I’ve learned something. And it took me two years. This is what happened.
Two years ago, when I was 49, I started learning the violin. At my second lesson with my first teacher, she explained to me how to move my left elbow. Only, I got it the wrong way around. So I went home and practiced. As you can imagine, it was by no means a small feat to move my elbow towards my body while my fingers went from the g string to the e string and the other way around. So I practiced, very, very hard.
A couple of lessons later both I and my teacher noticed how extremely difficult it was for me to play on the e string. Mind you, as far as I was concerned everything about learning to play seemed extremely difficult, so I wasn’t consciously aware that I was doing something wrong. Anyway, at some point we cleared up this misunderstanding and I got the movement more or less right. That is, I could have told you what was supposed to happen, and execute the movement in isolation. As soon as other things demanded my attention though, which for me in playing the violin means pretty much always, my body would return to this perfected bad habit.
After ten lessons, I changed to my current teacher. Since then, there were myriad other trifling matters, like keeping my hand still, moving from the base joints, not hammering my fingers like I wanted to drill holes in the fingerboard, keeping my wrist straight , relax, relax, relax etc. etc. Not to mention finding the right setup, with or without It-That-Must-Not-Be-Named on v.com. ;-) Anyway, by now, we have begun to sort many of those out, and when I look in the mirror, my hand looks remotely the way other people’s left hands do when they play the violin. Yay! It takes time and it takes practice and it takes a lot of patience, but it seems to work.
The elbow issue, however, still keeps me company in the shape of pressing against the fingerboard with the base joint of my first finger. Only, I wasn't aware this intractable problem stemmed from the same root. After the matter had been addressed (again) in last week’s lesson, I decided to sit down and analyze it (again). This is what I came up with:
The nature of this failure seemed to be that I couldn’t not press and keep my wrist straight. My conclusion was that obviously something else had to change too, but I didn’t know what. So that’s the question (or rather, one of the questions) I brought to this week’s lesson.
Now something interesting and subtle happened. I told my teacher my problem, and, as usual, he said: “Show me”. I did and he said something like: “Now keep your hand round and relaxed”. I don’t remember his exact words, but as I was focussing on what he said, he made my left elbow move back by touching it. This was of course the very change that I was looking for, and I almost missed it! Riddle solved. I guess he must have done this in my lesson countless times before.
The important point that I take away from this, apart from the obvious one, is: I am not as good as young kids seem to be at learning from my teacher’s tactile cues. That is, I can only utilize them if I have consciously verbalized the change that they entail. It is very much more difficult for me to remember a physical sensation than it is to remember its description. From now on I shall therefore (a) pay more conscious attention to my teacher’s tactile cues, and (b) be sure to translate the change they initiate into words before moving on.
I love this journey, besides bestowing on me the pure joy of making music with others it teaches me a lot about myself and about learning (my favorite field of study for as long as I can remember). I would be very interested to hear from others who started playing at a later age. What are your experiences when it comes to tactile cues? If you started young, do you retain this capability for learning from such cues? If you're a teacher, are you aware that such a difference might exist?
Where I live, December is the time of year when we get to exercise our rhyme-muscles. Yesterday I tried my hand at writing lyrics to Kreutzer etude 2, which I have been practicing for months now. I wrote the words in my native tongue and had a lot of fun doing it. So this morning I wrote an English version. Singing the piece with these lyrics actually helps me to identify where my memorization is still not quite solid.
So here goes:
Ode to Kreutzer 2
Such a rich resource this Kreutzer 2
I know my teacher takes that view
He gave this piece to me in May
Now in December still I play
'Cause Kreutzer 2 is great for me
I'm sure my neighbours would agree
They hear me play it on and on
and I just hope they think it fun
I have to take it very slow
That's what my teacher wants, I know
And every day I start anew
To sink my teeth in Kreutzer 2
I hope to conquer it one day
And put the wretched book away
A girl can dream, and tho' I do
For now I stick with Kreutzer 2
Last night I stayed up very late
And then I dreamed of Kreutzer 8
But when I woke up with the 'flu
I found I'm still at Kreutzer 2
I know my husband would agree
This Kreutzer is the one for me
He still supports me when I do
Another bar of Kreutzer 2
And as I polish ev'ry line
I look at him and he seems fine
I try my best and hope it's true
He likes the sound of Kreutzer 2
And if some day he'll let me know
That I must choose twixt him and Ro'
It will be sad, what can I do?
I must persist with Kreutzer 2
What if it makes me lose my man
While I am doing all I can?
I'll try to make amends and pray
He will relent and let me stay!
My teacher lingers on my case
He makes me work on every phrase
And when he doesn't like my sound
It's back to Kreutzer 2, I've found
We keep on trying, yes we do
Since we both love our Kreutzer 2
Now this may seem a little sad
But it is not, I'm very glad!
I started this adventure late
And for my age I'm doing great
I even practice when I'm blue
So I improve, I swear it's true
All with the help of Kreutzer 2!
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