Still sound like constipation, but hey!

I have always wanted to try a string instrument ever since the days I played in an orchestra, and just finally decided that now is the time.

3 months ago, I decided to pick up the viola, and started taking lessons at a music studio at UBC.

I knew I don’t want to play the violin because I don’t like the high register, but it took me quite a while to decide between the cello and the viola. I love the nice deep voice of the cello, but eventually decided on the viola because a cello would not physically fit in my apartment, or car trunk… which would be slightly problematic. A viola sounds almost like a cello, and is almost as small as a violin, which is awesome!

It does have a bit of a learning curve (especially for aurally challenged people like myself), but it’s not as hard as I thought it would be overall. After 3 months of lessons (and 20-40 minutes practice couple times a week), I can already play reasonably sophisticated pieces without position shifts, and just started learning vibrato. According to my teacher that is insanely fast, probably because of my experience on a few other instruments. Apparently she doesn’t usually teach vibrato until a year or 2, but I’m progressing so fast that she decided to use me as an experiment and see what happens. Pretty exciting!

Already knowing other instruments presents another kind of challenge though – motivation.

Most people are motivated by novelty when they start learning an instrument, and as that wears off, they transition to using accomplishments as the primary source of motivation, getting excited being able to play harder and harder pieces.

Well, it’s pretty hard to get excited about Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, when you are used to playing big and majestic concertos and sonatas. And when you are used to music lessons almost all about stylistic stuff and interpretation, it’s weird to have to go back to taking lessons that are mostly about technical stuff, and how to not sound like constipation, and sound like constipation anyways.

It has definitely been an interesting experience – not having to worry about music notations, rhythm, expression, etc, and can focus 100% on playing the instrument. Ok, alto clef is a little annoying. I thought I would never have to learn to read music again, then the viola comes along with the alto clef. That was fixed over a few bus rides worth of flash cards, though. It’s an instrument that requires so much attention that it feels like it must suck for someone learning it as a first instrument – because they would have to learn music at the same time. I feel like piano or wind instruments work better as first instruments.

The biggest difference is probably pitch control. On the piano, or guitar, or wind instruments, if you press the right key, or use the right fingering, you’ll be more or less in tune. That is not the case with fretless string instruments. All finger positions need to be memorized (muscle memory) and continuously adjusted, and even small changes in finger position will result in significant change in pitch. It’s an analog instrument that offers no illusion that pitches are somehow discrete, unlike most other instruments. It really forces players to have good ears, and I can already feel that my ears are a lot better now than just couple weeks ago.

My biggest challenge right now is to do fast string crossings cleanly without making weird noises, which is just one of the million little things to worry about to get a good sound thanks to having a bow, but the bow also affords endless possibilities for expression in tens of different bow strokes, which is what really draws me to string instruments. Love it!

Teacher is Katherine Headrick. She is the most awesomest music teacher I’ve ever had (and I’ve had quite a few). She is very good at teaching, can always tell what’s wrong right away, cares about her students A LOT, and is humorous at the same time, and generally a very pleasant person to work with. Highly recommended! Definitely not the cheapest, but well worth it.

I never imagined I would be able to pick it up so fast, and it’s mostly thanks to her. I’m at a point in my life where time is more important than saving $10 or whatever a week, so that alone is worth it.

Just making another dream come true!