Now that we’re well into In-Depth, it’s time to think about finding more learning opportunities. My violin lessons have been successful in teaching me something new each time; for instance, the last couple of lessons I had taught me more about slides on the violin than I’d ever imagined would be possible. On top of third and second positions on the violin, there is also a half position in which the first finger falls on either a flat or natural note, depending which string you play on. That position is really useful for songs in keys with more natural and flat notes, but is also essential when starting off a song with two alternating notes such as F and G natural, in which you would either have to slide your fingers up to the end of the violin every time you wished to play the F or switch to the previous string, neither of which is an ideal option when alternating quickly between notes. I credit most of this new knowledge to my mentor, but also to my never-ending questions about what she teaches me. I do a lot of unexpected learning when I ask my mentor for feedback, which is usually goes something like, “How can I make this transition between strings smoother”, or “… these higher notes sound better”.
One of the opportunities for new learning that my mentor gave me is learning how to perform in front of an audience at a recital. Yes, I am going to play at a recital! I’m going to be coming right back from one of the practice trip hikes, but I’ll have just enough time to change into something nicer than hiking boots. I’m not sure whether to be more apprehensive or excited, especially since I’ve never played such an exposed piece in front of an audience before. Only two instruments playing means that I really have to listen and count out the measures of notes to stay in time with my mentor. As said in an earlier In-Depth post, it sure is a change from Concert Band in school, where I’m playing with at least 25 other people and a conductor.
To reinforce new things that I am learning, Heather often shows me ways that I can practice bow holds and motions on items like school pencils, so that I can continue my practice without my violin or bow. Recently, I’ve been learning a bow technique that involves laying your knuckles flat against the bow on the dow bow and rising them in the up bow. I’ve been having same trouble doing it because I have to think about raising my wrist, keeping my hand and arm relaxing, using the proper amount of speed and pressure for a good tone, keeping the normal bow hold I have intact, and then raising or lowering my knuckles on top of it all. However, if I can reinforce my learning by practicing in between classes easily, I can rely more on my muscle memory when it comes time to play.
To help accelerate my learning, there are books that are available for purchase for excersizes to improve on fingerings, switching to and from second and third position, and legato or staccato bowings that I have access to through my mentor. I’m actually planning to get one with lots of slide practices next week, which has a ton of really nice-sounding songs/excersizes. There are also many youtube tutorials and performances that I can watch to go further into performance techniques like how to move with the music, and when slow bowing are used as opposed to faster, higher intensity bowings. My mentor kind of introduced me to a new side of the youtube community by showing me some of the many videos.
During our lessons, we talk about the songs I play, of course. However, we also talk about songs that my mentor might play; we talk about minor and major keys, and sometimes test to see if I can tell the difference between a melodic or harmonic minor with just my ears; we talk about what kind of music I might like to learn next, or even transpose on my own. We often talk about what our favourite scales or notes might be as well. My lessons are relatively informal, and since they are one-on-one,we sometimes talk about our other musical endeavors, me in band, and my mentor on the piano or with her other students. When we meet every week, our conversation varies but I’m happy to say that we’re comfortable enough around each other that it comes easily and naturally.
On another note (haha… music puns), we’ve been doing some song-writing lately in TALONS, and I learned something highly relevant from our Wednesday session, when we disscussed the vast subjectivity of music, and how there is no right way to perform or create music. I started to experiment with new ways to play the violin, and drew some inspiration from Michael Averill’s performance with a guitar laid flat across his lap. Instead of holding the violin with my neck and shoulder, I held it by the neck in my lap, like a guitar and strummed on the strings. Although I’ve tried pizzicati before (the method of plucking out notes on the violin) the strumming was very different and produced longer notes. I also discovered that since the lower strings were more loosely bound to the violin, they were more flexible and vibrated longer, producing longer lasting notes. So while a low note was being played, I could pluck at the higher, shorter lasting notes while the low one lingered. Because of the varying height levels of the strings, I could even pluck multiple strings at once, no matter where they lay on the fingerboard. With a bow, it is only possible to play on two strings when the strings are directly beside each other, so this was a new experience for me. I hope to start making up some of my own music and posting it to soundcloud soon, so check back for updates to a link!