How to practice effectively and track your progress?

Edited: June 22, 2018, 6:03 PM · Hi,

I started playing the violin seven years ago, and I am still having some problems that I feel like I should not have after so many years of playing. When I started, I learned the basics of how to play notes in first position on the A and D strings, and I pretty much learned the rest on my own(including how to hold the violin and bow properly). I learned in school, where we had an orchestra, but I did not have a private violin teacher, and I did not learn any technique when I first started.

After about two years, I felt like I was improving a little, I still could not do vibrato. So I decided to learn that on my own. It took a while, but I eventually mastered it(it's not perfect, but it's pretty good and I am still working on it). As the years went by, I noticed one problem that still remained. I could not play fast pieces.

For the past year, I have been practicing and looking for all kinds of left hand exercises so that I can play faster and improve my hand frame and strengthen my left hand fingers, but it seems so impossible and I get discouraged really fast. I feel like I am stuck... every time I try to play something at a fast tempo, I am unable to do it, and I end up slowing down so much it makes me want to cry.

What are some good exercises for finger speed (and dexterity) as well as hand coordination?
Also how do you keep track of your program? I am not exactly sure what to write in a practice journal.

Replies (12)

Edited: June 22, 2018, 6:12 PM · Do you have a teacher?
One thing that causes a lot of trouble playing fast and even is tension in the both thumbs. Have you checked that? Tension in the thumbs must be avoided (relax). Also, is your left hand properly aligned with the fingerboard? The edge of your palm should be roughly in line with the edge of the fingerboard, and your fingers should not move too far from the string. Schradicek exercises can help. Sevcik might be useful (someone, please correct if wrong).
June 22, 2018, 6:38 PM · Is there no way you can get a teacher? Back when I was a kid, I took from the best teacher in town. Now I am taking from someone who is far below my old teacher, but honestly, she's doing me more good. So it is not necessary to pay a ton for the best teacher--you can find a decent teacher fairly inexpensively. And it really does make a difference. The teacher tracks your progress and sets you appropriate exercises--all other things aside, it's a huge time saver, because then you can just play and not worry about all that.

Ask around at the luthiers in town. That's where I found my teacher.

June 23, 2018, 6:18 AM · Can you give an example of a piece that you're trying to play fast that's not working out?
June 23, 2018, 12:31 PM · I have been trying Csardas. I have memorized it even, but I just can't get the part with the sautille.
June 23, 2018, 1:41 PM · Can you do a good sautille? If not, you'll need to do exercises to improve on it.
June 23, 2018, 2:13 PM · I can do a sautille, but I feel like my right and left hand are doing two different things when I increase the tempo.
June 23, 2018, 3:28 PM · Try practicing fast without the sautille and see how it goes. You can always add it back in later.
June 23, 2018, 4:07 PM · Try removing the fingering, ie just play the sautille on the relevant open strings. The right hand could be tripping up the lett
June 24, 2018, 5:42 AM · I'm with Ella. Pretty much any sautille passage can be tackled by first making sure you can play it up to tempo with normal detache type bowing.
June 30, 2018, 9:48 PM · In terms of practice journal, you can try different approaches. I have students who write down their goals (both what they want to cover and what aspect of their playing they want to concentrate on), and I have students who write down what they accomplished. I also have students who do's really trial and error. I have my students mark and "R" everytime they recorded themselves :) A practice journal should allow you to track how you have been spending your time so you can look back. You can also dictate into your phone, in case that's easier. In terms of playing fast, the two achilles heals from my perspective are tension (particularly in the thumb or hand frame) and hanging on to old (already played fingers). I think it's important to do fast practice in general (on scales etc) some every day. See if this playlist from my youtube channel has any new ideas for you in terms of coordinating the hands and approaching things from a different way. Good luck! 13 ways to practice fast passages:

July 3, 2018, 7:02 PM · Thank you so much everyone for your answers!
July 4, 2018, 6:28 AM · Don't do Czardas until you have done Elves' Dance and the Perpetual Motion by Bohm (aka "The Bomb"). Those tunes will prepare your general bow-shaking skill.

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