When to stop repetition during daily practice

April 15, 2007 at 06:34 AM · a)Repeat something you know isn’t right again and again until you get it right, and as soon as you get it right, you stop.

b)Repeat something you know isn’t right again and again to get it right. Once you get it right, keep repeating until you are confident that you’ll always get it right, then stop.

c)Other methods.

Replies (72)

April 15, 2007 at 09:03 AM · My thought may only be relavent to intonation and perhaps not help with what you have in mind...

I think its very esay to repeat mindlessly hoping those darn octaves or whatever hoping it will be in tune one day until you are forced to stop because your hand hurts too much (while the notes still remain out-of-tune...darn.)

I will listen carefully and try to play the correct, definite pitch, and after having that pitch in my mind and finger, analyze how to arrive from the starting point to destination and ask myself what is preventing me from doing so (maybe I didn't realize my hand or thumb positions where different peviously) This way I won't be using up my hands' physical time limit needlessly and practice making fewer noise then I need to. (Perhaps I am repeating what you already know...)

I unfortunately am never able to learn, for example, a particular difficult shift perfectly in one single practice. The next day the shift (double stop, etc) may not be what I left off from the previous practice, but like taking three steps forward one step back, I will eventually get it. I willrotate to something else when I feel a strain or I can't improve it immediately anymore.

I realize I did not give you a letter answer...

April 15, 2007 at 11:00 AM · Always repeat the correct version several times before stopping: ideally more times than the way you played it wrong, so I say "b".


April 15, 2007 at 12:46 PM · Hi,

In answer to your question...

- If you miss something, stop and ask yourself why. If you do not get it, then repeat again and stop and analyze. You should never repeat something until you get it right, unless you know exactly what you are working on to "get it right." Figure out what the problem and what you will be doing in your practice to "get it right" (is the problem in the bow or left hand and which components). For example, if the problems are the shifts, know what your intermediate notes are and practice with them to make sure they are in tune and you know how you are moving about the fingerboard. The point is, you should never ever be doing "blind" repetitions. Those are useless. Once you know what you are doing and what you will do to improve it, then practice and repeat.

- There is an old saying that says if you miss it, do it until you can get right 10 times in a row (so, if you miss after time 7 you go back to zero and start the count again). Time and time again in playing and teaching, this proves to be right.

- Repetitions, like all practice should be done slowly. Then you can check things in tempo, see what the remaining obstacles may be and go back slowly to work at it again which the optic in mind of focusing on overcoming these obstacles.

- If after numerous attempts, things aren't working no matter what, then it is quite possible that a more fundamental problem lies, most likely an error in setup, an error in movement, or tensions due to unbalanced weight or less than effecient concepts. Those MUST be dealt away with as NO amount of repetition of anything will compensate for these.

So, I guess that my answer is (c)Other Methods.

Good luck and cheers!

April 15, 2007 at 01:16 PM · "You should never repeat something until you get it right, unless you know exactly what you are working on to "get it right." "

Christian, you never said a truer word.


April 15, 2007 at 01:24 PM · My answer would be: "b)Repeat something you know isn’t right again and again to get it right. Once you get it right, keep repeating until you are confident that you’ll always get it right, then stop."..............However, with two additional specifications:

1.The excerpt must include the entire action of going to the note in question. For example: If a wrong note is on a shift arrival, no amount of repeating the note that went wrong is effective. Rather one must repeat an excerpt that starts at least one note before the one that was incorrect, so one will be rehearsing the action of the shift.

2.The practice excerpt should be short enough to allow the player to retain the memory of the sensations of the previous repetition. The more keenly one remembers exactly what it felt like to shift the wrong distance, the more easily one may correct the distance on the next repetition. Not infrequently, I find a well meaning violinist who is repeating too long a practice excerpt. By shortening it, he can now do more repetitions in the same amount of practice time. More importantly, the shorter excerpt gives him better memory retention of the sensations of the previous repetition.

April 15, 2007 at 05:36 PM · I completely agree with Christian and Oliver; very nice posts. Their advice combined with the other poster's concept of "three steps forward, one step back" wins out every time. One thing I would like to add from my personal experience practicing and teaching is that it is important to remain as objective as possible in this process. Boredom and frustration are completely detrimental, although they often accompany self-criticism. In order to follow everyone's fantastic advice above, it is imperative that we stay alert, objective, critical, controlled/organized, and *calm* throughout the process. I really like the way yoga teachers deal with problem-solving in their practice: "Notice what you are doing wrong without judgement. Simply observe and correct!" I find that Oliver's suggestion of picking an excerpt that isolates the problem rather than being distractingly long is absolutely necessary; more focus, less drama. Unfortunately our musical minds want to hear a longer phrase, but that is just a waste of time when we should be analyzing and drilling one specific problem.

So I guess my answer would be: follow everyone's advice, remain calm, focused, and objective, and know yourself (i.e. understand your unproductive practicing habits and desires).

April 15, 2007 at 06:04 PM · I have started the "virtuous moments" way of practicing from violinmasterclass.com. They recommend that you practice a target area in 3 minute sessions, nothing more nothing less and keep going onto the next target area. This requires you to sit down and "plan" out what you wish to accomplish. I especially like this method for those 10x spots or brackets. That way each item is practiced for three minutes, put aside, move on and think about what you will acomplish the next time you practice.

This has worked out great with my daughter's practicing and is a bit less tedious and she feels as though she has accomplished something.

But I'll will take whatever works.

April 15, 2007 at 11:37 PM · Greetings,

there is a useful quote I am not over fond of because of the unnecessary and often wrong slur on amateurs as oppose dto pros but:

`An amateur repeats until he gets it right. A professional repeats until he can`t get it wrong.`



April 16, 2007 at 12:12 AM · Thank you all for such fantastic advice. I feel like having taken 3 great lessons in one day!

Christian, I’ve just tried the “get right 10 times in a row” and it works really well so far. Now I just have to test how solid I’ve learned these excerpts by playing in front of others.

Addi, intonation is probably the biggest one on my list and I’ll remember the three steps forward, one step back rule.

Maia, knowing myself is the hardest part, like the old joke on behaviorism is “you are fine, how am I?” Often other (more experienced) people can tell me about my playing better than I can.

Oliver, I usually do break down into short excerpts and include at least one barbefore the problematic excerpt when repeating and when practice. It's Reassuring to get confirmed from you.

Jodi, the 3-minute rule sounds intriguing and I’ll give it a try right away.

I usually practice according to (b), but lately I start to wonder if repeating the right is always a good thing and if so, to what extent?

Some argued that practice the right thing over and over again is like tightening identical screws 9-5. Repeating something right creates the problem of over-practicing and gives one the misleading feeling of in control. “True control often feels like a lack of control.”

Any thoughts and comments?

April 15, 2007 at 11:55 PM · Buri,

LOL! There's certainly a lot of truth in this saying.

April 16, 2007 at 04:26 AM · Perfect practice = perfect practice + 100

So yes, after you get it right, 100 times. Maybe not on the same day. ;) Shinichi Suzuki would say 10,000 times, and mean it!

April 16, 2007 at 11:46 AM · Not being a professional, I enjoy the luxury to just put something back on the shelf for awhile and getting back to it--especially if it's something in sequence and reminds me it's there occasionally. More than once, problem children have come back online after leaving them alone awhile.

Then there's the low energy trends where a measure or two just creates a trend of self-defeating cycle and one either chooses to come back to it, or Hahn the speed down to half and stick with it. The two are really different, one being because I was not ready for a specific measure the other more often because I rushed through something--and it's not always easy to tell the difference.

I remember one person of note who said they learn a song---very very slow--very slow--much more slow than I to date though I have slowed down very significantly including forcing myself to use a metronome consistently.

April 16, 2007 at 12:53 PM · Repeated mistakes have a way of restating themselves at the worst possible moment. My teacher, Homer Garretson, used to say, "Play it wrong three times, and you have it for life." That makes a case for trying to never repeat a mistake, but stopping to analyze, break down and invent little exercises to get past difficulties.

April 16, 2007 at 12:48 PM · It seemed to me that Milstein had an attitude toward repetition in practicing that was different from most of us: Where most of us would play something over and over again the same way, in the hope that doing so would make the passage more familiar and more under control, Milstein's attitude seemed to be that if you play something once and it isn't easy, elegant, and everything else that you want it to be, then the **last thing you want to do** is to repeat that way of playing it that didn't satisfy you! In other words, go ahead and play it a thousand times, but if the first time doesn't get what you want, you must play it **differently** on the very next repetition...............Otherwise you would be teaching yourself to play it in a way that you don't like. Makes sense when you think about it! He didn't make a speech or say the above in so many words, but over many lessons, this way of thinking about practicing was more and more inferred. It seemed to be ever present in his mind that whatever you repeat you will learn. Therefore one had better be sure that one is repeating the right thing.

April 16, 2007 at 02:58 PM · That's what I've heard about Milstein. You said it better than I've ever heard it articulated, though, and I thank you for the post, Oliver. Your post has turned a light on for me!

One other point about this--Yixi, for my part, the mind leads the action. I try to put my mind in control. Maybe I have a funny brain, but my mind works on these things non-stop even when I'm not practicing. The other day, I had a passage from Kreutzer 14 come to me while doing laundry. I heard myself making a familiar intonation error. In the past, I might just allow my brain to keep doing what it's doing and think out the rest of the etude, because I'm doing laundry and I don't have time to help my brain out. Now, though, I know these are the moments when my mind is learning. So, I correct it. I train my mind to hear what I want to sound like. I teach myself to hear it right.

That's been the most powerful tool. I have to consciously think it right until it becomes part of my subconscious.

April 16, 2007 at 03:12 PM · Kimberlee Dray wrote: "........while doing laundry. I heard myself making a familiar intonation error"

Same thing happened to me years ago, while riding the subway. I was playing a piece in my head, and heard myself play an out of tune note. Then I said to myself: "Wait a minute! What just happened here? How can that be?! There was no finger to go to the wrong spot. There was no string. How can I miss a note when there are no physical objects here? Then I decided that I was probably playing the note out of tune during actual practice, but didn't bring it to full conciousness until I "listened to the recording" in my head, on the subway.

April 16, 2007 at 04:09 PM · I'm happy to know I'm not the only crazy one on this thread, Oliver! :D tee hee hee. Perfect example.

April 17, 2007 at 03:29 AM · Oliver, I get it. I think Milstein’s idea is consistent with what you said in an earlier post; namely, we should never repeat mindlessly but rather repetition must be explored and investigated. I guess most of us repeat habitually because this is how we learn in life in gerenal as a child: if I repeat a request again and again, I’ll be heard and I’ll get what I want, be it a candy or a toy, or something bigger. To take Milstein’s approach means we need to undo our deep-rooted habit of goal-getting.

Kimberlee, what you are doing is called mental practice, is it not? I think Menuhin wrote about this. He described how Enesco would be doing the mental practice during a car-ride. Sometimes he would go “oops, out of tune!” and went back to correct it. This is so cool and something I need to cultivate myself.

Sue, I’m not sure if I’ll have it for life if I play anything three times:) But I think this exaggeration may be very useful as a way of teaching someone to progress very quickly. Someone wrote about Heifez’s father the way he taught his son was to never allow the baby Heifez to make one mistake, and as soon as he finished practice, the violin was locked away – a kind of luxury most of us from non-musician families can’t afford but definitely results are before us.

April 17, 2007 at 04:34 AM · When I learn something new, the whole thing is mainly a matter of getting it up to tempo. I start so slow that I don't make a lot of mistakes. For me that's how the proverbial slow practice figures in.

For me, getting it to tempo is about 90% memorizing and the rest is getting used to unfamiliar things. I like what Maia wrote about the emotional aspect of it. I encounter a few things in that regard. One thing for me is keeping faith that this gets it to tempo :) even though it always has so far. When I was a fast reader, I didn't practice this way. I think it would be really good if the two things would coincide. This way of practicing is very, very boring; not nearly as much fun as running into a problem at full steam and floundering and doing that 25 times.

April 17, 2007 at 04:46 AM · Jim, how do you practice very slow movements?

I don't care that much about get to (fast) tempo. I get there when I get there. Meanwhile, I get to 'say' more when I play slowly.

What Maia said about how detrimental boredom and frustration plus self-criticism are is absolutely true.

April 17, 2007 at 04:55 AM · Ah. When you said repeating till it was right, I assumed you meant technical problems, right notes, etc.

Disclaimer: I am not concertmistress of the Vienna Philharmonic.

April 18, 2007 at 05:11 AM · Sorry that I mislead you, concertmistress of Non-Vienna Philharmonic:) To me, everything boils down to technique. If there’s a sound or a phrase I want, be it something in my head or something I heard other people play, and if I can’t do it, it’s a technical problem for me and I want to repeat this again and again to get it right.

What’s been said about not to repeat the wrong thing is obvious to me. What I don’t get is how can one find the joy in repeating the right thing, not 10 times, but 100 times?

April 18, 2007 at 05:31 AM · Either the anticipation of the power and glory it's going to bring you, or a high threshold of boredom will do.

April 18, 2007 at 06:47 AM · I think power and glory, forever, and ever, and ever, and ever... Amen.

April 18, 2007 at 08:37 AM · Ok, you can speak in tongues. But can you handle snakes?

April 18, 2007 at 09:21 AM · There are no snake churches in Alaska to provide training because there are no snakes.

Could someone verify, I'm looking for my copy of Auer, because in the back of my mind I remember reading that he believed that once a phrase is played perfecly, a student should move on instead of wasing time repeating it. I wouldn't want to misquote the guy, so perhaps could someone out there source it?

April 18, 2007 at 07:16 PM · I don't remember what Auer said, although I did read the book once. It seems like each would have their personal requirement and comfort zone of how many times to play it right, somewhere between zero and infinity, inclusive. Maybe the reasonable number is where one would consider himself to be "practicing what you already know" ?

April 19, 2007 at 05:42 AM · Practicing what you already know by exploring different ways of achieving the desired sound makes sense.

Repetition to the extent one solidifies the newly acquired technique also makes sense.

The question is how do I know when I’m going too far in the attempt to completely ‘master’ the technique to the point that a)it’s simply wasteful, or b) it does more harm than good?

Is there any sign you get and you say, “oh, now that’s too much, stop!”

April 19, 2007 at 05:53 AM · I don't know. How do you know how much to study for your English lit exam?

April 19, 2007 at 07:05 AM · Minimum study for exams! You can tell from my English writing probably:) I did spend a lot of time writing essays and theses though, but exams (even the tough ones in law school) IMHO are silly games that one can figure out very quickly how to cut corners and how to score points -- no comparison to violin playing!

April 19, 2007 at 08:11 AM · What do you mean no comparison? It's a fine analogy; especially because you're asking for something to tell you when some external criteria has been met. Otherwise you'd simply stop when you felt like it, right? There are two possibilities. One, you read for pleasure and stop whenever you want. Or two, you learn what you have to do to get an 'A' and go through that process. Maybe your question is how do you get an 'A'. Don't ask me!

April 19, 2007 at 03:00 PM · ... or three, you look for the true spontaneity and wonder if over-practicing is conducive to that end.

April 19, 2007 at 05:24 PM · Mr. Steiner,

I recall my lessons where you would specify that it is theoretically possible to start a work from scratch and never make a mistake.

Sacrificing tempo to the extent that mistakes are completely avoidable (after all, tempo is the easiest facet to regain) and practicing short excerpts, one could repeat these slow short "Do-able bits" slowly increasing tempo after successfully repeating perfect and effortless cycles.

Link together mastered "bits" to create slightly longer excerpts - once again, sacrificing tempo so that mistakes are avoidable.

Once the correct tempo has been reached, the ability to play above tempo must be mastered so that one is not playing on the threshold of their ability.

You need a king sized dose of discipline to really acheive such a goal - but what a wonderful goal to have!

April 19, 2007 at 07:13 PM · Hi Chris,

Yes, the emphasis is on the word theoretical! Although it's pretty much unusable as a practical proceedure, thinking about the principal can provoke useful thoughts about the nature of training oneself to perform.

April 19, 2007 at 08:22 PM · Yixi, the way I see it, three would be part of category two if it's something you needed to see before you were satisfied. Of your categories a, b, and c, a (stopping when you get it right) won't help you because you need to do it right a lot of times. At least I would. But at the same time, there are many, many people who could sight read at tempo things I'd have to learn very slowly. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by spontaneity, but that's one example of it. Having said all this, almost everything I play these days is half improvised. When it isn't, it's because I've decided to challenge myself that way. Either one is fun in different ways. With the second one though, there's a lag between when I start it and when it's fun...the lag is how long it takes to get it to tempo. Maybe someone less goal-oriented would have fun playing it slowly and with the process of learning it. I'm forced to learn it slowly, because my reading is that poor. It won't be at tempo until it's memorized, and that for me comes from good repetitions. I always ask people how they memorize and what that consists of to them.

April 19, 2007 at 08:23 PM · Related to Oliver's previous post: I often comfort my nerves before trying recitals by reminding myself that, at some point or another, I have played every single measure of every piece just how I meant it. Long programs can seem daunting, and psychologically, reminding myself that I have worked on the connections to and from each note to another is comforting. :)

April 19, 2007 at 09:31 PM · For a performance, if one has the confidence that despite the INEVITABLE passage that will not be turned to satisfaction yet something special and beautiful will STILL happen, "moments" will happen, and you will find that you are more in the moment rather than focused on nerves.

Pardon the above run-on sentence. :)

April 19, 2007 at 09:49 PM · Definitely! That is comforting (and exciting), too. :)

April 20, 2007 at 06:55 AM · Oliver and Christopher, just when I was thinking that my question doesn’t make any sense to anyone, the principle you two described just penetrates the cloud that I’m in and now I can see! I must master the level beyond the threshold of my ability. If I were to perform a piece at 90, I need to be able to do it well at 120 or faster during daily practice, so that I can have the psychological conform Maia described before the performance. And if I focus on Andrew’s special moments during the performance, then I will be in the moment, be a part of the music and may even get a taste of the true freedom.

Jim, this is what I’m talking about when I used the word spontaneity. It’s the best kind of freedom human being can get and was described by Hannah Ardendt as “the excellence with which man answers to the opportunities the world opens up before him in the guise of fortuna. It’s meaning is best rendered by “virtuosity,” that is, an excellence we attribute to the performing arts (as distinguished from the creative arts of making), where the accomplishment lies in the performance itself and not in an end product which outlasts the activity that brought it into existence and becomes independent of it.”

Thank you all for giving me all these pearls and jewelries!

April 20, 2007 at 05:02 AM · Sort of related, but I don't meltdown if I haven't gotten something in a few passes. I personally, just move on and keep coming back to it getting closer and closer to tackling it Hahn style. Sometimes it just comes, and sometimes I have to deconstruct it mm40... So, it depends I think.

Sometimes also, I put it on the shelf if it's lost my interest and come back to it--religously--I had this experience with a single measure in Suzuki 1.... It just came later....

As I've continued over a couple years now,the persistence approach, including using a lot of martele, breaking things down, gritting it out, is working better, but even still, so far I just trust that when I'm ready I'll be able to do something--this stuff is not Paganini for sure!....

Now for basics (about 15 elements, scales, arpeggios, review) I do these every single night of my life, and when I go flat remind myself I'm just cheating myself and that usually jumps me back into good focus.

My experience for me anyway, is that over time, and for a generalist, that some sort of layering evolves where I 'generally' get overall better--the main reason I don't get hung up on a single aspect. (I will be able to kick my favorite Sarabande's tail, but still suck on the trio in Minuet in G in Suzki 2, unless I literally force myself.)

So again, it depends. But generally, if it's something technical slow down, then speed up, then slow down again if necessary and after while I'd just leave it for a a couple days. And if it's more in the arena of a supposedly polished passage or something I use visualization, speed, and many times the music will take me there if I let it. This for me is where I get caught if it's something I don't really want to be playing--the music doesn't lie; and, there's a measure here and there on piano I've never really mastered, and actually, don't reget it because I trust that I just didn't want to play it that badly.

What I want to play within my range, I can, if I really want to; and, you can too. If it's technical, I'd suggest primal scream therapy.. ;)..just kidding. well, almost.

April 20, 2007 at 08:35 AM · It seems that overpracticing may be defined by your time constraints. You only have so much time each day to practice, and if you spent it all on one repeated phrase every day, you may be missing out on other things that need done. You may have to get down and clean the floor with a toothbrush to make it spotless, but do you really need to scrub the same four-inch section for three hours? You may never get finished.

(I know, it's not a perfect analogy, but it gives you an idea of the point I'm trying to make.)

April 23, 2007 at 02:55 AM · Nothing Genius to add, but this is one of the most interesting and useful discussions I've read. I hope others continue to contribute!

April 23, 2007 at 11:41 AM · About mental practicing and repetition, I've found that something that helps me is to listen to someone else play it (someone else who is better than I am) but imagine that I am playing it and producing those sounds. I have to have the piece pretty much memorized to do that, but then it helps put the "right" sound in my ear. When I was first learning viola I once misread a note, memorized the misread note, and then caught it while listening and mentally practicing. It became obvious that what I was listening to should be played as a 3,2, not a 3,0 and my fingers were unconcsciouly doing the right thing, the 3,2, while I was mentally practicing and listening, even though I'd misread the viola clef by a third when I was learning the piece.

So I checked when I went back to the music, and sure enough, my fingers and ear were right. Fortunately I don't think I've made that egregious an error since then as I've gotten more fluent in viola clef, but I still find that letting my ear lead my fingers in mental practice helps the next day with more subtle things (pitch, rhythm, vibrato).

April 23, 2007 at 11:54 AM · I'm having a little trouble understanding the concept of learning how to play the passage, then practicing it "right" until one couldn't play it wrong. I have yet to play any passage in a way in which I could truthfully congratulate myself for executing an impeccible rendition. There is always a need for more accurate intonation, better sense of line, better balance of the hand, better rhythm, more intelligent use of vibrato, more sensitive use of bow division, more beautiful sound....

So I guess my initial inclination would be to say one should get optimum benefit from practice method "b"...except that I don't know if that is even possible.

April 23, 2007 at 12:23 PM · Interesting and very helpful advice in this thread.

Practicing in your mind absolutely works. I learned to fly incredibly complicated planes by flying the maneuvers in my head in real time until they were correct. That mental practice save my life and all my passengers lives one time.

Another useful comment on playing outside your comfort zone. When we lived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado my nextdoor neighbors, ranked as number one and two in the world for ski racing, would take me skiing with them frequently. No, I'm an intermediate. They constantly had me deliberately skiing way outside my comfort zone in a controlled situation so if I accidently got into trouble it was no big deal as I had already done that and could handle the super extra speed or whatever. Same with violin, constantly strive a little bit each day to go outside your comfort zone and surprise, your comfort zone is now a lot higher than it used to be.

Good luck.

April 23, 2007 at 01:07 PM · Ray Randall wrote: "...constantly strive a little bit each day to go outside your comfort zone and surprise, your comfort zone is now a lot higher than it used to be."

Excellent advice. Milstein spoke of this. He said that we need to do two opposite kinds of practicing:

1.Playing what is easy for us to play, but challenging ourselves to play at a higher level of control.

2.Playing something which causes us to be at the brink of our control.

I frequently find myself asking my students to do more with the first idea. I say: "If you played this any more slowly, do you think it would enable you to play it any better?......If the answer is yes, you are practicing too fast!!!!!....Why repeat the practice tempo that gives you second best level of control??...If you do that, you are training yourself to play with second best level of control!"

On the other hand, I would criticize my own practicing as needing to more frequently do the second idea, which Ray Randall cites above.

April 23, 2007 at 04:27 PM · Hi Jenna,

You can practice a passage until it's "right" especially if you limit your goals to one of the many facets you cited. There always is (and should be) room for interpreting, however you can remove all other "distractions" from something you wish to improve/enhance. If your focus is intonation - remove all but intonation - same for rhthym and so on.

Understanding that the core techniques need to be in place before working on the more aesthetic (and 100% necessary) techniques is very important - ie. practicing intonation, rhythym, before activily pursuing the other aesthetics.

I am sure Mr. Steiner is giggling right now as I dictate the weaknesses of my lessons with him!

April 24, 2007 at 05:10 AM · I'm in the midst of being re-taught how to practice on a time budget - no time for endless repetitions. Here we go...

Starting on a new piece play it all the way through - no stopping. Stop and bracket the trouble spots. Pick a trouble spot and start a measure before and end at the trouble measure at a slow tempo using separate bows to get the notes. Add the bowing (again take note of issues), add rhythm (note issues again). Then go through the section with all elements. If it falls apart, eliminate one element at a time to isolate what is causing the pain and agony and work on that alone for about 3-5 times, then add all the elements back in - still at a slow tempo for a few times. Then start picking up the tempo click by click. Once "at tempo".... and here is the important part.... MOVE ON!!!

It may sound a bit tedious but tremendously effective. With this technique, I'm now down to about 5 meausures in Die Moldau that are troublesome after picking this piece up only a few weeks ago.

April 24, 2007 at 01:22 PM · For what little it's worth I find that repetition ad nauseaum just sets upm a situation where I start to make new mistakes where I have mastered the old ones.

May 1, 2007 at 06:48 PM · I’m still thinking about the comment that Christopher made earlier regarding the theoretical possibility of never making a mistake from to start a work from scratch. I think not allowing mistake can cause some psychological issues; for one thing, it may discourage us to push our limits.

There are at least two types of mistakes:

a) unproductive mistake: an unrecognized, repetitive mistake that will form bad habit if not corrected quickly;

b) productive mistake: a mistake as a result of exploring new approach/new way of doing things. It is easily recognized, acknowledged, and investigated by the player.

When we start to learn a new piece, the focus will be to avoid type a) mistakes. But once we’ve learned the piece, we should be prepared for the type b) mistakes.

May 1, 2007 at 09:38 PM · I don't like the way "bad habit" gets thrown around here; something to scold kids with being applied to adults.

But anyway, the reason I stuck my head is was:

"Perfect is the enemy of good" - Voltaire (maybe).

Have a nice day!

May 1, 2007 at 10:33 PM · Okay, don’t call them bad habits but instead: play out of tune, play irregular tempo (speed up or slow down without musical reasons), play too loud/coarsely, and play with superfluous choreography, etc.

Not a perfectionist myself, but I find the quote amusing: Good and Perfect both know that Good is just a perfect-wannabe but very human. Perfect makes Good irrelevant but that's the fault of human.

Idle thoughts ;~)

May 1, 2007 at 10:34 PM · Greetings,

there is a somewhat differnet slant on mistakes discussed in the book Barry Greene wrote exploring the values and psychological mores of differnet instrumentalists. It was suggested that what we are focusing on at a given moment should be eithe rmistake free or carefully corrected , but that errors in areas we are not conscioulsy focused on will not necessraily belearned.

Not sure if I am in complete agreement with this, but it dooes emphasize the point that we cannot listne to everything at once and work randomly. That is why I am always recommenbding the Burton Kaplan book which provides a systematic approach to focusing attention and an effectoive approach to repetition and its implications.



May 2, 2007 at 12:03 AM · This is a great discussion. OK, here goes: if you are practicing for intonation but you tune up your violin just a little differently each time you pick it up, you are playing the same intervals that may not be the actual same notes from practice to practice. And if you do not have perfect pitch, as most of us don't, then the intonation will always be a little different, so it is difficult to land it consistently and perfectly from practice to practice.

So, how do you set yourself up to work on intonation if it is a moving target of sorts?

May 2, 2007 at 12:52 AM · You respond with what is in your heart.Play by your heart and soul--for they do not conceal but reveal your inner soul.... and that is what music is for me---a display of my inner workings--if you will.....

May 2, 2007 at 01:00 AM · Debbie, I thought the perfect pitch isn't the issue, but it's the relative pitch that tells whether we are playing in tune. Is it not? I let some more experienced violinists comment on this.

May 2, 2007 at 01:03 AM · Actually, while tooling through the website I found a very interesting thread of discussion on this going back to 2005. Bottom line: no easy answer, it is all relative, why do we do this to ourselves?

May 2, 2007 at 01:16 AM · we do these things to ourselves because we are striving to obtain maximum performance,we wish to play our best---oft forgetting that we are fallible in all regards----yet the attempt is quite worthwhile.....

May 2, 2007 at 01:43 AM · Yixi,

The practice theory that I stated was really just in theory. It is near impossible to implement. The goal is to practice what's right so that your repetition is productive ie. You will perform what you repeated in practice. In actuality - by implementing this practice theory, you would be pushing your limits and trying a new approach - more of a different mindset toward your practice. The last thing you want is a steril but correct performance - that's not what it's about. The issue is that the foundation of technique is often lost when we practice musicality before this important foundation is laid.

May 2, 2007 at 03:31 AM · Buri will recognize this from the Kaplan book, but it holds up under practice: if your mind is fully engaged, the task (including repetitions) is appropriate. If your mind easily wanders, the task is either too easy (you've already mastered it) or too hard (there are still intermediate steps to take).

I don't mind repeating something 50 times if it occupies my mind each time. It's only getting stronger. Enjoy it while you can!

May 2, 2007 at 04:17 AM · Christopher, thanks for the clarification. I just love to read your posts -- so much packed in them! It'll probably take me another week or so to digest and to come back for just more questions:)

Nathan, there is a 3rd situation with the mind wondering. Sometimes my mind is not fully engaged even when the task is appropriate. For instance,if I just came back from a very interesting day at work and stuff would keep coming to my head, and it'll be a while before I can get myself completely focus on the violin. I probably shouldn't be practicing when my mind is still busy with other things, but I've got to practice before I get sleepy and that's life of an ametuer:-(

May 2, 2007 at 04:34 AM · Greetings,

you might find it helpful to talk to yourself a little. Tell your mind that yes, the problem need saddressing but that you are going to put it to one side until after you have done a little practice. This can shift things.



May 2, 2007 at 01:10 PM · Yixi,

It is funny that this is one of my greatest weaknesses in my own practice - ths is where I have to repeat to myself "take the advice you give others!" I, too, have a day job outside of music, so it's easier for us to want to rush to completion - to take the limited time we have and reach recital readiness in a dash of practice here and there. That is the primary reason I really had to disect my practice technique to accomoplish more in the crevices of time afforded to me (especially, now with a 3 yr old and a 3 month old!) Couple that with my tendecy to let my attention wander (I like shiny objects) and it can be a real challenge.

Ultimately, I know when my practice is not productive, and I will need to simply redirect my attention, set a goal for that allotted time frame, and remove all distractions until that goal is accomplished. What is important to me is to define the distractions past the obvious TV, telephone, etc. I had to define them as tempo, vibrato, dynamics, etc. These are the most easily regained sacrifices once the rhythm, intonation, shifts are mastered. And with the latter learned the distraction can be addressed more intimately because you are not fighting control issues - they are no longer distractions. I had to really learn how not to do these things that I attribute (I hope) to a good natural sense of musicality that was hampering my progress. My very first violin teacher used to ask me constantly "is the dog wagging the tail, or is the tail wagging the dog?"

Pablo Casals claims to have played new pieces on the piano first, in order to derive his interpretation because he did not want the challenges of cello technique to dictate his phrasings. I found this interesting because it is the same theory however in this case the technique is the distraction he wishes to remove so that he now can work on the "distractions." (I hate to use that word because I know someone out there is bubbling with frustration that I would refer to musicality as a distraction, but a more suitable word escapes me.)

Thank you for your kind words and good luck!


May 2, 2007 at 02:47 PM · It's true! Distractions can be musical and non-musical. My job in music unfortunately doesn't give me superhuman powers of concentration. :) Probably the big advantage is the pressure of a professional deadline. If you stay a professional, you learn to make those deadlines a positive motivator rather than something that hinders your work.

One concept that applies to everyone is to take pride in every advance, no matter how small. They really do add up. You'll learn for yourself how quickly they need to accumulate in order for you to reach your personal goals (important to have these!), but give them a lot more attention than your lapses. Lapses just mean take a break or change technique for the time being.

May 2, 2007 at 03:42 PM · Nathan,

Very direct and positive thoughts.

Thanks everyone for keeping this thread going. I think goo dpracticing hygiene is something that can't be discussed enough, regardless of one's level and goals.



May 2, 2007 at 04:24 PM · Nathan - Glad that you are back!

Can one do only "good" practice or does one practice as well as possible and hope that most of it is good?


May 3, 2007 at 01:26 AM · This probably doesn't work for everyone, but I find it really helpful to practice before the day starts, even if it's pretty early. My mind is less cluttered then and even though I might be slightly drowsy (although the physical activity of playing itself helps a lot with this), it's just easier to focus. Also, later in the day I don't feel so rushed to get the practice time in - I've already gotten in at least an hour, so even if it's just another hour of practicing I've done a decent amount that day.

May 3, 2007 at 07:50 AM · Ha, I'm such a night owl! I can't imagine hearing the sound of my violin before a long coffee commune. I guess that just shows that everyone works it out differently.

May 3, 2007 at 07:01 PM · To me practice in the morning is ideal, even though I'm a bit of night owl too. I try to get 1/2 hour practice in the morning if I can.

Ihnsouk, anyone can hope for the best practice, but it is the effort in searching for good or the best practice that we put in leads us to improve our practice, IMHO.

May 3, 2007 at 09:06 PM · I agree. I was just thinking that it all boils down to focus. And that one may not have a control over it.


May 3, 2007 at 07:56 PM · Practicing needs to come from a clear thought process. Practicing is a brain exercise more than a physical one. For instance, let's say I pick a piece that I like. I open it up, run through it, and then go back to the parts I like and play with them for a while. Let's say I did this for an hour. Would you call this practicing? Most would - but it's not. That's paramount to going to work, shuffling a few papers around changing your voicemail message and thinking you've actually done some work!

Clear goals with a clear plan to accomplish them is decided before you open your case. Implementation and persistence is achieving good practice.

May 6, 2007 at 04:23 AM · Thanks for another thoughtful post, Christopher. Ah, implementation! I did a quick search on the web and have found that the concept of implementation can be roughly summarized as follows:

· The act of accomplishing some aim or executing some orders.

· Development of a program by putting all functions and activities into place.

· The practical solution chosen to perform a given function and the method for, the activities associated with, putting a plan or program into effect.

· Taking a change and, after initial trial, making it a permanent part of the system.

· The carrying out the physical realization of something from concept to design.

· That which includes technical assistance, training, or interpersonal activities designed to increase the use of knowledge or to change behavior.

· The execution of the policy, objectives and targets, and to put them into practice.

· Physical realization of a specifications, or process of realizing a project in practice according with the agreed work plan, including project management and monitoring.

· The actual conduct of training by any method of instruction using the validated training material created during the design and development phases. A major phase in the training development process.

Wouldn't the notion of implementation be a great thesis topic for a graduate student of performance major?

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