or, What’s So Hard About the Violin, Anyway?
In my last post I maintain that learning and playing the violin is difficult for everyone, whatever the level of intelligence and coordination, but for those of you who are not violinists or musicians (or perhaps are the prospective parents of one), I’ll try to explain why. Below is my theory formed after years of observing my students, other musicians, and myself.
I tell my students that playing the violin is not just difficult – it’s impossible, which is why even great and famous violinists still have to practice (and why even then they sometimes make mistakes). Whenever I have to break down some piece of technique for my students into ever smaller steps so they can learn them, I marvel at how many things violinists have to do at the same time and how fast their minds and bodies have to move in order to do them. In fact, things go so fast that it seems that everything is done simultaneously. This is not true. It is always step 1 to step 5000 in a nano-second, perhaps, but always in order. And this is only one reason we have to practice so much for years – to get the order right so that we can do it without consciously thinking about it, thus to permit ourselves to focus on the music.
We also have to hear every note we play BEFORE we play it – not afterwards. This seems impossible when we play at what seems the speed of light, but it is true – if we don’t know what we want to hear, how can we play it or even get it in tune? I tell my students that we are not just training their hands, but training their ear to be ever faster than their hands so that their hands are directed by their ear instead of vice versa. (The hands may or may not move faster than the eye, but they certainly move faster than the ear if not trained to do otherwise.) Continue reading