I was testing everyone's C# in group class before starting a tune, when I came across a student with a habit that many students develop:
I'll call it "land and wiggle."
This happens when you put down a lefthand finger for a note, but you accidentally put it in the wrong place. Then you slide up and down and all around until it settles in to the correct pitch. It was clear to me from the unsettled nature of her fingers, that this was an ingrained habit.
Ironically, this habit of searching and wiggling tends to develop when you have an excellent ear. You hear that the note is out of tune, and so you adjust your finger.
But here's the problem with this approach: you are setting yourself up for failure -- and for frenetic fingers. You may not be aware, but you are actually practicing landing in the wrong place every time, and then wiggling around to the right place.
Let's say your task is something different: you are throwing darts at a target, aiming for that nice yellow spot in the middle.
If your dart lands outside of the yellow circle, say in the blue ring, you are not going to adjust it by walking up and dragging it into the middle -- it's stuck. If you want to reach the point where you can throw the dart and land in the yellow spot every time, you must first figure out how hard to throw the dart and from what angle. Once you've got this down, you have to do it over and over, correctly, until you have physically perfected your aim and performance.
The same goes for a beginner, learning first-position fingering on the violin. A student must learn precision in finger placement, and it will only happen by placing fingers correctly, over and over. This would be one reason I advocate finger tapes for beginners. In theory, it makes some kind of sense to ask your students find their pitches by listening. But it's sad to see a student who, at such an early stage, has developed such a manic hand and such little sense of precise aim. Believe me, landing on the tapes also helps the ear, when the ear repeatedly hears the pitch played correctly! When the hand is set, then great, remove the tapes.
The searching and adjusting also happens to more advanced students and musicians in things like shifting, double-stop placement, artificial harmonics, etc. The same principle applies: Go to the correct form, and then figure out how to get there every time, without wiggling around and adjusting.
So in the practice room, if you repeatedly miss a note, try this: Stop. Ask yourself, was it too high, or too low? Then depending on your answer, aim higher or lower next time. It sounds simple enough, but sometimes we just want to go on, so we settle for a little wiggling and adjusting. Don't!Tweet
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