September 2013

Impatience Is Only Resistance

September 29, 2013 07:39

I stumbled across the following quote while scrolling through my Facebook news feed and I think it fits the process of learning a musical instrument perfectly.

"Impatience is only resistance to learning. It means we want the goal without going through the process. We need to let ourselves learn, step by step. It will get easier as we go along."
- Louise Hay

(Side note: Louise Hay is a wonderful author and an incredibly inspirational person whose works have had - and are still having - a great impact on my life. I highly recommend her!)

Let's read that quote again. Read it slowly to yourself. Read it out loud. See if anything speaks to you in particular or jumps out.

"Impatience is only resistance to learning. It means we want the goal without going through the process. We need to let ourselves learn, step by step. It will get easier as we go along."

Often, as violinists and as people, we want to rush to the end result. We have an image in our imagination of us standing in front of an orchestra playing our favorite concerto, or sitting in the concertmaster seat of a professional orchestra. And that image doesn't fit with our reality, which is that our teacher has asked us to play a G Major scale three times a day, with a tall violin and a curved bow thumb. Right? We want to play the Tchaikovsky (or Mendelssohn, or Brahms, or Sibelius, or Beethoven...or all of them) concerto, but we don't want to put in three or four hours of practice every day for ten years. We want the goal, but we have neglected to factor in the process that will lead us to our goal.

When we are impatient, and we think more about getting to the next step or to our ultimate goal rather than focusing on what we are accomplishing in the present moment, we actually hinder our own learning. Someone who talks about how much they want to get to the next piece in the Suzuki book but who has neglected to learn the correct bowings or to memorize the final piece in the book they're in is actually making it harder for themselves! Someone who persists in playing through the next piece in the book without fixing their bowhold is only teaching themselves bad bow habits. We might get depressed because we're not "there" yet, wherever "there" is. We might spend time talking about how much we want to be a violin soloist - and spend more time talking and thinking about it than actually practicing!

The truth is that the path to any one of those major concertos, or to being a successful soloist, or concertmaster, or to being a fulfilled and happy amateur musician, or to doing anything that involves playing the violin starts with that first violin lesson, and learning to name the parts of the instrument. It starts with learning how to hold the violin, and practicing that over and over, every day, until it is natural and balanced and free.

The fastest way to get to where you want to go is to live fully in each moment of your practice sessions. Be aware of those little (or big) adjustments your teacher is making in your playing. My students always have exercises to help develop some skill or another. Practice your exercises consciously and consistently. Talk to your teacher about your goals and ask them to work with you to create a plan to reach them. And then live fully in each step of that plan, mastering the violin one small step at a time.

"Impatience is only resistance to learning. It means we want the goal without going through the process. We need to let ourselves learn, step by step. It will get easier as we go along."

Originally posted on my website, www.claireallenviolin.com

8 replies


Ten Minutes for Violin

September 18, 2013 09:09

As a teacher, I'm constantly amazed by my students' busy schedules. They swim, dance, play piano, sing, and soccer, among other things. They take lessons in public speaking and are in numerous clubs at their schools. AND they take violin lessons. I'm rarely surprised, then, when students come into their lessons and explain that they only have one or two days a week when they have time to practice.

I'm not going to launch into a lecture here about how violin should be the most important thing in your life. If you want to have a career in music, it is, and you should be practicing 2 - 4 hours a day by the time you're in high school. If you're taking auditions for District or Regional orchestra, you should at the minimum be practicing an hour a day. That's just what it takes. You simply won't be accepted to these orchestras or to music school if you're not practicing this much, because believe me, your competition is practicing even more.

But this post is for all the students who love music, who love playing violin, and who know that they probably are going to do something else with their careers. And to them, I say this: Even on your busiest days, you can find ten minutes for violin.

Ten minutes might seem like nothing, but you can pack in a lot of practicing into those ten minutes if you plan it right. And, believe it or not, a student who practices ten minutes every day will make more progress than a student who practices an hour one day a week. That's because when it comes to developing the skills needed to play the violin, consistent repetition is key.

I think of my former teacher Burton Kaplan who says, "Your body is a dog." He means that you need to train your body the same way you would train your dog. If we only asked our dogs to sit and stay one or two days a week, we wouldn't expect them to learn those skills, would we? Your body is the same. If you practice for an hour on Thursday, and your lesson is the following Tuesday, it's simply not realistic to expect your body and brain to remember what you worked on or to play it the way you practiced it.

Where do we find these ten magical minutes? It could be ten minutes as soon as you get home from school so you get it out of the way. It could be ten minutes right after dinner, before you start your homework. It could be ten minutes first thing in the morning. But find ten minutes. Put those ten minutes in your planner, and set an alarm on your computer or phone for five minutes before your ten minutes start so you know when it's practice time.

What do you do with those ten minutes once you find them? For a beginning student, practicing might simply consist of taking the violin out of the case, going from rest position to playing position ten times, making a bow hold ten times, and calling it a day. And the student who does that every single day will do better than the student who just does it one or two days. That process might take maybe five minutes.

For the more advanced student, who wants to learn skills like shifting and vibrato, consistency is again key. With your ten minutes, do any finger slides, wiggles - any of the little exercises your teacher has you do as you're learning these skills. As you do this, check to make sure your body is relaxed and poised and that your violin and bow position are good. Do these exercises in the mirror so you can see what's happening. After your exercises, play a scale with at least two different bowings (ask your teacher for specific directions). Then, if you have any time left over, play through your pieces.

4 minutes: Exercises in the mirror
3 minutes: Scale with two different bowings
3 minutes: Play through a piece.

And that's it! This ten-minute plan is only for your busiest days. If you can find more time, then go for it! Try it for a week and see if you notice any differences in your playing.

Remember, it's better to practice for only ten minutes than not at all. With creative scheduling and practice planning, you can really improve your violin skills. Give it a try!

1 reply


Get More Out of Your Lessons

September 9, 2013 11:29

We all want to get the most out of every experience we have, and music lessons are no exception. In order to make the best progress, we need to be well-prepared for our lessons and willing to communicate clearly with our teachers! I'm offering some suggestions here to help you improve your lesson experience. Some might seem like no-brainers, but hopefully everyone can find at least one tip to try.

1. Arrive five minutes early.

One of the simplest things you can do to maximize your time with your teacher is to ensure that you get to your lesson on time - which means early. I know that most lessons take place after school and during rush hour when traffic is at its most frustrating. It is definitely worth it to find the best route to your teacher and to plan your schedule so you can arrive a few minutes early. This allows you to catch your breath, focus your attention, and unpack your instrument so that your lesson can start precisely on time. Most teachers won't give you extra time if you arrive late. In my studio, if you're scheduled for an hour-long lesson but you arrive 15 minutes late, you only get a 45 minute lesson. So, ensuring that you are on time and present for every scheduled minute of your lesson is one of the easiest ways to make the most of things.

2. Practice.

This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many students show up at lessons without having practiced. A good teacher won't let you get away with this! I had a student last year who absolutely hated practicing her rhythm exercises. She wouldn't practice them at all at home, and in lessons she would often try and steer me away from the rhythm book. However, because I knew that developing her sense of pulse was necessary for her playing, I didn't let it slide. I gave her two options: either we would spend a lot of time practicing rhythm in her lesson and have less time for her pieces OR she could practice her rhythm at home and spend less time on it in the lesson. She opted for the second one once she realized that there was no way out of it.

Everyone wants the student to improve quickly and learn new pieces and new skills. This will only happen if practicing is happening consistently at home. Otherwise, the teacher will spend valuable lesson time explaining the same concepts over and over, which will lead to the student and their parents becoming very frustrated.

3. Record your lessons and watch them at home.

Ask your teacher if you can record your lessons. I keep a digital video camera in my studio for my students' use. They can bring their own memory cards and record their lessons. Watching your lesson back at home will help you by allowing you to hear the teacher's instructions more times and by letting you see yourself playing from the outside. In your lesson, you might really feel that you are using a lot of bow and wonder why your teacher is so insistent on you trying to use even more. However, when you watch yourself, you may see that you really aren't using much at all.

You can use the built-in microphone on your computer or smartphone to record your lesson, but if you're looking to buy a good digital video recorder, I recommend the Zoom Q3.

4. Tell your teacher how you feel.

Despite how it may seem at times, your teacher can't actually read your mind. If your teacher says that you don't understand, say out loud to your teacher, "I don't understand what you're saying." It is your teacher's job to find a way to explain things to you in a way that makes sense for you and your learning style! Don't just nod and smile - say what you're thinking and feeling. If your teacher is going too fast for you, say "Can you give me a second to process what you said before? I'm still trying to figure it out."

Two other important things to tell your teacher: "This makes me feel really uncomfortable" and "My hand/wrist/finger/back/neck hurts when I do it this way." Teachers are trained to be on the lookout for tension in your playing, but it makes things go a lot smoother if you can communicate with them clearly.

It is especially important to communicate clearly and directly with your teacher when you are new to each other. The teacher might use a metaphor that doesn't work for you, or they might start changing aspects of your playing that you thought were just fine before you came to them. Please don't just go home and complain to your parents about it. Give your teacher a chance to explain something in a different way or to tell you their reasoning behind something.

5. Write down questions for your teacher as you practice and bring them to your lesson.

As you practice during the week, keep a notebook or a practice journal and write down questions for your teacher. If you run into a problem area, such as a shift that you consistently miss, or doublestops that just don't feel right in your hand, write it down and ask your teacher about them in your lesson.

6. Clarify any confusion with your teacher before your lesson.

If you're unsure about a fingering, or even just an illegible word in your notebook, send your teacher an email or give them a call during the week to ask. Don't practice confused!

7. Keep your instrument in good working condition.

It's critical to keep your instrument in shape just for your own playing. This means changing strings and getting your bow rehaired at least twice a year. It means taking your violin to the shop and having the pegs worked on if they're consistently slipping or sticking, and having any other needed repairs completed promptly. Chances are that your teacher is not a repair technician. Speaking from personal experience, I can put on strings and fix a bridge that's fallen over and that's really about it. Time that your teacher has to spend fighting with your instrument to tune it or fix anything with it is time taken away from your lesson. I've had experiences where a student purchased a very cheap instrument that had horrible pegs that wouldn't hold a pitch. I routinely spent 5 to 10 minutes of his 30 minute lesson just trying to get his violin to stay in tune, which wasn't how either one of us wanted to be spending the time. So, schedule repairs and maintenance in a timely manner!

I hope at least some of these tips are helpful to you as you continue your studies! Feel free to comment with any of your own suggestions for getting more out of your lessons!

Originally posted on my website, www.claireallenviolin.com.

1 reply


Creating Practice Space At Home

September 7, 2013 19:38

As the school year begins and students and families struggle to fit violin practice into their daily routine, creating a special space just for violin at home can help!

1. This should be a space designated solely for the practice of your music. Whether it is an entire room or just a corner of another room, nothing else should go on in this space except for practicing.

2. Freedom from distractions. Especially for young students, the television, cellular phone, computer, and all electronic devices should be shut off. If you use a metronome or tuning app, your phone should be set so it cannot receive calls or text messages during your practice session. Family members and roommates should know that when you are in your practice space, they are not to bother you. Ideally, one should be completely alone in the room or just with their practice helper (generally a parent).

3. Instrument, music, lesson notebook, and pencil. It is a good idea to keep all of your musical belongings in one place. This way, when going back and forth from lessons to school to rehearsal, you know exactly where to go to get everything. It also means that everything is handy and you do not need to frequently stop practicing to go hunt something down.

4. Music stand. All but the most elementary beginners will be reading music of some sort, and even the beginners may find it helpful to put their lesson notebooks on a music stand so they can read them without having to hold them. This stand should ensure that the music is at the eye level of the student. Spectacularly tall students may need a chair to place their stand on.

5. Mirror. While not absolutely essential, being able to watch oneself in the mirror while practicing is a very valuable practice technique, especially when working on posture or technique.

6. Recording device. Again, while not essential, being able to hear exactly what you are playing is invaluable. There is no substitute for really listening to yourself play.

7. Something inspirational. Whether it be a quote that you really like, pictures of your favorite composers or violinists, or a supportive card received from a loved one, put something a little personal in your practice area that will help motivate you to play even on the days where you might not feel like it. Once, to prepare for an orchestra audition, I printed out a picture of the conductor so I would get used to him looking at me when I played!

Originally posted on my website, www.claireallenviolin.com.

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