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.

A straight three minutes

Because of Colburn’s spring break when Evin was back home in San Francisco and my spring break from Cal State Fullerton when Danielle and I went down to San Diego for a little while, I hadn’t had a lesson with Evin in a while.  Yesterday morning, we worked together and it was a bit of an eye opener.  I think I’ve really taken a step backwards in the last couple of weeks.  Of course, when getting better, it’s common to think you’re actually getting worse, but in this case, I think it’s true.  For a while there I was hitting the metronome hard and the slow work, and everything was slowly coming along.  I’ve been slacking with the hard stuff and have been doing mostly performance practice lately, trying to just get through the new stuff.  I sort of fell into that pit with Paganini where I just wanted to play enough to get something on video, but wasn’t actually getting better as a violinist.  Same thing here.  The good news:  I pretty much know the entire piece now!  The bad news:  I sound like crap when I play it.

My vision, of course, was to play with Evin and record it during our lesson and have a sparkling little gem to post on here today.  Not so much.  We did play, but I couldn’t get through it.  Since we haven’t played together for a while, I was nervous.  That sounds like a weak excuse, but it’s true.  I usually go into a practice room, text her where I am, and she comes and finds me.  Our lesson was at 11am and I texted her my location at 10:53.  As soon as I sent it, it was like I could feel her presence coming and I got a little scared.  It was like the water ripples from Jurassic Park.  (And Evin is not that intimidating by the way.  She’s very sweet.  The scary part is just playing in front of her when I know she’s so good.  It’s hard to explain)  When she showed up, I sucked it up for a while, but sort of got it together.  The title of this post refers to our best run, which was about a three minute segment of the piece.  I decided not to post it because the only redeeming thing about it is that I simply play for three minutes.  My rhythm is pretty bad, as I hold most of the ties too long.  It was very apparent I haven’t been working with the metronome (something I started to correct this morning, which was also depressing.  Parts I could whip through with the metronome a couple of weeks ago I really had a difficult time with today.  You just can’t let up with these things).  Worse than the rhythm, though, was the intonation, which was atrocious.  Really bad.  When listening, even I cringe.  My sound is surprisingly decent, but it is the only thing I’ve really been working on.

Hmm.  So I need slow work to improve my intonation and metronome work to improve my rhythm?  This is nothing new.  Hopefully I’ll actually DO what I should be doing.

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8 Comments on “A straight three minutes”

  1. JRV says:

    Carry on, RRV, carry on — and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well —

  2. Ali says:

    Hey, I randomly stumbled upon your blog, possibly because I’m on a similar mission — to master the cello as quickly as possible. This is because I’m a long-time horn player with a dental injury, who’s dying to get back into an orchestra as soon as possible. But, anyhow, I’ve been playing for about 7 months now and I feel a lot of your pain! At the risk of sounding a bit preachy, I have a bit of advice, coming from someone who’s studied 5 instruments over the course of 25 years. Feel free to completely ignore it 🙂

    One thing in particular that I wanted to comment on is the balance between practicing pieces that are easy, and those that are hard. Finding the perfect balance has been a big goal of mine, where I’m defining perfection as being the balance that will lead to the fastest overall improvement for a given amount of practice time. At one extreme, if all we did was play “Twinkle” for a year until it was perfected, then we wouldn’t learn hardly any skills at all. But, at the other extreme, if all we do is hack away at music that’s too difficult for us, then that’s what we learn to do. You learn what you practice, and if all you practice is playing poorly, then that’s all you learn. I don’t see what benefit you get from poorly hacking away at a piece for 3 minutes, aside from mental tenacity.

    So, although I agree that it’s good to have lofty goals and to challenge oneself, at a time like this when you’re struggling, maybe it’s time for a brief return to basics? Like slow, controlled scales and simple etudes. Since you mention intonation problems, have you tried practicing scales with a tuner (one of the ones with the lights that go off when you’re on pitch)? It’s a good exercise (and super challenging) to play full-bow scales with the tuner, making sure that you’re as exactly on pitch as possible. This is just my my humble opinion, but I think it’s better to learn each position in turn perfectly before moving on, because the muscle memory that comes from *not* learning them perfectly can be as difficult to correct as learning it all in the first place.

    Anyway, keep up the good work! And try not to get discouraged…it takes people very many years to master these instruments.

    • rrvaughn says:

      Hi Ali,
      Thanks for the comment! You are, of course, right and lately I’ve backed off the Paganini. I’m working on the Bach Double violin concerto, not a total beginner piece, but much more elementary than caprice #24! I also play scales, and they just started me on Sevcik shifting exercises.

      I haven’t tried the tuner with the light, although I probably should. I have been doing a lot more slow work lately and my intonation, hopefully, has improved a little, but it could always be better!

  3. jludeke says:

    Hang in there, it will get better! Here’s a little inspiration for you: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/multimedia/one-handed-violinist-makes-beautiful-music/
    My son-in-law’s sister is a classmate of his and I am hoping to meet him in May at graduation!

    • rrvaughn says:

      Hi Jeanne,
      thanks for the video! I had heard some people talking about this guy lately, but hadn’t watched the video yet. Pretty impressive what people can do if they want it bad enough.

    • B.Rajkumar says:

      Hi jludeke,

      Thank you very much! The video is truly amazing!!I would not have believed it had I not seen this video! Really the secret is perseverence. Thanks again.

  4. Joy says:

    I have been learning violin for six months now and you are way beyond my ability – so well done (and I can relate to how difficult this instrument is to play). As you have been talking about intonation… I have recently come across a computer program called Intonia. Do you know about it? Anyway, it is a pitch recorder that string players can visualize intonation on their computer screen. It is an electronic tuner and a digital recorder combined, and keeps a memory of what it has heard, and displays pitch on a scrolling graph. I have only just started using it and playing around with the program but it seems to have great potential and many uses. I believe you can also use it to look at your vibrato, articulation, slides etc. in visual form and then you can improve on your technique and see your progress on screen. If you are interested just google Intonia, and it cost next to nothing to buy. All the very best with your endeavor.

    • rrvaughn says:

      Hi Joy, thanks for the complement! I just took at look at Intonia’s website. Apparently there’s a 30 day trial. Perhaps I’ll give it a go! Thanks again, and good luck to you also!


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