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

Part 5 of 5.

I’ll just say it: Many, if not most aspiring musicians have no clear idea of how to get better. In fact, our picture of “getting better” consists of a few fuzzy images that we hope come become real some day in the future.

Getting better at violin (improving your skills) can only happen at one place and time. Right here, right now.

If you started your practice at 1:00 p.m. and can’t point to any clear change in your playing by 1:15 p.m. your session has been a failure. In fact, you may actually play “worse.”

And yet, we pick up our instruments day after day and immediately go into the trance of “someday.” It’s a day which all too often eludes us.

How to Finally End Your Practice Trance

It all begins with a powerful warm-up routine; the very same routine we’ve been discussing over the last weeks. A physical/mental transition, followed by a fine tuning of the senses. These steps take you out of trance and put you squarely in the here and now.

Now we are ready for Part 3, growing our skills. This is where our heightened awareness and sensitivity really put you “in the zone.” You are feeling resourceful and creative. You have an arsenal of strategically crafted practice tools in your back pocket.

Moment by moment, you are discovering new things about the violin, while you naturally move forward on your journey.

Tackling Tough Music

Whether you want to play a dazzling Mozart Rondo, or learn how to shred the famous guitar solo in Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” it must happen right here, right now. Yet, non-intuitively, we have to let go of attachment to the end result to actually reach it.

Think of it this way: the violin journey is a lot like any other great journey. It’s not about the destination but the journey itself that counts.

The violinist who is mindlessly hammering away at a trophy song is usually attached to a final result. A part of her isn’t in the room to do the work, to discover what’s really inside the music.

“Stop the madness!” I say to her. Let’s pause and come back into the moment. Let us grow our playing organically by using our God given creativity and intelligence. This is how we get better, as human beings and as musicians.

Growing Your Violin Practice

By Part 3 of your warm-up, you’ve honed your senses and you’ve strategically reviewed your goals for the session. Now you are ready for your daily growth.

That Mozart passage requires a tricky set of bow motions. You proceed to break down those motions six different ways until they are dead simple. In five minutes you can feel a small transformation. By the end of 15 minutes, you’ve discovered something new about your bow arm.

And if you want to learn to shred like Joe Perry, you add a simple five note scale to your warm-up routine. Before long, you’re on the way to “Walk this Way” along with countless other similar solos.

With each passing day you get “in the groove” more quickly and with more confidence. And your daily practice becomes a source of constant pleasure.

Key things to remember:

  • Create a simple 3 part warm-up routine and stick to it!
  • Expect success at every point. Always keep your strategically crafted practice goals in the back of your mind, but stay focussed on the moment at hand!

After decades of performing and practicing the hard way, I’m finally hitting my stride. I’m learning difficult music with ease, and enjoying every last detail along the way.

I can honestly say that this is an approach that more people need and I hope this series has been a step in the right direction towards solving the problem of ineffective practice.

I’ve enjoyed sharing this information with you over the last five weeks. Drop me a note with any thoughts or questions about this series. And stay tuned for more. Thanks for reading!

Bill Alpert
The Alpert Studio of Violin

Bill Alpert

About the Author

Bill Alpert

Bill Alpert is a performer, teacher and author with a unique focus on personal development and mindfulness viewed through the lens of violin study. Mr. Alpert's resume includes recordings, performances and film scores with artists such as The Moody Blues, Pepe Romero, Tina Turner and Johnny Mathis. The co-founder of the award winning Alpert Studio of Voice and Violin in California, he is professionally active in the American String Teachers Association and the Suzuki Association of America.