In the world of classical music, the nature of learning and honing an instrument at a high level puts musicians in a culture that embraces the advantage of an early start and a deep commitment to the craft. This is especially evident in modern-day conservatory cultures. Some musicians take their passion so far as to devote their life not only to their instrument but to focus on one specific style of music. While this level of depth and attention to minute details is admirable and something artists explore endlessly, the narrow scope has its disadvantages. Continue reading “The Interplay Between Specialization and Diversification”
A few weeks ago I had a deep conversation about reducing tension and extra finger pressure in the left hand, in which I got a fresh perspective and sensation on an already-familiar concept. The different “vocabulary” helped me experience a small, but very important breakthrough (which will hopefully stick).
Left hand tension is something that can easily show up under pressure, especially when it’s not given enough attention in practice. For several years I practiced Simon Fischer’s exercise on finding the minimum finger pressure (you can find this exercise in Basics and Warming Up). It’s a great exercise and I got pretty good at it. However, whenever I attempted to apply the concept in repertoire, especially during a run-through, I was never able to remember to use less finger pressure, especially in moments when it was crucial. After the conversation, I realized that while the Simon Fischer exercise is fantastic, on its own it’s been just that – an exercise. In order for me to become more consistent with feeling release in the left hand, I had to take my whole body into consideration.
Two breakthroughs in one day? Yes, it’s possible – especially if one small tweak takes care of two problems at once.
Have you ever experienced a plateau in your playing that seemed to stick around for years and years? You regularly practiced prescribed exercises in attempt to overcome a specific obstacle; you understood, and maybe even taught the concepts to others, only to come short in achieving a specific level of consistency yourself.
In my experience – both personally and through observing students and colleagues – breakthroughs usually happen in one of two ways, and sometimes in combination:
Two summers ago I developed severe pain in my left trapezius (specifically, the back of my neck extending toward the shoulders and across the upper back) while playing two Mozart operas back-to-back for an opera festival. This went on for a week straight with no days off, and was followed by a Wagner opera a few weeks later. The pain lingered around for hours after playing, and my own default “quick-fix” methods to relieve the pain were no longer working. It was time to take action beyond my instinctual behaviors (ie – limiting physical practice time, making sure I am sitting “correctly,” etc). Thankfully I was able to find an excellent physical therapist at Motion Sports PT in midtown east in Manhattan, and I didn’t have to take any “extended break” from playing the violin, which wouldn’t have helped anyway.
Last week, I had the privilege to attend Juilliard’s virtually-held Starling-Delay Symposium. One of the best events for me was focused around longevity and injury-prevention. Much of what I learned in physical therapy was echoed and explained in greater detail at Pamela Frank and Howard Nelson’s workshop titled Don’t Let This Happen To You. After overcoming a debilitating playing injury, Pamela Frank spent over a year retraining her posture and fundamental movement patterns both during violin-playing and other everyday activities (ie – sitting, standing, sleeping, etc). In this workshop we focused on how to keep a healthy body alignment and how to be more efficient in the practice room.