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.

This is what I was talking about

Let me prepare you for the video you’re about to see, because trust me, you need preparing.  Not preparing in a good way, as in you’re going to fall down in disbelief that someone so violinistically green as myself can play so beautifully and in tune, but just prepared for the pain and torment I’m about to put you through.

The last few days have been about one thing:  get through variation 1 without it sounding ridiculously painful and unbelievably god-awful.  So, on the upside I suppose it’s not that bad, but it’s not in any way good.  Why, you ask, am I so negative recently when the whole point of this blog was to get ruined by that devilish Paganini anyway?

I blame variation 7.  I’m not saying I rocked out variation 7 like someone who’s been playing since the age of 4, but it’s certainly a much easier variation than some of them, and I was much more comfortable with it.  Going from that to variation 1 wasn’t fun to say the least.

Oh well.  Enough whining.  Get out your earplugs; here it is:

Notice how I have to shift around really quick?  That combined with the quick grace notes leading into quick spiccato makes it, do I even need to say it again?  Yeah, it’s a pain.


Well, it’s something

So apparently, variation 1 is really hard.  I started it several months ago and got to the repeat, but passed on the rest of it.  That is, until now.  I’ve been in this mode recently (and for good reason – I have exactly four months left!) where I’m trying to learn as much new stuff as possible.  Here’s the rundown of the stuff I technically have memorized, not that I can actually play any of it very well:


Variation 1

Variation 2 sans grace notes

Variation 3

Variation 4

Variation 7

1/2 Variation 9

1/2 Finale

That’s roughly half the piece right there.  Of course, I’m now two-thirds the way through my year here, so you’d think I should be two-thirds the way through the piece, right?  Although I would rather report more progress, I’m not necessarily worried about it.  I’m learning things much faster these days and my goal is to have the entire piece “learned” in two months from now.  At that point I’ll hopefully begin playing in Danielle’s class much more and really try to sharpen things over the next two months before my, er, performance in late February.  Assuming everything stays on track.

As for now, though, I’ve been learning variation 1 for the last little while and it’s, what’s the word I’m looking for, really freaking difficult.  I know, I know, I say every variation is really difficult when I run across it, but this one is particularly tricky.  It has the trifecta of hardness:  it jumps all around the violin, it has these fast grace notes, and then it has the spiccato (yes it’s back; I’ve put off mentioning it again after I misspelled it a few months back, hoping you’d forget about that little mistake).  There’s actually a fourth difficult thing, and that’s transitioning from spiccato to regular playing.  I tend to bounce.

Wow.  So I have this little routine when I post something on here.  I’ll record what I want to record, take it off the SD card, load it on my computer, and then actually write the post while I’m waiting for it to load.  Right after I wrote the word “bounce” above, I actually watched the video of me playing the first variation.  I have to say, I’ve been pretty forthcoming with my violin playing, but this is the first real time I’m actually embarrassed.  It’s not good.  At all.  It’s really, painfully slow and not even good for being slow.  Wow.  Really depressing considering I haven’t posted for a week or so trying to get this to the point where I can actually play it.

Sad.  Just sad.  Anyway, I’m actually not going to post it.  Yuck.  I know this is uncharacteristic of me, as I’m usually underly-bashful about displaying myself and my screeching sounds, but even I have to have some standards.  And this doesn’t meet them.

Perhaps I can put something up involving the first variation soon.  Or I just may move on.  For now.

What do you expect…perfection?

Because you’re certainly not going to get it.  But at least I have another variation memorized, albeit slowly.  As in, I play it slowly, but hey–I’m not exactly going for perfection here.

I’m sort of in a box-checking mode right now.  I need to get these variations down and in the books.  It’s kind of like Iron Chef.  Have you seen this show?  Two chefs compete over 1 hour to create 5 dishes of a meal that all focus on a central ingredient that’s exposed right before the match.  The chefs have to plate each dish during the hour, so as you can imagine, you can’t plate the dishes soon enough.  That’s how I feel – I can’t plate these variations soon enough.  If they’re not great, I can always go back, but let’s get them learned!

With that spirit, here’s the entire variation 7:

I slow down a bit at the end, but it’s getting better.  Hopefully I’ll have this one faster and a little bit of variation 8 down.

So it’s 12:43am right now as I write this on Sunday morning.  All day Saturday was spent grading my students’ 74 pre-calculus exams and I’m pretty exhausted.  It’s funny; grading tests like this can be so frustrating when they mess up stuff we specifically talked about.  I can tell so easily which students studied and which didn’t.  On that note though, as some may disappoint me, others make me proud.  This is, of course, the same as many of Danielle’s students and the way they make her feel at times.  As I progress with this little project, I’m trying harder and harder to make her proud.

Left to my own devices

I don’t know if I practice well all by myself.  At least I don’t feel like I do.  When I first started, Danielle would strategically place herself outside my room while practicing and constantly barge in and give her two cents.  This, of course, infuriated me at the time, but as this project has gone on, I don’t mind as much since my main goal is now to get better.  Pride?  Already swallowed, digested, and is well on its way, swimming to a new and brighter future.

So I like it when Danielle critiques me these days, although we do have a rule that if I’m practicing on my own, she has to let me screw something up three times before chiming in, since I oftentimes do correct my own mistakes.  These casual monitored practice sessions have grown into more structured mini lessons lately, and these lessons have dramatically helped.  Of course, they can only help when Danielle is around and unfortunately, she’s out of town at the moment.

As many of you know, Danielle won the Sphinx competition in 2008 and this led to her soloing with numerous orchestras (including the Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Pops).  This week, the Sphinx orchestra is touring in Ohio and North Carolina and Danielle is soloing (she’s actually playing the Handel-Halvorsen duet) with them.  So she’s gone and I’m here left to my own devices.  I can feel my playing going downhill.

I suppose that’s a very defeatist and overly dependent attitude, but what do you expect?  I know darn well that my chances of doing this thing are hugely dependent on Danielle helping me, even though I need to put in the hours on my own to succeed.  I guess it’s a little of both.  I need instruction and I need to practice.  Well, duh!  That’s a bit of a blinding flash of the obvious.

Yesterday, my buddy Dave was over and he recorded me playing a new variation I’ve been working on:  variation 7.  I don’t know the whole thing yet, but I can play a little bit past the repeat.  Here it is:

Again, of course it’s not perfect, but when I listened to this, I have to say I was pleased.  It sounds much better than I thought it would.  Maybe I don’t practice by myself as badly as I thought.