SLAM! The student whipped himself with his bow. Grimacing, he tried again. Ouch! He goofed up in the same spot and hit himself again. I winced as it happened the third time.
Messing up is frustrating. But hitting the same snag over and over is downright demoralizing. What do you do when you can’t seem to play any better? When that difficult passage just won’t come?
Being easy with ourselves is important for well-being. Many students will punish themselves mentally (and physically) for not playing perfectly. Not only does this make them feel worse, it actually prohibits them from the improvement they are seeking.
Beyond working on that self-punishing, dramatic reaction to a mistake (I have had to talk to more than a few students about that), there are some things you can do to instantly remove pressure and make it easier to succeed.
Plucking is your FRIEND
I like to have students fill in the blank, “Plucking Is Your _____________!” I will pause and let them think of the answer, “FRIEND!” Then I ask why that is the case. Usually they can start to grasp why on their own: because plucking makes things easier!
“Is it OK,” I will ask, “to make things easier?” Students are surprised by this question and always say yes. So many things in life are hard, it is nice to know that we have permission to make things easier.
For us artistic, perfectionist types, we are often attracted to things that are inherently difficult and complex. We need ways to lessen the difficulty, if we are going to stick with an artistic pursuit.
Separating the two sides of the body simplifies things
One reason plucking makes things easier is that it separates the left hand from the right. This really simplifies the learning.
This separation is actually key to helping the brain process new information. The brain hemispheres control opposite sides of the body, and need space to pick up a pattern, independently.
Not worrying about the bow, we can focus on learning finger patterns, intervals, shifting, and whatever else may come our way with getting notes accurate.
No more worms
Violinists are good at finding their way to a pitch. Worming your way around the fingerboard in hopes of eventually landing on the right pitch, or "fixing" pitch mid-stream, is an indication of a good ear. But if it happens all the time (whenever you shift to 3rd position for example) we need to correct it.
Plucking forces you to pick a note. One spot for your finger to land! If a student has gotten into the habit of worming their way around each note, a great way to eliminate this is to practice only pizzicato for a week or two.
When you can’t remember a part of the piece you are trying to memorize, it helps to put the bow down and pluck. Again, the separation of brain hemispheres helps to isolate the issue and focus.
ACTIONS FOR THE WEEK
The following exercise is for simplifying a complex piece through pizzicato practice. For a great visual image of how to do pizzicato, see the WikiHow article, How To Play Pizzicato at https://www.wikihow.com/Play-Pizzicato
- Choose a difficult passage and only pluck-practice for a few days.
- Be sure to pluck with good position:
- Pluck well over the fingerboard
- With the side of your index (or middle) finger
- Not too forcefully, and not too wimpy. Get it "just right"
- Aim at good tone so you can hear whether it is in tune
- Speed up. As you practice you'll get more facility with speed.
- Memorize the passage pizzicato
Notice the difference in clarity and accuracy when you go back to bowing.
Important note: Some musical actions are very difficult to do pizzicato, such as grace notes and turns. Either leave them out or do them extremely slowly when plucking.
Make things simpler
Plucking is your friend, because it makes things simpler, easier, more peaceful, and makes you get better. So put down the bow. You don’t always need the bow to practice. Give yourself a chance to learn the finger patterns and become more exact with pitch. This will also help you memorize and gain more facility with your piece.