The Goal of All That Practicing

April 8, 2011, 9:36 PM ·

The fastest way to make progress playing the violin is to stop looking for shortcuts. That said, there is a difference between looking for shortcuts and looking toward a goal.

I've noticed that this topic has come up in several ways over the last few weeks on Some are puzzled by Ryan Vaughn's ambition to learn Paganini 24 in one year. Is this possible? Is it healthy? Is it okay to encourage this?

Another member wonders how fast one can rip through the violin repertoire? This seems to pose the question, if you are going to rip through, what is your motivation? Are you in it for the music?

And speaking of motivation, another member related that his teacher suggested jumping straight in and learning pieces instead of spending so much time on foundation-building. But what about that foundation-building?

There is nothing wrong with any of these impulses: having a big goal, finding the most efficient way to learn, making sure your focus is on the music and not just on scales.

Sometimes having a big goal -- a special piece to work toward -- is the very thing that illuminates the path towards achieving it. For example, if you want to play a certain piece, you'll need to figure out where to put your fingers on the violin. If you want to move those fingers quickly, you'll have to find the hand and arm position that allows you to do so. If you want to play with vibrato, you may need to stop clenching that left thumb. If you want to play martele in that passage, you'll have to learn to draw a straight bow, frog to tip. The list goes on and on.

But if you wish to achieve your goal, you will need to tackle each step with focus and patience. You'll need to seek good guidance along the way and trust your teacher. If your teacher tells you that this week, you need to focus on a special exercise to build flexibility in your bow fingers, you'd best do that all week, not spend all your practice time learning the next un-assigned 10 measures of the piece you want to play. Why? Because you will continue to slam into the brick wall of your technical problems, until you address them. Sure, you can try to solve them by playing the 8-measure passage in your goal-piece that requires that technique. But there is a reason why brilliant pedagogues composed hundreds of studies, methods, scalebooks and exercises that take the violinist through a progression of technique-building. The reason: it works.

Ryan is fortunate enough to have a brilliant teacher as his wife; his progress will be fun to watch, as she can guide him very efficiently to the right technical exercise to accomplish his goals. I think our friend who was wondering about "ripping through the rep" really just needed some encouragement. And when it comes to jumping in and learning a piece, if you have a good teacher to guide you, you can learn something.

But the best-of-the-best violinists all sing the same chorus, if you ask them the secret to their amazing playing: it's the fact that they built a solid technical foundation and they work every day to maintain it. They play their scales and arpeggios and exercises religiously, and that is what enables them to play everything else with ease and spontaneity. What better goal could there be, than that?


April 9, 2011 at 03:52 PM ·

I agree! It is probably our nature to hear something, think that we want to do it, and then jump in and assume we can. I know that as I try to slowly return to playing, it takes every bit of will power not to jump straight to full-fledged playing. If anything, we should all move slowly. There is always a big risk of injury...also, I think having one large goal rather than several small ones can hinder rather than help.

April 10, 2011 at 04:35 AM ·

 Hi- There is no reason in the world to take a year to learn the 24th caprice. This presupposes that the person in question already has a strong instrumental command. In other words, more or less the level a talented person would achieve by the end of seven or eight years of two to three hours' practice a day with very good teacher. If you can't learn the 24th caprice in a few months at that point, you've missed something basic in your training. If your teacher can't play the piece and demonstrate how to play how to play each variation with ease, you might consider finding another teacher.   With regard to "ripping through the repertoire", there is a case to be made that spending some of one's time doing just that is very useful. There are a lot of conservatory graduates who can play scales and etudes which they've spent most of their time "perfecting", plus a few pieces they've worked on and performed. But as soon as they enter the professional world, they discover to their very great distress that you have to learn a lot of hard pieces fast. In order to learn hard pieces fast, you have to practice learning them fast. It really concentrates the mind to know you have a week to learn, say, a movement of a romantic concerto and play it for your teacher in SOLID RHYTHM. Decisive rhythm is essential. Without it, there is an important sense in which you have nowhere to put the notes. Music takes place in time. It's very important to understand how the metronome is the enemy of rhythmic stability. If a teacher talks mainly about intonation, the students usually walk away with no real sense of pulse.   Charles Johnston 




April 10, 2011 at 12:21 PM ·

Just my two cents.... after decades of practicing.... You practice so you can do whatever you want to with your instrument. You practice so that technique is NOT an issue, giving you 100% of your time and energy to focus on making the music. If your heart desires to play pieces that are elementary, or improvise in simple keys, or play styles of music that are not very technically demanding, then you should NOT waste your time learning to play in higher positions, or mastering complex bow strokes. If, however, along the way you fall in love with Paganini 24, then the good news is that your passion for that piece will see you through the mountain of technical work you will have to do to get it under your fingers. Passion driven projects and interest based learning is much more pleasurable in my experience.

April 11, 2011 at 01:20 PM ·

" This presupposes that the person in question already has a strong instrumental command. In other words, more or less the level a talented person would achieve by the end of seven or eight years of two to three hours' practice a day with very good teacher. If you can't learn the 24th caprice in a few months at that point, you've missed something basic in your training."

Nope, check the blog in question. This person is trying to go from 0 to Pag 24 in 1 year.

Good blog Laurie. I've coming across folks attempting to do similar things on cello & piano. In this day & age it seems like it's all about instant gratification and goal-oriented..(*edit*->). or rather challenge-oriented instead of passion-driven.

April 11, 2011 at 02:23 PM ·

 Christina C. It is surprising how many people speak with such confidence without any basis for it. I did check the blog, and this gentleman was absolutely referring only to the 24th caprice. He even posted a video of his attempt to play part of it. His equipment is not, at this point, up to playing the caprice. That doesn't mean he shouldn't work on it (slowly is never a bad idea), but right now there are too many basic problems that he needs to deal with before he will be able to play it well.  Charles Johnston

April 13, 2011 at 03:41 AM ·

I'm one of those 'goal oriented' folks myself - albeit that mine span a decade at a time.  "Nothing is impossible with enough time, money and resources"....

I started with a great reluctance to work on the basics (scales, etudes, etc...) in my Bach by 40 goal, but over time I realized that these studies were fundamental to achieving my goal.  Now they are part of my regular practice routine and I'm seeing (and hearing) the results.

I must admit though that I'm getting a little worried about my Z-A goal.  "X" is quite daunting and may very well end up being the last piece on my list to learn.  I just hope that the work I do over the next 9 years prepares me to approach "X" with all the skills I will need to pull it off.

April 13, 2011 at 03:49 PM ·

Agreed, Charles.   The sort of player you were referring to seemed very incongruous to the player in question. Pardon the assumption.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine