I’ve given myself one year to master the violin.

As an adult beginner, I should be playing Twinkle Twinkle; instead, I'm playing Paganini's 24th caprice.

Jedi mind tricks

I currently find myself at my second music camp of the summer:  Luzerne Music Center.  We’re in Lake Luzerne, New York which is nestled in the beautiful Adirondack mountains.  We’ve been here for a few days now, so my apologies for not posting lately (excuses, excuses) as it’s taken a few days to get internet up.

The good news though is that I’ve been practicing quite a bit since I’ve been here, and no, I didn’t forget the video camera!  The bad news is that Danielle is so busy with her students, chamber music coaching, and her own practicing and rehearsing that she doesn’t have a whole lot of time to work with a rising star like myself.

Luckily, I’m pretty good at managing my own time and my practicing so far here has gone pretty well.  Remember the ending to the theme?  The part that looks like this:

That little ending requires playing (all in first position) the second finger on the D string, then the fourth finger on the A string to get that D#, then back to the first finger on the D string and then a half step higher on the A string for an E.  So the fourth finger sort of slides up a half step while the first finger does its job on the D string.  The point of this is that it’s some finger gymnastics and definitely the most challenging passage in the theme.  I’ve had some trouble with this part before, but it’s getting better.

Interestingly, what’s helped me with this passage is something that’s happened sort of naturally.  When I first started playing, I would completely stare at my left hand the entire time.  This, of course, causes my bow to get sloppy, play on the wrong strings, too close to the bridge, etc.  Lately, I’ve done a much better job of trusting my left hand and looking at where my bow crosses the strings while I play.  It’s funny; like Obi Won said, “your eyes can deceive you…don’t trust them.”  It seems like I can “see” my left hand play without staring at it.  Maybe it’s muscle memory, maybe my ears are getting better, maybe both and something else as well.  Maybe I’m becoming a Jedi.  Whatever the case, it’s helping with that tricky last passage.

Here’s a nice slow run-through of the theme.  Notice that throughout, I snag quick glances at my left hand, but for the most part, I look at my bow:

I played this yesterday morning, and in the afternoon, Danielle gave me a little mini lesson.  I taped the entire thing, so the following video was sort of luck that I got it at all.  Danielle was helping me with my sound and intonation on the theme and I was getting frustrated by how slowly I was playing it.  She didn’t mind the speed; she just wanted me to play it smoothly and correctly.  Really not intending to tape it or anything, I just busted out with this:

OK, so it’s not the best playing ever, but we were pretty happy with it (although I do look at my left hand during the last passage!).  The sound could definitely get better, but the intonation is the best I’ve played it at that speed.  Do you notice the goofy looks on my face at times?  I didn’t originally even mean for her to take this seriously.  It’s funny; I just went for it and it turned out well.  Danielle called it an “anomaly” which I’m not exactly crazy about, but the fact is I played a bit above my station.

I got another explanation that I like better than it being something supremely out of the ordinary.  Have I mentioned Elbert before?  He was at USC when Danielle was there and they both studied with Mr. Lipsett.  He’s now with the San Francisco ballet and helps Danielle with some of her students and was on faculty at Danielle’s camp.  He’s here at Luzerne now as well and he told me a story.  When he was younger, he worked on a piece (I can’t remember which one), and he only practiced it long and slow and didn’t want to pump up the tempo.  His teacher at the time (not Lipsett) told, rather ordered, him to just go for it and bust out the much faster tempo.  Just go for it!  He did and it sounded great.  Perhaps it’s an argument to just practice it slowly most of the time and then just go for it.  Danielle typically stresses building slowly to the tempo with a metronome, going faster and faster bit by bit.

Which approach is better for building speed?  Perhaps they both have their place.

5 Comments on “Jedi mind tricks”

  1. B.Rajkumar says:

    I liked the video “Theme how I’d like to play it”. You are playing very well considering the fact that in violin you are only five months old baby.

  2. JRV says:

    Ryan V. — In my choir experience we will take the piece really fast — and honestly — it is helpful in our learning — this method I’ll bet crosses over from the voice to the violin — that was fun to watch — keep having fun with Mr. Paginini just as I’m doing in my soloing with Mr. Mozart.

    • rrvaughn says:

      Hi JRV 🙂
      The speed helps, for sure. After a while it doesn’t seem like the notes are zooming by all that fast. It’s just like juggling; at some point the balls “slow down” and it becomes manageable to keep them all in the air.

  3. Maia says:

    Hey Ryan! I tell my boy students to “use the force” aaaaall the time. Haha. Enjoyed reading this. Keep it up! 🙂

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