In response to a recent thread, I have decided to call any useful practice done minus violin ‘Train-Training.’ This can be either physical (somewhat limited apart from the so called ‘Heifetz LH exercise’) or mental (extremely powerful.) In general, the urge to pick up the violin and get started on something to see what happens is over riding for most of us since we love the feel and motions of playing itself. Nonetheless, this may often be counter-productive because in stead of creating a ‘bug-free’ program in the mind that can tell the fingers what to do, we are actually teaching the mind/body errors which then have to be unlearned. It’s like putting a pre-beta application in your computer and hoping the result will be good! In this regard, I like to tell my students about how Anne Sophie Mutter learns her repertoire on the piano before transferring it to the violin.
I think everyone understands in principle the power of mental practice since it is the bog-standard in sports preparation and many other spheres of life outside music. I once read an anecdote by an ex-Vietnam POW who spent four years mentally playing golf who, upon release, found that his game had actually improved very slightly! Unfortunately, the use of mental imagery and practice can be somewhat dependent on one’s level. However, there are still many things one can do irrespective of where one is at.
I picked this topic because right now I have an extraordinarily talented online adult student who is now playing in an amateur orchestra. Although she is coping very well, the orchestra seems to have selected an overly ambitious program of works and is apparently struggling to play together. Thus, recent lessons have been directed at solving unfamiliar musical territory rather than the constant repetition of basic techniques by means of which I usually drive my students up the wall. In particular, the problems of rhythmic complexity keep coming up. In regard to these there is actually a limit to how much advice one can actually give.
Assuming that the student has the theoretical understanding of the beat and how the patterns fit against said beat, the basic principle can only be ‘Start slowly with a metronome and gradually increase the speed.’
However, my advice, for better or worse in most of these cases is also ‘work without the instrument.’ While programming the mind so that it can tell the fingers to play at correct moment the instrument will get in the way. One can walk around, clap, sing, use words or bang a pencil on the table, anything is ok, but that rhythm has to be absorbed by mind and body so that survival in orchestra is unavoidable! Playing spot on within a conducter’s beat takes precedence over everything (one can leave out as many notes as one wishes…). Only when the player is completely clear about what they are doing can the rhythm be practiced holding the instrument. As well as the work in question, it is a good idea to add the rhythm to basic scales. This is why I insist my students learn the first page of the Galamian scale manual so that they know all the positions without worrying about shifting.
This kind of rhythm practice can, of course, be done on a train with ease, so why not take such moments to prioritize rhythmic development above everything else. A player with a somewhat limited technique who has internalized a wide variety of rhythmic patterns is an absolute godsend in an amateur orchestra!
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