How to Practice the Violin
Path of Progress
In the realm of practice there are two directions. Not on the “highway to success” but on the “path of progress”, we either go forward or backward. When we practice we either maintain what we have or get better at whatever we are working on, and when we don’t, we tend to loose what we had (which is re-gainable of course, and certainly in less time than the first time, but still, who wants that?). The kind of progress depends on the type/amount/goal of the practice, but that doesn’t change the fact that progress is progress.
While there is no shortcut to “success” (whatever that means to you), there are practical understandings that can make the path look simpler which can ease up your mind. Although nothing can beat the good old “regular practice with short intervals spread around”, question to ask is who needs how much of that regular practice.
Scroll down to learn more about how to practice productively and efficiently. Contact me to get better at your practice via firstname.lastname@example.org to book a Skype lesson!
Types of Learning
No Practice for You!
Did you know that there are methods where the students are not allowed to practice for the first 4 to 6 months? The idea behind is that when not accompanied by a teacher, a student tends to do mistakes without realizing them and develops the very basic skills in a faulty way which then needs repairing sessions during lessons.
You might say precious development time is not put in good use following these methods, but on the other hand there is even a cherry on top. By the time the student develops the basic technical skills and gains awareness about the value of practice, the student earns to bring the violin home to practice by her/himself, which builds the further practice sessions over the fact that they all are results of an award that came after some time of hard work. Can you teach any more than that?
Other way of putting it: There are tons of different approaches, and little time of practice at the very beginning doesn’t hurt, in fact, depending on the concentration skills of the student, it can be good, as long as the lessons are happening on a regular basis.
Discover Your Strengths
There are a few ways to start learning how to play music. For beginners in average, learning a piece by reading the score works. If it is a song they know from their past, its even better but often that is not required. Still, if you are aware that listening to the piece or even watching someone playing the piece is giving you more understanding on the music you are working on, proceed with that approach.
During the first years of learning, while in classical realm teachers tend to hold on to the idea of “never copy other players, always do what your teacher tells you plus add something personal from your side”, jazz realm teachers tend to go more for the “copy the masters as precise as you can, do what your teacher tells you, and meanwhile/then work on your own language”. Exceptions are out there, but I am talking about some majority of the approaches.
I like to mix the two approaches. We achieved miles of progress with my students with near or full perfect pitch that first had to learn the music by ear, only then managed to associate the sound to the sheet music of it. If reading a music piece is the overwhelming part for you, ask your teacher for support, find new ways to learn; listen, watch, analyze, play with a recording, sing.
Time to Practice!
Doable amount. As regular as possible. Suitable for your expectations from yourself. If you can do 2 hours a day, well done. If you can do 40 minutes a day, well done. If you can do 3 times a week 20 minutes each, well done. Obviously all three will “end up” in different places in a given amount of time. As long as you are aware that you can’t reach to the point of regular 2 hours with irregular 10 minutes, there are no surprises. At the end of the day, all three went forward comparing to the one that didn’t practice at all.
Play vs. Practise
Although few, I have encountered some students that only practices the music. Which sounds dreamy to some teachers maybe, but there needs to be a part where each student needs to take that risk and indeed play it as fast as it should be, or as musical as it should be, or as loud, soft, shy, as it should be. Even if this means playing dirty or out of time here and there. You need to know how far the end goal is from where you stand, and the only way of seeing it is by looking at the horizon directly. “Playing” a piece in progress means that to me. If you keep on playing a fast piece slow, it will be hard for your body to adapt to the end tempo, or bowing, or finger shifting etc. Same goes for dynamics, expressions you want to give, and so on. So take the risk time to time.
What’s the reason?
To get better. Answer to “To get better for what?” is up to you and your teacher. An entrance exam will ask for more commitment, a competition, a concert, they have their own timeline to prepare for. If you know what you want to do with your instrument, the amount of time you have to practice becomes clearer. Not everybody needs 4 hours of practice, not everybody can do with 35 minutes of practice.
Be transparent to your teacher, and tell her/him what you wish to do with your instrument. Ask your teacher what is s/he willing to teach to you as well. Some teachers don’t accept hobby learners, while others like me finds fun and joy in lessons to both want-to-be-professional and amateur students. And mind, some can’t teach want-to-be-professional students!
Practice vs. Play
Practice does not mean struggling to play a piece from left to right. A lot of people fails to really understand this. You need to learn how to loop a bar, with patience, five-ten times in a row, even if this means to get out of the “music” that you want to hear for that time. If you approach to the bars or sections of music that you feel you are the most weak at, and really gain control over them, your progress becomes much faster. Key is to gain awareness of your weaknesses, and honest to yourself, do your best to make them better.
What’s the motivation?
To get better, to join, to win, to achieve, to relax, to rehears, and, yes, to earn that sticker. Teaching to youngsters, and being a youngster myself some time ago, I know that a tiny award sometimes simply means that the grown-ups are aware of the little one’s hard work, and that becomes more than just an award. Depending on parenting style this can be off-limits, but I know that having a notebook full of teacher’s drawings, a different desktop picture for each week, a pin-board with stars from every day of practice helps a lot to reach to regularity.
For not-so-youngster-anymore students, there are tons of options, but the simplest yet most easily forgettable award is the appreciation you get from yourself. 😉
Deciding on how to play a note/bar/phrase/piece is one of the most fun ways to practice without seeing the time fly by. To make a conscious choice (my regular students reading this are smiling right now because they hear this way too often) you need to try all the possibilities around it. This means repeating without needing to count how much times you had repeated, or how much more you have to repeat. Work on the phrase with a crecs., a decrecs., with types of vibrato, with various bowings, with different fingerings, and the time for brake is around the corner. 😉
You there. Don’t harm those muscles. Think before play. Tire your brain before your back. Give brakes. Record yourself and analyze your performance (audio, video+audio and video only). Silent watching a video of yourself gives awesome feedback about your posture. Plan your session ahead and don’t burn yourself over just two pages if you know you will come back to it tomorrow. Don’t forget to “play”!
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