Practising can be quite a lonely and, dare I say it, tedious business at times. Particularly if you’re doing it right i.e. not just playing the bits you like and can play, but repeating the devilishly difficult bars ad nauseum until they start to sound better. To shake things up a bit I tried playing along to one of those accompaniment CDs (I bought a book that came with one a few weeks ago but have only just had a chance to test drive it).
Practically speaking, it’s quite a tricky: there’s very little pause before or after each track so after you’ve selected the backing track you want and pressed play there’s a mad dash to put down the remote control, pick up the viola and bow and then catch up the two or three bars that you’ve already missed. I tried a number of different approaches e.g. having my viola in place, remote control in same hand as bow, pressing play and flinging the remote across the room as I started to play. Not ideal though.
In the end I gave up trying to have any say in what piece I played, started the CD at the beginning and treated it as a series of diverse sight-reading exercises, with accompaniment. I hurtled through a hornpipe and a couple of reels, a poignant Bosnian ‘Hero’s Farewell’, a few bluegrass tunes, then some Hungarian numbers, and finished off with some Christmas carols and a traditional Jewish dance – quite a revelation.
It was good fun, which is the main thing, and playing in a variety of styles feels like a healthy thing to do, musically speaking. Also, playing along with a CD makes it painfully obvious if you’re either out of tune or not keeping time, and, it’s occasionally quite nice not just to hear the sound of your own playing echoing round the room.
It’s been pointed out to me that you can achieve the same effect by playing along to YouTube – particularly useful if you’re learning an orchestral part.