Violinists and Their Musical Minds

April 14, 2022, 7:35 PM · Looking for breakthroughs in my playing, those "aha" moments when a new thought suddenly pops up, has been one of the great joys of being a musician. For instance, the moment when I realized how to lose the hesitancy in my shifting and make it more accurate through measuring and spontaneity - what a breakthrough! To go from trudging up and down the fingerboard to a game of hopscotch was exhilarating.

Such a moment of insight was possible because I allowed for a new thought - one that contradicted what I had thought previously.


Of course, no two violinists organize their minds in the same way. But we do have some things in common. For example, our minds don't always agree with the previous instructions given by teachers. A lot of our practice is spent trying to do the things we are told, but making those things works for our own arms and fingers. The reality of playing can contradict with what we have in our minds as "right."

Searching for New Ways of Thinking

Thinking while playing is not an easy process because your brain is already almost fully occupied with the task of playing. A thought might take an overly elaborate route to becoming an action, and the result might not really work as intended. For example, in order to draw a straight bow, you may exaggerate the in-and-out motion of the wrist – a strategy that you were taught. But if you overdo it, then you have a new problem. So that technique becomes burdened by the reminder of what you’re "supposed" to do, and needs to be replaced with a more productive method. It's important to know when it's time to change thought patterns.

Fitting the Pieces Together from Two Musical Puzzles

Watch the evolution of your own technique, and you just may learn the meaning of patience and the importance of shedding unnecessary baggage. You will have to decide for yourself what matters in your playing, and find your own ways to practice that. A teacher can only guide you through the reasoning process. Here are some of the areas where you can start finding your own path and develop your own thinking:

Accumulated Knowledge

Not only does the violin offer repertoire that can be explored endlessly, but musicians can continue to experience new perspectives on their playing for a lifetime. Sometimes, a breakthrough thought will lay the foundation for a particular technique and help the other details to fall into place. Keep the guiding principals foremost in your mind, and allow the other little details to float upwards. Be open to changing your thought patterns when the reality of your playing leads your mind into new territory.


April 15, 2022 at 08:38 PM · Thank you! One of these "aha" moments for me was the knowledge that, in fast detache or spiccato passages, crossing to the next lower string is natural after upbow, and crossing to the next higher string is natural after downbow. In other words, on the notes where these string crossings are the other way, they are of course still perfectly possible, but you need to be explicitly aware of them and devote extra attention to them. That may seem like incredibly detailed practicing, but it makes fast passages so much cleaner with good sound.

April 15, 2022 at 09:21 PM · Jean, a detail such as you describe can really streamline the bowing. Doing the opposite can make the bow arm incredibly clunky. Same goes with playing many detaches below the middle instead of where they usually belong, in the upper half. The lower half makes me feel like I’m on a bucking bronco or sitting on the middle of a seesaw.

April 16, 2022 at 01:46 AM · Two come to mind right away.

Mentioned previously, the need to rotate the violin more to the right helps both my left hand navigate the fingerboard, and it makes bowing more relaxed.

The second was finally realizing that the Russian (vs. the Franco-Belgian, is a much more natural way for me to bow.

April 16, 2022 at 12:25 PM · Neil, your two examples highlight the issue of a violinist’s need to choose for himself how to hold the violin and bow. As violinists we’re given two or three ways to change a technique, and it should be the individual’s decision what works best for him. I had to choose whether or not to use a shoulder pad. One of my teachers strongly urged me not to use one, and to not let the violin rest on my shoulder. That caused the violin to feel like a foreign object, and two years later I used a shoulder rest again. Such a long two years.

April 17, 2022 at 01:47 PM · “A teacher can only guide you through the reasoning process.” One of the best pedagogical statements I’ve ever read. Thanks, Paul.

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