December 24, 2017, 5:05 AM · A couple of years ago I bought a CD produced by a vintage American string quartet. I read the accompanying booklet with interest. The Cellist said that she couldn't understand why the first violinist was able to pick up his instrument and perform flawlessly after a long abstention from practice . While she had to put in five hours every day to keep up her professional standards .
I realised that if my friends were any example this seems to be the case across the board for musicians . I have my own ideas why this might be the case , but I would like to know if any of you have observed the same thing and have notions of what the causes might be ?

Replies (9)

December 24, 2017, 7:34 AM · In all likelihood she has higher standards for herself than for the violinist. So she hears the violinist play "flawlessly" but if she had played the same she probably would have felt like she needed five hours of practice.

Also, in all likelihood the violinist practices more than they claim to.

Probably a combination of both and more that I didn't think of?

December 24, 2017, 7:36 AM · It would be interesting to get the violinist's own input on this, but I may be able to offer some insight, based on my own experience and what I've heard from some professionals.

One of the CSO's players told me that he didn't practice. A teacher I knew said that she didn't practice. But both of these musicians were always playing -- performing, rehearsing, or teaching. So, while there might have been little or no hard-core "practice" going on, they were constantly involved with their instruments.

I myself need to keep up daily practice to maintain the finesse I want; but if I have already warmed up earlier in the day, then I can pick up the instrument and play up to standard without re-starting the whole warm-up process -- provided that I have warm enough hands for secure grip.

December 24, 2017, 9:04 AM · Some people simply have incredible muscle and musical memory.

When I studied with Steve Staryk, he could nail whatever I was working on, whether Paganini or anything else. I doubt he practiced all my repertoire. It was just there. I've also seen this from other virtuosi--you say play this or play that and they play it.

Speaking for myself, I know that the earlier I learned something, the more likely I can recall it without thinking about it. I retain passages from Wieniawski I learned in my teens much better than other music I learned in my 30s. And it's an unthinking, automatic recall. It's why I've Insisted that adult beginners have such an uphill battle.

In order to be a successful performer you have to have an excellent memory. Yes, you can be like the cellist, but then she may have a lifetime of drudgery ahead of her just trying to run in place. It's also possible she's just very neurotic, and will forever be filled with anxiety about her abilities unless she practices relentlessly.

December 24, 2017, 10:45 AM · Good points, guys. I do very well without warming up, but that's just me. I think the reasons behind it are due to differences in mentalities.
December 24, 2017, 10:54 AM · No idea actually. But, I wonder if some of it could also be habit and what we tell ourselves. As in one person is just used to grabbing their instrument and playing and another person is used to going through a routine before they feel they sound good.
December 24, 2017, 12:27 PM · I could maintain a relatively high level of technique without a lot of practice, when I was younger. I can't do that now (although that's probably relative to what one considers to be a "high level"), and it often takes me a few minutes to center my hearing at the start of playing -- i.e., to calibrate my brain to a stable sense of pitch (A = ???) and to force myself to hear smaller differences in pitch.

But I agree on the youth recall. I think I can still play much of the Suzuki repertoire by memory, and major concertos learned in my teens are by and large much more solidly in my memory and fingers, than anything I learned later.

December 24, 2017, 1:30 PM · This is probably more common with young people than professionals, but a lot of people claim they "didn't practise" or "barely studied for this exam" etc. to impress others when they perform well.

It's humanly impossible to take a long break from playing & sound 'flawless', so another option is that the cellist is simply overestimating how well she played. You can sound good but not flawless.

December 24, 2017, 2:48 PM · Thank you folks . Lots of interesting ideas . I'm sure all of them are near the mark .
I have some further ideas but I would like to weigh up further comments before discussing .
December 25, 2017, 7:35 PM · The quantity of practice needed to maintain technique and repertoire as an adult, after the training is over is probably highly variable. I read somewhere that Paganini and Kreisler did not practice very much during the second half of their careers. Heifetz continued his practice routine even when completely retired from performing. My technical practice routine, when I actually do it(!), is one hour max. There are some memorized songs (I am mainly a mariachi fiddler!) that have been repeated so many times that I couldn't forget them if I tried. Cello requires more muscle than violin. Violin requires more joint flexibility than other instruments.

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