Don't want to quit, not enough time to practice

September 15, 2008 at 06:44 PM · I'm an adult student who doesn't want to quit, but (it seems) doesn't have enough time to put into the instrument. I've played for about 15 yrs, and am quite proficient. But, I don't have as much time as I would like to do scales, bowing and other exercises, and practice pieces every day.

Formerly, I would spend at least 45 min on Flesch, another 30 min on bowing exercises, 30 min on an etude, and at least 1hr 15 min on pieces. Often, I'd spend more time on some or all, and practice close to 4 hrs a day.

These days, there are too many other things I want and have to do. I love to bike, see the sights here in Chicago, and do things with my girlfriend.

The real problem is that if I can't get better at something, I don't want to do it. I have been improving on the violin, but it seems that is from sheer volume and effort.

These days, I could probably manage 1 to 1.5 hrs a day, but it doesn't really seem worth it. I could spend all that time maintaining and improving technique, but not play any music, or go to the other extreme. That amount of time doesn't seem like enough for me to improve, so that I can progressively play the pieces I want to.

The question is this: If I could average only 1 hour per day, how should I (generally) spend it? I want to push my technique, and be able to work on a piece. Would it be worthwhile to alternate days of technique and music?

Replies (29)

September 15, 2008 at 07:03 PM · Welcome to my world.

I am all excited if I can put in 1hr a day practice. I have learned to set expectations in relationship with the effort I can put in. But it's easier since I went from nothing to 1hr/day, so anything I gained was gravy. Having to drop one's expectations is probably quite frustrating.

I tend to do something like 1/3 technique, 2/3 working on pieces once, and the opposite the next time - so not fully alternating between technique and "playing music", but somewhere in that direction.

I also give myself 5-10 mins of sillyness at then end - play something I have not played in ages, or do some québécois fiddling, or improvise, or whatever tickles my fancy.

September 15, 2008 at 07:53 PM · "Would it be worthwhile to alternate days of technique and music?"

Technique is music and music is technique. All the pieces you play involve technique so just practice it in that context. After 15 yrs of playing you could get away with putting down the etudes for a bit... until you miss them. Practice what feels good and let it lead you rather than regimenting it. Don't worry about it unless you have an audition coming up. I wish I had the luxury of playing just for myself and not for anyone else. Enjoy it.

September 15, 2008 at 09:18 PM · I think if there isn't some practical use for it, it eventually gets a low priority.

September 15, 2008 at 09:31 PM · You might profit from joining a community orch or a chamber group. It is not clear if you have a teacher; if not, you should get one. A teacher can advise how to best use your time.

September 15, 2008 at 09:34 PM · OK, here's a method I got published about 30 years ago in a music journal (The Instrumentalist). It got me through graduate school (in psychology) and beyond, and I've used it for violin practice (as an amateur) during periods of limited time and energy for daily practice. Please check it out.

click on the music practice link.

Hope that helps.

Cheers, Sandy

September 15, 2008 at 09:44 PM · My own approach that I followed to gain some improvement during my late 30s and early 40s was to go through a 30 minute routine of scales, etudes, and caprices as a daily warmup. At the time, I needed those 30 minutes to get through pain that I felt when playing the routine and loosen my left hand up enough to move ahead. I had been playing virtually daily for the previous 33 years (with one year off when I was 12), but I had gotten to the point that without that routine I merely remained at a plateau without improving. With the routine, progress was slow, but sure.

I felt I required this to get me to the point at which I could start to work on the "music" on which I wanted to improve my performance ability.

I think it is an individually personal thing as to how much it takes. At the time I also had weekly string quartet and orchestra (as CM) practice. But the practice routine was for me to work on "more challenging" music.

That was all almost 35 years ago, now, and there is no way I can follow that same warmup routine. All I can hope to do is slow the regression of my abilities by daily playing of familiar works and working on new orchestral or chamber works.


September 15, 2008 at 09:06 PM · Hi Adam,

To answer your question on how to spend your time if you want to get better.

You have to spend your time working on the areas that need improvement. I know that sounds trite, but if your time is limited, the only way to get better is to spend time on areas that can be improved in your limited time. You're an adult, and it's pretty clear from your post that you have some very good ideas on what's involved in improving your playing. I don't think there's any secrets here and from your description, I think your methods of getting better are excellent.

Now here's the big caveat (lol), and I think it's something you already know. The better you get at playing the violin, the more time you have to spend to get better.

Not only that, the better you are, the more time it takes to maintain your level. Now maintaining a level takes less time than improving, but your interest is in improving. So really, my response applies whether you are practicing 10 minutes or 10 hours a day.

Time is ALWAYS limited, and for the best results you always need to try and optimize what you are doing, and your current program sounds like an excellent way to become a excellent violinist.

Let me give you two extreme examples. If you take a person who has never played the violin, they can make improvement on 5 minutes a day - for awhile - then it's gonna take more time to get better.

If you take someone that is at the top of the profession and has 40 solo engagements a year with major symphony orchestras. You have to spend a significant amount of time maintaining your repertoire as well as your keeping your hands in shape.

If you fall somewhere between these two extremes, you have the same problem that almost everyone has when it comes to playing the violin :) You can get better if you practice, but the better you get the more you need to practice.

When it comes to physical skills/conditioning, this seems to be the way things work in almost all walks of life. If you are a couch potato (like me) then going out and running for 30 minutes a day will really help your conditioning. If you're an Olympic track star (not me), it takes you 30 minutes to warm up. Only you know how much time you need to accomplish your goals.

Now here's the worthless free advice part :)

If you love playing the violin, keep playing. I am not saying you have to practice 4 hours a day. Do whatever you can and ENJOY your time playing the violin; ALSO ride your bike, see the sights in Chicago, and do things with your girlfriend.

IMO, it's better to like your life and suck at the violin than to like your violin and suck at life, ya know what I mean ?

Life is about making the most of time you have.

Best Wishes


PS 45 min a day on Flesch - You DA MAN !!! :)

September 15, 2008 at 10:26 PM · Greetings,

anyone can improve consistently and dramatically on one hour a day of practice. If there is no improvement the problem is one of approach rather than time. The belief that one hour is not enough to achive real results is a microcosm of the classical violnists obseesing over more is better- all those bright things wandering arouund at college either boasting because they are now doing seven hours a day or feeling guilty because they only do three.

The distribution of time is really straightforward. Fifty /fifty tehcnicla work and music.

One importnat facotr at your level is variety. Find a really tough and focused routine and work at it for a month or six weeks and then reevaluate or try somethign different.

Right now I am restricted to 30-45 minutes a day for various reasons. I am working through a really hard core book that relies on spped and variiation to keep the mind focused. You can`t do it if you are not paying attention and vizualizing and it is these factors thatc ause improvement, so yes I find I amn improving a lot.

A simple cocktail that might work for you is 15 min sclaes in thirds, mainly on two strings using 1313113 pattern then 2424242 etc then 13241324. plusany kind of exercises that involves very large shifts in patterns. There is an excellent on in Drew Lecher`s book.

The other half of your tehcnicla time might be spend on sevcik opus 2 book four bowing technique. Combines small and complex string crossings with long sweeping bows that cross strings. Anyone can work on polsihing this area of tehcnique their whole life.

The ther thirty minutes Work on a Bach fugue. Always leave time at the end to perform either the fugue in question or a couple of shorter movements of Bach.



September 16, 2008 at 01:45 AM · I hope you will give some thought to playing for enjoyment,relaxation, personal expression, etc. This isn't like getting into a sport where your main or only motivation is to beat your best time. There are other kinds of improvement, too, like learning to make a contribution in an orchestra or a string quartet, or exploring the music of a different century or composer than you have worked on so far. Sue

September 16, 2008 at 02:35 AM · After fifteen years, you should be quite good at playing violin, right? If your not, than your most certianly doing something wrong!

Every piece you work on is going to help you develop. There's concertos you can choose that have things you need work on. Like bowing technique, double stops etc...

If you dont like this approach, than simply cut time on things! If you have an hour everyday- 10 minutes for scales, 5 for the etudes, and 10 for technique, and use the rest to play what you want....

Or you can alternate things. Like in school, I have 8 periods, 4 on A day, 4 on B day... Use this as an example... Mon, wed, friday can be all "hard work"... Do scales, etudes, bowing technique these days, and tuesday and thursday for playing plain music, whatever you want!

Bad ideas, good ideas?

September 16, 2008 at 03:02 AM · Why are you playing?

That's the question you have to face, and answer. The answer will determine your future course of action.

I could go on, parsing the situation for pages, but it would be pointless. You're the only one who can resolve this problem. You have the rest of your life to do it. Begin now.

September 16, 2008 at 04:48 AM · I typically only have 1 - maybe two hours a night to play. My two hour sessions are orchestra and chamber groups. On my one-hour nights I split 1/3 & 2/3 alternately on technical and repetoir. Technical ALWAYS includes a scale - one key signature a week - no more. Then I mix it up with etudes, bowing studies, shifting studies, finger exercises, vibrato etc. on different days (none of this is planned in advance btw.)

What I practice on repetoir varies as well depending on how challenging the orchestra and chamber works are. If they aren't too challenging, I use those for the technical studies when I can, and spend my "repetoire time" on something else. Right now that is a Brahms Sonata. Some orchestral repetoire is great for etudes and technical work (esp. for a violist - think Die Moldau for a finger exercise in 1st & 2nd positions).

If you love violin, you will find a way make the most of the little time you have to enjoy it and work on it.

September 16, 2008 at 07:03 AM · Thanks, all, for the encouragement!

Here's what I do: scales (choose three from 3 octaves, broken chords, always thirds, sixths, octaves, fingered octaves (when I feel audacious), tenths (ditto)), one or two of Sevcik op.3; an etude, Kreutzer at present, and Bach. On paper, it's similar to what Buri does; I hope it's similar in reality, too.

Being a left-handed person, I feel bowing always needs more attention: suggestions, anyone?

September 16, 2008 at 08:18 AM · Bart,

What aspects of bowing?

September 16, 2008 at 12:24 PM · Well there you go, Bach is repertoire all in it's self, has eveerything you need!

September 16, 2008 at 05:18 PM · Albert, I almost wrote your physical exercise comparison - that's exactly what I had in mind. The same solution applies to both: less time does not necessarily mean less results, optimization can help a lot, but there is a limit. You can't ride a 40km bike time trial in an hour on an hour of training a day, but you can optimize the gains of an hour of training a day.

September 16, 2008 at 01:29 PM · Megan, thanks for asking the one million dollar question.

Trying to answer it is fruitful in itself. Here goes.

My bowing does not conform to my ideas of what it should be. The fault may be in the bowing, or it may be in the ideas.

Idea first: by paying close attention to the quality of contact between string and bow it should be possible to produce a beautiful sound.

Practice: I can do that on open strings, and on a slow scale or a simple melody, but when the left hand stuff becomes more difficult, my bowing arm acts as a tension magnet. Before I know it, surviving takes over from singing, and you can hear the difference ;)

I believe the main problem is dividing attention between both hands.

Writing this down helps me think of at least one thing to do: actually play the bowings in the Carl Flesch scale book. But please tell me your ideas.


September 16, 2008 at 06:58 PM · I agree with Sue. I understand not wanting to do something when you perceive you're not good at it (something I tend to do too much) but at the same time...does it matter? What if it's just for fun? If we enjoy something, don't we improve or get more out of it anyways?

If you're doing it on the side of a busy life, is it so bad to have a more moderate or gradual rate of improvement?

Sandy, I liked your article. I'll keep it in mind while I'm in grad school :)

September 16, 2008 at 11:17 PM · Jessie: thanks. I just stumbled on the idea, and it saved my life on more than one occasion. Whether it's ideal for becoming a professional?......well....

But I found it got me through a lot of rough times.


PS. I still like the famous Sarasate quote: "For 37 years I've practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius."

September 16, 2008 at 11:45 PM · Greetings,

>Now here's the big caveat (lol), and I think it's something you already know. The better you get at playing the violin, the more time you have to spend to get better.

Albert, I think I understand where you are coming from with this, but I must beg to differ.

I agree that when one can do almost nothing 100 percent improvement is easy and this is a siytuation of diminsihing returns from a mathematicla perspective. However, I think higher level players are that because they can go beyond a certain point where change is not so clear to a relatvely untrianed ear. Thus they may have a higher ideal ina microspoe instance that they wish to relaize .Furtehrmore, the improvMany are constantly weorking t improve but the improvement is not necessraily on a purely technical level. Tetzlaff said he learnt the Scoenberg(?) cocnerot in about 6 six hours and I think it is a safe bet to say his playign had improved exponentionally as a reuslt. An artist may seek to increas etheir depth by playing more diverse repertoire and then go back to Mozart with ears that have been opened to new possibilities. That is not somehting that is measured in hours pracitced per day.

Indeed, Ilya pointed out the other day that a sfar as he wa saware his colleagues avereged about an hour and a half a day.

One reason lesser players actually seme to stand still or even get worse, is simply that their practice is less than optimal, their goals not clear and their concentration poor. One interesitng example of this I have found is the fetishization of doing an hours practic eat a time. Most literature outside the field of music suggest that cocnentration is rarely sustainable at this length of time which is why Auer advcated forty minute smaximum. I think if someone did some serious research onpeoples practic ethey would find the last ten minutes to be subtantially weaker and error strewn than the beginning. this then becomes the carry over into the next session.

Looking though Mr Haslops blogs secvonds later I stumble across the follwoing which sums it up for me...

>Now where actually practicing the violin is concerned I have this to offer. It’s not so much how you play as with what understanding to you play. I, myself, play about an hour a day now. Yet there is more Perception in that one hour than there were five of 30 years ago.



September 17, 2008 at 06:31 AM · Buri,

Excellent point. I remember so many times I would stay in the music building until 1:30am practicing...or because I was an ed major, it was hard not to practice in long chunks.

By the end of 1-2 hours of practice, my eyes were bugging out, and it was REALLY hard to practice. I never felt great from those. What felt great was when I could break it up.

I tried to stress that to students when I was teaching last year...I really hope some of them took it to heart! DON'T DO IT!!! Plus, you're more prone to injury when you practice in longer periods, rather than chewable sizes.

Sandy...yeah, I'm doing TONS of reading and writing...minimal playing. There'll be good or bad days in terms of how my violin feels, but it's definitely encouraging!

September 17, 2008 at 11:31 PM · Greetings,


>Practice: I can do that on open strings, and on a slow scale or a simple melody, but when the left hand stuff becomes more difficult, my bowing arm acts as a tension magnet. Before I know it, surviving takes over from singing, and you can hear the difference ;)I believe the main problem is dividing attention between both hands.

I think this last point is actually much of your problem. I am not sure how much time you spend on open strings up to tempo but that pays huge dividends. Not only as written but 3ork on many differnet rythms and bowing patterns. Help the right arm to become automatic.

You may find this helpful to take this a step further by working on a thre estep procedure that promotes independence of the hands.

Suppoe the passgae is an akward one in 16th notes on the e and a string..

1) Play 16th notes on the g string (open) at approximately the right tempo until your right hand feels loose and relaxed.

2) Play 16th notes in tempo on the g string while imagining the melody on the e and a string.

3) Ditto, but add the left hand.

An alternative version is to play the melody transpoded down two strings and bow on the e stirng.

This technique can be applied to any kind of passgae, slow or fast, with any combination of bowing or articulation.



September 18, 2008 at 03:54 AM · Years ago I had a teacher who had 7 children! She used to practice from 10pm-midnight. Any amount of time is better than none. For motivation, go to a lesson, go busking, play in church, at a hospital etc.

September 18, 2008 at 04:21 AM · Greetings,

sorry, was she practicing making children or the violin,



September 18, 2008 at 09:48 AM · Thank you to all for your helpful responses. It is easy to fall into the "more is better" philosophy. I guess I just need to make my time with the instrument quality time, so to speak.

September 19, 2008 at 06:29 PM · Buri,

I'd never have thought of that exercise myself. Trying it, I come across several blocks:

- my bow wants to be on the same string as the fingering

- i'm frustrated at not being able to check if the left hand is in tune..


Fascinating stuff. Thank you.


September 19, 2008 at 10:56 PM · you@re welcome.

December 8, 2008 at 04:00 AM ·



What you've written there is giving me hope. You mean I can still improve considerably without the torment of 4-5 hours a day?:DI would like that. But does  that work  if you're thinking of a solo career ? And , speaking of maximizing the efficiency of the time used , would it be ok to just replace scales sometimes with some Sevcick and Schradieck work? I am starting to hate Flesch. >:( . I know those scales are complex and really useful , but it just takes me so much time to finish the 4 pages (?) of a Flesch scale , when I can hardly wait to play something nice.Playing scales for me is a tiring , long , and boring experience , and thinking that I have to repeat this experience again ....and again... and again....Isn't there a way of mainting and improving technique , that is not so long and know...:)


And if there are any tips of how to have the same efficiency with less time of practice, please , that would be helpfull.



December 8, 2008 at 06:17 AM ·


>What you've written there is giving me hope.
That’s good. A life without hope is tragic.;)
I`ve responded to you in a blog since I am being prolix today.

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