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It`s the head, stupid!

September 20, 2006 at 12:23 AM

Some general themes that perpetually recur on violinist.commie always interest me: memory, how to practice, and what is the difference between a good player and an average one. Since violin playing itself is such a complex skill things can rarely be isolated and considered to any really useful extent here are my musings on how the three might interrelate.
One of the primary differences between a great player and a merely competent artisan simply concerns origin of stimulus to play. Sounds arty farty, but the truth is that a great many players, even at professional level use the dots on the page as a stimulus to trigger a response in the fingers. They don’t actually hear the music in their heads at all. What they do hear is the response to this stimulus which is then acted upon after the musical event ha s occured. This is a largely uncreative and unsatisfying process which has a lot to do with the general unhappiness of so many very talented musicians. The great players have also used the page as stimulus, it is out artistic legacy, but they have heard what they are going to play in their heads and the fingers are responding to sound rather than symbolic cues. The post event processing is then fine tuning one’s internal art.
Practicing then, for many players, is often needs to be completely rethought. A strong statement perhaps, but if the way we practice is the way we perform and the latter needs to be altered to acocu8nt for the opening point then so does the former. For an good beginner or lower intermediate player I take a double stop book such as that by Polo. The purpose is to get the student to sing -not- play double stops. The student learns each line vocally and then accompanies herself with her voice. This transitional approach has powerful all around benefits and nudges the student into the -hear it in your head- zone.
For a more competent player the Bach Fugues serve the same purpose. It may be necessary for a player to sing the various lines but ultimately the kind of work I ask of them is to sing in their head d and mentally visualize the spacing one of the triple stop chords then play it. The hands remain in place and each note is then carefully evaluated. The mental preparation is repeated allowing for any errors discovered in placing of fingers. To nail a chord perfectly over and over is the goal. It is also important to focus on the hand being completely relaxed while it holds the chord.
The same principle applies to the homophonic lines as well. One plays a musically complete segment incredibly slowly, allowing the mind to visualize the next note in great detail before it occurs. Especial focus on total relaxation. This way of practicing also has an interesting side effect. The brain has so much time to process all the complex data necessary that memorizing is automatic. The basic reason why people say `I cannot memorize` is that they are practicing without inputting any relevant data. If the brain is given clear information it will retain it.

From William Yap
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 2:10 AM
In the examiner’s comments on my performance of the Allemanda from Bach’s Partita II, he criticised that there are “hidden voices” in which what is seemingly one melodic line (polyphony?), that I didn’t contrast these voices. For the Paganini’s Cantabile, he commented that sometimes the melody sounds disjointed and my vibrato was used intemettently.

I believe that if I hear the music in my heard as I play, I would have a clear direction of what I wanted to express and could have perform much better. So, I agree with you.

However, I was also affected by my nervousness and wasn’t 100% concentrating in the music. I was taking notice when the examiner was looking up, when he was looking down again writing his comments…. silly me!

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 2:26 AM
but if you practice as I mention (as well a smyriad other ways...) then yoiu leanr to recognize that two things cannot exist simul;taneously as you perform. Your focus is on the music in your head and the nervousnes shas no place to exist.
Incidnetally, if you wnat to get a more consistent vibrato in the cantelina you might find it helpfukl to break what I consider a fairly importnat rule. taht is, watch your left hand to see the vibrato continues. Usually I am against watching the left hand at all.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 4:50 AM
Why is watching the hand mot a good idea?
From Ben Clapton
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 8:27 AM
Buri, if I ever meet you, I must buy you a drink. You always have something extreemly useful to say, and even though you don't know what's going on in my life, it always seems to be just what I'm looking for at that time.

How does prune juice sound?

From Daniel Broniatowski
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 4:42 PM
"The brain has so much time to process all the complex data necessary that memorizing is automatic"

I love this statement! So true

From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 7:34 PM
And that is why you should practice slowly.
From Linda Lerskier
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 7:44 PM
Your insights are always very useful. :)
From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 8:27 PM
Hey Buri. You know I used to keep a folder of print-outs of your wisdoms? I found it when I was organizing my music library this summer. You do have useful things to say! Anyhow. Can I print this off and hang in on the "strings" board at MTSU? Would it be offensive if I corrected the typos? He he. I know your brain just works so incredibly fast that for the fingers to keep up all the time!
Jennifer Warren
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 8:30 PM
what tyops?
From bill Pratt
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 8:32 PM
How do you get intelligble spelling working from a hirigana keyboard anyway?
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 8:32 PM
watching the left hand triggers the wrong brain think and generally screws you up. The main point of observation within a wide but soft field of vision is the point of contact of the bow.
Of course there are some excpetions to this but in this instance I have only ever come across one top clas splayer who watches the left hand- Oleg Kryla.
From Karin Lin
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 9:55 PM
Ditto what Ben and Jennifer said, Buri. I know that my biggest obstacle to efficient practicing is my tendency to go on "auto-pilot" and have the notes go from paper to fingers to ear without ever going through my brain. Sometimes I play a whole page before realizing that I have no idea what I've played or how well in tune and rhythm it was.

My teacher, a former student of Burton Kaplan, always says, "Make it your own" whether it's about scales or etudes or pieces. You need to improvise, mess around with it, do whatever it takes so that you are conscious of what you are doing.

From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on September 20, 2006 at 10:08 PM
I agree with all above posts. Great insight! One more thing to add to my daughter's practice.
From Anthony Barletta
Posted on September 23, 2006 at 5:10 AM
In all seriousness and with all due respect, have you ever considered writing a book? Or moving to LA so I can at least apply for lessons?

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