I’ve been playing violin for nine months. I’ve planned a recital in a pub for my one-year anniversary where I’m going to play just about everything I’ve learned in a year. Here is what I’ve learned.
1. Patience - When I started to play last May I assumed I could do a tune within a couple of hours. Because I already play guitar and mandolin I thought it would be a no-brainer. Man, was I wrong on that one. There is no way to rush any of this. As you know there are so many elements into just moving the bow over the strings that it is useless to cave into frustration and gloom.
2. As far as I can tell, pitch is everything - I was in a recital last October and I played a somewhat complex piece. While I got through it, and I hit all the notes at the right times, my pitch was iffy to say the least. Then a young girl got up and played a simple Irish tune. It was lovely. It wasn’t complex or difficult, but it was in tune. So forget going fancy or trying to impress people with memorization skills. If it doesn’t sound good, it isn’t good. Get it down.
3. Don’t play while your wife is trying to take a nap - Seriously. It's not a good idea. Actually, it's a very BAD idea. I really don’t think I need to explain this further. Oops.
4. Practice every day - I do this. I practice between 60 and 90 minutes a day. I try to do this when my wife isn’t home. It has become a habit. I wake up in the morning and plan when I’ll practice. However, there is more to practice than doing it each day. This is just the basics.
5. Don’t play at nighttime if you live in an apartment or townhouse - I live in a townhouse. I also play in the room that is the farthest from my neighbor’s walls. Nobody has ever complained about my playing, and I want it to stay that way. Therefore I don’t play before 8:30 a.m. and rarely after 5 p.m. Why push it?
6. Practice slowly -This is essential. Don’t rush. Get the rhythms down. If you can’t play it slowly, you can’t play it at all. I’ve tried faking my way through it by going fast. Nope. You know what that sounds like? It sounds like I’m faking my way through it. It took me a long time to learn this simple rule. Don’t rush. Don’t rush. Don’t rush.
7. Handle difficult passages first - I had a bad habit when I was learning guitar and mandolin. I’d just keep playing the songs over and over without stopping to fix the tricky parts. I simply assumed they’d correct themselves. Of course, the opposite happened. The mistakes became the way I learned those passages. So pull them out, work on them until they are right, and put them back in once they are correct.
8. Play with others whenever possible - I need to do more of this because it’s fun. A year ago I attended Bluegrass and old time music jams with my guitar and mandolin, I noticed a lack of violins. Guitars, mandolins, and banjos were abundant, but violins were often completely missing. When I leaned that a violin and a mandolin are tuned the same I figured I’d add violin to my list of instruments. At this point, I don’t know enough fiddle tunes to play in a jam, but I’m going to get there. Still, I have played with my fellow violin students at student soirees hosted by my teacher, Mirabai Peart, and it’s a lot of fun.
9. Get the technical stuff down so it becomes invisible - I’m still working on all of this. I assume a year from now I’ll still be working on all of this. However, some of this has sunk in as far as my bowing goes. Give it all of your attention, and do that over and over. Then let it become so habitual it feels like it has always been that way.
10. Take breaks when practicing- While I practice 60 to 90 minutes a day, I don’t do it all at once. I break it down into 30-minute sections. I’ll practice, and then I’ll do some laundry or empty the dishwasher, or take a short walk, or listen to a podcast, or make the bed. This keeps it fun.
11. Celebrate everyone who plays no matter what their skill - Humility is a necessity. This instrument will keep you humble. People are a whole lot better than you. Other’s are not as good. Celebrate it all.
12. Don’t lock in your practice routine - I did this for a while and it got impossible to maintain a good schedule. Yes, do scales, arpeggios, finger exercises, new songs, hard passages, familiar songs and so forth, but don’t lock it all into a singular pattern. I did scales and arpeggios for the first half hour, new stuff the second, and older material the third. The problem was it got rather dull. Mix it up. Do some scales, then handle rough things, or start with a favorite song and work gently into the session. Mix it up.
13. Mistakes are growth but only if you learn from them - Don’t turn your mistakes into bad habits. Learn from them, correct them, make new mistakes, correct them, and repeat all of this until it works.
14. Keep an open mind - Don’t be a snob. It’s all good. Well, unless it’s that contemporary country music garbage…
15. Know when to stop practicing - It isn’t a marathon race. When your focus starts to go, when you feel you aren’t really there, when it gets to be too much stop for the session or even for the day. You can’t learn if your not focused.
16. Watch the documentary, “Strad Style”. - It’s fun. I just love that film. It’s available on Amazon. I even wrote to Daniel Houck and asked about buying a violin. He wrote back! Cool, eh? I didn’t buy one. Not ready for that leap yet. Great documentary.
17. Plan on a recital or some sort of performance - Have you arrived to the point where I am? You’ve got around 20 short tunes and you’ve been playing them over and over again for the walls in your room? Well, I don’t know about you, but it was getting a little dull, and my enthusiasm was waning. Then I decided to have my own recital. Now, I know teachers like to say when something is ready to be preformed, but I’m lucky enough to have a teacher who likes to take risks and push the envelope. Look – I’m not a kid. I’m going on 69 years old. In a few ways, this is a no-time-like-the-present situation. I’m doing it. I’m playing all 20 + tunes in a pub in May. I’m calling it the One Shot Through and Take No Prisoners First Year Violin Recital. Why not? You are invited to attend.
18. Record your lessons and take notes when you play them back - This really helps. This week I was messing up on pitch (a rather frequent event) and my teacher, Mirabai Peart, said I’d had the pitch correct about three weeks ago. There was some sort of phrase she said that locked it in for me. I went back into my lesson notes and found the magic mantra. So record your lessons and take notes. It really helps.
19. When in airports, and people ask if you are a concert violinist, don’t say “no”. - I fly back and forth across the country to visit my children and grandchildren. I carry my violin with me. I also wear a nice shirt, good shoes, and a blazer. Hence I look nice and subsequently, I look like I know what I’m doing. Of course it’s something of an illusion. I wear good shoes because they don’t need laces and I can slip them off at the security check without difficulty. I wear a blazer because it has lots of pockets so I can slip my cell phone, cash, and other metal objects in the pockets. I can remove the blazer at the security check without dumping all that stuff in one of those baskets. Hence, I look like I mean business, when I’m actually just hoping to find a nifty refrigerator magnet in the gift shop. Some people walk up to me and ask if I’m a concert violinist. When used to confess I was just a beginner their faces would fall and they’d walk away. So, now - in the interest of keeping hope alive in this world - I just smile and say something like, “I’m going to Washington D.C. to play”, or “Doing some music in Minneapolis.” They suddenly smile and seem to reach their own conclusions. I should probably invite them to my recital in May!
20. Maintain a good sense of humor about all of this - You’ve got to laugh. This thing is not easy to play, it takes years, so settle in and enjoy the ride.Tweet
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