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Kate Little

What I learned from practicing every day for a year:

October 20, 2014 20:34

Practice can be defined as a task that is achievable. Holding oneself to an unachievable standard can be stressful and counterproductive. My definition of practice included the following:

  • I must be alone.
  • The environment has to be clear of distractions, particularly electronic ones.
  • My head has to be clear of distractions.
  • I have to choose at least one challenging task and work to improve.
  • I have to be paying focused attention in the moment, and I have to be making progress.

Excluded from my personal practice definition were any sort of rehearsal or jam session, playing through pieces for fun or enjoyment, or performing pieces for others. Also excluded was any particular time requirement, or particular directions from the teacher. I allowed myself to decide each day’s practice content and length. To count as practice, I required myself to make progress at something on the violin solely via my own effort.

The smiley face stickers really do make a difference.

It is easier to maintain the momentum of practicing every day than it is to restart practice after taking a break. Once I let myself say, “I'm tired and have too many obligations. I’ll practice tomorrow,” it is easy to say the same the next day and the next day and the next, and all of a sudden a week has gone by with no preparation for the next lesson. Rather than the effort it takes to restart, it is easier, even at the end of a long day, to find something that can be worked on, even if for only 15 minutes.

Family will be supportive once they realize that you are serious, that practice is not negotiable. At least mine did. It was great when we got to they point where they’d say “Can I make dinner, Mom, so you have time to practice?” or “Do you need me to take your carry-on so you can take the violin?” Their support has been crucial.

You don’t ever have to ask yourself, “Do I feel like practicing today?” or “Do I have time to practice today?” Those questions are already answered with a resounding “Yes.” The only questions to ask each day are “When?” “How long?” and “What?” Once you get going with practice-every-day, it’s not that big a deal. If this is something you want to do, and you turn it into an achievable, enjoyable task, the habit is easy to develop.

Practice can be a meditative escape from our high-paced, digitized, electronic world. Practice can be a time to relax and reconnect with one’s authentic, unenhanced potential. Practice can be a time to challenge oneself to see how far one can expand one’s personal capabilities. The rewards of self-discipline, skill, self-knowledge, and music last for your lifetime. They are always yours and can never be stolen away.


P.S. October 21, 2013 – October 20, 2014: Thank you to The Weekend Vote & the Adult Starters – Violin/Fiddle Facebook group for their inspiration.

6 replies

What's in your head as you hear?

October 18, 2014 12:00

My ability to hear classical music has evolved with time. It used to be that I could not really make sense of music. A symphony was an overwhelming wash of undifferentiated energy, akin to being caught and tumbled about by an ocean wave. Chamber music sounded like irritating static noise. Solo piano or violin sounded like cat scratch and screech. Yet, I was certain that there was something of value in the sound that abused my ears, so I kept listening.

Eventually music turned into a string of black dots. Some dots were bigger, some smaller, some higher, some lower, but otherwise undifferentiated as they continued their march through my ears. The dots’ music was not particularly interesting, but at least it was a step toward differentiated sound.

With time, the black dots turned into shapes (still colorless), and their string became a surface. This added definition and a 2nd dimension to what I heard, but the music still seemed boring. However, increased visualization led to an ability to verbally narrate (silently) a musical piece as it played out. In my head music sounded like: “A sequence. It’s going up. Hear the swell. And there the phrase ended. Oh! A new section beginning. The clarinet and flute are intertwined. Strings providing underlying harmony . . .” A new skill, simultaneous verbal description was developing more detailed and specific hearing, and music was becoming interesting.

By and by, architectural, sculptural and kinetic qualities supplemented the analytical narration. As if I were again a child playing with blocks, a symphony can now feel like a building under construction, as I tour the edifice building a mental map of the size and location of rooms, running a hand over wall surfaces to feel their varied textures. Sometimes this imagery morphs into waves of fabric undulating with the music, defining sonic space with motion, color, and light.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes Smith

It is with these physical interpretations and sensations that music has evolved from interesting to evocative.

Considering the tools my imagination uses to perceive and process music, verbalization is the one which brings specific meaning to what I hear. However, physical and emotional interpretation is what brings enjoyment. For me, the verbal perception of music dominates and it is gnawing at me lately as I now want to feel music. So, at a recent concert by Mercedes Smith, flute, and Karlyn Bond, piano, I decided to turn off the verbal spigot. Surprisingly, the other ways of processing dissipated along with it, and I was left hearing pure sound in my head: Sound with auditory color, shape, form, motion; Sound with dimension, sense and meaning; Sound inducing physical and emotional sensation; Sound carrying me on a journey from beginning to end. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes dark, sometimes melancholy, sometimes boisterous. But moving! And, happily, a long way from the static noise of when I first started listening.

8 replies

Bow Hunting

October 11, 2014 04:43

The center-of-gravity and natural bounce should overlap along the bow. The camber should be strong with flex, not soft. The bow should be straight, not twisted. – David #1

Test bows without knowing the price or the specs so they don’t influence your decision. You might find that your best choice is the less expensive one. – Alfonso

Find the right bow, the one bow that most beautifully resonates with your violin. – Angella

Let me test it with you before you buy it. – David #2

They all look the same to me!

I have been having difficulty with sound production over the summer, primarily an intermittent shudder in the upper-third and sporadic ponticello-like sounds. Specific and on-going attention to bowing technique was not eliminating the problems, so looking for a better bow, whatever "better" meant, seemed like a reasonable option.

I started by asking some professionals to evaluate my current bow. They all agreed that the bow has issues and does not draw the best possible sound from my violin, and provided advice on where and what to look for (see above). I supplemented their information with some research on the internet. Particularly helpful was an article by Mark Reindorf. It outlines qualities of a good bow, as well as a useful search strategy.

The first stop was Peter Prier and Sons Violins in Salt Lake City. Several bows in my price range were brought out for testing. I played them myself, and the shop assistant also played them for me to listen to from across the room. We chose three for me to borrow and take to my next lesson for evaluation with my teacher. Including his and mine, we had 5 bows for me to listen to. I sat across the room with my back to him, and he played scales or selections with pairs of bows. Without telling me which bow was which, he asked me to articulate the sonic differences I heard from each pair. As a second test, without telling which was which bow (and having me refrain from visual observation), he offered me pairs of bows to try and, again, had me articulate the difference that I felt and heard.

These two exercises were enlightening. There was arbitrariness in my evaluations, indicating inexact auditory perceptive abilities. The upshot: Before I can evaluate and choose a bow, I have to hone my ability to hear tonal differences and select quality violin sound.

With this understanding, our bow hunt objective has shifted from immediate acquisition to education. The plan is now to take our time and cast the net wide, bringing a different set of bows to each lesson to test, hear and evaluate. When the one perfect bow for my violin shows up, I will acquire it. In the meantime, using the bow hunt to develop a keener auditory sense will suffice.

18 replies

Physical Therapy: Violin Elbow

October 5, 2014 06:30

While learning to play violin various aches and pains have arisen. Generally, time and acustomization to the instrument have brought relief. However, this past summer brought elbow pain that eventually caused me to seek out medical attention. My physical therapist, Seth Halverson of Great Northern Physical Therapy, diagnosed lateral and medial epicondylitis (commonly known as tennis and golfers’ elbow) in both arms. Therapy consisted of Astym treatment, followed by a specific regime of icing, and stretching, and strengthening exercises.

Astym, a trademarked form of soft-tissue therapy, is akin to a very hard massage of afflicted muscles and tendons. This in-office treatment disrupts inner bruises and scar tissue so that a healing cycle can be set in motion.

Stretching increases the flexibility and range of motion of arm muscles allowing them to reach targets with less stress. My strengthening exercises included wrist extension ,
wrist flexion ,
and wrist pronation .

Strengthening increases the muscles’ ability to carry the workload rather than transferring work load stress to tendons, causing them to inflame. Strengthening exercises, using a hammer as a weight, include wrist pronation and supination (rotating the weight back and forth through a 180-degree arc) ,
ulnar deviation (lifting the weight to the back) ,
and radial deviation (lifting the weight forward) .

Icing reduces inflammation in the affected tissues. I used paper cups to freeze 3-oz ice-cubes, and, while being careful to avoid frostbite, rubbed one ice-cube daily over the sore parts of my elbows until they were red and cold.

In my case, I had 2 Astym treatments, and continued with 20-30 minute daily routine of stretching, strengthening and icing on my own. Daily violin practice continued alongside daily physical therapy. After about 6 weeks, the affliction feels about 85% diminished. As suggested by the therapist, I expect it will have disappeared within the month.

4 replies

Previous entries: September 2014

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About Kate

Kate Little is from Salt Lake City, Utah. Biography

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