Practice makes Permanent: Improving Practice Skills
I've been reading a ton of posts here on practicing, and clicking on the various links and posts folks have provided. But I'm hitting a personal stumbling block within my own practice (my teacher and I have been addressing and talking about this, so I do have one-on-one guidance). I'm hoping to get others' input/ideas as well, as sometimes hearing multiple perspectives is helpful - sometimes it isn't.
First, because I know this forum has the tendency to make assumptions: I am an adult returner, one year in, and have been taking lessons since I returned twice a month for an hour. I spend as much time practicing as I can manage with two jobs (one full-time, one part time) which works out to at least an hour a day during the week, and between 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day on the weekends (depends on the weekend). As far as the rep I'm currently working on, in various stages of learning and refinement, so that you know where I am at: Roumanian Folk Dances, Telemann Fantasias (#1), De Beriot (#1, 12 Scenes/Caprices), Thais Meditation ("done"/passed), adding in either the 2nd movement of Bruch or Tchaikovsky soon, Sevcik Op9, Wolfhart (because I started that with my first teacher upon returning, we're going through it all to have a completed book, I usually complete two a month), Schradieck, and I work on Trott's Melodius Etudes and Hrimaly scales as well. It's a lot for one hour. (FYI - When I stopped playing I was working on the Bruch concerto, had solos in my school's orchestra for various concerts/performances, and had taken private lessons for four years. But, my technique needed to be completely overhauled when I returned, which was/is frustrating but SO worth it.)
My problem, now that I'm working on multiple pieces and so many books is how to prioritize an hour's worth of time. I can easily spend at least a half hour "quickly" going through the technical/etude end of my work, and then only have a half hour for the rep. When I do this, the rep suffers, and my teacher agrees that a half hour for rep for me right now is not enough time (in that spending half the time on technical work is too much). If I could spend more time practicing in a day I would, but I cannot.
So then my problem goes back further into very old (and common) established childhood practice habits wherein one plays the music, repeats the troubled phrases a few times, then moves on whether the phrase is fully corrected or not.
In short: to date, I've been very happy to be able to play the music and not so concerned about the issues, but now that the stakes are rising, I need to be more concerned about phrasing issues! It's a mix of happiness to simply be playing and ultimately laziness to work to get better - I know this is a common stumbling block.
I KNOW how to practice efficiently, and, I know that if I continue on my current track, my progress will stall and I do not want that in the least! I have goals and want to reach them in a reasonable period of time - and I'm impatient in that I want to make the best use of my time now that I've enjoyed returning to the violin for the past year, see that I've been mismanaging my time, and want to be able to play (at a more than passable level) more advanced music. I am ready to really work out the bugs from my practice system so I can keep growing and learning as much as possible. (I also see this as not only not wasting my valuable practice time, but also my teacher's limited teaching time with me - as I feel VERY lucky to be working with them and don't want them to give up on an adult returner and accept them where they are at.)
Hope this makes sense despite it's ridiculous length!
Looking forward to your help and insight as to how to crossover from being a "you practice a lot" student to a "you practice efficiently" student.
Lydia had a great post about this a while back. http://www.violinist.com/blog/lwl/20141/15383/
"My problem, now that I'm working on multiple pieces and so many books is how to prioritize an hour's worth of time."
For me, if I'm short on practice time, I skip the things I'm good at and only review them when I have the time. I often skip scales/exercises (not the greatest idea, but works for me) if I'm really short on time.
Paul - my teacher feels it is important to complete a book, and no I'm not just sawing through it! There is emphasis on the musicality of these etudes, and playing them correctly. If I were just sawing through it, I'd be done with it by now (my first teacher as a returnee would have let me saw through it!).
Pamela I totally agree with the idea of getting a super solid foundation. I'm not dissing the studies
Katie, Lydia - that post is extremely useful!
Paul - I may propose that we move on to a different book then. The Wolfhart etudes are easy for me, and they were when I returned to the violin. So maybe it's time to let it go knowing that I have squeezed the value out of it.
If time is limited, I strongly feel it is damaging to plough sytematically through books of studies. Basics for pure technique, scales (and especially arpeggios), orchestral excepts, and extracts from "real" music.
Adrian - how is working systematically through books/studies damaging?
Thanks folks. :-)
Pamela, I feel that books of etudes are not usually "methods", but collections, where one can choose a study or two for a particular weakness, rather than work through them. The goal is surely to play beautifully increasingly complex "real" music. In a given volume of etudes, many of them may have a dulling effect on the mind, which is the last thing we want, not to mention the risk of physical damage through not "listening" to one's sensations.
Others have give you very good advice already. I just want to add one more thing that I've learned from a recent Juilliard grad (apparently they do learn new practice tips based on the latest science).
Wonderful - thanks all!
You should definitely try interleaved practice. It's an efficiency boost, plus it does a good job of ensuring that you don't burn all your practice time on a giant rathole of a problem that's not improving materially.
Pamela, my teacher picks etudes out of Kreutzer to help with the repertoire I am working on. The etudes were used to improve certain technical weakness. For example #33 for thirds and # 25 for octaves and so on. For the right hand, she picks various studies for different bow strokes from Secvick( spelling may be wrong ). This approach maybe more efficient than going through an etude book from cover to cover.
You might want to tune in to a live Facebook conversation this Monday on "Nws Connect" that deals with this specific topic. This is hosted by three NWS Fellows with the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. "Join us on Monday, December 11 at 7:00 PM EST to discuss Productive Practice habits. This Facebook Live conversation will be hosted by Fellows Dominic Brancazio, Dan Fellows, and Margeaux Maloney and they will joined by NWS alum, Miles Jaques!"
Yixi, I am going to try that out with my little one. Thank you for sharing.
Jeewon, what you said formed a question in my mind.
Good question Roman. If you had such a period of time available I think exercises, scales and etudes, practiced to the exclusion of repertoire is the most efficient way to change technique. That's how we rehab problems. I think making music and performing can actually be a distraction to close observation and careful habit building. If you have no technique work you need to do
Great discussion. Of course it depends a little bit on the student's schedule and level, but in general in my studio I try for the following mix:
It's a shame to include playing known pieces in "goofing off".
What would you guys say is the amount of difficulty above your playing level that a particular exercise should be? For instance...if I play an exercise and it is at or below my level I should pretty much be able to sight read it and be able to clean it up with little to no time or real effort. If I chose a piece slightly above I would have to put in a small amount of work to benefit from the exercise. How many of those steps up is the "most beneficial?"
I've started to learn recently that what's important is the utility of practicing something--if it's easy and you can sight read it almost perfectly, to what end are you polishing it? If to perform it, then that's the utility, and a pretty good reason. But I think the key is assessing the opportunity costs of practicing one thing or another--if it's too easy it's taking away from practicing something more challenging that helps you develop new skills. If it's too hard it will waste time you could have spent practicing more music that was at the right difficulty level.
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