The Most Common Misconceptions About Why We Freak Out When Performing Plus Awareness Studies For Bow.

by Rozanna Weinberger

The other day a colleague was warming up beautifully on a violin I was showing him.  I remember being impressed at the fluidity of his technique, which seemed confident and inspired.  When he stopped I praised him and then said I would like to  shoot a little demo video clip of him playing since the sound was so lovely and a wonderful representation of the instrument.  No sooner did I make that request than everything changed in my friends demeanor.  He needed to ‘warm up’ which I couldn’t quite understand since he had already been playing for awhile and sure enough, the effortlessness playing I had heard use moments before became fraught with uncertainty and mistakes I hadn’t heard previously.

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What is it that happens to string players that makes everything change in a pressure situation? Why is that passages that seemed to be perfected in the practice room – when under the gun- prove unreliable? In some cases I’ve seen the most naturally musical players lose their ability to communicate their musical intentions when they think they believe they are limited by the tools of their technical ability or overly focused on the technical side of playing. Sure we all have to build technical skill but very often when players are focused on the musical intent, their bodies naturally produce the requisite movements to execute that musical idea.

Its not uncommon for string players to practice for hours on end, often repeating certain

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Batting Average When It Counts Awhile back I coined the idea of technical mastery in performance being akin to a baseball players’ batting average. We are able to, overtime assess the likelihood of a batter being able to hit that ball effectively.  I wonder if players have ever tested how many times they are able to play a technical passage accurately when repeating it 5 or even 10 times in a row.

passages hundreds if not thousands of times over the course of learning a piece of music.  And yet how many times do we find that when we’re under the gun in front of an audience something happens. Its as if all that practicing is forgotten and the physical experience is completely different.  If thats not bad enough we may be pervaded by an inner voice reminding us of all the technical challenges ahead often with a fearful anticipation.

Sure experts can explain away adrenaline and other factors influencing the brain when a pressured situation comes up. But truly there is so much the player can do in the practice room, through CULTIVATING AWARENESS, which can be the basis of overcoming technical/emotional patterns that are likely to manifest under pressure. By awareness, we are talking about a subtle, almost meditative state in which the player learns to observe what the body is communicating to the brain so that learning takes place.

Its also essential that the player develop a refined sense of what their bodies are doing.  It really amazes me when I come across players who have ‘suddenly developed carpal tunnel syndrome, or some other similar ailment, which should have been producing pain and tension in the effected areas for months prior because it really does require a lot of physical abuse of a particular muscle or ligament to eventually produce a chronic condition like carpal tunnel.

Why Trying To Copy A Teacher Isn’t The Most Complete Way To Learn – If only an ideal technical command was as simple as copying what a teacher does with reinforcement through practice. Sure many teachers teach that way and many students try to copy what they see their teachers do. In theory this approach seems to make sense, and yet it is one very big reason players develop physical habits that can lead to big problems down the road. This is because unless our own bodies and kinesthetic awareness can help us fine tune our movements, there will remain a level of crudeness to our approach if we don’t make our technique ‘our own’.  By this I am referring to  the ability to learn from the physical sensations of a movement, whether they give a feeling of prolonged tension that leads to physical pain, or a pattern of movement that does not use the joints efficiently.

For example, most players don’t connect the movements of the bow arm to the lower back and momentum produced by the weight of the hips but its really true. It is actually possible to play a whole bow from frog to tip using the movements of the torso and back entirely, without ever engaging the arm. While it certainly is convenient to use the arm, players need to discover the momentum that comes from other parts of the body, such as the back & hip.

BOW ARM AWARENESS STUDIES

Here is a simple study to cultivate awareness of hips, back & arms in essential bowing. Sitting in a chair, position oneself squarely, with hips aligned to shoulders. By ‘scanning the body’ one may notice what they weight feels like from our hips and bottom in relation to the chair.

1. Notice each hip and observe whether it feelings like one side is pressing into the chair    more than the other.

2. Notice the effect this weightiness effects the angle of the shoulders and the head. 3.Does the head tend to tilt in the same direction of the favored hip or in the opposite direction?

Observations on the bow ‘arm’.

  1. While still sitting in the chair, bring the right hand up to the left shoulder. Swing the hand/arm backwards as far as the arm can go then bring hand back to the shoulder. This step can be repeated and if arm feels slightly fatigued, allow arm to fall back down to side and relax.
  2. Bring right hand back up to the left shoulder in ‘chicken wing’ type position once again. This time, while keeping hand on shoulder turn the shoulders and upper body to the right so that whatever is to the right of oneself can be viewed. Then allow body to swivel back to original position. While repeating this movement slowly notice how the spine is effected. Where does the movement seem most active?  What part of the spine does this occur? After a couple repetitions, rest.
  3. Bring right hand back to left shoulder. This tie player will turn to the right using only the waist & hips to turn. Again notice the sensations in the spinal chord as well as the hips. What happens to the weight of the body as one is turning? Are their any parts of the movement that feel tight?  Any parts of the spine that are difficult to sense? After repeating a couple times, rest.
  4. Repeat step 3.  But rather than keeping the right hand on the left shoulder the whole time, this time, allow the hand and arm to swing back in response to the movements of the spine & hips. 
  5. Turn the body back towards the left and notice how arm swings back from the momentum of the rest of the body movements. 

Understanding The Right Shoulder: The shoulder is a favored topic because its the source of so much confusion. We are told not to raise the shoulder quite often and yet it is impossible to move the arm & back without the shoulder being engaged in some way. It may take the student months if not years of self discovery until they can feel how the shoulder is a part of the whole. Its not the fulcrum, but it must function in relation to the back and arm. As such the shoulder is elevated but its more a reaction to a circular movement that should be happening in the elbow.  The shoulder elevates but then it drops down, and with it the weight of the arm that produces the sound on the string as the bow draws across it. it seems many players can elevate the shoulder, but cultivating sufficient awareness of the shoulder and muscles surrounding it, is necessary to feel the sense of tension and release when the weight of the arm is released as a result of a drop in the shoulder.

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The feeling that everything is somehow different from the practice room may very well be an accurate reading when our emotions take over and find expression in exasperating tensions in the body. It may very well be that the excess tension is also manifesting in the practice room but under pressure, manifests to an extreme. There may also be cases where our general technical approach is not optimally efficient movements and the body tries to literally protect itself from the embarrassment of a mistake manifest in ones performance.

The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.”
W. Timothy Gallwey, Inner Game of Tennis

Something So Basic As Learning to Feel Our Bones

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Simple observations of where the humorous bone is in relation to the shoulder girdle and the muscles that may compromise that relation with muscular patterns that are not efficient.

From a technical standpoint, as a frame of reference, most people tend to think about the muscles. But I believe the issues goes deeper to the bones. By developing the sensitivity to differentiate when we are hyper extending our humorous bone in relation to the shoulder girdle, is a pivotal way to begin to use the back when bowing and not just from the arm.  All these things can and should be addressed in the practice room. Teachers need to help students discover what can be learned through kinesthetic awareness and the ability to do so will play a pivotal role for the best teachers of performance to come. At the same time the teacher must understand efficient movement sufficient to be able to guide student in differentiating between efficient and inefficient movement, as well as awareness of uncomfortable and excessive muscle movements that can also effect the placement of the bones, the skeleton. And sure, the muscles are indicators of how we move, the skeleton must also be taken into account.

It is the weightiness of the skeleton and its components, and their relationship to each other that creates a natural momentum as well as the weight necessary in the arm, with the help of the back torso and hips, not force, to produce sound. in bow technique. Sure its possible to isolate the arm alone and produce movement and sound, but its also possible to feel the initiation of movement in the bow arm, from the left side of the pelvis and hip – and when that happens, one starts to feel as though the arm is ‘being moved’ rather than initiating movement. Of course, the ideal is when the student comes to discover this possibility for themselves.

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Young violinist Alex Cameron discovers musical freedom!

 

Most Common Misconceptions About Posture In Viola/Violin Playing

by Rozanna Weinberger

Have you ever noticed how many string players tend to carry themselves with a

JaschaHeifetzPlaying

Jascha Heifetz Now that’s posture!

curvature of the spine and sloping  shoulders and back, even when not playing the instrument? Its amazing how we can develop physical habits unconsciously. The thing is, you’d never see a dancer develop a slumping posture over time. Sure its in their skill sets to develop a super fit body but its also part of their skill sets to learn how to use the body optimally.  When you think about it, why shouldn’t such considerations as optimal body movement be part of a string players skill sets?

Particularly in orchestras, players often carry themselves with shoulders sloped inwards. This is not a criticism but an observation and may in part be an effort to get closer to the music stand or could be a result of fatigue. The subtle workings of the upper body and abdominal muscles are only recently becoming understood when it comes to their impact on optimal string playing. And while its certainly possible to ‘get away’ with sloppy posture with respect to string playing it ultimately comes down to the ability to do difficult things (playing the instrument) easily or with great difficulty. Herein lies the difference between players that are considered naturals vs. everyone else and if they do seem natural chances are they’re moving efficiently to a large degree.

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Google photos The clavicle forms a wonderful natural ‘shelf’ for the instrument.

In general, anything  that makes it more difficult to counter the effects of gravity, with respect to violin hold, will inevitably lead to gripping the violin between the head & shoulder. While curving and simultaneously jutting forward the shoulders is a typical stance of many string players, a healthy relationship to the instrument requires the exact opposite impulse. Otherwise the instrument will want to fall because of the angle created while slumping the shoulders forward. The tendency to jut the shoulders forward is a way of compensating for a sense of insecurity in holding the violin. On the other hand, if the upper toros is sufficiently supported by the abdominal muscles then the upper body can also effectively counter the weight of the violin and head in supporting the instrument. Turns out,  all those illusive muscles we have trained in Pilates, and the like, really did have a use in daily life besides helping us have a better shape.  When the shoulders are free to rest atop the rib cage, they can also support and counter the weight of the instrument and head, in a more efficient manner.

While it seems that many virtuosi tend to hold their instrument up high in reality this is a more effective way to counter the effects of gravity, so long as the overall posture is not slumping. This makes possible the use of the clavicle as a perfect natural ‘shelf’ for the violin. But if the upper body is slumping, if the torso is not sufficiently supported by the torso, the upper body and will instead be curved forward, making it easy for the instrument to fall to the ground, thanks to gravity.

Most players struggle with keeping their shoulders ‘relaxed’ and the propensity for the shoulder to be elevated stiffly to support the viola/violin and the impulse to tense the shoulder upward in bow arm technique are born of the same fundamental misunderstanding.

Most string players use the shoulders to replace activities that should be happening in other parts of the torso.  The notion that we ‘hold ourselves up’ by elevating the shoulders could be replaced with utilizing those muscles we’re encouraged to use in Pilates.

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Enter a caption Courtesy of link provided.

A simple motion study of sitting in an arm chair, or any chair that enables one to press the hands against either the arm rests or seat itself. While in seated position, start by pressing the palms of your hands against the arm rest to get out of the chair and notice how the torso responds, elevating itself upwards as the hScreenshot 2017-04-01 14.39.07ands press down and push off against the arm rests. Those illusive muscles that enable us to elevate the torso should also be engaged when playing the viola or violin.  If these muscles are doing their job, the shoulders will not be as likely to replace this support. Further, the improved posture will support a body angle less likely to cause instrument to fall.

What does it look and feel like to balance the instrument vs. gripping with shoulder and head? Learning this process can feel like a vulnerable state. And it really does take time, patience and observation.  And lest the player confuse the use of a high shoulder rest with a balanced and genuinely  secure position, unless the player masters the ability to respond to the ever changing balancing act of holding their instrument, similar to an aerial artist on a tightrope, the player will have to deal with shoulders that are not sufficiently unencumbered. Because when our shoulders and head aren’t engaged in gripping the instruments, we are left to discover the extent to which we seem to have little or no control over the instrument. But that is also the point where balance can be happen and self discovery begins.

 

 

Common Misconceptions About A Career in Violin (also Viola & Cello)

by Rozanna Weinberger

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Young Shira follows her unique path..

While I don’t really enjoy drawing attention to how far I go back, I can confidently say there was a time when the choice for string players primarily included orchestra, chamber music, teaching and if you were very lucky, a solo career. There also seemed to be a more widespread appeal and respect for classical.  No doubt the lack of music education for many children has meant lack of exposure to these refined art forms.

Still its interesting to note string players have gravitated with greater frequency to idols like Jazz, New Age, Rock,etc. In modern times, the chances of getting into an orchestra is becoming increasingly competitive vs. the number of capable musicians graduating from schools. And while most students are probably advised to seek other musical options, most students are trained to fit into some kind of ‘pre formed’ group or institution.

And thats the rub..

In that sense it is a misconception to think its enough to seek a pre formed ensemble vs. utilizing ones entrepreneurial and creative inclinations. While there was a time when striking out on ones own seemed rife with worrisome ‘unknowns’ the wise music student is better off developing the survival skills to create for oneself – and others – where possible, a path that is incorporates ones unique skills while developing others to forge a path that is value creating, beautiful and sustainable.

Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling successfully forged a unique path unlike any violinist that came before her!

Sure its clear there are different types of options requiring different sets of skills.  For example Jazz, Fiddle, Rock reading charts and knowing chord changes.

Still, thinking that these skills alone are enough, may lead the most talented players to a frustrating place if they don’t discover ways to take matters into their own hands and ‘create their fate’.

In contemporary times it seems more musical institutions are inching towards course work that better prepares students for contemporary society. Jazz, Blues, improv, are options frequently offered to string players and the teachers, performers and educational programs are filling these important roles. And while its true it makes perfect sense to try to prepare students for these options, the truth is students must ultimately forge a path based on many unknowns and uncertainties. So the real question is how to prepare and empower students for these uncertainties. 

The following are basic components of the creative entrepreneurial artist. 

  • The Creative Process
  • Value Creation
  • Working Independently
  • Working With Others
  • Implementation and Actualization of Idea

The Creative Process

A creative education should address questions such as: How do these insights happen? What allows someone to transform a mental block into a breakthrough and why does the answer appear when it’s least expected? While creativity seems like an obvious component of a musical education, music teachers can afford to treat it like the science it has come to represent with some of the most creative and successful institutions, whether it be a manufacturing giant like 3M or a creative animation company like Pixar.

According to author Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine – How Creativity Works, every creative journey begins with a problem.  It is a dull ache and frustration at not being able to find the answer. While such an experience often stops many artists in their path, it’s important for students to realize that such an experience is actually an important part of the process and that is a fact based in science!  For many students that ‘dull ache’ may be the sense there is a dream deep inside yet nothing in the world that matches that possibility.

The entrepreneurial student will hopefully realize that we may be called upon to create that perfect tailor made job, group, artistic endeavor. it is at the point when we realize that we must create our ideal creative path, that we can also recognize the skills we lack, that must be strengthened and cultivated in order to build for ourselves a fabulous future. This ability to land on ones feet in the face of such unknowns is also a product of the creative life.

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Miles Davis forged his unique creative path as an artist.

 

There are many entrepreneurial programs already in existence that teach skill sets needed and these will always be important considerations.  But fostering creativity, and a students’ ability to forge a path that can be successful in modern society encompasses a whole world of skill sets that the music school of the 21st c. should  hope to foster.

Value Creation

The concept of value creation originated from the pioneering educator,  Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, encompassing the goals of the modern educators, namely beauty, good and gain. While beauty and gain are fairly self explanatory, the idea of ‘good’ is slightly more illusive as the relation of what one does and its effect on the world, are rarely contemplated. But I do believe that if an artists perspective can mature by addressing ways of resonating with peoples hearts and minds without stooping to any means possible to garner attention.

 

It’s a funny thing, the state the world is in today with the economy and no jobs. This is the perfect setting for a relationship of courage and creativity to manifest within many walks of life. It is a time for great creativity.    

Wayne Shorter, Adventures On The Golden Mean, Interview,   Jan. 2012 

Value creation is a very important aspect and can be addressed from many points of view. It can suggest a ‘supply and demand’ perspective, such as providing a service or product that is needed. But it can also be cultivated by ‘purpose’ ‘a calling’ or the will to positively impact our world. It is a common misconception among artists that if our art doesn’t resonate with the world around us, the problem is the world. Sometimes we’re the problem, if we are unable to adjust to the changing times and if we do not recognize ways we can grow as artists and human beings.

The basic question, then, is toward what ends and in the interests of what values human creativity is to be directed. Proper education…that enables each individual to perceive life in the context of its nurturing community, human beings will choose to use their creative capabilities both to enhance their own lives to the fullest and to create maximum benefit for their community. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi,  Educator

I’m in the environmental business also. I’m in the business of improving the environment for the human spirit.” And that’s what the arts do. They expand our view of the world. They allow us to be enlightened, to be engaged, to be happy, to be sad, to be introspective, to be extroverted. The arts make us human. Dr. Joseph Polisi, President, The Juilliard School

Working Independently

Many people have dreams and goals for themselves but most people suffer because they believe the power to move forward with a dream is dependent on others.  While it’s absolutely true none of us can live in isolation nor is it possible to accomplish a dream in isolation, there is much that the individual can do. Much action that can be taken before funding and outside support comes into play.  Learning how to do this and developing the confidence to do this is key to fostering new ideas and projects. Objectives can include using one’s natural gifts, using untapped skills, and developing needed skills.

Working With Others

What do we learn about certain groups that are more productive than others? Why is it that working with only fellow artists you’re most comfortable with isn’t always the best way to get great results? 

  • Have workshops to develop ideas and problem solving with a variety of  people. What skills can students learn to effectively make something interesting with other participants.  What is the ‘quotient’ for optimal productivity?
  • Eventually a possible goal will be to cultivate collaborations within the school  across disciplines that might not otherwise be developed. For example a musician may wish to work with a handful of dancers, an actor may wish to work with a composer to score a show.
  • Develop collaborations outside the school. Discuss project with other schools such as arts administration programs at Columbia, Brooklyn College. Get actual experience honing a performance, discover the challenges of booking an artistic event, go back to the drawing board, learn while doing, how to create something viable that can resonate and find an audience. Students may also wish to work with artistic disciplines outside the school such as costume & set design.
  • What can students build without the structure of pre-formed ensembles?
  • What would they do?  How would they start? Who to team up with?

Implementation and Actualization Of Idea

While transfer of knowledge has always been an important component of education, every human being has a personal learning curve in terms of weaknesses in one’s ability, vision, business acumen.  No two people can ever follow exactly the same path, so reading a book about how someone else had success, will really only show students part of what they need to know.  Discovering one’s own personal weaknesses along the way is an unavoidable step in the process.  How we recognize, remedy the situation will spell victory or defeat.

It is a common misconception to think a teacher or successful artist has the answers to another persons path.  While its possible to learn from others experiences or connections, ultimately no one can forge our path for us but ourselves. Any musician forging an authentic path in life will reach a point where its obvious its impossible to walk in anyone else shoes but our own!

Students should  ideally have the opportunity to get ‘real world’ feedback. They can gain invaluable experience in beginning something, even from a seedling, and ultimately becoming one’s own best teacher, learning on one’s feet what the challenges are every step of the way. Students can cultivate their creative resources and learn a valuable self-reliance and freedom that can pave the way to one’s future.

Students may be at various levels of development in their projects and may be encouraged to continue on their path as they employ skills learned from these seminars. Actualization is the process and ideally it is eventually a tangible result. For some it may be the seedlings of a new dance company, for others it may mean getting booked for a performance of a developed project at a venue outside the school.  For other entrepreneurs it may mean creating the seedlings of a new company from the nucleus of a well thought out plan. Execution means putting the project through the flames through individual experiences by each student, getting real world responses and thinking on one’s feet to shift as necessary to bring about a positive result.

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Alex Cameron facing infinite possibilities

 

 

Common Misconceptions About Holding the Violin: Balanced vs. Unbalanced

by Rozanna Weinberger

Violin hold is one of the biggest enigmas for many string players from beginner to advancing players. Sure its easy enough to grip the violin between the head & neck like a vice until the pain becomes incapacitating. Its even possible to consider pain a ne132619566_21ncessary trade off for playing a beautiful musical instrument.

Imagine if a tight rope walker tried to cling to the rope between its toes to grip the rope. It really doesnt work and the tight rope walker would certainly fall to the ground. Problem is, a violinist won’t fall to their death but they will make playing much more difficult for themselves. Isn’t accuracy hard enough without making it harder for ourselves to play?

Observations: Without the instrument, raise the left shoulder to the head while compressing the neck towards the shoulder.  Next bring up the arm as if to play the violin or viola.  Notice how much the range of the arm is shortened when the space between the head, neck and shoulders is also shortened. This contraction makes it difficult to comfortably bring the arm around the instrument and this is especially unfortunate when trying to shift in high positions.

img_2736Bring the arm down.  This time simply bring up the arm in a curved position as if playing the violin.  Of course theres no need to raise the shoulder or squeeze the head since theres no instrument to contend with.  But imagine if it were possible to play while maintaining a similar feeling of length in the neck and shoulder!

Notice how easy it is to touch the fingers to your nose when a similar distance on the finger board can feel like a treacherous distance to navigate while holding the violin or viola. At the very least a decrease in squeezing the neck & shoulder makes it so much easier to get around the instrument.

While there are various theories on how to get around this issue, many of which involve a shoulder rest or other such device to position the violin to the body, such methods can short circuit the potential to balance the instrument. Why is this? Balance is an active experience with subtle changes and adjustments. Positioning an instrument is a far more static approach.  

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Catherine demonstrates when violin is tipped too far to the right.

Mind you plenty of string players have to deal with a long neck or sense that the distance between the head & shoulder needs to be filled up in some way. To a degree there are case by case physical considerations. Still the way we understand how to carry our upper bodies is a very big piece of the puzzle.

One factor this entry will address is angle of the violin as a clue on balancing the instrument.  Notice how Catherine has the violin positioned too far too the right. This is one of the most common issues with beginners.  Feels right because the player can stare down the fingerboard. And because gripping the instrument is the knee jerk approach it may seem easier to bare down with the chin when violin is positioned to much in front of the body.

Ultimately the player must discover where the real support needs to take place. Suffice it to say if the upper body is sufficiently supported by those illusive abdominal muscles most people engage when doing such activities as pilates, dance and other spine lengthening activities, the player will be less inclined to elevate the shoulders, which to a large degree can passively rest atop the rib cage rather than be used to hold the violin and body up. Using the shoulders in this manner is ultimately inefficient.

 

 

 

 

The Most Common Misconceptions About Successful String Playing Careers In The Modern Age

by Rozanna Weinberger

Screenshot 2016-06-30 22.45.11These days it seems contemporary audiences are much more influenced by shows like The Voice than the concert hall. This may also be in part because children have less exposure to fine art and so we seek it less and less. While I would never suggest that just because someone auditions for a talent competition they lack artistic integrity, many of us confuse winning the contest as the end game rather than a means to an artistic end. And much to my chagrin,  we are learning through these influences to be less impressed by substance in favor of sensationalism.  In other words, fame and fortune can tend to seem like the end game rather than a positive means to an end. What should that end game be?

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Ludwig van Beethoven

Truth is, art can accomplish at least 2 things. It can appeal to audiences and it can have substance. By substance I mean it can have a positive contribution. And an artist doesn’t have to lose ones authentic voice in the process. Perhaps one of the biggest differences between a great composer like Beethoven and composers of lesser gravitas is that his music has the power to uplift society and it does so without playing to the audience.

What does this mean to us?  The idea of value creating education, a concept pioneered by the influential Japanese educator, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi,  suggested that a contributive life – based on the cultivation of beauty, good and gain – made possible for the student to  do good in the world while fulfilling his or her ambitions in the world or mission in life.

 

makiguchi

So what does all this have to do with a career in the arts and what is the misunderstanding many of us have? Its because there may be times that artists will need to bend the rules to appeal to ‘the masses’. But it could have more to do with cultivating a broader spectrum of talents in addition to mastering the instrument. As an entrepreneur who has gone through many evolutions, I believe its a combination of utilizing ones unique skills, unearthing the skills we didn’t think we needed to ever use, while developing those that are lesser developed. What impact does this have?  It means the artist will ultimately be able to solve his or her career issues and move that wall, by starting with exactly where they are in life and daring to take one more step at a time authentically.

Laurie Anderson has been one of the most influential artists in my life. While a part of me felt a strange discomfort in seeing a ‘violinist’ also entertaining the audience on  multi dimensional levels, such as in her ground breaking film, Home of the Brave, it was a compelling artistic experience, while appealing to a broader audience than many of the most successful  classical violin players.

 

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And while there is no question most string players coming up  today are already breaking boundaries previously not even considered, there is still the matter of attracting audiences without doing so at any cost.

This I believe is where value creation comes into play. How do we build an audience without doing so at any cost?  Perhaps the exact opposite of this stance is to be found by some contemporary classical composers. What turns art into something more than an exploration of the form?  It is that poetic something that captures our hearts. The hallmark of much 20th century music was expanding the limits of musical form. Yet how many times did the composers effectively capture our hearts vs. engaging our intellect? Or if our emotions were actively engaged, were we also elevated?

So the question for many contemporary string players these days is, how to build a career in a climate where fewer jobs are ready made by winning an audition for an orchestra while  more and more must be cultivated by the player whether playing jazz, new age, pop, rock, etc. Being successful requires a combination of authenticity but also a willingness to serve the audience in the noblest sense of the word.

This is a kind of value, different from the usual descriptives of a successful career such as fame, fortune, power. It is a recognition that artists paint the world with our influence and the thoughtful artist will understand the significance.

Most Common Misconceptions About Practicing & Improving Technique

Screenshot 2016-06-30 23.08.17by Rozanna Weinberger

What is freedom and what does it mean when playing a musical instrument? What are the limitations we place on our capabilities and how do we transcend those limitations and create new patterns, both physically and emotionally?  Why is overcoming fear inseparable to the way we play?  Does our movement enable us to elongate our bodies & limbs or does it cause us to contract our muscles?  And if we do contract our muscles are there feelings that accompany those technical passages?  These are some of the many questions we can answer for ourselves as we broaden our perspective and overcome the limitations we place on ourselves to discover untapped potential in ourselves.This one simple factor alone, can make the difference between a performance that is enjoyable and musically satisfying vs. one riddled with fearful anticipation.

Automatic Patterns vs. Awareness & Slow Practicing  Screenshot 2016-06-30 22.58.03

One of the reasons that slow practice is so important is it prevents our ‘automatic responses’ to kick in. By this we mean habits in technique that may or may not be optimal. Do we clench before a big shift, for example?  Do we grip the neck of the violin while going from one finger to the next? Many players are frustrated when they ‘know’ a problem to be true in terms of a verbal descriptor of what happens, such as squeezing of the hand and fingers excessively but can’t seem to ‘change it. ‘The smaller more slowly the movement we make, the finer tuned will our sensitivity to refined movements become. Thats the point at which the body starts to speak to us so that we’re not just experiencing the problem from the outside in helplessly.

Definitions worth noting: Elongate – “an exercise that elongates the muscles” Contraction – “the process in which a muscle becomes or is made shorter and tighter. “neurons control the contraction of muscles”**

Automatic Movements – Voluntary Movements

*According to Feldenkrais when most people encounter difficulties we tend to start avoiding those areas of difficulty.  By the age of 13-14 many people have already established for themselves what they are and aren’t good at. To underscore those beliefs some will even create rules for oneself.  For example ‘I’m not good at math’ or ‘I’m not really skilled at music.’ According to Feldenkrais, there is no limit to improvement. Every time we expand the limitations of our awareness the greater will be individuals ease of action.

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With the invention of language we have muted the thinking process, relating instead primarily in words. Before language humans thought in a different way. Imagine going through a technical passage without mentally describing it along the way. What would that be like?? The problem with relating through language is that its ultimately a descriptor, separating us from the actual experience. Changing anything into language slows down the thinking process. For many, employing an approach to non verbal directions will open up a world of sensory experiences that inform the brain, which will eventually lead to repatterining of movements that previously seemed habitual.

So how does this relate to practicing? Lets take an aspect of left hand technique that effects many people.  For many  it may be going from the 1st finger to the 4th finger comfortably.  (You’d be surprised how many professional level players learn to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort!) The following study should be done as slowly as possible.  The aim is not the number of repetitions but the quality of the experience. We will begin by breaking this study down to its minutia, simply placing the first finger on the string. 

Bring up violin or viola then commence to bring the 1st finger to the B on the A string. 

  1. How many different ways can you position the hand in relation to the space between your thumb and index finger?
  2. Where do you tend to place it by habit?  Its not necessary to mentally tell yourself a descriptor of the placement. Just let your body do it. 
  3. This time bring up instrument  in preparation for 1st finger, but intentionally position the hand differently.  Could be higher or lower than what you tend to do automatically.
  4. Repeat step 2 simply bringing up the hand & fingers allowing yourself to do what happens automatically. 
  5. Repeat step 3, placing neck of instrument in non habitual place, perhaps above the habitual placement this time. 
  6. Again do what is habitual

After doing this feel free to rest a moment. If the body becomes to strained from repetition, the feeling of strain will pervade the sensory experience. The player can then experiment going from 1st finger to 4th finger, making similar observations of where the hand is in relation to the neck of the violin or viola.

Through this entire process see if its possible to process the experience in non verbal ways. What are the signals your body is giving you directly? Its in these tiny, seemingly imperceptible moments when our body speaks to us that we create new more efficient patterns of movement that eventually become automatic.

It will also be possible to notice if one tends to contract the hand going from finger to finger or elongate the hand and fingers. While it is counter productive to tell oneself how it should feel in advance, suffice it to say, when the left hand is moving optimally there will eventually be a feeling of expansion from note to note as player learns to balance hand and fingers in relation to fingerboard.

This same kind of exploration can also be applied to the wrist, the finger pads on the finger board, etc.

Use Of Large Back Muscles Effect Ease of Left Hand Mobility

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For movements of the hand to become truly efficient the player will need to eventually ‘discover’ how the larger muscles of the torso/back, even pelvis – are involved in seemingly unrelated movements of the left hand. To do this one must first discover how to support the instrument using the back muscles rather than just the arm and neck.  This will be a topic for further exploration.

 

* Awareness Through Movement, Moshe Feldenkrais, 1972,

** Google Search

 

 

Most Common Misconceptions About Violin Practice & Making Mistakes

By Rozanna Weinberger

Practicing often entails making mistakes. But one of the greatest sources of confusion is

frustration

how to deal with mistakes effectively. From the standpoint of utilizing our natural abilities it may come down to how we notice things.  A skilled teacher will help provide the student with the necessary parameters to observe perceived limitations in technique, in turn influencing a students sense of self.

One of the problems is we often notice mistakes after the fact. But generally speaking everything leading up to the mistake is all fodder for learning, observation, and ultimately reorganizing how we move and what we move. Whether we breath, hold our breath, exhale or inhale, all these tiny details are part of the observations we make that lead to refining our ease in playing an instrument.

Awareness studies like those learned in Feldenkrais and which  lead to optimal functionality are really a means to learn how to learn. The art of learning is in the process. Feldenkrais didn’t address change by forcibly getting the body to act a certain way.  Rather he might actually accentuate what the student was already doing, making more obvious to the kinesthetic self, what was actually happening. He understood the value of  awareness preceding any real organic change of the body function. He also realized that an effective teacher was one that could help student notice what they’re already doing as a starting point to reformation.

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According to Mark Reese*, in an article about his studies with Feldenkrais, he speaks about how Feldenkrais described movement studies in the lessons he taught.

...These lessons are not “physical exercises” such as calisthenics; they are somatopsychic explorations which foster improvement by accessing inherent neurological competencies, increasing self-awareness, and facilitating new learning.

The movement studies sometimes led to a ‘trancelike’ state where the process was more important than the destination. Reese likens the teachers work to partially disclose or hint at a functional motor pattern, and the student’s nervous system responds with altered muscular responses. Gradually, with repetitions and variations, the student assembles or synthesizes-mostly at an unconscious level- a new neuromuscular image of movement which can later be translated into active performance. 

“Immense activity goes on in us, far greater than we appreciate or are aware of. This activity is related to what we have learned during our whole life from inception to this moment” (Feldenkrais, 1981a, p. 6)…When giving lessons, Feldenkrais will say, “Don’t you decide how to do the movement; let your nervous system decide. It has had millions of years of experience and therefore it knows more than you do”

How does this translate to violin or viola practice you ask? Most players are focused on the mistake being made, but by that point its really too late. The learning comes from observing what we do before the mistake is made and trusting that the information we provide on a neuromuscular level will lead to new and better possibilities in ones technique. If shifting to a a particular note for example, what does it ‘feel like’ to over shoot the note? What does it ‘feel like’ to freeze before a shift for fear a mistake will be made? Where does that ‘freeze’ occur?  What part of the body unnecessarily seize up?  Screenshot 2016-06-06 23.10.54

Feldenkrais believed that discovering everything about the learning experience could be a good thing in that they were a point from which the student could discover infinite possibilities beyond the walls of difficulties, influencing a students potential and ultimately their self esteem. Bottom line, our experiences when practicing has the ability to defy mere labels of the experience if we trust our bodies abilities to learn from our experiences.

 

* Moshe Feldenkrais’ Work with Movement: A Parallel Approach to Milton Ericsson’s Hypnotherapy, AuthorMark Reese