Saturday, January 07, 2017

In the Blink of an Eye, a Week Goes By

It's been a week, very quick.  I feel as if I've gotten nothing done, but of course, I did.

I worked through the parts of two history books I wanted to read to understand early modern slavery practices in Western Europe and the Americas.  Horrifying, as you'd expect.

I got frustrated enough with the ice forming inside at the edges of some windows to take action.  I started out using painters' tape and bubble wrap.  But then I went to the home improvement type store and bought kits and insulating tape, took off the bubble wrap and painters' tape, and taped up areas, and put plastic sheets over some windows.  There's a noticeable difference in the house, especially in my bedroom (the window in my bathroom was bad, and the sliding glass door, just as bad.  Now it's pretty darned good.  And the red room, which is the TV room.  It's a problematic room anyway, because it was built as a conversion from a second story deck; underneath is enclosed, but not heated.  It's got a tile floor, and six big windows, basically the three exterior walls are mostly windows, and they're sliding windows, which tend not to be really airtight, anyway.  (In summer, it's a delightful space, and it's got great light in winter, and is lovely for watching birds on the deck.)  It's still not exactly toasty, but at least there's not a breeze now!

I should have done this years ago.  The good thing is, I'll have a good idea where to put more caulk, and will put plastic sheeting up much earlier in the future.

Here's a housing question: from the way all the plastic sheets bow in slightly, like sails with a bit of wind, it looks like the air pressure inside the house is less than the air pressure outside.  Why is that?  (Wouldn't it even out very quickly from doors opening and closing?  Wouldn't the warmer air inside tend to make it higher pressure inside?)

I'm progressing on the violin pretty well.  I posted this in August, when I had a "test" to pass from Book 1 to Book 2.  Now I'm working on the three pieces for my "test" to pass from Book 2 to Book 3.  (Or, as I like to think, leveling up.  Ding!)

I should post more about practicing violin because it's really fun and interesting.  I've learned a lot.

First, I really trust the process.  I know that even if a piece is really super hard for me, there are three year olds out there who've learned it, and generations of Suzuki kids have learned it at my stage, so I can learn it.  That really helps.  Strings, my teacher, does a great job of breaking things down for me so I can focus on the one hard part first, or learn this fingering, or practice X to help with Y.  She's so good at teaching!

Second, I like scales.  I was having trouble thinking of a note when I played it, which was making playing certain things more difficult (like, you see an F, where do you put your finger, especially if you're not coming from an adjacent note).  So I found a chart on-line, and printed it out and filled it in.  It's in two parts, the sharp scales and the flat scales.  I filled in all the notes, and they're in order.  Now the cool thing with these is that each scale starts a fifth from where the last scale started; the sharps start a fifth up, and the flats a fifth down.

So on my chart, I start with a C scale (a weird one on the violin), and then move up a fifth to the G scale, adding one sharp, and so on.  And since the violin strings are a fifth from each other, it's relatively easy once you get the concept to follow on.  I practice either the sharps or flats every day, with broken thirds.

Third, Ševčík!  I have two practice exercise books, one for bowing, and one for fingering.  Holy cow, they're HARD!

The bowing book starts with long notes, full bow.  Then you practice with half bows, and then with two strings and some fingers, and finally, you do a full long note with a full bow, and then a quarter note with a full bow.  It's way harder than it sounds to make the quarter note not sound bad.

The fingering one is even harder.  It starts like this (link here):

And then, once you can do these individual measures (at different speeds), you play them more, and then you get to this (same source, different screen capture technique):

And that's just the first page.  There are more to come.  The thing is, I may be able to play the quarter note version with one bow (since these are slurred), but unless my fingers move pretty fast, I run out of bow before I finish the eight note version.  I'm getting way better, but I'm still on the first page.  (I think I started working on Ševčík in mid-summer.

Again, this is part of trusting the process.  There's no way to teach your fingers to play the violin without doing lots of playing.  If you do structured exercises (Suzuki, the Ševčík, etc), then you're trusting that a lot of smart people have spent a lot of time and found these effective.  You're not going to get some magical moment where you pick up the violin and ta da, you just whip off a concerto.  At least, I'm not.  (If you're good, of course, then you can make it look like ta da, but people aren't seeing the hours of practice, just the result.)

Four, I like the Suzuki music choices.  I already feel like I'm playing real music, little bits, sometimes simplified, but real.  I'm working on a piece by Lully, another by Beethoven, and another by Boccherini (the minuet).  But they're also really hard (for me), and I need to memorize them and play them well.  So, you know, I need to go practice.

Five, practice is actually really good.  Hard, but good, and satisfying.

Strings is away for break, and we talked before she left about my goals for break.  In addition to working on my pieces, I'm focusing on dynamics (playing louder or softer is so hard) and on bowing (using the full bow, which I tend not to do when I'm learning a piece, and then have to rework everything, but it sounds so much better when I use a fuller bow!).


  1. This post makes me want to learn to play the violin!

    1. I think pretty much any instrument will work in the same ways and each would have it's special frustrations. I am getting a sense of deep pleasure from practicing, which I really didn't expect.

  2. On the general topic of learning new things: I gave myself skate ski gear for Christmas, and took my first lesson yesterday. It was hard work, especially the hills, but I think I'm hooked. (Good thing, too; I spent a lot of money.) And I partly have you and this blog to thank for sparking my interest; remember that post you did a couple of years back about the difference between traditional XC skis and skate skis? Thanks!

    1. Shane! I remember! I'm so happy for you! Once you get it, even for a bit, it's so floaty and fun! (and then I lose it. But other people do it for a long time.)

      I'm so happy that you started skate skiing!

    2. PS. It's been too cold since I got back from visiting family to want to go out and ski, but next week, we're supposed to get into the teens and 20s, which is perfect for skiing!

  3. I love hearing about your music practice, since I never figured out how to practice regularly and to enjoy the process. Same with Hebrew, actually -- I haven't gotten into a regular study routine, which is what one needs to do to make progress. So it's encouraging to hear about your practice!