Effective Violin Practice

March 6, 2018, 8:03 PM · How to practice the violin effectively? I have been playing for about 6 years, and I sense that my practice procedure is unproductive:run through scales, study and pieces. Done. I would like to know what are some ways other violinists practice. Whether it's their daily routine or just a single tip, please tell me! I believe the method used to practice is as important as the amount of time spent, and I would like to use that time with most effectiveness.

Thanks in advance.

Replies (17)

March 6, 2018, 8:37 PM · Have a specific goal for everything you do, preferably written down in a practice journal.

I find that without a specific goal in mind, I just "play stuff." It's kind of fun but mostly a waste of time.

March 6, 2018, 10:28 PM · Have you asked your teacher if you have one? Know what you're aiming for. Isolate difficult passages and work on them slowly.
March 7, 2018, 12:23 AM · https://www.amazon.com/Einfach-üben-unübliche-Überezepte-Instrumentalisten/dp/3795787246/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1520407125&sr=8-2&keywords=Gerhard+Mantel

Only pity is that there still is no english translation as far as I know, only the german version. Especially the concept of "rotierende Aufmerksamkeit“ (rotary attention) and the formation of clusters seems very helpful to me!

March 7, 2018, 12:44 AM · Keep a practice journal.

Her advice is quite good: https://youtu.be/5GoF4WHx7Qs

Edited: March 7, 2018, 5:51 AM · Why are you doing scales? When you can answer that question you'll have a better idea how to practice them. If your answer is "just for intonation" then you're missing the point. A good scale book like the one by Simon Fischer can explain to you all the benefits of scale practice and how to go about it. Flesch gives you the "what" but not the "why" or the "how".

Same with your current study. Why are you doing it? What are the passages that give you the most grief? Focus your work on the hard stuff and leave the easy stuff alone for maybe playing through once a week just so that the hard passages can be incorporated into the whole.

And I would say the same about your repertoire piece except for those you do need to concern yourself more broadly with the musical outlay of the whole piece, but I would still concentrate practice on the hard bits. There are probably 5-6 reasons you can write down why your teacher is not having you move on to the next piece. What are they? Address those, one or two at a time, until you've licked them.

Take Mozart 3 for example. You don't need to practice the melodic passages that fall easily into your hands much more than you need to practice the page of rests at the beginning.

As you encounter problems, you should be asking whether there are aspects of your overall setup that are interfering. Like posture or hand positions especially. Mirrors are not just for little kids.

As you work on passages be mindful that something you thought was a left hand problem is actually a bowing issue. Happens a lot.

We pretty much all practice scales, studies, and pieces just like you. A common thing is to divide practice time into fourths. Scales, studies, slower piece (or solo Bach), and faster piece (concerto movement or show piece). I confess usually I work on studies twice as much and I don't do scales very regularly. And sometimes I spend all of the repertoire time on one thing if I feel I'm making serious progress on that.

Disclaimer -- I am an amateur violinist.

March 7, 2018, 7:09 AM · I think you have to mentally imagine the desired sound that you are going after, and reverse engineer it. In conjunction of having a plan/goal, then you'll know exactly what and how to practice.
Edited: March 7, 2018, 7:50 AM · My practice routine has changed quite a bit in the last year and half. When I first came back to the violin, I spent half of my time practicing scales and etudes, a habit drilled in me by an old school childhood teacher. Now my scales and etudes are repertorie driven, which means the scales I am working on are in the same key as the rep I am learning and I focus on octaves/thirds/...and various bow strokes as needed.

As explained in my information/introduction, I am an adult amateur.

Edited: March 7, 2018, 8:14 AM · Up until recently my practice material has dictated areas to work on.I learned other instruments playing scales and I know all of my scales and intervals from a theory perspective, so I didn't begin on violin playing scales for hours and hours. I wanted learning the instrument to be enjoyable and playing scales for two hours didn't figure into that.

My intonation and fingerings have been evolving based on my material. For example, much violin material centers around the higher stings and in more familiar keys. As a consequence of that I haven't payed as much attention to the G string as much as the others. I went to a music workshop recently and one of the songs I was given to learn was an easy tune on the surface. A waltz called Josefin's waltz. This is a Swedish/Danish tune although many other countries claim it. The notes look easy and they are easy to play on a piano. Not so easy on a violin if you haven't practiced violin in the Key of F on the low strings. I ran mainly into intonation issues not being accustomed to playing Bb on the G string. After practicing it maybe 20 times it is beginning to take shape. Still a long way to go.If I have a tune like this I make a goal to play it well in two weeks. Sometimes I make that goal and other times I overshoot it by a week.

Another piece that is helping me on the low strings is a reel called "The Grumbling Old Man And Woman".

I add these songs to other songs I have learned and this makes up a large part of my practice routine. As I see it the goal of scales is to learn fingerings and intonation in all keys. Learning songs in the same keys can have a similar result.Some here will disagree with this approach.
* ducks and runs away *.

Edited: March 7, 2018, 8:40 AM · Apart from the organizing part -- which is excellently treated in Y Cheng's link -- self-analysis is important in order to know what you should actually be aiming for. Here I find a concept from the chess-world quite useful called 'Makogonov's rule' (after Vladimir Makogonov, a chess coach in the former Soviet Union). In chess-terms it reads something like this: 'In absence of any immediate tactical threats look at the board and ask yourself: Which is my worst-placed piece? Then try to find a way to improve its position'. In that way you will always come up with a move that is at least useful, if not the best. In violin terms you can apply this rule to different areas. You can e.g., ask yourself. Which of the first five positions am I the least comfortable in? Which basic bowing technique needs the most improvement? Which kind of vibrato could really be better? Which intervals are the most out of tune? Which bars in my concerto always go wrong? Then look for exercises that target these weaknesses.

Another principle I like is designed to avoid plateaus. I call it the 'principle of significant improvement' It entails practicing aforementioned weaknesses until some real progress can be felt of the kind that you're comfortable that it will stick for a while. This does not mean that things have to be perfect, just a good bit better. Once this is achieved, let that item rest for a while and find something else to practice using, of course, Makogonov's rule.

March 7, 2018, 9:09 AM · Also consider searching the site for threads on practice strategies, as they're plentiful.
March 7, 2018, 9:27 AM · If you've had a teacher for 6 years and they haven't given you a very deliberate system for practicing scales, then look for a teacher that can.
March 7, 2018, 10:43 AM · It's nice to see how others approach their practice.

Like David, I am an amateur who practices scales in the keys of the repertoire that I'm currently working on. I also practice them for positions/spacing, shifts, and so on - to get more comfortable in those areas. I'm currently using the Hrimaly and Flesch book, but recently purchased the Fischer one and will weave that in when it arrives.

My time is broken up in 20 minute increments:

Scales + bow exercises (10-15 mins scales, 5 mins bow)

Etudes + finger exercises (10 + 10)

Repertoire (30-40 mins, depending on what I need to work on, I'll spend all of that time on one piece or break it up into 2, 3 or 4 pieces - if it is a "run through" day then I'll play everything so that I know what to work on the next few days and plan accordingly.)

Sometimes I'll mix up the order, but most of the time it is pretty regimented to these blocks. It's how I have been organized since I returned to playing, and I think it works for me.

My rep is divided into: a new piece that I am preparing for a lesson (currently this is the Telemann 10th Fantasie, I've presented the first movement, and am now working on the second), a piece that I'm working on mid-development (currently this is the Bruch Concerto, 2nd Movement - am learning this in phrase blocks to see how this different methodology works/or not for me; am also working on the fifth Roumanian Folk Dance, in addition to the first movement of the Telemann), and a piece that I'm polishing in various stages to be "passed" (currently the remaining Roumanian Folk Dances).

I have a lot of material that I work on, and really need 2 hours a day to feel like I have accomplished what I've set out to do each practice session, and between lessons, from both a work and fun perspective. I don't think that I am an efficient practicer at all!

I like Paul's suggestion re: the 5-6 reasons why my teacher is not allowing me to move past X piece. I think I'm going to try that method and see what happens.

March 7, 2018, 12:56 PM · Totally depends on where you're at, skill-wise (what level of repertoire, what scale method - if any - what etudes?), in addition to how much you practice in total each day. Let me know those things and I can give you a more specific idea.
March 9, 2018, 4:15 AM · the most important is to think, to listen to yourself, be critical, and think about what needs to improve and think how to achieve that by specific practice.
March 9, 2018, 2:39 PM · I second the idea of a practice journal and writing down goals as well as progress made (not repertoire, but aspects of your playing....like I worked on greater dynamic contrasts, or I made my shifts smoother, or I worked on better legato). Be results driven, not time driven. A good rule is always to wait one second before trying something again - allow the brain to process and decide what to change. Repeat only after things are fixed, not as a way of "getting it". Approach your difficult spots in new ways all the time - if the old way worked, the problem would already be solved. Record yourself every time your practice (one day scales, one day something else etc). Recommended practice books: The art of practicing (Gerle), the Art of Bowing Practice (Gerle), the Musicians' Way (Klickstein), any Simon Fischer book. I've started a "practice channel" if you want to check it out, there might be some new ideas:


March 10, 2018, 3:09 AM · Efficient practicing is probably the most important thing you can do for your violinplaying.
I find it helpful to be very clear and specific about what I want to achieve. It helps to take things apart and practice them separatly. F.ex. when I practice sound and intonation I only practice that. I discard the rhythm and bowings so that I can stay on each note with multiple bowings until its in tune and sounds good. When I practice rhythm I focus only on the correct rhythm so that my muscles know when to move.
Having said that it is also necessary to work at the piece as a whole playing it through. Both detailed practicing and playing through are necessary.
It is important to practice with a high concentration. If you are not yet used to that it helps to give yourself a small time frame at first. F.ex. : 'I'm going to spend five minutes on this scale (or those four bars) working on intonation.' Do not let your thoughts wander until those five minutes are over. Then give yourself a minute or so to decide on what you will do the next five minutes.
Hope this helps:)
March 11, 2018, 12:03 AM · What do you mean by run through? Are you playing through mistakes and not stopping to correct issues?

My 6 year old does this thing where he just plays through his practice material without care for his intonation, technique, or expression when he practices with his dad (who has never taken music lessons) if I’m not able to be there. If it happens too much, he regresses.

It is hard to learn if you keep practicing mistakes over and over. It actually can be somewhat worse because it takes effort to untrain and retrain your body. The same for intonation. If you hear or play a piece out of tune enough, your ear will no longer recognize it when it is in or out of tune. It is also why it is important to pick good recordings of pieces you are learning (and not some random “child prodigy” off of YouTube.)

Scales first, slowly as well as quickly. Like others said, learn why you are doing scales. Do progressive scales and positions, not just the ones for the pieces as it keeps you familiar with the whole fingerboard.

Etudes, the same. Learn why you are learning, especially technique. For both etudes and pieces.

Pick out trouble spots. Learn to choose the start and end of those spots wisely. Practice the trouble spots repeatedly. Work on technique in and out of context with the piece you are learning. Discuss technique with your teacher. Separate bowing from fingering first if it’s extremely difficult then add bowing back in.

Use a metronome. Play slow with it, then bump it up each day to speed. If you learn to play something slowly, you will forget it slowly. If you learn it quickly, you will forget it quickly. (I think I stole that from Perlman.)

When you get the trouble spots set for the day, practice the piece or large sections as a whole with a metronome at slower than the fastest you can play the hardest spots. Working on expression and dynamics is much easier when you aren’t struggling with tempo. Keep your tempo consistent throughout the piece. Slow done well is better than fast done sloppy. Each day work to bring the piece or section up a beat or two until you are at the proper tempo.

Practice for content, not time. If you have limited time, limit the content.

It’s what I’ve got off the top of my head and by no means comprehensive.

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