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!
It’s fairly clear that we humans all share a bit of a negativity bias. When presented with a situation that could go two ways, we’re prone to predict it will go badly more often then not.
That’s a great quality if you’re a caveman worried about being eaten by a saber tooth tiger.
When it comes to violin practice, we often generalize in the same way, though it’s not quite as useful.
Recently, in the middle of a practice session I was thinking “there’s no way I can play this etude properly,” when in reality the situation was a lot more nuanced. Large sections of the music were totally fine.
I had generalized the problem in a way that wasn’t helpful.
Better to just think about the specific challenges in a more granular way. It turns out that problem was isolated to a specific motion on a specific string.
Looking past all the misplaced negativity allowed me to focus my practice much more efficiently. I fixed the problems quickly.
Negativity as an emotion is toxic to practice. Instead, use your “negativity” in more of a left brain context. “This specific problem in this specific spot isn’t what I want.”
Certainly, critical judgment is an important part of practice. It’s a positive way of being negative.
Next time you’re feeling down on your playing, stop and notice the emotion of the moment. What triggered this feeling? Take a break, do some stretching and hit the reset button.
Can you separate the emotion from what’s actually happening on your violin? Can you get clear about the actual problem(s), right now?
Feeling stuck and depressed during practice?
Clearing the negativity cloud will soon create a spacious attitude in your right brain. You become more sensitive, more aware. Creative solutions will appear without effort!
Try it yourself and let me know what happens!
I was reminded about a great truth of violin playing while walking the streets of New Orleans today. (I’m in the city for my son’s wedding)
Strolling around the French Quarter, I heard a faint and hauntingly beautiful violin melody wafting from around the corner. Soon I found myself in front of a NOLA street band, enjoying traditional and jazz standards spun out with beautiful tone and a great sense of style.
I absolutely loved the violinist (as well as the other band members), and stood there transfixed for one song after another.
Then suddenly came my facepalm moment: Why haven’t I been doing more music like this? And why aren’t we all?
These are songs that you can learn and perform in a matter of days, even hours. The technical demands are modest, giving you the time and freedom to work on style and personal touches. It’s a chance to drop all pretense and simply have fun.
If you’re like most people, you’ve got at least a song or two you want to play. A violin piece you want to perform. Maybe even a song set to play in a band.
Finding the right songs for a developing violinist can a bit of an art in itself. Choose well, and you gain incredible forward momentum in your playing. You’ve got something you can play for years to come. You gain more choices and options as a musician.
How to Mess Up Your Relationship with the Violin
I know from my own experience, it’s tempting to choose material that is over your head. When that happens you’re not doing yourself (or your listeners) any favor. Struggling with notes for weeks on end locks you up physically and may even leave you with emotional “scars.”
Sooner or later you begin to dread practicing and performing.
This is how we can end the struggle.
In coming weeks I’ll begin introducing traditional/fiddle tunes that you’ll enjoy learning and playing. The objective is to get us both up and running on several tunes in a short span of time.
We’ll tie together the songs with the warm-ups and violin motions we’ve discussed. You’ll see how things come full circle.
The real fun (and learning) happens when you can take these tunes out into the world. Playing for (and with) others adds an important and enjoyable dimension to your musicianship, as my new found New Orleans friends have taken to heart.
If you’d like to come along on a “song quest,” please do me a favor: Click on this link and take my short survey. Near the end you can let me know what song(s) you’d be interested in learning and/or performing.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you. But for now, I have a father-of-the-groom speech to practice and a son to marry off!
Until we next meet, savor your violin journey.
Many a string player has asked, “Can I clean my bow hair?”
In all honesty, I’m not the best person to ask. Though some musicians clean their bow hair, in my view the process is either non necessary or non effective. Over a lifetime of playing, I’ve only felt the need to try it once or twice. Most busy musicians simply replace their bow hair at a regular interval.
Properly maintained, your bow hair will last quite a long time. But it isn’t intended to last the life of the instrument. So when your bow hair looks dirty, it is likely in need of replacement, not simply a cosmetic cleanup. The exception would be a minor smudge in a single spot, caused by your thumb rubbing against the bow hair.
Here are some best practices for bow hair:
– Use your rosin sparingly, and only when it is needed. Most people use too much too often, causing a snowy mess on everything.
– Apply rosin with moderate pressure and slow to medium speed strokes. Too much pressure/speed damages the hair
– Use a quality rosin. If your rosin cake looks brand new, hard or glossy after many uses, it’s probably junk
– Keep your grubby fingers (or the body parts) off the hair!! And remember to release tension in your bow when you’re not playing.
Now, if you are still determined to try and clean your bow hair, remember to remove the frog from the bow so that your cleaning agent isn’t anywhere close to the bow wood. Alcohol and water are not wood or varnish friendly!
You’ve crash landed on a desert isle with only your instrument. No music or books of any kind, and nothing committed to memory. And you can still develop (or maintain) virtuoso level skills on your violin. Simply play scales.
This much maligned musical element has a huge image problem: it is associated with the screeching, torturous notes of beginning players. And mind numbing boredom.
Still, everything you need to know about the violin can be found in a simple scale. Pitch, rhythm, tone production and every known technical feat on the bow or in the left hand can be embedded in a simple scale routine. Even musical gestures and phrasing can be cultivated through the lowly scale.
In fact, the scale is the most utilitarian of all-in-one practice tools, as I have written and often told students. Mostly, they seem unconvinced, offering only a blank stare.
When you come to accept this gospel of scales, it signals that you have made an important transition as a musician. You have finally embraced that practicing is about process, as much as it is about musical content. Pieces and etudes can become extraneous distractions to the work at hand.
Another way to say it, think of practice in its Eastern sense as a state of being. Release the Western implication that it is a verb.
Scales are a perfect fit for this Zen of practice. They can create a spacious sense around your daily work. Scales offer you the promise of pure, high quality practice. This, in turn, enables you to truly master the fundamentals with a higher sense of ease, clarity and purpose.
Try this: next time you stuck on a musical or technical problem in your favorite song or piece, simplify that problem by copying and pasting it onto a scale. You’ll immediately gain a fresh perspective plus new clarity on causes and solutions.
Your transformation: the violin teaches us to clarify and simplify what seems complex and to move through life with ease.