You’ve crash landed on a desert isle with only your instrument. No music or books of any kind, and nothing committed to memory. And you can still develop (or maintain) virtuoso level skills on your violin. Simply play scales.
This much maligned musical element has a huge image problem: it is associated with the screeching, torturous notes of beginning players. And mind numbing boredom.
Still, everything you need to know about the violin can be found in a simple scale. Pitch, rhythm, tone production and every known technical feat on the bow or in the left hand can be embedded in a simple scale routine. Even musical gestures and phrasing can be cultivated through the lowly scale.
In fact, the scale is the most utilitarian of all-in-one practice tools, as I have written and often told students. Mostly, they seem unconvinced, offering only a blank stare.
When you come to accept this gospel of scales, it signals that you have made an important transition as a musician. You have finally embraced that practicing is about process, as much as it is about musical content. Pieces and etudes can become extraneous distractions to the work at hand.
Another way to say it, think of practice in its Eastern sense as a state of being. Release the Western implication that it is a verb.
Scales are a perfect fit for this Zen of practice. They can create a spacious sense around your daily work. Scales offer you the promise of pure, high quality practice. This, in turn, enables you to truly master the fundamentals with a higher sense of ease, clarity and purpose.
Try this: next time you stuck on a musical or technical problem in your favorite song or piece, simplify that problem by copying and pasting it onto a scale. You’ll immediately gain a fresh perspective plus new clarity on causes and solutions.
Your transformation: the violin teaches us to clarify and simplify what seems complex and to move through life with ease.
You won’t. Because that day never comes.
Practice isn’t an activity; it’s a state of being. It either is or it isn’t your life.
Much the same as gaining health or wealth; practice is a mindset that you either embrace or don’t.
So if nothing else, release the pipe dream wishes for a day when you’ll have time to practice, and you’ll gain some clarity. That can be worth a lot.
Stop fretting or whining about how difficult that song or passage is.
Instead, start by finding or creating ten distinctly different ways to improve it. Even the smallest improvement counts. Do that, and not only have you improved your song, you’ve also gained ten new problem solving skills which can be applied to future musical challenges. Your violin practice time was a high payoff activity that will save countless hours of work moving forward.
When all is said and done you are:
1. A more skilled and thus more desirable musician
2. A more effective human being who has trained her brain to do high quality, creative work in any situation.
Music is transformative. Violin is transformative.
If you are going to play the violin (or any instrument) for a lifetime, choose projects that are meaningful to you. This as opposed to chasing trends or selecting music you think might be popular to others.
When all is said and done, it’s only the projects you care about that end up adding more value to others.
Do this, and 20 years from now you’ll still be playing your violin, while others’ instruments are merely collecting dust.