In need of advice for quickly improving

May 17, 2015 at 06:50 PM · Hello. I have been playing the violin for three months in the beginning orchestra class offered by my high school. I'm 15 years old, and have no musical experience prior to the violin. My teacher and private instructor say that I am playing around grade three standard, and they want me to join the advanced orchestra at my school next year. I have developed a clear (arm) vibrato and have good pitch/intonation, but I know that I am nowhere near as good as I need to be to play in the advanced orchestra, which is one of the top high school orchestras in my state. I really need advice on getting to at least grade 5 within the next 4 or 5 months. If needed, I can post a video of me playing one of the pieces I am currently playing in class. Thanks,

-Evan Hall


May 17, 2015 at 07:18 PM · You need to have this conversation with your private teacher, who will know best how to push you. But the short answer is, practice more and practice correctly (slow, attentive practice; analyze problems and find solutions; record yourself; watch yourself in a mirror, etc)

There is a direct relationship between quantity of practice (assuming the practicing is effective, not just mindless repetitions) and speed of advancement.

May 17, 2015 at 09:06 PM · Have you been playing the violin for 3 months, or have you been playing in the orchestra for 3 months? Your sentence construction leaves this unclear.

May 18, 2015 at 04:07 AM · If things are going well, don't stop the good things! Add the advice given above: there is, unfortunately, no substitute for "flight hours"..

May 18, 2015 at 08:54 AM · Not sure you can develop the skills to advance that far that fast in such a short time. Careful thought and discussion about what you sound like and what you most need to improve or add is a better choice than many-many-many hours of practice without focus. If you are indeed something of a novice, you need to work up to "hours" with care, so you don't develop a playing injury or physical or mental fatigue, too.

May 18, 2015 at 09:53 AM · Malcom Gladwell says that nobody is able to reach mastery without beeing engaged for 10.000 hours of practice before. It allegedly applies to all kinds of human activities.

May 18, 2015 at 10:48 AM · Hey Robert, that is for professional mastery!

And those who have done a pitiful 5,000 hours will play the same music, but need to be "on form". 10,000 means playing perfectly through an earthquake, or problems "of the heart", etc.

10,000 hrs means an average of 2 hrs a day for 15 years, or 3 hrs aduy for 10 years.

But I quite agree with the need for "meaningful" practice, as Mary Ellen outlined above, during which we assimilate not only sound and gesture, but also the exact force required for each element. Skill-building rather than body-building.

May 18, 2015 at 02:49 PM · Like others have already said...practice a lot more and practice mindfully! :) I wish there was a different method for advancing super quick but I don't think there is. :)

May 18, 2015 at 02:50 PM · Evan,

There is no "silver bullet" for a fast-track progress.... in most of cases. There have allegedly been a few extremely talented violinists through history who started relatively late and improved quickly. The rest us mortals ... years and years of practice.

If you already have the basic skills, practicing 3 octave scales (with arpeggios, chromatic, double-stops, broken thirds) with rhythmic and bowing variation is probably the best investment. (You should be able to go through all 24 scales within a month. On a later stage, you should be able to play by heart a minor and major scale in the same key daily.) In addition, practicing son-file (open strings), again with all variations regarding the speed and contact point.....

Most of the Western music is based on diatonic, so scales will help you feel at home in just any key possible.

Lastly, if you can get hold of the orchestra score and recordings, listen to the music, while following 2nd violin part.

This, however can not and will not replace sheer number of hours you need to devote to other aspects, such as violin studies (etudes), short pieces and concerts, chamber music and orchestra music experience.

I hate to say this, but if you like the sound of viola, it may be a way better investment in the long run. (not to say that you could avoid the above) Let us know about the progress.

Ideally, working with teacher who is willing to follow your passion toward the same goal, would save you a lots of headache.

May 19, 2015 at 04:53 PM · Thanks for all the advice. I am currently working with my private instructor on developing a practice repertoire that focuses on scales, sight reading, spiccato, and perfectly straight bow strokes. To clarify, I have only been playing the violin for the three months that I have been in my school's beginning orchestra. My private instructor and teacher are very optimistic by nature, so I am somewhat unsure of their predictions; based on my current rate of progress, is it unrealistic to say that I could make it to grade 5 in such a short time frame?

May 19, 2015 at 05:22 PM · The 'rule of thumb' is a grade a year. The higher grades actually may require 2 years each to complete (Grades 9 and 10).

Without knowing how well you currently play and how easily you pick up on concepts and technique, it's impossible to guess how much faster than the rule of thumb' you can progress.

May 19, 2015 at 07:04 PM · So grade 3 in 3 months was abnormally fast?

I'm not entirely certain how quickly I learn compared to others, as the rest of my orchestra class had at least one year of musical experience, but I know that I developed a decent vibrato in four days of practice (about 10 hours of playing time). I cannot give any other relevant and accurate information, unfortunately.

May 19, 2015 at 07:49 PM · A recording is helpful. Hate to say it but like others stated, there is no fast track outside practicing smart and putting in the hours without both hurting yourself and burning yourself out. You might do well consulting with your teachers on a game plan how to get from your current playing to what they'd like you to be to get into their advanced orchestra since none of us have seen or heard you.. We can give all the advice in the world, but none of it is helpful if it's not geared towards your playing, especially when you have teachers saying otherwise.

Also, anybody can develop a 'arm' vibrato but there's much more to it. It still doesn't say anything about tone, technique or anything really. So talk to the teachers. If they're in your corner willing to bat for you, then they can and should be helping you make a game plan.

May 19, 2015 at 09:18 PM · I'm not certain which program you're learning.

My comments are based on the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music)/Carnegie Hall (RCM for Americans)/ABSRM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music - in the UK and S. Africa) which I think is similar in the lower grades, but might vary more in the upper.

If you have a previous musical background, you could get to Grade 3 a lot faster than a young child just starting out, with no prior experience.

Keep in mind too...the higher the Grade level, the harder it gets, the more time it takes...

May 19, 2015 at 10:43 PM · Wow Evan! That's an impressive learning curve. I feel like such a slow learner. I started at what I hope will be mid life, (5 yrs before you were born) and I'm close to grade 4 RCM Can. Congrats and best wishes for next term. Have you soloed? What did you play?

Stay pawsitive,


May 19, 2015 at 11:11 PM · Evan, it's very impressive that you are so determined to be great at the violin already. I know when I first started, I was proud to just to be able to play twinkle. If you want to get better fast, you gotta practice a lot. However, it's not just about the amount of hours you spend practicing. My previous teachers as well as members on this site always said to think about solving problems while you play, and that "working smart" is just as important as "working hard".

In terms of making orchestra, I'm not sure what to say, since my experiences are limited to youth orchestras and such, not any professional or amateur orchestras. I'm also not sure how the orchestra system at your school works. I will say that it helps to practice all the excepts that they give you, and try to not be too nervous during auditions.

Also, in my very limited experience, playing in orchestra is just about blending in with everyone else, and keeping a consistent tempo. I've had various conductors yell at me before for standing out by doing things like using a glissando while everyone was just playing normally, and I would pinch myself every time, because it was embarrassing.

November 1, 2016 at 12:23 AM · Sorry for posting on such an old thread, but I felt obliged to give an update. I got into the orchestra last year and have moved up into the rotation for front row 2nd violin and 2nd row 1st violin this year. I've been working on the 2nd violin solo of the Bach Double since I finished the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 around 2 months ago, and my private teacher wants me to try Csárdás next.

November 1, 2016 at 03:16 AM · Always nice to see an update!

November 1, 2016 at 08:24 AM · Congratulations Evan. Keep up the good practice.

November 1, 2016 at 09:55 AM · I'm glad to hear that your hard work is paying off.

November 1, 2016 at 10:48 AM · It is amazing what goals, motivation, and hard work can accomplish. Way to go!

November 1, 2016 at 11:32 AM · Good luck. I think there is quite a gap betweeen 2nd Bach Double and Csárdás.

November 1, 2016 at 01:01 PM · That's quite true. Great work, Evan.

November 1, 2016 at 04:12 PM · How many hours a day are you practicing? This is very rapid progress if you're playing the named pieces well.

November 1, 2016 at 04:39 PM · If it's mindful.

November 1, 2016 at 06:33 PM · Thanks. I typically practice around 3-4 hours a day on weekdays and 1-2 hours a day on weekends.

November 1, 2016 at 09:24 PM · That's interesting. Don't you have more time during the weekends, since there's no school? Just curious.

November 2, 2016 at 06:51 AM · I was a quick starter, but I still had to catch up on the hours to play reliably.

November 2, 2016 at 08:35 PM · I'm currently working on writing a video game with a group of developers I met online, and the weekends are the only time we can all do voice calls / DevOps, so I don't have much time to practice on those days.

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