David Jacobson

Violinist, writer and lecturer, David Jacobson is the founder and director of the San Francisco Institute of Music where he created a unique system of teaching, employing what he terms the theory of “bel canto instrumental technique,” now known as the SFIM (San Francisco Institute of Music) Method. He is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Ivan Galamian, and has a Master of Music Performance degree from Boston University. Mr. Jacobson has appeared as soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, and many other orchestras throughout the United States and has appeared in recital in the major capitals of Europe.

He is the author of Lost Secrets of Master Musicians--A Window Into Genius. In 2015 he founded a publishing company--SFIM Books. SFIM Books evolved as a response to the need for publications that speak about art in a way that presents rational arguments about the value of the aesthetic view of life. He writes a blog on music--Melonaissance.com

Interview with David Jacobson

Q: What brought you to write this book?

A: I broke my finger.

Q: Really?

A:  Yes. I reached over to open a 100 pound gate on a trail in the Berkeley Hills and the gate rolled over my finger.

Q: That must have been scary for your playing?

A: Well, I didn’t know if I would ever play again--it was a displaced fracture. I had extra time --I couldn’t practice. Normally I would practice 3 or 4 hours every day. So my wife suggested that I write a book about my life. So here we are.

Q: How long did it take?

A: Well, it started as a book on violin technique with only a small bit about me personally as an introduction to the book. I showed this to a friend of mine who is a writer, and he said “why don’t you expand this.” I asked how. He said release your inner angst. So I did--and the book came pouring out.

Q: How long did it take to write?

A: The first draft took about nine months. Then I released my combined inner Jewish and Catholic angst, which added more content. That took about another year. So I then had a pretty long angsty book. 

Q: I assume it changed?

A: Yes, it had to. I looked at it and started to take a bigger view of the subject, adding other chapters, smoothing it out.

Q: What is unusual about the book?

A: Well, the book tries to answer a few things. First, I write about my discoveries through research of over 15 years about how the greatest players actually played, technically, and how they thought about music.

Q: How did you do that?

A: I couldn’t have, except for slow motion video, which I studied for all those years to try and understand.

Q: Was that enough? Could anyone just see this?

A: No. It's very hard to understand what you are seeing that is any different. You also have to guess, based on how they sound live. Also the videos made no sound at slow speed, so you had to know what you were really watching. I assumed that what I saw and how they played was based on mental paradigms, let’s say fundamental biases, that might explain why they sounded or moved the way they did. 

Q: So the way they think affected what they did?

A: Yes. When I was a student a friend of mine used to try to copy how Horowitz looked at the piano. It made no difference. He sounded the same. You have to see into their thinking. The physical end-result comes from that.

Q: So people are what they think?

A: Yes, but this is very deep or it goes very deep. What you think will come out in the playing, even unconscious ideas. So you have to get to the bottom of it all to really change essentially.

Q: So could you do that?

A: Yes, I think I did. At the bottom of it all is a big problem. If you think you are anything in particular, you are blocked from deep change. So I had to let go of that--that I was something unique.

Q: How did you do that?

A: I had to really study what was in my mind. It really became a kind of religious thing, not how we normally mean, but in the question--really, who am I?

Q: Well, then who are you?

A: I think or found that when I really examined this that I was made up of a language I didn’t invent, a name I never gave myself, a culture I didn’t create and circumstances I had not consciously wished. I realized that whatever I am was not any of these things. I realized that I was not definable. This freed my thinking, at least a bit more. 

Q: Are you saying you become enlightened?

A: No. whatever that is. I just realized that if I was nothing in particular, nothing that I could define, that my thinking was what created processes in me that took over. So I figured that if I got the right fundamental thinking for playing, that maybe I could improve.