May 2008

Healing the whole.

May 27, 2008 16:28

the craft and art of violin playing is so complex and enthralling that it tends to exclude thought of anything else in the immediate environment (except doggy farts). This is really dangerous for violinists and one of the most important things we must learn and relearn throughout our lives is to keep our whole bodies integrated and in tune with the environment. By doing this we not only get much closer to maximizing our potential but also prevent unnecessary injury concomitant with emphasis zing one part of the body in favor of another.
The muscles and tendons are funny things. The excellent studies of western medicine have shown us in great detail how these things work and given us a range of exercises, medicines, creams and silver plated toilet brushes to keep them in good order. However, since an ounce of preventive medicine is better than a pound of prunes there is much we can and should do for ourselves on a daily basis.
It is usual to think of our personality, character , self or whatever located in very specific parts of the body. Unfortunately this rather reductionist view of oneself dehumanizes and disenfranchises the rest of out anatomy. One of the most interesting things I feel I have learned from a variety of healing sources over the years is that if the whole person is to be recognized then we nee dot treat our whole body as a person. In other words , a muscle or organ is not a `thing@ but rather a living being with feeling and human characteristics redolent of the whole. This is often reflected in language when we talk about things like `muscle memory` or `my shoulder is hurting me,` attributing a body part with both abilities and intent. It follows on from the assumption that our whole body is a person that if we ignore somebody they will cease to communicate with us or be our friends. So priority should be given to saying hello to the whole body everyday. It is especially important to touch and massage the parts of our anatomy that we cannot see for the expression `out of sight, out of mind,` is a horrible truism. We al appreciate gratitude and a daily meditation or prayer expressing thanks to each and every internal organ is as powerful a health enhancer as taking vitamins and brushing teeth. We all need to be touched too. If you have a muscle injury or strain consider that part of the body has gone into shock. In the same way that we store painful memories and experiences in our subconscious that can affect us negatively for the rest of our lives, so too does a muscle. Creams and exercises will help with the main part of healing an injury but the trauma is still embedded din the muscle or tissue and we must help it to release and feel safe again. This notion of helping muscles and the like to feel safe and be able to let go is not at all fallacious or silly. If you are engaged in healing right now you will speed things up remarkably by gently placing a hand on the affected area and talking to it. Express you love and tell it that it is safe . That it can relax and let go. If the worst comes to the worst it is an excuse for eating more chocolate. Prune flavored of course.

11 replies | Archive link

Most boring blog in history.

May 26, 2008 16:32

Smetana- Moldau.
B295 - 2413 4 4131/ 2 2413 4 3024/ 2
302 1 e42021/ 1 2013 4
304 - ---- -1312/2
306 4 2 4 1 2 4/ 4
309 4 3 4 3 3 1/ 3 2 2
313 -1312 2 1202/ 4 2 3 1 4 4/ 3
316 4(ex) 0 3 1 4 4
317 1 2014 3 1411

PS Yixi, this is an excellent studied for diminished arpeggios and intonation in general. Enjoy!

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Lost in Yost at what cost?

May 22, 2008 16:17

I’d often wondered about the Yost shifting studies. I think the first time I heard of them was a throwaway remark reported in DeLay`s biography that just went `For shifting, there is always Yost.` One tends to take something mandated by such a great teacher as critical but I also think it is possible to be mislead by the absence of tone of voice. Did she mean these studies are crucial to all and sundry or was she rather resignedly saying that if one has a student who is clueless about he fingerboard and shifting this is the kind of medicine that need sot be taken as a shock treatment? Or something in between?
I’m going to give them a daily work out for a fair time so I can really evaluate the pros and cons but I cannot say I am honestly too impressed right now. I think the approach to violin teaching and learning has shifted quite radically over the latter part of the twentieth century as much greater applications of expertise from all kinds of fields concerned with the mind and body have crept in. The importance of using the mind has really been thrust to the fore (it isn’t a new idea) and standardized via the work of Galamian the teachings past down by teachers such as DeLay, Fischer , et al. As a result I think there are now better sets of exercises and better mental approaches to practicing which can be applied directly to them.
When I look at the Yost as it stands a few small alarm bells go off. It’s the same pattern repeated over and over but moving to progressively higher positions each time. The instruction is to practice each bar ten times slowly. Of course patterns are important and these are fine but I no longer believe the mind is particularly stimulated by relentless repetition of this kind without change at very short intervals. As both Flesch and Galamian have said `if you can do it then you shouldn’t be practicing it.` The purpose of practicing is to present a series of puzzles to the mind which are relentlessly increased in complexity once each challenge is mastered. To my mind, this does not happen here. The instruction to retain the keys also contributes to this lack of fresh stimulation.
The other danger, once when gets into er `boring` exercises is that the quality of sound often suffers and playing this same bow stroke over and over the bow arm may well begin to acquire a certain stiffness. One would do well to beware this . Stop regularly and shake everything.
In order to make this more in tune with modern practice methods I think one really would have to disregard the instructions and add a whole variety of different bowings and rhythms。On the whole though I can’t help feeling the Galamian scale book covers what one needs in this area as well as one needs. Dounis Artists technique seems to a much more comprehensive and interesting approach to shifting around the instrument. Drew`s book also covers this stuff in interesting and varied ways. So far, if pushed for a real hard core repetitive book to work on shifting I think I would probably recommend the sevcik exercises done with a wide variety of rhythms and bowings.
The book originally only cost one dollar so after my two cents I hope everyone enjoys the other 98.

7 replies | Archive link

Why we need both a teacher and prunes.

May 20, 2008 16:40

An interesting topic has been recurring of late, primarily within the context of whether or not one can learn the violin without a teacher: the notion of bad habits. Two statements in recent threads have given me some pause. The first was the suggestion that when teachers are actually challenged about the bad habits that will accrue in their absence they are unwilling to specify what they are and the second reads ``As for all the "bad habits", I've been at it for 5 years and I don't have any because I've researched what they are !`
First of all, I would have to say that I remain adamant a teacher is necessary and this opinion is based purely on a lifetime of seeing self taught learners struggle with playing when they do not need to struggle, not to mention the difficulties of eradicating unnecessary problems.
However, some things have changed over recent years and I do feel it is now a great deal easier to get good basic lessons on the violin from a variety of sources that were simply not available ten years ago. This includes things like well constructed DVDs and this web site among others. If an adult makes intelligent and thoughtful use of these things then I do believe a much better shot can be made at producing a beginner with fewer self inflicted problems who can derive a great deal more pleasure from learning the violin.
An non-teacher learner (NTL) might then point out that they have seen supposedly taught players who actually have appalling habits and limited skills given the effort they have expended. This is a fair comment but it does not in itself justify the claim that one of the hardest integrated skills humankind has come up with can be mastered on one’s own. Rather, it is a direct challenge to teachers to wake up and do a better job; to research not only the mechanics of the craft but also physiology, psychology, educational psychology, nutrition and just about every other topic under then sun that will constantly improve and upgrade the way we teach.
As teachers, if we cannot `make public` what we are doing at a given moment and why, of we cannot explain well why trying to go it alone wastes time, creates problems which are either glaring or so subtle they simply remain in the background as a weight holding back the student from their true potential then we probably don’t deserve the title.
As a possible trigger for debate rather than a definitive list here are a few of the issues which might be classified as `Technical, psychological musical and logistic bad habits` that a good teacher will strive to bypass:
1) Standing in a way that makes bad `use of the body.`
2) Failing to prepare for each practice session emotionally/mentally and physically.
3) Failing to prepare an appropriate space to work in.
4) Improper care of the instrument.
5) Not understanding that the mind and inner ear precede anything produced on the instrument.
6) Not understanding that daily listening work to great players is vital.
7) Not Recognizing that in the early stages less is infinitely better than more. Practicing for an hour or so one day , nothing the next and so on instead of perhaps ten minutes –everyday-
8) Learning to stretch during practice.
9) Not knowing what to listen for at a given moment.
10) Not understanding the principle of follow through in many of the actions involved n playing.
11) Not repeating simple actions such as putting the violin up enough. Believing the violin is heavy. Which is connected to the problem of not putting the violin up fast enough. Collapsing the head back onto the top of the spine as violin goes up. Putting the violin up in an unergonmic position in relation to physique. Not having the arm in a neutral position when up. Having the violin too low or high. Gripping the violin and collapsing the left wrist of hooking it out. Bringing the violin and bow up using the arms instead of the back muscles using a counterweight principle. Not having enough space under the left armpit. Dropping the violin every time a shift is made or the music becomes louder.
12) Holding the bow without taking into account structure of hand and arm. Since when has a DVD given `options` for a bow hold. Collapsing the thumb and little finger. Practicing exercises that supposedly correct the latter which actually cause damage in the right forearm such as the windscreen wiper. Not keeping a constant bow speed. Not planning division of bow.
13) Using the muscles of the left forearm instead of throwing the finger from the base joint. Pressing the strings too hard. Not releasing finger pressure after note has began. Not adjusting the height of the index finger on the fingerboard in relation to the string being played.
14) Tensing up every time more sound is wanted. Relaxing more for piano.
15) Not dropping finger in blocks. Not sustaining legato in the left hand while string crossing.
16) Believing that downward pressure produces more sound rather than understanding the concept of pushing and pulling the bow.

I have to stop here. This list took me about 2 minutes to write without any strenuous thought whatsoever and rather than just continue ad nauseam I have to ask what are the implications of this?
For me the meaning is simple. A smart and diligent NTL can avoid a lot of these problems. If they are very gifted, have had a lot of experience on another instrument and understand a lot about the use of the body (very rare indeed this latter as Alexander Lessons soon reveal) then they may avoid a lot of these problems but there is no way they are going to avoid or even be aware of these things when they are going wrong because of one fundamental principle we cannot escape from: WE CAN ONLY PAY ATTENTION TO ONE THING AT A TIME and it is the role of the teacher to structure an individuals path in such a way that nothing is missed out, nothing is learnt badly and that the information is presented in such a way that it can be systematically built upon and integrated. This often means making decisions about things that need correcting but may be best ignored at this time. On the whole, experience teaches that best to teachers.
I hope this does present a basic case for getting a teacher. My final word (for now;)) on the subject is to note that the greatest violinists of all time often went back to their teachers after touring or whenever they felt/feel the need for help in progressing or dealing with a problem they feel has surfaced. It is never possible to completely avoid doing something less than 100 percent efficiently but the degree of pleasure one can get from the violin depends on how close we get to this ideal and to not make use of a guide and friend in this process seems rather odd to me.

19 replies | Archive link

Is your bow smiling today?

May 15, 2008 23:02

I’ve been stumped by innumerable questions over the years: why the Declaration of Independence doesn’t mention prunes? Why Yuki sensei doesn’t love me? And so on. But the most puzzling thing has always concerned the straight bow. It seemed such a neat concept- if your bow isn’t straight is it `gay`? So many good players have mentioned the importance of it and then there is Oistrakh banging out the last movement of the Franck with an apparently flawless straightness. And if your kids can’t get it then there is an ever burgeoning market of weird plastic devices that will keep the little horrors stick straight until `his muscles learn to do it of their own accord, a dubious koan if I heard one.
The reason this has had me puzzled for so many years is the question of sound point. I maintain that if you are sensitive to color and nuance then you will be changing it all the time. Even if one is not, one cannot succeed as a violinist without recognizing that changing string length via the left hand requires a different point of contact. There are two possible means of changing point of contact. The first is to keep the bow straight and shove it away from you or towards you. The latter is to angle the bow so that it moves back and forth as required. Obviously the former is crude and if the latter is true then how can their be any real value in a straight bow?
Drew`s writing on the `crescent bow` has really brought home to me how unnecessary this persistent niggle was and also illuminated for me how often players really do bow around the body as opposed to away from it. Indeed, I am now finding myself persistently jumping on this point with students (especially new ones with some experience). Nine times out of ten, if the sound is bad the path of the bow is not doing it’s crescent things. It’s a really powerful heuristic.
I only have one tweak to add to Drew`s description which he might enjoy. I don’t use the term `crescent` or even banana. I think it’s much more fun to talk in terms of smiling and frowning. If the bow is smiling at you you are doing it right. If the sound is bad I simply ask the student `Is your bow frowning today?`
All is clear. All is one with the world.

6 replies | Archive link

A prunistic approach to not getting bored.

May 13, 2008 20:20

in his book `Practicing for Artistic Success` (or something like that) Burton Kaplan makes a telling point about the factors we need to pay attention to when we practice. Very simple they are: intonation, rhythm, tone and expression. That’s it. There is no more. He then points out that typically violinists focus on intonation because it is such a tough issue for us. This one sided focus not only has us neglecting the other factors but also highlighting their paucity by such an increased excellence in just one area.
I am very much in agreement with this position and have come to believe that this issue is also central to a nagging issue that crops up now and again in the discussions. That is, younger players in particular write in asking about how to cope with being `fed up` or demotivated to the point they no longer wish to practice. The excellent advice given invariably concerns taking a break, trying a new piece and the like. Non of it, including my own, ever seems to address the issue too much at the level of what is actually being worked on in practice.
The reason I have recently felt this is important is because I have a great deal of rather orchestral material to work on these days. Typically, the passages that need work are either extremely high or in themselves rather uninteresting motifs that most be played with precision and flair to contribute to an overall satisfying orchestral tapestry of sound. This kind of work simply does not grab me in the same way a cool concerto or chamber work does. Practicing orchestral stuff can be real scut work if one is not careful. Typically I have done technique in the morning and again when back form work and picked up the orchestral stuff last thing. Lo and behold, I find myself working on mostly intonation and getting, fed up! So I switched things round.
The orchestral work is started after five minutes of Drew`s stuff. I’m still kind of groggy at five o’clock so I go for the rhythm first. I’ll think a passage though while conducting or saying the rhythm and tapping the music a few times. Then I’ll play it through while counting aloud. Then I’ll go back and work on the dynamics. This forces me to pay real attention to the position of the bow and speed. By focusing on musical elements I find myself deeply and immediately involved in any passage of any kind and improving rapidly. Orchestra stuff is as much fun as anything else.

4 replies | Archive link

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