Keep a Journal for Your Violin Practice

I’ve talked about this for the longest time. I’ve done it off and on. But not until this became a daily practice, did I realize how much better it made my practice time.

Why journal, when you really just want to practice? In the moment it often feels like a waste of time and a distraction from the task at hand. But… when enough of these journaling moments are strung together you begin to realize the following:

  1. How much time you lost/wasted because you left out journaling
  2. How much more efficient (faster) you become at getting from point A to B.
  3. How much clarity you gain from the act of seeing your efforts on paper.

I won’t belabor the reasons to journal. If the above three points aren’t compelling for you, you are just dabbling in the violin. Whether pro or amateur, a real violinist shows up regularly, and brings crystal clear focus to her work. It is the difference between a wonderful lifelong journey with our magnificent instrument and simply being the owner of a violin shaped object that will ultimately end up collecting dust in the corner of a closet.

A violin journal can/should be structured according to your particular needs. Here I will share what I keep track of in my journal:

  • Current musical and technical goals, updated regularly. Include performance opportunities and dates.
  • A “setlist” of my practice time, the pieces, etudes and scales that I incorporate in my session
  • Notes alongside the setlist that remind what/how I did last and what’s next for each setlist entry
  • Audio and Video entries that help me self-assess and track my progress over time.
  • For performance pieces, an annotated extra copy of the sheet music with free form ideas, sketches, descriptions, etc. that encapsulate my ideas about the piece.
  • Notes from your teacher/coach

If you have ambitious performance goals, spend more time on journaling. If you’re on a basic course of study, the journal can be quite simple.

Bottom line: if you care, keep a journal. Keep it fresh. Make it real and make it useful. And enjoy your violin journey!

 

 

 

Did You Ever Video Yourself Playing the Violin?

Wow, that sucked! Was the really me? What was I thinking, that I could really play a Brahms Sonata? Gees, remind me never to record myself again, it just makes me want to playing nothing harder than Mary Had a Little Lamb.

That was yesterday. But remember last week…

OMG, that Bach Partita was incredible. Best tone and interpretation ever; feeling like I’m on top of the violin world. Up there with the greats, or at least getting close!

What a difference a day makes. Or really was there any difference at all? More likely the inner workings of a deluded mind. Maybe I’m not really all that stellar, but then again, there’s a lot I can do day in and day out without sweating it. Fairly impressive, at least to a select circle of appreciative fans. LOL.

At this point it’s pretty obvious that following the rants and raves of my monkey mind isn’t really helping, (no offense to monkeys).

Maybe, today I keep things simple. It won’t be easy, but at least it’s simple. Just pick up the instrument and practice. Just for a few minutes or so. Then stop before I get too caught up in my own greatness or sucky-ness. Then pick it up again and start over.

Maybe I can remember a bit about my tone last time at the end of that section? Or did the pitch need a bit of work in measure 73? Maybe Mr. Violin Genius can stop trying to conquer the violin world and just focus in on one thing for five minutes? Wow, what a concept!

Well, I played the video again and it turns out that the “horrendous” video could help me remember what needs work and what’s OK. Maybe parts of it are actually better than OK. Maybe watching it again (for a reason beyond stroking my own ego) can take me out of my dangerous monkey mind, and leave me with something useful to practice.

Maybe that three minute video just saved me an hour of practice. Brahms sounds better already, with just five minutes of practice. Wait! Maybe I am really greater than I thought, a soloist in the making!

Or maybe it’s time to make another video LOL!

How to Make 2019 Your Best Violin Year Ever

You probably think of playing the violin as a creative and artistic activity. And so it should be.

Yet practicing the violin is as much about being methodical and organized as it is creative.

If you want to slow your practice results to a crawl, simply spend your practice time with and ad-hoc, touchy-feely-right-brain-only approach. Similarly, robotically repeating a song or musical passage with the hope that it “gets better” falls into this category.

In contrast, the greatest musicians (the players you truly admire) all share a common trait: when it comes to practice, they are consistently well organized and highly flexible.

In fact, the world’s most “talented” violinists have a knack for organizing their work super effectively. They gravitate toward these more efficient working strategies almost by second nature.

For the rest of us mere violin mortals, we can learn from the best in the business by modeling a few simple practice room strategies.

Here is my “top six” list of practice hacks.

  1. Divide your practice session into logical categories. In my case there’s a physical/mental warmup section, a technique building module and a repertoire building area (and a couple of others) all wrapped into a single practice session.
  2. Journal your work. The extra moments it takes to make notes during your practice session will save countless hours of wasted effort.
  3. Monitor your moment by moment mental state. If you find yourself overworking, striving or obsessing, it’s time to take a break and regroup.
  4. Use a session To-Do list rather than relying upon your memory to move between the various portions of your practice. I actually use a task management software program on my computer.
  5. Utilize proven physical and mental tactics. When I want to improve any element of my playing, I attack it from a variety of differing angles, looking for the most effective approach. Put these tactics on a special page of your practice journal.
  6. Frame your work in a context that relates to the the upcoming performance of whatever you’re playing. Said differently: you’re not practicing for the abstract. Create something that will work in the heat of the moment.

Clearly, this list covers a lot of ground. I could write a whole book on each item. Yet, I hope it gives you a flavor for what great practice really looks and feels like in 2019 and beyond.

If you’d like to use these ideas in your own practice, stay tuned!

And: If you’re not already an InvincibleViolinist member, sign up here. I’ll be expounding more on each of these items during the course of the year. As a member, you’ll receive an update whenever I add a new blog.

May 2019 bring you your most joyful and productive violin growth ever!

~ Bill Alpert

2018’s Top Violin Practice Tip: Take Notes While You Go

On the surface, it seems like a big waste of time; the idea of stopping your (already too short) practice session to write down notes and reminders certainly feels counterintuitive.

And yet, the most valuable music practice tips fall into this “hear the beat of a different drummer” category.

This has been super useful for me. When you have come to a satisfying “end of a paragraph” in your practice, just take a moment to write down what happened, how you got to this point, and what’s needed to pick things up seamlessly next time.

Using pen and paper on your desk is fine, though I use the software program Omni Outliner to make things more efficient and searchable. Obviously, do what works best for you.

In the image above, you can see a daily journal, though I also write down reminders for the overall structure of my practice including warmups, etudes, scales and a list of current repertoire for performance.

In another section, I keep reminders for useful practice strategies, and big picture reminders from my coach and/or other sources.

The great thing about all of this: Even if I take a few days off, I can mentally jump right back to where I left off, even while my fingers and body are catching up. The practice journal saves a huge amount of time and frustration, while it only takes a few moments to create my daily entries.

Start as simple as you like. Next time you pick up your violin, make sure your notepad is close by. I’m certain you’ll enjoy the results all year long!

 

How to Make the Best of Your Holiday Practice Time

So often during this time of year, simply finding any time to practice can be a challenge. Of course, suffering from limited practice time isn’t confined to the holiday season. Whether it’s an injury, work and family obligations, or simply exhaustion you will have to cope with a less than ideal practice schedule.

If you’re committed to your violin practice, the mindful path is to avoid negativity around this topic. So don’t beat yourself up, and simply accept the situation without piling on any judgment.

On the other hand, when you’re feeling too busy to practice, you can interrupt a negative pattern by simply picking up your violin and playing anyway. This will prove to you that the frenzy of thoughts constantly crossing your mind don’t always reflect what is real and true.

The working rule here is to make those ten or fifteen minutes really count. You’re absorbed in your work. Your objectives are clearly in your mind (or down on paper). There is a relaxed, effortless quality to your playing.

Of course, this is the ideal for any and all practice. So by turning your holiday stress into success, you are moving ahead in ways that will constantly support you during the year ahead.

Last, but surely not least, use this time to share music of the season for friends, family and the community. Make your violin part of the celebration and everyone is richer for the experience.

Blessings to you and yours during this wonderful time of year.

  • Bill A.

 

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