The Joy of Practice
Today I am practising one of my favourite pieces, the Mendelssohn violin concerto E minor. I first had fun learning this in my twenties but it only feels like yesterday! Today I am in a different ‘place’ to where I was then and it is fascinating to discover new and exciting elements that I was unaware of back then. I often find this on re reading a book some months later and seeing it with ‘new eyes’, finding hidden gems leaping out of the pages which went unseen on first reading.
Today I am particularly focusing on releasing tension. Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional tension it will always be reflected in the sound we produce as soon as the bow touches the string. This is where it’s absolutely essential to open up one’s awareness and really listen. In staying connected to the quality of sound, we ‘hear’ the inner tension.
Letting go, releasing tension wherever it might sit in the body/mind and maintaining that state is not a quick or easy task but it is definitely possible to learn through regular practice and application whatever the activity. This is a skill not limited to just playing your violin but can be applied to any other activity such as cleaning your teeth, washing up, walking the dog, literally anything. The more one can introduce the idea into other everyday events the easier it will be to apply when playing the violin.
When we’re in a state of ‘holding on’, our flow of creativity and ability to freely express ourselves through the music is severely squashed and we can be left with just a competent technical performance. But even technique as well can be hampered by excessive tension. So what is the answer?
Over the years I have found tai chi chuan to be incredibly helpful. I have spent a lot of time relearning how to use my body, particularly whilst playing the violin, in an effortless way, without strain. The first step is to become aware of your body, to become aware of how you feel right now. Keeping the connection and remaining present can be challenging at first but it does become easier. The next step is to feel whereabouts you are holding on. This can be done initially just standing still before you start practising. Next we align the body (more detail in future posts). By realigning the body and standing with improved structure a lot of unnecessary physical tension can be released. Then pick up the violin and try the same process whilst playing. Noticing when the body comes out of alignment and tension returns. I have found scales to be a wonderful exercise to practice body alignment as it allows for greater focus due to the simple repetitivity of the exercise and also it gives, what can sometimes become a routine exercise, an interesting twist!
Eventually this new relaxed way of moving will become more and more a part of your natural style, allowing greater freedom to express all you have inside and of course having more joy whilst playing.
This has made such a difference for me. In the early days I suffered badly from a painful neck, mainly due to poor posture but now I’m able to align my body correctly so that it doesn’t put pressure on any one part of the body and I remain loose and relaxed.
Often however tension can come from the emotions and there are many ways to help this too.
Looking forward to reading you comments