The Euphoric Lesson - (Yep, it's frequently after Winter Break!)

January 6, 2018, 7:07 PM · Hard-working, over-achieving students are generally very sleep-deprived during the school year, dealing with many stressful deadlines – “Bing-Bing-Bing – Let’s get it done!” - and are typically involved in a gazillion extra-curricular activities (soccer, cross-country, debating, chamber orchestra, National Merit, French Club etc.) They often walk around like complete zombies, frequently having some type of physical ailment they can’t seem to shake, for obvious reasons.

Violin lessons in early December were a complete and utter wreck for one over-achieving student of mine. It was next to impossible for her to focus beyond 45 seconds without having something akin to a "teen-aged meltdown" when the passage wouldn't automatically sound great, without any mistakes!

Finally, the Magical Winter Break arrived - a break that is filled with many hours of extra sleep, eating many favorite foods in a relaxed setting, without any academic demands in front of them. Additionally, quality time with family and friends is enjoyed, as well as traveling/sight-seeing to some pretty exotic places.

Did they actually practice over break? I don’t dare ask, knowing the answer is probably no. So, the student walks into my studio in early January, looking quite dazzling, with a new haircut and a happy gleam of relaxation in her face that I’ve not seen in a long time! After chit-chatting a few minutes about general happenings over the break, we both pull out our violins.

happy Claire

And, nothing ever prepares me for the exhilarating feeling, as I listen to the clean, polished sounds, including excellent pitch and even expressive elements in place. But, wait a minute! How is this really happening?

Having watched this phenomenon now for over 35 years, I look forward to experiencing it with several students after every break! You might ask, “Why are some students 'the lucky ones' that sound completely amazing and others still struggle along, the same as always?" Well, I seriously have a theory about this and hope that someone will grab hold of this topic. Maybe even run with it to go get their doctorate, submitting hard data that hopefully proves my theory to be correct!

Here it is, in a nutshell:

Each ingredient described in the Winter Break, when experienced by an over-achieving, super-busy personality, equates to inviting, and being introduced to, some super-relaxed muscles that are totally ready to play the heck out of the violin!*

So, after we celebrate how beautiful their playing has become, without too much effort, there is a nasty disclaimer and “rude-awakening” kind of truth that I feel obligated to share with them. I say, “The euphoric state of your violin playing will last for about two more weeks; after that, if you do not back up your playing with some 'real' practice, you will revert back to where you were before.”

I have taught violin long enough to know that it probably will not be possible for them to add violin practice into their already-jam-packed schedule. If this happens to be the case, not to worry. We will simply hang on to the memory of that special day, dubbed “The Euphoric Lesson,” celebrating each golden note that was executed, with each dynamic telling a magnificent story of great success and victory!

*It’s true that I’ve not experienced as great a euphoric (or immediate) breakthrough with students that practice regularly and are not as over-extended in their schedule of activities. Instead, they enjoy weekly, consistent progress, which is pretty phenomenal, too!

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January 8, 2018 at 05:10 AM · Interesting phenomenon. I practice over the holidays and even have some lessons if possible, but try to relax as much as I can.

January 8, 2018 at 07:43 AM · Your scenario sounds much more appealing to me, Ella! But, what's a teacher gonna do? I have to still impart as much as I can...despite limitations. Not always easy!

January 8, 2018 at 08:25 AM · Being an older student, I don’t have such a packed schedule of extra-curricular activities but I do work full-time and trying to keep up a decent level of practising around my job can be challenging. By the end of the year I was exhausted so took two weeks off practising over the Christmas break. I’ve been back at it for a few days now and although it sounded dreadful for the first day or two, it’s now much better than before the holidays. I’ve put this down to just feeling more relaxed (physically and mentally), having more energy and the headspace to concentrate. It was great to read your post about similar experiences with your students - now, how to keep that relaxed feeling when the rest of life speeds up again?

January 8, 2018 at 05:52 PM · I wonder if this applies to the adult student who practices daily, has a jam-packed schedule otherwise, who spends the holiday break playing rather than practicing? I've spent the last week or so having fun playing, and not really diligently working on all of those troublesome spots that I seem to be unable to work out. (I have been working on improving intonation, bow grip, and tone though.)

January 8, 2018 at 09:38 PM · Teachers may only teach students with big events coming up during the holidays, or take a break. Depends on the teacher.

January 9, 2018 at 06:13 AM · I enjoyed reading your response,! No doubt, it is a challenge to totally try to keep the relaxation going after the holidays subside and life's busyness resumes; however, maybe just knowing about this phenomenon will help you to perhaps be on the lookout for those special muscles more than before. I hope so!

January 9, 2018 at 06:19 AM · Hi Pamela! I think you should definitely make room to include periods in your practice where you are allowed to just "let loose" and have some extra fun! Jascha Heifetz had a phrase that I always hold onto, though -- (not quoting directly) 'True music-making begins once the technique is mastered.' So, we always need, like you are already doing, to be strengthening our basics, which ultimately raises the level of your musical communication.

January 9, 2018 at 06:24 AM · True indeed, Ella! Teachers need breaks, too! I always try to plan a two-week break from teaching, but will make 2-3 days available for makeups, or students preparing for All-State. I try to schedule times with my own personal comfort and ease in mind. I am always amazed at how much better I feel teaching after having had a break, too. Probably another!

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