One thing I realized: some days, I don’t have the state of mind to practice properly. For many of my students, it’s even worse. They may not even know how to practice well at all.
As much as I’ve learned about practice over the decades, I still find myself slipping into that robotic, mindless type of practice at times. As I’m sure you know, it’s very inefficient!
I needed something to fix the problem; something I couldn’t find elsewhere. So I made it myself:
A way to get a great practice session, regardless of how busy or distracted I feel.
It’s a web app that runs on an iPhone, smart phone or iPad, or even a PC. Take a look:
* * *
The first thing you see: a selector for your goal.
After that, you choose from 4 different big picture strategies designed to look at any passage in a variety of ways:
Next, you choose the specific tactic you’d like to use. (Some of these might look familiar). Or have the app randomly take you through the list using a timer:
Three quick clicks, and you’re up and running. Practicing creatively and efficiently. Here’s what the practice screen looks like while you’re working:
I’ve loaded the app with my own favorite practice ideas, plus it’s ready and waiting to hold up to eight of your own ideas, which I’ll personally add to the app. This music practice software is infinitely adaptable to any instrument or style of music.
The software is still in development, but you can check it out here.
If this is something you’re seriously interested in, you can let me know next time I see you, or simply paypal me (email@example.com) $20 and/or optionally send me a list of your eight practice strategies you’d like added.
Open to all and any feedback.
P.S. Please let me know if you have any ideas to improve what I’ve done! Much appreciated.
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.
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
The kids just hopped in the car on the way back from school and already the complaining begins. “I don’t want to practice music, it’s boring.” Once home, the the arguments pick up steam as notebooks and music are nowhere to be found. Finally the practice begins, through your kids gnashing teeth and still grumbling.
At this point even you are thinking: “I’m growing to hate this, and yes, it is boring. Truly, I’m tired of all the fighting. Maybe music isn’t for us. It’s weird, some families are doing just fine with their lessons”
When a student complains (or even fails to complain) of real boredom, it catches my ear and raises a red flag. Boredom is real, and it makes no sense to pretend it doesn’t matter. Kids won’t improve when they’re bored. Eventually they’ll quit music altogether, whether we like it or not.
Sometimes boredom is the result of “shutting down” when we feel completing a task is beyond our reach. In this case students tend to practice in a zombie-like endless repetition, without interest or engagement. Obviously, progress in this mode is painfully slow. More often, boredom during practice results from lack of variety or lack of challenge. Young or old, spending your day bored can poison any part of life, music practice included.
Plenty of kids no different than yours love and adore everything about their music experience. They’re zooming through their assignments and performing on stage with ease. They get their practicing done with a minimum of fuss, and wean their parents from the practice process at an early age.
What some parents call “talent” is simply identifying problems clearly and then quickly finding a solution that brings about a small improvement, on the spot.
It’s simple. Practice only to improve, and to make progress right now! Set up your kids for easy success. Start with small problems, and short sessions, and let them enjoy their accomplishments in the moment. Do this every day and soon the practice habit becomes a pleasure.
Here’s what doesn’t work: shut your kid in a room for 30 minutes with a vague instruction about “learning your song.”
A key thing to remember is that as much as the subject matter in my studio is centered around songs and the instrument, what I really want to teach is the ability to improve through practice. It’s a skill that is transferrable to any subject matter or goal in life.
What do you think? Have ideas like this worked for you?
OK, I admit it, as a child I was involved in a dysfunctional relationship… with practice. And the sad thing is your kids probably are too. They need your help; great practice skills are not inborn. Without regular guidance, kids almost always get bored and frustrated.
How much progress should you expect in the first year of violin, and what should your kids be able to play? The short answer: no more than you are able to play yourself.
If you can’t play this week’s song, how in the world could your six year old son or daughter?
I know you’re exhausted, the last thing you want is one more thing on your plate. Still, the fact is that without your help, your kids, (especially under the age of 10) will get stuck in their music lessons, sooner rather than later.
Well then, what’s the job of the music teacher?
You may have noticed that “teach the student Go Tell Aunt Rhody” is not on the list. And in fact, the song itself is just the starting point that you and the student must bring to each lesson. It’s your job as an Invincible Parent to make sure that everything from the teacher’s list is built into your child’s daily practice. Don’t expect a highly skilled music teacher to become your combination nanny and babysitter. Sorry.
The good news: As the years go by, a properly trained young musician becomes more and more “practice independent.” But this process begins and rests with you, the parent. Here’s your job as an Invincible Violinist’s parent:
Many parents are surprised to find out that music lessons aren’t about learning songs. Instead they’re mostly about learning how to learn. Solve that puzzle, and practice time flies by, while progress goes into overdrive.
Best of all, Invincible Violinists, become invincible in life. It’s all about setting goals, managing long term projects, staying motivated and enjoying the ride. So practice well, and enjoy your violin adventure!