Interview with Endre Granat: Playing Scales Like Jascha Heifetz

January 29, 2017, 8:37 PM · It all started with scales.

When Endre Granat auditioned for the great violinist Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), scales were the first thing on the agenda -- and "he had some pretty nasty ideas about how scales can be played," Granat told me in an interview at his home in Studio City, Calif. last fall.

"By the time I stopped playing scales, I went through virtually anything that you can think of," Granat said. Heifetz' scale requests were something of a legend. "His favorite was to pick a scale, like C. Off the bat, he'd say, let's play a three-octave scale. Everybody knows it, that's in every book. Then, let's start it on D, and go to D. Now suddenly, nothing works any more, none of the fingerings. Then: what if, instead of starting with the second finger, why don't you start with the first finger? (playing in C major, but starting on D and going to D.) Well then, why don't we start it on F, and go to F? In C major. Every scale like that. Any and every scale, in any way you can think of it."

Then came melodic minors and harmonic minors. Then the same thing in thirds, sixths, octaves, fingered octaves, tenths.

"When he was happy about that, he said, "What would you like to play?'"

"I said, 'I would like to play the Brahms Concerto.'"

"He said, 'Fine. Tchaikovsky.'"

Granat must have played well -- he became not only a student of Heifetz, but also a frequent partner in chamber music.

Endre Granat and Jascha Heifetz
Endre Granat and Jascha Heifetz.

"He liked me, that's why he was thorough," Granat said. "The more he liked you, the more he abused you." If Heifetz could see in an audition that someone was falling apart playing a three-octave scale, he left it at that and moved on.

As for his scale routine, Heifetz never wrote it down. "For the first 65 or 70 years of his life, Heifetz never taught. He had a student here and there but he never really taught at a school," Granat said. "And he knew the routine for himself; why would he write it down?"

That's where Granat came in. Late last year, Granat released The Heifetz Scale Book for Violin, a book of Heifetz' scale routines that were developed over his long career, but never written down.

Endre Granat
Endre Granat. Photo by

It's just the latest in a series of editions that Granat, along with Stephen Shipps, has done for the Lauren Keiser Music Publishing Company, including Heifetz editions and Sevcik analytical studies of various violin works.

Granat is a 45-year veteran concertmaster of the Hollywood studios, having played in hundreds of films, television shows and records, and serving as concertmaster at the Emmys, Grammys and Academy Awards. He also served as Assistant Concertmaster in the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell and was a Laureate of the Queen Elizabeth International Competition. He was professor of violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Goteborg, Sweden, Cleveland Institute of Music, University of Illinois, the California State University, Northridge, Seoul National University and the University of Southern California.

Heifetz was one of the greatest pedagogues ever, Granat said, but strictly through playing, not through explaining. That worked for some students like Granat, but not for all.

Heifetz would demonstrate, and then, "he expected you to do it your way. If you imitated him, he stopped you," Granat said. "I did that once: I studied the Prokofiev Concerto No. 2, and I did some slide that he did. He stopped right in the middle of it. I actually thought I did it very well! He said, 'Why did you do that slide?' I said, 'Mr. Heifetz, you did that in two recordings.' He said, 'Yes, I had to. But you don't,' meaning, he had to, because that was the way he felt. He sensed that I didn't feel it, I just did it because he did it."

"So in a sense, he was a sensational pedagogue," Granat said, but not the kind of pedagogue who explained things in a form that would easily translate to a book.

That being the case, how did Granat come up with a Heifetz scale book?

It was tricky, he admits. First of all, he needed to come up with something that was a starting point for the great variety of scale exercises that Heifetz would do -- not something set in stone. In fact, Granat feels that a "scale routine" is, by definition, a failure.

"Heifetz changed it all the time," Granat said. "In fact, Heifetz liked to play scales with fingerings like '1-2-1-2-1-2...' and '2-3-2-3-2-3...' and '3-4-3-4-3-4...' And then, '1-2-3-1-2-3...' In other words, it's not a formula. This is not written in stone, and the more you stick to what is printed here, the less you are following the spirit of Heifetz. It's an excellent start, but what I'm presenting is the core of it, in its simplest form. Trust me, you ain't seen nothing yet! This is not the end of it, this will wake you up, and then you make your own scales, your own scale exercises."

In the interest of whittling it down to the essentials, the Heifetz Scale book is just 60 pages -- half of the length of the widely-used Flesch Scale System. Granat took pains to avoid repetition and wasted space.

Also, "I wanted to make it so simple that anybody can memorize it quickly," Granat said. "One of the most important parts scale practicing is to memorize it, so that you are not glued to the music, but instead you are glued to observing what you do, and how you do it."

He emphasized that one does not need to go through the book in any particular order. For example, "if you want to play three-octave scales, you can do them in order, or you can start at the end of the book at go backwards, or practice your scales like Heifetz so often liked us to do, start it at the top, descending first before ascending," Granat said. "It's a lovely exercise! That's true for every single scale."

Beyond three- and four-octave scales and arpeggios in major and minor keys, the book also contains whole-tone and chromatic scales, plus double-stop scales in thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, octaves and tenths. And if you're still feeling brave, there are scales with trills, harmonics, double harmonics and left-hand pizzicato.

"In other words, what you see in front of you is a wake-up call, it's not a scale book," Granat said. "This is what your violin-playing consists of, and I've presented it in its simplest formula."

"This is a serious book, it will give a headache to anybody who has not done this kind of stuff," he said. "You may be born with a great deal of talent, but you're not born with fingered octaves. Not even Heifetz."

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This week, enter to win a copy of Endre Granat's Heifetz Scale Book. Click here to enter to win.

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January 30, 2017 at 02:14 PM · Thanks for making this book available. I am now figuring out how to incorporate it into my routine.

January 31, 2017 at 03:41 PM · Thank you, this is very enlightening to me.

February 1, 2017 at 01:04 PM · When I spent time with Heifetz in the 1980's he based his method of scales on Hrimaly! I remember before going to play for him, Sherry Kloss recommending I learn the fingering pattern of Hrimaly and not Carl Flesch.

Yes, he was a great believer in practicing scales. It is the foundation of violin technique. We, violinists always have the issue of intonation. I believe the only way to remedy intonation issues is to practice scales.

Cecylia Arzewski

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