The Well Aging Fiddler: Slow Down

September 27, 2019, 9:08 AM · Four weeks ago I was riding my bicycle down a city street.


The guy in front of me was riding his bike slowly while talking with a woman who was jogging next to him. To my right were parked cars, and to my left was the empty street with light rail tracks.

I looked back and saw it was safe to pull out into the street so I could pass this slow biker. Casually, I coasted to my left. However, I didn’t take the angle over the rail tracks as severely as I should. In a moment, my front wheel slipped on the steel track, and slid into the groove. My bicycle stopped, but I kept moving forward.

I flew off my bicycle and landed on the pavement and rail tracks. My wrist smacked on the steel as I slammed down on my hip, elbow, and shoulder. The wind was knocked out of my lungs and for a few moments I’d passed out. My eyes opened looking down the steel rail at my arm as four people rushed to help me. I sat up, then cautiously stood, walked to the curb and sat down trying to pull myself together.

My wrist was in a lot of pain, my elbow was bleeding, my hip and shoulder were sore, but nothing was broken. Also, my bicycle was just fine, and I certainly hope that slow biker and the woman he was talking with were able to connect. It seems like I went through a lot of trouble for their sake. Oh, and I’ll answer the question everyone asked me over and over again – Yes. I was wearing a helmet. (Probably should have worn body armor too.)

Anyway, events moved forward with a trip to the emergency room, a couple x-rays, and a brace for my wrist, plus some Advil, and I was sent home. (Cost $1,300 – can you believe that nonsense? I’m glad I have insurance)

The upshot is I had to stop playing my violin for a few days. That was frustrating and made me grumpy. Practicing has become a real obsession and I didn't like just letting the violin sit there wondering what was going on. I took walks, read a couple of books, and even binge watched an entire season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" because it seemed to be an appropriate program to watch, considering my situation. I was really afraid I'd backslide, and all of my hard work would dissipate into thin air.

Once I did pick up the violin, with the brace still on my wrist, I played gingerly, just focusing on scales. To my astonishment it sounded good! I mean really good! I wasn’t pushing anything or trying anything complicated. I was just going as slowly as I could so I could minimize the pain, but my goodness! This was amazing!

For the next few days – and I’m still dealing with this – I went through my exercises and pieces slowly, methodically, and with frequent breaks. To my astonishment, the tone and quality of what I was playing sounded far better than anything I’d done up to this point.

So the lesson is a very basic one. It’s one we’ve all been taught, but often ignore because it takes up time. The lesson is this – slow down. Take your time. Let it build slowly. Go for the quality and not the speed records.

Also, you don’t have to fall off your bicycle. You don't have to have your hand I a brace that is so big you look like the creature from the Predator movies. Nor do you have to take pain pills to learn this obvious piece of technique.

By the way, it turns out I’m allergic to Advil and aspirin – they make my lips and tongue swell. Be careful with that stuff.

Take your time, don’t push it, and watch out for light rail tracks.


September 27, 2019 at 07:50 PM · I find this to be true with me too, that is after a few days off from practicing, like when we go camping, and I obsess that I’ll lose everything, I don’t! And, I even sound better! Go figure. Hope you’re healing quickly.

September 27, 2019 at 10:24 PM · The two longest breaks I've had from playing the viola were both the result of bicycle accidents.

The worse of the two accidents was just days after I auditioned for a semi-pro orchestra. I broke my left hand, and then learned a day or two later that I had won a seat in the orchestra. The cast came off my arm a week before my first rehearsal with them. All the base technique was still there, just slow at first. I was at 90% of normal left hand speed and range of motion in the first rehearsal, and 100% by the second rehearsal.

September 30, 2019 at 03:22 AM · Michael, I'm glad you are okay! I can always use this lesson, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

September 30, 2019 at 04:17 AM · This is soooo true! The world we live in just pushes us along. I'm reminded of a Twilight Zone episode: "Push, Push, Push!" while the elusive Willoughby of our low tempo longing remains elusive no matter how we work towards it. I don't think many of us are on our correct speed anymore. The world doesn't want any response but speed. Yet our spiritual connection to both our music and our own spirits, and even the fullness of our logical minds, PROBABLY lies back behind us at a slower pace, and hopes we'll slow down so it can catch up.

September 30, 2019 at 01:03 PM · Kudos to MK; slooooow practice can’t be beat! Period!! In this world of wanting everything faster and faster, taking it “easy” allows us to listen to - and feel - the mechanics of what makes the instrument sound so beautiful under our ear.

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