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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: What part of your practice do you most enjoy?

December 17, 2010 at 6:14 PM

What part of your practice do you most enjoy?

Simon Fischer has an entire book on the subject, Practice, and he categorizes different types: exercises, scales, studies and pieces. I would further divide "pieces" into new pieces and review pieces, as Shinichi Suzuki encouraged "review" as one of the main roads to mastery.

If I were to guess, I might think that people would enjoy playing the music they already know, but observing how many of my students resist review, this cannot be so. Why do we work like crazy on a piece, then neglect it and allow it to go swirling down the toilet? Keeping up old pieces has a great reward: mastery. Shinichi Suzuki correctly preached that repetition leads to mastery -- particularly mindful repetition that aims to improve with every play-through. The beginner who keeps up every piece enjoys pretty smooth sailing. Likewise, to really know a concerto, play it every day -- for about a year!

But a new piece has great allure, for many reasons. It's the piece you want to play, the new page in the book! Figuring it out can be a lot of fun. I enjoy a good breakthrough when I find the fingering that really works, when pieces of the puzzle come together and the picture starts getting clearer.

At the same time, I find peace in playing a nice, long scale routine. Maybe peace isn't the right word, maybe it's "calm." Fingers move faster when calm; firing muscles at full force causes tension and slows them down. Playing scales every day puts the fingers at ease, calmly falling into all the correct slots. I love scales. I may just vote for scales, but I'm not telling.

Because I just may vote for etudes. I played etudes, or "studies," more as a student than I do now, but I liked having something that worked on technique in a clever way. If you go through an etude book that is at the right level for you, you will inevitably advance your technique, without having to invent every exercise yourself. Sometimes, when playing etudes, I can almost feel the presence of the teacher who wrote it. "Mr. Dont, I see that you intend to take me through every possible permutation here of a double-stop string crossing, but we wouldn't do this in real life or real music, right?" It's not music exactly, but it has a certain humor, a certain personality, that is absent in a straightforward scale or exercise.

Not that exercises are bad, one could vote for them as well, such as the ones in Basics, or exercises inspired by Suzuki teachers. Vibrato exercises, bow-hand flexibility exercises, shifting exercises, arm exercises, etc.

What is the part of your practice that you most enjoy? Please vote and then explain, and also explain if you have another part of practice that I've left out.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on December 18, 2010 at 12:49 AM

I love practice. It doesn't matter what type of material I practice. The fun for me comes from the specific activities and results of practice: always starting from something relatively raw, something full of room for improvement and oportunities to explore, issues to deal with one by one, questions to be asked, answers tried, rejected, tried again... then, once in a while, eureka! 

From Julian Stokes
Posted on December 18, 2010 at 7:04 AM

I love all sorts of playing but I voted for the "new pieces" option. It's that magical process where you transform the notes from the page and you start hearing what you are seeing and you feel the flow of the music...

From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 18, 2010 at 2:57 PM

All of the above?

From Maggie Burton
Posted on December 18, 2010 at 4:30 PM

 I like learning new pieces because you get to lose yourself in new music and I like the challenges it presents. I also like learning new rep because it gives you a chance to use new technique and start from scratch with something, whereas if you play your old rep it's pretty easy to back to bad technical habits.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on December 18, 2010 at 5:10 PM

 Two weeks ago it was old piece and etude, now it's a new piece.  And vibrato exercises: I seem unable to get it. But what I love most is the morning part of playing: getting in shape and in tune by doing an exercise or two, or scales, with great attention.

(and I really should do something about those orchestral parts!)

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on December 19, 2010 at 6:23 AM

I was one of the few who chose "exercises".   Usually when my teacher assigns me a new one, it's a build-up to the next new piece and I'm always excited to rush home and practice so I can gain some new skill, no matter how small.

From Casey Jefferson
Posted on December 19, 2010 at 4:00 PM

When my violin sound fantastic (or having a great instrument in my hand), I'm happy with virtually anything goes! Heck, a simple G major 2 octaves scale is so enjoyable with the right voice in hand.

From Tess Z
Posted on December 21, 2010 at 8:36 PM

I thoroughly enjoy working on etudes.  They are a brain game; first you figure out why the composer wrote it, then you figure out what you should be learning from it.  Next, you apply both of those concepts in your practice as you are training your brain to use the correct fingerings and bowings.


From Mendy Smith
Posted on December 22, 2010 at 1:53 AM

 Wow.  I'm at the bottom percent of enjoyment with scales.  It took forever for me to get into the scale groove, but now that I am, I can't even start playing a single piece without playing at least one 3 octave scale.  It is my zen moment.  A time where sheetmusic is not required.  A time where I can focus only on the sound, the movement, and sensations.  Only if everything else was so peaceful.

From Tess Z
Posted on December 22, 2010 at 2:33 PM

Mendy, I like scales for the same reason.  No music is required.  It's just you, the violin, and trying to hit the sweet spot with every note.  It is relaxing and always a good way to begin practice...and end a difficult practice.  Scales are yoga for the musician.

From Christina C.
Posted on December 23, 2010 at 3:53 PM

count me in for scales. I've embarked on a technique rebuilding project and scales & arpeggios have been my bread & butter.

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