December 30, 2009 02:35
In over two decades of playing the violin I realize tonight that I have never been more discouraged with my playing. I have come so far with my music – I’ve entered the world of virtuosic showpieces, the “great” concertos and reached my personal milestone of studying unaccompanied Bach. But even at the point I’m at right now I can only describe myself as an inconsistently good player. It doesn’t matter what I play: scales (especially scales), etudes, music for gigs, symphony or my solo pieces. I never know what my playing will be like when I pick up my violin. One day I play technically well and with great musicality and, the next time I play my fingers are awkward and clumsy or I just play badly overall.
It just doesn’t seem like any of my practice is paying off. I was doubly discouraged tonight when at my lesson I asked my teacher some question about scales and in that conversation he stated that there is no point in asking me to play scales (Flesch) for him anymore because by all appearances I don’t practice them. Needless to say his comment stung since I work so hard to improve on them and it rarely shows when I’m asked to play them nor does my scale work translate positively to the pieces I work on. Given that...who can blame him for his comment?
It’s very important at this point that I make it clear that I have a fantastic and skilled violin teacher. He was exactly what I needed two years ago when I returned from a long hiatus from the violin. Currently, he is still exactly what I need as I do my best to break self-imposed mental barriers and realize my “violin dreams.” Having said that, he can be demanding and sometimes his comments and observations come across as pretty harsh. But he is extremely fair and his comments are obviously tempered with the desire of helping to push me out of my comfort zones. But his one fault (if I’m allowed to call it that) is that he doesn’t believe me sometimes when I say that I’ve been practicing something. If he doesn’t see improvement in a period of several lessons he decides I haven’t been practicing.
My goal in this blog was not to bash my teacher but to vent my frustrations and fears about where I find myself right now. For many years I didn’t practice well…I admit that I didn’t know any better at the time. But my practicing habits have improved (I think). Despite daily practice on scales and technical work, slow focused passage work, repetition hits and bowing studies I am as delightfully inconsistent as ever. In moments like this I’ve been tempted to blame my extremely inexpensive violin, the fact that my formal training started later in life, the weather, my pets, or the pesky spider who insists on hanging over my stand and scaring the daylights out of me when I least expect it.
But what scares me more than anything else is that I might have hit my ceiling of ability and there is still so much I want to do. In Auer’s book “Violin Playing As I Teach It” he talks about the student who despite any attempts they make will never achieve more than a certain level of skill. Like the swimmer in a strong current they come up for air and realize they’ve made no headway whatsoever, and if that student is willing to accept those limitations he usually makes a good symphonic player. (my paraphrase).
I’m not ready to concede defeat yet but I’m stuck. I don’t know what else to do. I am sure that I’m doing something wrong in my practicing but for the life of me I can’t figure out what. But for now I’ve been asked to play complete scales again next week in my lesson, somehow get through Kreutzer #32 (especially the last 3 lines), bring my Paganini back “up to speed” after my rather embarrassing demonstration tonight, and finish memorizing my recital piece. Of course, playing Bach is a given.
Maybe someday I’ll get my break-though and until then I just have to keep struggling because I’m not ready to give up on my dreams. Not yet.
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More entries: May 2009