The Sound of Creaking Bones in C Minor

Today was my eighth violin lesson. A session that made me forget all my woes from the previous week – the brutal relentlessness of work pressures, the maniacal working habits with results or resolutions nowhere in sight and a rather severe allergic reaction to stress. My fellow student wasn’t with me, summer vacations and grandparental pampering having proven too tempting; the temptation outweighing any interest in producing music.

So I was soldiering on alone.

When I chose this title for the piece it was a random decision, reflecting a certain fascination with the alliterative element. Little did I know it was more appropriate than I imagined; for if bones were to creak as a sad old person sawed away at a violin then it is quite plausible someone could be inspired to compose a musical tribute to this brave soul written in a minor scale!

Funereal music, sadness, depression, wistfulness are all emotional elements for which the minor scale in various keys is the scale of choice: just sharing another little tidbit to further underscore my musical illiteracy and my complete fascination with the things I am learning that I never knew before. I can’t resist documenting my sense of awe even as I picture anyone who stops by to read what I’ve written rolling their wise eyes and saying, “Oh brother, what a nitwit!”

I wasn’t very comfortable at my last violin lesson. The first eight lessons had gone well as I learnt:

The names of each string
How to hold the violin
How to bow
How to tune a violin
How to play a scale
How to play – Mary Had a Little Lamb
How to play the rest of – Mary Had a Little Lamb
How to play – Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

These are the things that the teacher taught me and my daughter. I did some playing around with the instrument myself and I was able to figure out how to play the rest of – Mary Had a Little Lamb and got up to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star…how I wonder what you are. My excitement knew no bounds when I realized I had just completed the song without being taught how to.

I have been trying to supplement my classroom learning with readings and practice sessions of my own where I regularly try to go beyond what I have been taught (I wonder why I never thought of doing this during my student days with things like Physics or Chemistry or Sanskrit for that matter!!)

So, getting back to the last class, I mentioned being uncomfortable. It was as if I had hit a solid wall, an insurmountable mental block. I had taught myself the rudiments of reading music. So when the teacher asked me to open up to the song “Lightly Row” in Anoushka’s Suzuki Violin Book 1 and he started explaining what the ‘#’ sign on a staff meant I thought I would do well with it.

‘#’ means that the key it appears on is played sharp. I could read the staff and tell that the C and F notes were to be played sharp, however I had no idea what string and what finger placement on the violin produced C Sharp! I kept asking my teacher but I felt as if I wasn’t clearly stating my concerns, as if he just couldn’t understand my question. I was more than distressed.

I kept practicing at home, starting with the G major scale and then repeating the finger placements on each string. I mistakenly believed that the G that was actually an octave higher was perhaps G Sharp… I had no one to correct me, quite the musical moron.

But these doubts vanished in today’s class and were replaced by ecstasy mingled with fright. I now know that while the piano can get a sharp or flat note by striking an adjacent black key, the violin achieves that effect by playing a natural note higher or lower; by sliding the finger slightly higher or lower than the natural note – altering the pitch very slightly. The ecstasy then, is about understanding the concept, the fright and utter stupefaction comes from contemplating the enormity of this insight. If a piece of music calls for a C sharp how will I ever know where the sharp is and how it’s supposed to sound until I can get the C natural finger position worked out?? The teacher assures me that it will come with ease soon. I say to myself, “Yeah right!”

I learnt how to play the scale in two octaves. I had learnt how to do this on my own but the thing I had been doing now had a name. He also had me practice the G major, D major and C major scales.

I don’t have the words to describe the thrill of learning just a tiny little bit more at each class. The thrill remains even as I realize how roughly cobbled together each new bit of musical learning is in my brain; how it’s coming together – but not seamlessly. Each fresh insight seems brilliant in itself like points of light flashing without any recognizable pattern. I wonder if things will ever really come together for me or if I’ll ever develop any kind of musical intuition but if I don’t it won’t be for lack of trying.

Perhaps it will come with a relaxed stance, a stance that isn’t reminiscent of rigor-mortis-violin-in-hand-warmed-over. My teacher commented on my tense face, pursed lips, a claw like grip on the bow and a short range of motion in the last class. He wanted to know why I was so tense! Is there any way for old bones to not be tense while thinking through the notes that need to be played and where each finger needs to be? It might be a little like walking and chewing gum at the same time and many of us have trouble with that little bit of coordination!

But in today’s class I was complimented on a marked improvement in my stance, my bowing and the development of some ease. Perhaps there’s hope for my creaking bones yet. If the slight improvements and minor adjustments in fingering, bowing and intuitive leaps continue unchecked perhaps the next piece will be about the Gleeful Gliding of the Bow in G Major.


  1. I had always wanted to know how violinists play the sharp and flats because it's obvious on a keyboard but was quite puzzled as to how it's done on a violin. It's quite an informative piece, and quite encouraging to know that one can start violin at any time. Hope they make music compulsory in schools… so much one can learn, absorb and feel through music.

  2. Hi there! I'm Lydia, a Suzuki mom, and I'm hosting a practice challenge on my blog, "Little Blue School" to get us all practicing virtuously during the month of October. I have a practice chart and a certificate to print, and I'm giving away a handmade violin medallion to one of the children who completes the challenge. Maybe this would be fun for your daughter! 🙂 http://www.littleblueschool.comLove,LYDIA

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