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What's Holding Me Back

Krista Moyer

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Published: January 23, 2014 at 1:45 AM [UTC]

Frustration is a symptom of learning. It means that you are bumping up against things that are holding you back. – Emily Wright

Emily Wright, quoted above, wrote a blog post about a concept she calls “note salad”. You can read about it here: Hearing Versus Listening The narrative discusses the phenomenon where a musician has all the ingredients, but can’t mix them together to get the piece to sound right. They are so distracted by all the things they know they are doing wrong, that they can’t focus on the musicality of the piece.

I think this is what is happening to me. My teacher has given me the tools, shown me the way numerous times, and I’m still so overwhelmed by GETTING THINGS RIGHT that I can’t hear what I’m actually playing. So while I know what it’s supposed to sound like, I don’t make it sound like that.

It drives me nuts. One solution would be to record my practice. That hasn't panned out, not least because I don't like the way I sound, which is exactly why I ought to. But since I know this is happening, I should be able to be mindful enough to avoid this particular pitfall. Except that I'm not.

From Paul Deck
Posted on January 23, 2014 at 2:02 PM
With an audio recorder you can focus on getting things right and then hear yourself afterward. With a digital video camera, you can focus on hearing yourself and then review whether you got things right afterward.
Posted on January 23, 2014 at 2:16 PM
Thanks for the shout out. :) Sounds like you have the right instincts. Much luck and music-y goodness to you!


From Ray Nichol
Posted on January 25, 2014 at 3:29 PM
I like this article for a number of reasons. First, your article has inspiration built into it. That despite the frustration,at the very next practice session, the violinist will attempt, yet again, to overcome what is holding them back. You also write a good read. I enjoyed the flow of the sentences and how you structured your piece.

Another reason, is that it rarely is it written down both the solution as well as the frustration of the solution. At the end of the article the reader does not find the happy ending except from the point of view that at tomorrow's practice session the violinist will try yet again (and perhaps inch a little closer) to discovering what is holding them back.

Posted on January 26, 2014 at 6:12 AM
It sounds like you might be trying to do too much at once. One of the most useful skills to horn in violin practice is to break problems down to really small bits, then tackle one at a time.

For instance, take the first line of a piece you are working on, before playing, think about it how it should sound, then work one or two measures. First with bowing only, very slowly to get the sound as close to what you like to hear as you can, without the left hand just work on open strings. Once you feel comfortable with the sound produced by bow arm alone, then add the fingerings. Then listen to intonation and sound quality. Still very slowly. Then play the measures without looking at the music, and check yourself in the mirror to see if you are playing this measure as relaxed as you can. Correct anything doesn't look right can instantly improve your sound. Then move on the next, and so on.

It took me awhile to realise that to be a good violinist, the first and foremost is learn to play cleanly with clear concept of each note played, no matter how simple a piece one is playing. Musicality doesn't happen without the aid of strong technicality, which takes years of analytic work and practice to achieve and I believe adult violinists can achieve this if we really want, with good guidence from a teacher.

Bottom line: when you have broken a problem down, then break them down further and further. You will be fascinated instead of frustrated by doing so.

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