Written by Zina Francisca
Published: December 19, 2013 at 9:45 AM [UTC]
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?
Record your violin lesson on a video camera, preferrably set on a tripod such that the camera captures your play and your teacher's instruction. Review it thoroughly at home during your home practice. That'll save your time and effort. Good luck.
I have had 3 lessons with her [a lesson every 2 months] and I believe I am doing fairly well on my technique. She has used the visual of me being a tree, my arm and hand the branches a little bird [the neck of the violin] coming and sitting one the crotch of the branch, all the while she was putting my body into correct position. She placed my hand on the bow and a picture was taken of it, I have it to refer to. I was raising my right shoulder when I was bowing, she got a rice filled bag and placed it on my shoulder to relax it while I played.
She has had me work on maybe 5 things for the next lesson.
We talk about music, why you usually down bow at the beginning of the measure. I read music and am using the Suzuki book and listening to the CD. She has had me practice playing the songs on the different strings which has helped me memorize tunes and help me get to know my violin.
We always end the lesson playing a duet or me playing accompanied by an electronic piano.
I am having so much fun!!
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