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.

Violin is not fun

But then again, it’s really not supposed to be.  Hold on a minute; I’m actually not trying to complain here (believe it or not).  Many things in life aren’t fun, and they truly aren’t supposed to be.  I teach math, and I routinely tell my students that math isn’t fun, and it isn’t supposed to be.  It’s not supposed to be outright painful either (which many of my students may disagree with) but there’s another word for what it’s supposed to be.

Say someone is graduating from college.  That moment when they call his name, he walks to the center of the stage, his family cheers like a bunch of lunatics, he’s blushing, the whole nine yards.  That moment seems like fun, but it really isn’t.  It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, like finishing your taxes, mowing your lawn, getting a new job, or finally nailing that really difficult part with the metronome.  None of that is fun.  What it is, is rewarding.  And I think I’m finally starting to get a little bit rewarded.

Danielle has been telling me this for eons:  work slowly, work with the metronome, work on intonation, don’t worry about speed.  It will come.  She could have thrown on a “young padawan” there, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  I wasn’t ready to hear it.  The Paganini was so darn fast, that I was obsessed with speed, speed, and more speed.  That led to tons of frustration because my little fingies weren’t ready for that kind of heat.  They wanted to play in tune, yearned for it, but I wouldn’t let them.  Yes, Danielle’s been telling me this forever, but I didn’t listen.  And I’m not saying I’ve been a total failure up to this point; I’ve had lots of success, but nevertheless, I was impatient.

No guilt, though.  I wasn’t ready.  It’s like writing a screenplay.  Sometimes you just have to write that ending that you know won’t work, because, well, you’re not ready to write the good one.  You have to get the crap out of your system before you’re ready to do some serious tear-jerking, you know what I mean?  Now I’m ready.  Hopefully.

I guess I do feel a tiny bit guilty though.  Not because I think I’ve wasted the last year and two months, but because I ignored Danielle for so long, and finally listened when Evin told me.  Not that I’m that guilty; Danielle does the same thing to me all the time.  I tell Danielle she should change a color on her website, or in a brochure, or some other thing and she only listens when someone else tells her.  Mmm hmm.  You know the story.  Either way, it was like this light bulb.  Practice slowly.  What a concept.  I think I remember someone telling me this about a year ago in a comment on here.  “Practice slowly” they said “Whatevs” I thought.  Only now do I understand.

I had a lesson yesterday with Evin.  This was after our last lesson where she hammered me on my intonation, and I figured if I was going to mess anything up, it wasn’t going to be intonation.  Or at least I wouldn’t mess it up worse than I had the lesson before.  I practiced for about 50 minutes before the lesson, 40 of those were slow playing, the piece and scales, really working on intonation.  The last 10 minutes before she came in I worked with the metronome, except with the beats as 1/8 notes instead of 1/4.  So it was like slow rhythm work.  Nice and slow.  Yeah.

When she came in, we played together somewhat slowly, not as slowly as I had just been practicing, but slower than usual.  Everything was pretty good.  Then we picked up the speed, and what do you know?  It was fine.  Pretty crazy actually how doing it so many times really slowly actually helps when picking up the speed.  Why didn’t someone tell me this a year ago?  Why didn’t, er, oh yeah.  Sorry Danielle.  Well, at least I’m listening now!  (thanks Evin)

I unfortunately didn’t tape my lesson with Evin.  That’s the way it always is.  If it goes well, I probably didn’t tape it, but if I really want to tank a lesson, break out the recorder.  Anyway.  Today I worked on, you guessed it, slow metronome work, and you might think that it would be easier to play this really slow, but for some reason it isn’t.  My mind sort of goes numb and I forget the notes when it’s not going fast enough.  And I out play the metronome all the time.  So often I get a little off the beat and just a tiny slow-down could bring me back, but I think I’m behind, so I play faster until I catch up with the next beat, but I’m playing too fast, so I blow through the next one and all hell breaks loose.  Well, I actually just sort of stop playing and play the passage again, but it’s like driving.  Some people, when they get freaked out on the road, hit the gas.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, but typically, you just want to take your foot off the gas, keep a calm mind, and assess the situation.  Music is like the road.  Lots of stuff going on and pretty chaotic.

So here is me playing with the metronome:

I lose the beat in the middle there and use the tie to get back on.  I also lose it at the end, which is why I smile there.  It’s funny; it doesn’t look like much, but to even get it to there with the metronome is very difficult for me, and I would guess for all beginners who haven’t grown up playing an instrument.  I’m particularly proud of the ties at the end, the ones that tie into a 1/16th note and I have to come off in the middle of the beat.  It’s easier to do with 1/8th notes instead of quarters.

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3 Comments on “Violin is not fun”

  1. RN says:

    Sometimes I think I need to go back and use a metronome for my life. Hmmm…

  2. Violin Teacher in VA says:

    Wow, it’s been a while since I checked in here, but watching this video really highlights how much you’ve improved! Well done! The intonation was good, your shifting was accurate, and the timing was good right up until the end. Congratulations!

    And yes, slow work really does make a difference! I always tell my students that at the end of listening to them play something they are working on, I would love simply to say, “Great! Now the only thing it needs is to pick up the tempo!” Isn’t that better than hearing comments on a number of things? Easier said than done, of course …

    Keep it up!

    • rrvaughn says:

      Thanks a lot! As far as tempo, I remember an early video I made that Danielle didn’t want me to post. She said I wasn’t allowed to play “that slow and that out of tune.” Of course, I had only been playing for a few weeks, so that’s my excuse!


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