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Claire and Adam's Violin Lessons, Blog 2: Squeezing sponge

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Published: December 28, 2013 at 7:08 PM [UTC]

EDITOR'S NOTE: Violin teacher Adam DeGraff and adult violin student Claire Silvester are sharing their thoughts from their Skype lessons together in this series of blogs. Here are links to other blogs in the series: Blog 1: Claire's introduction: Approaching New Year - reflecting and resolutions. and Blog 3: Squeezing Sponge Reply by Adam

I take lessons every two weeks, it’s currently the ‘in-between week’ and I’m working on a particular bowing pattern/feel/interpretation/skill in the gigue I’m learning. This feels like backwards Bach, I love it (I’m enjoying turning former conditioned phrasing on its head) but it’s the direct opposite of the motion my right arm instinctively insists on executing. It is a pattern of three slurred semiquavers (16th notes) followed by three detache semiquavers, repeat.
Adam’s instruction for this pattern goes something like this; I need to start at the heel and create an intensifying/crescendo/denseness that travels throughout the slur right up until moment of bow change (which I do technically by dropping weight into my bow, moving my sound point closer to the bridge and reducing bow speed) rebounding light into the detache bows, which are performed in a zig-zag motion returning towards the heel for the next slur. Each pattern loop moves a short distance further towards the middle of the bow until the end of the phrase.

Okay :) I genuinely intellectually comprehend that.

Adam metaphorically described this as if having hold of a sponge and squeezing it increasingly tighter and then allowing it to release to original shape (concentrating on the densest/release transition)

Okay :) I can genuinely imagine that image whilst playing the phrase in my mind and I hear it work musically.

So why can’t I do it on the violin?

I don’t have an abundance of actual time to practice, but I’m finding I think about it a lot every available moment, proper contemplative thinking about how to maximise my experience. I particularly like deconstructing and theorising using a neurodevelopmental approach. Especially during the dead areas of day taken up by walking to work or similar…

Back to the point! So why can’t I do it on the violin!
I’ve considered this; it starts with a premise from Montessori education – we are sensorial beings, our very first route of learning is entirely through our senses. Montessori is a proponent of rooting early education in the concrete and not in the abstract. The violin is a multi-sensorial instrument.
When Adam is instructing, for him it is already concrete, he can physically execute the bowing, he knows how it feels, he can describe a metaphor to further clarify the sensation, he knows how that feels and that it is a metaphoric match.

Even though I comprehend the description, for me, this is all abstract. I cannot execute the bowing, I do not know how it feels. I can squeeze an actual sponge for a concrete sensory starting point though. This is also easier than the bowing…

Making things concrete deepens my ability to translate sensations. So I've been working in the concrete like this; play the phrase in my mind whilst applying the dense/release pattern appropriately rhythmically to a sponge ball. The real world tactile feedback of this is actually quite cool. Because I've actually felt it with my hands, in conjunction with the music - it’s become an easier thought to reference when practicing on the violin. Now practicing focused repetitions in the abstract is making much more sense, because it's just not quite so abstract...


From 173.86.232.69
Posted on December 30, 2013 at 3:01 AM
Claire, you will not know how it feels until you can do it, and do it properly.

You have taken the first step in understanding the individual motions needed. You must spend the time in intensely focused practice until you can do it effortlessly without thinking about it. If you are having problems you are probably taking it too fast. Begin very slowly and work up to normal speed. At that point however you have not yet finished the learning process. You must now learn to execute that pattern while in the midst of performance and be able to modify it at will to suite the moment while not dropping any of the assorted minutia that comprise technical proficiency.

From David Allen
Posted on December 30, 2013 at 3:05 AM
Claire, you will not know how it feels until you can do it, and do it properly.

You have taken the first step in understanding the individual motions needed. You must spend the time in intensely focused practice until you can do it effortlessly without thinking about it. If you are having problems you are probably taking it too fast. Begin very slowly and work up to normal speed. At that point however you have not yet finished the learning process. You must now learn to execute that pattern while in the midst of performance and be able to modify it at will to suite the moment while not dropping any of the assorted minutia that comprise technical proficiency.

From Claire Silvester
Posted on December 30, 2013 at 12:11 PM
Hi David,
Yes, I agree entirely with your post. :)
I'm really fortunate in that my earlier training encompassed all the standard practice techniques, and when I'm with my violin I use them as my foundation format.
However there are times of day when I'd really like to practice but can't (after 9pm for instance, it irritates my neighbour) and this is generally when I'm exploring, theorising and connecting knowledge from my therapy background in order to create a more immersive experience for myself.
When I'm working as a therapist I am considering all behaviour to be communicative, I'm trained to observe and interpret physical indicators of inefficiency/stress within the individual bodily systems as components of a interdependent holistic collective. Part of my work involves tailoring activities to the individual in order to best support integration and efficiency within the bodily systems.
The fun part about this is that I can objectively apply the same knowledge to myself and support myself in having an easier time during my more typical practice with the violin. Experiencing ease during the learning process is a also major motivator. I get a kick out of the experimental nature of constructing a theory and then trying it out to see if it aids my process.
When I am asking myself 'Why?' with regards to the violin I am literally exploring that question from multi-dimensions - am I eating the most nutritious food to support my learning/playing, am I toxifying my body? (recently gave up smoking for this very reason) am I drinking enough water? What stimulus/belief/response model am I working from, do I hold limiting beliefs that are interfering with my conscious intent to play - conditioning vs choice, what are the systems required to perform the skill (in this case as I'm practicing slowly; Musculoskeletal, Muscle Tone, Vestibular, Proprioception, Kinesthesia, Audition, Vision and Interhemispheric Integration) how do these systems inter-relate? Am I processing efficiently? - I believe all of these things have the potential to optimise brain processing energy towards being able to play the way that I want to play, and have an easy, enjoyable time doing it - which as an adult student is a primary focus.
I think maybe this is why Adam encourages me to share my process... at the very least he seems interested by it and supports it, but that's probably more effectively confirmed by him...

I will admit a current tendency towards impatience with regards to honing skill - the last four years of my former training were particularly stagnant, I'd just hit a point where I had so many conditioned blocks that I lost the ability to play at all really, it was just far too painful both physically and emotionally. I believe deconstructing playing in the way that I do helps me feel like I'm still actively working on a thing without having to feel so frustrated that I hurl my violin against the wall... which is also good :)

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