Learning to master the violin is hard, however the tools you use in learning the violin are very helpful in many other activities. When you play the violin, you are gaining dexterity in your muscles. When you play violin in a group, you are listening and blending in. Learning music helps your brain develop memory. While practicing, your muscles develop memory that allows you to repeat what you have learned. The therapeutic value of playing a musical instrument is well documented. Below are my top five activities that any violinist should excel in based on the way your body and brain learn to play music. Please note, these are not necessarily easy things to master, but learning the violin will give you a head start for sure.
Chess is an easy game to learn and a difficult one to master. It requires brain power like few others. Mastering chess takes a great memory. So does playing the violin. Playing chess develops strategy and thinking skills, just like playing the violin.
I stink at chess. Not because can’t play well, but because I just don’t play very much. I have an excellent memory for numbers, dates, and words, which should make chess a little easier to master. As a skilled player, you need to remember where your opponent played last. You also need to have a plan and several moves stored in memory for use in the future. This is called thinking X number of moves ahead.
On the violin, you need to plan ahead as well. Changing positions is necessary to avoid open strings and also to gain a certain sound. In addition, fingerings need to help you plan ahead to get to a certain position in order to play an upcoming passage correctly and beautifully. Good violinists use fancy fingerings to get themselves to where they need to be in the future, just like chess masters use certain moves to set the board up for the kill.
Playing a musical instrument is a terrific preparation to life on the stage. If you are adept at performing while playing your instrument, then you have already conquered one of the most difficult aspects of acting on stage – stage fright. Everyone gets nervous when they perform. No one is immune no matter what they tell you. Unfortunately for some, the nervousness is catastrophic and ruins the performance. If you already know how to prepare for a performance and how to use nervous energy to your advantage on stage, you are ahead of the game when it comes to acting.
Learning music in order to memorize it for a performance is just like learning lines for a play or musical. If you are good at memorizing music, they you will be good at memorizing lines. Another skill that translates well into acting is listening. When you are playing an instrument in a group, you are constantly listening and making sure your own part fits in properly. When you are acting on stage, you are listening for lines that signal when it’s your turn to talk. Just like performing with a musical instrument, sometimes you will need to improvise on stage during a play. Your listening skills and quick thinking will help you out.
I enjoy acting on stage but I don’t get to do it very often because of my schedule. I’ve also been an extra in some films that have been in production here in Georgia. It’s a lot of fun and I encourage anyone with the time to try it out. You will need to ‘like’ the various casting agencies’ Facebook pages to get the notices. Then you email with a picture and your height/weight etc., and they either choose you or not. Pretty simple, plus you get paid (very little, but it’s something).
Fishing is one of those activities (or is it a sport?) where you can enjoy the outdoors, get some sun, and maybe even catch some fish. I’ve been fishing since I was a very young child and still like to get out once and a while today. The one tool that musicians can use when they go fishing is patience. Fishing is not called ‘catching’ for a reason. I’ve stood out in the cold in the wee hours of the morning catching nothing but pneumonia. It sucks. But, the patience I learned while studying the violin helps me when I go out. I am not, by nature, a very patient person, but I’ve been studying and playing the violin for over 40 years so I’ve developed (by accident probably) at least a little patience.
Fishing also requires a deft touch to detect bites and set drag. Fly fishing requires dexterity that few people have. Both sensitivity with the hands and dexterity are tools you learn when learning a musical instrument. Heck, knot tying is an essential skill for anglers and not easy. Luckily I learned how to fit my fingers into tiny spaces by playing the violin so knot tying (and getting out knots) is something that I’m pretty good at.
I hate to even put this here, but playing video games is one of the many activities that benefits from learning an instrument. Today’s video games are leaps and bounds different than what I had as a kid. I started with Pong and graduated to the original Atari 2600. If you remember the Atari controller, it had a joystick for moving your character and one button for shooting or jumping. Today’s controllers have two sticks for movement and at least nine buttons. Kids are strangely good at most video games (as my step son can attest – he kicks my butt daily). Musicians are usually pretty good too.
Activities like video games require a crazy amount of dexterity with your hands and fingers. Musicians, especially string players have incredible dexterity in their fingers on both hands. This helps with getting buttons pressed correctly and in the right order. The problem solving skills used to practice and learn music also help with video games. Having a mind that is used to solving puzzles is a nice tool to use to beat video games like the Final Fantasy and Halo games and other quest-type games.
Playing the violin is hard. Playing golf is hard. Those are not the only similarities. I have always used golf as an analogy when working with students because not only do I play golf, but practicing golf is just like practicing violin. You need to learn to repeat certain motions with your fingers on the violin, and you need to learn to repeat certain motions in the golf swing. Failing to repeat a correct golf swing will result in the ball going somewhere bad. Failing on the violin results in bad intonation, wrong notes, and ugly sound production.
If you can master the repetitive motion of the golf swing by practicing, you already know how to practice the violin. Golf also requires patience which is something that we already know will help you play the violin. In addition, a round of golf is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to have your mind working at peak levels for 4+ hours. Playing an instrument also requires long stretches of peak mental acuity. The most difficult violin concertos are tough because not only do they have passage work and difficult notes but they are also long. The stamina required to play Brahms, Sibelius, or Tchaikovsky concertos is enormous. They each have 40+ minutes of nastiness that can ruin even the best players.
A Few Other Activities
In conclusion, playing the violin (or almost any instrument) can help with many other activities. The five hobbies above are my top choices but there are countless others. Any activity that requires hand-eye coordination will be one that violinists could master. Sewing, model building, computer repair, and darts/ping pong are just a few additional activities you could do well to try. Or, you could do the best possible thing – learn another instrument! My first choice for any musician’s second instrument is piano. Piano is a great way to learn theory and harmony. Piano is also a wonderful teaching tool for violin students. If your violin teacher also plays piano, you are in great shape!
No matter what you do, the therapeutic and physical benefits of playing the violin are almost endless. Ask your teacher what hobbies he or she enjoys and no doubt a few of the ones mentioned above will come up.