Feel the Finesse

The violin is all about finesse.  Aside from struggles with words and increasingly rare occasions where I actually think about what I want to look like, finesse is not my middle name.  I’m more of a bull in a china closet.  While I practice a beautiful martial art, on the finesse scale of the martial arts karate is nowhere near the top of the list!  In personal interactions, I can definitely be a diplomat, but mostly I prefer to cut straight to brass tacks.  You don’t have to wonder for long what my views are on any given subject.  I suppose I am softening a bit the older I get, but finesse, again, isn’t something I relate to very much.

On fretless stringed instruments there is nothing worthwhile that can be accomplished without incredible finesse.

Incredible finesse can only come from lots and lots of practice.

Practice keeping the bow straight and in between the fingerboard and the bridge, practice keeping the bow hold proper, practice relaxing the weight of my arm into the bow, practice fluid motions of the wrist as the bow changes directions, practice steady pressure on the strings with the bow.  Practice moving from the elbow while keeping the shoulder stationary.  Practice only touching one string at a time (just for now, soon I will practice intentionally and correctly touching two strings at a time).  And none of that gets to the nimble precision required of the left hand that’s doing the fingering – trying to nail down one specific frequency of vibration with the tips of my fingers from an infinite continuum of wrong ones.  And of course the violin feels and betrays in its tone every unnecessarily tense muscle in my body, so practicing relaxation is perhaps the most important of all.

I’ve been practicing quite a bit lately – in fact I feel like I’ve moved into a new phase of my playing over the past month.  I had an interesting “Aha” moment in a lesson a couple of weeks back about the bow hold, and I’m also increasingly able to keep my left hand fingers upright on the strings while relaxing the rest of my hand.  Exploring the single note I’m now playing with a harmonic has caused me to start to understand something Teacher’s been talking about for a while – the need to not press terribly hard on the string with my fingertips.  You can hear a difference; the notes sound less strained than when you bear down hard on the fingerboard.

All the tiny differences that produce big differences in sound are unlike anything I’ve dealt with in any other pursuit.  Patience with the process of learning is something unique, I think, to pursuits that involve the body.  Learning to move with precision does not happen in the same way that learning the quadratic formula happens.

You have to feel your way to finesse; there’s no getting there by thinking.  And I will say, as a thinker, letting go of the monkey mind and trying to make this feeling stuff work is incredibly fun.

Thanks for reading.


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