You've probably heard the mantra, "Practice makes perfect." And if you've been around this instrument a while, you know that it's not true. Closer to the point is, "Practice makes permanent"! Practice something a thousand times wrong, and you've got it well-ingrained, wrong!
So some teachers say, "PERFECT practice makes perfect."
The only problem with this is the word "perfect." It's such a loaded word, with the potential to cause a lot of stress. I think that if we practice for the general idea of "perfection," we sometimes sabotage our ease of execution with the stress of perfectionism. So instead of simply making "perfection" the goal, make the goal something specific and doable, and then go about accomplishing it in the calmest, most unhurried state possible. Why is this important? Because we can actually "practice in" the feelings we have while playing something. Very often, we unconsciously "practice in" a stressful feeling. For example, I can recall occasionally having the following feeling for a specific passage: "OMG here comes the REALLY HARD part that I CAN'T PLAY, I'm going to mess it up, I'm so stressed out, this is so hard, here it comes, I'm going to miss it, AAAAAAHHH!"
As a result, even if you have practiced quite thoroughly, even if you have trained your fingers to do the right thing, you just might tighten up and miss the mark.
Last week, V.com member and ViolinExcerpts.com founder Michael O'Gieblyn gave us 17 excellent tips for practicing, and I would recommend every one.
I've got something to add, though: When you isolate that tricky place to practice, be sensitive to how you are feeling and what you are thinking as you do it. Are you holding your breath? Scrunching your shoulders? Clenching your stomach muscles? Grimacing? Waiting for a mountain tiger to pounce?
As you play in rhythms, or practice part of a shift, or practice just the open strings, or put it all together, do so with relaxed muscles, a feeling of calm in your belly and a generally non-cringing attitude. If you can consistently cultivate a feeling of calm as you accurately execute a particular passage, you will find that after a while, that calm feeling is ingrained. When you arrive at the passage in question, your body will relax, as you have practiced. I kid you not!
Happy practicing, and remember: difficult passage, calm execution!
Here a few words about the same thing, in video format:
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