Finding Energy to Practice (as a teacher)

April 21, 2017 at 06:51 AM · As some of you may know, I recently went to my first lesson in like 10 years, but I'm actually an instructor myself with about 45 students.

I told myself that in order to validate lessons with a good instructor, I must dedicate 2-3 hours of practice per day (about 50% scales/etudes and 50% pieces).

After just a week of this, I found myself EXHAUSTED. Not a matter of willpower anymore, but a matter of "I literally cannot sustain this level of effort on top of the 45 students I already have." I teach until 9PM usually, and some of my days start as early as 10:30AM. There are spaces and breaks in there, but I usually have to use them to do things necessary for living, such as eating.

Do any other instructors have this issue? How have you dealt with it? Or, have you simply resigned yourself to staying roughly where you are, skill-wise? Perhaps you've dedicated less time per day, like an hour? (I personally feel like an hour is just a warm-up, though, especially when I feel the need to do massive amounts of scales)

I know 45 students only gives me about 25 hours of work during the week (not including administrative duties, advertising, and other miscellaneous business things), but by the end of each teaching day I am just totally drained, and throwing in sufficient practice before or after that amount of teaching just doesn't feel sustainable at all.

Replies (31)

April 21, 2017 at 09:59 AM · Im in no position to teach anyone about violins, but i know something about procrastination, and one way to find more effort for practice is to think positively.

"I told myself that in order to validate lessons with a good instructor, I must dedicate 2-3 hours of practice per day"

Don't tell yourself you have to do something, when you think about something you "have to do" you instantly start mentally resisting the idea. Tell yourself that you CAN practice instead that you have to. You CAN practice so you can hone your skills and become better at playing and teaching. Don't think that "if i don't practice, nothing will be accomplished."

Instead, think "If i practice, one of my pupil might become virtuoso of this century"

Edit

PS: I know its hard to do the mental rework, but it pays off diligently

April 21, 2017 at 12:50 PM · 2 to 3 hours of practice a day is a lot on top of the teaching load you describe. I would suggest starting from the other end: aim for an hour a day as a minimum, and consider any practice you're able to do above that a bonus. If you find that an hour a day feels like you are doing very little and you could do more easily, then try going up in time by about 15 minutes per week. You do not want to burn yourself out at the start.

If an hour a day feels like a warm up to you, please consider the possibility that you could make your practicing more efficient.

April 21, 2017 at 01:11 PM · I'm not a teacher, but I am an adult trying to improve despite a demanding job and a toddler that leave me thoroughly drained in a kind of permanent way. ;-)

I think it might help to think about this in terms of your goals. The high-level goal for you seems to be "play better", but what does this mean to you? Break it down into very specific things that you want to improve. Then really focus your practice in a goal-oriented fashion. With less time, it will probably mean tackling those things in a sequential fashion instead of pursuing multiple goals at once.

I'm also curious why you feel the need to do, as you put it, a massive amount of scale practice, especially at the possible expense of other things you need to put time into. What's the goal with that?

April 21, 2017 at 03:40 PM · 50% scales seems excessive given the time you have. Scales are certainly valuable, but you have to manage your time as well.

Are you going to use 50% of the lesson time playing scales?

April 21, 2017 at 06:45 PM · As a dedcated teacher, I know I haven't time to play everything, but what I play I must play well.

The problem is that we rarely play complete works right through, so we need two sorts of practice: basics, and with a performance mentality.

April 21, 2017 at 09:55 PM · Good advice all around. I'll probably just refrain from taking weekly lessons because I really can't get enough done - at my level - with only 1-hour practice sessions to validate seeing the teacher 7 days later. I know for sure he would just say a lot of the same things as the week before if I've only put in those 7 hours total. One of the struggles with being a teacher is I know exactly what I'm expected to do as a student, and what is worth bringing into a lesson. And knowing how much I can get done in 7 hours, even with just a couple of Bach Sonatas, makes it hard to get excited about my next lesson. My attitude, as a student, is "if I still know what I need to fix, then I'm not ready for the lesson." The same is true of what I'd like to expect from my students, although their standards for perfection are rarely the same as mine.

For now, I think I'll just do way less scales because my technical skills far out-class my repertoire and I'm looking to achieve balance in that sense. Once I come up with a list of good questions regarding the pieces I have worked on to a 95% polish, I'll schedule another lesson with my teacher.

April 21, 2017 at 10:01 PM · Even if I know what I still need to fix, my teacher often can point out how to take a shortcut to fixing it. I usually feel like a one-hour lesson doesn't cover how much I can accomplish -- or need help with -- in a week.

April 21, 2017 at 10:03 PM · Lydia said what I was thinking. Erik, I think you would benefit from weekly lessons even if you're not able to practice up to your current level of satisfaction. I think one of the things you could learn from your teacher is what you really need to be working on, which may not be the same as what you think you need to be working on.

April 21, 2017 at 10:24 PM · Have you recorded yourself? If you're a professional teacher, it must mean you've already had training (I hope...). Which means since you make a living at listening to others and offering advice, you should be able to catch all of the obvious, basic issues in your own playing BEFORE the lesson. There's no reason, post-degree, you need a teacher to tell you you're out of tune, or rushing or dragging, or using articulations that don't sound convincing, or not really making convincing phrases, or not using your whole bow. Simple stuff. Being a professional means being able to teach yourself, and knowing how to ask questions of yourself.

I don't see anything wrong with every-other week lessons if you can eliminate the obvious stuff and present something to be worked on on a higher level.

April 21, 2017 at 10:55 PM · I'm not sure the OP has a degree....

April 21, 2017 at 11:04 PM · Out of curiosity, Erik, have you talked to your teacher about this? What does our teacher think about the level you are at, what your goals are, and what it would take to achieve those goals? Did your teacher tell you that your technical ability is far above your repertoire, or was that what you figured on your own? And did your teacher tell you that you needed 3 hrs a day of practice to make it worth it?

April 22, 2017 at 01:06 AM · Exactly my point, Scott Cole (although I don't have a degree). The fact is, until I can go into a lesson and have all the basics worked out, such as absolutely perfect intonation, excellent and reasonable articulation, and absolute control in general over the piece, I don't see a point in going into the lesson and having him tell me everything I'm already aware of.

Although it is true that a teacher can often give shortcuts to achieving the obvious, I found that any shortcuts given were things I was already aware of (practicing with rhythms in straight-cut sections, efficient finger patterns, bowing tips). My last teacher before I quit taking lesson was Julliard trained, so she actually set me up pretty nicely for solving basic problems in any given piece. I guess I might take for granted how much I really learned back in the day.

Actually, the lesson pretty much consisted of us agreeing on everything. I showed him my fingerings for both scales and pieces and he really didn't change much, he pointed out the melodies to be brought out in Bach chords, which I was already aware of but simply hadn't implemented, etc....

Only thing we couldn't agree on was my thumb position more on the side of the neck, particularly in 1st position (which I explained to him was due to my lack of shoulder mobility compared to his.... this guy can get his left forearm practically parallel with the ground). Even that, though, was something we agreed upon in theory, it's just a matter of me practicing enough to get my shoulder to do such things, rather than jumping right into getting injured.

Oh, and of course the use of a shoulder rest, which once again would simply require me to get my shoulder to twist more so I can get jack my elbow in to effectively play 4-note chords without the aid of the rest.

All basic stuff that I'm already aware of, but simply haven't practiced enough to implement. I teach beginners about 80%-90% of the time, so although I do play with them throughout the day, it's not the type of stuff that forces my shoulder to gain flexibility.

Rebecca: my take-home analysis of my own playing through his eyes is that my technical skill and knowledge is at a level where I could learn most repertoire without too much difficulty (including things on the more difficult side such as Sibelius... I played him the 1st page...) but I just need to pick a piece to start off, since I haven't really learned any particular piece to a performance-level in years. I asked him how much he would like me to practice and of course he just said it depended on how serious I was about learning. He said if possible it would be nice to get 3 hours, and I agreed with this assessment.

Part of my attitude might stem from when I was younger and it was drilled into me that if I was not practicing 4 hours per day, it would not be possible to become a professional performer. I could never get above 2 hours per day though, so I quit trying at 17.

April 22, 2017 at 03:59 AM · 45 students sounds like a lot.

April 22, 2017 at 04:16 AM · Perhaps what you need is a different teacher, or you can wait for lessons with this teacher to evolve.

I've been well set with an array of practice techniques, but my teacher is exceptionally inventive when it comes to figure out how to practice something. And my teachers have historically been good at pointing out non-obvious root causes of a problem. I would have been able to overcome the problem with sheer brute-force woodshedding, but it might have taken hours rather than minutes without the particular insights.

(Naturally, it might be possible that you're far more insightful than I am, and therefore really don't benefit from a teacher in the same way that I do.)

April 22, 2017 at 06:59 AM · Lydia, it might also be that I've taught so much and had to constantly think if new ways for students to understand and integrate concepts. I know far more after years of teaching than I did after only having taken lessons.

It might also be that I think I know more than I do.

Also, the way I see it, extra effort almost always leads to an epiphany. So even if I could have achieved the same result through means of a shortcut, I may not have learned as much on the way (especially regarding how to teach it to someone else). I've always had a habit of "reinventing the wheel" when it comes to just about anything, but it works well for demonstrating things to students later on.

Not so great for my personal progress, though.

April 22, 2017 at 11:37 AM · Having to practice efficiently myself gives me a lot of "tips & tricks" to share with my very busy students. They don't always appreciate that they still have to practice these "tricks" over and over until they do them without thinking. So do I, but I have a built-up "reserve" of hours.

So, I limit my practice to basics, scales and especially arpeggios, searching for the best colour in each and every note; followed by a similar approach in passages from the repertoire I would wish to play: chamber music, solos, Orchestral exracts. I never allow myself unconcious repetitions, nor for that matter, the mind-numbing emptiness of most ├ętudes.

April 22, 2017 at 01:19 PM · Erik, unless you're routinely teaching students who are close to your own level, I think it unlikely that you have already figured out everything you need to know for your own practicing. Lydia said what I was thinking.

I think you have a real passion for teaching and for improving yourself, which I admire, and of course any judgment coming from a stranger on the internet is just a judgment coming from a stranger on the internet. But here it is, worth what you're paying for it--I think it is very likely that you don't know what you don't know.

Let me put it another way--anyone who has ever studied with me can truthfully state that their teacher was Oberlin- and Indiana-trained. That does not in the slightest mean that they know everything I do. Even my best students, when they graduate from high school, do not have nearly the knowledge base that I do, or that most others with a performance degree from a top school do. Those four years of experience and education count for a lot more than can be conveyed in weekly lessons with even the most dedicated student.

April 22, 2017 at 01:44 PM · Erik, along the same line of what Mary Ellen said, I understand that you've taught a lot but I wonder, how do you teach students about efficient and effective practice? The professional teachers I know would be so happy to have an hour a day to practice, given their performance and teaching schedules. The only way they survive is by getting the most out of practice in a very short time.

I learned this trick from a recent Juilliard graduate who successfully won a principal second in a professional orchestra. She had little time to prepare for the audition so she practiced this way: dividing the daily practice into 10 minutes sessions(use a stopwatch to make sure she stop when the time is over), and she did as many such short sessions as she could randomly throughout the day instead of practicing all in one session). Sometime she'd fix issues within 5min session. This is how I'm practicing these days and I find that doing it this way, I'm forced to set very small goals for each session and fix them without spreading myself into too many issues, which was what I used to do for a long time. Now I consider the latter to be unfocused and a wasteful practice habit. You can do this even with running through a longer piece such as a whole movement. Just run through the whole piece once without stopping, note what needs to be done for the next small session(s), move on.

I disagree with the idea that 50% scales is too much; not if you know how to practice scales, that is, not just run through some scales again and again, but you can focus on important/relevant elements of scales, such as the way taught in Simon Fischer's Scales. If one can do that, I believe it would be the time really well spent.

Regarding teacher, as Lydia said, I think you would benefit from someone who is a good clinician who can spot issues that you are not aware and help you to achieve them, rather than telling you how many hours you need to practice to achieve your goals. I have the fortune to have one such teacher. Teachers like that always surprise you how little you know. Whenever I feel I've nailed something, my teacher would find some problems for me to work on. I used to get disappointed by this and thought I would never be good enough for her. But now I realize that she is keep pushing me to going beyond my current state. I'm so thankful for a teacher like that. Good luck!

April 22, 2017 at 03:19 PM · I like to start my teaching rather late around 2 pm, so that I have the morning for practicing technique. usually I do scales and bow exercises in the morning and practice repertoire when I have breaks between my students. But it is no comparison to when I have holidays. Practicing in the evening after teaching didn't work for me, either I am just stiff and exhausted or I play excessively through passages I already know without really practicing mindfully ;)

April 22, 2017 at 04:53 PM · There's also this thought: If a teacher can't tell you anything you don't already know, you need a better teacher (or at least, a different teacher). You wanted to take lessons again because you wanted someone to help you progress, didn't you?

I have generally found that every master-class I've ever played in, the teacher was able to tell me one thing that no one has ever told me before -- or at least, to tell me something in a way that I'd never heard before, that made something click with me, or at least helped me spot a problem I'd never explicitly identified before even if they didn't provide an immediate solution.

We all reach the point where we can pretty much learn what we need to learn on our own. But proper teaching (or coaching, if you prefer) should be an accelerator and a provider of insights.

I don't think that when you have limited practice time, practice that doesn't have a highly-directed goal is mostly wasted time. If you are going to practice scales, for instance, there should be a clear notion in your head exactly what this is supposed to achieve -- and then you should also contemplate whether or not scales (or scales alone) are the best way to accomplish that as fast as possible.

April 22, 2017 at 05:56 PM · I'm a bit surprised and perhaps impressed that nobody's mentioned playing in lessons, as I first thought that quite a bit of time could be spend demonstrating how to play difficult scales correctly in lessons. Well, that would be an unethical stretch as such, but while it's not what we call practice, there is a place for literal practice -- playing the best you can for the sake of example and demonstration during lessons. Playing harmonics and accompaniment together with your students; demonstrating musical and technical points using advanced recognizable music; demonstrating advanced technique beyond the current level of the student as future steps. You might even demonstrate snippets of technical breakdown and work for improvement as lessons towards your students' own practices. It wouldn't be a substitute for your own improvement work, and you might be doing all this already, but if not, it could be some more exercise; practice, and demonstration has an important place in teaching, as imitation, conscious or otherwise, happens. Conversely, if you're doing a lot of this already, relax -- you're also exercising in the process.

April 22, 2017 at 06:49 PM · J Ray, Maybe I know some people, who think like that. Why I don't do it has two reasons. The first reason is obvious: The student pays for a lesson and should be in the focus of the attention, not my technical breakdown :D. Second I find it hard to concentrate in a lesson as I should in practice.

That doesn't mean, that I never play anything in a lesson, but if I do, then it always has a purpose of showing one thing, that the student didn't understand or struggles with. That I would not concider as practicing ;)

April 22, 2017 at 07:19 PM · My own teacher plays a lot during the lesson, and it would have never occurred to me to think that it was for his benefit, and to be honest, within a single lesson it'd be hard to see it as such, but doing that for every lesson would add up to something -- in energy expenditure and exercise.

My son's teacher also does a lot of demonstration, but mostly with the student's instrument, which has the added benefit of showing the student how much better it can sound with the same equipment, but the downside that playing along isn't as frequent.

April 22, 2017 at 07:20 PM · Yixi, I absolutely do agree with this approach and of course recommend it to my students. I put a lot of effort into making effective and highly efficient practice strategies for students. Unfortunately, they rarely follow them.... Millenials...

I guess my previous posts put across the notion that I didn't learn anything in my lesson, and I know everything already. That wasn't my intention. I definitely learned a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't have thought of on my own! My main point was that the things I learned are concepts which will definitely take at least a few weeks of effort to begin integrating.

Regarding being taught by a Juilliard-trained teacher; of course I don't claim to have the same teaching resources as them. But, they taught me many of the "hacks" necessary for proper technical development in difficult pieces.

Still, I think continuous lessons are important. I'll just reduce my scales and start practicing pieces more, and try to go into lessons on a semi-frequent (but not necessarily weekly) basis. I think this will allow me to be challenged but also give me the space to grow into playing better without being overwhelmed.

Honestly, he introduced so many concepts on such a fine level of detail that I felt it would take me years to achieve anything upon leaving. Talking about listening for subharmonics and harmonics during the chords.... very microscopic details.

The depths of violin playing really never end. It's funny how once you feel like you've learned a bunch and come a long ways, you're suddenly presented with this new bundle of higher-resolution information, so everything you've ever done needs to be redone in a far more polished way, let alone learning more advanced repertoire.

Oh and J Ray, I actually have used lessons as a way to increase my very basic technique, such as having more vertical fingers or a straighter wrist in the past. Of course I only work on these things when I'm doing accompaniment or something where I don't have to be as actively involved mentally.

April 22, 2017 at 07:37 PM · Erik, listening for subharmonics ("Tartini tone") during the chords is a great way to know you are playing double stops in tune. I learned to listen to these in just one lesson, and I'm no where near your level of proficiency (still working on Mendelssohn and don't think I'll ever be able to touch Sibelius). It's all in Simon Fischer's Double Stops so take a good look at it if you haven't done that yet.

While I don't want to beat a dead horse, I do believe how you play is more important than what you play, and no matter how advanced one is, it's always wise to go back to work and rework on the basics, when in doubt. I've learned this truth by attending a few and watching numerous masterclasses, and by talking to a few international competition winners whom I got to know well.

April 22, 2017 at 08:16 PM · Erik, I believe your age also makes you a Millenial. :-)

April 22, 2017 at 08:55 PM · "My son's teacher also does a lot of demonstration, but mostly with the student's instrument, which has the added benefit of showing the student how much better it can sound with the same equipment, but the downside that playing along isn't as frequent."

I totally agree to the idea of playing on the students violin, when demonstrating! Also to check, if some difficulties have to do with the instrument.

I think playing in the lesson and demonstrating is a personal matter. I personally like it, when it is used in reasonable doses and not to hide the fact that you struggle to explain or when the teacher is a very good player and very familiar with the material he is teaching.

In my experience not every teacher plays his best in lessons when unprepared, especially for more advanced literature.

I like it better, when teachers give regular concerts and their students can listen to them performing.

but having a teacher with a good sound is the best thing for students, so they come to listen to him play as well and learn a lot from imitating. Still there is a deeper need to understand some things.

April 22, 2017 at 08:55 PM · "My son's teacher also does a lot of demonstration, but mostly with the student's instrument, which has the added benefit of showing the student how much better it can sound with the same equipment, but the downside that playing along isn't as frequent."

I totally agree to the idea of playing on the students violin, when demonstrating! Also to check, if some difficulties have to do with the instrument.

I think playing in the lesson and demonstrating is a personal matter. I personally like it, when it is used in reasonable doses and not to hide the fact that you struggle to explain or when the teacher is a very good player and very familiar with the material he is teaching.

In my experience not every teacher plays his best in lessons when unprepared, especially for more advanced literature.

I like it better, when teachers give regular concerts and their students can listen to them performing.

but having a teacher with a good sound is the best thing for students, so they come to listen to him play as well and learn a lot from imitating. Still there is a deeper need to understand some things.

April 22, 2017 at 08:57 PM · "My son's teacher also does a lot of demonstration, but mostly with the student's instrument, which has the added benefit of showing the student how much better it can sound with the same equipment, but the downside that playing along isn't as frequent."

I totally agree to the idea of playing on the students violin, when demonstrating! Also to check, if some difficulties have to do with the instrument.

I think playing in the lesson and demonstrating is a personal matter. I personally like it, when it is used in reasonable doses and not to hide the fact that you struggle to explain or when the teacher is a very good player and very familiar with the material he is teaching.

In my experience not every teacher plays his best in lessons when unprepared, especially for more advanced literature.

I like it better, when teachers give regular concerts and their students can listen to them performing.

but having a teacher with a good sound is the best thing for students, so they come to listen to him play as well and learn a lot from imitating. Still there is a deeper need to understand some things, which must be explained.

April 22, 2017 at 09:37 PM · sorry, servers are slow from Germany I guess

April 23, 2017 at 03:01 AM · Lydia, just because I am one doesn't mean I can't have disdain for my own kind!

Yixi: it's hard to say what me "being able" to play Sibelius really means. I mean, anyone can play anything badly. I have my doubts regarding whether or not I would have the capacity to get it to a performance-level polish, even with significant effort. So it's difficult to say whether my technical proficiency is higher or not.

I have struggles with Mendelssohn, too, in terms of getting it to be reliable (once again though, I haven't really put in the time so I don't have a good gauge for my abilities). Sure, I can play the notes, but getting them to where I'd feel adequate performing it on stage is quite another matter. Getting absolute perfect intonation plus excellent projection in all the registers of the instruments (so it doesn't have that "amateur-sounding" weakness on the very high notes) throughout almost seems impossible. Then again, everything on the violin seems impossible at first until you put in the time and get that good ol' slow practice going.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe