There is a story about the famed violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler. After months of performing and traveling, he would return to Vienna, place his violin in its case and not touch it for weeks. After this, he would retrieve it and slowly begin to practice the basics and remembered melodies. Eventually he would once again begin his daily regimen of playing, composing, and performing.
When I heard this story I wanted more context, so I dug into it a bit.
Kreisler was a well-known raconteur. He had a preference for the amusing anecdote, at the cost of the more boring rendition of the truth.¹ So it’s unclear that he actually, literally put his violin away for weeks, every time he returned from a long tour. On the other hand, Kreisler did tour a lot, playing more more concerts than any other artist of the time. He once performed 260 concerts in a single year.² So he had a good reason to put his violin away for a few weeks at a time.
Fritz Kreisler had an interesting and unusual (for the time) approach to his music and practice. He was a “glutton” for making music, but he had an aversion to the repetitive activities of practicing. “I hesitate to say how little I practice,” he once said, because young players might think they didn’t need to practice.³ He felt if you practiced when you were young, you didn’t need to practice much in adulthood. We should remember, this is the statement of a bona fide prodigy. At the same time, most people assume great musicians practice constantly. Perhaps they…don’t?
Kreisler’s statements about his approach to making music illuminate his approach to practicing. Instead of repeating passages over and over with the goal of “getting it in your fingers,” he focused on intention. Kreisler thought of music making as a primarily mental activity. (He benefitted by having a famously prodigious ability to memorize.)
“I believe that everything is in the brain. You think of a passage and know exactly how you want it.”⁴ He described creating a perfect idea of the sound you intend to make, and then making that sound. (Of course, the assumption is that you already have the technical grounding to make the sounds you wish to hear.)
He also spoke about the importance of keeping a piece from sounding repetitive or stale. “My greatest need, my greatest anxiety, is to preserve my enthusiasm and to make my playing fresh and buoyant.”⁵
For me, this is the takeaway from Kreisler’s story about putting the instrument away: He did it to keep his playing “fresh and buoyant” after having played so much that he felt stale.
Is there something you could do to bring more joy, alertness and presence to your playing? Do it!
Here are a few chapters in Best Practice where you’ll find ideas to help you keep your playing fresh and buoyant:
83–Playing as Play
100–Sleeping with a Key
148–Playing with the Masters
Judy Minot is a musician and the author of the book Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians.
Judy has played and practiced piano since she could reach the keys, training in classical playing until age 16. She now plays traditional music in various settings on a number of instruments, and gives workshops and classes on Best Practice ideas all over the U.S. and virtually.
Judy spent her working life in broadcast television and digital marketing. She holds a 4th degree black belt in the martial art of Kokikai Aikido and is a certified yoga teacher.
For more information visit: www.judyminot.com/bestpractice
Amy Biancolli (1998) Fritz Kreisler: Love’s Sorrow, Love’s Joy
Lochner, Louis P. (1950) Fritz Kreisler. p.87
 Lochner p.89
 Lochner p.89
 Lochner, p. 91
Fritz Kreisler image by Bain News Service, publisher — Library of Congress Catalog: https://lccn.loc.gov/2014716870 Image download: https://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/ggbain/36700/36721u.tif Original url: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014716870/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2816677