Six Principles For Effective Practicing

November 13, 2016, 9:07 AM · Here are six principles for effective practicing, with quotes from some of the best strings pedagogues of our times: cellist George Neikrug, and violinists Dorothy DeLay, Ivan Galamian, Gerald Fischbach and Charles Castleman.

the greats
L-R: George Neikrug, Charles Castleman, Dorothy DeLay, Gerald Fischbach and Ivan Galamian.

1. “The ideal of practice is to accomplish the most in the least possible time without frustration.” George Neikrug. Frustration is the enemy of good practicing. A positive mental attitude and the realization that any problem can be conquered is imperative. Dorothy Delay said, “there is always a solution to a problem. The problem is finding the solution.” And I add that a good teacher can always help the student find the solution.

2. “Keep the mind engaged at all times.” Ivan Galamian states in his book Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching. “The thing that must be impressed on the student above all else is the necessity for complete and constant mental alertness during practice.”

3. Memory and interpretation are partners. Technique is memory. Memorize your musical ideas, not just the notes. “When learning a piece, from the very beginning sing through the musical phrase and then play, trying to imitate your singing. Memorize the phrase immediately.” George Neikrug. "The musical approach defines the technical requirements." Gerald Fischbach. "The musical approach is a party to technical considerations, so that if the musical approach remains up in the air, one will waste time 'solving' problems not pertinent to the ultimate musical goals." Charles Castleman.

4. The responsibility of the teacher is important. Ivan Galamian said, “A teacher who limits himself to pointing out the mistakes and does not show the way to overcome them fails in the important mission of teaching the student how to work for himself.” “The role of a teacher is to make himself obsolete.” George Neikrug.

5. Only practice on one thing at a time. Isolate a problem and solve it. Then play the passage in context. After learning the solution, don’t repeat it over and over. Find another problem to proceed to. “By practicing as a routine, things that do not need any more practice, one is wasting time.” Ivan Galamian.

6. “There is a difference between slow technique and fast technique. When practicing fast passages slowly, use the technique that you will be using when you play it up to tempo.” George Neikrug.


November 14, 2016 at 03:24 AM · I would add that one should learn to play all difficult passages pianissimo with tone. This especially includes multiple stop passages. Barreling through difficult passages with an out of control right arm is a recipe for failure.

November 14, 2016 at 05:15 PM · "The musical approach is a party to technical considerations, so that if the musical approach remains up in the air, one will waste time 'solving' problems not pertinent to the ultimate musical goals." Charles Castleman.

Brilliant, Charlie!

November 17, 2016 at 05:20 PM · I am glad to be able to read all of the above. It is helpful to me as I am still learning this instrument. I have a very good teacher who can diagnose my problems and comes up with a solution. Grateful for that. I find that if I can sing a passage I can play it. I have to be able to understand the rhythm, phrasing and what musical sense the most difficult passages make and then be able to sing (understand) the printed music. Then I can more easlily play it.

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