(Or the trouble with being a reformed saxy guy.)
I’ve been logging my time and officially (see: previous post about obsessive spreadsheeting) and apparently I’ve been playing the violin for ten hours.
Does that make me a violinist?
I can play about six songs, one well…ish, and I know two scales: A Major and G Major. And… well, that’s about it, to be honest.
Ten hours. I mean, I do actually know people who have been on longer runs.
a little bit serious about learning this thing
Now, I am taking my lesson progress as a good sign. I’m pushing through the loosely defined curriculum at a breakneck pace. While I’m neither a music instructor nor am really very familiar with the difference between teaching a kid to play an instrument versus teaching an adult to play an instrument, I have gleaned a few insights after my second violin lesson. First, my instructor seemed surprised that I’d actually taken the instrument out of the vehicle at all between lessons, let alone that I’d practiced. When I said, yeah, about seven hours this week, his eyes got really big. Like dinner plates, or like a cartoon character whose eyes pop out of their head when someone hands them a piece of paper with a bunch of $$$ signs written on it.
His holy shit moment was that perhaps I was, maybe, perhaps, just a little bit serious about learning this thing.
My holy shit moment was that perhaps most adult students are phoning it in… I mean, at least bring it in the house between classes, y’know.
So instead of thirty minutes of just playing and the kind of guided practice sessions I’ve been expecting, imagining, thinking that these lessons were going to be, my lesson instead turned into a lot more talking than playing, a walkthrough of the half-dozen techniques I need to focus my practice on this week, a quick demonstration of each, and a short chat about what the purpose of said technique might be for the benefit of my future playing. That’s right: I got homework.
I need to teach my fingers to bend and react
Additionally, I learned that the comfortable and easy way I’d worked out of both touching the strings and holding my bow were not wrong, per se, but if I ever wanted to play anything more advanced than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star I would need to teach my fingers to bend and react in a way that, apparently, they’ve never needed to do before, ever, full stop, period, the end.
I’m watching you left pinky, I know what you’re up to over there. Yeah, I’m talking to you.
A bit of an aside?
See, I can play songs considerably more advanced than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on this beautiful little alto saxophone I have sitting in the house. I don’t play very often. Maybe I should have played more, but years of school band left a sour taste in my mouth and I’m probably repressing something. But either way, playing the saxophone has this important finger skill associated with it, a skill that has become second nature after decades of intermittent practice: the more holes you cover in the brass tube the deeper the sound becomes. Your job is push air through the brass tube and firmly, often with a good strong bit of pressure, cover a variety of holes to change the sound coming from the end of that brass tube. That’s it. In fact, you have buttons on a saxophone whose sole purpose is to press groups of other buttons and help you cover more holes than would otherwise be possible with a mere ten fingers. In other words, I’m really good at firmly using all my fingers to play progressively deeper sounds.
my poor brain is not wired properly
This may seem like a small thing, but the violin is exactly and precisely the opposite: light touch, relaxed grip, and one finger on the strings. You should never have two fingers on the same string. Occasionally you can keep a finger on a different string if you’re going back to that string in the next few notes, but otherwise, they should be hovering quietly and precisely a quick, short distance above the string ready to tap lightly down and… see, I’m quickly realizing that my poor brain is not wired properly to comply with this new way of doing things and it’s going to take a lot of focus to rewire it that way.
So, ten hours of practice has been enough to learn to play a few rudimentary songs… rudimentarily… and to learn the seventeen different things I’m doing functionally to make a noise that sounds like a note erupt from the violin. But apparently not technically well.
And if you ever see me absently doing finger yoga while out for a run, or coffee, or waiting for the bus, it doesn’t actually count as practice, but it probably should.