Keep Starting Over

It’s very hard to convince students and parents about the benefits of reviewing the basics. It’s even hard to convince other teachers that a constant review of the essentials is beneficial! There is an attitude that we are stacking blocks on top of each other rather than refining a constantly evolving skill.

Let’s be clear: you will never stop working on your bow hold! Never!

Constantly starting over from the very beginning is not only essential but very satisfying.

Simon Fischer, violinist and violin teacher, talks about the skyscraper analogy. In his book, The Violin Lesson he says that you can tell the size of a building by the footprint that is being dug. If it is wide and deep, you know it is going to be a mighty tower! Unfortunately, if you wanted to add 20 floors to an existing building, you can’t just lay it on its side, dig a deeper foundation, build 20 new floors, and set the old building on the new floors. But, this is exactly what can be done on the violin. I’ve experienced it in my own playing and in that of my students.

Suzuki knew this. Reports from teachers who studied with him say that he was always playing very simple pieces for their value in refining some aspect of playing. One colleague of mine who studied with him when he was young told me this story:

As a 10 year old, he went to Japan for a short time to study violin. He was very proud to bring a piece from Book 5 and was prepared to knock the old master’s socks off! Suzuki listened to him and said, “Very good. Now we will play Twinkle for beautiful tone.”

Try playing twinkle with perfect feet position, balanced bow and violin hands, no tension, even vibrato, full, ringing tone, preparing each left hand finger and relaxing them after they are played.  Keep the bow perfectly parallel to the bridge and tilt it correctly as it approaches the frog or the tip. Are the bow changes smooth? Is your bow traveling at a consistent speed?

I could add dozens of other aspects of playing to keep aware of when playing simple pieces. Care in being very precise in these simple songs translates into more difficult pieces. There will be a control and an ease that just magically appear, even in more difficult material.

Don’t be afraid of starting over. Be afraid of adding another song or book, but not improving your technique!