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My Viola Grew !

March 1, 2020 (transferred from WordPress)

Sometimes, I swear my viola grows…

I’m not sure if you’ve ever had this experience? While your instrument feels small and natural during a practice session it somehow manages to grow into a monstrous size in a performance!!

I know this may seem ridiculous…but heightened awareness under pressure really changes our perception. In my case, this phenomenon of the ‘growing viola’ led me to realize how little I knew about the instrument I was playing. The things I took for granted in my practice suddenly disappeared under pressure.

In string playing we are taught from the start how to do things. And honestly, string playing is such a complicated web of intertwined actions that the ‘how to do things’ is quite important. Just to produce a single note, the instrument must be held appropriately, the left hand must be placed correctly, the fingers must stop the string, the right hand must hold the bow, the right arm must produce the motion and weight to activate the string etc.! Every time that I teach a beginner I’m amazed at the ability of the human body and mind to coordinate multiple actions. Often, the students can learn from mimicking/mirroring, so although they don’t fully understand or process the actions their minds and bodies can produce the result.

Musicians often spend their life trying to master the actions. Unfortunately, what often gets neglected is the art of studying. It is easy to take for granted our instrument and tools and expect them to respond certain ways without really understanding them. While a gap in our knowledge may be okay for our practice, under pressure our brain replaces that gap with fear and irrational thought. (The bow will slip away, my fingers will fall off the fingerboard, my viola is bigger than me etc.)

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past few weeks, you know that I’m an advocate for teaching yourself, and the biggest task of teaching yourself is studying your tools. No one has the same tools that you do..!

Let me just quickly state the obvious! In string playing you broadly have 3 tools

  • The viola

  • The bow

  • The body

I saw broadly because within each tool is a myriad of other tools…

  • The viola (the strings, the bridge, the wood, etc.)

  • The bow (the hair, the stick, the frog, the tip, etc.)

  • The body (literally every part of our body…but more apparent is the collar bone, shoulders, arms, wrists, fingers, finger knuckles..)

Each one of these tools has a function and could be an asset to your music making!! While there is a never-ending amount of tools to’s exciting because the more that we understand, the more we can manipulate in order to create the music that we want.

And we need not be overwhelmed by our irrational fears again…they are just indications of gaps in our knowledge! Thankfully viola doesn’t grow anymore..;)


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