Ugh! Violinists can get tennis elbow, even if they don’t play tennis. As the physical therapist explained, the human body is not designed for low loads of long duration: They lead to muscle inflammation. While the bow may not seem heavy and the grip is light, they create a small amount of weight and tension. The muscles that hold the wrist and hand lead to tendons that insert at the epicondyle of the elbow. With their light but constant use during bowing, particularly when practice is every day, the tendons can become inflamed, and ouch!
On the other hand, fingering notes ostensibly doesn’t require much in the way of arm weight or motion. However, all those muscles that govern finger motion originate back in tendons attached at the, once again now: epicondyle of the elbow. So if your teacher says that your pinky finger is weak and here are some Schradieck exercises to strengthen it, and you really delve into those exercises, it's the left elbow that feels your pain.
What to do? Luckily, my physical therapist did not suggest stop practicing because at a mere 10-weeks away from a full year of practice-every-day, I’m like, “Dude, not practicing is so not happening.” Instead, we are starting with the lowest level of intervention – a regime of stretching and icing the offending elbows. I return for follow-up evaluation in a week, and if not better, we try the next level of intervention. Stay tuned.
Here’s the sticker chart, sides 1 & 2. It’s filling up:
Inevitably, when someone publicizes how much they practice and the number is considered in popular imagination to be obscene (e.g. 5+ hours/day), someone responds that it is not the quantity of practice but rather the quality of practice that matters. If you ever run into this argument, please consider the following info-graphic:
With QUANTITY on the bottom axis, and QUALITY on the side access, four general results occur: If you practice little and badly, probably no one will ever want to hear you play. Maybe not even your mother. If you practice a lot but thoughtlessly, with good guidance you could become a capable musician. Similarly, if you practice not-so-much, but in a highly attentive and focused manner, you also have a chance at becoming competent. There is much to laude in competency, and you should end up a happy camper with your violin. However, if you are one of those people who is capable of putting in super-high quality practice for long periods every day, you’ve got a fighting chance of becoming a top notch violinist. Holy tamoly and wowie kazowie! You just might end up as a musician the public would pay to hear. In other words, the argument isn’t quality versus quantity; it’s both.
The Quantity vs. Quality argument is reminiscent of the Nature vs. Nurture argument, of which there have been many media reports in the last few years. A similar graphic is also illustrative:
Here we have NATURE on the horizontal axis, and NURTURE, on the vertical axis. If you study violin, but have little inherent capability for music and its mental and physical demands, and few nurturing opportunities are available, then no matter how hard you work . . . uh . . . well . . . uh . . . If your propensity for violin is low, but high-quality educational opportunities abound and you have super-strong support for taking advantage of them, you could accomplish a lot. This is what talent education is all about: the premise that anyone can learn. It is true. With support and opportunity, most anyone can learn and become a competent violinist. On the other hand, a person with a very high propensity for music, with an inner churning crying for outlet, this sort of individual can also become an expressive musician if she just hangs in long enough for the right opportunities to present themselves. Finally, for the individual who is born with all of the best qualities: the ear, the physique, the temperament, the desire; and who receives all the best opportunities to learn and develop this talent - this is a lucky person, indeed. Again, the argument isn’t nature versus nurture; it’s both.
Now put all of this together: Take a person who inherently has the highest levels of potential musicality and musicianship (nature), give that person the best possible training (nurture), if that individual maximizes her amount (quantity) of effective (quality) practice, you might have a star in the making. To be great, it takes everything.
Previous entries: July 2014
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Kate Little is from Salt Lake City, Utah. Biography
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