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Laurie Niles

Ten New Year's Resolutions for the Violinist

December 31, 2009 at 10:26 PM

Do you need help making your New Year's resolution list? Here is a list of 10 New Year's resolutions for the violinist in 2010:

1. Practice every day!

There are no short-cuts; this is the only real way to learn and maintain your violin skills. Not only that, but once you have formed the habit, it's easier to practice every day than to practice some days. Start with a goal of 21 straight days. If you fall off the wagon, start counting at "one," until you reach 21 days in a row. When you have reached 21 days, you will find that you have a strong habit going. Then, keep it going!

2. Learn a new piece.

For students, this is obvious; keep progressing. For those who have graduated to independent study (a lifelong state, as far as I'm concerned!), one has to direct this effort, make it happen. You only live once; What piece have you always wanted to play? Well, try it! Or at least figure out the path you need to go in order to play it.

3. Resurrect an old piece.

Whether you have been playing for 30 years and are re-working a piece you learned as a college student, or you are in Suzuki Book 4 and brushing off a piece from Suzuki Book 2, this can be incredibly rewarding. An old piece becomes a completely new endeavor when you add your experience, better technique (hopefully!) and new perspective.

4. Choose a technique to master this year, and put it into your daily practice.

This should be a technique that you already know, but something you feel you would like to do better. For example, a few years back, I decided that I was just "getting by" with the ricochet; probably it was a run through Mozart 3 that got me thinking about it. So I incorporated ricochet it into my three-octave scales: double, triple, quadruple ricochet; up-bow, down-bow, on one note, over several notes, etc., you get the picture. It's amazing, when you make something part of your daily practice, how quickly things get easier. Also, once you've mastered the initial exercises, you will want to go deeper, finding or inventing new exercises for that particular technique.

5. Take a friend to a concert that features violin music.

We are the best advocates for the music we love! Resolve to, at least once this year, reach out to someone who seems interested in your music, and get that person even more interested.

6. Resolve to practice your orchestra music.

If you are a student, practice it until you know it well. If you are a professional symphony player, you know what I mean. It doesn't take all that much effort to brush up the nasty passages, and it makes orchestra so much more enjoyable.

7. Exercise!

This is a regular item on most people's list of New Year's resolutions, whether they are musicians or not. Certainly, maintaining strength, flexibility and endurance will help your playing. Also, exercise will help your overall health, physically and mentally. So many problems can be solved by a simple regimen of physical exercise, so to quote Nike, Just Do It!

8. Listen.

Listening is a fundamental part of music-making, it's where it all begins! Yet sometimes when life fills up with making music, practicing, etc., we forget to be passive now and then and just listen. This year, resolve to seek out at least one fantastic performance or recording every month. You may want to attend a performance, buy a CD, watch something on Youtube. You could listen to violin music, symphony music, a performance by a fine vocalist, a wonderful clarinetist, a band that you find inspiring. Just don't forget to listen!

9. Volunteer.

This is rewarding, whether or not your volunteering is music-related. Here are some ideas, though, if you'd like to volunteer for music-related causes:  speak to or play for a classroom of children; work the phones an arts organization's funding drive, serve on the board for the local symphony or other arts organization, join the fight to keep music in the schools (or bring music to schools), etc.

10. Tell a friend or colleague about

If you have found to be helpful or inspiring, we hope you'll spread the word so that we can continue to grow our community!

Please feel free to add your own ideas for New Year's resolutions, or about these resolutions. Happy New Year!

From Roland Bailey
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 4:21 AM

Thanks, Laurie, these are all great!  I will print them out and keep them handy during the year.  You obviously put a lot of thought into these resolutions.  Happy New Year to you and yours!

From Gabriel Moncada
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Thank you Laurie.. this is really optimistic and enthusiastic!! happy new year everyone!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 3:41 PM

I like the suggestions from this thread for resurrecting old pieces.  I haven't done this much at all and I am intrigued by the idea (but I'm often too busy practicing orchestra music--another one of these resolutions that I really like!)

The volunteering idea, that's a little harder and it brings up some issues in my mind that I am still thinking about.  The article Anne posted about playing in homeless shelters was inspiring on one hand:

But it was all about high-level professionals playing in homeless shelters, and getting paid on principle to do it.  

It doesn't really address the question of mid-level amateurs playing as volunteers in homeless shelters.  Does that mean something similar?  Or different?   

I'm thinking about it because my church is starting to volunteer in a homeless shelter once a month and I'm wondering if a concert at that shelter is something that my (mid-level amateur) string quartet could do.  

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 5:00 PM

Our synagogue offers a little Shabbat eve service at a nearby nursing home every week.  I've been mulling over offering to play at it some times--just a little background music while people are assembling.  These are people who are too sick to get out much at all, so they appreciate anything that comes to them.

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on January 1, 2010 at 8:16 PM

Karen - your idea of takng your quartet to play in the homeless shelter is great.  I'd definitely say "go for it".   

From Laurie Niles
Posted on January 2, 2010 at 6:03 AM

When it comes to volunteering, remember that you don't have to perform in order to further the music-making endeavors in your community. It helps when people who know and love music volunteer in some other capacity (working on phones, being on boards, helping with logistics, fundraising, etc.) and can bring their perspective, their knowledge of music, to the task at hand.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 2, 2010 at 1:09 PM

I detest those types of activities--working phones, logistics, and especially fundraising.  And I already do as much of that type of thing as I can tolerate (more than I can tolerate, really), either in my paid job or with the PTO at my kids' school or with the girl scouts.  (Anyone wanna buy some girl scout cookies?  UGH, the season is upon us).  I would so like to do something *different*, and more creative and enjoyable, if I'm going to volunteer.

From Kerry Dexter
Posted on January 4, 2010 at 11:15 AM


I like these resolutions, but I'm thinking receptive is perhaps a better word to descibe the sort of listening you're suggesting than passive. Listening wihout analyzng and comparing, yes, but  listening while being open to what's going on,  letting the music take you where it will. That's an active sort of listening, to my way of thinking.

From Dessie Arnold
Posted on January 4, 2010 at 1:42 PM

Karen, volunteering doesn't necessarily need to be musically related (although I appreciated Laurie's suggestions for musical volunteering).  I volunteer at our local animal shelter, and it's one of the most satisfying things I've ever done in my life - bar none.

Laurie - I loved your list!  Good ideas.

I think nonprofessionals (i.e. a mid-level quartet) playing for nursing homes and homeless shelters, etc. would be appreciated by the residents. 

From Kim Vawter
Posted on January 5, 2010 at 4:01 AM


   It is best to volunteer something that is your passion or something that you wish that you could do in another life. Since you don't get paid there is no pressure to be perfect. The little preemies in the hospital need to be rocked and a young man who used to be one volunteers for that. If you enjoy reading, read into a microphone and make a recording of a novel for the blind. I like TV production so I have produced my church's local live telecast for years. My friend up the street called all her musical friends together and had a kid's "Expo" where kids got to hear and touch each instrument in "break-out" sessions for a whole day. Giving your time for something you already enjoy to the local library, school library or hospitals in town will always be welcome.

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