Friday, November 10, 2006

Musical Encounters up and down the fingerboard

When my kids were little we used to watch a show on PBS called "Musical Encounters." I believe it came from a West Coast television station, but wherever it was from, the show was remarkable. One show featured Josef Gingold and the 16-year-old Corey Cerovsek playing Wieniawski. Corey answered questions from the audience of young children about the dangers of playing in a tree house (what if a bird poops on your violin) and the paint on his violin ("actually, it's varnish" was a buzzword in our household for a while). Another show featured a pigtailed and freckled 9-year-old Leila Josefowicz storming through Boehm's Perpetual Motion, and another show featured two violin-playing brothers who were remarkable. When the audience asked them how they knew where the notes are on the violin, one brother's response was "you have to practice."

I often think of that simple statement when I am shifting around on the violin (or the viola today--it is an orchestra week, so I'm spending some quality time with my viola). Eventually we, by some mysterious alchemy and by a lot of practice, learn where the notes are up and down the strings the way we know where notes are in our own voices. It takes a long time, but once your body physically knows where a pitch is, the connection between hand and ear becomes automatic. It doesn't need to be interpreted by the conscious brain.


Anonymous said...

the connection between hand and ear becomes automatic. It doesn't need to be interpreted by the conscious brain.

Neat that you should bring this up; my wife told me a few days ago a little about the mechnism of that. I'll try to not mess it up... I guess when you're rehearsing something new with your fingers (or other body part) your motor cortex and supplementary motor cortex, which are part of the brain proper, are sending out commands as well as receiving feedback to and from your fingers through the cerebellum, not exactly part of the main brain. "Muscle memory" is when your cerebellum takes over and communicates on its own with your fingers. It is subconscious. The cerebellum is also the subconscious mechanism that keeps you from going off the road or running a light when you are completely not paying attention to your driving!

Elaine Fine said...

Thanks for explaining this in such clear terms! Maybe that's why I have been feeling a little "off" in the head lately. Perhaps it reflects a change of balance between muscle memory and active thinking.