V.com weekend vote: Do you practice away from the violin?

October 8, 2023, 3:44 PM · You can do a lot of practicing, away from your instrument - and in fact, sometimes it's better than actually playing. This was the topic of a blog earlier this week by Buri (Stephen Brivati), who calls this kind of practice "Train-Training" because you can do it during your morning commute.

thinking about playing

He pointed out that sometimes, without mental preparation, we inadvertently practice-in bad habits, making mistakes as we rush out of the gate to play.

This got me thinking about how many ways there are to practice, without your instrument. It's a remarkably effective way to improve your playing, and there are many ways to do it. Most obviously, you can listen to the music you are playing, which helps in a number of ways including learning the basics of how something should sound, assimilating the physical motions you have been practicing, hearing your part in the context of other harmonies, and memorizing.

You can also do any number of physical exercises - a few that come to my mind are pencil exercises for the bow hand and vibrato exercises.

You can also do mental play-throughs of pieces you have already memorized. One time when I knew I was going to be leading the Bach Double as a teacher, I mentally "played" it in my mind while on the exercise bike, just to give myself an extra reminder. This is remarkably effective. (Sometimes you can even catch yourself "making mistakes," even though you aren't even playing!)

Do you have any ways that you practice, away from the instrument? I'd like to use this vote to talk about that. Please participate in the vote, and if you practice in many different ways, just pick the technique you use most often or have used most recently. Then please post in the comments, your thoughts and ideas about practicing away from the instrument, and describe anything you have found helpful.

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October 8, 2023 at 10:31 PM · I had to vote "another way" because I do several of the ones in your list: finger ex's, vibrato, bow ex's (with a pencil), mental go-throughs.

I teach my students to do some these: bow-hand ex's for finger flexibility, and left hand with a small toy when they're learning vibrato, for example.

But none of these are really like actual playing, because in real playing you have to do so many things at once. The real thing beats all the rest!

October 8, 2023 at 11:41 PM · I voted for one of the choices, but there are at least 3 other choices I could have made. Not that I practise away from the instrument on a regular basis. It is a pity I couldn't vote for more than one. I certainly need to get to grips with BWV 1001 1st movement away from the instrument. Also K211 1st movement, Brahms Opus 120 No 1 1st movement and 108 3rd Movement.

There is one piece that I am grateful that I did NOT listen to before I tackled it on the piano, and that is the slow movemnt of Beethoven Opus 10 No 3 - I might have missed the emotional impact of the music (I'm sure my playing wouldn't have brought it across to someone who heard what I was actually playing, rather than what I fondly imagined myself to be playing, either). Unlike "Pictures at an Exhibition", which is better as Mussorgsky wrote it, the Beethoven movement needs orchestration - even a brass band might be able to bring it across!

October 8, 2023 at 11:58 PM · I know I am not ready to play the concert unless I can play it without the instrument

October 9, 2023 at 02:33 PM · I do many of the above! Even synthesis of techniques. Proprioceptive imagination (would that be the proper terminology?) goes a long way!

I voted listening, though, because a lot of the playing I do right now involves creating a violin line where none exists for church. I do much of the prep work in the car, experimenting vocally against a recording. This for sure has its limitations! but since my time actually on the instrument currently tends to be limited by a toddler (and still theoretically includes my regular technical and tone work, etc)-- it certainly helps my bottom line!

October 9, 2023 at 03:16 PM · As a community orchestra concertmaster I design the bowings and suggest fingerings for the violins and violas. Every time I try to do that at a desk, without the violin in hand, I have to repeat the process with the violin, go back and fix or improve things.

October 9, 2023 at 09:19 PM · I voted “Yes, by listening to the music.” This is what I’ve done most recently and most often. Related to it: In the early stages of learning a piece, I like to follow the printed score as I listen. Sometimes I will study the score while no music is playing. This will give me ideas on how I’d like my own interpretation of the piece to take shape.

At other times, maybe during a walk or indoor chores, an idea will come to me for a fingering different from what’s in the printed score. This often solves a problem and makes a tricky passage more playable - or it avoids an unwanted slide during a position shift.

October 10, 2023 at 04:57 AM · Other way.........using right fore-arm to practice shifting, fingering by tapping on a flat surface (Perpendicular finger drop action)

October 10, 2023 at 04:05 PM · Like the other comments - I do many of those things, depending on when & where. Driving? Listening only, with a few "air bow" moments. Sitting at home? Listening with score on iPad. Sometimes doing right hand excercises like colle' motion with a pencil, etc.

October 10, 2023 at 06:06 PM · This is a wonderful topic for discussion here! "Visualization" is something I often use and teach. The basic biological reality is that the body can't tell the difference between a real event or an imagined event. The nervous system reacts the same way. So it is time well-spent if you work on imagining what you'd actually like to happen, as opposed to what you have habitually done. I once worked with a tenor who always "cracked" on the high note. I asked him to go through his mental "road map" for that phrase, without actually singing. He said "OMG...I hear the note cracking in my imagination!" It took a while, but he eventually could "hear" the phrase beautifully in his imagination, and...presto!...problem solved!

October 11, 2023 at 04:16 AM · That reply reminds me: My vocal technique is: " I just pretend that I am a good singer". Unfortunately that same approach does not work for the violin because of the real mechanical problems, and more obviously, there is no direct connection from the brain to the equipment.

October 12, 2023 at 07:52 PM · I voted "mental play-throughs", although I also listen to recordings of the material I'm working on, especially in the car. But if I can concentrate fully on the music without having to do things like steering a car, I'll get right into imagining the fingerings I'll need. If I zone out in the shower, that's what I'm doing.

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