Watching Yourself Play

April 17, 2010

This evening for my practice session I set up our video camera and recorded myself play. In the back of my mind I envisioned posting the resulting videos to Vimeo and then linking to them from my site. Tonight's taping was to be a dress rehearsal.

Pointing a camera at yourself is like suddenly having an audience. What normally is easy for me to play was difficult, everything sounded ragged. While these videos won't be finding their way to the Internet any time soon, they are proving to be hugely instructional to me.

I've now got a whole list of little things to work on as I play.

Hand shape and positioning

I don't play with a boxed hand, I play with a slanted hand. I've got large, very flexible hands so I'm not sure that the slant in and of itself is a problem, but the break in my arm at the wrist is a problem. And keeping my left elbow down by my side may also be trouble. And even with flexibility and long fingers I can see where my 4th finger has to really reach sometimes to get the note.

I also tend to pull my fingers well away from the fingerboard when they aren't in use. There are two problems with this. One, it introduces tension in my hand and other fingers, and two my fingers are out of position for their next note. In Minuet Nº 2 when I need to play the C on the G-string I really have to work to get my 4th finger there in time. Turns out it is recoiled back as far from the fingerboard as it can get on the previous note. Whoops.

Remedy: Somewhere in the back of my mind is a dim memory of my teacher saying that I need to imagine holding a porcupine under my left arm as I play. I need to return to that style of thinking and palying.

Bowing angle

While I generally keep the bow at the same angle, what I thought was parallel to the floor actually is off a few degrees. The frog end of the bow is higher than the tip. Most of my playing tends to be just below the end of the finger board. There are times (I suspect when I accidentally relax my shoulders) that the bow starts closer to the bridge, but it never stays there for long. Some of my intonation issues probably stem from the angle of attack that I'm using.

Remedy: I'm not sure what to do here other than focus on bowing angle. I think now when I hear poorly intoned notes I'll think about bow angle as much as correct fingering. And I will tape my self more often to see how things look.

Overall posture

I watch the bow on the strings. I glance at my left hand fingers as I play. Consequently I have my head down almost all the time while I'm playing. This is bad in so many ways, not the least of which is its being hard on my lower back.

Remedy: I'm going to raise my music stand and make myself read the music as I play, rather than playing from memory all the time. Thanks to failing eyesight and trifocals, with a taller music stand I'll be forced to raise my head and sit up in order to read the music.

Watching yourself play is a bit like hearing your own voice on a recording - odd. However it is very instructional. I plan on doing it regularly from now on. And someday when my embarrassment diminishes I'll post the videos for all to see.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.