March 2008

Note 9 Trying to find Parallels for Practice

March 29, 2008 09:46

Progress is from practice.
I am not going to go and cite research for this one. Remember this is a blog, a diary of thoughts.
Sometimes I feel like an immigrant in this violin community. I know a little of the language to get around--to ask for a sandwich, find a bus, ask directions to a restroom. Just enough to navigate. The longer I live in this community to more I know that I don't know. (This blog is still about practice so if you are a "native" you have probably moved on to a more erudite discussion.)
I can learn the language and speak more intelligently or I can learn the habits and customs of the natives. Learn to walk the walk.
So in this new country I need to reach into something that I have done successfully in the past to analyze what it was that made me meet my goals.
I have decided that without regular lessons from a "native" I won't learn how to play this thing at all and without practice. I have lost 6 chances to improve.
Day one is the lesson with all it's inspiration, lists of things to do, and sometimes an impromptu solo concert that always makes me go away with a heart that has doubled in size! ( I will write at a later date about the personal significance of a "lesson" for an adult student) After that, day 2-7 is my responsibility.
I had some measure of success with Weight Watchers. I came to meetings, I created an environment to drop weight. I changed my eating habits, my exercise habits and my association with friends who celebrated with food. This is something I had to do every day--it was hard to change something that was comfortable.
When I attended meetings I had to face a roomful of people who were rooting for me. They were in various stages of meeting their weight loss goals--From the very large men and women to the tiny slim ones. Why did the slim ones attend? To be in a community of encouraging adults all trying to keep up a certain level of performance as it were. The real work was keeping to a schedule and following it each day even when you knew that the progress was measured in as little as 1/2 pound loss in weight. You have to weigh in. Magic doesn't happen at each meeting. Drinking water, exercise, writing down each bite you put in your mouth-What a royal pain in the neck! Physical torture!
Magic doesn't happen at each lesson. If you have not done the work each day during your lesson such as going over and over one phrase at a time, remembering each movement that each arm has to execute in order to produce a beautiful sound or singing the passage in your head. Mental torture!--Way more fun than Weight Watchers for sure.
As an adult student there is no one actually pushing us to practice, big recitals hanging over our heads or the chair positions to fight for or a talented father or mother who can play like the angels. What is there? Our reasons are personal. Some of us can clearly state our resolve and others lock it away our hearts.
I want to state in writing how important the practice following the lesson is.
If I set goals at my next lesson that I have already achieved, can I fake my way to the next lesson? Who am I kidding?
If I want to feel good about myself I should go take clarinet lessons! I can already play clarinet--I could feel good for at least a year or two--Ha!
Ok, back to practice!
(That means you too.)

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Note 8 A Time to Listen

March 27, 2008 20:48

My friend Carol had played the violin. She had a stroke.
She has been hospitalized for several weeks. When I first started up with the violin I felt no shame calling her up and rushing to her apartment to ask her to tune my violin. She still had her violins. She had studied this instrument in grade school and high school and also had a piano at her place. She let me play "Twinkle,Twinkle." She did not laugh and tell me that it was "'cute" that I had something to do now that I was retired. She gave me suggestions and criticisms.
We are the same age for one day a year and the rest of the year she is younger. Thai is our little funny story. We give each other cake and a birthday card on the day we are "even." Carol can spell better than me. She can balance her checkbook. She writes great articles and reads everything she can get her hands on.
Carol has a job at the church and when she had her stroke, four of us volunteered to help fold the 1,700 odd copied of the 4 page monthly newsletter to get it ready for mailing. This process took four of us 5 hours. We stuffed the pages, we folded it and put tape on three sides and then affixed the mailing labels, sorted by zip code, counted and rubber banded the piles. Carol used to do this. We were all there to help out with her job. A retired Air Force Reserve man who we knew was a generous donor to the food pantry, a man with a cane who used to be a great swimmer, a stout elderly woman who had managed a roomful of people at a large savings institute and me, the new violinist /retired teacher/librarian.
An odd bunch, we were all Carol's friends. The next mailing she was still hospitalized. The stroke had made her speech difficult. Carol used to remember everyone's birthday, she helped at all the weddings, She was blind in one eye and could hardly see out of her good eye. For legal purposes, she is considered blind.
Our group had doubled for the second mailing. We had 8 pages and it only took 4 hours.
We had added another pretty red-haired woman whose son was in the military, the ever cheerful Associate Pastor who is currently working on her singing voice, the church secretary with two new Westie pups and the pastor's wife who ran a water aerobics class and the church Book Club. Carol had to hold the books up to her nose but she read every selection and attended every meeting. She taught Sunday School and has stories about all of our kids. My three boys were not exactly ideal students but she had all three of them and they didn't get by with very much nonsense in her classes.
We found out a lot about each other. We never would have such fine discussions had Carol not united us by her circumstance.
As much as I keep plugging away at this violin I have found that it is a wonderful thing to be able to get out of self imposed isolation and really listen to other people or to read what they have to say in their blogs. There is an energy in being united with people who are all pulling in the same direction. We are an odd bunch.
Now, I resume my practice.

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Note 7 Not just 'Artistic Inspiration'

March 17, 2008 21:01

When I was studying painting in college i recalled that as a Freshman art students, we were such Artistic Divas. We painted when we felt the 'artistic inspiration.' We were soon cut down to size by a crusty old art Professor (who, as i write this was the same age as I am now.) He told all of us that to study art you needed to practice painting every day and for us that meant 3 and 4 hour "lab" time every day. He told us that we had to practice painting if we were sick or if we were well. We needed to paint if we were happy or sad. Mood had nothing to do with it. Inspired or not we had to paint daily to be disciplined to be a good artist.
I sat upstairs on that hard bench with my drawing board and had to draw endless landscapes and still life pictures. i could only use what i saw outside the window or what I saw inside the studio. There were no flights of fancy or made up fantasy landscapes allow. Those were the rules.
i was permitted to use only charcoal to show tones and shades. Two years later i was given 4 colors, yellow ochre, black, white and burnt umber. Of those 4 colors I was to mix any color and shade that I needed to complete my composition. Once again we had to paint from nature. Our professor did not hand out compliments like candy. He scowled and grunted and allowed a a quick nod of his head and then he turned on his heel and walked away chewing on an unlit cigar. I wanted to shoot darts out of my eyeballs at him. He hardly ever told anyone that they were doing anything right.
I remember everything about him. He drove a 1950 Kaiser. He wore the same uniform white shirt and grey slacks everyday. He had a pencil thin grey mustache that never appeared to grow. He was very grey. I really hated his guts. His name was Vincent Campanella. He was the best teacher ever because he taught me to get over myself and to practice everyday.
I did, however get my degree. I painted and learned to focus on the task at hand. Now that I am learning this new art form I do practice everyday.
Today I have a cold, head ache, and would like to roll up in a blanket until spring. I couldn't connect two measures together. My bow went this way and my fingers landed on the wrong string. I walked away and got some coffee. I put a corned beef brisket into the oven and took another shot at it.
Better. I dropped the bow and danced my fingers on the strings first. Then I bowed the rhythm. I just put the two together and I got it. I turned on my heels and grunted. "Sounds ok." (I don't hand out compliments like candy either.)

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Note 6 Progress and Patience

March 12, 2008 20:27

"I can tell you are making progress."
A casual comment from a friend who was fixing a sandwich, Unsolicited and unexpected.
Today an unremarkable event occurred at Walgreens. i was in a hurry to get to the check out and an elderly woman with a walker was picking her way carefully over the snow mats on the floor. I had plenty of time to get to my violin lesson but still I was impatient. I wanted to get some medical items in the mail to my son overseas and here was this tiny little delicate woman on a snail race.
As my anger bubbled up, I stopped myself and tried to watch her.
She was carefully moving forward with much determination. I noticed she was slender, well dressed and rather a pretty little thing. I knew I just had to wait since couldn't get around her.
I felt that I had to say something nice to pass the time.
"You are certainly making good progress with that walker." The woman stopped and turned to me and smiled, "Yes, thank you for noticing. This isn't as easy as it looks.' She went on to explain the set of skills that she had to master to make the walker work. How she could tip over if she leaned too far forward and how she had to learn how to adjust her hand and do exercises with her arms to keep it going, where to balance her purse, where to put the packages in her tray.
I told her that I knew an 88 year old that was in a big hurry and wasn't doing as well as she was.
"Teen ager." Tell her she is a teen-ager 'cause I am 90 and anyone younger than me is just that. The last thing she told me as she thrust her index finger into the air was to be patient.
"Be patient with old people."
My lesson violin lesson today was redundant. I had already gotten my lecture in Walgreens on slow progress, patience and especially to be patient with "old people."

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Note 5 Personal Recording and Evaluating

March 6, 2008 12:35

The best part about recording a passage and making an MP3 is that computer users get to really do "stuff" with their computer other than checking their e-mail. Recording software is very user friendly. You have a real need to use it for something that can help you. You can record over and over again. After awhile you cannot use the excuse that "since you know you are being recorded you get self consciences and don't do as well." That doesn't fly. You don't do well because you get to hear yourself and it isn't as perfect as the pro who has recorded all those Suzuki CDs. ( I think that he plays much too fast anyway.)
So remember all the things that are necessary to do to get a good sound and to play all the notes in the correct order and that means being able to sing the piece in your head. If it doesn't play in your head how are you going to get it to come out of the violin? Ok, check--rewind and record over, and over, and over.
Now "share" it to iTunes and be sure to check "mp3" and make it "Good" quality so that it doesn't get bogged down in the e-mail and send it along.
It is best to make a folder on your desk-top to keep all these wonderful recordings as well as an "Album" in iTunes. Does this make sense? If not you may be using a PC--That is ok too. There is a way to do this with your recording softwear that may have come on your computer (such as "Record Now.") Go to the "help" menu to see what settings you need to use the built in mic (if you have one) and be sure to get this into a "wav" or mp3 file. Ok--I am not a computer tec. I just like the mac--it's ez to use and I can concentrate on the hard stuff-learning how to play this violin.

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Reality Violin

March 6, 2008 12:19

Wednesday night I got to watch one of my favorite reality show. Project Runway.
It is a lot like Dancing with the Stars except the contestants are given one or two days to create a masterpiece of thread and fabric on a certain theme. Dancing with the Stars contestants are movie or television personalities who are teamed up with a professional and they have to learn a classical dance such as a fox trot or samba in one week. Twenty four hours to conceive and execute a dress design and one week to learn all the moves and rhythms necessary to perform a dance. Hum--I wonder what it would be like if my violin teacher would be able to take Oprah Winfrey and get her to play the "Allegro Moderato from Sonata No.10 for Violin and Piano by Beethoven in say a week or so?--if the prize money was --well nothing unless he could get her to "out-play" the competition for 5 or 6 weeks. Then if the TV audience didn't vote him off and Oprah learned how to play this piece he would get $100,000 and a chance to start his own Music School. Yeah!
I think that it is a slap in the face to all the professionals who have studied their craft all these years to think that anyone can do this overnight.
It might be entertaining, inspirational and all in good fun with high network ratings and plenty of money for the networks but I am not sure that anyone can just sit down and play this instrument. Maybe the first three numbers in the Suzuki book---maybe--Any takers for "Stringing Along the Stars?"
Now I had better get back to work.

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Note 4-Tuning into some Goals

March 4, 2008 11:26

The piano tuner is here working on my Upright piano.
This gives me some time to think about this week's Goal.
My challenge this week is to have my 55 measures memorized.
The degree by which this is attained or not attained is yet to be determined however,this goal has 3 measurable components:
1) To play the entire piece without looking at the music
2) To play the piece with correct bow directions
4) To play each note as written with correct tone.
This goal will be reached if I do this 100% correct OR I could give myself some room by setting standards for each component.
#1--Look at the music once--Give up 5 points out of 100
Look at it twice---Give up 10 points
Look at it 3 times ----Give up 15 points
#2 Incorrect bowing corrected again once--5 points
Incorrect bowing corrected again ---10 points
Incorrect bowing 3rd time or not corrected--15 points
#3 Tone problems--This can be corrected later and will not apply to loss of points at this time.
I could set the standard high with zero loss of points, allow no more than 20 or be generous and allow one "do over." If I get more than 30 points off then I have not achieved the goal.
My teacher has outlined the plan for memorization and if I have followed his prescription then I should be in line for success.

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Notes 3-End of the 'Beginner'

March 3, 2008 11:40

Is 55 measures a lot to memorize?
I don't know what is reasonable. I am going to try to have all of this done by Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 P.M.
What is a reasonable rate to memorize an entire piece of music? I don't have an answer to this. Since this piece has maybe 7 distinctive patterns that reoccur.
I am memorizing groups. Sorting out where they occur is a matter of playing the piece in my head. Since this is not a familiar piece it is not as easy as one that I have heard before in my childhood or as a young adult. These are frozen in some drawer in my brain and exactly how or when i learned them is not something that I can recall--only that they are there.
(If you are still reading this you will know that I am not nor ever was a music major.) However having said that I have been exposed to music my whole life from singing in church choirs, musicals, school chorus, college chorus etc. playing in school bands and orchestra.
Learning any new skill works best when you have an older "hook" to hang your new behavior on and I am always searching for something to relate to.
Is this my problem? Am I thinking too much and concentrating too little?
March 20th I will stop calling myself a "Beginner." (This marks the start of my 3rd year of study and I can't use that excuse any longer.)
What do I call myself now?

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