The Beginning - Old Dogs and New Tricks

November 14, 2016, 9:33 AM · I’m a beginning student violinist. I’ve been playing for two weeks, have had precisely three violin lessons at this point, and I’m just learning my third beginner’s tune. Probably what makes me a bit of an odd duck in the world of beginning students is that I’m also in my late 40's.

The violin has always held an appeal for me. My grandfather played. I was introduced to the magnificence of orchestral music as a kid in 1977 when the movie Star Wars propelled John Williams et al to instrumental fame. I’ve always secretly harbored a desire to know more about the violin. Unfortunately, the perception I formed early on was shaped by comments to the effect that “the violin was far too difficult an instrument to play”, and that “trying to learn it would result in the entire family being tortured to deafness rather unpleasantly”. I had already tried the guitar, saxophone, and trombone, and had never proved all that musically gifted. I was a smart kid, but I just never seemed to 'get it', and by the way… just what is an ‘octave’ anyway? I seemed as though music was this abstract art form that only a select few people could understand. I assumed that the violin would just be another endeavor in music failure. It appeared I was destined to appreciate music as a listener only.

As is often the case when you start to get older, you see friends & family pass away and you begin to think about those things you always wanted to try and never did. Then one day you happen to mention it to someone and they say “Well, you never know unless you try”. After which you slap yourself on the head and think "how could I have forgotten such a basic life truth?”

I spent the first couple of weeks getting excited about the violin. I had yet to lay my hands on one. So, I started by doing what any self-respecting computer scientist would… I ‘Googled’ it. Finding several YouTube instructors, I began watching videos on basic violin technique and reading as many related articles as I could find. Then, basic knowledge in hand, I popped into our local music store to check out the violins hanging on the wall. Taking in hand my very first violin ever, I diligently applied what I had learned about holding a bow and violin. To my surprise, it felt comfortable. Not only that, but as I looked down the finger board of the violin under my chin, I realized that unlike the guitar, violinists enjoy a very visual perspective on their handy work. It felt right. I then dared to draw the rosined bow across a few open strings. To my shock and amazement, musical notes came out, and I still retained my hearing. I think I hit one scratchy open note that day. My confidence was lifted.

After a couple of weeks, a friend learned of my interest in the violin and lent me a violin that his young daughter had used as a beginner. I took it in to have the music store check it out, and I signed up for lessons with a local fiddler. Technically I’m more interested in classical violin technique than fiddling, but at this point I think anything I learn from anyone is going to be extremely valuable.

All of this led me to my first real ‘revelation’ about the violin and music in general. Yes, the violin is a very technical instrument and it may not be for everybody. However, I am also a very technical person. I realized that while I had great difficulty with the guitar due to its more informal and organic nature, I was much better suited to the violin. Silly me for listening to the negativity and for not giving this a try earlier in my life. But, then again maybe this is the perfect time for me to be learning the violin.

Understanding this about myself I decided to once and for all answer that question that had been plaguing me… ‘just what is an octave?’ It’s not that I had never asked before, but I realize now that it’s more likely the people I asked simply couldn’t answer the question in a way that made sense to me. Since I am a more technical person, perhaps I needed a more technical answer. “Hello, my old friend ‘Google’!” As it turns out, an octave is a relationship between two sound waves (musical notes) of different frequencies (pitches) in the precise ration of 2:1. Ah! A note one octave higher than another same note has twice the frequency, and a same note one octave lower has half the frequency. Why didn’t you just say that sixth grade music teacher?

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