Motivation to Keep Practising

May 20, 2013 at 04:24 PM · I am 56 years old and have been learning to play the violin for about 18 months now. I have lessons once a week and try to practise for an hour most days. I'm past the really bad screechy stage (for most of the time) but still have my white stripes on the bridge to help me hit the correct notes. Don't know if this is a good thing or not? Some days I'm very motivated and other days I have to cajole myself to practise. Trying to get the vibrato with very limited success. Have watched videos of how to do it but struggling to copy this. I feel that at 18 months in that I should be able to do this! Frustrating!Also trying to get the 4th finger involved - another bug-bear at the moment! Any helpful similar experiences out there??

Replies (31)

May 20, 2013 at 08:34 PM · I'm just six months into it myself but what has worked best for me for daily practice is I set up a printed chart of what I am practicing. I have it set up in columns to check things off when I practice.

Examples would be upper body stretching, bowing warm up, D Major Scale, D Major Arpeggio, song 1, song 2 ,and so fourth. Then each item gets a check mark, or time spent like 5 mins, or recently I mark 5X meaning I played it through five times. At the end of the week, you have a page filled with accomplishment!

Vibrato? I'm steering clear of that for now, too much other stuff to concentrate on. I do struggle with the fourth finger, one suggestion is to use a hand exerciser to condition your fingers. Amazon has them, look for the ones that allow individual finger exercise. I've been using one for about a month and it really helps.

If this would be any motivation, I just took my marker tapes off of the fingerboard this past weekend and it is challenging but necessary. Keep at it!

May 20, 2013 at 09:41 PM · In my opinion, you better train your ears first for a good fingers setting for a good pitch so you don't need those stickers (on the fingerboard you meant, not on the bridge) and then if you don't use any stickers (meaning you know hitting the right spot where the notes are without the help of stickers) then the next step is vibrato. In my opinion, vibrato is not necessary for now.

For the fourth finger, maybe this warm up video may help your fingers flexibility:

youtube video

May 21, 2013 at 12:47 AM · I agree with Vanessa, regarding the fingerboard tape and vibrato. I've been on the violin for almost 8 years now (and I'm 50), and I didn't even start any vibrato exercises until year four. This was my teacher's preference, not mine, but now I'm very glad I had such a solid foundation with intonation and learning all the key signatures first. But I remember being where you're at, restless at 18 months to get some vibrato into the equation. To me, that seemed to define "really" playing the violin. Although I devote 25% of my time to fiddle pieces, which is vibrato-less.

It's a process that can feel a little to slow for adult beginners, who are used to working hard, making things happen, multi-tasking and keeping things at a productive pace.

And I hear you on the practice-reluctance thing. That has become my biggest hurdle to learning and growing, of late. I'm just tired of the responsibility, and it IS a responsibility! (And I am procrastinating at this moment by responding to this, when my intention had been to start practicing. Thank you for the interesting distraction!

Get rid of those tapes. I'm surprised your teacher has allowed them for this long. Intonation is a hearing thing, not a vision thing. (Like Vanessa, I'm assuming you meant fingerboard and not bridge.)

Lastly, I can appreciate the 4th finger frustration. I had the same thing and it was so frustrating! Good news is, it WILL get better. Just give it time.

May 21, 2013 at 01:09 AM · I'm an adult beginner as well.

One thing that helps is having a violin stand. They are cheap, and avoid the "I don't feel like unpacking my instrument and bow" part of the procrastination cycle.

Often, with the violin out and in easy reach, I pick it up when I have a few spare minutes in the day (two young kids at home...spare time is hard to come by...) and have at it for a little bit.

Also helps when it is actual "practice time".

And as said above, if your teacher hasn't started you on vibrato yet, you probably shouldn't be trying it out on your own either. Plenty of other fundamentals to lay down first.

May 21, 2013 at 01:09 AM ·

May 21, 2013 at 01:15 AM · As well as a professional performer, I'm a teacher. I've said the following to students, admittedly with varying degrees of success:

I can guarantee very little to you on the violin except this. The better you get, the more fun you'll have with it. And there's only one way to get better.

May 21, 2013 at 04:47 AM · Your teacher and weekly lessons should give you some motivation to practice; probably enough to get by. Sometimes I think that that's the main benefit of having a teacher -- having a deadline.

If it's too much of a chore, then there are possibly two opposite but related issues to address: 1. Play for fun, for the enjoyment of making music. 2. Practice intelligently so that the limitations which make playing not fun are reduced.

For the fourth finger and getting rid of the tapes, the first set of exercises from here are helpful:,_Henry)

May 21, 2013 at 08:05 AM · Hi Marie

I started out at around the same age as you, and am now 4 years in.

First, I would say remember that we took up the fiddle to have fun. We're not ambitious young students preparing for a professional career. So I don't have a bootcamp approach to practice. On the other hand, if we never do anything technical we'll never reach the level where we start to make an enjoyable sound, as Raphael says.

To motivate yourself to pick up the instrument, start your practice with whatever you enjoy most. There's no rule that says you have to start with something dry and technical. I'll usually play a few tunes to get the juices flowing.

I like the Magic Moments approach to the technical side of practice: you restrict each exercise to a short timed period, usually 3 minutes. When you're doing exercises you enjoy, you concentrate like fury because you know you'll have to stop so soon. And it makes it easier to tackle more intimidating exercises, because you know the suffering won't last too long! With this approach it feels that your practice is rattling along and that you're making progress.

But if I've had a tough day and I'm feeling less motivated, I'll often have a more freewheeling approach, just playing the tunes I'm working on and focusing on sorting out the difficult bits. Or working through some old tunes to keep them active. When I start this way, I often find the motivation to do more technical practice later in the session.

So from my experience I would say be kind to yourself, have fun and the result will come.

On the 4th finger thing, I've funked out on really sorting that out till quite recently. Now I just do 2 or 3 one-minute sessions of concentrated exercises each practice - you can't really do any more without injuring yourself. I know my weaknesses, and it's pretty easy to make up exercises to target tham. And guess what - my 4th finger is beginning to work. I think you have to be patient, and look at it as a 1-year project.

On vibrato, my experience is that it's a waste of time to work on it till your left hand is reasonably relaxed. If your hand is tense, a decent vibrato is impossible. Once it's more relaxed, I found that vibrato began to come quite spontaneously.

And do ditch the tapes - I've never understood what they're for, to be honest. Intonation is surely a question of feel and listening. I rarely look at the fingerboard these days, though that's another contentious topic - you'll find some good threads here if you search for them.

May 21, 2013 at 10:49 AM · Hello to everyone who responded to my post and thank you to all for your lovely words of encouragement. Just reading them has given me a renewed outlook. Yeah I meant fingerboard (not bridge). I think your advice about leaving vibrato till I'm more experienced and have better looser control over my left hand, is good advice which I'm going to take. I spoke with my teacher yesterday and she said that the stripes will be coming off soon so that's good - will make me feel more 'grown up' and when I hit the correct notes I'll know it's down to me playing well. Thanks too for the youtube and other websites to look at - will definitely have a look at these. Also, I liked that information about the violin holder/stand - definitely getting one!

Sorry I haven't replied individually but thank you to all for your helpful advice. It's great to know there are other adults out there at various stages of playing and this will give me load of inspiration. ps. I'm going to set out a simple chart for which pieces I play - like that idea for seeing concrete progression.

May 21, 2013 at 12:33 PM · My opinion differs from the rest in that I reckon it's actually possible to start vibrato exercises early. The key is though, you need to be able to separate it from your other practices. For example, when you are working on intonation, playing scales, etc, you need to be able to turn off the vibrato and focus on that. And when you are practicing vibrato, find your notes first then vibrate. Like trills, the muscles will take a while to get use to the action and been able to control it (e.g. slow, fast, wide and narrow). So I always felt it would have been great if I have started doing a few minutes each day. This thought extends to other techniques that rely on motor skills that takes time to develop.

May 21, 2013 at 03:38 PM · J Ray recommended the Schradieck exercises. Be careful as you can overdo it. Try playing just the first few lines or so, divide the bowing so that you can play them at a comfortable tempo for you. Once you develop more strength you can play more of the lines, they will help you develop your agility and the security of your intonation. I found that there were too many fourth-finger-intensive lines in a row, so I played them out of order until my fourth finger developed more stamina.

My recommendation to you, however, is not studies. Instead, I like the practice chart approach. Also, from time to time you should pick a piece that you learned before and work on it for 10-15 minutes to "bring it back." What you will see is that it doesn't just come back but it goes much farther than where you left it. That's a good way to show yourself how much you've improved.

May 21, 2013 at 05:11 PM · Im a young adult [24 y.o.] beginner. I've been playing for about 8 months and just 2 months ago I got a new fiddle! So that right there is a lot of motivation to play and play it in! [although for a couple of days I blasted violin music into her while I was away at work] Im in a similar spot as you. Working on consistent intonation on my 3rd and 4th finger. I try to practice everyday but sometimes I dont have time, but every time I do its serious business.

My practice routine starts off with tuning by checking 5ths. I check my 3rd and 4th finger positions with open strings then do a 2 octave scale with arpeggios. I then start on what im working with my teacher (currently minuet 1&2 so i play those bach to bach [if that joke hurt you im sorry :P]) or two other fun songs I know. Once I notice my intonation is off I check it by either listening for the resonance if its my 1st finger or checking 3rd or 4th with the open strings. Maybe play my 2 octave scale a couple of times, then back to Bach. Once I feel like I have practiced enough (usually an hour) I play my 2 octave scale again with arpeggios then I'm done for the day.

With vibrato, I can do a simple basic finger vibrato and sometimes, rarely though, work on a wrist vibrato. That's only for at home. Once I get my intonation down, that's probably when my teacher will work on it with me.

What gets me motivated is seeing how far I've come since when I started. Despite shaky intonation, I feel like I can finally get a couple of songs to really sing with a (limited) range of dynamics, which is what made me fall in love with the violin. I push myself and motivate myself to get what I play to sing rather than just having it played.

Like others have said its probably been way over due to take those tape lines off. You should have the ear and muscle memory to know where your fingers should be. Your teacher should be able to tell you how to check your intonation by listening for the resonance or checking them against the open strings. It will be a change and your fingerboard may look scary without your tapelines helping you know where to go but after a while you should realize you dont need them anymore.

Good luck and always have good communication with you and your teacher!!!

May 21, 2013 at 09:15 PM · I usually start with some warm up scales and I'm now using the 4th finger on each string to try to encourage that memory muscle as well as strengthen that little finger. As for the white stripes - well, I suppose I've come to rely on them, not because I don't know where to position my fingers or can't hear if I'm off key. I just expected that my teacher would eventually take them off. But I'm beginning to feel like the only kid on the block who still has her stabiliser wheels on the bicycle! Might try taking them off myself and see how I get on - it's not like I don't know how to play after 18 months and most of the time I'm busy reading the music and not looking at the stripes anyway. I'll let you know how I get on 'stripeless' !!

May 21, 2013 at 09:40 PM · Marie:

Over 3 decades ago, I got a one-page article published in a music journal (The Instrumentalist). For me, this was a great accomplishment, since I'm not a professional violinist but an amateur, and am a clinical psychologist by profession. Anyway, the ideas in this article got me through graduate school with my technique (such as it was, and is) intact. But, take a look. It's a different sort of idea about practice, but if your problem is (as I understand it) "getting over the hump," then this might help. Go to:

and click on "music practice tips"

Hope that helps.



May 21, 2013 at 11:26 PM · Marie,

violin is one of the instruments where it generally takes more time to learn quite a lot of things before the pleasure of playing is possible. Itzak Perlman spoke about this in the documentary "The Art of violin". While piano players, guitar players and the others can produce a relatively good sound almost immediately, we have to build a lot of skills to have a decent intonation and sound.

For adult beginner, this gap between the pleasure of listening music and the ability to play well can be quite discouraging.

The real question is: how to bridge this gap sooner than later?

You have to see the results of practising in a form of the ability to play music. You also have to observe some sort of progress over time.

These are not easy tasks and you teacher has the main role in designing a customized schedule for you.

Small steps, recognizable results, relatively short time between the effort and reward.

May 22, 2013 at 04:20 AM · Hi, interesting thread and I wish you the best of luck!

As I saw with myself and others, there is a usual "pattern" in the learning of a difficult descipline (art, sport etc.) I remember professionals talking about this. First years are the worst... after you start picking up the fruits!

Those who succeed the fastest and seem happier (independently of talent) are those who have invested time and efforts massivly in the first years or learning. (often with a very good teacher) After, it is possible to relax a bit and, if smaller progress is made with a lazier practice "schedule", one still maintains plenty the basics to enjoy practicing their discipline at a very acceptable level. Itzhak Perlman told me that for him, violin was like bycicle. He has done so many that he never really forgets it even if he needs to polish the peices he'll play in concert as everyone...

Just my two cents...

Good luck!

May 22, 2013 at 09:35 PM · Hi Sander

Thank you for your reply. I tried looking at the website you mentioned but it wasn't recognised!

May 22, 2013 at 09:39 PM · All the messages of support have been really helpful and I will be putting a lot of it into my practise. Sorry it's a bit of a one-way street but you guys have loads more experience than me :)

May 23, 2013 at 01:03 PM · Hey, Marie:

Sorry about that. Google my name (Sander Marcus - or Sander Marcus IIT), and you'll find the page. If you still have a problem getting it, let me know.



May 23, 2013 at 04:22 PM · Hi Marie,

I just took my tapes off. I had to relearn how to play a bit, but I think my intonation is at least as bad as it was before I took the tapes off. But I'm relying on my ear more. My advice is to really train yourself to listen for the resonance on fingered A, E, D, and G. Its not quite as pronounced if you are playing a note where the sympathetic string is higher than the string you are on, but on the higher strings, its really pronounced. Are you doing Suzuki? There is a exercise in book 2 or 3 where they have you do that. For me it really helps orientate my ear on the fingerboard. And the rush I get when I can confirm that I hit a note right is enough to keep me practicing. Also, the fourth finger will come, I think its a bit of developing the muscle so it will stretch. Simon Fisher's scale book is good for that. And, I second what others said about vibrato. When I tried to integrate it into pieces, I would blow the intonation and the rhythm because well, my wee mind can only handle some many tasks at once. If you try and do them while doing scales (and do your scales to a beat) it will be easier to integrate when you want to put them into pieces. As for practice, listening to music always makes me want to practice. Even though I know I won't ever be at the level of the people I'm listening too, whenever I hear someone else playing the violin, it makes me want to play mine. Do you have your own violin? Having a violin you are in love with helps too. Good luck! and don't worry. Every time I start a new piece I think, how am I going to do this? And then I manage to get it and move on to the next one. There are just no shortcuts with the violin.

May 23, 2013 at 06:10 PM · Hi Rachel

Really enjoyed reading your comments. How long have you been playing? I haven't used the Susuki method but my teacher has mentioned it to me so think I'll get the book. I bought my violin 18 months ago, pretty inexpensive but have replaced the strings, also bought a new bow. Didn't want to put too much money out on it till I saw how I got on. I think it's pretty unanimous now - I'll get rid of the stripes ( I almost said 'strings then - a Freudian slip!) lol I liked your honesty about how you sound without your stripes and I'm sure I'm going to be the same :) Yeah, I think apart from messing around with the vibrato, I'll not focus too much on this at the moment. I love my wee violin and I too get inspired when I listen to music, especially when I hear that pure sweet sound of the violin that makes you want to cry. Sometimes when I play it makes me want to cry too! (for a very different reason :) ) What sort of music do you like to play?

May 23, 2013 at 06:14 PM · Thanks Sander

Will google you! x

May 23, 2013 at 06:29 PM · Hi Sander

Me again! I managed to find your page and loved what you said in your article. You really summed up a lot of the feelings I have when I've been a bit lazy about practising. It can be a vicious circle when you feel you've let the routine slip, knowing that's a waste of valuable playing time and yet the thought of the work involved doesn't always appeal either. Short and sweet sounds like a more productive way of using the time well and for me it should produce more consistency with practising. More than an hour begins to get tiresome and I lose concentration. Thanks for the advice, much appreciated.

May 24, 2013 at 03:20 AM · I'm 50 years old and have been playing for 9 months. Tapes in the fingerboard are a bit like training wheels on a bike - you get rid of then when you're comfortable and ready. Muscle memory is important here and I'm working toward this myself.

As for frustration, don't be too hard on yourself! You might consider a minimum practice time, like a half hour and work up to an hour.

Just relax and have fun!

May 24, 2013 at 11:34 AM · Thanks John

That makes a lot of sense - I'll talk to my teacher about taking the stripes off. Just about to start my practise now and get off this forum - too much talking and not enough playing :)

What sort of stuff do you play John ??

May 24, 2013 at 02:06 PM · for me there's no greater motivator than my next musical get-together, whether it's orchestra or chamber music. Why did you take up the violin in the first place? For many late-starters it has something to do with making music with others and that doesn't have to be a far-away goal... the earlier you can start, the better. There's group music for all levels available so if you could find other beginners looking to play, either friends or through teachers, you could start in on the fun.

May 24, 2013 at 10:01 PM · Christina

Why does anyone take up an instrument!!

Because I love music

Because I love the violin

Because it was something I started as a kid but fell away from.

Because I'm still an able bodied person

Because I like to achieve.

As my teacher said the other day - some people take it up when they are young and are rotten at it and some adults are really good!!

May 28, 2013 at 07:58 AM · Hi Marie, I sympathise with your position and can tell you that I occasionally still have days like yours. The reasons, as adults, I'm sure are many and varied and finding the right amount of 'me' time for practice is the hardest. Four years ago I took up the violin again after 27 years grace, it was a small high school obsession for a while that left me later on. But I kept the instrument and one day I found it again, with some feeling of guilt remembering how my mum had scrimped and saved for it. Well, I decided to give it another try so I found myself a violin teacher and began all over again.

Teachers, I think, are very important as their expectations and the work that they give you supply some of the impetus required to get you practicing. Then there are the pieces you learn to love or hate, based on the amount of difficulty they present or what the piece sounds like. The ones I love are the ones I play just for fun, and I always include at least one in my daily practice. There is no point playing, in my humble opinion, unless you can do something you like as well as the tough stuff. So four years on, I find I am really enjoying it, now that I can finally produce a good sound and can join in with the local community orchestra. It's great fun and very tempting to practice 'their' music instead of what my teacher gives me but I have disciplined myself. Teacher's work first, and as a reward at least one piece from the orchestra. My reward for all this work was at its greatest only last week, when the Sydney Symphony Orchestra visited our humble regional town and held a two hour masterclass with our little group. It was such a blast!

As for the technical stuff, well, vibrato? I confess I am completely hopeless at it, nevertheless I still practice it. My teacher is reluctant to push too hard as it can backfire, but as I still can't produce it for more than half a second, maybe I do need pushing. Who knows. The fourth finger? I used to hate using it but my teacher never failed to remind me to get my elbow well and truly under the instrument, and then suddenly it's easy. Now, with the orchestral music, so much of it is played with several flats, that the fourth finger is getting much quicker and better than ever.

Tapes, I never had them, but don't worry too much. You know you are ready to rid yourself of them so it's time. Congratulations, you really are your own boss when it comes to learning this great and difficult instrument. Take charge of your practice schedule and soon you will have a wonderful musical career.

May 28, 2013 at 10:45 AM · Hi Millie

Thanks for your upbeat comments! Really nice to hear of your own experiences and wholeheartedly agree with all of them actually. It has to be fun especially as you say, as adults with other things going on. Not going to get too hung up about the vibrato thing - think a lot of the comments including yours is really saying that takes a long time generally. Inspirational hearing from you, thanks very much. Marie x

May 28, 2013 at 11:14 AM · Thanks Marie, I do hope everyone's comments help. Yes, it does take an inordinately long time to learn violin properly. If most of us knew just what sort of commitment level was required of us when we started, some may never have tried. But that's the great fun and challenge. Sometimes it's leaps and bounds, but mostly it's incremental. Tiny improvements each day can feel amazing if they are acknowledged and they really are quite an achievement. Write them down sometimes, it's a real boost to go back and look at your abilities grow. Many times I've gone home muttering in disbelief that I couldn't possibly learn to do the thing my teacher wanted me to practice, but hey, by next week or the week after there had usually been some sort of hard worked miracle and of course I could jolly well do it(except vibrato at this stage). Don't be discouraged about your sound if you have some bad days. I still have them, and whilst I can better control the practice sessions nowadays, there's no substitute for perseverance. As Raphael said, the better you get the more you enjoy it, and that is so true. It's true because only you know of the magnitude of time and effort you have invested, and that when you start to enjoy your own playing, it's time to celebrate.

By the way, I'm 47.

May 29, 2013 at 03:11 AM · Hi Marie,

about the 4th finger - I'm an adult beginner (playing about a year and half - just like you!) and have a shorter arm and smaller hand, have struggled with 4th finger placement. While I was trying many things, I came upon an advice that the 4th finger must be given the priority, as that finger is the weakest. Compared to the 4th finger, the first finger is more easily stretched down to its position. In addition, the 4th finger in the first position is the same pitch as the next open string, so it's really easy to tell where it is - you can see the next string vibrating sympathetically when you have it right. This "4th finger has the priority" goes well with how to find the right intonation in Scales by Fisher, too.

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