My fingers feel useless.
September 1, 2006 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Violin/Musician Filter: Help me whip my fingers into shape! [more inside]

Background: Played violin for 9 years. Studied privately for 6 of the 9. Stopped two years ago. And by "stopped" I really mean "I have played the violin maybe 4 times since I graduated two years ago." FWIW, I'm 20 (so I guess relatively young).

I wasn't particularly diligent in terms of practicing, and even when I did practice, I wasn't half as careful as I should've been (in terms of pitch, positions, bow movement, the little things).

Having said that, I wasn't TOO bad. I wasn't the best, by far, but I didn't sound too awful, and I had a couple of obligatory violin pieces "mastered." (Lalo anyone? :-D) (And by "mastered," I really just mean "pretty decent to the untrained ear").

The Question: What can I do to whip myself into shape musically as a violinist? I played the piano for six years when I was younger and lost almost all of it thanks to my laziness. I don't want that to happen to the violin too though at this point I'm regrettably pretty damn close. I know that at this point in time, I have to pay extra attention to my posture, my bowing, etc to make sure I don't pick up any bad habits. Any recommendations on how I should best go about this? Any obligatory pieces or ways to practice? I have the Kreutzer, and the Bach. Should I just go through them slowly and painstakingly? I don't want to potentially screw myself over in the long run. I'm a broke college student and really can't afford to hire a teacher to reteach me the basics if I can do them myself.
posted by mittenedsex to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It sounds like you'll remember what you'll need to do, but you have to focus yourself on a concentrated practice session every day (or whatever is realistic for your schedule).
1. If you haven't been, listen to classical music whenever you can (radio, internet radio, CDs/MP3s). Ear-training is part of getting yourself back in shape.
2. Do scales and arpeggios at the start of every practice session, 3 octaves preferably. If you want a book for this, Flesch is good. Focus on one thing each time: Concentrate on getting your shifts right. Play without vibrato to make sure you are perfectly in tune. Focus entirely on your right arm and vary the speed of the bow. Vary how many notes you play per bow per beat. Improvise different rhythms.(Changing focus also keeps the scale work from becoming repetitive and tedious.)
3. Pick particular skills you want to work on (bowing, trills, double-stops, shifts). There are Sevcik exercise books you can work through for most of these, but you'll have to be very self-aware of what you need to change and not reinforce bad techniques.
3. Pick one of the pieces you "mastered" before that you really like and work on it in manageable chunks. I like to start and end this part of the practice by playing through what I can of the piece in performance mode. As you work through it, it's very gratifying to hear your progress.
4. Once you felt you've mastered the piece, you can further improve on it by recording yourself and doing a brutally honest self-critique on what needs to be improved. Use that also to inform what you need to focus on for your #3 skills improvement.
5. Consider joining a community orchestra or college orchestra. It'll keep you motivated and involved, and you'll have other people to watch and learn from. Observe and ask questions like "how are you fingering this passage?" You may also find people interested in playing chamber music if you'd like to pursue that.

If you aren't self observant enough (some people just aren't able to do it), you can hire a teacher (or a starving violin grad student) infrequently to give you advice on what you need to do and what exercises and techniques can help.

If you can only do one of the above, do #5. It should keep you involved just enough to achieve your goal of not losing your skills entirely. But it sounds like you're motivated enough to practice on your own.

This website might help too:
posted by girlhacker at 11:30 PM on September 1, 2006 [4 favorites]

I second the community orchestra recommendation, with some caveats. I started playing the violin again a few years ago after 12 years of not playing at all, and joining a community group really got me going again and it was way more fun than shutting myself into the spare room to practice all the time.

On the other hand, this past year some of the music was above my level (higher positions I hadn't mastered, for example) and while I learned alot, I was so concentrated on making it through the piece that I couldn't focus on proper technique. So, just keep that in mind.
posted by cabingirl at 11:52 PM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Everything Girlhacker said. Remember your metronome, too, once you get back into the swing of things. It'll help you build a sense of rhythm again, and you can keep boosting the tempo to slowly regain your speed. That comes second to everything else, though. You have to be able to play before you can play fast.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 1:13 AM on September 2, 2006

When you practice, concentrate on perfect intonation with each note you play. If you're doing a certain excersize, for example, strive to make each note in the sequence sound entirely, completely perfect. Strive to make each motion you perfectly accurate and efficient. If you are not positive that you have mastered that intonation/motion, do it again until you have. Then do it a lot more. Once you are completely satisfied with your ability to perform that excersize, move on to the next one.

Remember, your goal is to create good playing habits, not bad ones, and if you accept a second-best effort from yourself in practice then you will form subpar playing habits. Do everything you possibly can to perfect the sounds you create during practice so that you can reform the solid fundamentals that you will need to build on.
posted by baphomet at 7:51 AM on September 2, 2006

Don't forget to think about your bow arm. A sloppy bow arm will hide a lot of intonation problems, so I always start my practicing with slow three-octave scales to really make sure my sounding point, pressure, and speed are all working together the right way.

Also, the best way I've found to whip myself back into shape after long periods away from my violin is to work on some basic etudes. There's a reason we all learn Kreutzer, god bless him.
posted by shylock at 9:51 AM on September 2, 2006

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