Ideas on Learning

Do Violinists Have Control Issues?



In recent years, I’ve come to believe how one regards music and education as an expression of temperament or personality. For instance, how we feel about control.


Control is the power to direct or influence behavior, action or events in ourselves and others.

Some people resist control and others gravitate towards it. Some like to be told what to do, others feel compelled to push in the opposite direction.


Tests like the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram reveal that our relationship to control is a reflection of our temperament.


Classical violin is the embodiment of control — from how we hold the violin to how we bow each note. My move towards the fiddling world in my 30’s was due to my resistance towards control (an attribute which happens to be attached to the need for self-expression).


Bluegrass, irish, jazz and anything else but classical was where people went to enjoy control-free music. Or so I thought.


As it turns out, every style of music has teachers and players that insist upon a sound and technique.


Quebec, which has a rich fiddling tradition, has seen an assault on its traditional sound by a technique called ‘fancy bowing’. It is a tricky shuffle pattern that young players were gravitating towards because it is fun and sounds amazing. The name alone makes me want to learn it.


There is concern among the fiddle elders that the original sound of of the Quebecois fiddle would be lost if this bowing style was allowed. So, many Quebecois music festivals (typically run by people passionate about maintaining tradition) now ban fancy bowing in their competitions.


Even jazz, the embodiment of freedom and expression, has self-appointed jazz police that insist upon the music adhering to particular norms and sounds. Wander to far from home base and you will get called out by authorities (e.g. music critics, musical elders).


Advocates for control and consistency in the classical world have a decided advantage over their friends in the jazz and fiddling world. They adhere closely to written notation that insures future generations of students will continue playing Bach and Mozart in exactly the same way.


Is it good or bad? It is neither. It is simply a reflection of our personalities.