Do you remember when someone first floated the idea of “studying” to you? I distinctly remember thinking… “Ok yeah, studying...So I guess I just reread all of my class materials and then call it a night?” I had NO Idea what I was doing, and it makes perfect sense why! You go to school to learn from experts. Then they expect you to essentially teach yourself the material again at home…without really giving you a map.
So if you’re getting started in the world of violin, you might be a bit overwhelmed by the concept of “practicing.” I can relate.
It feels like it’s a really long road to sounding better—heck, making any halfway decent sound—and you’re not sure if what you're doing is actually going to get you there. How do you know if the practice is working? As a music teacher for over 10 years, I know my students are MUCH more likely to practice day after day when they see themselves succeed regularly! The trick is to set yourself up for that success, and here’s how...
1. Get organized! But do it your way.
Really think about what time of day works for you to pull out the violin. This is different for everyone. Put it in your calendar and set up those reminders so you can stick to it! Technology is amazing, isn’t it? Start a practice journal or simply open up a note in your phone to write down your schedule and any thoughts. Keep track of where you do this so you take them in the same place every time!
2. Create Your Practice Formula.
I know I sound like a peppy fitness instructor sometimes, but I see so many similarities between athletes and musicians. And I really admire how in fitness people plan and block their time into increments for activities carefully selected to reach their goals. Doesn’t everyone want to work in the most efficient way possible? Especially when it comes to practicing things like scales?
Here are a few ideas for what you could include:
Warm-up finger exercises
Repeating increments of a piece you’re still learning
Memorizing phrases of a piece you’ve already learned
Documenting your work with video or audio recording
Base your formula on the skills you need work on, and try variations. Don't practice the same thing the same way every day. Write down your thoughts, frustrations, successes or record a little video of yourself playing.
3. Set SMALL goals.
I mean SMALL. 1 measure. 3 notes. 1 NOTE! Focusing your attention on the smallest unit of your music that challenges you is essential to mastering that efficiency we're talking about. Slow everything waaaay down. ½ speed. ¼ speed. And don’t EVER start off by practicing your entire piece or song! This will just distract you from the problem areas that need attention, and you'll never improve them.
4. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
When you find your weak spots, measures or techniques, and you’ve determined the smallest or shortest unit in which to practice them, that’s when you get out your old friend, metronome... Simply set it to the tempo where you can play your weakest spots without making mistakes (TIP: this is probably a LOT slower than you think) and repeat one, on a loop, aiming for ten consecutive accurate repetitions.
5. Be patient, and get some sleep!
Remember that violin practice, like physical exercise, has an element of self-discipline that has to be developed over time. It just can’t happen over night. You have to take baby steps towards making this pursuit into a habit that lasts, and your brain actually needs that down-time to process all that hard work you just did. So stop when you feel tired! The tortoise beats the hare, remember? Set your sights on that 15 minute/day mark before you promise yourself an hour.
What do you think? Are you ready to take these steps?