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fiddler-on-the-hoof

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  1. Congratulations to you too, Laurel. I'm trying to concentrate on perfect tuning at the moment, partly as it needs improvement, also as I've got a feeling that Ella will benefit from hearing in-tune noise. Does anyone know how "perfect pitch" develops? Is it learned, and if so then at what age? I'm not sure that perfect pitch is necessarily such a useful thing to have, but I'm just interested.
  2. "I'm one of the people who think that babies' hearing is more developed than they are given credit for." - Oh no, poor girl (my baby)! Baby's been very useful at forcing my husband to practice the piano properly. He has to practice each hand separately while holding and burping Ella in the other arm.
  3. Hello again, I've got a new audience for my violin practice - my baby, Ella, is just 2 months old. If I sit her there when she's in a good mood then we get on really well. She focuses on me very intently when I practice and burbles away happily, Perhaps her hearing's not very well-developed as she doesn't even seem to be put off by my practising octaves slavishly. The funniest thing is when the dog sits next to her and howls during these sessions - they both stop together when I get to the end of the piece! Can any of the you mums on the board think back to when your children were very little? How do babies tend to react to music as they get a bit older? Am I wrong to let the dog teach my little girl how to sing?
  4. Hi Jordan, I'm glad that you've decided to take it easy for a few days. The fact that the wrist pain stays with you after playing suggests that there could be a muscle or tendon strain problem. If that's the case, you initally need to rest the area (i.e. no or virtually no playing) then eventually build up the practice very gradually indeed. If the pain is still there after about a week, it would make sense to have it checked out by a good orthopaedic specialist. I'm still suspicious that there may be a tension problem going on here, either instead of or in addition to a physical injury. So definitely e-mail back for further advice if the problem persists.
  5. Hi Jordan, Its just as well that you posted this query when you did. This kind of problem is best discussed with other musicians early on, before it spirals out of control. You mention pain/cramp in the left hand and recent inability to play in tune. I've actually been through this problem myself, though I can't be sure that the cause is the same. There are 4 main issues that I think you should address here: 1) Emotional tension. This may be the root cause of the physical problem. In your post, you sound very worried about lack of practice time and also the upcoming auditions. You need to rationalise both these worries. I assure you, shortened practice sessions have NOT caused the deterioration of your left hand technique. But worrying about them may have done. Its the quality of practice that counts, not the quantity. One hour should be ample. Think logically about how you can fit your practice into the day. 10 minutes here and there may be more helpful than 1-2 long sessions daily, for example. As for the auditions, worrying is futile. You can either write down (or discuss with a friend) everything that worries you, and then try to find a solution. OR you should not think about the auditions at all for the next couple of weeks. If you continue to worry aimlessly then you cannot succeed. 2) Actual technical deterioration (i.e. you've changed the position of your left hand/arm and that's caused the problem). I don't think this is a likely cause but, just in case, it would be sensible to check it out with at least 1 good teacher who can watch you play. 3)Physical tension when playing. This IS happening and you need to address it. You need to go back to basics for this, hopefully just briefly though. Work out exactly when your left hand gets stiff. Does it start when you play difficult passages or certain other types of notes? Is the hand stiff as soon as you pick the instrument up, or does it start when you put your bass into playing position? Also check out WHERE the tension originates from. Although the pain is in the wrist/hand, its likely that the important tension is in the bigger more central areas neck/ shoulder/ hips/ back,etc). If so, you must address that before you think about the left hand itself. You may need to go right back to what you can do without tension (even just holding the instrument for the first few days) and build it up from there. That's what I've had to do. 4)Medical problem. This is VERY unlikely. If you wish, see ONE good doctor to check this out. Don't do what I did and go from one alternative therapist to the next. Doctors/therapists often like to make a diagnosis just so it looks like they are doing something; it can be very frustrating to be led down the wrong path over and again in this way. From personal experience, I'd recommend the following: A) As far as possible, don't get emotional about this. If you do, the problem becomes a vicious circle. Be open-minded and do think for yourself. People have much to say, some of it good, but QUESTION EVERYTHING. C) Sort the problem out as early as possible (as you are trying to do). Correcting this tension problem is more important than succeeding in those auditions. As you can tell by the length of this post, I've got plenty of free time right now (I'm on maternity leave from work). You're welcome to e-mail me for further discussion on this until you've found a solution. If you want a book on the subject, I'd recommend "Stage Fright" by Kato Havas (its about all kinds of tension, not just on stage. Marianne
  6. Yes, intelligent repetitive practice is worthwhile. As HKV said: "If it hasn't come out 10,000 times in practice, there's no chance it'll come out on stage (unless luck is involved)." But I'm getting at something else here. Due to my own tension problems, I've become very aware in my own practice sessions as to what makes me tense up. Whenever a high-position passage comes up, something at the back of my mind goes "UGH!". I won't fluff up the notes completely, but that slight apprehension will make my tone sound squashed due to tension in my bow arm and left hand. Its not just me being pathetic. I'm sure that I've noticed a similar thing happening (perhaps to a lesser degree) with some professional violinists, both in concerts and on recordings. Perhaps one can eventually correct the problem by practising anything worrying over and over again. But I've got a feeling that one also needs a special positive and laid-back attitude so you can just take it all in your stride.
  7. An exercise I use to relax the left hand: While playing open strings, place the palm of your left hand lightly under the belly of the violin. When things are going well, you should be able to feel the vibrations (buzzing feeling)coming from your violin and through your hand. You may need to alter the position of your hand slightly to feel the vibrations to their full extent. When I first tried this, I could barely feel any vibrations at all. Now I do the exercise with all kinds of bowing and using all 4 strings. If the left hand is tense then the vibrations may be damped or you may not be aware of them. The exercise is also good for the bowing, as bow-arm relaxation seems to affect the vibrations too. I've got a long history of violin tension problems and, recently, I've been using this exercise at the beginning of each practice session and whenever I start to feel tense. Marianne
  8. Hmm... I don't think that the successful virtuosic passages in the concert the other day were simply a matter of practising the notes over and over again until they are likely to "go alright on the night". Vengerov seemed to have the mental clarity, poise and imagination to improvise and to play with the music ESPECIALLY when the notes were technically difficult. I am sure that plenty of technical practice was behind much of this, but it could not have payed off without this relaxed and confident attitude during the performance. Has anyone on the Fingerboard group trained themselves to be completely at ease while playing (apart from just learning the music so thoroughly that it is unlikely to go wrong?).
  9. Hi Caleb, Yes, I am a vet. So I'm licensed to torment the dog with my violin-playing! There is no physiological reason why violin music should hurt dogs ears. They can hear notes of higher frequency than us, so perhaps they appreciate some of the harmonics and overtones of which we are less aware. I've noticed that my dog only sings along with certain instruments, notably violin and accordion, and the upper range of my voice. This is either because he's responding to the harmonic frequencies of these instruments, or because he's communicating with me (these are the instruments that I have played). And he doesn't sing to recorded music, except for Bach's Chaconne in D which is his favourite.
  10. Hi Jane, I should have arranged to meet you at the concert the other day! When are these other concerts that you mention? In my opinion, Vengerov's virtuosic success is largely due to the positive way in which he goes about playing the difficult passages. He seemed to play MORE musically and with MORE poise when the music was technically difficult. On the more negative side, he appeared far less comfortable when playing slow sustained passages, particularly in the Brahms sonata. Perhaps it was just an impression I got, but I felt that the sound was slightly "squashed" in some of these passages. Vengerov was certainly contorting himself into all sorts of unhelpful positions when this happened, especially leaning and twisting back with the torso when he looked in danger of running out of bow length. This may just be my own over-criticism; posture and unnecessary tension are particular interests of mine at the moment. I did enjoy the Lockwood concerto. However, the Virtuosi ensemble didn't really work for me. Ten violinists playing together always sounds slightly out of synch to my ears, probably just because of the variety in vibrato and bow movement (as of course they were in tune with one another). I would have preferred a mixed ensemble, perhaps a Gipsy group to accompany some of the dances!
  11. Went to the Vengerov concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday. Were any other maestronetters there? What really impressed me was his natural virtuosity. I got the impression that his success stems largely from his ATTITUDE towards playing difficult passages. It didn't seem to matter to him whether the music was played just as a straight tune, or in octaves, or several octaves up at the top of the fingerboard. He just went straight ahead and played it. In fact he seemed MORE poised when the difficult passages came up. It seemed to be more than just technical prowess and knowing where the notes were.
  12. I've just replied to the recent post on criticism. There seem to be too many students out there with teachers who not only point out errors but who are rude and scathing. Are there also people out there who suffer from being too self-critical? Not just noticing errors, but getting really upset about it? Does anyone have a solution to this?
  13. My border terrier howls when I play the violin. It is definitely not a sign of pain in this case as, if I shut him out of the room, he will sit just outside the door and howl. In fact I've had lots of horrible stiffness problems in the past few years and I've been unable to play with or to other people. So I quite appreciate the dog taking an interest. Wolves get together and howl in order to reinforce their emotional bonds, especially just before a hunting trip. And I have noticed that my terrier tends to grab and shake one of his larger toys just after a good howling session. Perhaps I should join him!
  14. I suspect that most of the Maestronet members already have a genuine wish to improve their playing. Unless we have neglected to practise (through laziness or over-self-confidence) or are putting very poor effort into our work, then there is no call for the teacher to say harsh words. We need our teachers to point out what we should be working on. So they must tell us if we are playing out of tune, but not angrily. As needed, they should explain why playing in tune is so important, then help with the technical aspect of getting it right. If a student has not practised, this may be for a genuine reason, e.g. they do not know how to practise effectively in a short space of time and they have been very busy that week. The teacher can explain how much practice is needed, and how to do this most effectively. Again there is no need for angry words here. We need to learn to be emotionally detached while playing our instruments. In order to focus effectively, we should have an otherwise clear mind. This in itself is a very difficult thing to learn, and it doesn't help if the teacher can't control their own emotions.
  15. Hi Jane, I expect to be able to get there (say, 80-90% sure). Is there already a provisional date set? We do not ourselves have anything definite planned for next year, but we're expecting our first baby next month, so I'll have to take that into consideration! Marianne in Hertfordshire
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