Gifted musicians don’t appear from nowhere fully-formed and ready to take to the concert platform. For every 45-minute concerto or 90-minute recital you hear, hours of hard work have gone into every note, every phrase, and even how the music is approached, learned, and memorized!
It may seem strange to say that proper practice is the most nerve-wracking element of mastering your violin, but if you don’t know how to structure the session, how can you ever be sure that you’re working on the right things – and not just the right things, but in the right way? No single method will work for everyone, but taking what works for you from the following tips may help:
Take the First Steps
According to British flutist, teacher, and author Trevor Wye, effective study is a question of time, patience, and intelligent work. So what does that mean?
Time: The biggest mistake you can make with your violin practice is to set aside a chunk of time to work that is far longer than you can actually stay focused. For some students, it may be better to find a spare ten minutes – perhaps before going to school or work – two or three times a day to practice.
Patience: You won’t become Paganini overnight, so don’t get discouraged. Be patient with yourself, and end the session on a positive note.
Intelligent work: You may know of other students that claim to practice for hours on end. However, if you know what you need to fix each session – and stay focused on that – you will be working far smarter than they are. If a tricky position shift is causing you trouble, spend your entire ten-minute practice session on this and this alone. You’ll be surprised how much of the rest of your repertoire, not to mention your scales and other exercises, this transfers itself into.
Don’t Ignore Scales
However much you may hate practicing violin scales (and believe me, we’ve all been there), they are at the heart of everything you will ever play. Without realizing it, you’re learning the shifts and intervals that will take you through increasingly complex pieces as you progress, and you’re learning key relationships that will make seemingly impossible passages easier to comprehend and work through. To get the most of your violin practice, start (and end) every session with a few scales. Tracking your practice on a spreadsheet can help you work through the scales at a sensible pace, and make sure that you don’t just stick to the easy ones.
Sight Read at Least Every Other Day
You may not think that reading through new music makes for effective violin practice, but not only are you finding out whether new repertoire is of interest to you, you’re gaining essential musicianship skills; sight reading will not only make the learning process quicker for you in future, but will help you learn about efficient bowing and finger position for a variety of styles and melodies. It will also make you a valuable member of any ensembles you choose to join, whether you’re playing through pieces with a pianist, in a string quartet, or a symphony orchestra.
Learn to Practice Without Your Violin
There may be times when you have the urge to dive into your violin practice, and it’s just not practical to do so. Luckily, there are several violin exercises you can try that don’t actually require your violin. Even simply reading through your sheet music, or listening to a recording of the song you’re working on, can help you internalize the music.
Find the Right Environment
Think about your learning style, and the environment you typically work best in. Are you the kind of student that must have a quiet environment to concentrate, or do you thrive with ambient noise playing in the background? You will probably find that you’re exactly the same when it comes to your violin practice (although music on the stereo will not help you check your tuning!). Turn off the TV, eliminate any distractions, and make sure the area is clean and organized for the most efficient practice.
Ask Your Teacher to Guide You
You may feel you can work perfectly well on your own, but if you don’t have a second set of ears to tell you you’re on the right track, it can be hard to tell if you’re progressing in the right way. A good violin teacher will not only be able to supervise your posture, but they will be able to give you advice on better bow hold, tuning, and your overall musicianship skills.
Your violin practice will count for nothing unless you have goals to work toward; even if your ultimate aim is just to be able to play well enough to satisfy your own desire to play a musical instrument, you will find you’re much more motivated if you have an experienced and competent teacher to guide you. A good teacher will inspire you to explore what works for you in terms of practicing, and how to structure the time available to you in the most effective way. After all, proper practice is essential to your progression as an individual player. Good luck, and have fun!
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