed eleven steps to take in order to stand in a position that could contribute to students’ performance (Hann 7). As it is noted by Stowell, the “optimum freedom of left-hand movement and flexibility of bowing were … gained” while applying this specific technique (123).

Baillot was also among those theorists who focused on the notated fingering. Thus, the violinist acknowledged the “interrelationship between fingering, the player’s hand position and musical intentions” (Stowell 126). Furthermore, it is important to note that he “distinguished between sure fingering, fingering for small hands and expressive fingering relevant to selected composers” (Stowell 126). The unique contribution of the composer to developing the violin technique is also in discussing the ornaments and vibrato concept. Thus, Baillot focused on including “three types of ‘undulated sounds’” in his idea of the vibrato: “a wavering effect caused by variation of pressure on the stick, the normal left-hand vibrato, and a combination of two” (Stowell 131). This approach can be observed in Violin Concerto no. 19 by Viotti (Example 8).

Ornaments and vibrato in Viotti’s Violin Concerto no. 19
Example 8. Ornaments and vibrato in Viotti’s Violin Concerto no. 19 (Stowell 131).

However, it is important to note that, in his treatise, Baillot not only developed an alternative violin technique that was different from the ‘Geminiani grip’ and Mozart’s approach, but he also focused on explaining such elements as ornaments, fast bow strokes, and staccato among others (Silvela 109). The violinist also advised to focus on practicing only one piece or an element at a time, he also accentuated the importance of linking the learned elements with the previous and further experiences, and he proposed to train actively, but with a focus on short and frequent sessions (Masin 55). From this point, the author of the treatise provided clear teaching instructions to work with novice players that are actively used even today. Furthermore, Baillot could share his experience in interpreting the composer’s notation and applying his unique techniques since the violinist was among the first musicians to perform the pieces that were composed by different authors and for diverse players (Silvela 109).

In his treatise, Baillot also developed the structure of a lesson that was modified for the modern class on playing the violin. First, the violinist proposed to focus on the theoretical aspect and the definition of a technique or an element. The explanation of the technique was expected to be supported by an example (Masin 55). Second, Baillot focused on technical exercises to train the use of the element. Third, the focus was on applying the learned principles and rules (Silvela 109). This approach is often viewed as traditional in modern teaching, and its origins can be found in Baillot’s treatise (Masin 55; Silvela 109). It is possible to note that the violinist provided a detailed description of the lesson structure in order to support his ideas regarding the necessity of focusing on technical accuracy while playing the violin. From this point, Baillot accentuated the importance of improving violinists’ techniques and contributed to the development of modern teaching standards.

Comparison and Analysis of the Treatises

While comparing the discussed treatises, it is important to concentrate on similarities and differences in the authors’ visions of theoretical aspects, views regarding the violin technique, and their teaching approaches. All the discussed treatises were written to standardize the violin technique and provide educators with important recommendations regarding the practice of playing the violin (Baker 18; Hann 3). It is also possible to state that the authors of the well-known treatises seemed to balance the impact of theory and practice on the process of teaching how to play the violin (Griffiths 86). Even though the mentioned violinists and theorists provided the theoretical background for their discussions of the most appropriate positions and techniques, they chose to adapt theoretical principles depending on the practice of playing the instrument (Deverich 12; Jackson 22). They also selected the most efficient and convenient approaches to using left-hand and bowing techniques, as well as to representing notated embellishments (Griffiths 64; Lawson and Stowell 34). From this point, the treatises reflected techniques that were developed as a result of improvements in practice of playing the violin with the focus on French, Italian, German, and Spanish traditions.

The analysis of the work by Geminiani can be discussed as influential for determining the principles of individual teaching. This violinist was oriented to presenting guidelines for persons who needed to improve their performance and technique (Masin 52; Silvela 52). Geminiani followed both Italian and French traditions in his approach to playing the violin, and this aspect influenced his guidelines regarding the development of skills and improvement of performance presented in the treatise (Griffiths 36; Hann 4). On the contrary, Mozart was oriented to providing recommendations for playing the violin in the orchestra. Therefore, the authors’ principles related to positioning and bowing differed depending on the individual or orchestral approach to playing the instrument (Galeazzi et al. 12; Hann 4).

In their treatises, Geminiani and Mozart demonstrated different approaches not only to performing orchestral and individual pieces but also to using the bowing technique. According to Geminiani, there was no need for the standardized bowing technique, when Mozart focused on developing strict principles of using a bow to represent different notes and strokes (Hann 6-7). Thus, Mozart aimed at providing the standardized technique and strict positions for the left hand in order to address the needs of players in orchestras (Galeazzi et al. 17; Stowell 52). As a result, Mozart’s approaches had more significant impacts on teaching and performance because of educators’ orientation to the orchestral work.

While comparing the other authors’ visions, it is important to state that the treatises by Geminiani and L’Abbé le Fils also demonstrated different interpretations of the French and Italian approaches to playing the violin. In this context, it is possible to note that the approach to holding the violin and placing the chin declared by L’Abbé le Fils in his work is one of the most popular methods today, and it is actively used by many violinists all over the world (Hann 7; Shock 33). Thus, L’Abbé le Fils influenced the modern approach to positioning, holding the violin, using harmonics, and making double stops significantly (Stowell 58). Herrando’s, Spohr’s, and Baillot’s contributions to the modern teaching can also be discussed from the point of their focuses on the importance of practicing. These violinists emphasized that only the regular practice could improve a person’s technique of playing the violin and lead a violinist to the success.

Thus, Geminiani, Mozart, Herrando, L’Abbé le Fils, Spohr, and Baillot noted in their works that, to improve performance, students need to practice and focus on their skills. When the violin technique is taught inappropriately, there are no chances for a student to succeed as a virtuosic performer (Shock 34; Stowell 64). From this point, practicing following the accurate technique can lead to the improvement and success (Masin 47). Therefore, much attention was paid to developing the standardized technique that could be used by any student and that could reduce the risks of making technical errors (Hann 7).

Currently, new elements and their backgrounds are learned by students almost simultaneously with practicing them or just before focusing on the practice. In this context, modern teachers follow recommendations presented in historical treatises (Masin 47; Strange and Strange 54). However, in general, the principle of discussing the theory before practicing the element cannot be observed in modern classes because the focus on theoretical backgrounds is typical of students who have learned how to play the violin, and they can perform complex pieces which contain a variety of elements that need further analysis in terms of theoretical grounds (Hann 7; Stowell 123).

The main idea that is proclaimed by the authors of the famous treatises is that students need to learn the correct technique related to playing the violin. Thus, there was a necessity of standardization that was accentuated by the theorists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Masin 53). The proficiency in performing different violin pieces can be expected only if students learn the accurate technique from their first steps in the musical class (Stowell 21). Even though the authors of the treatises proposed different visions of methods and elements related to playing the instrument, they contributed to the development of the modern vision of the violin technique that is applied widely with certain modifications. From this point, the impact of the pedagogical treatises written by Geminiani, Mozart, Herrando, L’Abbé le Fils, Spohr, and Baillot was profound as their ideas influenced the modern approach to teaching students and specifics of performance.


Even though the modern approaches to teaching differ from the methods presented in the treatises, it is almost impossible to ignore the aspect that the principles and recommendations proposed by the authors of treatises in their works had a significant impact on the development of currently followed performance practices and instructions in classes. Although modern practices and violin techniques can be viewed as improved and rather advanced, the foundations and origins of these approaches are in the discussed treatises. Therefore, the analyzed works should be discussed as helpful to influence modern teaching as they provide clear and concise instructions regarding approaches to holding the violin, fingering, or positioning. These instructions should be used as the foundation for the curriculum used in the violin class, but it is important to note that such instructions should be appropriate for the age of students.

Despite focusing on the idea of explaining and clarifying the aspects of playing the violin, the authors of the discussed treatises that were published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had rather different visions regarding the violin technique that were affected by their cultural backgrounds, and that aspect influenced the further approach to teaching and practicing. As a result, the provision of the theoretical background needs to be correlated with such factors as the culture and age of a student, as well as his or her stage of learning how to play the violin. Therefore, students should be taught the theoretical details, principles of using different elements, and rules of successful performance. The reference to the historical treatises created by Geminiani, Mozart, Herrando, L’Abbé le Fils, Spohr, and Baillot is necessary to provide the required theoretical background and learn the most accurate violin technique that was approved by violinists during several centuries.

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