I mentioned something about needing a pencil in the last post. Here’s why. If you’re going to add your eyes to the equation, it is very helpful to know how to mark the music. Learning how and what to mark in your music can address two important issues: marking the “snakepit” spots and marking the invariable “already well-learned” mistakes. The marks will also remind you (hopefully) to ask questions at your lesson, and to practice (provided that you actually look at the page beforehand). The only necessary tool is a pencil with an eraser.
Learning how to mark your music is pretty essential because it will help you reach your goal faster. When you mark a mistake or call attention to it in any way on the page, you are in reality marking the solution, the thing you want or intend to do in the finished product. Why would you mark a mistake? Or a solution? To keep from wasting time. One of my teachers yelled at me (yes, as in raised his voice significantly and emphatically) once for writing in a fingering that I hadn’t tested. “Don’t waste time writing it in until you know if it works!” he snorted. But I am getting old, and my short term memory is pretty sorry. I have to write down everything, or I forget what I’m doing. Plus, I always figured that erasing was the reason there are erasers on pencils. Hence, I could erase the offending fingering if it didn’t work. Erasing is easier than remembering. Your brain (and mine) have more important things to do.
As you listen to the recording, mark anything you think might be hard. Anything means anything. Try to be a bit more specific than drawing a circle around the entire page, though. Draw a box around hard spots or measures, or write measure numbers on another piece of paper so you can make a photocopy of the music and cut/paste to make a personalized practice page. There likely will be lots of pencil marks, lots of reminders; as you work, your solutions could be any number of things – a finger number, a bowing, an up- or down-arrow to remind you to pull a pitch a certain direction, a half-step mark, a smiley, a breath mark, a shifting mark, a holding pattern – but if you don’t mark it, the solution won’t get worked in. Depending on the mood I’m in what style period the music comes from and how much I need the markings to stand out, I use boxes, brackets, “x”, question marks, stars or asterisks, words, whatever I think I need to use to both bring it to my attention as a point for spot practice, and to make sure my eyes see it before I get to the same spot next time I read through it. If I don’t mark it, chances are I’ll make the same mistake again, because I might not remember it before I play that passage again. I think the cut/paste method works really well (I use it a lot for spot practice), but I’ll save it for another post.
Your eyes also need to memorize fingerings and bowings that are printed or otherwise marked in your music. You can do air bowing or air fingering (or use your right arm as a “practice violin” for fingering practice) to work on these things. As you get more experience reading, your eyes will be able to take in larger chunks of music at once, and they will be reading the page several measures ahead of where you are playing. Eventually, you’ll be able to pull up a copy of the music in your head, sort of like a photograph. And you thought photographic memory was only for geniuses!
The longer you play, the fewer marks you’ll need to make. After the mistake is permanently fixed, erase the marks. There is no point to reminding yourself about past mistakes – leave them in the past by erasing them. Unless it’s something that you are really nervous about. A clean page is a happy page! So said Heifetz, anyway, in not so many words.
A really good way to make reading a part of your regular practice routine is to play review pieces while looking at the music. Go slowly at first so that your eyes do the bulk of the work. Force them to do it, even if the piece is well-drilled into your fingers. You might stumble upon something you could do better, discover a solution to a problem in another piece, or figure out that you’ve been playing something incorrectly all this time.
Another way that you can put reading into practice is to get into an orchestra. If you’re not currently in one and you live in an area where there are non-professional or student orchestras, you should be. It is worth whatever you have to pay for dues or fees (ask about scholarships if finances are an issue.)
Your ears are your best asset in developing high ability as a violinist, but your eyes will do a lot of really important advance work for you if you teach them. Use your eyes to help you find potential issues before they become major catastophic nightmares. Your practice time will be much more productive and you’ll have a lot more fun playing, which is in and of itself, highly motivational.
Side Note: I am done with motivation for a while. Time to move on to new topics and funner stuff that’s a bit lighter in tone.