When we start practicing, we quickly discover that we forgot our metronome in the other room. An then we have a metronome, but we forgot a shoulder rest, and if you go to look for a shoulder rest, you may get distracted along the way, and then you might get hungry, and then thirsty, and then need to go to the bathroom-and then my cell phone beeps and I just had to check what my favourite artist tweeted that they ate for lunch…well there went our 45 minute practice session! Have a list of things you need to be successful, and tape it to your stand.
2. Don't repeat mistakes
The most effective way of fixing a mistake is not only playing the mistake over-or even playing it again RIGHT. The problem always comes when we are taking a 'running leap' so to speak. So go back a few measures and attack that mistake head on, have in mind that you have trouble in that section and what you need to do in order to make it right (fix rhythm, intonation, whatever) and first play slow and then more quickly. If you don't practice arriving at the tricky spot in addition to playing the tricky spot, you'll be able to integrate the mistake more easily.
3.Use a Metronome
'metronomes are the kind of magic that are just annoying. I hate metronomes, and my students hate metronomes too. The thing is, the relationship with a metronome is kind of like any good relationship, you have to accept what they are giving (rhythm) and integrate it into your own perception of the universe. I have a terrible tendency to rush, so for me that damn metronome is like a rider to my horse who's pulling back on the reins. On the other hand, of course, when you start rushing, you are really losing control of what you are doing, and the chances that you will begin playing faster than you really can (and then make you screw up) are really high. And integrating that into performance means that once you add all that adrenaline and performance high, you get confused on stage as to whether you are playing quickly or slowly-and you always think you are playing too slow and it is too boring, and then you rush and screw up.
That said, don't you think practicing with a metronome is a good idea? Starting slower than you think you can play and then knocking it up faster notch by notch will make your playing more stable, more successful and more consistent with what you want to be creating
4. Visualize Goals
Say that you want to learn a part of a piece. Or you want to nail the notes to the scale. Set realistic goals for your practice time (example: I have 20 minutes, I want to 1. play through my piece 2. spend time playing the tough parts slowly 3. check my intonation and play really really slowly). The less time you have, the smaller segments of the music you should set aside (better to set small goals and do them well than big goals and be stressed and unsuccessful)
5. Set aside time daily
I can realistically commit these days to spending 20 minutes on working on progressing my musical abilities, as a young mom, entrepreneur, teacher, and performer. I usually play more than that most days, but actively working my brain and fingers to learn new things I can make 20 minutes. You might have more, or less time daily. But if you want to take care of your craft (whatever level you are), consistency is key, so figure out a time commitment you can make, and stick with it.
6. Divide your time up and prioritise
Here's an example I recently did with a student. That student had 50 minutes every morning set aside before school that was her practice time that she set aside for no distractions. This is a student who is super committed to making progress in her playing, so I'm pretty tough on her! So we have a few things we are working on 1. Scales -5 minutes 2. Excercises/Etudes 10 minutes 3. Concerto - 20 minutes 4. Show Pieces / Fun stuff - 15 minutes
Obviously everyone is working on different things, and has different priorities in their practice time, but deciding how much time you are going to spend on each thing really helps you to structure your practice time-and sometimes makes you really look forward to your next practice session
7. Stay away from distractions or turn your distractions into tools
I originally said when I first got a smartphone, that I was leaving my phone totally shut off when I practice. And then my metronome broke, so I got a metronome app on my phone. And for me, the phone is pretty much my biggest time waster, so staying far away from the phone is a really great idea. So I turn off my wifi/mobile data. And that usually works, except for texts, whatsapp, and phone calls. So I have to basically take myself by the shoulders, shake it off, and say "no distractions, lady!" and then that's what I do.
8. Practice slowly
The thing is, that we want to play fast, and the fastest way to play fast (thank you, Professor!) is to play slow. See, we want to get songs into our fingers. We want to get our fingers and our brains to be connected in what they are doing. In order to do that, we have to give our brain and fingers time to catch up with each other. And the better we know it slow (as in, not forgetting what we were playing to begin with), the better we will be able to play it fast later
9. Take time to improvise / sight read
I know so many people who don't know how to improvise. They ask me "how do you do it??", and maybe I will do a blog post about improvising, but the thing is-improvising is you being creative with your instrument. Improvising means you speaking with your instrument and creating with your instrument in a way that nobody else can. Really!
When I was a kid, my family was friendly with this other family and we would get together every year for thanksgiving. After eating all the traditional thanksgiving foods, we'd move into the living room and take out our instruments. And that was the first times I started improvising. I remember clearly sitting in the corner with my violin trying to pick out the tunes, and trying to come up with things that sounded good. Now, the only problem here is that I'm a little bit obsessed with my own playing, since then-so I thought everything was gorgeous. And maybe everything in some ways IS, in an avant-garde way. But I kept on improvising, and every new classical piece I played I tried to see how I could incorporate it into my improvising. Listen, I'm not the best improviser, because it was always something I did -every-once-in-a-while-, but I'm certainly much better at it than people who never try. And you can play with a recording, and figure out what sounds good to you.
Sight Reading is another thing that sometimes we forget to do and get worse at it. Just like reading in the regular old world. So setting aside time to sight read will help your sight reading super fast.
10. Take time to play things that are "easy"
Everybody needs a mental break. And we need to separate out the two things: practicing, and playing. One of my students this week, we sat down for a lesson and we timed how long she can REALLY focus on everything at the same time. And it was about two minutes!! So I said, "take your two minutes now, and work really hard. And then reward yourself, because being totally focused is hard work! And play something that is a no-brainer for you, just to enjoy the satisfaction that comes with playing something really easy. Back up to a song you learned before, to an exercise you find satisfying, or to a song you like. Some time should be just about having fun. And then prepare for the next two minutes. This student is a beginner, so I said she should work up to 10 2-minute practice slots a day, and divide them up through the day so that she doesn't burn out. Everybody has their own amount of time that works, so try to be honest with yourself, and you'll quickly bump that 2 minutes to 3-4-5 etc
11. Only practice if you are mentally ready
Mentally ready =good practicing. Mentally ready = ready to focus on problem solving and goal setting. Always say to yourself "I am ready to put all my energy into making myself progress now for x amount of time" before you get started. And if you see yourself slacking off, take a break. This is a really hard rule, and I don't really expect you or any of my students to follow it all the time. But you should definitely notice "now I'm practicing" or "now I'm fooling around", because otherwise all your practice time becomes only fooling around, and no practicing, and you don't progress as fast as you wanted to at all.
12. Isolate problems
When we are trying to practice, the tricky parts we need to play them slower, take time to really figure them out, work on intonation, and get them up to speed. So take out your pencil, and isolate the tricky areas, and practice them first, while your mind is still fresh and ready to take them on. And then practice a running leap-backing up a few measures, and approaching the tricky passage. If you can't play it in context, go back and approach it more slowly. Still not? go back, play it EVEN slower. Nothing wrong with playing insanely slow as long as you aren't making yourself fall asleep!
13. Keep a log
Ok, I don't do this. But it's a great idea. Writing down all the things you worked on, accomplished, and then the next time you practice, go over those things, refresh your memory, and when you're finished the next session, write down what you've accomplished from this most recent session. This is one of those things that takes time, and since I don't have time, I don't do it-however I do do this with rehearsals, since often it's a week or more in between rehearsals, and we just forget what we worked on, and that is just terrible. I don't, however, do it in my daily practice sessions.
14. It's not about the time its about consistency
So we've all heard about those 10,000 hours that it takes to become an expert in something. Now, let's say you had 10,000 hours in a row to practice (you don't, of course. That would be more than a year of never putting the violin down and I would probably suggest committing yourself to an institution by the end of that.) And so you only practice for that amount of time. Will you be as good as someone who has spread out those 10,000 hours over the course of 10 years of consistent practice? Unfortunately, no. You will have ruined your muscles and probably have some serious pains, besides for not being able to play as well.The point of course is not the numbers, because obviously the numbers are smaller in a regular persons life, however, I hope you got the point. If you have 7 hours to practice in order to get better in between weekly lessons, 7 hours on one day is nowhere near as effective as 1 hour, 7 days a week.
15. Push yourself
So before when I talked about my student who could only really concentrate for 2 minutes? And when we really want to stop because the phone just buzzed and we know somebody is doing something interesting in the world that we're missing?
Push yourself past your challenges and your ADD. Even a little bit past them. Every time that we challenge ourselves, we are getting a little bit better and closer to overcoming those challenges. And we all struggle with being well focused and staying on target, so every time that you fight that a little bit, you are coming closer to your goals.
16. Keep the song in your head
I discovered a brilliant little idea from the violin and piano tutor channel, where she writes out violin tabs for her students, which tell you what note to play, but don't tell you the rhythm, since she assumes you already know the song well enough to play the rhythm right. The point is not the tabs, although you certainly can head over and learn from her if that would be helpful to you, but that you have to have the song in your head all the time in order to play it right. The violin is tricky like that-because we need to have a song in our heads, otherwise we play out of tune (because we don't have keys, pedals, or frets). So I thought this little idea of hers was quite brilliant to get into the swing of those things.
17. Isolate hands
Sometimes, when we can't figure out why something isn't working, if we take out the fact that we need to be coordinated to play the violin, we can figure out the problems, and then going back and involving our whole body works out much better for us. So if you're getting confused by the bowing, take away your left hand fingering and only do the bow, or if the bowing is screwing you up, then only use your left hand.
18. Practice without practicing
You see musicians playing their instruments without even noticing they are moving their instruments, or when I am writing down fingerings and bowings for my students, I'll sometimes air-play my violin. Sometimes looking at the music without your instrument makes you take a closer look, and sometimes you notice things you wouldn't have noticed otherwise.
19 . Don't always start from the beginning
This is an extension of the isolating problems section. We often start practicing-we start from the first page, we start from the beginning, we practice in the same order every time-but then the first page sounds much better than pages afterwards because we are so fresh for the first page, and we get to the end and we're tired, or we ran out of time. Try starting from a random line in the middle, or start from the end and work your way backwards, or play the tricky sections first and then work your way backwards. Try playing scales to end your practice session instead of to warm up. Warm up with your hardest parts, played slowly. The point is not to practice mindlessly, which is what happens when we do the same thing all the time. So switch it up!
Inside of every quarter note, there are two eighth notes. Inside of every eighth note, there are 2 16th notes. Inside of every 16th note, there are 2 32nd notes...You acn always play whatever note you are playing twice inside of the amount of time that you are supposed to be playing one note. And that keeps our playing more accurate rhythmically, and also is more impressive for our parents when they're listening in on us practicing, and more impressive for our friends, too!
21.Listen to someone else playing the piece
There is a level of playing where listening to someone else playing is amazing. For beginners, I can't think of a better way to work on learning the song, integrating it into your memory, and teaching you to play. When you get a little more advanced, part of learning music is being able to read the music like you would read a book, so I would suggest trying to play it and only after you have learned it a little bit to listen to someone else playing it.
22.Make sure to run through
You don't want to get to an audition or lesson and realise you haven't played it through even once in all the times you practiced! playing through the music and learning how to pace your energy is so super important to playing well. So set some time aside for that also
23. Practice fast sections in rhythms
Sometimes we have trouble getting all of our fingers to move in exactly the right time. Usually the pointer finger goes faster than the pinky finger, for example. And this is just one of the challenges of violin playing! So a little trick that we have is to play the section in different rhythms. If it is straight 16th notes, for example, you can add dots to the first and third notes of every section of 4. Or make it 1 and three equal triplets. The more we teach our fingers to work in different rhythms, the better our brain is at catching on to what we are trying to get in there, and then when we go back to play it the way it's supposed to be, then we end up evening ourselves out. Make sure that whatever you are playing in rhythms, you also practice the opposite rhythm (as in, you make first the first one long and the 3 triplets even, then 3 triplets and the last note longer)
24. Play the skeleton
inside of every piece that has fast notes and lots of shifts, if we practice JUST the note that we are shifting on, or JUST the bottom note and the top note, then we have a better grasp of what we're playing
What are YOUR best tips for practicing?
Are they here on this list?
Let me know what other tips you have for having an effective practice session!