Umm, hello! It’s like the second song in Suzuki violin lesson Book 1. It’s about as simple as tunes come: a nursery rhyme. And already someone is telling you how to practice it! Lucy said it best; “Good Grief!”
It’s easier to talk about what good practice isn’t. If you or your child is doing any of the following, there’s going to be a problem, sooner, rather than later.
1. Practicing without a specific end goal in mind.
2. Failing to use proper posture in the legs, torso, head, violin hand or bow hand
3. Allowing any tension, anywhere in the body
4. Producing a poor tone quality
5. Allowing the song interpretation to sound plain or bland
6. Practicing only one way, that is without a range of practice strategies.
The sad truth is that many if not most beginners will get not just two or three but all six of these points wrong. Which is why so many young violinists wash out and quit before completing three or four of the Suzuki volumes. These practicing errors compound upon each other, making things unpleasant for player, teacher and audience alike. Ouch!
It’s hard to imagine, but even a five year old can practice like a seasoned pro. Really. And even on a song as simple as Lightly Row! Here’s how it might look at its most basic level:
Goal: Place fingers 1, 2 and 3 on A string accurately at least 9 out of 10 times
1. “Twinkle” the notes; play each consecutive note in a twinkle rhythm.
2. “Take Away” the rhythms, so that each note is of the same duration
3. “Add-On” the notes. Start with one note, then play two, three, etc.
4. “Stop and Go” the song. Stop whenever need to place a finger.
5. “Cherry Pick” the notes. Leave out the difficult notes to be added later.
Strategy: Choose from any/all tactics to meet your 9 out of 10 goal every time you practice. It’s a success mindset that gives you confidence and ease. And it’s the same process a pro might use to practice a concerto or symphony. It’s systematic, challenging and fast moving. You’re never bored.
It’s a common mistake. Practicing isn’t meant to teach you songs. It’s simply a system to meet specific goals as quickly, easily and accurately as possible. So it’s a very structured activity that often sounds nothing like the final result you have in mind. Some common goals for Lightly Row violinists might be:
1. Pinky curved and on top of bow for the entire song
2. Be able to identify 7 notes that require a slow bow, instead of a quick bow
3. A ringing tone is heard each time 3rd finger is played
Simply practicing by playing through the song over and over will reinforce whatever playing habit is already in place, good or bad. Yes, repetition does work for you, or against you.
Moreover, I won’t waste violin lesson time teaching a student the notes of a song; that’s a baseline activity that must happen at home through repeated listening and experimentation on the instrument. The bones of the song must be in place before the lesson begins, and before the real practicing commences.
Ready to hack your own practice? Begin by making a plan similar to the one above. Choose goals that give you a sense of ease and bring out the unique character of the song. Find goals for a rich tone, and a beautiful posture. Most of all, realize that you are practicing, not performing, not learning the notes of the song. You are creating your musical future, one note at a time.
Are you bored with practicing scales? Too bad for you; you’re missing out on what could become the most awesome, useful and fun part of your music practice.
Many music students practice scales for the same reason; they’re forced to do it for their violin lesson. And because of that, there’s a lot of scale bashing going on these days. Bashing by sick and tired music students, who see them as a boring, useless and needless exercise. Even some music lesson websites entice their readers with catchy headlines such as “forget about practicing boring scales, have more fun and make more progress playing songs.”
Basketball MVP Allen Iverson famously had to take it on the chin for his poor attitude and memorable soundbites about practice. Still, western culture sees practice as a means to an end. Practice is the necessary evil we must endure on the path to musical bliss.
The problem with that western concept is that will power alone can’t sustain us through that 10,000 hours of must-do time on the chin rest. And no amount of parental nagging will can create a Sarasate Tarantella like the one I heard 12 year old violinist Karen Ferry play today.
Then how and when can we achieve true mastery and harmony with our instrument? Continue reading
When it’s time to practice, your gorgeous home may be your very worst enemy. The luxurious carpet. The rich and inviting furnishings. The decorator paint colors on the wall. They’re all tiny signals that tell your mind: “Relax, enjoy. It’s all good.” And that may be the single worst message you can plant in your brain at practice time.
Are you practicing on a timer? Playing 30 minutes a day, or 45 every other day? Or some other random number?
Take that clock off your wall. It shouldn’t be the master of your practice time.
How much time should you practice singing per day? Here’s a simple answer: Practice as long as it takes, no more, no less.
Why practice thirty minutes, when you can get the job done in ten? Why set random time goals into place, when they have little or no bearing on the results you need?