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Technique is conception - Zvi Zeitlin

con·cep·tion: noun \kən-ˈsep-shən\

the capacity, function, or process of forming or understanding ideas or abstractions or their symbols.

  1. 1. a general idea :  concept
  2. 2. a complex product of abstract or reflective thinking
  3. 3. the sum of a person's ideas and beliefs concerning something
  4. 4. the originating of something in the mind

Mind over finger“Technique is conception” my beloved old teacher Zvi Zeitlin would often repeat.  When not shouting at me, or laughing at some clever remark he had just made, he loved to point out how everything about violin playing originated first in the mind.  Of course, as a young and naive pupil, it took me years and countless hours of mindless/useless practice to fully grasp the importance of this concept.

Too often we rely on mindless and repetitive motions when practicing.  This type of work usually means we are practicing how to execute mistakes rather than accurately learning repertoire.   "Quality of practice" is the constant answer given by music teachers when I ask them which principal habit they wish their students would develop.  What they refer to is what Daniel Coyle labels “deep practice” in his 2009 book The Talent Code.

Coyle explains in detail the neurological mechanism by which certain patterns of targeted practice develop skills through the buildup of a biological insulator called myelin.  He explains that every human skill is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying electrical impulses through a circuit.  In response to the process of deep practice, the brain produces myelin.  This substance wraps layers of insulation around neural circuits, making the signals stronger and faster by preventing the electrical impulses from leaking out, and, therefore, improving skills by increasing timing, speed, and accuracy.

Coyle further describes the process, explaining that it is obtained through deep practice.  Deep practice is characterized by a highly targeted, error-focused process, during which one is forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them.  Coyle breaks up the process into three steps: "chunk it up" (breaking up problems into small pieces), "repeat it" (work on the pieces slowly and methodically), and “learn to feel it” (the balance point where one can absorb and feel the proper movements).  He believes that it is important to choose a goal beyond the present abilities, and to approach the struggle methodically and patiently, focusing on recognizing patterns, identifying important elements, and grouping them into a meaningful framework.

Therefore, by first conceptualizing a passage, by putting it through the mind, analyzing it, identifying its inner patterns, building it up with metronome, and by bringing it up to tempo using creative and thoughtful practice methods, our fingers master it at a much deeper level.

By hastening slowly you can initially spend quite a bit of time on a passage, but you will bring it to a high level of mastery in a manner which will yield permanent, solid results.  By doing methodical and thoughtful work, you will soon be done with it instead of struggling with the same difficulty for months.

In the studio today: “Bow control = freedom through planning”  “Set your intention strongly, hear it in your head first, and then play it with as much musicianship (intonation, beautiful sound, smooth bow harm, etc…) as you can.”  “Memorization: don’t rely solely on muscle memory.  Intellectualize it as well - what note, fingering, position, string, part of what mechanism (arpeggio, scale, sequence, grouping, etc.).”

Related articles: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-sun/critical-thinking-and-our_b_3941955.html ; http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/how-many-hours-a-day-should-you-practice/ ; http://musiciansway.com/blog/2012/01/assessing-your-practice-habits/

(Next time: Dig Deep - Deep Practice examples)

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