Practice Routines (Adult Suzuki?)

Edited: February 8, 2019, 4:39 AM · I'm just wondering what everyone's practice routine is like. I'm trying to develop a good structured and timed routine for practice and I'm having difficulty coming up with a good plan.

I usually start off with 5 minutes of Open String Exercises and then a couple Fingering Exercises, then usually 15-20 minutes of scales, and then I try to do some etudes with much difficulty and then I start working on few pieces. I've tried to do 4 hour sessions (taking plenty of breaks in between sections) but I max out at about 2 hours before I start to get tired and sore.

I'm sure my teacher can help me with this when I see her tomorrow, but I thought I would ask here and get an idea of how people practice.


I'm now considering trying out Suzuki repertoire.
I have a teacher who is familiar with Suzuki, but lets me work on whatever I want, but Suzuki is a proven system and I think I can benefit from it, even if I have to supplement it with other things.

Anyway, the main thing I'm asking here is how would you manage your practice time if you were me and were going to start Suzuki Book 1?

Replies (23)

February 5, 2019, 5:08 AM · hi Russell people may answer but there are really already a lot of past threads on this question on this site, use the search box on the site to explore.
February 5, 2019, 5:19 AM · I used to practice scales, etudes, and pieces blindly because that was the "routine". My teacher never taught me the most efficient way of practicing.

Since returning after a 10-year break, I decided to change the way I practice. I treat my violin playing as fixing individual problems rather than improving generally. I'm still experimenting but I categorize my technique improvement in two categories: 1)breakthrough, 2)maintenance

Breakthrough means something you can't current do reasonably well. It could be double-stops, shifting, secure intonation of a particular note, etc.

Maintenance means something you can do but just need to brush up from time to time.

I reckon most of our current technical limitation is due to one or two issues. By fixing that issue, it will propel your playing to the next level (in which will present another set of problems to solve).

For example, if your intonation is not secure, it is unlikely that you play all the notes out of tune. Instead, the more likely case is that you always play certain notes out of tune. Instead of playing scales over and over again and hoping your intonation will improve over time, you can try to focus just on the faulty notes. You put in a focused and concentrated amount of time into a small set of problem area until they're fixed. Even just fixing one note per week, you will have a tremendous improvement in intonation.

Another key thing is to push your boundary and comfort-zone. By practicing harder technique, it makes simpler technique much easier. For example, by practicing in playing in extremely high position (7+) especially on G string, 5th position and 3-octave becomes a walk in a park. Your ability to play 3-octave scale automatically improves without actually having to practice it. Simon Fischer talks about this in his Violin Lesson book.

My current focus is to make a breakthrough in double-stop playing so I spent most of my technique time doing double-stops. I began my day by doing 3-mins double-stop open strings bowing. It has made a huge difference in my double-stop playing in just two-weeks. I play 10 mins of fingered octaves and 5 mins of tenth even though my current repertoire does not call for them yet. I continue with 15 minutes of thirds, 5 mins of 6th, and 5 mins of octaves.

It is a lot of double-stops but I believe it is necessary in order to make a breakthrough.

I think improvement is a series of problem solving. Every time we solve a problem, we take our technique to the next level.

Edited: February 5, 2019, 6:15 AM · I spend 40 minutes noodling around developing good tone and intonation, then I make a cup of tea.
Edited: February 5, 2019, 6:35 AM · A full hour of scales and arpeggios. I come up with my own patterns so that I'm always learning something from my scales and not just mindlessly repeating them.

Then I'll spend about an hour on Etudes, then as much time as I need on Bach, and the same on repertoire.

I also play for fun sometimes.

February 5, 2019, 6:37 AM · About half my time on scales and studies and the other half on pieces, usually some kind of slow piece and something faster. I really can't manage more than an hour these days with my other commitments.
February 5, 2019, 7:09 AM · 1. Open strings. All bow stuff for 10 minutes. I usually do long tones, one-minute bows, staccato, legato, spiccato, ricochet, sautille, etc.
2. 2 or 3 minutes of Shradieck no. 1 pages 1 and 2. Makes my left hand feel less dead.
3. Slow. Scales. Normal, then thirds, sixths, artificial harmonics, and octaves. I'll be doing tenths soon. I also do normal scales with all the bowings above. Then long, short, and broken arpeggios, three octaves, plain.
4. Some etudes. I'm working on Rode, Dont (opus 35), and Kreutzer right now.
Short pieces. Right now, Tchaikovsky's Melodie and Vivaldi's Winter (3rd movement).
Solo Bach. Right now, E major partita prelude and Allemande from B minor partita.
Major concerto repertoire. Bruch G minor right now.
Sightreading, and transposing (usually etudes). Also, I'm learning to improvise, so I do that too. I'll play some Celtic fiddle tunes if I'm in the mood for it.
Watch prodigies and cry
February 5, 2019, 7:38 AM · First, a 20-minute or so warm-up routine: Bow-arm exercises -- 2-3 minutes. Then basic Schradieck-type finger gymnastics on each string -- without the bow -- E-A-D-G, 3rd position, then 1st to open up the hand still more -- equal time to each finger. Same for vibrato exercises.

The key with these drills isn't quantity but quality and consistency of practice. I alternate small doses of Schradieck, or one of his ilk, with vibrato exercises so that the left hand doesn't get tired.

After 20 minutes or so, when I'm fully warmed up, I'm then ready to review scales, shifts, double-stops. Then it's etude reviews and repertoire. Can't do 4 hours but can get in up to 3 hours a day in a couple of 90-minute sessions -- with a few 10-minute breaks. My practice/play ratio: about 60/40.

Edited: February 5, 2019, 8:26 AM · And every 30 or 40 seconds I stop for an internet break.
February 5, 2019, 8:38 AM · Andrew - Yeah, that's me doing homework.
February 5, 2019, 10:08 AM · I wish I had the time to practice 2-3 hours regularly without driving my husband insane...

My routine looks like this at the moment:
-open strings
-scales with arpeggios
-Schradieck X and XII (I'll do all of X, and half of XII)
-shifting exercises (Yost)
break for 15-20 mins to get stuff done around the house
-double stops (which I'm finding super fun these days - and have to set a timer so I don't spend too much time on them! Trott, or the Bach Chorales - thanks Trevor for mentioning these recently)
-something slow - like Gymnopedie 1-3 (pick one) or Gluck Melodie (personal selection, not a teacher selection)
-Bach E Major Partita - Prelude (review from previous day's work and assess what needs to be done today, in addition to what was noted as a to-do from the day before)
break for 15-20 mins to get yet more stuff done around the house
-return to Bach for about 20-30 minutes (If I were working on other rep at the moment, I'd be doing that for this slot)

Last night I clocked around 1.5hrs of practice (not including breaks), and I still felt like I needed another half hour at least to go into depth and explore what was "lighting up" for me in practice.

Which leads me to the question, for the more experienced players than I: when you feel the spark of creativity (or whatever you want to call it) in practice, do you follow that or do you stick with your plan?

Lately I've had some "aha"s that I feel are limited by my catalogue of practice materials. If I follow those sparks, I feel like I'm neglecting said materials by what may or may not be a fruitful exploration. But as an intermediate player, I don't know if it's wise to follow said "aha"s and sparks... It seems this is a personal decision, based on interviews I've read/heard.

February 6, 2019, 5:24 AM · As an adult beginner, ( who previously learnt piano) if found this article interesting,
I don’t know how to embed the link, but it’s in the blog section, titled;The Science and Art of Practicing: with Molly Gebrian and Shelly Tramposh
One of the take home messages I got was to mix up your practice schedule each time, so you don’t fall into a rut with your routine.

February 6, 2019, 9:55 AM · The rut is avoided partly by the vicissitudes of work and life and partly by having different scales, studies, and pieces to put into those slots. And by not being militant about the timing.
February 6, 2019, 10:16 AM · Haha, no kidding Paul! Sometimes I'll be practicing while dinner is in the over, or between doing dishes and folding laundry, and so on. Last night my practice was a bit inefficient, but I managed to get everything checked off plus a quick play through of what I performed the other week at my recital.

The times I've fallen into a rut are when I don't understand or am "into" what it is that I am practicing, when it becomes routine mindless work - I'm a "why am I doing this" and "where does this lead" kind of learner, so if I don't already know that then the effort is not as intensive. It has nothing to do with the practice schedule but the approach to the material for me.

February 6, 2019, 11:35 AM · I switch it up. Sometimes I actually warm up, sometimes I jump right into a piece, and sometimes I just start with scales, which I sometimes use as a warm-up (but really shouldn't).

Lately, it's been a little less general technique, and more practicing technical passages from etudes and working my technique there. I don't like to neglect scales for too long, as it makes me feel like I'm losing some fluency.

February 7, 2019, 2:42 PM · Cotton Mather, yes, I understand what you mean. I don't know, I used to practice a lot for years. The max was I think 18 hours. Then I just couldn't do more than 45-50m a day. But the practice fused out, and now I can take up the violin play a few long bows and it's ok.
Edited: February 8, 2019, 3:32 AM · You should *not* be attempting 4 or even 2 hours without a break. One hour is the absolute maximum time someone can concentrate (so anything beyond an hour in one go is not good quality), & breaking up your practice is also a good way to prevent injury.

I admire your motivation though. With 4 hours a day (achieved safely!) you'll see the rewards of your hard work.

February 8, 2019, 4:18 AM · Well yeah....... I see..... 18 hours basically fries out your brains. It's ok. I'm still young. 18 hours came from some superstitious and atavistic fear, that was implanted to me when I was in Kolkata learning music. If you don't practice 18 hours, your guruji will kill you :) haha shorry
February 8, 2019, 4:39 AM · Edited original post to include questions about developing a practice routine for Suzuki Method
February 8, 2019, 8:24 AM · I have the Suzuki books but haven't really gotten far enough to open them yet.That isn't entirely true. I played about halfway through the first one. I mostly learn when my teacher gives me a new tune or two to learn every week. The tunes are geared toward the techniques I need to learn in the Irish traditional genre. You can't predict where the music is going on many of those tunes. IOW you can't pre think where the composer wants to go.In fact, the composer usually goes the opposite way. I find this is really good for both learning new tunes and for gaining valuable technique.
In addition, I work on technique that was pointed out to me by my teacher as an area that needs work. I'll occasionally pull Schradieck and work on some of that for 5 or 10 minutes.
I seldom ever look at a clock. I play until either my arm hurts or I begin to nod off.
I just payed for a year of but so far haven't made it to the videos yet.I will begin to do that along with my lessons and practice. Improvement should be happening.
Concerning Suzuki method, it seemed more immersive than I wanted because I want to have a lot of diversity in my routine. I will occasionally pull one of the books and play some of it. I think it's more intended as a strict regimen that so far I haven't had the interest to follow as my only source of playing information.
Scales? I know I should, but haven't so much. Brings back less than fond memories of sitting for hours with another instrument doing that.
February 8, 2019, 8:24 AM · Adults don't normally learn the Suzuki Method, although there are teachers who may use the Suzuki repertoire for adults (and if they're trained Suzuki teachers, emphasize the Suzuki teaching points in each piece).

Are you a beginner? If not, it doesn't make much sense to start from Suzuki book 1.

Also, a teacher should have a structured plan. It also doesn't make any sense to tell a student, adult or not, to work on whatever they want.

February 8, 2019, 10:22 AM · Suzuki pieces represent a sequence/collection of skills; each piece has skills that are meant to learned, that build upon each other, etc. If your skills come from a primary diet of scales/exercises/etudes, then the pieces are just pieces. Whatever is the "proof" of Suzuki, it's not the repertoire but the way it's used. You could play Suzuki pieces "casually" (for example, some of my children students like tinkering with popular tunes), but if you want them to be part of your structured learning, that's a discussion with your teacher.
Edited: February 8, 2019, 12:02 PM · With my adult beginners, I emphasize a structure of "five-minute daily skills."

The idea is that no matter what you're working on, including Tonalization, Posture, Schradiek, etc. there's a principal idea behind each practice element. You commit a 5-minute block of time each day to develop that skill. Over a longer period of time, that skill becomes so ingrained that you can execute it without difficulty. Of course, the amount of work might seem trivial so motivation is key. :)

So this means that your practice time is defined not by how many minutes you spend on each book or piece of music, but on 5-minute blocks that address specific playing challenges. When you are able to commit more time to practice on a regular basis, you can address more material.

Kurt Sassmannshaus had a great presentation at a previous Starling-DeLay Symposium on this topic of practicing challenging violin skills, and his rationale was that even if it is supremely difficult, doing one small part of it every day for a year will likely result in proficiency. He was discussing it in context of the advanced bow and left hand techniques one has to do to play the Paganini Caprices and other works of that level, but it certainly applies regardless of the overall difficulty.

As for Suzuki, one can get a wealth of bow strokes developed simply from playing all of the Twinkle Variations (A through E) as well as Perpetual Motion and Etude (for martele, staccato, and sautille). If you look in the books, do not skip over the Tonalization exercises...those are THE fundamental exercise in tone development in the Suzuki Method!

February 8, 2019, 12:38 PM · In addressing some of the points recently made on this, should we define "structure" more specifically? Is there a set structure a teacher should be giving the student? It would seem that structure as pertaining to practice material varies widely among teachers and age groups. The other more important things in the beginning such as bow hold, proper instrument ergonomics catered to the person's build should be out of the way after the first few years. Then comes practice material. I'm glad Suzuki isn't a prerequisite for adults who have played for a little while. I'm concerned that maybe I should be pushed more sometimes in some things. I really don't know because well....I don't know. Scales are important, I don't think we can't substitute more interesting ways to learn the same things. Playing 20 tunes in a certain key should be equal to learning that scale should it not? My teacher seems to approach things like, this is your baby, I'll help guide you to do the things you want to do and add a few things I think you need to do.
As Gene mentioned my teacher uses the 5 minute approach on technique which has worked very well for me. 5 or 10 minutes doing some very difficult things. TBH I probably wouldn't have the time for a heavy practice regimen. If she loaded me up too much I'd come back to lessons having only done half of it.
And the one element in this that's probably different than most is my teacher has played Irish Trad since she was 4 and it was an interest of mine. We had that in common. I think she likes to teach it and I like to learn it.

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