alice's violin2

This is Alice’s violin, not mine, but I play a little.  I play “by ear” and “par coeur.”  As I grow in playing I find that I retrace steps I once took in becoming an artist.  Thus I learned where the notes are on my violin by trial and error.  I started playing at a rather late era for violin, so I felt there was no time to waste.  Couldn’t be bothered reading music — never have been very good at it anyway.  Plus jazz being the great love of my life, most every line I yearn to play hasn’t been written down in any interesting fashion, and if it were it’d be far beyond my meager sight-reading abilities.

So I learned awkwardly, making tons of mistakes, to locate pitches.  I reasoned to myself that it was similar to singing.  You don’t know what muscles you’re using to make a note — and usually don’t know what pitch you’re singing.  You just sing.  I told myself I would train my fingers to do what my throat muscles do.  Just go there.  And after a while they have begun, gradually more and more, to obey.

Now some of you know that a pitch can be played in more than one place on a violin.  Certain notes have locations on more than one string.  The same pitch has slightly different “coloring” depending upon where it’s played.  But it’s still fundamentally the same note.  And there’s the rub — here’s where your unconscious mind can do wonderful magic if you let it — if you are willing to play the fool — go out on a musical limb and jump!

You see, I — like any student violinist — am trying to learn to play faster!  And to do this requires a certain amount of letting go.  I listen to the music in my head, listen to it getting faster, and I try to keep up.  As a child when you jumped rope, once they began to swing the rope faster, you just had to jump faster!  And you stay in for as long as you stay in.  It’s kind of like that. 

But because you can play the same note in various places, and because I am improvising, I don’t know which location my hand is going to choose.  When I succeed (I’m getting better, more and more I succeed), I don’t afterwards know which location my hand chose.  Think about that for a minute.  My hand chose.  My fingers have learned where these notes are, and they find them.  But my conscious mind cannot keep up.

One really can do this, and the proof is in the listening.  And when you paint — because I was getting back to that you see — the same holds true.  You can paint without knowing what you are doing.  Sometimes it goes best when you don’t know.  You see, you choose.  It happens quickly.  Your hands move.  Presto chango.  The picture appears.

It can happen like that.  I like it when it happens like that.  Sometimes cluelessness is a virtue.

14 thoughts on “Painting like I Play

  1. Absolutely. I tried the same thing with the piano, not starting til my early thirties. The going faster thing is normal but I always told myself, slow down, slow down. It is an amazing journey. I also found this thing with plateaus, I would reach stage where no matter how much I played I would’nt get ‘better’ so I would stop, come back weeks later and there would be something new. Anyway, it is a fantastic thing to do and you are very brave picking the violin.

  2. Paul,

    I knew you played! You see this carefully constructed post designed to spy out this information…. or, not. But I did know!

    The plateaus — yes! — isn’t that amazing. I have the same experience. And, I too, would quit for a spell, come back and be better! (Not something you breathe a word about to a teacher or professional, especially a classically trained musician.) Sometimes I pray to Fritz Kreisler, the patron saint of those who hate to practice. He played piano as well as violin, so send him a prayer, Paul.

    And you are sweet to call me brave, but I took piano as a child for years and years, and I find the violin easier in a way. Fewer notes.

    Bravo to us both, I say, and to all brave souls who find music after you’re “supposed” to!


  3. i learnt guitar the same way. so i understand how difficult any instrument can be. but certainly i think learning this way will not force you within boundaries

  4. Indeed, bravo to you both,
    I red that playing “in your head”, mentally, is equally good as practicing for real. May be you are doing a lot of practice with out knowing it.
    I like this citation, musical and very visual.
    “La musique creuse le ciel” Charles Beaudelaire

  5. Love this post. Love the violin, but play like a primitive. I love Stephane Grapelli, Itzaak Perlman. I do have a violin with unfortunate tone, but it’s still fun to noodle around on it. i used to sight read, but because i don’t play often enough don’t do so well at it any more.
    Do listen to some of Staphane Grapelli’s playing – he makes the sounds stroll, swagger, leap, swoop – it is work for a visual artist to draw to with energy and heart. Hell – to dance to as well. His stuff makes me feel viscerally alive. G

  6. kseverny, It is a wonderful thing to learn this way, isn’t it? When I started out, I told myself that violins were built to be playable, that various others took great pains about the design, so I figured I would let the instrument itself be my teacher. I love my violin, it’s like a person to me. AK

  7. lightdance, Thank you. Sometimes tis grand to be clueless and sometimes innocence really is bliss. The violin pictured is a toy that belongs to Alice who is also a toy (though she doesn’t like being called a toy). The fancy red hat, of course, is hers as well. ak

  8. suburbanlife, Grappelli is amazing. I learned recently that he was self-taught. I think he was destined to play the instrument. I play like a primitive too, but I love it. And it helps me think about everything else in my life without my knowing — it puts my brain on idle to deal with the rest of life invisibly in the background. With music one gets these island moments that are paradise. ak

  9. Ben,
    The “in your head”(dans la tete) happens with visual art also. That’s what I learned. The picture is really in your mind. Once you can imagine it, you can make it. It’s a beautiful mystery that we must live the thing first and make it after. AK

  10. That is a beautiful photo – I love to look at any instrument (and I love hats). Squires in his last podcast was saying that he has a thing where if you can’t remember something, you should not think about it and it will come back to you – I agree and I think what you are talking about is similar – the unconscious mind keeps on thinking – and practicing – and if you have a break then it comes back to you even stronger. Fingers are linked directly to your subconscious – they don’t need us all the time (the conscious ones). I’m a guitar type person (but would love to play the piano well). My sister played the violin.

  11. Ben,

    Squires says some lovely things, doesn’t he. Squires’s a wise man. And you’re a guitar person! Would be so fun to jam, oh but for the miles! And Squires being on another continent ….


  12. Gabrielle,

    I did get you mixed up. Ooh, la la! I must be practicing violin too much! Fried some neurons. So you’re the guitarist. Well, you and Squires can jam at least (though I realize that Australia is kind of a big place.) Sorry for the mix up! PS- the whale watching sounds so fabulous. AK

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