Instead of “practicing the violin music you love” perhaps a more useful idea for students of music, beginner or expert, might be “love the music you practice.”
If you can become passionate about etudes, scales, or music chosen for you by others (orchestra, or teacher for example) it’s far more likely that whatever and wherever you play, you will move your journey forward.
Don’t resist, instead embrace those days. They’re not a bad thing. Actually they are a good thing.
Now you can erase all your assumptions and once again approach your instrument with a sense of excitement, discovery and curiosity.
Isn’t this the place where your best work happens?
Do you have a dozen half-baked projects on your music stands?
What about those violin songs or pieces you’ve been practicing for weeks, months or even years, but you still don’t have much to show for your work?
Here are a few suggestions to spur your motivation, speed your progress and get unstuck on your violin music:
1. Work with a coach, teacher or other accountability partner. During and after the move of my violin studio to Morro Bay, CA, I’ve had a bit of logistical down time. I’ve booked some lessons with a coach to get things back on track. (Yes, even seasoned players need to mentor with others from time to time). There is no way I’ll go into my coaching sessions less than prepared. And I’ll bet this will work for you too.
2. Calendar a performance date for your music. Knowing that a performance or audition is imminent will often be a powerful kick in the pants.
3. Build one or more small footholds for each practice session. Human beings generally avoid tackling large projects. But the ability to complete a series of small goals is easily available to any level of player. For example, my coach asked me to prepare a Kreutzer etude. So I’m completing a foothold or two a day on Kreutzer #12 as follows:
And so forth. Depending on the challenge in front of you, more or less structure can be added to your practice session. As I complete each foothold, my progress is constant and obvious! Each day, I ascend the mountain one step at a time, and soon it begins to look like a mole hill. The key is to plan your practice in detail, write down the steps and check them off as they are completed.
Your transformation: Working within this structure is transformative! It seems like more work, but it’s actually more fun. It works for violin practice, and equally well for just about any other large goal that you could consider.
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.