[kpop/rant] Henry and Lindsey Stirling’s unfortunate violin skills

Wielding both the piano and violin, Henry is the boy genius from kpop machine, S.M. Entertainment. Lindsey Stirling is the YouTube violinist best known for her dubstep arrangements. They are both wildly famous and successful in their own ways, and in no way do I think their success is undeserved.

Yet, I can’t watch their recent videos without gagging. To put it bluntly, Henry and Lindsey sometimes seem to be playing a saw rather than a violin. It whines and it screeches, and no, those are not the whines and screeches of emotion, they are the deviations of a violinist that has not yet learned how to control the intonation and tone. Every fingering they produce is slightly different every time, and so their tones may vary wildly. The mark of a good string instrumentalist: every time they play a note, it is the same exact position.

Honestly, I have never listened to Henry’s violin seriously– I watched his gimmicks strumming the violin on variety show and came away slightly amused (not exactly new at that point). Also, I knew he had gone to Berklee, so I was expecting at least the lower rung of conservatory level (my first mistake, Berklee’s not a conservatory). Therefore, watching him do a piano and violin version of Trap, I was so shocked. Moreover, he laced the video with needlessly technical runs that he did not even do well. It is a mistake to assume that the easiest pieces are the easy to play. No, they are not. You have much less chances to mess up, and if you do, it has a much larger effect. The mark of a good musician is not by how difficult their pieces are, but how much attention they pay to the details and if that attention to detail actually translates through.

I like Lindsey herself because she is good-natured and genuinely wants to bring violin out of the stodgy classical realm. Yet, compared with The Piano Guys (the cellist is amazing, I’d pay to see him play a concerto any day), her violin skills are below par, which is terrifying considering it is all pre-recorded and yet she cannot sound on-key at least 95% of the time. Sometimes I cannot believe that there are some people who make their living off of playing instruments cannot play it at good amateur level, much less professional, or god help us, conservatory level.

I sigh and I kick and I rant, but in the end, if people like them, then whatever. People like what they like, and I hope that Henry and Lindsey are only the jumping off points to a richer life in music.


17 thoughts on “[kpop/rant] Henry and Lindsey Stirling’s unfortunate violin skills

  1. You have put forward some interesting ideas. I had not seen Henry’s videos before, but I am more familiar with Lindsey’s work.

    From watching Lindsey’s videos, she is not the greatest violinist. Her technique is weak, and she does not always hold the instrument the right way. Overall I find the quality is worse when she does live performances, compared with her music videos which are recorded in a studio, where imperfections can be removed.

    However she has captured peoples imagination with what she does, and has probably introduced many to the violin who otherwise would not have been interested in it. And that is great. I believe she does play with feeling, so I’ve enjoyed many of her videos.

    The Piano Guys are a bit different because both were professional musicians before they began working together. So they have a lot more experience, and have had more time to improve technique.

    I can’t say a lot about Henry as I have not listened to him much. What I saw did not really grab me, but his audience seems to love it. In the ten minutes I watched of him he seemed to be more a stunts man/show man than a violinist.

    But I guess some of it comes down to what we consider perfection in music. Should every not be perfect? Any way, I enjoyed reading your post, and hope you don’t mind my little rant, too. :-)

    • I agree with what you’ve said, especially the fact that she loves what she is doing, and that makes it enjoyable to watch her.

      ^^ I’m just very divided about these things sometimes. I like that they enjoy their craft and are introducing people, but I seethe sometimes when they say “so-and-so is a GREAT violinist”, implication they’re good as pros and I just want to bang my head on the wall and say “the intonation is atrocious!!!!! how can you say that!!!!” Most often, I just shut up, though! Music snobbery doesn’t tend to win you many friends. So, of course I don’t mind your rant! :) It’s hard to find people who see things like this on a regular basis.


      • She stated in her book that she knows she is not the best violinist in the world. Lindsey is doing something different, that almost no one has seen before, which makes her entertaining. Besides this, she is a very kind person. She overcame anorexia, holds strong faith in God, and, despite being in the crazy world of the music industry, stays close to her morals. People admire this.

  2. I knew Henry first, and Lindsey later. I really like the way Henry moving around while playing violin, at first, in Don’t Don. To be honest I am not digging Don’t Don, but I like the violin part. Then I saw Henry’ Storm performance. I enjoy the way he combined dancing and playing violin. His sharp movement follows the music, so it’s very interesting to watch. But that is it.

    Long after that, my friend mentioned Lindsey. She’s not popular in my country by the way. I don’t think someone ever mentioned her. But anyway, the way she’s advertised as dancing violinist piqued up my interest. I watched her videos.. and to be honest, I am confused. Her violin playing is ok, her original song is ok, she dances around to enjoy her playing is ok, but.. sorry, advertised as “dancing violinist”?

    I don’t know the right words. English isn’t my first language, so pardon me.

    For me, Lindsey’ dancing is not a performance dance. Her dance isn’t something extraordinary. She just randomly flexes, jumps, bends. Ok, you are flexible, agile, but if you want to perform dance, you can’t just show off skills. To me, Lindsey is just like some kpop idols. Sometimes kpop failed at making a song in perfect harmony. This is one of example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au5fic4IqEs

    They put all good dancers from various groups into one. So, that must be a great dancing performance right? Ugh, actually no. It sounds really like a mess. Same goes with the dancing. I prefer watching any song with synced choreography. It really looks stunning compared to dancing skill showcase of certain individual.

    So, all the hype for Lindsey is a bit too much for me. She isn’t dancer. She only dances to enjoy her music, so she shouldn’t be advertised as “dancing violinist”. I am fine with dubstep violinist, modern violinist, or pop violinist *shrugs*, but Lindsey so far doesn’t offer very good performance of dancing, so – no thanks. I find Henry’ Storm more enjoyable – but that being said, Henry still doesn’t deserve to be called a master in playing violin or in dancing.

    But there is one thing I am aware of: I don’t understand shuffle dance or any dance maybe popular in West. I am not into them. I mean, yeah, it’s difficult to do them, but since my taste for dancing is not on the skill, but more into the harmony of performance, I hardly enjoy Lindsey’ type of dance. Well, I am still trying to figure out.

    It’d be nice to know what kind of dance Lindsey actually try to perform. Is it dubstep, or ballet, or any other kind of dance; because I want to know if it’s just my personal taste or I am actually being too biased. I think I am just confused and curious, because I find Lindsey’ dancing is not for performance, but people keep saying she’s very good at it.

    I’d like to learn something new if I could.

    And, I agree with you as closing statement. I don’t mind people liking them. I just want to figure out the reason why I can’t bring myself to like them also. Pure curiosity :D

    • aww, have you heard about the new study they’ve published? That it’s possible to pick out music competition winners by just watching their body movements (no sound)?

      I love that you used MAXSTEP as your bad example! Now that you mention that Lindsey is marketed as a ‘dancing violinist’, I find that really puzzling because what kind of dancing can one do while playing the violin (besides flailing violently?).

      Well, we can wonder on together.. people can be mystifying..


  3. As I watched the video of henry (I’ve heard of him for the 1st time now), ok he’s fine, but what really bothered me were his high screeching tones… it seems like he can’t control his intonation well on the high notes just yet.
    Okay, that’s fine as far as someone does not say he’s as good as professionals are.

    I am nowhere like this on my violin technique, but I’ve only played it for 5 years when younger and then started playing other instruments like keyboards and guitar, so I practically abandoned violin playing. I don’t really feel sorry for this as I found other instruments I love playing better. But I have listened to many professional violinists who are really great, including some of my former violin teachers who finished their violin degree and additional private trainings, and until you’re good enough to be compared with them, no one can say you’re “great” or “one of the best violinists”. That would mean as good as Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi Menuhin, or Vanessa Mae and many more.

    Lindsay Sterling… she is okay, but… but…
    1.) on her videos the fingerings don’t really match to what is heard many times.
    2.) when I watched her video on America’s Got Talent, she really ad an awful performance. So I don’t really believe she can sound that well in live version.
    3.) her techniques are really repetiting. When you get her most used techniques under your fingers, you can literally play most of her songs without adding any new trick. It gets boring after a while, as I wait for “the moment” when she will do something different than what she does most of the times, but guess she just isn’t skilled enough and would have to train more to be able to do new tricks for her songs or performances, so she rather sticks to what she knows she does well.
    It’s fine but after a while it gets boring when you notice her limits and the same technique range in most of her songs.
    I would say well done, ebcause she plays with feeling. But to a girl with a perfect pitch like me it sometimes sounds awful when some tones are clearly not what they should be. And it is “studio made”! What? It should be even better! Some parts are interesting but as soon as I hear her “screeching”, or when she mis-hits a note, I would rather close up my ears than hear that.
    I can say she has done well on her road to achieve what she wanted, but please stop calling her a “great” violinist. She is no better than most under-graduate violinists who haven’t finished their music degree.
    I just had to rant a bit. :)

  4. I am certainly no master of music, but it’s really no mystery to me that both Lindsey and Henry aren’t the best, or better put, MASTERS, of their talents as performers.
    Though, I think it’s important to remember these “performers” are kind of supported by a targeted audience. Particularly Henry. The Entertainment industry he is under promotes him to a young teen audience much like how we have for the Jonas Brothers or One Direction. Being in the music business doesn’t necessarily mean you’re 100% talented but I suppose someone’s going to like you. The discussion of certain artists and why they are hailed as “the best” or “great” when in reality they are pretty mediocre could be the debate of the century since it will really depend on who it is you’re talking to you.

    I for one do really enjoy watching both of these performers do what they do since they’re really trying their hardest. They may not be the best at what they do and yes there may be room for improvement, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even so in their imperfection they remind me hard work pays off and the pursuit of dreams isn’t nearly as impossible as some may think. That’s really all they are. People with dreams and passions. Maybe they’re not aiming to be in the world’s greatest orchestra, but they’re doing something that makes them happy, and I enjoy seeing them living that dream.

  5. I have just listened to a video of Lindsey playing the National Anthem. I do not want to sound negative but there are a lot of intonation problems and too many ornaments for this piece, according to my personal taste. In fact, two years ago she played a bit better; she most likely does not take enough time to deepen her technical skills; the same applies to her dancing. It appears that she makes the same movements over and over.However she gives a lot of inspiration and encouragement to aspiring artists who struggle to make a living. It is obvious that she loves what she does and that she has a special connection to her fans. She proves that in today’s musical world perfection is not a must, provided you play what people want to hear. I am a great fan of smooth jazz, and it saddens me that wonderfully skilled artists such as Dave Valentin, Dave Grusin, Chic Corea, and Fourplay only get a very small fraction of Lindsey’s number of views on youtube. The same applies to great artists such as David Garrett and Vanessa Mae. I guess that’s just the world we live in now. Peace!!

  6. What’s even sadder is that Henry used to be a really good violinist.
    (check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2K7ZqLBYZw)
    It was kind of difficult searching for an article containing some seemingly credible information about Henry’s violin accomplishments before he abandoned the classical music route, since most articles really just barely touch on that. Also, fans don’t really care about that stuff.
    So, I ended up using this article by some Toronto website called thestar.com which claimed to have interviewed his siblings and stated Henry “often [won] competitions”. To be honest, Henry’s not a great singer and the only thing I think he has going on right now is his variety skills and a solid fanbase.

  7. What’s even sadder is that Henry used to be a genuinely good violinist.
    It’s kind of hard to find an article with some credible-ish information about Henry’s violin accomplishments prior to getting involved with being a performer (since most, if not, all fans (smh) don’t care about that) and the only thing I got was from this Toronto website, thestar.com, which claimed to have interviewed Henry’s siblings: It stated he “often [won] competitions”.
    Now, watching videos like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaPLd5Kev4c and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swDPwYBy9l0 , I can only cringe; I’m no expert on violin, but I can say: what the heck are fans thinking, praising Henry for bobbing his head around, sticking out like a sore thumb, during the performance? I get that doesn’t do any harm, but you’re not supposed to do that during a performance.

  8. Lindsey’s violin playing confuses me. At times her technique and intonation sounds perfect and full of virtuosity, especially in Derek Hough’s new video Kairos. Other times, her playing sounds mediocre, especially during live performances. I am almost inclined to think that it is not the same artist playing. To me she is the most mysterious violinist I have heard.

  9. Not too familiar with Lindsey, but fairly so with Henry. A jack of all trades, but a master of none. While that makes for a poor virtuoso, it makes for a great all-around entertainer. One of the big pluses of the idol system is that they can take a rough stone and polish into a fine gemstone. Henry is young and still honing his craft. Given the right environment and teachers, the sky’s the limit. Guess that last bit goes for Lindsey as well.

  10. I guess it’s because he debuted as an idols in Korea, and that means whenever they call him ‘genius’ it’s more like a comparison to other idols in the industry. He’s the one and only who can play that many musical instruments to a ‘professional’ level – or seems like a ‘professional’, and that’s the ‘brand’ his company’s marketed him in the first place.
    To be fair, he used to be a very good violinist until he walked on the idol’s path. Imagine with his packed schedule (even now, 2017), he doesn’t event have his own private leisure time, not to talk about practice time for both violin and piano. I heard that he used to work 3 hours for piano and 3 hours for violin every day in the past (before debut). For now, 30 mins each? I’m not sure. The performances he’s showing recently, I guess it’s only based on his previous experience. I have to admit that even me, can hear the scratch while he’s playing.
    However, It’s the price he has to pay anyway, to survive in the entertainment industry, he can’t just only play classical instrument. He has to do anything he could to earn a living. I bet he knows his ability is weaken, but what else can he do?
    Anyway, it’s 2017, and I heard that he’s changing his status into an all-rounded idol, and I wish with all my heart for his success.

  11. Mairead Nesbitt, Cora Smyth, Samvel Yervinyan, Vanessa Mae, David Garrett, these are real violinists. Henry plays better than Lindsey though. Lindsey has captured her audience because a lot of people nowadays seem to like electronic music and because she is skinny and looks cute.

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