Do You Have a Violin Practice Routine?
We’ve taught hundreds of students to play the violin and here’s a secret:
The students who practice are the ones who fall in love with playing AND continue to play throughout their lives. Why? Because it’s SO MUCH EASIER to fall in love with something when you’re good at doing it.
The best way to grow your enthusiasm for playing an instrument is by practicing it. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve gone without practicing, it’s NEVER too late to build the habit.
It’s time to rethink the ins and outs of violin practice and develop a routine that’ll make your playing thrive.
Here are 15 ideas to super-charge your motivation and establish a violin practice routine once and for all.
Don’t have time to practice the violin? Of course you do!
There is no shortage of excuses when it comes to practicing and the hardest part is getting started.
1. FIRST, REALIZE THAT YOU DO HAVE TIME TO PRACTICE.
Our favorite practice excuse from students is the classic, “I didn’t have time.” It’s not the actual excuse that we love so much. It’s the self-incrimination that occurs throughout the rest of the lesson as the student inadvertently chats up their trip to the mall, how many times they watched Frozen, or how they attended every football game this season. We love fun as much as the next guy but EVERYONE can find at least 15 minutes in their day to repurpose for better use. Texting anyone?
2. IT’S NEVER THE RIGHT TIME TO PRACTICE SO JUST START NOW.
Let’s face it. There will always be an excuse not to practice. If it isn’t waiting for a seemingly perfect calendar day, it’s waiting for life’s events to wrap up: after basketball season, not until spring break, or as soon as this project is completed. When it finally feels like the right time to practice, six more commitments will come along and demand your attention. Why not make practicing one of your commitments instead of just an afterthought?
3. YOU DO IT FOR SCHOOL. YOU DO IT FOR SPORTS. DO IT FOR PRACTICING, TOO.
When the history teacher assigns a major research paper, you find the time to do it. When the soccer coach changes the practice schedule at the drop of a hat, you get there. And if you don’t comply with these demands, you either get a poor grade or lose your place on the soccer team. As violin teachers, we can’t hold grades over your head and truthfully, we would never want to. The point is, students and parents work closely together to make school and sports work at all costs. Unfortunately, when it comes to music, so many parents leave it completely up to the child to practice and when they don’t, allow them to quit. Think of it this way: If your child doesn’t do their homework on their own, do you allow them to quit school?
Practice Requires Creative Scheduling
We get it. Life is busy. But instead of letting violin practice fall by the wayside, get creative!
4. ATTACH YOUR PRACTICE TIME TO YOUR REGULAR ACTIVITIES, EVEN WHEN THEY DIFFER FROM DAY TO DAY.
It’s easy to forget to practice, especially when it’s not a concrete part of your schedule.
Make a Plan
Decide in advance which days of the week you’ll practice and at precisely what time. Maybe it’s right after school on Mondays and Wednesdays and before swimming on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And maybe on swimming days, practice sessions will be shorter and a bit longer on days when no other activities are scheduled.
Hold it Over Your Head
Find something in your schedule that you absolutely must do or want to do and don’t allow yourself to do it until you’ve practiced. For example: no homework until you practice or no snack until you practice. (Ahem, parents, no iPhone until practicing is complete?)
5. LOWER THE BARRE: START WITH 3-4 DAYS A WEEK (or even just 2-3).
Just because you can’t practice every day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice at all. Some practice is better than none, especially when you practice effectively. Even if you only start with 2 days a week, that’s 104 days a year and potentially a lot of progress. Once you begin practicing, you’ll fall in love with your progress and want to increase the number of days.
The Simple Anatomy of Practice Time
Practicing effectively for a lesser amount of time beats lengthy, ineffective practice every time.
6. DON’T MAKE UP FOR TIME YOU’VE LOST IN ONE DAY.
Once you make a decision to practice, don’t overdo it. Trust us. Not only will you make enemies with your muscles, you’ll never want to practice again. If you haven’t practiced in a LOOONG time, there’s no shame in giving it only 5-10 minutes per day when you’re getting started, regardless of how advanced you are. When we’ve had time off, we restart our practice routine with just one or two scales. Heck, Jascha Heifetz was known to enter his studio and only turn on the lights on his first day back. That’s it!
7. PRACTICE WHAT MATTERS.
If your goal is to actually excel at your instrument, it won’t happen by playing Mary Had a Little Lamb repeatedly, especially when you’re supposed to be working on Mendelssohn. Don’t laugh. It happens.
While it’s fun to practice what you already know, the truth is, it won’t necessarily make you a better player. The reason a student makes more progress in a half hour lesson than they do all week is because their teacher knows exactly how to work. A violin teacher with playing expertise has a trick up their sleeve for every problem that you might encounter. Listen closely and do what they say. It’s as simple as that.
8. DINNER BEFORE DESSERT.
If we ate chocolate for dinner, it would be lip-smackingly delicious — until the sugar crash two hours later. If we were to do this at every meal, every day, we’d be in pretty tough shape, nutritionally speaking. The same goes for the violin.
There are two basic components to practicing: technique (dinner) and pieces (dessert). If you only ever practice pieces, you’ll get good at playing those specific pieces but if you practice technique, you’ll get good at violin playing as a whole.
Most people don’t realize this but when our string trio or quartet performs, we’re sight-reading. In other words, we take music that we’ve never laid eyes on and perform it on the spot. Why are we able to do this? Because we’ve mastered the art of dinner before dessert.
TECHNIQUE = RESULTS
When you invest your time in mastering skills like intonation and tone, you’re building a strong nutritional foundation, so to speak, that can be applied to any piece you desire. It doesn’t matter how musically you play a passage or whether you’re up bow or down bow if every note you play is out of tune.
We once had a student who auditioned for us on piano with an intricate Mozart piece. We were impressed. She played musically, without a stumble or hesitation, and her stage presence was beautiful. However, at her first lesson, she struggled to play the very simple piece we put in front of her. Instead, she offered to play the Mozart again. It became clear that this student had spent all her efforts learning just this one piece and not learning to play the piano as a whole. For her to learn another piece, she’d have to apply the same painstaking effort she did for the first, a process that could take months and even years.
9. AIM FOR ACCOMPLISHMENT, NOT MINUTES.
We have a student who is 100% prepared for her lessons, 98% of the time, which is quite impressive. Want to know how much she practices? 15 minutes a day. Why is she accomplishing more than the students who “practice” for 45 minutes per day? Because she finds the problem spots and fixes them.
If you have a consistent problem in measure 22, running though the piece 10 times won’t fix it.
Fritz explains it like this:
You wake up in the morning. First you get dressed, eat breakfast and then drive to school. You have science class, history, then art. When you finally get to math class, you complete 11 problems correctly and then make a mistake on the 12th.
Would you go back to your bed, wake up again, get dressed, eat breakfast, drive to school, sit through science, history, art and do the first 11 problems again? Or would you simply work on #12 until you have if figured out?
The same goes for music.
When you set out to practice, have a goal in mind that’s based on fixing the problems, for example:
“At the end of my practice session I will be able to…”
•Play measures 1-8 with accurate intonation
•Play a G Major scale at M.M. 120 (120 beats per minute on a metronome)
•Master the transition between measures 63 & 64
If you don’t approach your practice session with a concrete goal in mind, you’ll have a hard time measuring your progress (or making any, for that matter).
Forget Waiting Until the Last Minute
Cramming might work for test-taking, but NEVER for the violin.
10. YOUR PRACTICE EFFORTS NEED TIME TO RIPEN.
You’ll detect noticeable results within a few days of practicing (thank goodness), which is a big plus in terms of staying motivated. Yet, the real treasure of practicing is its long-term results. Because of the challenging nature of the violin, not every skill will be mastered immediately, just because you spend time practicing it. Many skills need time to ripen before you actually see results.
Many of our students use their summer break to their advantage by doubling up on practice time. In September, they tend to cut back again because of a more demanding schedule, yet around November or December, their playing soars. Why? They stockpiled their practice efforts all summer long.
11. PRACTICING CAN’T BE CRAMMED.
Though along the lines of #7, this bares repeating: PRACTICING CANNOT BE CRAMMED. Every year, a portion of our students get the sudden urge to practice around district orchestra time and they fret about learning every last note of their music. The thing is, playing the violin is not so much about the notes as it is about building the skill of violin playing. If you practice year round, and again, under the guidance of a competent teacher, learning things like district orchestra music will be as simple as turning on the heating unit in your house, as opposed to building the entire heating system from scratch. One is a lot easier than the other AND yields consistent and reliable results.
Inspire. Imitate. Immerse.
12. THE MORE YOU PRACTICE, THE MORE YOU PRACTICE.
No, it’s not a typo. Once you actually get the ball rolling, practicing becomes addictive. The more you practice, the better you get. The better you get, the more you love playing the violin. And the more you love playing the violin, the more you want to practice. Could there be a more perfect circle?
13. GIVE YOUR VIOLIN PRACTICE ROUTINE AN EXTRA BOOST: IMITATE.
Music is certainly a creative endeavor but sometimes, you need to fake it until you make it.
The coach of a quartet I played in used to advise us how to play every note, then every measure, then every phrase…
And it went on and on. By the time we finished one piece, my music was so marked up that I could barely see the notes, never mind remember what I was supposed to do with them. This method is impractical at best. If we had to rip apart every piece we perform with our professional string trio in this manner, we’d STILL be practicing.
While technique is essentially the foundation of violin playing, you can cut to the chase on a lot of the other “stuff” by just listening and imitating. Take the time to listen to the great masters and study their style. Then all you have to do is copy it — and no, you won’t become a copycat. By listening and imitating, you build an arsenal of playing styles to draw on for your own playing.
14. READ UP!
The music world is fascinating. Reading about composers, other musicians and the history of instruments is a great way to amp up your inspiration outside the practice room. We highly recommend starting with Classic FM’s website. It’s fun. It’s quirky. And you’ll get lost there for hours. (We’re guilty!)
15. GET SOCIAL: JOIN AN ORCHESTRA AND/OR GROUP CLASS.
Getting social with your instrument packs a powerful punch. Not only is joining an orchestra or group class the perfect way to put your newly polished playing skills to the test, IT’S FUN! Plus, ensemble playing gives you a healthy push out of the practice room comfort zone. In a group setting, there’s no sweeping faulty intonation and careless rhythm under the rug or you risk getting poked in the arm with a bow — probably by someone in the viola section. Actually, violists are very kind people, despite being the target of 96.4% of all musical jokes. (Did we mention how much we love them?) In reality, no one will poke at you for making a mistake, but you’ll get really good at catching your glitches and fixing them, which makes you a better player overall.
It’s Time: Crack Open Your Case & Bust Out the Rosin!
It’ll never be the ideal time to practice but the longer you put it off, the longer you hold yourself back. The seeds of good violin playing need to be planted in advance so even if you can only practice 2 or 3 days a week, do it. Some practice is better than no practice but once you get started, you’ll fall in love with your instrument and practicing, FAST. 🙂