Category Archives for Practicing the Violin

How I Finally Took Charge of My Ineffective Violin Practice in 2016. And How You Can Do the Same in 2017.

Part 2 of 5.

(If you missed Part 1, you can read it here)

Dear Violin Co-Journiers,

More and more violinists are discovering the power hidden in a simple but effective warmup routine. For me, it has become the single most important part of my violin day. If I only have 30 minutes to play, I simply warm up knowing that I’ve surely maintained my skills, and most likely made some forward progress.

You might ask: “what about my orchestra music?” or “shouldn’t I be covering the solo I’ll be playing in church next month?” And my response will always be “Begin with your warmup. It will be the rock, the heart from which everything about your playing will emanate.”

This is utterly non-intuitive for many. Every cell in your body will be screaming to get started on the “real” music. More often than not it becomes a mindless fixation. You mindlessly focus on what could go wrong and then randomly pick away at the spots in the music that are likely to be the source of an embarrassing screw up.

The above paragraph describes a lot of violinists at levels ranging from novice to expert. And true confessions… yes, that was me for much of my playing career. All of this falls into the category of what I call “reactive” practice. Before long it can suck all the joy out of playing the violin.

Pardon my French, but screw that! If missing (or cutting short) a week of warmups is the price I pay for accepting low pay work,  then I’ve made a deal with the devil. I’ve paid the ultimate price to take home a few dollars. If you’re a working musician, you must bring your skills noticeably forward on a regular basis. Otherwise you are doomed to a lifetime of low pay work.

That’s what a warmup can do: bring your skills to a constantly increasing level. Your playing becomes more refined and effortless. You are claiming new tools that give your playing more color, nuance and variety. You become a more flexible musician and have a lot more fun while playing.

Even if your aren’t a working musician, if you play purely for the joy of it, your warmup provides all the same above mentioned benefits. Even more so, since you can play on your own terms 100% of the time.

Reactive practice doesn’t work. It can actually make you a worse musician, reinforcing all the worst aspects of your playing and completely ignoring what you do well. If you’ve played for a while, I’m sure you know that bad habits are easier to form than good ones.

This is another reason to choose your gigs (even if they’re non-paying) carefully. Jim Rohn famously said “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The very same holds true for the musicians you hang with. Always try to play with players who have skills equal to or ahead of your own. Avoid the gigs where you feel like your own playing is getting dragged into the mud.

I’ve tried to make the point that reactive practice isn’t the way to go. That you should always have a plan for you practice. That holds true for EVERY level of player.

The best practice plans always begin with a warmup routine. Yours should too.

A few beautiful things about a good warmup:

  • clears your mind and provides a transition from everyday thinking to a more open and aware modality.
  • “lubricates” your muscles and joints for ease of flow and reduced effort
  • fine tunes your tactile perception to the tiniest of sensations
  • zeros in on the aspect(s) of your playing that match your current and future objectives

And more. But the above four points alone are more than sufficient to move your playing and enjoyment forward every day. Whether you are working alone, studying with a private teacher or enrolled in a conservatory program the warmup will have great value for you.

Next week I’ll describe the three building blocks of an effective warmup and also give you a simple plan to create your own. Stay tuned!

Bill Alpert
The Alpert Studio of Violin

p.s. If you have specific questions about warming up, or any other aspect of your violin journey you can REPLY to this email or simply visit this page.

How I Finally Took Charge of My Ineffective Violin Practice in 2016. And How You Can Do the Same in 2017.

Part 1 of 5.

By the end of 2016 a lot of unexpected things became clear about my violin playing. This was surprising, since I’m certainly not a newcomer to playing (and teaching) the violin.

Here are a few of the more useful surprises:

  • I practiced for hours. Probably too many. But most of the gains, (the stuff that stuck) happened during the first half hour, while I was warming up. I found that no matter what else I did that day, it was crucial to get the first 30 minutes exactly right.
  • Very often I got a lot more done (and learned a song or piece faster) by practicing just a few notes, instead of trying to cover several pages of music.
  • At times I thought that my playing had “topped off.” I kept thinking I had hit the limits of my ability. But think again. More often than not, it was a very common but destructive mindset taking its toll. Believe me, this can really hit you hard when you’re trying to get better.
  • Like me, if the thought of performing in public sometimes turns your stomach, if playing a solo gives you sweaty palms and an uncontrolled bouncing bow, you already know that you are not alone. Happily this got a lot better for me in 2016. The good news is that you have the ability to slow down or completely put to rest your butterflies using the very same methods.
  • If you haven’t already at some point, you’ll start getting work offers (gigs). I’ve learned that it feels great to be asked, but there are times when you’ve simply got to learn how to say “no thanks!” On occasion a bit of negotiation can really help. Accepting the wrong gigs can bite you in the.. (expletive deleted!)

What About Your Own Violin Playing in 2017?

Are you kicking yourself for a lack of progress? Frustrated about all the wasted time, the lost opportunities and the negativity around playing the violin? Shouldn’t violin really be something wonderful and beautiful in your life?

Please, please learn from my mistakes! You can cut out the drudgery and replace the suffering with your own truly beautiful violin practice. You can move ahead in your playing as you move ahead in your life. That’s the idea behind InvincibleViolinist.com.

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Here’s to your most-beautiful-yet violin journey in 2017!

Bill Alpert

Founder: InvincibleViolinist.com
The Alpert Studio of Voice and Violin

Making the Violin Dead Simple

Always start your practice with something simple. Dead simple.

Even if you feel it’s beneath you.

You’ve got a few minutes to practice the violin? Great! In your busy life it’s increasingly hard to find time you can devote to something that seems so impractical as working on violin tutorials!

So you skip the simple stuff, and go right to the advanced songs and music that you’ve been working on for months. And maybe with little improvement to show for it.

After all, you’re making up for lost time, and who wants to work on those bland songs or boring scales??

But… for almost every violinist, amateur or pro, beginner to expert, starting a practice session with your meatiest musical challenge is a HUGE MISTAKE.

I know, from having lived through this scenario so many times. And like so many other things in life, the right thing to do is sometimes the LEAST OBVIOUS. In fact, your best possible choice is often counter-intuitive. It’s the thing you’re least likely to choose.

Purely by accident I found out that the best way to conquer something I can’t play is to sneak into it by practicing something else. Something entirely different. And most important, something that’s so simple I can practically play it in my sleep.

Makes no sense, right? Or does it?

Mapping Your Practice

Violin is a physical activity. Lots of moving parts to coordinate. It requires a lot of finesse; you’ve got to be in touch with hundreds of subtle body sensations at any given moment.

But we get all wound up in mental traps. And we’re constantly telling ourselves stories about our ability (or lack thereof). We robotically practice ourselves into a state of mental frenzy, neutralizing any ability of our brain to help us.

But worst of all, this negative process becomes habitual. And it cripples us because the emotion inside of it leaves us out of touch with the very physical sensations that are key to improving our skills.

You end up trying harder and harder while digging yourself further into a hole. That nasty lick, that fancy bowing pattern, that hard to find pitch becomes even just a little more impossible every time you try it.

Yes, practice can make your playing worse. It happens all the time.

Don’t become a victim of practice thats “gone mental.”

Always start your practice with an easy physical and mental breathing “meditation.” If you’re feeling rushed, that’s even more reason to take this advice.

Focusing on physical actions and sensations makes the difference between success and failure for violinists. People who try to master the violin by only learning songs soon hit a wall where further improvement is impossible.

That’s why all of my training zooms in closely on the physical motions and actions of playing. Sometimes microscopically close.

DOWNLOAD MY FREE GUIDE TO THE VIOLIN

Evolutive A Major Performance and Practice Track

Here’s something I’ve created to enhance your violin practice. Please try it and and let me know your thoughts!

The EAPT is an unconventional and powerful way to enhance your music practice. This seven minute practice experience is a constantly evolving constellation of sounds that will take you deep into the universe of the A Major scale.

More Than a Simple A Major Scale Drone Track

The usefulness of this EAPT extends far beyond the practice of scales and arpeggios. It has applications ranging from improvisation to tone development to meditation.

While this EAPT is suitable for all instruments, ages and levels it was originally conceived and tested for stringed instruments.
Please let me know how YOU might use EAPT in your own music practice!