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HOW MUCH PRACTICE IS TOO MUCH?

I read recently where it takes some 10,000 hours to become the master of a skill. Of course it's a given we're not talking about bussing tables here; and I ought to know. You see back when Nixon was yet a president in good standing I learned and practiced that little 'skill' on a very high level.

No, we're talking about such exceptionally rich and complex skills as playing the violin, performing brain surgery, and, say composing symphonies.

So let's see now. If you practiced 5 hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year, then we're talking somewhere in the neighborhood of seven years to become Maxim Vengerov.

Sounds like a bargain to me.

What about you, is the violin worth that to you?

Even if it is, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to 'take it on.' After all, life is full of choices, and we may have several passions we want to indulge at one time. This is, after all, where art meets amateurism. And I mean amateurism in the best sense of the word.

One does not have to be Maxim Vengerov to derive great joy and pleasure from the instrument. But let's take a look at what kind of time investment is typically required to reach some recognized levels of achievement.

In as little as an hour a day you can, in 3 years, equip yourself to the point of playing in community orchestras and enjoying a diversity of chamber music with like minded friends.

Push that up to 2 hours a day for 4 years and you'll be qualified to teach beginning students, do paying 'gigs' and land a chair up in the front of the 1st violin section of your community orchestra. You'll be playing early Beethoven string quartets quite credibly, I might add.

Let's talk about becoming a professional.

Just add an hour a day to make it three. Do that for 5 years and you should be well qualified for any regional symphony orchestra. You will have the pick of the best paying gigs in your smaller city. You'll even have the tools to develop one heck of a teaching studio.

But what about a major symphony orchestra, you ask.

Now we're talking serious commitment. But add another hour and a couple of more years and you'll have it. Yes, at 8,000 hours you're there, would be the conventional wisdom.

By the way, competition for positions today is fierce. You really must be very close to the concert-artist level to win a major audition.

Now, would you be shocked if I told you 30%-40% could be cut from the figures I gave you by adopting a certain mindset and specialized practice tools?

Milstein told me that at the time he studied with Leopold Auer he only practiced 1 1/2 hours a day. He even brought this fact up with Auer, asking if he really should be practicing more.

Auer said to him, 'Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.'

OK, I think Milstein was exaggerating a tad about the 1 1/2 hours. Maybe his watch ran a little slow.

But in any case, I agree with the premise wholeheartedly, which is why I maintain a violinist with a fully conscious mind can do so much more in a given amount of time than the average Joe.

But you must not take anything you do for granted. You must be ALIVE and fully AWAKE when you practice. And you must take good advice seriously.

If you have one of my courses or have been to one of my masterclass/seminars you've benefited from some quality advice. After all, much of it comes from Milstein himself.

All you must provide is your full attention to the process. And there is nothing more nourishing and rewarding than doing that.

All my best & remember- "Keep Fiddlin' around safely!!"

 

PLAYING YOUR BEST

To play your best, in any situation, you must be both relaxed and highly focused. In fact, one of the most important functions of practice is finding that state and learning it so well that you can summon yourself to it at will.

No matter what is going on around you.

There's a nice little bonus to this. It's a beautiful space to be in.

So why are we not there 24/7, as the new saying goes? Good question.

The most obvious reason is tiredness, probably 75% of you reading this are really getting enough sleep.

Two more subtle and insidious factors are; the constant, background fear we carry around of what others think of us, and guilt. We don't feel we've done enough, or are worthy enough.

Gotta let those go, my friend, the promised land is waiting.

In order to DO your best you must be FREE to BE your best. It's that simple. So go ahead, take a deep belly breath and make your day.

Have a great day & "Practice,practice,practice!!"

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS LEARNING TO PLAY THE VIOLIN?

I was making a routine supplies stop yesterday at a local music store, & of course as always, I have to make my way over to the Violins hanging on the wall, tune one up & grab a bow & start playing. Needless to say, as usual someone comes over & comments on my playing or if it's a child, they ask-"How often do you practice?" 1-2 hours a day even teaching fulltime. For the beginner students/with their parent(s) daily encouragement; I only ask 15 minutes a day. For the adult-beginner students- at least a good-solid 30 minutes a day. Intermediate-serious students, at least 45 minutes a day. We all know, when 'we' really want something, we tend to fall head over feet to get that peticular place or reach that 'all of a sudden' goal.

So, I'll ask all of you again-"How important is learning to play the Violin to you!?" 

 

FEEL THE MUSIC

Most all of us have been told, at some time or another, that 'you've just got to feel the music.' Now, I don't know about you, but on the occasions I've had this said to me I felt more confused than enlightened.

You see, many teachers, who more likely than not possess a rather limited teaching vocabulary, resort to such statements when they run out of things to say. In such cases a better alternative would be the more honest statement, 'I don't know what to tell you.'

It's much different to feel music as a listener, which is a emotional response, than it is to EXPRESS music as a player. A player must have tools with which to translate the emotions he or she might feel as a listener into physical sensations and actions taken on the violin.

In fact it is just this complex dance that makes playing the violin one of the most challenging things to do; one of the most engrossing things to do; and ultimately one of the most satisfying things to do.

So you've got to have technique

So how do you get technique. Well, you get technique by feeling, actually.

'Now, wait just a doggone moment,' you say. 'You just said before that being told to 'feel the music' made you confused. Now you're as bad as the teachers you just talked about.'

Hang on, hang on, I'm talking about feeling in a very different way. I'm talking about taking the time to FEEL THE PROCESS of playing the music, not the feelings that arise out of the music BEING PLAYED.

You see, the feelings that arise from the music are based on past events. The feelings of process HAPPEN IN THE MOMENT.

This is why many violinists get stuck in their playing. Either out of lack of patience, lack of focus, or lack of knowledge, they try to jump into the future - the LA-LA land of emotional feeling.

It'll never work.

And similarly, when someone says, 'you're thinking too much.' It can only mean 'you're thinking wishfully,' which is not really thinking at all.

It's daydreaming. Nobody's playing EVER suffered from an over abundance of 'process thinking.' Process thinking is about visualization and intention. It's about discipline and self-direction.

If you're still with me, let me say one more thing about all this. Most of us do need direction. We need help figuring out What to Feel and What to Think to play effectively.

"Practice,practice,practice!!!!"

 

CONQUERING DOUBLE STOPS

There are few things more satisfying on the violin than playing in-tune, beautifully clear double-stops. On the other hand, there is also little that presents as much challenge.

So, what is a body to do about them?

For one thing, stop struggling.

The last thing you want to find yourself doing is grinding away at the violin in frustration trying to subjugate two hapless pitches that just don't want to fit together.

I can't tell you how many times I've had students do this; stand next to me and saw away at their instrument first adjusting one finger, then the other, then BOTH at the same time.

Dreadful!

Even when they managed to force their fingers into agreement they had become so tense and disoriented there wasn't a chance in hell of them finding the same positions again.

So let's take a look at a better way.

First off, when you sense yourself struggling with double-stops you must take a breather. And I mean that literally. Come to a complete stop, and take a deep, relaxing belly breath.

To play double-stops the mind and hands - both right and left - must be relaxed and pliant.

The mind must be relaxed for this reason. It is going to INFORM your hands on the simultaneous sounding of two voices. The picture it sends to your hands must be very clear as to the location of each pitch on your fingerboard.

The left hand must be relaxed as can be to allow for each location to be accessed without one finger inhibiting, or distorting the other.

The result is a fantastic exercise in achieving relaxation with focus.

The right arm plays a very important part in this. It is the breath that gives life to the two notes. It also fuses them, giving birth to a 'combination tone', 'resultant tone', or, as some would know it, a 'Tartini tone.' When that third note, the birth-child of a double-stop, harmonizes with the two fundamental notes, you've got gold coming out of your fiddle.

Now, in volume 4 of 'Kreutzer for Violin Mastery' you will find much more on the secret to scoring big with double-stops. I don't think I need tell you where you can acquire your copy.

Have a great day & Remember-"Practice,practice,practice!!"

 

CALMING A NERVOUS BOW ARM

What do you recommend to calm down a shaky bow arm at the beginning of a concert. I played for some people last night and had some early 'stage fright' which caused my bow to shake/bounce, vibrato was a little nervous as well. By the third piece I had calmed down and things were fine, but any suggestions on how to start out? I tried using some controlled breathing to unfocus my mind from the bow, but it didn't work very well. I also realized that instead of starting with 'easy' pieces with lots of piano/pianissimo, I would have benefited by starting with something allowing more bow pressure and broader arm movements and letting me get the tension out at the beginning. What do you think about that strategy for programming?'

Well, I'm sure 90% of us have experienced 'shaky-bow syndrome' at one time or another. There are a few, however, that claim to never experience the 'fight or flight response' that's responsible for this. For me, it depends on the environment and repertoire I'm faced with.

But here are some thoughts.

Your recognition that playing some extroverted, accessible, but not too technically demanding music to begin with is very good. Milstein, and virtually all the great artists, have done this.

But in terms of actually dealing with nervous energy even before you get out on stage consider these three things.

The 'fight or flight response' causes a lack of physical control, a loss of mindfulness - or concentration - and a loss of feeling.

I spend my pre-concert time reversing these tendencies.

First, I arrive early to warm up. On the physical side, this means really moving the bow and fingers. I belly-breath while I play scales and arpeggios. I may walk around as I do it. I rest intermittently to stretch a little. I sip water. I play some more, gradually bringing my sound into focus, stretching my fingers, playing now with velocity and now slowly and expressively. Secondly, I'm visualizing in my head everything I'm doing.

That is to say, I'm NOT playing on autopilot. I'm imaging the sound I want to draw and I'm listening for it. The point is I want to get my mind re-engaged, and focused.

Number three, I want to activate my feelings for the music. The 'nerves' will have suppressed them. So after I'm up and running physically and mentally I begin investing feeling in what I'm playing. I will play phrases and passages that get my emotional juices flowing.

Not too much, mind you. You don't want to leave it all backstage.

As I've said in a previous email, I can spend as much as an hour and a half in this process before a particularly big event. Sometimes I will be up and running in 5 minutes. Usually I can gauge ahead of time how long I will need. Perhaps this takes some experience.

Now, there might be a time when you're caught short. Maybe you're even required to stand up and play 'cold'. If this happens, and you find yourself being blanketed over by nervous energy, you say the following to yourself.

'I recognize, and accept, that this situation is not ideal, but I will nevertheless do ALL I CAN to make this a success.'

Then you do it.

You breathe, your count, and you visualize. You do not allow yourself to focus on minor, or even what you may regard as major errors. You focus on telling a story of the music, on painting pictures, on communicating a gift of love.

"Practice,practice,practice!!"

 
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