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How to Practice the Violin

Updated on November 14, 2014

The key to effectively practicing the violin is to break everything down into the simplest possible movements. Separate right-hand skills from left-hand skills through pizzicato and air bows. Break pieces into lines and phrases, lines and phrases into measures, and measures into notes or sets of notes and the transitions between them. Play notes without ornamentation to get the rhythm, then add the ornamentation and solidify that skill before moving to the next measure, or even the next note.

If you are going to perform something, consider starting your practice at the end and working backward. The end is what you leave with your audience, so giving it the most preparation will make it stronger.

Practice is perhaps the most difficult habit for beginning students to develop. It is also the most important, assuming it is deliberate and does not involve practicing one's mistakes. Through practice, students develop muscle memory and become comfortable with their instruments in addition to improving their skills. Even virtuosos benefit from regular practice. However, many students (thanks to their teachers) develop a habit of practicing daily for a set amount of time, come what may. The problem with this attitude is that it assumes a specific amount of practice time yields a specific degree of improvement. This is simply not the case. If a student is practicing incorrect posture or technique or does not know how to practice other than repeating assignments from beginning to end until the time expires, the student is developing bad habits rather than improving. This type of practice is never beneficial, whether for ten minutes or ten hours.

Generally, I do not ask beginning students to report how much they practice in a given week. Instead, I will tell them to practice a given assignment so many times before the next time they see me. For example, the first assignment I give beginners is transitioning from rest position to playing position. I ask them to do it at least 100 times before the next lesson. When we begin learning scales, I tell students to warm up with one major and one minor scale every time they play. Counting how many times you play something is generally more effective than setting a timer. My personal frustration when I was timing myself was that the things I needed to practice did not fit neatly within the time I had allotted. I was either tempted to stop early because I didn't know what to do with the last two or three minutes or else I would be interrupted when the timer stopped. This frustration is even greater for beginners. Who really wants to listen to thirty minutes worth of screeching on the open E-string?

If we are counting repetitions of an exercise, then there is no reason why we cannot interrupt practice and come back to it later. If we need to stretch or get a drink or go to the bathroom, we have the freedom to do so without stopping and restarting the timer. Eventually, students will need the endurance for a couple of hours or so at a time. If a student joins a school or community ensemble or pursues music professionally, s/he will need to build up enough endurance to rehearse for two or three hours with the ensemble at least once a week and on their own at least an hour per day. Many professionals practice in excess of five hours per day. However, in order to get to that point, you have to have enough passion for the violin that you do not notice the passage of time. In that case, there is a reason to set a timer: you don't want to forget other appointments!

During an illness, it is important that students protect themselves from injury. If you are sick enough that you do not have the strength to hold the violin properly, you should not practice at all. If you do have the strength, then you should push yourself to practice even though you do not feel well. Taking an extended leave from practice will destroy the habits you have developed.

Sometimes, life circumstances get in the way of practice. You may need to travel and not be able to take your violin with you. If you live in a dorm, apartment, or other shared residence, you may be limited to how often you can practice, even with a practice mute or silent violin, because of the space you share with others. Holidays, weddings, and funerals also take a toll on practice. It is okay to take these things in stride and simply take whatever practice time you can get. Rotating work shifts can make it impossible to set a specific practice time each day unless you want to deprive yourself of sleep. I would advise you to ride out these seasons as they come and commit yourself to resuming regular practice as soon as they pass.

Have a beautiful and blessed day!

Miss Courtney

Courtney is part owner of Treble Strings. She teaches lessons both online and in her studio in Smithville, MO. To contact her, please email: lessons@treblestrings.com

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