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.
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This short video is taken from my Ultimate Vibrato Workshop, but it applies to any/every aspect of practicing a musical instrument. I hope it inspires you toward more skillful and enjoyable violin practice. For more information on the full training, click here.
I often hear from violinists who aren’t interested in public performance or taking live violin lessons. And that’s OK.
Not every violin journey needs to be public. For many violinists, the practice will be purely personal. There is no unwritten rule that you must share your violin playing with family, friends or anyone at all.
If this feels like you, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This particular path is just right for your life at this point in time. It is equally powerful, perhaps more so, than a similar journey traveled in public.
True, for some, conquering your personal demons is a path to personal growth, but for others public performance is nothing more than an ego building device.
The art of violin practice is more than just musical. It’s all about being in touch with your deepest motivations, fears and aspirations.
Everyone’s violin journey looks similar from the outside. When you go a little deeper and you’ll find that we all have a unique, personal relationship with our practice. Like snowflakes, no two practices are alike.
The most important thing is to really feel deeply what the violin brings to your life. This feeling doesn’t require words, but it does require that you are fully present for your practice.
Before you grab your violin to play, sit and take a quiet moment to notice the underlying emotion behind your violin practice. What is the dominant feeling in this moment? No need to analyze or think it through. Just breathe smoothly and stay with it for a few minutes; give the underlying emotion enough time to process. Stay aware and you’ll get a signal when it’s time to start.
Making this a daily part of your violin practice will improve the quality of your work, perhaps far more than volumes of scales and etudes.
Eventually you’ll realize that this short “meditation” is perhaps the most useful and and enjoyable part of your practice routine. This is why I’ve included meditations in my online training programs, including the Ultimate Violin Vibrato Workshop. I’ve had several students tell me they love this part of the program!
Whether your violin journey is in public, or fully private, a beautiful vibrato will enhance your enjoyment and will promote relaxation in your hands.
You can experience this for yourself:
Whether you play for one or a million, your violin practice is yours alone. Savor the journey!
~Bill (sitting-on-a-yoga-mat-and-burning-incense) Alpert
Please do not wait until you’ve learned your favorite violin piece to celebrate that within your hands is a beautiful, powerful and precious object that was crafted lovingly at great effort.
Do not wait to recognize that your mindful focus during practice itself is a life affirming, positive statement.
Do not wait until your have achieved that elusive goal we call “mastery” to recognize that real mastery is finding joy in your work this very moment.
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.