The past 5 days have been especially fruitful for me. I participated in a long, in-depth online workshop about the pedagogy of Paul Rolland. His principles and Action Studies focus on creating healthy movements with good balance, which allow one to develop stellar technique (including the basics of advanced skills within the first 2 years of playing the instrument), find more potential for musical expression, and play with minimal to no excess tension in the body. Continue reading “A Holistic Approach to String Playing with Paul Rolland’s Principles”
Affirmations – positive statements about ourselves in first person and in the present tense. But do they really help cope with performance anxiety and resolve negative feelings leading up to a performance?
Have you ever felt like a fool sitting there repeating phrases to yourself like “I am a great musician. I sound amazing. I am very confident about this.”? All in the midst of being a nervous wreck just before getting up on stage or taking an audition. Ever feel like you were forcing this message to your subconscious self and try to trick yourself out of feeling inadequate, intimidated, or like an impostor?
This is a pretty common scenario. Unfortunately, affirmations don’t always work, even with all best intentions. If we feel like we are lying to ourselves with these statements, affirmations may cause us more harm than good.
There is a better way.
We can develop musicality through the study of music theory, harmonic analysis, history, and ear training. These are studies that help us understand music better on an intellectual and aural level. On the other hand, we can also experience emotions that we wish to express through music, and/or we feel something while listening to a piece. We might know exactly how we wish to phrase something and have a vision for the bigger scope of a piece. However, all that musicality can be blocked by our physical body when we pick up our instrument.
Like most classical musicians, I occasionally have some very unwelcome guests in my mind – feelings of doubt, uncertainty, or insecurity. Having some of these feelings are quite normal and in fact, there is a way they can help us grow. However, they become a serious problem if we try to either force them out by faking confidence or dwell on them too long. The longer the negative feelings and thoughts stay, the more they push confidence and reassurance out, leaving us potentially feeling helpless.
This post won’t be about centering or visualization – both essential skills for improving our best performance under pressure. This is a deeper dive that explores what strengthens the roots of true confidence. I’ll briefly summarize 3 concepts as explained by bestselling author, athlete, and coach Steve Magness in his brand new book Do Hard Things. Continue reading “3 Practices to Achieve True Confidence on Stage”
As players of a fret-less stringed instrument that’s not set to equal (or meantone) temperament like a keyboard or marimba, we have the liberty to utilize more than one tuning system. With multiple tuning systems, there’s no such thing as absolutely perfect intonation. Playing the most in tune we can on the violin (or viola, cello, etc) requires a combination of stellar sense of relative pitch combined with active listening, a stable instrument setup, and a reliable left hand technique. The combination of ear training and physical technique creates the mind-body connection (or ear-finger connection, if that makes more sense to you), which allows us to play in tune consistently.
“Stress happens when the mind resists what is.” – Dan Millman
This quote jumped out and caught my attention as I was flipping through some books on sports psychology at the Barnes & Noble Cafe in Union Square. It was the middle of a busy audition season and I was fighting against my long history of performance anxiety and self-doubt.
I stared at this sentence and repeated the words over and over in my mind. “Of course! It’s so obvious,” I thought. Except it was anything but obvious in the spur of the moment. Instinctively, the fight or flight response had me “push away” nerves and “act tough” when placed in a stressful situation. My mind would try to resist the nerves, which in turn only created more stress, setting off a vicious, endless cycle. As the saying goes, resistance makes stronger. “Trying” to achieve something only creates a bigger obstacle by making the task at hand more challenging than it already is.
The concept about the relationship between the mind and stress can help us understand the first of the four principles of natural laws, as explained by world champion gymnast, martial artist, and author Dan Millman in his book Body Mind Mastery. Here’s a short summary of these principles and some of their roles in musical growth.
Vibrato, Tension, & Performance Anxiety
Vibrato is like a musical fingerprint; it’s one of the aspects that distinguishes the sound between one string player and another, and can be developed indefinitely for as long as we play. It’s also one of the most difficult left hand techniques, both from a technical and musical standpoint…at least from personal experience; definitely ranking it among the top 5 for difficulty, if not #1! For some, vibrato is something that miraculously comes naturally. But for me, it’s always been this huge roadblock in my progression, especially during my undergraduate years in college.