[05/19, 19:53] The Law of Requisite Variety (Ashby's Law) has it that it requires variety to control variety. Applied to learning complex skills, that means that the variety in the experimentation applied to meet technical challenges or learn skills must be greater than the variety contained in the challenges or skills. There seems to be a minimum threshold below which success is unlikely. Above that threshold, however, success is virtually inevitable, provided that one is willing to do what it takes, which is variety, novelty, repetition, reflection, etc -- as much as is required for outcome achievement. Mere repetition is not sufficient. It must include a minimum variety. One of the critical characteristics of masters is that they are willing to do what it takes. They will experiment and experiment and practice and practice until it pays off. No excuses and no silly expectations of instantaneous results.
[04/29, 08:06] This gem from Nathan Cole (https://www.natesviolin.com/) about practicing: "One way of thinking about the effect of practice on performance is to consider that your performance will be the average of your last 100 repetitions." The point he's making is that all too often we practice haphazardly, expecting everything to finally come together when we perform. As we practice, so we perform. Watch his 3 videos on practicing.
Let me recap the 7 (for convenience) basics of violin technique. Left hand: lifting/dropping of fingers; shifting; vibrato. Right hand/arm: legato; detache; martele; bouncing strokes (several). Each one of those must be developed systematically. There are many excellent etudes written for that purpose. Kurt Sassmannshaus, former pupil of Dorothy Delay and professor in Cincinnati, has an excellent graded list of etudes. I post it below. Have a look. In my opinion, etudes/caprices are not an end in itself. They are useful to sharpen one's awareness of critical aspects of particular techniques. I am not an advocate of learning volumes of etudes from cover to cover. One should pick etudes and exercises from different sources to fit particular needs and musical tastes. I like Yost, Kreutzer, Dont and Dounis. Only recently have I discovered Schradieck and the Korgov/Vamos double-stopping exercises, as well as Gavinies (very challenging indeed!). There are many many more that are certainly worthwhile. Sometimes I think the apex of violin technical treatises and etudes/caprices was at the beginning of the 19th century. Yes, the 1800's! The stuff that the Italian and French virtuosi and teachers wrote/composed at the time is truly amazing! The Italians were the trailblazers of "modern" violin technique, followed by the French and the Germans, and then the Russians. All those influences became part of the melting pot in America starting early in the 20th century. Nowadays, the technique of violin playing has become much more uniform worldwide than it was in earlier centuries. I suppose it is the result of a kind of evolutionary process in which many people participated, whereby the less effective practices were gradually eliminated. The result is a convergence of distilled results. For example, the Franco-Belgian bow-hold has become practically universal. I guess what I am trying to say is that the path and the material for developing excellent technique of violin playing has been tried and tested for a very long time, and it is out there for the picking. Have a look at Sassmannhaus's list of etudes. Most, if not all of it, is freely available on the internet. Since you are now forced by circumstances to take more ownership of your own learning, explore the material that has already been sifted by great teachers and players. You might just discover nuggets of gold that suit you and your particular needs perfectly. If you were wholly dependent on your teacher (for the time being that's me!) for choices, you might have missed it. So, use this time to explore and experiment in a playful spirit. By investigating the canon of proven works, you cannot go wrong.
Good evening to all my violin pupils! I trust that you are ready to continue our Korgov/Schradieck challenge. 8:00 tomorrow morning. Please read the articles by master violin teacher and wonderful violinist, Simon Fischer, that I'll be posting here. I recommend it so strongly, it might as well be called required reading!
These are the stages we typically go through when developing skills, whether it be to speak a new language, drive an automobile, play tennis or a musical instrument: first, we are unaware of the extent of what we need to learn. We are clueless. Then, if we start learning and realize what it actually demands from us, we usually feel somewhat overwhelmed. If we proceed, however, applying ourselves methodically and with discipline, we reach a stage of being proficient, but short of fluent. We can sort of manage our skill, but only with great concentration, and we are easily derailed by complications or distractions. We can manage, but only within narrow limits. At that stage we are sort of skilled, but clumsy. Many people stop there, thinking either that they have arrived, or that they have reached their limit. Those who have the grit to persevere past this stage, trusting that the purpose of learning is to shift boundaries, will eventually, if they persist long enough, reach a stage of fluency, where even the most daunting task can seem effortless. This is the stage of virtuosity, earned through dedication, focus, discipline, perseverance, and love. Yes, love. Loving the subject matter, loving learning and growing, loving to share the beauty of music, and above all loving your participation in something much, much bigger than yourself. Think about it. Clueless, overwhelmed, clumsy, fluent. Sustained and informed by love. The process demands a great deal, but offers so much more in return.
[04/17, 13:05] This lockdown situation is an opportunity for you to take more responsibility for your own learning. At my first lesson with Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard she said, "my job is not to teach you to play the violin; my job is to teach you to teach yourself to play the violin." Each of us is in effect our own teacher when we are practicing. We normally spend about an hour per week with our teacher, and then go on to spend many hours with ourselves in the practice room. Those hours should be a continuation of the kind of work done at formal lessons. We should take an objective view of ourselves and "teach" while we practice exactly like we would teach a pupil whose very best interest we have at heart. Listen objectively, set goals, identify problems, search for solutions, make use of external resources if needed, and give lots of positive encouragement. Always with our ultimate goal in mind, which is to convey something of beauty to other people when we make music.
[04/14, 09:25] Here is an EXTREMELY valuable tip. Whatever you are practicing, make it a habit to combine different elements in different ways, for example left hand finger pressure and bowing sounding point. It is "varied" practice that sharpens your awareness and control. For example, when repeating an exercise or passage in a piece of music, pick a different bowing sounding point for each repetition. Do the same with left hand finger pressure. Next step, do different combinations of the two elements. Try to get the maximum benefit from everything you do when you practice. "Combining" and "varying"is a very useful way to do it.
[04/15, 21:49] How is this as an example of varied practice - of applying the law of Requisite Variety? Here is the great violinist Ruggiero Ricci, in an article in Strad magazine: “For years I experimented. I practiced with gloves on; fixing the instrument against the wall to make it stable; lying on the floor; playing with one ear plugged; playing with the other ear plugged; playing in closets; sitting down.”
04/16, 08:38] Remember: an exercise is only as effective as the quality of attention you bring to it. READ THAT AGAIN, PLEASE. And it is only as comprehensive as the variety you bring to it. This might be a good time for all of you to read Timothy Gallwey's book The Inner Game of Tennis. Absolutely worth you time! The best book on learning the violin, according to both Dorothy DeLay and Itzhak Perlman. I think they are correct. It is the best book I know of about learning anything.