10 most important things about your time alone with the violin
1. Breathe! And keep breathing. Don’t hold your breath when you learn or play – it starves your brain and your sound along with it. Breath awareness will keep you in the present and focused.
2. Play in front of a mirror! A picture is worth a thousand words. Look for where your movement is awkward. See if you can correct yourself by watching what you do and redirecting your movements.
3. Change your stance! If you play seated, stand up if possible. Walk around a bit while you’re playing to help your body relax and open up. If you sit, keep your spine erect and perch your hip-bones on the edge of the chair. Don’t sit back or slouch.
4. Easy does it! Approach playing fiddle lightly. A relaxed bow hold keeps you flexible and able to move in any direction. The same is true for the left arm. If you need a shoulder rest, find and use one that works for you. Don’t add tension to your hold in either hand. Instead, monitor yourself to see where you’re holding and then wait for the release. Remember to wait!
5. Listen before you play! Fiddle style is all in the ephemeral ornaments that curl around notes and in the rhythm that drives the tune, neither of which you’ll find notated in most tune collections. So listen-listen-listen!
6. Sing the tune! Doesn’t matter if you sing in tune – you are patterning the tune’s unique rhythms into your brain so you can retreive it later. Singing makes it physical, makes it real, makes it YOURS! If you can sing it, you can play it!
7. Learn something new every time you play! Find something new in every playing experience and you’ll find you are never bored with music. It can be as complex as a whole tune or as simple as a new way to finger an ornament, play a new chord or bow a lick.
8. Use all your senses! If you know you always hear a note a little sharp or flat, use your sight to help you find the right spot. After a while your ears will hear it right, too! If you primarily read music, try listening and singing along with your eyes closed to help wake up your ears.
9. Find shortcuts! Big improvements in playing technique can happen when we adjust our breathing, stance, bow and instrument holds. Also look for places where left-hand fingers can be left down to improve efficiency.
10. No shame – no blame! A wise man once said, “If you do not know a thing, you simply do not know it.” Take fear and blame out of the learning eperience and the result is a lifetime of creative and joyful self-education!