Zen gardens, minimalist and organized, are thought to encourage contemplation and perhaps enlightenment. Junk drawers, while arguably fascinating and useful, are far from relaxing or enlightening. But couldn’t the visual stimulation and juxtaposition of objects inspire creativity? It reminds me of a plaque I read on a friend’s wall: “Dull people have immaculate houses”. What, if any, relationship does organization of supplies have on performance? When playing with other musicians, I’m fascinated by their instrument cases. Some players keep a minimalist, Zen garden-like case. Others have a less rigid approach, keeping their cases more like, well, junk drawers. Many players tuck a photo(s) of special people or animals tucked in the bow ribbon, and almost everyone seems to keep a shoulder rest, a bow and a tuner on hand. Would you consider your instrument case more like a Zen garden or a junk drawer?
Mine is a little of both. On one hand, I try to keep my case clean, organized and stocked with useful items. On the other hand, I have a plastic sandwich bag, batteries (the quintessential junk drawer item) and packet of tic-tacs purchased circa 2007 in there. Articles come and go from the case based on what I’m doing, but here’s what’s in my case *right now*:
* A violin
* A shoulder rest
* Two violin bows
* Peg Dope
* L’Opéra Jade Rosin
* Cherry passion flavored tic-tacs (see above)
* Embroidered ornaments from a wedding performance
* Extra violin strings (new strings in tube)
* Used violin strings in plastic bag (see above) for emergency use
* A Korg tuner
* A Seiko metronome
* Two AA batteries (see above)
* A fingernail clipper
* A clip-on pick-up and audio cord (in front pocket)
* A turquoise marble (pre-twinkle exercises)
What’s in your instrument case? Do you keep a Zen garden-like minimal case: violin, bow, rosin – or is your case brimming over with post-it notes, memorabilia and used tea-bags? More importantly, does it matter? In a perfect world, what *would* be in your instrument case?
A reminder to stretch before practice came to me at the chiropractor’s office, of all places. The boy and I get adjustments somewhat regularly and the chiropractor noticed tension in wee-man’s left shoulder during our most recent visit. I questioned whether it might be related to his violin practice. She thought playing violin might be the cause and suggested a little massage before and after each practice.
Notice anything a little “off” in the image above?
Upon further inspection, it seems my son’s left shoulder is a bit higher than the other. The fact he’s been using it to hold an instrument every morning for the past few years *might* have something to do with it. Well, we’re certainly not giving up our instruments over some tight muscles or a slightly raised shoulder, but the idea of taking care of our bodies just makes good sense.
I turned to a book I purchased several years ago when my bow hand and wrist were in pain from a lot of practice and computer work: The Athletic Musician: A Guide to Playing Without Pain. While I don’t totally share Barbara Paull’s belief about weight training avoidance, she has a lot of good exercise and posture suggestions for preventing injuries. We’ve been using many of her stretches and warm ups before practice and I’m finding a noticeable improvement in our sound quality. In a perfect world, violin practice would follow an hour of yoga, a hot shower and a soy latte, but that routine’s going to have to wait for retirement.
Stringed players of the world, what’s your warm up routine? Before you delve into your scales and etudes how to you prepare your *body* to play?
Watch on posterous
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with Harmony Take 1 (in 1 Take).
Suzuki parents (and students) back me up here: listening to / playing the Twinkle Variations gets OLD. Sure they’re good for you, like Brussels Sprout, and you might even like eating them… the first 9,999 days. But, and I’m pretty sure there’s a book about this on my to-read list, after day 10,000 who wants to eat that again? It doesn’t even smell like something edible, let’s be honest. Finding creative ways to break up the monotony is your only hope. You add some melted cheese on those sprouts, or a Hollandaise sauce.
That’s why I was so excited to get my copy of Trio Book: Suzuki Violin Arranged for Three Violins yesterday. It has harmony parts to the Suzuki Books 1-3 repertoire. Today the boy and I tried out the Twinkles and some Folk Songs. In the video above we tackle Twinkle Twinkle Little Star à la Mein Trio-Buch.
I promise to read Suzuki Parent’s Diary: Or How I Survived My First 10,000 Twinkles and cook up some more fun things to try. In the meantime, what tips can you share for keeping things interesting in the early days of practice? Are you a 10,000 Twinkles survivor? I want to hear about it.
As my son started working his way toward “toddlerdom”, two things happened; *he* started taking violin lessons and I started a gradual return to a practice routine of my own. It turns out that when your child can feed himself, dress himself, use the bathroom alone and play unsupervised without choking on objects or falling from dangerous heights, it frees up a lot of time… and some of that time can be used for practice.
After attending a series of concerts at the SPCO (did I mention my crush on Joshua Bell?) and watching other accomplished musicians from the University of Minnesota’s School of Music, I began to think about where I might be going with my own instrument. I’d been taking lessons for about 10 years and I needed some new goals. After an excruciatingly long time of playing very little other than the Bach Gavotte, I dared to look at the next piece of music in Suzuki Violin Book 5.
What I saw was the 2nd Movement of the Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor. It’s a deceptively small piece, maybe 14 measures, slow moving… sure there were plenty of 16th and 32nd notes, but it’s Largo, for heaven’s sake, it’s manageable… except, well, it shifts between 1st, 3rd and 4th positions about fifty times in 14 measures. Book 5 is where the music starts to feel “serious”… and serious music can only be dealt with by serious practice.
After hours and hours… and hours of practicing that 2nd Vivaldi Movement, I managed to get my fish-shifting to a minimum and gave a decent performance of it at recital. Emboldened by the accomplishment, I showed up at a lesson with thoughts of playing Bériot’s Air Varié No. 14 in G from Barbra Barber’s Solos for Young Violinists. As we lumbered through some of the third position passages, my teacher referred to the gap between my performance and sight reading abilities as something like the Grand Canyon. She was right, of coarse she was… I didn’t see the need to spend much time thinking about scales, note names or intervals when playing the Suzuki repertoire was my only objective. My *pre-revised* Suzuki Books 1-4 had little numbers for fingerings all over the place, and listening to recordings daily made it pretty easy to recognize if an accidental had been missed.
But now Suzuki repertoire wasn’t the *only* thing I wanted to play. Lessons and group weren’t the *only* places I wanted to play. The time had come to learn some new skills.
Why do you (and/or your child(ren)) play a stringed instrument (or take any music education for that matter)?
My reasons for playing an instrument have varied wildly; everything from enjoying the sound of beautiful music to simply not wanting to disappoint my teacher. Sometimes it’s the freedom of letting everything else go while I concentrate on a piece. Sometimes it’s the rush of adrenaline from performing. Other times its the comradeship of playing in groups. But sometimes my only motivation is not being a ‘quitter’. Even lackluster motivation like that will work (for very short periods). While I’ve had many motivational shifts and swings, fame has never entered into the equation. So hearing about it from my son this morning was as baffling as it was comical.
Today my son’s practice started off as many of our less-than-pleasant practices do. There was his slog of a journey down the staircase after my third appeal. There was breath-holding and bobble-heading while I summarized our goals for the morning. There was the instrument power-struggle as we attempted Monkey Song on the D string. Finally, there was a kind of warp-speed galloping through review pieces. Somewhere between Go Tell Aunt Rhody and May Song, I made the mistake of mentioning our need to be at school in two minutes; putting both of us in full-scale panic mode. The result was a mell-of-a-hess-of-a-folk-song rushed, less than ideal piece of music.
As I became aware of our growing unease, I tried to comfort and reassure my son with affection. It began an awkward sort of tug-of-war with his bow, but after a moment he acquiesced and let me hold him. Then he began to sob and out came the statement: “I’m never going to be famous.” (Huh?)
His ambitions for *fame* never occurred me. I’d always considered his music lessons an educational pursuit; not something to bring notoriety. While I don’t want to squash my son’s ambition, the thought of having fame as our goal would make daily practice on folk songs feel a little like trying to climb Mt. Everest in Uggs and Spandex shorts.
A plan to focus on the more immediate benefits of music education seems much more helpful. In fact, Carolyn Phillips of the Norwalk Youth Symphony has compiled a great list of them: The 12 Benefits of Music Education. Staying motivated is easier when purpose is clear… when we really *feel* why we’re doing something. So here’s a question for *parents* of string players – Why is your child(ren) are learning play a stringed instrument? Are the reasons yours, theirs or both and… are those reasons the same?
Somewhere between pregnancy and new motherhood, I managed to spend the years 2004 – 2007 *not* progressing past the first piece in Suzuki Book 5– the Bach Gavotte.
It turns out that when 15 minutes is a “good practice day”, a sort of gradual regression in performance ability sets in. While a student in Book 1 could survive on 15 minutes of daily practice, (all the pieces in the book can be played in 20 minutes and even 5 minutes can go a long way toward working on something like Perpetual Motion) a student beginning Book 5 is lucky to get their bow rosined and their tonalization / shifting work done in that time frame.
My focus shifted from trying to advance to the next piece to simple damage control. At a low-point in my practice, I spent lesson times discussing various technique books I purchased in hopes of becoming a good “Suzuki parent” for my son. My playing suffered, but I started to acquire some decent materials for our ‘music library’ which gave me some better perspective on things to come. Looking back at those times, it’s easy to be discouraged at how much progress I didn’t make, but I try to stay focused on the fact I didn’t give up. (It helps that I had an understanding violin teacher who was willing to stick with me.)
As adults (who are not professional musicians), we have responsibilities that often conflict with learning to play our instrument: jobs, relationships, children, aged parents – the list goes on. Sometimes it *isn’t* possible to block out hour(s) of practice with regularity. When crises or opportunities happen, the choice can always be made: give up or ride it out. I’m very glad I chose the latter.