An in-depth review from a Viennese concert violinist
Many musicians very often come across advertisements of “Halo Sports” on facebook. The device, that makes a Spanish pianist playing and learning two “equally difficult” pieces easier. I as well was very curious, practicing less time to stay to be shape – needing less repetitions of the same piece until it's perfect – tempting. So I read a few articles about it online, unfortunately they all were focused on athletes. But, I found out where their headquarter is – in San Francisco. And luckily, in June 2017, I was with my string quartet – the Auner Quartett – in Stanford performing at the Saint Lawrence String Quartet Seminar.
Its not easy to stay in shape when you travel a lot.
I studied violin in Vienna with Prof. Christian Altenburger, in Salzburgs Mozarteum with Prof. Igor Ozim and made a postgraduate with Prof. Boris Kuschnir in Graz. I did many competitions, won a few too, recorded many cds and today I play as a soloist regularly with symphony orchestras, perform recitals with the great british pianist Robin Green (who would, because of ethical reasons, never use Halo) and perform with my string quartet a quite dense concert calendar. I practice a lot all my life, especially scales like Flesch and technical exercises are my daily routine since many years. Keeping in shape, while traveling a lot (I am writing this blog entry in KLMs flight 0747 from Amsterdam to Panama City – performing at the Cartagena Music Festival in Colombia tomorrow) is complicated. Many emails to write, teaching, rehearsing etc. takes a lot of my free time away. As long as you are studying – or, let's say as long as you have some weeks during a semester where you have nothing written in your calendar except violin lessons, time that you can use to learn new repertoire; things were definitely easier. So, if there is a device that helps you to practice, why not find more about it.
Meeting the scientists
As Halo Sports was mainly designed for athletes, the material you find about the effect on musicians is very little. And the only way for me to spend this still quite painful amount of money was to try it before. So traveling to Stanford from Vienna included one night in San Francisco before taking a rental car to the University Campus later the next day. The morning after our arrival, me and my colleagues took our chance and went to the address I found online and simply rang the bell. “Hello, I am Daniel, I am a violinist from Vienna, Austria and we are on a concert tour through the US. Would you show us Halo Sports?” And luckily they let us in (they probably won't do that again :-)) What happened then, was really impressive. We met basically all people involved in this company, and it's a very big office. The CEO gave us a full presentation of the device. Imagine four musicians in a presentation room not closing their mouths and watching two scientists and Halo Neuroscience lovely's Annie, partnerships lead, explaining us for two hours how the device works, what it does, how long it was tested, how many studies there are about side effects, the placebo effect, to always use plenty of water on the sponges etc. Of course we just understood half of it. Especially about the medical part. They are scientists – they actually learned something in their lives. Not like us. Then they brought two devices and my colleagues tried them immediately. They said it feels like tingling that day. Not sure if I would agree, but more about this later. They let us take two devices to Stanford and test them for a few days. We promised to bring everything back and that we would tell them our experiences at the end of the week. We had five days. Suddenly everyone wanted to practice.
I started with Paganinis 17th caprice. It was the one that always brought me through the first round of competitions (ok “always” might not be true, let's say most of the times) and I practiced this piece hell of a lot in my life. That day I did not have touched it for around 5 years. I turned on Halo Sports, downloaded the Android App, used plenty of water on the sponges, and after some “not enough contact” problems shown in the app (make them really wet, wiggle them a bit on your head – the sponges, "primers", must be connected to the scalp) I started practicing like I am used to. It felt like small needles and was uncomfortable at the beginning. I started with the intensity at 10/10 and then lowered the intensity down to 5/10 to not be distracted from the feeling it gives you. So, one hour scales, one full Flesch, like I am used to. Although not touching the Violin since I left Vienna already three days ago, my fingers did not feel as weak as I thought they will. Then, after some minutes playing I started to understand what Halo actually does and how it feels using it.
The Halo-effect on musicians
Remember the last time you had a piece prepared for an audition, for an important concert, playing for an important teacher, a competition etc. And you practiced this piece over and over again for many days, weeks, months in a row. When your fingers know their places. They start to fall so strong onto the fingerboard that you can hear the sound of a “pearl dropping” before the note starts. You get to this state of finger control quicker with Halo. After the third slow run-through of the octaves in Paganini 17, my fingers knew again where to go. I repeated the passage slowly again and again (normal practicing) really imagining every note completely separate from the one before. Instead of legato I practiced everything portato, even with a lot of notes on one bow. And yes, I got to a level of intonation when playing the full passage fast in the end, where I probably would not have ended up this day without Halo. If this was because of the neuropriming effect or because I got really curious and motivated to practice, I could not say at this point. It would take me a few more days to make up my mind about it.
After the first woohoo
The second day the Halo- effect was much less on me. My colleagues said the same. But as we know, musicians are all a bit mentally crazy. It's all in the mind. Going to sleep thinking of how great you practiced today and then taking the violin on the next day starting again with cold fingers – Nah. Overrated. Would never pay for that. Doesn't work. And, very noticeable for me that second day – my fingers were completely “overplayed”. Tired from practicing two hours Paganini 17 octaves without touching the violin for three days before. Stupid. Don't do that. But it felt like I was in shape and continued playing... After some hours, I felt better again. In the next three days I started to understand the difference. I had one day in between where I did not use the device, to have some comparison. I learned new pieces, I repeated some that I had played a lot, like the Last Rose of Summer. I just made a recording and a video of that piece, you can watch me here performing it in Vienna's Ehrbar Saal.
It was before I tried Halo. (Not that someone says I cheated...)
So how did it change my feeling of the violin?
Halo only had an affect on my general shape. I felt like I can feel my fingers (I always choose in the app to improve the left hand during the 20 min. session) better and have more control over them. Halo Sport helps musicians learn movement faster when paired with practising. It helps musicians or athletes accelerate motor learning, but not cognitive learning (memorization, remembering where my glasses are etc.).
The team of Halo likes classical music
We, as a quartet, played a private concert for the team of Halo Neuroscience at the end of our tour. It was the pre-concert for our final performance in Stanford at the Bing Concert Hall that week. The CEO and CTO of the company actually learned how to play violin as kids.
The Auner Quartett at Bing Concert Hall, Stanford University, California
So, should you get one? Do I use it?
Also if parts of its effect is simply a placebo one and it just makes you think that you play better than you are, maybe that's all whats necessary? Today I own a Halo Sport, if I am busy and have a lot of concerts, it helps me in these few hours I have in between where I can practice alone, in peace. I feel like I am in a good shape, and since I have it I know I can reach a good shape with less practicing than before. Around 10-15% less. I do not use it every day, I'm to scared of messing too much with my brain. The device will only help musicians that know how to practice. That make a plan on how many times they will repeat this movement or this passage today (7 is a good number; 4 times very slow, 2 times bit quicker and 1 time in final tempo. That's how Oistrakh practiced.). Wrong intonation practiced with Halo Sport would be quite a musical life-shortening disaster. The wrong notes will be burned into your brain.. And, of course, messing with our brain could be an actual life-shortening disaster. It is something we have to be careful about. Even the oldest musicians are normally very awake and very focused until their last breath. Our hearts beat strong – we train it on stage. Not that musicians are super-humans, but we are definitively pushing our body to its limits. We are athletes, also mentally. On the other side, even big stars like f.ex. Lang Lang right now sometimes practice too much and hurt themselves. Maybe this could be a way out of problems we can get from practicing too much. Yes the science is profound, and the technology is in use since decades on patients that f. ex. had a stroke and cannot walk any more. But – these people cannot walk any more, they have kind of a motivation to try everything that could improve their life quality. We are fine, we just want more. This device might help us out with that, but can you really cheat your nature? I don't know. It will not simply transform you into a good musician. You will feel your fingers better, yes. You will be quicker in shape. But you might not improve at all using Halo, if you today have serious problems with f.ex. holding your instrument, generally feel unmotivated to practice. It is not going to have a life-changing effect on "struggling" musicians - the better you are already, the more you will profit from using Halo. Misuse might become an issue if the device becomes popular in the musicians world. Imagine kids being forced by their crazy parents to use it. It is not safe for children – that stands everywhere and Halo Neuroscience makes this very clear. But as a musician you come along a lot of crazy parents, don't you? For professional musicians, I can recommend it. You will be using it, this I can promise. Also months after you bought it. I hope you found my lines interesting, please excuse any typing mistakes or wrong grammar. Auf Deutsch ginge es leichter, aber dann liests ja keiner. Check out my website for my recordings and videos! If you find the article interesting, share it with the buttons below. I will post more entries about my travels and my projects regularly, also about Halo Sport, if this makes you following me. You can sign up on this website to receive updates. If you would be interested in studying in Vienna in my class please click here.
Practicing helps also without Halo.
Daniel Auner plays on a Violin by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini that belongs to the Austrian National Bank. This instrument sounds best with P.I. strings by Thomastik Infeld.