Practicing the Violin

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

Part 2 of 5.

(If you missed Part 1, you can read it here)

Dear Violin Co-Journiers,

More and more violinists are discovering the power hidden in a simple but effective warmup routine. For me, it has become the single most important part of my violin day. If I only have 30 minutes to play, I simply warm up knowing that I’ve surely maintained my skills, and most likely made some forward progress.

You might ask: “what about my orchestra music?” or “shouldn’t I be covering the solo I’ll be playing in church next month?” And my response will always be “Begin with your warmup. It will be the rock, the heart from which everything about your playing will emanate.”

This is utterly non-intuitive for many. Every cell in your body will be screaming to get started on the “real” music. More often than not it becomes a mindless fixation. You mindlessly focus on what could go wrong and then randomly pick away at the spots in the music that are likely to be the source of an embarrassing screw up.

The above paragraph describes a lot of violinists at levels ranging from novice to expert. And true confessions… yes, that was me for much of my playing career. All of this falls into the category of what I call “reactive” practice. Before long it can suck all the joy out of playing the violin.

Pardon my French, but screw that! If missing (or cutting short) a week of warmups is the price I pay for accepting low pay work,  then I’ve made a deal with the devil. I’ve paid the ultimate price to take home a few dollars. If you’re a working musician, you must bring your skills noticeably forward on a regular basis. Otherwise you are doomed to a lifetime of low pay work.

That’s what a warmup can do: bring your skills to a constantly increasing level. Your playing becomes more refined and effortless. You are claiming new tools that give your playing more color, nuance and variety. You become a more flexible musician and have a lot more fun while playing.

Even if your aren’t a working musician, if you play purely for the joy of it, your warmup provides all the same above mentioned benefits. Even more so, since you can play on your own terms 100% of the time.

Reactive practice doesn’t work. It can actually make you a worse musician, reinforcing all the worst aspects of your playing and completely ignoring what you do well. If you’ve played for a while, I’m sure you know that bad habits are easier to form than good ones.

This is another reason to choose your gigs (even if they’re non-paying) carefully. Jim Rohn famously said “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The very same holds true for the musicians you hang with. Always try to play with players who have skills equal to or ahead of your own. Avoid the gigs where you feel like your own playing is getting dragged into the mud.

I’ve tried to make the point that reactive practice isn’t the way to go. That you should always have a plan for you practice. That holds true for EVERY level of player.

The best practice plans always begin with a warmup routine. Yours should too.

A few beautiful things about a good warmup:

  • clears your mind and provides a transition from everyday thinking to a more open and aware modality.
  • “lubricates” your muscles and joints for ease of flow and reduced effort
  • fine tunes your tactile perception to the tiniest of sensations
  • zeros in on the aspect(s) of your playing that match your current and future objectives

And more. But the above four points alone are more than sufficient to move your playing and enjoyment forward every day. Whether you are working alone, studying with a private teacher or enrolled in a conservatory program the warmup will have great value for you.

Next week I’ll describe the three building blocks of an effective warmup and also give you a simple plan to create your own. Stay tuned!

Bill Alpert
The Alpert Studio of Violin

p.s. If you have specific questions about warming up, or any other aspect of your violin journey you can REPLY to this email or simply visit this page.

Practicing the Violin Transformation through the Violin

Making the Violin Dead Simple

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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Practicing the Violin Transformation through the Violin

Why most violin practice doesn’t work and how to fix it


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.

Practicing the Violin Staying Motivated to Practice Transformation through the Violin

Please Do Not Wait

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.

Practice Problems Violin Lessons for Kids

Music Lessons. Who Cares?

Many teachers and families use games and activities to spur on the music practice cycle in their kids. If this works for you, great. But take heed:

Games, stickers and similar activities only motivate the student as far as the game itself. They won’t in themselves make students care about the music or the violin. Then, when the novelty of the game wears off, what is left?

On the other hand, when a kid really cares about music and the violin, meaningful progress will occur, even with a beat up instrument and uneven family support.

For older students and adults, it’s much the same. Your deep passion for the work will carry you through the inevitable bumps and dips.


Inspire, don’t entertain. It’s not your job to amuse those kids with an endless parade of practice bribes. So prepare to go deeper into the music as a family. Here are some suggestions:

  • Attend lessons and take notes (instead of your iPad). Be involved with the daily practice routine
  • Explore music every day.
  • Listen actively as a family and talk about what you’re hearing.
  • Attend live concerts performed by great musicians across many genres.
  • Quit talking (or even thinking) about “talent” and/or comparing your children to their peers.

Too busy or not interested in doing the above? Then you’ll get poor results at best. Be prepared for “I’m bored,” or “I don’t like violin lessons.” Novelty wears off quickly.

Seriously. If you don’t care, why should your kids?

My bottom line, speaking as a teacher to a student or to a family: “If you don’t care; I can’t help you.”