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The Inconsistent Violinist - my Great Legacy

December 30, 2009 at 9:35 AM

In over two decades of playing the violin I realize tonight that I have never been more discouraged with my playing. I have come so far with my music – I’ve entered the world of virtuosic showpieces, the “great” concertos and reached my personal milestone of studying unaccompanied Bach.   But even at the point I’m at right now I can only describe myself as an inconsistently good player. It doesn’t matter what I play: scales (especially scales), etudes, music for gigs, symphony or my solo pieces. I never know what my playing will be like when I pick up my violin. One day I play technically well and with great musicality and, the next time I play my fingers are awkward and clumsy or I just play badly overall. 

It just doesn’t seem like any of my practice is paying off. I was doubly discouraged tonight when at my lesson I asked my teacher some question about scales and in that conversation he stated that there is no point in asking me to play scales (Flesch) for him anymore because by all appearances I don’t practice them. Needless to say his comment stung since I work so hard to improve on them and it rarely shows when I’m asked to play them nor does my scale work translate positively to the pieces I work on.  Given that...who can blame him for his comment?
It’s very important at this point that I make it clear that I have a fantastic and skilled violin teacher. He was exactly what I needed two years ago when I returned from a long hiatus from the violin. Currently, he is still exactly what I need as I do my best to break self-imposed mental barriers and realize my “violin dreams.” Having said that, he can be demanding and sometimes his comments and observations come across as pretty harsh. But he is extremely fair and his comments are obviously tempered with the desire of helping to push me out of my comfort zones. But his one fault (if I’m allowed to call it that) is that he doesn’t believe me sometimes when I say that I’ve been practicing something. If he doesn’t see improvement in a period of several lessons he decides I haven’t been practicing.
My goal in this blog was not to bash my teacher but to vent my frustrations and fears about where I find myself right now. For many years I didn’t practice well…I admit that I didn’t know any better at the time. But my practicing habits have improved (I think). Despite daily practice on scales and technical work, slow focused passage work, repetition hits and bowing studies I am as delightfully inconsistent as ever. In moments like this I’ve been tempted to blame my extremely inexpensive violin, the fact that my formal training started later in life, the weather, my pets, or the pesky spider who insists on hanging over my stand and scaring the daylights out of me when I least expect it. 
But what scares me more than anything else is that I might have hit my ceiling of ability and there is still so much I want to do. In Auer’s book “Violin Playing As I Teach It” he talks about the student who despite any attempts they make will never achieve more than a certain level of skill. Like the swimmer in a strong current they come up for air and realize they’ve made no headway whatsoever, and if that student is willing to accept those limitations he usually makes a good symphonic player. (my paraphrase). 
I’m not ready to concede defeat yet but I’m stuck. I don’t know what else to do. I am sure that I’m doing something wrong in my practicing but for the life of me I can’t figure out what. But for now I’ve been asked to play complete scales again next week in my lesson, somehow get through Kreutzer #32 (especially the last 3 lines), bring my Paganini back “up to speed” after my rather embarrassing demonstration tonight,  and finish memorizing my recital piece. Of course, playing Bach is a given.
Maybe someday I’ll get my break-though and until then I just have to keep struggling because I’m not ready to give up on my dreams. Not yet.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 1:48 PM

I think we all have periods like the one you are going through.  However, improvement does not tend to be as linear as one would like.  Do not despair. 

That said, while you are clearly fond of your teacher, his attitude concerns me.  Telling you you are not practicing something when you are is not a good sign to me.   The question he should be addressing is why, if you are practicing scales or whatever, it seems to him that you are not.  What is impeding your progress or why does it seem that you are not progressing?  This suggests some technique problem that he is not catching.  As much as you like him and think he is good for you at this period, I wonder if you should not try to find another teacher.  However, I leave it to the teachers on this site to comment on whether my concerns are justified.

 


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 1:45 PM

This sounds so hard.  I'm not at your level, but I've struggled with this issue of inconsistency too.

It sounds like more specific analysis might be able to help you.  For example, I read through your entire blog, and I still don't actually know what's wrong with your scales.  Are they out of tune?  Where?  Are there specific shifts or intervals that are causing you trouble?  

Just as an example from my own practicing of 3-octave scales, I tend to consistently screw up a descending finger pattern of 4-4-3-2 where the 4-4 is a half step coming down from the top note.  The reason is that I don't (or didn't) pay attention to where the rest of my hand is supposed to be going when I do the 4-4.  Was the top 4 an extension in the first place, so my hand stays in the same position for the 3-2, or do I have to actually shift back?  It depends on how I ascended.  And so forth--I can probably pick out an issue I have for every single scale in the Flesch book, but I won't bore you with that, I'm assuming you have different ones, and only you and your teacher can figure out what they are.

Also, if I were you, based on what you've written, I'd be looking for a different teacher.  He may indeed be a fantastic teacher--for someone else. And he was good for you two years ago.  But now you seem to be talking past each other, and I don't know if one of both of you are going to be able to put in the effort necessary to fix the communication problem.  It may be better to just try for a better fit.


From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 5:00 PM

Karen's comments are good.  One thing I would add, at least from my experience, is that switching teachers periodically can be helpful, even when a teacher seems good.  I have been fortunate in the three teachers I have had since returning to the violin as an adult, 12 years ago, after a 25-year hiatus.  The first one I had for about  6-7 years and she was very helpful, and, at a certain point, she wanted to cut back and felt that she was not as much help to me as she had been.  So, she passed me on to another teacher, who did a great job for about 3 years of continuing my progress.  Then, her husband became sick, and she found me another teacher who is terrific.  Each one, however, has focused on different issues I have had and improved my playing by doing so.  Had I not changed teachers periodically, I am not sure I would be doing as well as I am.


From Bev Saunders
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 4:35 PM

Tom and Karen,

Thanks for your thoughtful responses.

After reading my blog again this morning I understand your concerns about my teacher as I didn't really offer all the facts.  Even though I have a high-acheiver side to me and tend to be a perfectionist, I am also rather lazy.  If there is an easy way to do something I  generally find it.  After trying out a number of other teachers I chose him because more often than not I need a strong kick in the butt to motivate me to work to the level I want to and other teachers weren't willing to push me like that.  His comments to me on not practicing are often geared towards me "not practicing correctly".  As I learn to correct old habits I still have a tendency to revert to my old practice methods which is "cram" for seven hours one day instead of consistent daily practice for one or two hours. I think that what part of me is really protesting his treatment is the lazy part.  He demands that I play extremely well and we don't move on to something else until I do.  While the high-achieving part of me loves that, the lazy part is screaming bloody murder.

The reason he won't go into detailed analysis with me on issues is because it's exactly what the lazy part of me wants to do.  It's much easier to talk about why I'm struggling then to actually play and overcome the problem.  He always clearly shows me what I'm doing wrong but other than my asking questions about the correction if necessary he won't allow me to analyze the issue any further during the lesson.

I have two comments to the question about specific technique problems. 

1)  He has diagnosed my root problem and I wish it were something like fingerings or shifting.  But my issue is that I developed really strong fingers through out the years I worked without a teacher and until I learn to consistently play with fingers that are light and easily moved about the fingerboard it's going to cause issues in my playing.  My lesson last night?  All the corrections I heard during my lesson last night were specifically related to one or more of my fingers being to strong, like vice grips, on the fingerboard.  All though I've made quite a bit of prgross I still have a ways to go.  For years when I played my left hand would actually be in pain because I pressed so hard.   

2)  It seems to me like my hands have no long term memory.  I can practice something one day until I'm nailing it everytime and come back the next day and not be able to play it well at all. This has been happening for years and I thought once I began formal training that it wouldn't be an issue anymore but so far it still is.

Deep down I really believe that I am on the right path in working with him.  I have finally reached a point in my playing where my teacher is demanding that I don't just play well on the surface.  He wants my music to show that I am not just playing the violin but that I understand the importance and effect of every motion I make on the violin. 

Perhaps, I'm what I'm feeling and fighting so much right now are growing pains?


From Bev Saunders
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 5:24 PM

The only reason I don't think I should switch right now is that the lazy part of me has a tendency to want to change my "current situation" when something gets hard instead of buckling down and dealing head on with my problem.  I think it's important right now to stay with my teacher and deal with these challenges.  If, in the future, I'm going through a good period in my playing I might consider changing at that point in time.  But for me to change right now would be running away from things I need to work on and I don't think I should do that.


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 5:59 PM

Hi, although I can't be helpful since not at your level at all, I am actually very afraid of the phenomenon mentioned in the Auer's book that also frightens you. I am afraid I hit the wall with Mozart and if I didn,t have school or other compulsory life obligations, I think I would get sick or die from over practicing and beeing to stuburn to accept my limits.   I also have 0 physical memory which is quite annoying so I can imagine the frustration at your level.  Yesterday, I watched a tv documentary on Darwin and it just reminded me souvenirs of my biology classes... It is very taboo and unfair but natural selection is everywhere included in violinists. Not all human beeings have the capacity or ideal mental and physical "features" to become a great violinist even if some great teachers say everyone can since the contrary is not politically correct to tell. I would be very happy to be as adapted to the violin as you however ; ) you already went further than many violinists.

Just that the attitude of your teacher is weird... Telling someone that he doesn't practice... unstead of facing the truth and fix the problem. Perhaps it would be better and more humble if he said, I really don't know what to do or why it doesn't work with you but we'll try to figure it out.   Although no human is perfect and at your age, you know who you want as a teacher.   For the laziness, even some greats were lazy, I guess it is ok if you accept what comes with this. Just as a non lazy accepts to skip and cut on holidays, trips with friends, social life and so on.

Good luck and hope you'll find solutions!

Anne-Marie


From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 7:46 PM

Bev - thanks for all the clarification.  With regard to problem (1), vise grip rather than strong fingers seems to be the diagnosis.  I think most of us have a slight tendency toward vise grip at times, and my teacher tells me at certain points to lighten my fingers.  However, with the caveat that I am not a teacher, vise grip suggests an underlying problem that your teacher should be able to help you fix.  Teachers on the site can tell you more about this.

With regard to (2), I have good days and days where I wonder where my mind was when I learned the piece, and I suppose that is typical of most people.  I am not sure what the answer is.  I have concentration issues, probably some mild ADD, which may explain my problem in this regard.  Do you have such issues?

Good luck!  We will keep our fingers crossed for you.

 


From Bart Meijer
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 8:35 PM

Bev,

I do sympathize. May I venture a few suggestions?

Have fun, and good luck!

Bart


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 30, 2009 at 9:28 PM

 With the caveats that I am not a teacher, or a psychologist, I'd just like to offer a perspective on one of your replies.  

You wrote that you chose this teacher in part because he "motivates" a part of you that you consider to be "lazy."  While this is an admirable goal, I'd actually be hesitant about handing off that responsibility to someone else, no matter how good a teacher he is.  

I don't know how old you are, but you mention a gap and I'm assuming you're an adult.  I posit that motivation is different for adults than for kids.  Most kids probably do need the proverbial kick in the butt now and then from an external authority figure, but that state is, or should be, temporary, and I think that it's over for you.  

Myself, I don't really believe in "lazyness."   "Lazy" is a convenient label and excuse, but as a diagnosis it's a dead end.  There is no cure for it.  Human beings want to grow, to create, to be of use.  When someone appears "lazy" it's usually a cover for something else much more interesting:  ADHD, relationship issues, grief, illness, addiction--a whole swath of human challenges.  As I said, I'm not a psychologist, but I think if you're sincere about meeting important issues head on and working through them, which it sounds like you are, you are going have to dig a little deeper than "lazyness."


From Jason Lewis
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 3:59 AM

 Let me begin my response by stating that what you are going through is a problem for many of us.  We all have "plateaus" that we reach in our skill, just like the athlete does in his or her training.  First of all, your scales should be played slowly, and I mean sloooooowly when you practice.  Start easy and progressively get harder.  I have trouble in this area and refer back to old scales all of the time.  Also, a great violinist, Natasha Korsakova, who is currently touring, told me to play through nearly all of the scales.  While this is not a reality for me, I like to now play through basic 3-octave scales in common keys such as A major, G major, and F major, while focusing on the major and minor of another more difficult key.  

In regards to finding that some days you just play plain badly, I will very much like to consul you by saying that we all have days like that.  On these days, make sure you practice most everything very slow, note by note, and you will find the next day that it has payed-off! I seriously find that I improve more by working-through those "off" days.  Good-luck and happy practicing! 

 


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 8:26 AM

 Greetings,

>ccut what scares me more than anything else is that I might have hit my ceiling of ability and there is still so much I want to do. In Auer’s book “Violin Playing As I Teach It” he talks about the student who despite any attempts they make will never achieve more than a certain level of skill

 

This abolsute poppycock. Re Auer I think you are misinterpreting something that was not well written in the firts place (unlike most of his stuff). What he is actually talking about,  in my opinion,  is those people who wnat to be soloists.  In particular he is referring to the (very) young and those greta talents we see that just don`t make the final hurdle on the road to international stardom fr one reaosn or another.   The suggestion that one cannot continue ot improve in some way,  however small,  everyday,  if one is doing quality and regualr practice is simply and provably false.  It does not even bear discussion.

The -only- possible reason one does not imprve in amy skill learning is if one ofthe two factors of a)  quantity and b) quality is not met.  The qunatity basically means regularity as well a snumber of hours and b means you had better lsiten carefully to your teacher and apply what he says.  You might find it reassuring to purchase a book calle d`Practice Makes Perfetc`by Moretti.  This spells it out for you. Its quite cheap;)

Any time you are not getting it is probably taht you are just going through a series of resturucturing stages where new ideas and ways of playing are being absorbed. Of course youre palying is inconsistent and unstable at thes etimes! It`s menat to be, and quite frankly a teacher shoudl be sensitive to this. Alas,  teahcers do have a tendency to expect a perfetc rendition of their carefully learnt and explained idea sat the next lesosn irrespective of the actual things that may be happening inside the student...

Hang in there,

Buri


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 12:27 PM

Bev, first give yourself credit for reaching the level of achievement you have.

I strongly second just about everything Karen said.  She has a very strong ability to analyze, as befits a scientist.  It is important for you to listen to your own playing, identify weak areas, and then try to strengthen them.  Keeping a practice log in which you note what you do well and what you need to improve can be very useful.  Here I can interject some thoughts as a violin teacher.  During each lesson, I take notes for every piece/scale/etude, etc. my student is playing.  Then I read over my notes and look for issues I found in several different pieces.  At the next lesson, I can discuss these issues with my student so that he/she will become more aware of them and focus on them.  It's also important to focus on what the student does well.  When I praise a  student for doing something specific well, the usual response is, "Oh, I didn't know that what I did was so good."  Then comes the hardest part of the work, primarily for the teacher: how to fix the problem.  It can be a verbal explanation, perhaps one with a vivid metaphor.  For example, when I was a kid and I clutched the violin with my left hand too tightly, my teacher would say, "You're not trying to squeeze the juice out of an orange."  The other thing I can do as a teacher is to find some exercises which are tailored to the problem, and if I can't find any, write some myself.  The teacher and student have to work well together.  When you go over your practice log and see issues to work on, bring them up with your teacher.  When your teacher said that he didn't want to listen to you play scales because you don't play them well even though you've practiced them, I would have said something like, "Yes, this is very frustrating for me.  Can you help me figure out what I'm doing wrong?" 

I agree with Karen that "laziness" is not always the root cause.  I've had students who are very reluctant to play certain pieces, and I believe that it's often because of fear of failure.  They may be setting unrealistically high goals for themselves.  The answer may not be practicing more, but  practicing smarter.  In some cases, the student just has to push himself more to do what he's afraid of.

I urge you not to give up on yourself.  Try to find what you're doing wrong and be more sensitive to it while you practice.  Talk to your teacher about your pitfalls.

You've come a long way, and I'm sure you can go farther or, at least, play your best consistently.


From Christian Vachon
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 1:39 PM

Hi,

I think that almost everyone goes through these kinds of things.   Someone mentioned quantity and quality, and yes that is true.  At some point though, I have a saying "nothing evolves without change."  What does this mean...  Well, that something(s) in your practicing, posture, movements, mental preparation or how you view things (what you are doing, how and why), an ill-adapted instrument is probably not working and that it needs to be addressed and changed so that you can progress further.  This doesn't take the place of putting in enough work, but it is one of the most common mistakes - practice doesn't make perfect; correct practice makes excellent.  

That said, with this as a philosophy, a teacher can help you find the root of the problems with steps to that which you need to change so you can overcome them.  Your task is then to decide to do something about it and get it done.  If your teacher is not providing your with answers or at least the ones you need, then you could perhaps consult something or someone else.  I am not raising concerns or criticisms of the teaching your are receiving, but In essence we all have an unfortunate limit as a teacher defined as "you can only teach what you know." 

Also with this in mind, you can help yourself by investigating what may not be working and see how you can change to make it better and keep raising the bar on your standard of excellence.

Best of luck - I know that this is the hardest thing in the world to do, but in the end, it usually is worth it.

Cheers!


From Don Roth
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 2:53 PM

 I wonder how often changes in teachers may reflect a change in mindset of the student and a related progression on the learning incubation ladder ?

Many times I have declared war on some musical piece or exercise only to finally swear that I would never play the violin again !  Then, maybe weeks later,  I would try a "last time" only to find no problem ?  It was not a teacher's fault, it was mine !

This has happened many times but the steps are getting steeper and the time intervals are getting longer.   

 

 

 

 


From Roland Bailey
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 3:20 PM

re:  In moments like this I’ve been tempted to blame my extremely inexpensive violin

Has your teacher suggested that you get a better instrument, or have you thought about it yourself?


From Robert Spear
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 4:29 PM

I hope this doesn't come out sounding the wrong way. I debated with myself (always an interesting occurrence) about whether to write or not, but something in your blog really got to me. So here, with all best wishes, are my thoughts for the year. :-)

Since when has playing well enough to be a symphony musician been a sign of failure? Reading from a distance, one can take your "strong hand" as a sign of great determination, so you have a lot going for you. Are you pushing yourself too hard? Each time you think that you haven't succeeded i.e., "made progress," does it make you all the more determined to succeed the next time? You know what happens when you apply more effort when less is called for.

You are evidently aware of the problem, so it seems to me you need to change something in the way you deal with your expectations. A new teacher might help, even if there is absolutely nothing wrong with the old one. I think that anyone who teaches understands that there is a limit to efficiently imparting knowledge to a student, and that a change of teachers is often beneficial regardless of the technical competence. A good player who is also a fine philosopher would do you a world of good right now. You need to step back and examine a much broader landscape and where you are in that picture.

So, is your glass half empty or half full? Two ways to look at this: one is to despair over how far you have to go; the other is to rejoice in how far you've come. Your choice.


From Bev Saunders
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 5:48 PM

I really appreciate all of the comments, encouragement and suggestions that have been made.  I’ve been given a great deal to think about…

Bart,

The Paganini piece I referred to is the Moses Variations which my teacher gave to me to teach me to how to consistently shift up and down the fingerboard correctly…and it did.  Awesome piece;  I never knew one could play that high on the G string.  I found your comment on the four stages of learning very interesting – could you elaborate more on that?

On upgrading my instrument…yes, I have thought a great deal about getting a better one and yes, my teacher has made it clear that I need one as well.  This past summer I became a “victim” of the current economic situation in the US and have had to use much of my savings to live on until I start working again.  My teacher has played my current instrument and stated that it is a much harder to play violin (something about the construction of it) and that because of that I have to work harder to make some things happen on it. It is a German factory made student instrument that I used up through high school so I’m really looking forward to when I can afford to buy a better one.  But until then I often take credit in the fact that my teacher and others have complimented me on the fact that when I play it doesn’t sound near as cheap as it is. 

Buri,

You are so right about the quantity and quality factor of practicing and it is something that’s not there yet but getting better for me.  I’m well aware about inconsistent playing when plataued but my concern is more about not ever being sure how I can play on a given day.  For example, one thing I hope to do sooner than later is solo with a local symphony and, how could I agree to play when I’m never sure how I’m going to sound?  I mean what do I say, “Sure I’ll be happy to solo with ____ and let’s hope when it comes time for the concert it’s a good day for me.??”  Shouldn’t there come a point in time when I can be sure of at least some level of quality when I play.  Obviously not 100% but at least knowing that I can consistently play at say…80%.  More than anything else that is what I’m so frustrated with right now.  Even my teacher will say to me, “you’ve been playing this piece fine for a month and now you’re playing it like you’ve never seen it before. 

Karen/Pauline,

There are definitely “deeper” issues that I struggle with.  Aside from being a perfectionist, I do have a tendency to try and hold myself to standards I can’t possibly meet and that’s frustrating.  I am also working on moving past various insecurities with my playing:  the fact that I started my formal training at 30, my cheap violin, my performance nerves when soloing, etc.  But I needed the reminder – so thank you.

Christian,

My teacher does provide the answers and instructions I need it just takes me so long before I can implement his suggestions.  My greatest weakness right now is technical so I think he is very good for me but I wouldn’t rule out a different teacher in the future.

 


From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 5:52 PM

Bev, are you looking for solutions to your technical problems? To me, it doesn't seem like you have a technical problem. Sure, you said you have four "vice grips, on the fingerboard," but this is an easy physical problem to solve. You just have to figure out how to relax (the relaxing is easy, however the process to get there, figuring it out, can take some time). I would recommend that you take one or two pages out of Schradieck and start slowly (let's say quarter note = 60). Then, speed it up in a set interval (10 beats per minute works well) until you get to around quarter note = 150. To play Schradieck (or anything similar) quickly and evenly, you have to be relaxed. Now, while keeping the same feeling in your left hand at qn=150, try slowing down to 60 again.

What really concerns me is when you said "my hands have no long term memory." It is absolutely discouraging when you work so hard on something one day and then the next day it sounds like you didn't work on it all that much. I think there is a physical component and a mental component in the solution to this problem. The physical solution is quite stupid: just keep practicing and working out your problems. The mental solution is a little more challenging to achieve: focus.

Look at it this way. Your body already knows how to play violin. There is no reason why your body shouldn't be able to play violin well ever day. The real trick is to clear your mind and focus so that your body can do what it does best without any interference.

Best wishes,

Charlie


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 7:59 PM

Charlie, I would like so much to agree with your body always know how to play violin but, comming from a family where many people have coordination problems, having spoken with OT'S and having heard Igor Oistrakh said that every violinist had his "hours" in the day to play well (ex, some are good at night, terrible in the morning, etc. He said, if your time to play well is 7 in the morning, at 9, it's too late... )  I can't. Scientific articles said that, for most people, the body responds better in the evening (too stiff in the morning).  At the olympics (I think in the USSR era), the japanese gymnasts were supposed to be the best but were not able to perform well in the morning. The Russians were very good and more stable through the day.  Thus when the gymnastic competition was in the morning, the Russian won, when it was later, it was the Japanese...  Quite funny no?

 

Although I do know what you mean and the body doesn't forget forever but I don't think it is a "stable" thing for many people.  We have metabolism reactions that we can't escape (ex some are always freezing at morning and very hot at night, some are just relaxed at x or y hour) and each one is different. Some are surely lucky to be always the same.  But maybe your point was more to tell that violin has so many mental and attitude issues, that we can't always put the fault on our body and on this I agree!!! 

Anne-Marie


From David Russell
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 8:49 PM

I have been following your discussion and would suggest the following for discussion with your teacher:

The two problems you specifically mention (tight grip and seeming inability for your hands to remember things) may be related. It is quite possible there is a solution to both things at once.

I often notice there is an unhealthy relationship which exists between the hands. The hands are naturally "sympathetic" because of the way our brains are wired. That means that they like to mirror what the other hand is doing in order to assist the opposite hand. That means that we must often work to overcome the negative aspects of this natural sympathy of the hands.

Until we do this, a "downward spiral" of energy is often established and it looks something like this:

I am concerned about intonation, so I inappropriately use less bow to "help" the problem. Or, more pressure is inappropriately applied to the bow (or both). Then, the left hand notices the feeling in the right hand and tries to "assist" the process by squeezing the fingerboard more---which hampers the intonation, which reinforces the whole bad cycle. After all, if one hand is pressing--two hands "helping" the effort must be better!  (Whew! Did I explain that clearly?)

I think that practicing the old "Ghosting technique" (found in Simon Fischer's book Basics) where the left hand plays only harmonics in any given passage, while the right hand plays heavily with a slow bow at the bridge might help you initially seperate the roles of the hands.(It also saves on your pest control bills, as no living thng within ear-shot will want to stich around to hear it!) BUT--persevere!

Then, after you have seperated the role of the hands, you can actuallyturn the tables on the problem and use the hand sympathy to your advantage. In other words, it is possible to "fool" the hands into a cooperative relationship.

This is the idea:

There is an idea in general tone production that may be worth exploring:

Prior to playing, silently place 100% of the pressure you need for tone production into the string. Then, subtract 20% (approximately). ADD that 20% back by slightly lifting the violin upwards into the bowhair (creating a feeling of leverage).

In this way of playing, the larger muscle groups are used, and allow your right hand to relax a bit, while still maintaining 100% of the pressure needed. The left hand notices that the right hand feels more relaxed, so it relaxes in corresponding measure, allowing a generally freer feeling while you play. YET< you have sacrificed nothing needed to make good sound. You have just "crept up from behind" on the whole process and converted it to positive use.

NOW--the second issue:

 

I believe if you more regularly play with "softer" fingers, more angled toward the pads of the fingers, your tactile senses will be much greater. After all, a blind person reading braille does not press the raised dots on the page, but feels them more readily because the tips of the fingers are more sensitive when relaxed.

You may find that your "tactile memory" improves greatly simply by feeling more with light fingertips.

Long-winded, but I offer it with all best wishes for your continued enjoyment of the violin. :-)


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 3:53 AM

 Bev, one more thought and I'll shut up.  You mentioned still playing on your German factory violin from high school.  I also had a German factory violin in high school, and played on it for the next 25 years.  I just gave it to my daughter and bought a new violin from Shar for a very reasonable price.  The reason I bring this up is twofold:   1. inexpensive violins have come a long way since the German factory instrument days.  You can probably get something much better than you have now for well under $2000.  2.  my old violin made me work too hard to get a sound out of it and thereby instilled bad habits and tension in my playing.  In my case, it was an overly tense and fast vibrato and back/neck pain.  But I'm wondering if your "vise-grip" might be a similar symptom.  The biggest difference that I find between my new violin and my old one is that the new one "rings" easily.  My teacher was always telling me to "find the clarity" and I never really understood what she meant until I got this violin.   Now I don't have to work so hard, grip so hard, vibrate so intensely, to get a robust sound.  When you mentioned your old violin and the vise-grip, it just made me think that you might be able to get a lot of improvement out of a little money.


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 10:43 AM

I agree strongly with Christian's advice.

He said,"Practice doesn't make perfect; correct practices makes excellent."  I often say, "You don't need to practice more.  You need to practice smarter."

He also said,"...you can help yourself by investigating what may not be working and see how you can change to make it better..."  I think this is excellent advice.  In fact, I discussed it in detail in my comment just before Christian's.  Karen said something similar in one of her posts.

I also agree with Karen about getting a new and better violin and bow.  Some of your shortcomings may be due to your violin and bow, while you attribute them to yourself.  Sometimes when a student is having difficulty with a bowing technique, I hand him my bow and say, "Try this."  They are always amazed at how much easier it is to play correctly and make the sound they are striving for.  I use a fairly inexpensive carbon fiber bow, which works beautifully for me.

You are getting so much good advice here.  Yay for the v.com community!  I'm sure there are many ideas here which can help you tremendously.

 


From Ray Randall
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 7:39 PM

What David Russell said about subtracting 20% and adding it back from the bottom is one secret of a major concert violinist. A friend of mine in a major orchestra noticed in the rehearsal that the last chord notes of the concerto reverberated back and forth for a long time. My friend, a super superb violinist, asked him how he got reverberation that lasted that long. He gave his Guarneri to my friend and said "you try the last chord, I want to show you something." The violinist's chord had power and reverberation, but not like his. He then invited all who wanted to try the same thing with his Guarneri to do so, same results. He then took other players old master violins and got the same reverberation. Then he gave them the secret which was exactly the same 20% that Mr. Russell said. Then they were all able to get that additional vibrations that made their violins reverberate forever. Keep in mind all these players are major orchestra musicians and at the top of their profession. There is always something newe to learn even at that high level of playing.


From Bart Meijer
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 9:30 PM

Bev,

The four stages of competence development were explained by Roland Roberts in this thread.

Congratulations on playing the Moses Fantasy!

Another thought: if we want to improve, being inconsistent is not a bad thing. It certainly beats being consistent at our current level.

Bart


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 2, 2010 at 4:39 AM

Ray and David I agree and the best violinists are not streigh and with the violin slightly lifted up for nothing. It's not because they are "proud" or anything. It is really a technical way to sound better with less effort.  There is no need to wiggle and force as an earth warm when one plays to get more out of the instrument as many do...  You just lose so much energy when you "box" or dance with the instrument!  I feel as if in today's soloists, people want to see expression, theatral gesture, energic playing.... thus many solosists force so much against their instrument and are "physically" too involved with mooving what isn't necessary for the playing. (I heard Gitlis talking about this once)   Strategies like what you mentionned are the best solutions.  Sure I can just talk as an amateur but since I'm a very slender person that love big sounds, I have always struggle with not beeing able to do them. But with tons of experiences and reaseraches, I can say that tricks as you mentionned can make you play like much stronger than you are which is quite amazing!   Saving energy is so important in violin!

Thanks for reminding us this!

Anne-Marie


From Ray Randall
Posted on January 2, 2010 at 5:08 AM

When I remember to play like that while practicing my wife says the dishes rattle in the kitchen cupboards and I'm up on the second floor.


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 3, 2010 at 4:07 AM

I just did practice for my competition (very modest one ; ) unfront of my family this evening to get used to adrenaline. It was not my best shot but at each time I play my violin, my relatives or strangers when it's for real audiences always tell comments on the power of my violin. Well, I agree I'm in good company but... we, musicians, know that it isn't just the violin that produces the power, also the strings and the technique...  Put a beginner on Repin's violin and it isn't going to sound powerful lol Power is so "not natural" for me (always was in the very weak in the girls strengh chart in physical education: ) but technical tricks must be paying since  my good comments are, ironically all on "unnatural" things for me.  So I'll keep practicing these tricks too! They help to overcome some challenges (at least to a certain point)

Anne-Marie

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