V.com weekend vote: What is your favorite practice tool?

September 25, 2021, 7:00 PM · What is your favorite practice tool?

Practice tools

This is a question that Dr. Renée-Paule Gauthier asked, when interviewing me on her Mind Over Finger podcast that came out on Friday. Great question!

I did not hesitate: for me, it's the metronome. I actually have three of them: one big wooden mechanical Wittner, a Seiko quartz metronome and a very light little Dr. Beat. (I don't have a cool penguin metronome, as in the picture, but wouldn't that be cool?) I find that if I can get something organized with a metronome, at a do-able speed, then I'm set to either speed it up or to play it with a less strict pulse.

But there are so many tools that can aid with practice: a mirror, practice journal, tuner, various apps, accompaniment tracks, etc. I'm wondering how everyone else would answer this question, and it got me thinking about the many tools that exist.

For example, a practice journal can be very helpful, and there are journals that provide more than blank pages. V.com member Susanna Klein offers a Practizma Practice Journal designed to guide the player through 16 weeks of practice by setting goals, reflecting on accomplishments and tracking progress.

As a teacher of young children, I know repetitions become more of a fun game if a counting device is involved - such as a mini-abacus or another kind of bead counter. I use dominoes for my students and let them knock them down once they reach the number of repetitions they need to do!

A recording device also can help, whether it's video or audio. Recording your own practicing allows you to analyze your playing in a more objective way than you can do in the moment.

What is your favorite practice tool, and why? Please choose the answer that comes closest for you, and then tell us all about it in the comments.

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September 26, 2021 at 11:20 AM · "Other tuning device." I have an electrronic A-440 tuner that I use at the start of every practice session. One tool not on the list that I also use daily: foam earplugs -- L/R. I can get 10 pairs at the pharmacy for about $5 USD. They have a -33 dB rating, although I don't insert them that far -- about -20 dB feels right to me. I began switching over to composite-core strings, away from gut, about 10 years ago, and found these strings more powerful than gut. Without earplugs, the sound was hard to tolerate. I won't play without these ear protectors now.

Audio recording is a tool I don't use every day, but I have found it a real aid in improving timing, intonation, tone consistency, and interpretation. There's always something to improve -- I'm never satisfied -- and this tool has been invaluable.

September 26, 2021 at 03:32 PM · You know you're old when you're looking on the list for tuning fork or pitch pipe!

September 26, 2021 at 04:34 PM · My most important practice tool by far is my musics stand which is not even on the list. The second most important tool, a pencil, is also missing on the list--or is this also a sign of aging on our part?

I am rarely or never using any of the items actually on the list: a tuner for tuning (never to check intonation), a metronome to ensure a steady tempo. I know practice journals are useful; I just don't have the discipline to use them consistently.

Come to think of it: The most important tools without a doubt are the violin and the bow.

Finally this if I may be allowed: When I was a kid I would have found the use of games in violin lessons distracting and condescending. I believe kids like it when they are talked to in the same tone as one would talk to adults. It signals to a child that he or she is taken seriously as a person.

September 26, 2021 at 05:51 PM · My most important practice tool is my piano! I check the pitch a LOT and also play the piece on the piano to get the rhythm and tempo down and know HOW it’s SUPPOSED to sound!

I have a portable keyboard that I take to my mountain cabin so I don’t lose practice days and can still correct my pitch!

Also a metronome!

September 26, 2021 at 06:06 PM · Apps! iRealPro is better than a metronome because you also get harmonic backing to keep you in tune. Amazing Slow Downer is great if you want to learn a tune by ear or to practice getting a piece up to speed.

September 27, 2021 at 02:18 AM · I can't rely on my memory for everything that goes on during a one hour lesson, and I don't try to do so. I just get into the moment in each lesson and do the best I can during that session. I can do this, because I make audio records of all of my lessons. Then, I listen and write down important information from the lessons. I find this a valuable practice tool. With these tapes, I have recordings of how my teacher wants something played, recordings of myself, and if I forgot something, I have that as well. I begin each practice session by looking at the notes. With the notes, I have a journal of everything I've been taught during the past 4+ years of lessons. Every 20 or 30 lessons, I reread my notes and highlight the information that is repeated from lesson to lesson, including any gems of information she gives me along the way.

September 27, 2021 at 07:49 PM · For my warm-up routine, index cards are also a useful tool. They help me make sure that, even if I don't do everything in any given day, I manage to rotate through them over the course of a week or so. In addition, I have cards with all of the solo bach movements and orchestra excerpts that I know, which helps me keep them ALL fresh instead of just working on a few.

September 28, 2021 at 08:50 PM · I voted "accompaniment tracks". I mostly work on orchestral material, so listening to the track (slowed down if necessary) while following along in the score is essential to getting to know the music from the inside out. Then I play against the recording - first at reduced speed if necessary, followed by bringing the speed up as I master the fingering.

For individual practice, tuning is largely irrelevant, except across strings - so my trusty tuning fork stays in the case. As long as the strings are in tune with each other - and I can check that by ear - I'm good to go.

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