Practice Routine: Time, Topic, Reason

March 17, 2008 at 06:05 PM · I want to revisit discussions on practice routines. I would greatly appreciate any input on the most useful practice routines with a breakdown of time, topic covered, and reasoning.

In my playing, I don't have a routine that works for me, and my teacher isn't able to give input because he's so busy teaching he doesn't have much time for practicing these days. I want my practice routine to develop accuracy, assuredness (for my confidence issues), cleanliness, expressiveness, and healthy posture habits.

Thank you all in advance.

Replies (39)

March 16, 2008 at 02:41 PM · Oh, and if at all possible, the routine should be limited to 2-3 hours a day. Thanks!

March 17, 2008 at 06:41 PM · What do you mean your teacher is too busy to practice? to help you with your practice? It seems illogical that a teacher would give you a pile of things to practice and no guidance on how to practice. What are you paying him to do for you then?

March 17, 2008 at 10:49 PM · Greetings,

it is as Marina says. Your lesson is what, one hour a week? Is this the most important time to make progress or the most important time to learn how to make progress in the other 99.9 percent of the time you play the insturment?

Cheers,

Buri

March 17, 2008 at 11:14 PM · The Rachel Barton Pine podcast has a great installment about how to practice.

I downloaded it to my Itouch, but you can download it for free to your computer. Go to the itune store and then go under the podcasts and search on "Barton Pine." She talks about how to practice for performing versus practicing strictly techinque etc. Her podcast is very clear, interesting, systematic and often quite amusing. I really like this podcast as it does not assume you are super advanced, just serious about getting better. There is nothing esoteric about her suggestions and anybody can use her great advise. I played it for myself and my 10 year old and he has completely improved his approach. I now practice differently before recitals ect. and it has really helped.

March 17, 2008 at 11:00 PM · Disclaimer: I am a piano and bass guy:

For technical practice, the violinmasterclass.com recommendations resonated with me because:

- The limited time per topic keeps you concentrating.

- You touch every fundamentals topic every day. It is probably the case that many violinists, even at the graduate level, could improve greatly if they did that.

Learning pieces, I do the break-it-down and then speed-it-up method. Back when I was a serious student, this was very successful for me.

March 18, 2008 at 12:16 AM · I appreciate everyone's input.

Marina: My teacher has given loads of resources for practice methods, but not practice routines. He isn't able to share what works best for him now, because he's too busy to practice much himself.

I am familiar with violinmasterclass.com and I think it's amazing. I'm looking for more of a step-by-step what topic covered for how long practice session routine.

March 18, 2008 at 02:34 AM · Greetings,

part of the problem is your question is rather wide. That in itself the nature of the problem...

Firts you need a general routine framewokr that might include things like:

Warming up 3-5 minutes.

Awareness exercises ditto.

Planning what to do- 1-2

Technical work/music 50/50 split.

Sunday- play through a new work under tempo to get the feel-30 minutes. Also play though a movement ortwo or all of an old piec eof repertoire perhaps polishing any really bad passages 15 minutes.

Stretching to finish, plus writing up notes on what you did and how it might be improved next time.

Then you need to get more specific depending what your goals are for the day, week, month and year. If you don`t know what thes egoals are then your pracitce will be considerbaly less efifcinet.

If your practice is three hours then half of that will comprise of:

exercises

scales

etudes

The other half is perhaps an hour on a cocnerto and half an hour on orchetsral and chambe rmusic.

Within the context of exercises remember to avoid the common error of giving priority to the left hand. At least half of the time you spend on exericses should be cocnerned with the bow and may well include open stirng work even at an advance dlevel. With this breakdown you perhaps only have 30 minutes on scales. Don`t let this depres s you when you see all thes ereferences to hours of scales. The content of the exercises may well cover what is in scalesand do so more efifcinetly. During scale practice use the Galamian system for maximum mental activation. If you are short of time and you really wnat to get everythign covered effieicntly then I belive on of the bets options thes edays is Drew Lecher`s book on technique. Taht cobers all the bowing and left hand I need without having to work through this sevcik book or that one or really long studies.

Add variety to your pracitce by havong days or even wekes where you do soemthing compeltley diffenret and se ewhat happens. For example, do only the dounis Daily Dozen or Carl Flesch Urstudien only for tehcnical work. Change to a diffenret scale book.

Spend an hour on only one exercise from Basics at the weekend. See what happens!!!?

Buy a copy of Fischer`s Pracitce and read it everyday. Choos ea specific approach and go throuhg your orchestral repertoire applying it whereever it seems appropriate.

Cheers,

Buri

March 18, 2008 at 03:32 AM · Buri: exactly the sort of advice I'm looking for. I do have both Fisher books and refer to them often.

THANK YOU! =)

March 18, 2008 at 03:56 PM · I'm looking for more of a step-by-step what topic covered for how long practice session routine.

They have an example fine-grained schedule of basic technical work, one for scales, and one for balancing technical and repertoire practice. It's kind of hidden away on their site.

March 18, 2008 at 09:35 PM · Yes I've seen that and found it very interesting. I'm looking for some variety.

March 18, 2008 at 11:00 PM · Re: Rachel Barton Pine. I must be dense. I flew

super sophisticated planes for NASA and TWA, but can't download the RBP podcast. I found itunes, found podcasts, entered RBP's name and got a few hits, but when I click on one I get sent back to the store. I never did find the one you're talking about. Any hints?

Thanks.

March 19, 2008 at 12:28 AM · Greetings,

>I must be dense. I flew

super sophisticated planes for NASA and TWA,

Don@T be so hard on yourself. The experience may have drained you intellectually.

Cheers,

Buri

March 19, 2008 at 01:31 AM · I think this is podcast J mentioned

http://rachelbartonpine.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=245221

just press the little "pod" by episode 10

March 19, 2008 at 01:32 AM · I could only get the most recent ones on Itunes

March 19, 2008 at 04:18 AM · Thank you, I'll check it out.

Damaged my lungs from a plane fire, gave me a bad back from all the pounding and killed my hearing. Don't know about the brain yet.

March 19, 2008 at 02:51 PM · Anybody else with a practice routine and its rationale?

March 19, 2008 at 03:43 PM · tasha, sounds like you are already a very accomplished violin player so the point of interest to me should be the outcome of your practice, say, by the week. i would consider videotaping yourself often and critique yourself in terms of areas of interest, such as expression, posture, etc. the stress of being taped can be a very healthy stimulus/conditioner.

with my kids' golf, each practice session has 2 main parts: 1. technical. 2. application of technical under stress.

1. technical: ball from A to B, say, 30 times.

2. under stress: ball from A to precisely B, only 3 times in a row, or we keep doing it until it gets dark:)

we also do something similar with violin but since our level of play is not comparable to yours, it will be silly to look back. still, everything is about efficiency and accuracy. we'd hate to eat into our sponge bob hour.

March 20, 2008 at 01:56 AM · al ku, thanks for your analogy, it does apply very nicely! I already digitally record myself, but I don't have adequate video technology at this time.

March 20, 2008 at 02:32 AM · Tasha, maybe you already do this, or perhaps someone else has mentioned it above, but I find it very helpful to keep a log of all of my practice time, and not only to keep a log, but to use the log to set my routine as I begin the day, taking into account specific short-term goals, areas that need work, etc. Also, I find it extremely helpful to be specific. I log pretty much all that I do, including rest time and time spent stretching, etc. For instance, if I'm working on scales, I don't just write "scales" in my log, I mention the specific scales and the time spent on each. Doing this really entails no great added effort, and it adds TONS of very highly productive structure to my practice time. It also provides my teacher great insight into my practice routine, giving her the chance to critique my practice time in detail, offering suggestions regarding how best to use this most valuable time. For someone such as myself, with a full-time profession and a family, this is critical.

March 20, 2008 at 02:31 AM · Chris: thanks for the idea! I've tried various variations of a practice log. Detailed, not detailed... how do you keep yourself dedicated to taking the time to write the details? That deters me from entering them in, or writing in the thing at all... However, it is VERY beneficial, I find!

March 20, 2008 at 05:19 PM · Tasha,

What I basically do is write out my core practice routine ahead of time, at the start of the session, and then complete the log as the session progresses, until I finish. What I keep foremost in mind as I set my schedule for the day are the areas in need of work at the present moment (usually evident from the day before), the guidance of my teacher and of course my short-term goals.

I always begin with some stretching, using basic stretches provided by Janet Horvath (from her book “Playing Less Hurt”). I then go into some scales and arpeggios, played slowly as I work into my routine. I may also do some fingering of scales minus the bow, etc. After that I do more demanding technical work, followed by repertoire. This is where I allow improvisation with respect to my practice regiment. Also, with respect to work on repertoire, I usually break it down and try to keep a record of the portions with which I concern my time (instead of just mentioning the piece and logging the time spent, I make mention of the specific sections studied within the piece and apportion the time spent). After working on repertoire, I usually finish with some more technical exercises (maybe to revisit a weakness made apparent earlier…there’s never any shortage of those!), then to end I stretch again using another set of stretches provided by Janet Horvath.

It may seem like a lot of work, but the truth is it is not. Actually, it makes for a lot more work in the long run if one does not keep a log of their practice routine. For myself, I have found that I need to keep a log as the time I am able to make available for practice is very, very limited when compared to the time I’d like to have available for practice. On a good day I get in 2-3 hours, and on a normal day 1 to 1-1/2. Given my long-term goals and place in life, this is not a lot of practice time so I need to make the most of what I do have.

Also, speaking of long-term goals, this is the engine that pulls the whole train down the track, so I like to keep this written somewhere in my logbook. I may modify this “mission statement” of mine from time to time, but all in all long-term goals should remain unaltered and focused as a change in long-term goals really becomes a major shift in direction and can be quite upsetting even though we may not realize it. This is why I would urge everyone to have specific long-term goals, above and beyond “becoming a better player”, as this is the driver that inspires us all, whether we are aware of it or not, as we tend to become the person we believe (or think) we are within.

Tasha, I hope all goes well as you press on, and I hope what I have come to learn may be of some benefit. I would also look into the Podcasts from Rachel Barton Pine mentioned in another reply above. I intend to do the same, once I figure out how!

Take care,

Chris

March 21, 2008 at 01:58 AM · Chris, thanks so much! It makes a lot of sense when you say it. I took 9 years of ballet, I stretch before every practice session, it really helps! And what you say about the log is completely true. I guess I'll just have to suck it up and do it...

March 21, 2008 at 10:32 PM · Hi Tasha,

First of all, can I say thanks for asking this question. I've just started to realise that I need to take a step back and look at my practice routines again (yes, no matter what you do, it's always good to take a step back to make sure that what you're doing is working.)

Taking a log is something that I need to get back into as well. Thankfully, I've got some resources that might be able to help you out.

Practiceopedia by Philip Johnston is a fantastic resource with plenty of ideas, strategies, tips, tricks and traps. Each idea is sorted into its own section, and organised alphabetically. I think the areas that might be especially useful in this section is the idea of Campaigns (the idea that your practice will change over time, and it depends on how close you are to the performance), Session Agenda, Breakthrough Diaries, the Level System, and Reflecting. These are all to do with planning and reflecting. I think it's very important to do both parts. The planning helps you know what it is that you're going to do, while the reflecting helps you make sure that you accomplished what you hoped you'd accomplish and keep yourself energized by realising how far you've already come.

Another book I'd recommend is The Inner Game of Music. It's just a fantastic read, but there's also a section entitled "Goal Setting for the Future." It's around page 86 in my edition. In it, Barry Green talks about using a Goal Journal that has Long, Medium, and short range goals, this weeks goals and today's goals. The long range goals are your career or life goals, ranging from 5-10 years. The medium range goals are 1 to 5 years, and your short range goals are 2-15 weeks.

Basically, you work out your long range goals, which will be one or two, and then from that you work out where you'll need to be in 1-5 years to be on track for that. Then in order to achieve those goals, you work out what you need to do to achieve them, and they're your short range goals. This way, all your planning is focussed towards your career goals. You'll also be adding in other things, such as preparation for competitions and exams and such, but they will come in the short range goals, and generally be helpful towards your career anyway.

Another option might be to have a rolling 1, 3 and 5 year plan. In this situation, I would set out my goals for 5 years time, where I'd need to be in 3 years time to achieve that, and where I'd need to be in a year to achieve that. And then from that I'd work out weekly and daily goals. Then in 1 year, I'd review my goals, and see whether I achieved my 1 year goal. Then I roll over my goals. My five year goals might now fit into my 3 year goals, and my 3 year goals into my 1 year goals.

Well, hope that helps with some of your planning ideas. I think I'm going to go and do my planning now, it's well overdue

March 22, 2008 at 08:21 PM · Thanks, Ben! I hope your planning works out for you! I really appreciate all those ideas and those resources, I'll be sure to check those out.

March 22, 2008 at 08:40 PM · Hi Tasha,

I've been thinking about this topic for a few days, and have been trying to decide why I find your question so difficult to answer. I think it's because of this:

"I want my practice routine to develop accuracy, assuredness (for my confidence issues), cleanliness, expressiveness, and healthy posture habits."

Basically, it sounds like you're saying, "I want to be a better violinist". Good, but you need to analyse these goals and wishes into more tangible parts before you can develop practice strategies (I don't like the word 'routine', but I'll get to that in a bit) that address them. At the moment, they're too general to be of much use to you.

I'm going to take apart each of these for you and give you some questions that may put you onto a more useful track.

Accuracy

*What technical aspects do you find to be particularly inaccurate? (Shifting, intonation, coordination?)

*Are your accuracy problems linked to faster tempi, or are they also present when you play/practice slowly?

*Can you isolate exactly where the problems are when you play, or is it more of a general difficulty where you never know what's going to happen?

Assuredness

*Do you have a musical plan? Do you know what you'd like your (interim) end-product to sound like?

*Do you practice run-throughs: for you, for the tape recorder, for your friends?

Cleanliness

*What isn't clean? String crossings? Articulation? Does your bow touch and leave the string precisely how you want it to? Do you hear sounds that you shouldn't?

*Does your left hand know where it is and where it's going?

Expressivity

*Again, do you know what you want to bring across?

*Does your bow technique give you the colours/dynamics/phrasing possibilites that you're looking for?

*Does your left hand technique (vibrato, shifting, articulation) serve the music?

Healthy Posture Habits

*Are you constantly aware of your body while you're playing?

*Where do you usually carry your tension? What happens when you're nervous?

*What posture habits do you have at the moment, and how are they unhealthy?

The problem I have with the word 'routine' is that it suggests the following: "Do everything on this list for three hours every day, and you will become a good violinist". There are routine elements to practicing, but it's very easy for us to get bored of routines and simply to turn off. Once we recognise the pattern, we don't have to keep paying attention. Not good for violin playing. My practicing is based on the feedback I get from my body and my instrument, as well as on what music I have to prepare for when.

If I were you, I'd spend some time sorting out some concrete technical goals. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses - hard, but good for you. Then, I'd find some exercises that directly address them (Basics, Dounis, Sevcik, certain scale exercises etc.). I've always spent 1-1.5 hours on these, though not necessarily at the beginning of my practice session. I'd always have an etude on the go, and then I'd try to determine what difficulties I'm having with my repertoire and where my priorities lie there.

And lastly, I'd use each lesson as a chance to practice getting up and presenting what I've prepared. I didn't really get into the habit of this till I got to grad school, and that's the one thing I wish I'd understood much, much earlier.

Hope this gives you some more to mull over!

March 22, 2008 at 09:19 PM · Oh, and by the way, how do you practice now?

March 23, 2008 at 02:19 AM · Megan, thanks so much for your definitions and input! Most insightful.

I completely agree with your dislike of routine, when thought of in that context. It's totally true, if I have a routine of a set practice pattern for more than 2 days, I get bored and stop. What I was looking for here, was a way to see other ways to vary my practicing every day. It has led to excellent results, some of which have been emailed to me, and aren't given due credit here.

My "routine" is very unorganized and not really a routine. I'm working on the Bruch Concerto in G Minor, Bartok Roumanian Dances, Red Violin Caprices, and Biber Passagaglia for my senior undergrad recital. I'll usually spend an hour or 2 a day (broken up) on one of those, first doing hard spots then run thrus and sometimes recordings. I spend about 5-20 minutes stretching. I play 2 scales/arpeggios/3rds/8vs/ broken 3rds a day. I enjoy reviewing various Kreutzer etudes, Sevcik, Mazas, Paganini and Rode Caprices (Paganini is really too hard, but irresistible somehow). I also work on my university symphony music (I'm concertmistress). I have about 2-3hours in a day to practice with my busy teaching/school schedule, and the hours are filled up with those things.

My problem is I have everything I want out of myself when I'm alone, but it diminishes progressively when I'm under pressure. If I record myself, that little bit of external pressure allows weaknesses to show up that I had thought I had taken care of. I forget fingerings, lose clarity in bowing, get tense, shake, etc. I dutifully practice those spots under pressure by further recordings (and multiple deletes) until it's reliable. Then I play it in my lesson, which causes either the same problems, or new problems, to come up again. I spend day after day working for reliability to the best of my abilities alone, for little result when I actually play in front of people.

Megan, when I first got private lessons from a real violinist in 7th grade(not my school strings teacher who was a cellist, but a magnificent musician and teacher) I took every lesson as an opportunity to show off my progress of that week. However, that teacher had me doing a piece far too difficult for me (Bach E Major Partita -- without having even read any piece equal to Suzuki Bk. 4 and with no real solo violin experience) and I made very little progress. I got reprimanded fairly harshly for my seeming lack of practice, and my recital (held at the local mall) was a disaster and my teacher expressed their (to be non-gender specific) disappointment. I've always had performance anxiety; but ever since then, it's been chronic and undefeated.

I hope that wasn't TMI. I'm really grateful for all your posts, everyone!

March 23, 2008 at 10:25 AM · It's amazing how situations like the one you described stay with us for so long. The fear of being judged and found wanting so often stands in the way of wishing to show others how we feel, interpret and hear music. An important part of getting through this is letting go, emotionally and physically - allowing yourself to show what you are now, however small and vulnerable, but genuine.

Here's something that may help you center your practicing and build more awareness of the things that tension seems to inhibit when you play in stressful situations. It's from a practice 'method' developed by Andreas Burzik, a violinist and performance psychologist in Bremen.

Here's his http://www.practising-in-flow.de/. It's in English, and worth looking at.

You're going to turn your awareness to three points. At all times, your body should feel, and the sound should be, free and uninhibited.

First, play some open strings. Focus on the point where the bow contacts the string. What does this contact feel like? Can you feel any bumps or clogs in the flow? What can you do to make them go away? Often the awareness alone will do the trick. Can you hear them in the sound? Can you feel the resonance of the string in your right hand? Can you hear the string vibrating freely? Is there unnecessary tension anywhere in your body?

The second focus point is the contact between left hand fingers and string. Play some notes - start with open strings and practice putting down fingers. Let the vibrato happen, but don't force it. Be aware of the contact, and how little you need to do to create it. Can you feel the string vibrating under your finger? Are there any tensions in the way of the flow? (Back, shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, thumb, finger joints all free?) Play whatever you feel like playing, and feel the freedom of the connections, that each note evolves freely into the next, and there is no inhibiting tension getting in the way.

Your third focal point is the body itself. Play some long bows, and allow your body to spiral along with the bow. The downbow movement pulls you to the right with it, the upbow to the left. Let this happen, don't make it. Can you feel the freedom in your knees, abdomen, shoulders, neck, pelvic area, etc.? Notice what tensions seem to be getting in the way, and let them go.

Now, the trick with practicing is to keep an awareness of these three focal points while working on passages. It was a bit of a revelation for me when I realised that the moment something was out of tune, I would shut out the awareness of my bow contact and my physical freedom, in order to 'fix' the problem with my left hand. All that tension just made it that much more difficult.

Take a passage and play it note by note, concentrating on finding this freedom in every note and every connection. If something gets blocked, go back and try it again until it feels free and natural. Once you've got through the passage like this once, go back to the beginning and start it again - feel how the flow develops naturally.

It's so easy for us to get caught up in 'active' practicing, to the point where we aren't really listening to what we're doing, or to what our bodies are saying. And we tend to see this first in situations which make us nervous. That slight bit of tension in my wrist doesn't really affect my sound in the practice room, but add a minute bit on through nerves and it turns into a catastrophe.

Finding this 'flow' in your practicing could probably really help you realise where the tensions that you see in stress situations come from, and that's more than half the battle of making them go away.

March 23, 2008 at 12:12 PM · Megan, I'm speechless. Thank you.

March 23, 2008 at 12:31 PM · Now go practice! ;)

March 23, 2008 at 07:56 PM · Haha, I did! =P

March 23, 2008 at 09:49 PM · that's a great post, Megan. thankyou.

March 23, 2008 at 10:12 PM · This is for approximately a 1 hour practice routine.

10 mins: Scales

10 mins: Reviewing previously completed pieces

10 mins: Fun pieces

20 mins: Working on new pieces

10 mins: Reviewing scales and other exercises

March 23, 2008 at 10:41 PM · Greetings,

fromn your description you are wasting a lot of time on etudes thatyou don`t need. Probably becuas eyour goals are not clear. `reviewing etudes@ soudns liek an od dhting to do in your situation, especially sevick ;)

One thing I fnd with the Roumanian dance sis to apply a very simple rotation approahc. Instea dof trying to practic eall in one go choose one movement and alot a speciifc numbe rof days to pracitce it (from one to three is suppsoe). Now, if you are going to practice them for half an hour a day, you \should play through the whole work and then practice the movement you ahve seected. After your your allotted days are up, specify a diffenrt moevemtn as the `practic emovement` and perform the whole work before attackign that in detail. This procedure applide to cocnertos and so foth is very helpful in keeping control of both the big picture and the details.

Cheers,

Buri

March 23, 2008 at 11:05 PM · Just realised I can't do links. Here's the proper one, if anyone's interested. A good read.

Andreas Burzik, Practising in Flow

March 24, 2008 at 01:17 AM · After years of successful deciphering, Buri, you've lost me.

What is "suppsoe" in the context of your message above.

March 24, 2008 at 01:38 AM · Methinks Buri needs to prune a word or two from his post. :)

March 24, 2008 at 01:41 AM · Greetings,

translates as `I suppose` which was supposed to add a flavor of suggestive hypotheticalness.

Cheers,

Buri

March 24, 2008 at 04:15 AM · Thanks so much, everyone! Buri, I really like that practice plan...

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