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Clayton Haslop

How to 'Tune Up' Your Practice

February 25, 2010 at 7:10 PM

This morning, as we do every morning, ‘Star’ the dog and I went for out for a little walk/run about.  In the course of it we did 4 hill sprints; about 600’ of vertical climb.

It was enough to trigger an endorphin rush in me.  Star just wanted to eat.

So then I pick up my violin.  Now, you might think you can imagine what I experienced when I lifted it to my shoulder.

I don’t think so.

My fingers felt so stiff and slow I thought I thought of calling 911.

Fortunately, things got better.  And fast.  Over the course of an hour-twenty I went from playing ultra-slow scales, with measured wide vibrato in triplets, to whizzing around Sarasate’s ‘Zapateado’ like a liquored up Marti-Gras celebrant.

And this is how I did it.

I imagined.

I experienced.

And I thought.

And then I did it again.  And sometimes, again.

You know, it’s a good policy to give yourself a maximum of 3 tries to execute what you have in mind before making a conscious decision to change the picture.

That really ties in to the ‘thought’ side of the process.

Now with a completely new skill the ‘imagine’ part will be pretty sketchy; unless, that is, you’ve really done your homework and reviewed my DVD instructions on the matter.

Yet nonetheless, once you have an working image of your goal you must ‘put one down’.  You must ‘experience’ it.  And what I mean by this is to execute the skill based on your image of it, while really paying attention to the actual physical feelings generated by the doing.

Stage three is merely to reflect on the difference, should there be one.  If there is you go back, refine the image, and experience again. 

As I say, sometimes the brain doesn’t grab anything ‘new’ from an experience, even though the result is clearly not up to snuff.

In such cases I give myself one additional try.  If, after 3 tries I’m not making progress, either I change the context of the image – i.e. go slower – or I move on to something else, temporarily.

Now I recognize that this is very likely ‘old hat’ to you.  Yet when a skill we are seeking feels ‘out of our depth’, it is tempting to abandon imagination and thought altogether.  And ‘practice’ quickly becomes one empty repetition after another.

The trick is to catch yourself.  And the '3 tries' rule is a great way to do it.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

From Bill Busen
Posted on February 25, 2010 at 11:28 PM

This is the very practice issue I was most recently trying to calibrate!  Quite frustrating knowing you're not supposed to practice mistakes, and then doing it anyway out of stubbornness ("I can DO THIS at 84!")

From Bonny Buckley
Posted on February 26, 2010 at 1:38 AM

This is good thinking, Clayton! Also your method can be applied to what we are practicing in life outside the violin as well... thanks for the post!

From Laurie Trlak
Posted on February 26, 2010 at 6:28 PM

You know, thought is as much as a part of the process as the physical action of the practice as anything, and trying to get that concept into the heads of students can be so difficult! Practice is so much more than just the physical aspect. I wonder if I stress this enough to my students, and if I am able to communicate to them that it's more than just "going through the motions," as it were?

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