Musicians are highly motivated, used to working long hours on their own. These habits, instilled from an early age, served them when it came to making changes in their equipment or playing during the research. Musicians above all want to play, and play well. What motivated them in making changes was not comfort alone, but the music itself.
Working together with staff and other students removed the mystery and isolation from the experience. By documenting carefully what they experienced we wished to discover what helped them the most in making these changes. By gathering their experiences together, we wished to understand the motivations and emotions of the musicians, as a resource for others who wished to change their equipment in future. In this way we wanted to remove from the process the sense of isolation and the fear of the unknown.
Changes experienced during this project carried the musicians through a range of emotions. For some, making changes in their playing was seen as a matter of course, a normal development in their studies. For others, it was more of a revelation and a revolution. Positive and negative emotions often occurred together. The major struggles usually occurred within the first few weeks after the equipment changes. By sharing their experiences, the students realized that their feelings were normal and would pass. Bodies and minds quickly accustomed themselves to the new playing environment. As the research reached the half-way point the students had already gained the experience to incorporate the new equipment into their usual practicing and playing regime. By the end of the seven-month period, what had seemed strange at first was experienced as normal.
Motivations for changing equipment and playing habits, as reported by the students:
Keys to success:
The musicians reported that the following things contributed the most to the successful adjustment of equipment and technique:
Examples from the research
Motivation: Release from pain
In this example, spatial confusion and release from pain occur at the same time in the initial period of changing equipment. Perseverance leads to more secure technique.
Excerpts from a student interview taken at end of research, June 2004:
“When the time finally came to start the practical work and I changed my chin and shoulder rest, the pain went away immediately. I was amazed. The day after I made the changes, I was taking part in an orchestra project with a double rehearsal which totalled more than six hours; I didn’t have any kind of pain. I was really surprised and happy. I couldn’t believe it.”
“Although the pain went away immediately, the changes in my playing were difficult to get used to. The first week I felt crazy, as if I didn’t know where my fingers were going. I was lost! My new sound was completely different and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Feeling completely handicapped I stopped for one minute and screamed out loud. Then I decided to take it slow and easy for one week until I found myself again.”
“I solved the bow problem in front of the mirror, which was my confidant and helper. Faulty sound projection and intonation I solved with a lot of patience and listening. I also improved my vibrato, and can now easily do many different types of vibrato. In fact, having to make these changes put a lot of order in my mind and I started practicing in a more organized way.”
“Eventually, by working alone and with my Alexander Technique teacher, I was also able to get rid of the main background stiffness in my neck and head. This gave me more security in my playing.”
Motivation: Confidence restored
In this example release from long-standing physical/technical problems leads to an increase in self-esteem.
Excerpt from the researcher’s notebook, November and December 2003:
“This student reports that she has been criticized in the past for her strange posture and told to ‘just stand normally.’ Teachers have also noticed that she couldn’t bow all the way to the tip of the bow, which she was often told to ‘correct.’ Because she couldn’t correct her posture or her bowing, she could only come to the conclusion that the fault lay in her. She was unaware that the awkward position of her violin, cause by ill-fitting chin rest and shoulder rest, was the cause of her technical difficulties.”
“During the first lesson, when the position of her violin was changed so that she could use the whole bow, and could bow all the way to the tip, she was euphoric. She said,
‘I am glad to find out these things. I thought there was something wrong with my body.’ ”
“At the same time, she said that she was ‘very angry’ about the 8 years or so that she had been playing with such enormous difficulties; angry that no-one had helped her to find this solution, which had made her blame herself.”
“She said that she had not been working very hard on her playing in the months leading up to the research because she ‘had had no feeling for it.’ But now she ‘felt like working.’ The anger, grief and relief are her way of punching her way out of the lethargy of hopelessness.”
Motivation: Musical and movement pleasure
In this example decrease in muscle tension allows the musician to be more present to enjoy making music.
Excerpts from a student interview taken at end of research, June 2004:
Feeling “not there”
“In the past, when I played a concert, I couldn’t remember afterwards what I did. I was so turned in on myself while playing that I didn’t know what was going on.
Also, after ten minutes of playing I felt stuck. I couldn’t play for more than half an hour.”
Confused, yet trusting her own judgement
“Initially, I felt good right after a change in equipment. But after awhile one discovers that it still doesn’t feel right. I sometimes had the feeling that I would never find the right solution.
Generally, I quickly became accustomed to the changes. When that wasn’t the case, I knew the adjustment wasn’t right and then I tried something else. The adjustments never made me feel that I didn’t ‘understand’ the violin anymore.”
Forgot the body, forgot the music
“One thing that happened was that I was so busy with the idea that everything had to be changed that I forgot that there was also music, violin playing. My violin teacher showed me that I could also relax without adjusting the chin and shoulder rest; that made me realize that it wasn’t just the materials that were the problem, but also my body.”
End of a long struggle
“I had been struggling for years with many aspects of my technique and I had never been able to find a solution and now all of a sudden I have. The technical improvements happened because there is a lot less tension in my body. This wouldn’t be the case if I hadn’t made all these changes in my equipment and taken the Alexander Technique lessons. If I had only just practiced for one more year, I wouldn’t have made these improvements.
My intonation is much improved. My playing is also more rhythmical. My vibrato is slower and freer. Position changes are also easier. My bowing technique is also better and I have a larger tone.”
“Being there” increases pleasure in playing
“I now can register things while I am playing, so I can use them for future reference. I have much more control of my playing as a result of the project and I am more self assured in my playing. When I play I have influence on what I do. Now I can play for one-and-a-half hours without stopping if I want and then still have no complaints.
Now performing feels more peaceful. When I go on stage to play I am much less worried than before because during playing I can improve things. If I feel tension I can adjust. I am in control.