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The contradictions of playing the violin

October 31, 2006 at 11:26 PM

It’s a funny Business.
I think what makes the violin such a pain in the botty to learn is the sheer vastness of non complementary actions that one has to integrate. This raises many interesting questions about how it should best be taught/learnt and just a many answers, most of which have a great deal to offer but none cannot be seen a the ultimate panacea.
An example of an interesting contrast might be the Suzuki system versus (?) a kind of teaching I have seen done by the cellist and Alexander teacher trainer Vivien Mackie. In the former case, the nitty gritty of building a technique is logically systematically presented through fun playing and has proven highly effective, within reason. Mackie on the other hand has an advanced Alexander practitioner`s ability to bypass all the thinking and over intellectualizing beginner bring to the learning process and just say `do this` while demonstrating to a first time player a beautiful bowed stroke. The novice is tricked into just doing it without thought. It’s holistic natural and very powerful. Mackie write in her book `Just Play naturally` of how she conned someone who just picked dup the cello for the -first time- to play the first part of a Bach cello suite! It’s the same as the anecdote in `The Inner Game of Tennis` in which Galway has a complete beginner serving perfectly by first repeadly watching a demonstration. The only subsequent error was in the footwork which was what the subject of the experiment confessed is what he tried to `analyze` as he watched Galway’s demonstrations. Would one want to teach the violin like this? I can’t, but it doe give pause for thought.
How does this kind of contradiction manifest itself in practice? The reason I am thinking about it is because I have been doing so much playing and rehearsing these days and just want to `get back to Basics.` So this week I am practicing son file, colle, and my favorite Capet exercise on basically open strings for several hours a day. The Capet is a pressure exercise. One sets the mm at 60 and plays a whole note. Half of which is f and the other half piano and vice versa. The bow arm moves the bow the hand supplies the extra pressure needed in the forte. Bow speed is fairly constant although more is used for the forte than the piano (a little) Increase the number of subitos (not cresc dim) and increase the mm speed. Love this exercise and I also strongly believe it is what Auer was referring to in his rather vague comments in his book about violin tone coming from the wrist.
After doing this kind of practice for a time my playing seems to leap forward. So why not do it continuously if it is so good? The truth is it is just too hard on mind and body. If one didn’t stop within a sensible time then all one could end up with is the ability to do those exercises well. The music would disappear.
The reverse side of the coin , as it relates to the beginning point is that doing something almost the opposite is going to be equally beneficial. As Huberman points out in one of his interviews, the way to acquire genuine stamina and technique on the violin is to play extremely difficult passages over and over again as fast as possible. Again, Auer recommends this kind of study in his book. And of course, it is a lot more fun….

From al ku
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 1:26 AM
buri, as usual, lots of wisdom.

couple comments..

i remember years ago in college reading galway's book,,don't remember the specifics, but his emphasis of not focusing on outcome, just let it happen, don't force it still lingers in me these days. but i forgot the example you cited, that a newcomer able to swing a perfect tennis serve simply by watching demos,,,,i find that a bit incredible, unless the swing is without actually hitting the ball because hitting the ball across the net in a perfect swing without ever practicing once is too zen like for you i would think :) i suspect some people can draw a straight bow on a violin with no prior practice, but hard to imagine how it sounds.

you mentioned about practice hard and fast, which i found very helpful. just the other day, i challenged the kido to do 50 times of G major 3 oct scale non stop, as fast as clear as short as easy as she can. she did it, with a bit grimacing in the middle and twisted mouth determination in the end. i tell you, just that one session seemed to have changed things around. i bet, if we were doing the usual 5 times over 10 days, the 11th day will still be the same.

From William Yap
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 1:42 AM
I think I know what you mean. I had 2 violin teachers who taught me contradicting ways of playing the violin: bow wrist, tone, "finger-dropping-actions" on the left hand, which part of fingers that contact the strings etc. I have to say I benefit from both as I started to see myself trying/using different techniques (or comination of techniques) in my practice/playing that achieve a better result than just using one technique or the other.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 2:00 AM
I adore "The Inner Game of Tennis". My teacher had me read it when I was 15, and it changed my life.

Sad story: I gave INOT to one of my adult students, and now she is using it for EVIL purposes- when she plays, yes, tennis with her son, she will mess with his mind by saying things such as "Your backhand is so good on earth do you do that so well", or, "Your footwork is so quick and light right now.."
This is terrible. The IGOT used for evil! I doubt I will recover any time soon.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 4:42 AM
bloody typical,
From Neil Cameron
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 11:02 AM
To sum up:

Playing a string instrument is similar to the patting the head, while rubbing the tummy thingy that we did in kindergarten. But, much more difficult. :)


From Andrew Koenig
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 3:35 PM
"Zen in the Art of Archery" by Eugen Herrigel has much more to say on this subject.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 7:16 PM
I'm going to have to try this on my first graders....

Actually, I have thought about it more with vibrato than with initial set-up. I always start by saying "okay do this" and just showing a nice vibrato. I've had at least two kids just do it, pretty darned well. But not everyone! Still, it's very worth just saying "Do this," and showing, especially for the visual learners.

From Ray Randall
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 7:53 PM
My wonderful teacher from the St. Louis Symphony has me bowing for about two inches in the center of the bow at about mm 130 or so. After a bit of that you gradually increase the amount of bow used until eventually you are using a full bow, but still each bow is to the metronome. Then gradually reduce the length of the stroke until you're back in the center few inches again. The results are much cleaner and powerful bowing at all speeds.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 8:15 PM
Ray,that is a classic exercise. One way to take it even further is to practice exactly as you explain but do it in SP lane 5 (fingerboard) then SP 4, then SP 3, 2, 1. In so doing one learns the exact rel;ationships of speed, and pressure on all SPs.
From Man Wong
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 8:10 PM
So glad I came across this blog entry. Looks like you're thinking about some of the same things I often think about in general (before I ever got into violin this year) and would like to see how they fit into violin playing. Just the other day (and now), I was wondering about how other art forms like Tai Chi, Chinese calligraphy and such might somehow relate w/ violin playing -- and I found that my bow hold (or more precisely the hand/wrist/forearm action and bow movement) has benefited from the kinds of fluid motions I see in Tai Chi, certain kinds of opera and dance (and other related art forms), etc. I've also at one point or another tried to visualize (and apply) this in photography though it probably was too obtuse/obscure for anyone else to appreciate. :-)

I haven't actually read your various older blog entries yet, but did take note of the subject titles and a line or two into them. And I look forward to reading all of them as they relate to this subject...


From Man Wong
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 8:27 PM
BTW, are they really contradictions or are they really just different perspectives/approaches that actually can work together (if understood properly) for a better, more complete final result (and big picture) ...?


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 10:44 PM
as you say, they are no more cotradictions than yinand yang. It is just teachers who isnist on one right way who create `contradictions.`


From Jim W. Miller
Posted on November 2, 2006 at 8:13 AM
The problem with analyzing the footwork might have been that it wasn't complete, or wasn't done well. Doesn't necessarily mean something's wrong with the approach. On the other hand nearly all the teaching I got was "do it." Teaching nearly any craft I can think of is "see one, do one" including at least basic surgery. The web is great for analyzing.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on November 2, 2006 at 8:39 AM
There are so many things to analyze and assimilate that it has to be impossible really. There's only one way I know of to assimilate without analyzing and that's to copy.

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