Last week I introduced visualization, the most powerful practice technique we have. We’re going to be working with it from now until audition day, because it’s that important and because it can be difficult to grasp at first. It took me quite a while to get the hang of visualization, and my first experience with it wasn’t with the violin at all! It was on the golf course. If you haven’t read my account of this breakthrough, take a few minutes now. I describe a pretty frustrating violin period for me, and how I was feeling “burned out”, just like you may be after practicing the same music for two months!
For now I’ll let the accompanying video do most of the talking. Here I walk you through how I might go through a visualization session with our excerpts for the week. At first I thought a video on this technique wouldn’t be helpful, but I see now that it just may answer some folks’ questions. It’s rather long (18 minutes) so watch what you need and then get to your own visualizing!
If I can reiterate one point for this week, it’s that visualization is different from modeling. Visualization concerns what is, while modeling concerns what could be. The trap that most of us fall into is being concerned only with the latter, even while observing the former! Therefore when you visualize, don’t be quick to attach value judgments to the sensations you feel. If you feel tension somewhere, make a note of it and then observe. See if it changes over the next few visualizations, but don’t “try” to relax that body part. Such efforts to relax will block you from actually sensing what your mind and body are telling you. Only after you have a clear picture (meaning all five senses, not just vision) do you need to compare that with your model. At that point, if your own visualization and your model are far apart, you can choose a key word or concept to hone in on. But only one at a time! It will do you no good to say, “I sense tension, jumpiness and scratching, and I want relaxation, grounding and smoothness!” Better to say, “I’m now going to visualize while focusing on how connected my feet feel to the ground.” Does it change over the course of the music you’re visualizing?
It’s common during the final weeks of preparation to accumulate tension in anticipation of the big day. Playing may get more consistent, but also tighter and less flexible. To a certain extent, you want less flexibility! You want bow strokes to be just so, dynamic range to be well controlled, pitch to be here and not there; but if that results in a complete lack of inspiration, then it will eventually atrophy. It’s simply not possible to keep the exact same performance intact over time. Something will change. If you’re doing well-directed work, the changes will be positive, or at least equally valid interpretations of the music. If you do no work, or work without purpose, then the changes have little chance of contributing to the music. This is another way of saying that you will pick up tension and bad habits.
Therefore, make sure to leave time for enjoyment of the music and the instrument while you’re doing this hard work. If you have a performance opportunity that won’t steal too much preparation time away from your audition material, then take advantage of it! It’s wonderful to have some non-audition music to work on, and the ability to make the connection between auditioning and other performing is crucial. But even if you aren’t able to perform during this time, find at least one other piece (solo Bach is great) to work on. Your mind and body will be grateful for the variety.
Now is also the time to think about a mock audition, and who might be your audience. We’re going to be playing live for an audience, even if it’s just one friend or relative (even a dog or cat)! We’ll do it once during Week 2 and, for those who can manage it, again during either Week 1 or 0. Even though most of you won’t be finishing the Challenge with a live audition, you’ve put in a lot of work and you should show it off! Plus, difficult (and painful) as it may be to go through a mock audition, I can tell you that it’s an important step in learning more about yourself as a performer. The human element changes the game; even if your best friend walks into the room as your “audience”, he’ll seem to be a different person once you start playing through your material. That transformation from “collection of excerpts” to “audition”, from casual to formal, is something you’ll need to get used to. You don’t want that transformation happening on stage or in front of the microphone!
Week 4 assignment
A video of the following:
First 30 seconds of Mozart concerto
Special rule for this week’s video: The video must be one take, and you must decide in advance which take is going to be the one! We’re on the honor system for this, and the purpose is to inject a bit of adrenaline into the process. You’ll need to see how you react; how does the take you end up with compare with your normal, relaxed practicing?