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.
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
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!
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.
Imagine your favorite violinist on stage gesticulating wildly through crazy difficult musical passages. Like Maxim Vengerov in the Sibelius Concerto, as seen in the video above. The theatrics of this kind of performance captures the imagination of the public. To some extent as violinists we are influenced by these images as well.
Don’t be fooled; deep inside the dramatic and romanticized images that Maxim Vengerov projects in performance is the razor sharp economy and control of Nathan Cole, also picture in the video above. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with motion on stage, especially when it is organically felt by the performer. The (all too common) problem comes when we use motion as a crutch. Or when it becomes a manifestation of stress, tension or nerves.
I’ve personally learned that the ability to quiet your body and mind provides far more access and control over the fine motor actions you need to play the violin, at any level. The habit of overplaying, of working too hard is difficult to shake once entrenched. So it makes sense to focus on ease and economy of motion regardless of what you are practicing.
Stated another way: you can spend hundreds of hours practicing intricate and complicated technique only to have it obliterated in the heat of the moment. Perhaps the most underrated musical skill is cultivating the ability to do more with less, always removing that which is unnecessary and unhelpful.
Economy of motion and ease of execution should be at the heart your practice. Begin today, by doing more with less.
Is it your experience (like mine) that playing the violin is a journey of a highs quickly followed by lows?
One day on top of the world, I can play practically anything. The very next day, even a simple challenge can seem baffling.
Logically you know that it’s better not to buy into either of these extreme story lines. Clearly, you’re not as great (or as terrible) as you might be telling yourself any given moment.
Still those “off the charts” thoughts and feelings are likely to plague you in any goal oriented project, such as mastering a musical instrument. They can distract, annoy or depress your for weeks on end.
Or… you can take the middle path.
You learn to simply notice the passing thoughts of a chattering mind without believing those thoughts. Noticing your thinking is part of your practice, just like playing scales.
Then, you pick up your fiddle and continue your violin journey with renewed clarity, creativity and a sense of joy.
Now, you begin to trust yourself. “Yes! my practice does work, and that’s all that really matters.”
Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield describes it this way:
Learning to rest in the middle path requires a trust in life itself. It is like learning to swim. I remember first taking swimming lessons when I was seven years old. I was a skinny, shivering boy flailing around, trying to stay afloat in a cold pool. But one morning there came a magical moment lying on my back when I was held by the teacher and then released. I realized that the water would hold me, that I could float. I began to trust. Trusting in the middle way, there is an ease and grace, a cellular knowing that we, too, can float in the ever-changing ocean of life which has always held us.
Thats’s really all there is, but it changes everything! When you begin to turn off that chattering mind you’ll feel the freedom of really great practice.
If clear minded, joyful practice resonates with you, read about Practice Circle Program charter membership.