Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Today, I’m going to write about my last violin lesson.

Perhaps I should preface this post with a little history. I’ve been taking lessons for a little over three years now, with a very nice woman who plays semi-professionally. Her husband is a retired concertmaster of the local symphony (a major name symphony), and even though he’s very elderly, he still plays a little and has a few students too. I like this set up, because if my teacher is sick, he can step in. I practice (most days) at least thirty minutes a day, sometimes much more than that. It just depends on my schedule and what’s going on in the house. My husband, who minored in piano, plays regularly (but he won’t accompany me) and my daughter plays the flute (she, too, thinks I’m unworthy as a musician). So in between one or the other yelling at me that my music sounds more like two cats having a fight, I have to find time to practice.

You would think that after three years of lessons I should be able to play fairly well. According to my son, who is majoring in piano at a major conservatory (see, I’m surrounded by perfectionists), I still play off-tune, and I still can’t count worth a darn. He knows this because he IS the only one who will play with me. When he was here at Christmas, we exhausted the entire Christmas repertoire. Even though I’m perfectly awful, he still likes to accompany me. He’s actually a very humorous accompanist, but that’s another story.

Most of my lessons are very informational. Much of the time, my teacher and I get along well. She’s only made me cry once, and that’s because I was so frustrated at my total incomprehension that it was the only thing I could do. At my last lesson, I felt the same level of frustration once again. I avoided tears by playing really stupid and sidetracking her to another problem of mine. I can’t remember how I did it, but I’m getting good at deflecting her frustration and saving my own face.

For one thing, my teacher thinks I should be able to know the notes. I have a confession to make. Before taking up violin, I was a frustrated guitar and piano player. As an adult, I took lessons for both, but could not comprehend reading music. I fault my parents, who provided us with musical instruments but were too poor to provide us with lessons. I taught myself both instruments and played by ear. Reading music didn’t make sense to me until I took up the violin. I am able to read the notes on the lower part of the scale now, but for those ear-piercing high notes, I’m left to guess.

The other thing she thinks I should be able to do is vibrato. Vibrato pretties up even the most mundane pieces. It makes an F major scale sound like the fluttering of angels’ wings. I have been trying unsuccessfully for two years to vibrate. I dream of vibrating. I practice it daily. I’ve found instructional videos online but even that hasn’t helped much. I’m finally able to do a very baby one, but only on one note. I can’t do it on a real piece of music, or even on a scale.

There are some lessons where I leave thinking I made two steps forward and one step back. This might have been one where I went one step forward and two steps back.

I went home and did something I never, ever do. I tried to figure out a piece (New Harmony Waltz) by ear. After having concentrated so hard on learning to read music, I found that I failed to do this miserably.

I guess it’s back to the salt mines.

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7 Responses

  1. At least you are trying to learn and taking lessons. I applaud you for that.

    I’ve always wanted to play guitar. I bought myself one about six years ago. I bought it and signed up for lessons at the same time. I went to about three lessons and gave up. My arms are too short for the guitar. I can’t hold it right. Then there’s my short fingers. They can’t reach to play the chords right. Even the teacher said the guitar, a standard sized one, was too big. He suggested I buy a “youth” sized guitar. Of course I was not going to do that because I had already spent money on the other one. So I stopped going and sold the guitar to my daughter’s friend who knew how to play but didn’t have one.

    So I applaud you for sticking to it.

  2. I don’t think learning to read music is all that easy. It wouldn’t be for me now. I find that I have to turn my head at just the right angle to see the notes. Also, I find it is much easier to learn a new song if I both know how it goes by ear and have the music.

    It is a bit curious that only the best musician in your family will play with you. Perhaps you can take that as a compliment. Only the best will do.

    I want to try making a video today. I also want to fix the light switch in my bedroom. That last thing is irrelevant but I told you here anyway.

  3. I know what you mean, ABS. I have special glasses for reading music. That’s because I have to stand back a bit farther than I do for the computer, and I have bifocals. The adjustment is enough to make me squint with my computer glasses on.

    Yeah! My son said he would transpose the music for New Harmony Waltz for me. I guess buying him that really expensive music program is coming in handy. He even said he would do both violin parts and throw the piano in as well, in case his dad ever decides to play with me.

  4. If I may venture an opinion —

    A teacher who thinks you “should be able to do” anything at all , or who is palpably frustrated, is probably the wrong teacher. You would probably do far better, and make quicker progress, with a teacher who usually teaches young children — this is not a comment on your ability, but on teaching styles. People who are used to nurturing the abilities of young kids have different expectations,and different levels of patience.

    And if you can’t learn to play with vibrato, you’ll be a perfect Baroque violinist. Historic performance practice doesn’t use string vibrato. So there you have your perfect match. 🙂

  5. Baroque music rules. It’s one of my two favourite kinds of music. I vote you play that.

    I’m also thinking that you’re completely right about the transposing thing. I have a bunch of music for alto recorder but I don’t want to confuse myself learning both C and F recorders at the same time. So, maybe I should get some of that software. Or, I could just find a violin player to play the alto parts.

  6. Hey Pande keep at it. Music is good for the soul.

    If your teacher makes you feel bad remind ’em they ‘d better be better than you- they are doing it for a living- you are having fun. If there were no amateurs we would not need any pros.

    One time when I missed a note on stage, a pro musician kinda acted like he was a better person than me ’cause he was a better player. I told him he could come over to the office and see all my sick people, and by the way if he made a mistake they’d take everything but his house, car and three thousand dollars. That hushed him up.

    My point: one can only be a pro at what they do all day. It is like that in golf too. If guys get too serious I remind them there are only 150 guys in the world who really know how to play, (some would say there is only one)the rest of us are just fooling around with the game.

    I’m usually not mean to people but that guy deserved it.

    Dr. B

  7. I started playing violin when I was about 57 yrs old (5 yrs ago), and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried! I’m not taking lessons now, but practicing at home a lot. My teacher got frustrated with me because I couldn’t read music either. I can now read better, but still very slowly. It’s a foreign language for goodness sake! A sort of math with sound! I agree that the high squeakies are really hard to read. Hang in there, and if you have to, write the letters above the notes and say them to yourself as you play (I still just associate the position with the finger position, who am I to advise?) I’d sure like to get sheet music for New Harmony Waltz, too. I’ve looked and looked; where did you find it?
    Duchess

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