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January 2010

Developing Patience

January 14, 2010 09:14

My last blog entry talked about how my teacher was pleased with my progress, especially the fact that my practice was more patient, and that I had determined that I was going to be more patient with myself. At least one response asked for tips on how to develop patience. I don't know that I can offer any magic words to say that will make you patient in an instant; that would run counter to the very definition of patience. Patience is a character trait that is learned, often through hard experience. Usually it comes when you've figured out that what you've been doing isn't working, and you slow down, step back, take a deep breath, and regroup., once you get tired of beating your head against the wall, that is! That's what I had to do last year. I decided that I was tired of spinning my tires, getting nowhere (and I know my teacher was tired of it too). I had to do some serious reassessment, sit down and analyze my own playing using the knowledge I have acquired over the past 15 years from some incredible teachers, assess my weaknesses as well as my strengths, and resolve to solve problems as they arise. That means taking each difficulty and focusing on it specifically. Spiccato? Slow it down, find out what's wrong, and fix it! Intonation? Listen carefully, and play the passage until it's in tune. String crossings not clean? Make sure fingers are left down, and your bow is straight. Do it again and again and again until you can do it right, and then do it some more. And do scales, scales, scales, every day, both one octave on a single string and three octaves on four strings, with arpeggios.

Nothing with playing the violin comes easily, unless one is a prodigy, and in order to advance to your best performance ability, you must be, above all, patient with yourself. If I've learned nothing else in 52 years of living, it is that, and it's a lesson I keep needing to have reinforced. As a wife, mother, grandmother, and a person with MS, everything I do requires a degree of patience. Just standing up takes me longer than it does most people; my legs don't cooperate all the time when I need to rise from a sitting position. Likewise, playing the violin presents challenges for me: my fingers aren't as dexterous on fast passages as I would like, in part because I don't have as much feeling in them as I should. So I have to play those passages a little slower than they would normally be played. So I have to make adjustments, and accept that there are some things that I probably will not be able to accomplish.

Every single one of us can benefit from learning the virtue of patience, regardless of his or her life's circumstances, not only as a violinist, but just as a human being. Life will be more pleasant, and every day annoyances - like the ridiculously long line at the gas station, or the interminable wait time to speak to "the next available representative" at the telephone company won't bother you nearly as much, and your blood pressure will be lower!

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Words of Encouragement

January 9, 2010 18:15

At my last lesson my violin teacher gave me a belated Christmas card. I felt bad, because I didn't give him a card at all. I didn't get cards out at all this year; I just couldn't get into the spirit of the season for some reason.

Anyway, his card held a pleasant surprise for me. In it, he wrote the following: "Keep up the good work. You're making the progress we've both wanted finally. There's a greater sense of detail and patience in the way you work, and I'm very happy for you. However, don't forget how you got there ... you can be your own worst enemy. :) Merry Christmas!"

The last year has been a very frustrating one for both of us. When I had been his student as an adult before going off to music school, we'd had a very good working relationship. I always came to lessons prepared, and he was very pleased with my progress. He was impressed with the way I solved problems and implemented his suggestions.

After I quit school, I didn't take lessons for a few years, and I didn't play much. I lost technique. When I returned to his studio after ten years away, not only had my playing deteriorated tremendously, but I just didn't make any progress. Where once I had been able to learn a piece within a few months it was taking me close to a year to learn one now. I was getting frustrated, he was getting frustrated, and at times I think we were both ready to call it quits. So when I got that card, it was so good to read affirmation of the progress I knew that I had been making. In the last couple of months I had done a lot of introspection, a lot of self-evaluation and just thinking about what I was doing while I was playing (no one tells you when you first start to play this thing that it's a very cerebral process, but they should) and it evidently has paid off. My playing has improved. My intonation on double stops is much better. On the Campagnoli Divertimento I, Siciliano, I'm finding it much easier to sound both strings at once consistently. I have nearly finished the Purcell G Minor Sonata after just two months of slow, patient work, and that's been the difference: it has been very slow, and very patient on my part, the way I used to be. I'm not quite sure when or why I stopped being patient, when I started trying to rush things, although I have my suspicions, but I am going to try to turn things back and regain some lost time, but slowly and patiently! If I've learned anything, it's that if I try to rush through it, I will only lose more time, and that's one thing I can't afford to do!

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