April 2011


April 21, 2011 14:08

I had a great violin lesson today. I wasn't looking forward to it, because it's Holy Week, I help out a lot at church, and I had little time to practice.

But my violin teacher is fantastic. After the usual preliminaries of tuning by ear (still getting the hang of that) and practicing my scale, we got down to business with the Mazurka. I know this is not the hardest solo in the world, but I still get rather large amounts of performance anxiety before having to play something, well, right.

That's what violin teachers are for. We broke things down, sped up the tempo, played one bit at a time, and in the end, I was playing it! And it sounded good, so good I had this odd feeling that someone else was playing it and I was just listening to it. Kind of a violin out-of-body experience.

So, I have my recital. And baseball game in May. And I have to play the chimes during Mass for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and (maybe) Easter. Rock on!

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Tiny Little Baby Steps

April 9, 2011 16:15

Besides my A-major scale, the perfect intonation of which still eludes me, I have to learn Mazurka. I know this is not the hardest thing in the world, but it's a bit of a challenge to me and I want to play it well for the recital.

It helps a great deal to follow the advice of my violin teacher (imagine that!) and take it in steps. I realize this is elementary to many players, but it might help someone else who's just learning.

My learning steps:

1. Read the notes aloud.

2. Finger the notes.

3. Play the notes pizzicato.

4. Play the notes with the bow evenly and without regard to rhythm.

5. Play the piece correctly a little at a time.

6. Play the entire piece.

In other news, I may have to learn not one but three new things soon. In addition to playing the recital, I might also play a couple of songs with some other students at a local sporting event. Playing in public! We'll see.

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Sausage Fingers

April 4, 2011 08:11

My violin teacher is planning on holding a student recital soon. Me being a student, I need to play something. Perfectly! Much better than everyone else! (My requirements, not hers.) This is not so much ego as a desire to not be showed up by a bunch of eight-year-olds.

She assigned me Nathalia Baklanova's "Mazurka". It seems to be a standard kids' thing in the UK, but I like it a lot. I'm supposed to not only play it quickly (and perfectly!) but with some real attack. I'm working on it. I have to, you know, learn the notes first.

I'm also working on the A major scale. Mary, my teacher, always asks me to practice scales in whole notes, quarters, half and then eights to tempo, usually 120. This A major has to be done in a new kind of tricky (for me) pattern where I use the fourth finger on the whole, half and quarter notes, but switch to open strings for the eights. Yikes! Hard to do all that and get the intonation right, especially when I have sausage fingers and have a hard time getting those fourth finger notes in tune.

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The 'T' Question

April 2, 2011 17:19

I spent most of my life thinking that I didn't really know anything about music. Because I couldn't play like Paganini the second I picked up the violin (or guitar or drums or whatever), I thought I was hopeless. Everyone knows that if you're not a famous musician by the time you're twelve, there's no hope, right?

My mother played piano. My grandfather played piano. My great grandfather was a conductor who wrote symphonies, according to my mom. I never met him. This doesn't make me talented, but it does mean I come from a bit of musical family. Somehow, I thought this all didn't count.

I played guitar as a teenager and drums (trap set, hand drums, etc.) as a young adult. But I wasn't a musician. Not, you know, really.

This is all to say that one of the biggest hurdles I've had to overcome while learning violin is the idea that I'm not ever going to be very good, because if I was, everyone would know by now. Nonsense, of course. It takes practice. But it's a mental thing.

I keep wanting to ask my violin teacher the frightening, forbidden "T" question: am I talented? I'm afraid to hear the answer. It's really an unanswerable question for a beginner. The teacher says something to the effect that you're a beginner and need more practice and the student takes this as a "no" and gives up. You say yes and the student starts feeling superior. Doesn't stop me from wondering, though.

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