Category Archives: one-finger exercises

Practicing: Longitude, Latitude, and Calm Slow Motion

Just finished today’s first practice session (I have time today for two or possibly three).

Warmed up with one-finger scales, broken thirds, octaves, etc.  I love playing with one (left) finger as a warm-up activity.  Physically, it is very gentle and helps get the blood flowing.  More than that, when I’m sliding around on the fingerboard with just one finger, aural (auditory) control is essential–you just can’t play without it.  One finger “stuff”–another way to put it is glissando exercises–is a very effective way to establish the the internal-hearing-directing-physical-movement brain circuitry.

I’m very big on position exercises, too.  The one-finger slurping around led into some double-stop exercises in particular positions, all inspired by the exercises in Starker’s An Organized Method of String Playing.  The exercises in that book are designed to develop awareness of and skill in playing in each position.

Position exercises are the way we learn the various latitudes of the the fingerboard;  one-finger shifting exercises develop skill in navigating the longitudes.  (Hey, I can’t be the first person to use a latitude/longitude metaphor for learning the fingerboard, but a quick Google search doesn’t show anyone using it for bowed-string instrument pedagogy.)

I’ve been doing these exercises for years, and they still help. No matter what our playing level and years of experience, the circuits in our brain (and whatever literal muscle memories may actually exist) need reinforcement to be maintained. And we can still grow new ones.  I’m just about finished listening to the audiobook version of The Talent Code, in which Daniel Coyle links brain research to successful practice/training methods, and it’s absolutely fascinating.  More about it in a future post.  What has impressed me so much is how the research explains why/how certain practice techniques work so well.  It all has to do with developing neural connections wrapped in myelin.

One of the exciting things is that even though it becomes a slower process as we age, we can still develop new brain circuits at any age, and hence develop new skills. I’ve certainly been finding that to be the case;  in the last few years, my comfort in the high-ends of the fingerboard has increased a lot as I’ve done various exercises, particularly position exercises, up there.

Since I’m familiar with the exercises I was doing, I was also able to give intermittent attention to the fluidity of my bow arm and the “straightness” of my bow stroke.

Then I went into some very slow, very calm practicing of the third movement of the Schumann Concerto, which I am relearning.  When I first started it, my mind was filled with “IT’S SO F***ING HARD” sorts of thoughts.  Long ago I was taught that we have to let go of those thoughts, or a piece will remain “f***ing hard” forever.  Slow, easy, without worry.  Hearing the sounds and visualizing the motions first.  Calmly correcting errors, then repeating correctly.  Lots and lots, in my case, of releasing anxiety.  And, of course, as I develop a solid aural concept, visualization of the motions, mental calmness, and practice correction, even the most seemingly awkward passages become controllable.  Confidence moves in where the fear used to be.

A productive session.

(It’s been forever and a day since I last posted, so no promises regarding future consistency. )

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Filed under Janos Starker, one-finger exercises, practice techniques