Visualization

May 30, 2010

As a martial artist I became quite adept at using visualization techniques to improve my skills. Being able to see in my mind's eye the kata I was about to perform, for example, allowed me to "see" it done perfectly. As my concentration and focus improved I was able to better imagine how certain techniques would feel, and as a result my physical actions were honed.

Visualization was not something I did as a beginning student, however, it took several years for me to fully develop this ability, and to see its results in my physical techniques. As a beginning cellist I have tried to visualize as a way to improve difficult techniques or to find a way through challenging passages. Since the physicalness of bowing and stopping the strings is still relatively new, accurate visualization is difficult.

Currently we are on a two-week trip to Germany and, since it doesn't readily fit in the overhead compartments, my cello is at home. While it would be a huge extravagance, trips like these make me wish for a collapsable electronic cello that I could take on a plane without purchasing an extra seat for it.

Without my cello here I am forced to practice mentally through visualization. In karate most of the visualization work was done sitting quieting with my body relaxed. I rarely moved my arms or legs - the activity was all in my head. What I've been doing this week has involved some movement, specifically the fingers of my left hand. Using my right forearm as the fingerboard I've been slowly playing through the various pieces I'm currently working on. Playing open strings is surprisingly hard, but that is countered by absolute perfect intonation. My arm cello is always perfectly in tune.

Much of the time when I play my cello my focus is such that I don't consciously think about every little movement. Instead I have some mental cues that help me remember what is coming next. Sometimes these cues are bowing based and sometimes they come from fingerings, and sometimes they come from the piece itself. Playing without a cello exposes a whole new layer of understanding to the piece. I don't have the bowing to cue me, and unless I hum or whistle the melody I don't have the music to prompt me either.

Already I have discovered a couple of passages that I simply cannot remember but that I know how to play. Whether this means I've successfully made those passages part of my muscle memory, or whether it means I really don't know the piece but can play it when prompted by the physical activity it entails I do not know.

I will be interested to find out what shape my minuets are in in 10 days time when I next pick up a cello. I know that things will have regressed a little but my hope is that some time spent in virtual practice will keep most things current for me.

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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.