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Improvement without practicing

May 24, 2010 at 5:21 AM

In mid-late May I finish a bunch of responsibilities that keep me away from practicing/playing the violin on a regular basis. I used to get uptight about not being able to practice every day. (That was in the very old days of high school.) In those days, I felt I could not even do vibrato well if I stopped playing for a few days. Well, some 30 years later, I've realized that daily practice is simply a luxury. (I try to impart that idea to my younger daughter, who still struggles to like practicing her violin. I probably won't be sharing this blog with her.)  Here's the funny thing. I picked up my violin the other day. I'm somewhat excited because for the first time in...25 years?  I am going to audition. (summer session of Stanford's orchestra)   The only piece that I've been playing off and on is probably not a good audition piece-- too big. (I'm one of those many who suffers from performance anxiety.) So I thought I'd do something that's much easier for me--the piece that got me to beg for violin lessons as  a child, and the concerto I played around 9th grade-  Mozart No3. Played it for a day or too, and thought-- sounds pretty good. Better than the last time I tried it, which may have been maybe 2 years ago as I was playing around. No problems with vibrato. Guess that tough piece I've been working on has at least shaped me up pretty well. Yesterday I changed my mind and decided to prepare a more challenging piece-- Mendelssohn. I've often had problems with the opening, as my E string vibrato used to be stiff and forced. To my great surprise, the Mendelssohn opening has greatly improved since I last played it-- also maybe a year or so ago. My Eing vibrato is going well, all the way to the top notes. (It was actually that 3rd position d# that used to elude me! Now sounds good to me!)  I'm happy. What happens in the audition may be another story, but I thank God. I think of how as a child I'd go ice skating maybe once a year ...and even skip many years before getting to do it again. But each time I'd actually be somewhat better than the time before. Now, I wondered about that a little, but as I don't care too much how well I ice skate, that was the end of that.  I don't work full time, so you'd think I'd be able to practice violin and not have to write a blog about not practicing. But I usually have two major part-time commitments going, and one of them I consider as Christian serving. When I took it on a few years ago, I knew I'd have much less time to pull out the violin, except for these break times. Well, I don't know.  It may not be a miracle, but I still thank God. This time of May is always a wonderful time for me, but how nice to pick up the violin and not feel that I have to catch up and rework everything.  What a sweet, sweet gift. 

From Ray Randall
Posted on May 25, 2010 at 3:04 AM

Performance anxiety? You need Performance Success by Dr. Don Greene from Juilliard.

From Margaret Lee
Posted on May 25, 2010 at 5:33 AM

Thank you for your suggestion, Ray. I did look over that book about 2 years ago when my older daughter's cello teacher lent it to us. I should probably look into it again. It (anxiety, tense bow) has become something I just expect. And this blog was about the unexpected!

From Don Roth
Posted on May 25, 2010 at 6:35 PM

You are perhaps, like all of us, benefiting from a psychological phenomena called "incubation" as distinct from the term associated with birth.  Psychological incubation is the mental processing of information at the subconscious level and it apparently is happening all the time.  I have certainly been aware of this with violin studies.   I will really be great if I just wait long enough (LOL)

Sometimes I have taken a break of a few weeks and find that I am much improved with certain "problem" music.

I recently read an interesting report about incubation.  It said that if you take a break, the reinforcement comes on even stronger if you were terribly stressed at the start of the break.  I think this means that I am on the verge of great progress when I'm harboring thoughts of violence towards my violin (?)


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 26, 2010 at 3:39 PM

 This kind of thing has happened to me too.  Your unconscious mind can be working on things under the surface while you're not thinking about them consciously.  I also think that taking a break can work well to short-circuit problems that have to do with tension, as can be the case with vibrato problems.  

From Margaret Lee
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 4:34 PM

I did slice a little chunk off the side of my third finger yesterday while peeling an apple, so -- another forced rest and incubation!  BTW, the Mendelssohn has both gotten better and worse. The first run through, I'm just pleasantly surprised by how OK it sounds. A few times after that, I start to notice the inconsistencies. Thanks all for your comments.

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