Violin surprise

As I mentioned, I’ve not had as much energy for things lately. That has particularly included violin practice. I didn’t play at all between Dec 20th (my last concert before Christmas) and Jan 3rd (the day before what should have been my first rehearsal of 2009).

So when orchestra rehearsals started up again last week, I was expecting my playing to be rather rusty, and to have quite a lot of work to do to get myself going again. But something interesting had happened. Certain aspects of my technique–in particular, “bow contact” and string crossings–appeared to have significantly improved during the break, without me having done anything other than not practice.

Let me explain the history of my playing. When I began, around the age of 9, I was basically self-taught. This is not a good idea: lots of things have to be got right from the beginning in order to avoid problems later on. When I joined the school orchestra at 12 or 13, I started having lessons. Then at university I was able to have really good lessons, with a teacher who could show me how to set about undoing my numerous bad playing habits. And for the next “few” years I worked on doing that, with the help of various violinists from the past such as Carl Flesch (via his pair of books The Art of Violin Playing).

At the beginning of last year I had a few more lessons, with a view to taking a proper performance qualification (a diploma in violin performance). Plans for that were overtaken by events and I never took the exam, but I now had had some new aspects of technique to work on and continued doing so until June. Then came my father’s death, and several months of not really feeling like playing. The enthusiasm is just beginning to come back now.

My task before the lapse was to try to replace some old playing habits with new ones. Any player will tell you that if they don’t play for a while, when they start up again they feel as though their bodies have “forgotten” how to play. For example, you send instructions to your fingers and they don’t respond properly. What seems so have happened in my case, though, is that the break has helped my body to forget the old aspects of my playing which I was trying to get rid of anyway, and what has come back is the new version which I was working towards. It was a very nice surprise, and completely unexpected. It’s as though working on my new playing style is a move vivid memory than using the old one. It really has become a lot easier to play in the way I was aiming for.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who’d had a similar experience of several weeks’ non-playing helping them to improve.

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