Imagine your favorite violinist on stage gesticulating wildly through crazy difficult musical passages. Like Maxim Vengerov in the Sibelius Concerto, as seen in the video above. The theatrics of this kind of performance captures the imagination of the public. To some extent as violinists we are influenced by these images as well.
Don’t be fooled; deep inside the dramatic and romanticized images that Maxim Vengerov projects in performance is the razor sharp economy and control of Nathan Cole, also picture in the video above. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with motion on stage, especially when it is organically felt by the performer. The (all too common) problem comes when we use motion as a crutch. Or when it becomes a manifestation of stress, tension or nerves.
I’ve personally learned that the ability to quiet your body and mind provides far more access and control over the fine motor actions you need to play the violin, at any level. The habit of overplaying, of working too hard is difficult to shake once entrenched. So it makes sense to focus on ease and economy of motion regardless of what you are practicing.
Stated another way: you can spend hundreds of hours practicing intricate and complicated technique only to have it obliterated in the heat of the moment. Perhaps the most underrated musical skill is cultivating the ability to do more with less, always removing that which is unnecessary and unhelpful.
Economy of motion and ease of execution should be at the heart your practice. Begin today, by doing more with less.
Is it your experience (like mine) that playing the violin is a journey of a highs quickly followed by lows?
One day on top of the world, I can play practically anything. The very next day, even a simple challenge can seem baffling.
Logically you know that it’s better not to buy into either of these extreme story lines. Clearly, you’re not as great (or as terrible) as you might be telling yourself any given moment.
Still those “off the charts” thoughts and feelings are likely to plague you in any goal oriented project, such as mastering a musical instrument. They can distract, annoy or depress your for weeks on end.
Or… you can take the middle path.
You learn to simply notice the passing thoughts of a chattering mind without believing those thoughts. Noticing your thinking is part of your practice, just like playing scales.
Then, you pick up your fiddle and continue your violin journey with renewed clarity, creativity and a sense of joy.
Now, you begin to trust yourself. “Yes! my practice does work, and that’s all that really matters.”
Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield describes it this way:
Learning to rest in the middle path requires a trust in life itself. It is like learning to swim. I remember first taking swimming lessons when I was seven years old. I was a skinny, shivering boy flailing around, trying to stay afloat in a cold pool. But one morning there came a magical moment lying on my back when I was held by the teacher and then released. I realized that the water would hold me, that I could float. I began to trust. Trusting in the middle way, there is an ease and grace, a cellular knowing that we, too, can float in the ever-changing ocean of life which has always held us.
Thats’s really all there is, but it changes everything! When you begin to turn off that chattering mind you’ll feel the freedom of really great practice.
If clear minded, joyful practice resonates with you, read about Practice Circle Program charter membership.
Have you ever tried pumping up a bike tire, only to find out that the air you’re working so hard to push in is just escaping out a leak that you can’t even see?
Well, you may not notice it, but you might be leaking a good part of your violin tone. Yeah, that tone you’re working so hard to create, and it’s leaking like a cheap inner tube.
This isn’t about how loud you can play. And it’s definitely not about squeezing or forcing tone out of your instrument. That never goes well.
Keeping all of that in mind, here’s this week’s warm-up routine.
The G’Day Warm-up
Today’s were sharing a violin routine called the G’Day warmup. Not because it’s from Australia, but because this tonal and bow control warmup goes through all 4 strings, G, D, A and E. And actually, we’ll be playing two open strings at once, either G&D, D&A or A&E. No need to use the left hand for this warm-up, and I suggest you use it to help support the violin.
If this is your first time playing on two strings at once, be a little patient, there could be a little bit of a learning curve.
One more thing, this particular warmup comes in three flavors: slow, medium slow and medium fast bows, each played with the bow at an increasing distance from the bridge. Choose the contact point that produces the richest tone and most comfortable control.
Practice Circle Members-Only Video Version appears here:
G’Day (GDAE) Warm-up (3-5 mins) Instructions:
Carefully tune your violin. We’ll begin on the D/A to A/E string combination. Starting at the frog of your bow, Draw a full 1/2 bow of rich tone on D/A, briefly stop the bow and pivot your bow arm to A/E, then drawing the remainder of the bow.
Now, keep your bow in place, don’t change your contact point, and reverse bow direction, with 1/2 bow up on A/E, a brief pause, then pivoting back to D/A.
Repeat a few times and enjoy the buttery feeling of drawing a that rich tone that two strings can produce together.
Perform the same combination using the G/D and D/A strings. When you feel comfortable, no need to stop the bow between string changes. Just pivot seamlessly between strings.
Now link the up and down bows seamlessly without a pause, paying special attention to the fluidity and ease within the bow hand when the bow changes directions.
Finally perform the same motion on a single string of your choice. Go for the same buttery, connected feeling.
Tip: You can this warm-up early in your practice routine to establish great bow technique for your entire session.
Today’s Violin Inspiration
Well, if you play the violin, you don’t have to worry about dealing with your impatience, because my dear friends, your impatience is already dealing with you. More than anything else that’s what your violin can teach you.
Sooner or later you’re going to come across the work of the famous violinist Ivan Galamian. He once spoke about preparing for performances and said, “we tend to do too little, too late.”
He’s speaking truth, folks!
The takeaway is that, so often it takes a lot longer than you might think to reach your true potential on any given piece of music. Be kind to yourself if you’re unhappy with the way something sounds today. Be kind, patient and keep a positive attitude.
Today we’re so often pushed to prepare things far too quickly. If you play in orchestras or do freelance work you can probably relate. Tightening budgets translate to shorter and shorter rehearsal schedules which amount to a lot of stress, and for me, the hollow feeling of performing something long before its truly ready. That’s not the fulfilling experience that drew us to performing in the first place.
In orchestra, you don’t call the shots. But in your own practice, it’s a gift to yourself to take Mr. Galamian’s advice. Whatever you’re practicing, take your time, go deeper and start a lot sooner than you might think is necessary.
A great idea is to play informally for friends and family. Give yourself the space to experience what its like to be on stage.
The bottom line; music is meant to be shared. Practicing performing on stage is equally important to learning your instrument and learning new music. So get out there and play for others. A lot.
But beyond all of that, the one great lesson that our instruments teach us is to be patient with our practice, it’s the wisdom to understand that things will unfold in their own time.
If you’re feeling inspired, I hope you’ll help support this podcast by joining our Practice Circle. Inside the circle you’ll get a clear video demonstration of this week’s practice routine along with access to support for any questions related to the lesson. It’s only $9.95 a month which really helps me with the many costs of running this blog and podcast.
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1. Consider all the new songs/pieces, the scales, the bowing exercises. Everything you’re currently working on. It can add up fast!
2. Grab a yellow pad and put it all on a list.
3. Move half the items to a new list, called “coming attractions.”
4. The remaining items: this becomes your working list. Use all your new found time to go deeper, twice as deep as you could have before. Now without the burden of a long list, notice how you can indulge your creativity, curiosity and sense of fun.
5. Then, after you’re feeling good about your working list, go back to your coming attractions list. Now repeat the process: go twice as deep with these items too, but now with the added benefit of everything you’ve learned.
Enjoy the benefits, and this radical idea: the easiest practice is also the best.
If you’re seeking to create positive change in your violin playing, it’s almost certain you’ll feel discomfort during that process.
Want to improve your tone? Making changes in your bow hold or adding vibrato will certainly feel awkward in the short term. Hoping to play better in tune? Your developing pitch acuity will make you crazy until things settle in.
It’s feels better to simply learn a new tune, or jam with some friends.
Usually, when we’re ready to improve our technique, we think, “this is going to help me move ahead, and create more opportunities. I’m excited about it.”
That’s all well and good, but what’s a lot more difficult (and also more helpful) is to say all of the above plus, “and this is going to make me uncomfortable.”