Pre-practice rituals...

November 27, 2010 at 06:12 PM ·

Open the window?  Seal all the doors?  Yoga? Pour a glass of water/mil/wine/strong stuff?  What do you do just before the practise?

Washing hands has become more than a practical step, I've realized its become something of a ritual - like prior to a religious rite - a series of behaviours that help to get me into the practise mind set.  Then closing the doors, putting out the practice note-book (to log my efforts) and, of course, the pile of scales/studies/music that will be todays musical meal...

Replies (40)

November 27, 2010 at 06:53 PM ·

 This is a good topic! 

Well if I'm at home...

I wash my hands, close my curtains and put my light on, get changed into my comfy top, take my watch off and tie my hair back! 

If I'm anywhere else then I'll make do with what I've got. Personally I'm comfortable with almost anything outside of my own home, but at home, things have to go my way ;) 

I'd like to know more about other peoples 'things'! As I said, this is a great topic!

November 27, 2010 at 07:02 PM ·

 oh yes, washing hands! one must not touch the 'sacred violin' with dirty hands :)

then as I don't have a 'music room' I collect my things in the corner where I practice so: music stand and my music, my practice charts/diary I chart all practice from what and what time and how long, so pencil and rubber and metronome and stop watch are things I gather :)  Also my recording equipment with which I either video or audio record bits of my practice (but I don't do this at every practice session, maybe every other session).

If I'm not home I do as much of the above as I can depending on where I am :) so if I am in my office at work I will not have a music stand so I rest the music on a high cupboard against a wall, I wil not have the recording equipment, but I'll still wash my hands and will still have the practice charts/diary with me (usually I know when I will be practicing away from home)....

November 27, 2010 at 07:08 PM ·

 My bedroom doubles up as my music room :) The house is too small to have a music room otherwise I'd just use my brother's room or something :P 

I have my music stand by the radiator so I can keep warm, and it is also next to my desk which I keep my music pencil case and metronome on. I switch my phone onto silent but keep it there because that also has a back-up metronome and tuning device on it. 

I keep my keyboard at one side of my room, my guitar, mandolin and violin all have their own stands at one side of my bed right away from the radiator and nearest the window. Under my bed I keep all my big boxes of music and I also keep a lot of music on top of my wardrobe. Oh another thing is AFTER playing, I use a microfibre cloth to get rid of any rosin, or if there is no rosin really, just to give it a good dust down and keep its shine! 

November 27, 2010 at 07:10 PM ·

For me its a couple of double gins or whiskey ...

November 27, 2010 at 07:14 PM ·

You girls are all so clean!! I just do it whatever - not always so good after a jam sandwich as that jam gets everywhere! (A bit like the sand on the beach but I'd better not explain that one ...)

I remember at the end of a violin lesson with a famous teacher in London. In comes one of his star pupils (well not so star really) and I've just been watching him outside the window messing with the engine of his car. When he comes in and shakes hands I get all that oil too, which probably improves the piece I'm playing.

November 27, 2010 at 07:46 PM ·

 Lol Peter! Us girls like to have it our own way I think! I like to feel happy and comfortable playing in my own space. But I'm not fussy at all when I practice somewhere else really... unless my clothes are really stiff and horrible to wear which is never usually the case! 

I recently invested in a folder and exercise book (well, invested is a lie - I pinched them from school!) and I've started writing down when I practice and for how long. I'm intrigued to know how much on practice (on average) I put in in a week!

November 27, 2010 at 07:47 PM ·

 Ah, the good old days when car drivers could actually mess around with their engines and get something useful out of it. (mourns his old Mini from way back when).

November 27, 2010 at 07:56 PM ·

Trevor:  I have a mini from newback then and I adore it - just the right size to carry a violin around :D

I'm thinking of getting vanity plates


now would that be cool?

And now back to our regularly scheduled topic :)

[PS and no Peter, you can NOT try out Gravitas - not unless I get to inspect your hands first...]

November 27, 2010 at 08:06 PM ·

I count the strings. It's always good to start off with four!

November 27, 2010 at 08:07 PM ·


You can inspect anything you like, but you won't find any sand at this time of year. (In another couple of weeks maybe when I WILL be on a beach ...)

What is Gravitas?

I notice on youtube that Milstein's fiddle always looks rather grubby!!

Regarding the car engine thing, I had a past wife who complained bitterly when I brought in part of an engine to clean up in the kitchen. Why are some wives so difficult?

November 27, 2010 at 08:09 PM ·


"I count the strings. It's always good to start off with four!"

I didn't know that. No wonder those pieces were so hard ...


November 27, 2010 at 08:10 PM ·

 Gravitas is the name of her violin is it not? 

I want a little car that has just one seat for me and a storage bit for just a single violin! That would be cool! (Goes off to draw blueprint of the latest violin invention!)

November 27, 2010 at 08:28 PM ·

Take a 20-minute walk to get the blood pumping.  In winter or during poor weather, I'll walk indoors, listening to selections on YouTube, preferably pieces in sharp keys -- E, A, D, G.

Wash hands.  In summer, I do this to clear excess perspiration.  In winter, I do it to warm the hands and get quick traction till I can generate more natural heat with finger exercises.

November 27, 2010 at 08:53 PM ·

When traveling with y violin in tow I put it in a dog crate.  Safest place in my minivan.

When practicing, first I turn on the space heater in my bedroom so it will be a little warmer.  I turn on all of the lights in the room because it's pretty dim in there and I normally practice at night.  I do the prerequisite washing of hands.  Must be a female thing.  That's about it.  Now that it's winter I discovered that one of my favorite sweaters to wear in the evening won't work if I am going to practice.  I has a zipper up the collar and the collar then folds.  The fold makes the sweater too bulky on the shoulder and I am afraid the zipper will scratch my violin.  Guess I wont be wearing that sweater much anymore.

November 27, 2010 at 09:06 PM ·

 Nothing female about washing your hands before playing a musical instrument.  It was hammered into me by a series of teachers from when I was five, starting with a dragon of piano teacher whose name I have mercifully forgotten, and reinforced regularly by my parents whenever I went anywhere near the family Bechstein. 

November 27, 2010 at 09:21 PM ·

Washing hands is not just a habbit...  I always put rosin before practicing and if you touch your instrument with rosined hands... you'll get what goes with it in a few months... a sticky violin and bow + perhaps fingerprints on your varnish.  

It's not just to feel good or whatever.  It's for the instrument as well. 


By reading your posts, I would ask myself this: do men have dirtier and stickier violins from lack of hand washing?  ; ) 

November 27, 2010 at 11:00 PM ·

 Well I never used to wash my hands when I was younger... in fact, I've only been washing my hands for just over a year. Well, I was never told was I, so you can't blame me! It used to be often that I'd have to clean that good old finger jam off the strings but now it is extremely rarely. I like keeping my violin in good condition because it is my absolute pride and joy. I show it to everyone! If I ever knock it, bash it or manage to do something else to it then the world will stop around me whilst I inspect the whole violin to make sure it is okay! I think I'm slightly obsessive reading everything I do... I've never analysed the way I do things before! 

I'm also beginning to think maybe the violin is an addiction and once you're properly hooked... well... you know? Hahah. 

November 27, 2010 at 11:37 PM ·

Anne Marie: By reading your posts, I would ask myself this: do men have dirtier and stickier violins from lack of hand washing?  ; ) 

From reading above, neither sticky or dirty - just covered in clean engine grease...

I think the hand washing really is only part violin cleanliness and part true ritual.  The instrument is both a treasure and something almost of worship.  Perhaps women are more sensitive to such... I don't know.

OTOH perhaps they sound better with a coat of 10W40, or at least the fingerboard is much faster...

November 27, 2010 at 11:40 PM ·

 Shifting would be a bit easier maybe with some oil too... :P 

November 27, 2010 at 11:55 PM ·

Stretch, stretch, stretch...

Then I would survey the scene whether it's ok to play the violin in the house. I live with my parents and siblings in a rather small house. Imagine their gnashing teeth when I warm up on the violin and play Sevcik (yes, it's a droning dullness). LOL.



November 28, 2010 at 12:36 AM ·

Elise and Eloise, you surely found the old master's secret for their glissandos.  Not for nothing that, at that same era, grease gel in the hair was in style. 

Easy in the morning, a little bit in the hair, a little bit on the violin!  : ) Ready to perform in 30 sec!

November 28, 2010 at 03:01 AM ·

 I heat up the skillet!

November 28, 2010 at 05:19 AM ·

I scrub my hands wheather I've been working in the garden or not and with a clean finger board one can do without the oil to produce those glissening glissandos.

Then I touch her and feel her smoothness. I admire her curves and imagine the wonderful sounds produced by those silver strings stretched along the black ebony.

I have entered the zone where all distracting thoughts are banished.

November 28, 2010 at 07:55 AM ·

Ann-Marie: on the lotion topic there's a link to an old v'com topic where they mention running your hands through your hair to grease them.  I had not thought that they might have been referring to pomade though...

November 28, 2010 at 12:01 PM ·

There's one more I just thought of.  Its 'the breath'.  Before starting playing I always take a breath - its sort of a determination step.....

November 28, 2010 at 01:54 PM ·

 Oh yes, I also find 'the breath' very important!

November 28, 2010 at 07:13 PM ·

I eat something LIGHT, noodle around on the piano a bit to get the juices flowing, and listen to or even just think of some inspiring music.  This is for weeknight practicing only -- on the weekends, I usually leave the case open all day and practice in chunks all day long.  That's wonderful, since I sense detectable improvements when I do that.

I'm curious though, as to what "good luck charms" or whatever else (photos or whatnot) other people have in their cases.

November 28, 2010 at 10:18 PM ·

 "I'm curious though, as to what "good luck charms" or whatever else (photos or whatnot) other people have in their cases."

That's a really good question! Well my case pocket is this: 

Which is 2 rosins (depending on weather!), 2 lucky pens, a pencil with a rubber, a little strawberry scented mirror thingy which I just like, a spare set of (rather cheap) strings, a little 'I love Canada' keyring that my friend gave me and a little violin brooch that I got for my birthday! Usually I have a few sweets or something I carry around too so if I feel a bit peckish whilst I'm playing I'll reach for one of those! :D 

Oh... not forgetting my membership card for the choir I'm in... it gets me cheap concert entries for the RLPO and RLPC!

November 28, 2010 at 10:26 PM ·

I always have to close my door and window, since my room is right next to a small patio which acts as a soundbox for the entire building. It's also lovely when one of your neighbors has a musical comedy studio in his house... I also add up to the list of people who wash their hands before playing, and obsessively clean the rosin off the instrument during every small practice break, which makes me feel a little like the movie "As Good as it Gets".
Lately, I also began to take a few minutes to relax and lengthen my spine and neck in front of the mirror, since I'm pretty tall and it's very easy for me to unwillingly "pull down" while playing. I also find that practicing the Alexander technique's "Monkey" position is a wonderful way for me to prevent myself from falling into that habit - it helps to stretch my legs, relax the knees and keep a relaxed posture overall. If I'm lucky.

And during my morning practice sessions (on weekdays), I always keep a mate handy, which is an excellent remedy for all the symptoms associated to mate abstinence. Think of it as a herbal coffee that never cools down =)

November 29, 2010 at 03:19 AM ·

Eloise, good idea!  In my violin case, I have many things but those who are purely "for luck" are the following:

- a sticker written " I'm a star " given to me by my first accompagnist (later became my theory and ear training teacher).   She gave this to me because I lacked so much confidence back then beeing a late starter...  She though I could do something good and wanted me to beleive it too.  Though, this wonderful musician has changed schools, I still look often at the sticker and think about what she meant and how she taught me to think about myself and my playing.  People move on but what they taught us remains for ever!

- a folded curchief that belonged to our first family dog (wonderful lab that we had for 14 years).  She (the dog...) has always been there for us and vice-versa.  I so often cried on her dog "shoulder" while having difficult violin or school periods and she used to lick my tears and comfort me.  She truely undertood more than anyone. This curchief allows me to not forget her and to know that she's "with" me.every time I play.

- A little Beethoven pin.  I put it in my case because Beethoven is about the most willing person one can find.  I admire very much the composer and that pin reminds me of the strengh and power of will even in difficult situations (his life was really not an easy one...). I can almost hear him tell " practice!   practice!  " : )

That's for luck but I also have motivational items in the practice room.  Mainly some pictures of my various violin idols.  It decorates and is almost "spiritual" in addition.  I often call it my "church" to joke when people ask what are all these pictures.  (since great performers are music gods no ; )  

Fun topic...



November 29, 2010 at 10:48 AM ·

I open my case to let my instrument 'breath' for about 10 minutes, otherwise warming up can be harder than necessary. While this is happening I tend to go to the bathroom and get a cup of coffee (or sometimes tea). I need a hot drink to warm up my hands, it's just become habit. Then I double-bow across all the strings for a minute or two.

I used to keep photos and postcards of places I'd been and a couple of ticketstubs or underground tickets, but they got seriously waterdamaged. Now the only non-music items are things left in there from when I travel (anything from cables to underwear!) that I haven't bothered to take out yet.

November 29, 2010 at 11:03 AM ·

I close the door first.

Check my hands and finger nails. I have dog so sometimes I'm more dirty than people who don't own a dog.

Tell my dog to be a good boy. When I first introduced my violin to him, he though it's just another big bone or chewy thing so he randomly gave it a try or had a sneaky taste of the scroll. After few months, everytime I play now he goes to sleeping mode.

Put some rosin on the bow. Grab my violin then practice. Most of the time my violin is on a Stringswing hanger to encourage me practise :)

November 29, 2010 at 11:18 AM ·

I am very fortunate to have a studio to practice in - I'll try to post a pic later - Gravitas sits on a stand opposite the doors so if I want to it can litterally take seconds to start playing.  Thats so important for the lightning practise - when you think of some little sequnece you just HAVE to do.  Then the rituals get truncated (except the hand washing of course) and you just do the few notes.

And an hour later ... :D

November 29, 2010 at 05:24 PM ·

I always tend to start by singing. Whatever I'm playing, whether it be a solo piece, quartet piece or study I always choose a small passage and sing in order to get closer to the natural phrasing of a piece. Before the violin comes out of the case, I'll often do some accurate miming with the left hand fingers and sing the notes at the same time, so that when I pick the instrument up, the music is already there.

I find it helps to think of it as playing rather than practice.


November 29, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

Vaughan: what a wonderful idea - and image too.  I think we need a separate topic on the singing thing.... let me think....

November 29, 2010 at 10:48 PM ·

I want to hear more about what people put in their violin cases!

Shall I start a new topic as to not side-track this one?  

November 29, 2010 at 11:49 PM ·

Side tracking is not a problem - this is a feel god type topic anyway.  However, it would be an interesting topic on its own...

December 1, 2010 at 12:22 AM ·

I will often go brush my teeth.  No, I'm not OCD, but as I learned wind instruments before strings, it's an old habit that just won't die.

December 1, 2010 at 01:24 AM ·

Lisa LOL!

Do you find yourself blowing into the F hole too :)

And do organists also wash their feet? ...

December 1, 2010 at 01:58 AM ·

...let girl dog in (she must listen) and say "boy dogs out!" (they howl!).  Shut door and proceed...

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