What are you thinking, as you play the violin? Probably many things at once, but you can enrich your thinking by taking the golden opportunity to become conscious of it.
Start with the simple mental exercise of pivoting between the two hands: allow your mind to dwell for a moment on the left hand. Then, switch over to the right hand and the bow arm. It's a way of juggling the brain cells, allowing them to concentrate separately on things like shifting, vibrating at the end of the shift, and keeping the bow from bouncing during the shift. You’ll never run out of opportunities to keep your mind active.
Here are a few areas of focus, for exercising your mind:
The Bow Arm Drives the Rhythm
Given the choice between thinking about the notes or the bow arm, the notes most often take precedence. The most pressing need gets the most attention. However, concentrating on the bow arm -- making it more focused and expressive -- may actually make it easier to play the notes.
Flipping from Conscious to Unconscious Thoughts
Think about where the music has been and where it’s going.
Some musicians seem to live and breathe music, and naturally play with a richer tone when the notes go up and a lighter one when they go down. Their subconscious is rich and organic, as if music is their second language.
Other musicians must take a moment to think about phrasing, and make sure it happens. Developing conscious thoughts helps them keep the music in perspective and learn from experience. Even the most natural musicians devise musical and technical strategies, especially when called to explain it to others.
Planning Dynamics and Thinking Ahead
Dynamics can help in mapping the contours of the music and provide opportunities for exercising the mind. For example, here’s how to play your way from a simple and elegant piano to a powerful forte in eight bars: As music is take a more dramatic turn, focus on increasing bow speed and weight.
You can also allow slight changes in the tempo. Keeping the rhythms proportional, you can allow the beat to follow the pacing of the phrase, as it ebbs and flows. In reality, no two measures have the same metronome marking, especially in slower sections.
Reading and Absorbing Music – The Ultimate Thought Experiment
Setting up the right sequence of learning can prevent careless mishaps. On the flip side, hurried or thoughtless practice can allow mistakes to become enshrined in the muscle memory, making practicing tedious and frustrating.
Learning patience lays the ground work for getting the mind ready and for waiting for the right moment to play the notes, without falling into the trap of accumulating bad habits. Here are some pointers:
Certainly, speed and full play-throughs need to be included when you polish a passage, but it’s best to learn to enjoy fast tempos one or two measures at a time. You have to trust those measures will all come together as the last step of your practicing.
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