The Path of Least Resistance

by Abby @ Quaver on August 30, 2012

in Around the Web,In the Quaver Classroom!

We are thrilled to welcome guest blogger Jeannine Everett – violinist, chamber musician, and all around student of music – back to the Quaver Blog.

If you missed Jeannine’s post on sight-reading last month – you’ve GOT to read it. Such great discussion in the comments from musical minds all over the web.

Today, she’s back with another lesson from her own musical journey – take it away Jeannine:

The Importance of a Little Resistance

“Slow down your bow,” says my teacher. So I do.

“Slower.” I raise a brow at him and do as he asks.

He nods. “Even slower.” I feel like I’m mocking him. Surely this can’t be what he’s looking for.

“That’s better.” I stop bowing altogether. He’s got to be joking.

“The problem,” he says, “is that your bow isn’t engaged.” It’s too far from the bridge and I’m not applying the right kind of pressure, so it skitters across the strings. No control. Without friction, the bow goes where it wants, usually someplace both aesthetically unpleasant and physically awkward. When I do as he suggests, the sound is clear, I have greater control of dynamics and expression, and I have more than enough bow to finish the phrase. So what element makes the difference?

Resistance.

Without it, there is no music.

I’ve played the violin since I was eight. Musically speaking, I have a lot on my plate. I’m a principal in one orchestra, and play as a ringer for others. I have a quartet, a quintet, and even a sextet. I practice hours each day. A year ago, however, I realized that I wasn’t getting any better.

So I began taking master classes with an amazing instructor. He coached an ensemble I was playing with, and I thought maybe he could fix a few things for me. Make my position work more secure, help me achieve a more constant bow speed. He had other ideas.

He said I had to start all over.

From the beginning. How to stand, how to hold a bow, how to move my fingers.

I feel like I’m eight again.

  • Everything is difficult and awkward.
  • It’s not familiar.
  • It’s not safe.
  • It sure isn’t comfortable.

Sometimes my hand feels like a claw, and I’m gripping the neck so tightly I think it’s going to snap. It doesn’t sound pretty. I pick up the violin and the cats head for the basement.

My teacher says I need to relax. Right. Thanks.

But the crazy thing is, I’m improving.

  • My fingers are more nimble.
  • I’ve discovered six inches of unused bow.
  • My E string almost never whistles.

Maybe being an eight year old isn’t so bad.

Resistance makes one work harder.

Living without resistance is like running on sand. It’s soft and it yields, but you get tired really fast. I much prefer running on a hard surface where I can use the leverage to my advantage.

Playing an instrument is hard. Like running, I can use that resistance to engage the bow, work the sound and shape it into music. And that takes practice, patience and time. Most of all, it takes love. A lot of love. And no one ever said love was easy.

 

Do you remember a time in your musical journey when you learned the importance of this kind of hard work?

How do you try to instill this lesson in your students?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lara Britt August 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I am in the second half of my life, the over 50 part. One of my greatest pleasures comes from reading of friends and peers who picked up again something that they started in grade school realizing that there were more meaningful challenges/lessons to be learned.

My friend, Nancy, started doing that around her 50th. Her challenges involve hunter/jumper shows. It also involves resistance in the form of a most handsome beast named, Jackson. Skill and love in motion. They are a joy to watch.

I was not born to the horsey class. But reading of Jeannine’s midlife challenges has my bow hand itchy to pick up the cello again. I wonder at how I might approach that old friend in a different manner at this stage. Resistance, to be sure. Builds strong bone and muscles from what I hear. Just what we need for the last half of our race.

Thank you, Jeannine. As always, you get me pondering things in a different way. And usually with a smile on my face.

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2 Jeannine Bergers Everett August 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I have a friend that picked up violin as an adult. Sadly, she had a stroke two years ago. The doctors, however, told her that her recovery time was faster because she studied music. I am a firm believer that it is never too late to try something new, or old. You never know what you’ll learn about yourself along the way. Thank you Lara :)

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3 De Jackson August 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I’m not at all musically inclined, but the lesson of resistance applies across the board, in writing, and in life. So does stripping it all back to the basics and beginning again. You inspire, Jeannine, on so many levels.

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4 Jeannine Bergers Everett August 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Thank you De – the feeling is mutual. It is hard to confront the enormity of what I don’t know, but that just gives me more terrain to explore. Approaching the world with a wide-open mind is frightening and frustrating at times, but also exhilarating beyond belief.

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5 Lara Schiffbauer August 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I live my life trying to find the balance between thinking and relaxing, letting the flow happen in the most productive way. It isn’t easy, but that precise point of structure and free-form is the sweet spot to productive creativity, I think.

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6 Jeannine Bergers Everett August 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm

It is really a balance, you’re right Lara. When I practice, I start with the more “resistance” work. When I’ve accomplished what I need to, then I play, really play. Sometimes I’ll take out a simple piece and just goof around with it — jam on it, mess with the tempo or the style, or I’ll play something that I just love, love, love and let it flow — the combination of “do” and “be”.

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