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Anna Heifetz

4. practicing is for pros

February 6, 2012 at 3:33 AM

Now let's stop for a minute with an important announcement on how to practice. I always practiced a bit hurriedly, like my life was going to end. Part of the reason was because I saw my poor dead sister when I was seven! From that day forward I vowed I would always make the most out of my life. But unconsciously, I also began to live like there was no time. I hurried along at everything. My practicing was hurried, too. Hurry up, I said, because I could go soon!

But now I am older, and I have more time. Time has slowed. Why hurry, I ask. That's what practicing is all about. Slowly working through passages, and letting them age even while you're not even thinking about it. Giving yourself years to grow. Then, someday, you will pick up your violin and say, "Hey, this is pretty cool. I'm doing it!"

The first thing to know about practicing is how to practice. When you learn a new concept, go slow, 10 minutes, put the violin down, and come back to it several hours later, for 10 minutes, and again later, or leave it for the next day. Alternatively, when you learn notes, memorize, or play through passages or pieces several times over, you have more time. Practice can go on for hours. Discernment is the key here, frustration is the stopping point. Failure brings the wisdom. If frustration gets high, 1. lower your practice time and expectation 2. take a break 3. get help 4. play something else and come back to the other thing later. Then, you will always love the violin!

Here's how to begin a good practice. Begin a good, appetizing practice with scales. Jasha Heifetz said that playing ability relies heavily on this one thing. There's Carl Flesch, Galamian… or memory! I tend to like the later the best. Practice scales like a religion every day and you will never be hungry. I recommend a half hour, for many years. If you do both scale systems, you will be more versatile as they use different fingerings. Carl Flesch has chromatic and extensive double stop exercises that are worth the wait.

Let's begin. Use a metronome.

1. Quarter note = 42 in your practice room. Start with long bow strokes, maintaining a beautiful, solid, and steady tone up a 3 octave scale. Memorize your scale and scale fingering. There should be absolutely no noise in the shifts. Use a mirror to correct your position, then go AWAY from the mirror. Do it automatically, like it's your body.

2. Next, slur 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8, and 12 with Quarter note = 42. Then play them all separated. 12 is the hardest, and requires that each note be perfectly in rhythm, with clean shifts. No loud note standing out among the rest. No tension. Light bow on fast passages, using your wrist. Practice your shifts carefully and slowly, then time them with the metronome into your scale. The notes must be perfectly in tune. But, ahh, aren't I getting ahead of myself? Did we only just learn how to hold the bow in lesson one? If you are not new to this, play the scales in differing rhythmic values. Consult Galamian for this- plenty to choose from.

3. Take time on each scale, but not too much time. Much can be gained by not finishing G Major and moving on to D Major and so-on. 2 weeks max on a scale, then come back to it later.

4. Play each scale in 3rds, 6ths, and 8vas. Build up to 8vas slowly so you don't stretch the muscles in your palm. Consult Carl Flesch. I tend to start in C major and play 6ths, going up from 1st position to 3rd position on all strings, then from 3rd to 5th position, and from 4th to 6th position. Be sure to call out the note names in the higher positions if you are new to them- will save you a lifetime of flubbering around up there, completely lost and tone deaf. The mind always wants names to things in order for complete understanding.

4. Arpeggios are the last exercise of scales. Start slow. Use one note per bow, beautiful tone. Use the whole bow. Galamian has great arpeggio exercises. Slur 2, 3, 6, 8 and 12. Then break up your bowing (ex. slur 2, then one, slur two, then one, and vice-versa). Do this with the scale too, and never slouch on learning something new with your scales. That is the secret to scale success. When the scales become so exact and so easy that they sound practically the same every day, and flawless, you know you have mastered them. If you are bored, you need new challenges in the scale. Carl Flesch will suffice.

My son is making weird grunting noises, so I suppose it's time to take him on a pleasant walk, maybe to the park?

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Anna Stafford is from Los Angeles, California. Biography

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