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Never Enough Time

Krista Moyer

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Published: January 4, 2014 at 2:42 AM [UTC]

Frustrating, frustrating day. I expect work to be annoying and to not go according to plan. Part of my job description is “management” which means I get to manage all the crazy things that get tossed my way. I start out the day with a solid plan and an expectation of executing X number of tasks, and by lunch I’m on a wild goose chase, looking for a file in another state by phone, while fielding emails from 6 people and filling out last minute reports to make other people’s jobs easier. What was I doing again?

What I didn’t expect was for my violin lesson to be quite so frustrating. While I wish that I had four hours a day to devote to scales, arpeggios, concertos, and etudes; in reality, I get roughly one hour most days. One. Which means that I can’t memorize a concerto like, ever, my scales are sloppy, repertoire is sketchy at best, and everything else is pretty much hit or miss.

I want to be good. I really do. Not Hilary Hahn good, just able to play well enough to make it sound more like music than it does now. Currently I play violin sort of like a drunk roller skates. Bach must be rolling over in his grave.

I know what it takes to get better, but I just don’t have the time to devote to it and it is frustrating. Not sure why it matters so much. It’s not like I’m going to go anywhere with it. They’re not going to put “violinist” on my headstone or anything. I’m just so tired of being a hack.

Bah! Time for an adult beverage.

From Karen Collins
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 4:15 PM
I certainly feel your pain.

Here's to making more time to practice, or squeezing more good practice out of the time we have.

From Christiano Cruz
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 4:44 PM
Dear Krista,

My name is Christiano Rodrigues, I am currently doing my graduate studies in violin at the Shepherd School of Music. I read your post and could not stop myself from writing a few words back to you. First of all, to learn that someone as busy as you still has a deep desire to devote time to the violin, even if for a hour, that is beautiful - and quote me insane, but it is also inspiring.

I've found myself with very little time to practice at times. Between teaching, classes, driving, and orchestra rehearsals, finding time to practice sometimes is a challenge. The way out of the no time to me was rethinking my practice, and sort of creating a hybrid version of everything.

I could spend up to a full hour doing scales, etudes, and all that. With little time though, that is impossible. Impossible unless you make your concerto, sonata, symphony, solo bach, your warm up. Find scales, arpegios, runs, and practice them slowly as you would with flesch or rode. Focus on sound, intonation, rhythm. In a single hour, you will have done a very productive work, and the best part: you have done everything!

This is a simple method that really works, and to everyone. From concert artist on tour constantly traveling, to people like you and I just trying to get better. Give it a try! It may work.

I hope you will find enough time to do everything you want with the violin. And I wish you the best in this new year.

Posted on January 4, 2014 at 4:49 PM
I understand how you feel. My difficulty is that I wish I was 8 years old instead of 69. I wish my hands were more nimble. But the reality is I love practicing, so whatever I get is good. I'll never be a real player but it is so much fun.
Have fun. Anitra
From Lydia Leong
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 8:55 PM
I completely sympathize! I've got about 40 minutes a day on average to practice -- there are days I don't touch the violin at all due to my work schedule or business travel, there are days when it's just 20 minutes, and then on the weekends I try to put in an hour or more. According to the Musician's Practice Journal app that I use to track how I use my time, I usually average about 4.5 hours a week.

You can, however, do everything you're talking about in that amount of time. You just have to be extremely efficient with your time, and if possible, fit in listening to your repertoire while you're doing other things.

Four broad rules:

1. Don't practice things that are already working well.
2. Don't beat your head on things that aren't improving.
3. Have clear goals in mind for what you want to accomplish during a session.
4. Don't do a generic warm-up routine. Warm up with a goal.

My goals are often very small -- for instance, I might want to improve just eight bars. I will tackle those eight bars with every practice technique known to man. If something isn't improving almost immediately, I will switch practice techniques until I find one that works. If I find my attention wandering or no improvement at all after five minutes or so, I will drop it and move onto the next thing, and come back to it another day.

(My teacher prefers to assign a concerto, two short works, two etudes, and the assumption of a warm-up routine. It's doable in under an hour, but it requires intensely focused practice.)

Posted on January 4, 2014 at 11:59 PM
I feel your frustration. I want to play well, but I differ from you that in I want to play EXTREMELY well ("Emmanuel Vardi" well!). If I could have started when I was 4 or 5 I would have...but I lacked the means. After I reached my teenage years, I bought into the idea of it being "too late"--until a couple years ago. I started with violin for some years with dreams of playing Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Wienawski, Brahms...but that ended for medical reasons. I picked up viola and have given new life to those dreams, but in a way it's almost like starting over. Of course the violin experience made it easier, but it's still necessary to do Sevcik, Wohlfahrt, etc. once more. I love the viola's sound, even more so than violin, but I always had just assumed in my early teens that you had to have huge hands to play.

If I could, I would spend 5-6 hours with the instrument daily. I would spend about half of it on technique, but the other working on expressing the infinite storm of musical ideas I have in my head. I realize that I can't devote this time to it yet, but my goal is to be able to do so in the next 6 months-1 year. My teacher asks me to be mindful of my goals in terms of repertoire...but I cannot. It doesn't matter whether it's Bartok or it's Bach, I enjoy the music--the way it captures the human spirit and comes alive. No other art form does this for me.

Krista, I think you should do the best you can with the time you have available. Make every second of every session count. The most striking and poignant of moments are born from focus of quality, not quantity.


From Michele Medina
Posted on January 5, 2014 at 12:02 AM
I agree with what Christiano wrote. I myself have to make my time more efficient when practicing. Sometimes I go home and regrettably don't practice, but because of the effective practicing I do, I've become a better violinist in the past few years.

I also teach 4th full time, go to orchestra rehearsals once a week, am bombarded with after school meetings, rehearse with few but dedicated chamber music friends, and have a social and dating life. And most of my colleagues at work wonder how I can play music when I go home because to them "It would be just one more thing". Well, how can I not? It's the thing that keeps me happy and sane.

I like having worked through passages that were complicated before, but not anymore. Sometimes I'll take a 1/2 hour and only work on a passage for practice time, but feel better about it the next time I attempt it. Other days, I wonder "what do the neighbors think?" but for the most part I block them out. The best part is having the dedication and learning how to focus on the best parts of my playing, and improve upon the rough parts. Basically, my practice habits change, but each time they are very focused and I know what to do next.

Good luck, and happy practicing!

Posted on January 6, 2014 at 1:52 AM
As you can see from the other comments here, you're not alone! next time you start to get frustrated by this issue ( as we ALL do) just remember this quote from the great Leonard Bernstein; " To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time." From the sound of things, you're well one your way!

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