This past fall, I broke my middle finger on my left hand (and before you ask it wasn’t from using it too much). My injury has forced me to take a break from playing music for a little while. I’m lucky in that music for me isn’t my main source of income, but I have to admit, it has been tough not to play.
Here we are almost 5 months later and my finger just isn’t quite where I had hoped it would be in the healing process. I still can’t bend it fully making it hard to hit certain notes, and when playing for more than an hour, my finger becomes pretty painful.
I’m not here to complain about my woes though, what I am here to say is that sometimes we have to make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes things like this happen and we are forced to reevaluate what we’re doing and try something in a new way.
Here’s how my broken finger will improve my playing:
Changing the way I practice
Before I broke my finger I was on a tune-learning mission learning as many tunes as I could and working diligently to improve my intonation. I even got out the tuner, attached it to the fiddle and stopped when the light moved from green to red to fix the note that was ever-so-slightly out of tune. It was a tedious process (just ask my neighbors) though I could hear my intonation improving so it was well worth the effort.
Then I broke my finger.
Here we are months later still in the healing process. So instead of focusing on my intonation and learning new tunes using my left hand, I’m going to use this opportunity to focus on my bowing technique and rhythm on my right hand. I mean after all, you can’t play fiddle without the bow. As Miles Hoffman said in an interview with NPR on The Importance of the Bow, “the bow is for the string player what breath is for the singer.”
We spend so much time learning the notes and melodies of tunes that we forget that the bow is the driving force behind this music. It is dance music after all.
Learning new bowing techniques
Bowing is such an important part of playing the fiddle and probably the hardest part. The bow is what drives the rhythm. And the rhythm is what makes people want to dance or tap their feet. So mastering the bow is just as important as learning to play in tune, especially if you play for dancers.
There are plenty of different techniques to focus on that don’t require the left hand. There are a variety of shuffle bowings to learn, and cross bowing. It is even beneficial to go back to basics and practice adding or taking away bow pressure to evoke a certain feeling. The options are truly endless on what to practice.
So, even though I am taking a break from using my left hand, there is plenty of opportunity to improve my playing using my right. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t have even thought about it if I didn’t break my finger. So in essence my broken finger will eventually make me a better player by forcing me to practice in a different way?
What is your practice regime and how can you switch it up to improve your playing?