time management!

February 13, 2020, 12:18 PM · I have an audition “coming up” at the end of May. For it, I am working on two concertos.

I am wondering if there are thoughts about the best way to manage my time in working on both pieces. I have been working on one for a few days or a week, then switching to the other, then back...but I feel this isn’t the healthiest or most productive way. On the other hand, switching back and forth every other day I feel doesn’t give enough time for new developments to sink in. I haven’t really managed to work on both each day, because after doing warmup and scales and arpeggios and etudes and then starting on one of these pieces, I feel there isn’t enough time to do both. (Of course, I could shift my perspective and make/take the time to do both in one day, just doing smaller chunks of each, if that would be beneficial.)

This must be in a lot of ways a very personal preference (much like using a shoulder rest or not ;), but I would be glad to hear advice and or experiences from others as I figure out what might work best for me!

Replies (23)

February 13, 2020, 2:44 PM · Multitasking, are we? One approach that's very simple is to just have a prioritized task list regardless of what concerto the task comes from and work your way down, spending time on each task until you feel either you've accomplished what you intended or you've stopped making progress because of mental or physical fatigue.
Edited: February 13, 2020, 3:18 PM · Do both each day. Task-switch (either within each piece or between pieces) every 3 minutes (or every 5 minutes if 3 minutes is too short a concentration time for you). This forces your brain to remain maximally attentive to the task. Don't practice any segment that's already pretty good. Elements that get a lot of attention one day, because they need a lot of improvement, need at least a quick refresher the next day to make sure that what you have learned sticks; you may have to do tough spots several days in a row before they stick. Note that sleep will cement things in your brain and you want to try to avoid completely neglecting a tough spot for several days in a row.

Condense your warmup routine, and don't go through anything in your warmup/scales/arpeggios without having a highly focused intension of what you are specifically aiming to improve.

February 13, 2020, 3:34 PM · You've gotten good advice from both Paul and Lydia.

One thing to keep in mind is that by compartmentalizing your work on each concerto into different periods of days, you aren't allowing your brain to do the necessary work of thinking about them both on the same day. Yet on the day of the audition you will need to be able to play both in the same day, and with very little time between them. So my advice is to be sure to spend time on both every day, without a lot of time between them as you switch from one to the other.

You should ask your teacher to help you come up with a practice regimen which will cover all that you need -- similar to what Lydia has suggested but your teacher should be able to outline the areas you need to focus on.

You don't say what the audition is for -- if it's for entrance into a music school, learning to manage your practice time now will stand you in good stead once you're in college.

You also don't say how long your practice sessions are -- you might consider increasing their length so that you can cover more music every day.

February 13, 2020, 3:46 PM · Above.

One thing that works wonders for me is playing my repertoire in a semi-formal setting for my friends (ie having them sit down and watch me play in an actual room of some sort). Everything is fine and dandy until you have to play 10+ minutes of music from memory... Whatever cracks, even under that minimum of pressure, I know I have to focus on in the practise room.
It doesn't even have to be a specific passage; often I see that a certain bow technique is lacking, or maybe that I need to focus on stamina.

February 13, 2020, 4:00 PM · Excellent advise so far, indeed!

I had a sinking feeling that not doing both every day was not the best of plans...now it’s clearer to me why that’s the case. Thank you!

It’s entrance into music school in Germany. Some short info about me, for those that don’t know: I’m 33, I’m auditioning for a bachelor because I’m not ready for a master, but the main reason is so I can take lessons and have access an environment where I can improve vastly - that’s the hope, anyway. And the goal is to play on a professional level, but the deeper goal is to be able to express and communicate on the violin. To make beauty.

I did a bachelor in music, and I’m in the midst of a master in English literature/cultural studies, and I work as an editor. I started violin pretty late, didn’t have good foundational teaching, and gave up playing for 8-9ish years. I started lessons a year ago tomorrow (woohoo! Anniversary!) with a very good teacher, the one I will continue to study with (but without having to pay for lessons!!) if I make the audition. So, in general I have good time management skills, but I was never really shown how to practice and still haven’t figured out my ideal, I think.

I’m practicing 4-6 hours a day, 6 (and sometimes 7) days a week. (Minus when I get sick or have to travel or something else happens out of the ordinary.) Some have encouraged me to practice LESS to avoid burnout, but honestly, I’m so happy holding my fiddle and learning from it, I can’t imagine burning out. I personally think it’s good that I spend as much time as I physically can with the instrument. And I think my setup works for me quite well, in that I have no pain at the end of the day from playing.

I am SURE, however, that my practice could be more EFFICIENT. I decided not to worry about it too much until now, because there was so much else to think about and try to assimilate, but I think it’s time I examine and change what isn’t working as well.

February 13, 2020, 8:04 PM · I think you want to sit down and go through your routine with your teacher, because it doesn't sound like you're working on enough to occupy 4-6 hours of practice if you are working on things in an efficient manner.

Given that you are in the middle of what is a technical rebuild, I don't think it's unrealistic to imagine that you could spend three hours on fundamental technique each day, in a wide variety of very meticulous and exacting exercises/etudes. But an hour should be sufficient to work on two works, and if you're doing 6 hours a day, there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't have heaps of time to spend on two pieces.

February 13, 2020, 8:33 PM · Yes, time is there. I think it’s more a matter of mentally being able or willing to jump out of one piece and into the other. I do technical stuff the first few hours, and then jump into a piece and feel I have so much to work on in that “world” that I don’t want to leave it. It would be a matter of discipline, I think. And it’s a very good point that I’ll have to be able to switch from one to the other quickly on that day. I should start now...I see that.
February 13, 2020, 9:23 PM · Lydia wrote, "it doesn't sound like you're working on enough to occupy 4-6 hours of practice." That's maybe true ... unless the two concertos she's working on are bloody murder.
February 13, 2020, 10:47 PM · It's important to rotate what you work on earlier in the session when you're fresh. There should be days -- possibly many days -- in which you do no more than 10 minutes of warm-up before launching into repertoire work. Take a break at least once an hour, and considering doing a scale or two after each break, rather than clumping all the scale practice together, when you're more likely to do it mindlessly.
February 14, 2020, 1:58 AM · You've received a lot of good advice here. If I had to add anything it would be to reiterate what others have said. If you're doing 4-6 hours a day then you, of course, should have enough time to do two concertos every day. The thing to figure out is how you use that time, and if all that time is even necessary to get the job done. Often people tell us that "we must practice x amount of hours to improve," but in actuality, the only person who knows how much they need to practice is you. If you practice efficiently I'm sure you'll notice the time you spend practice will decrease quite a bit unless you really have that much repertoire to practice, but that's not the case here with two concertos.

I can't remember where I heard it from, but there was someone who said that they set a stopwatch or something that they would stop each time they got distracted or their efficiency decreased. I think by the end of a six-hour period they only had maybe 2-4 hours of real efficient practice or something like that. Maybe someone else here knows what I'm talking about?

The key is to like Lydia said practice the things you know are giving you trouble. You don't need to start from the beginning each time you go to practice your piece. You know where the spots you are having trouble with are don't waste time doing stuff you can already play. And in addition to that, I would say get a practice journal if you don't already have one. Write down your goals for each piece and only do those goals. Once you finish the goal(s) for a piece be done with it don't keep practicing it just to "get those hours in" just move on to the next thing.

When I was a freshman in college I was guilty of the same thing. I would start from the beginning, play a little bit until I messed up, fix it, and then move on until I messed up the next time. Eventually, my teacher told me that I need only to practice the things that are giving me trouble. They only time you would need to just play through something is if one of your goals is a run-through. Nowadays in my junior year I've gotten much more efficient in my practice and only do maybe 2-4 hours as opposed to 4 hours just to say I did 4 hours when I didn't really need to do 4 hours that day. I usually only get to 4 when I have more repertoire or when chamber music starts and I need to add that to my workload.

However, this is all just an elaboration on previous advice you've received. The only new thing I've really mentioned is the practice journal.

Edited: February 14, 2020, 6:19 AM · Working with intense mental concentration for four to six hours with only a 5-10 minute break every hour is very difficult and it can take months or years to build up to that. I think people need to be realistic about mental stamina.
February 14, 2020, 8:04 AM · I estimate it would take approximately 1hr to do Saussmanhaus style tuning work on just the first movement of a concerto. Quite easy to chew through hours on a single movement of a concerto. Should it be done daily? It depends.
February 14, 2020, 10:06 AM · I spent all of last year doing a technical rebuild, so I understand why you spend a lot of time focusing on that. However, I'm assuming that your tech rebuild is out of the intensive phase and you can relax on it a bit. I have been doing a warmup (short, like 10 mins), then spending a good block of time switching between repertoire related tasks, then doing the tech work, breaking, then switching between repertoire and tech, and so on. For a 50min block, I'll do a warmup, 2 blocks of repertoire work, and tech work. Then the next block, I'll do 2 blocks each of rep and tech work. I try to end my day's practice with repertoire.

I chart out what I need to do for each etude/exercise/etc. and each section in my repertoire that needs additional attention, run-through, fine-tuning, phrasing, and so on. I spend about 2hrs a day practicing now, and try to ensure that each minute is as effective as possible. I still feel that I could be yet more efficient, but I've been told that I'm doing just fine. I've also been told to take non-medical/travel related breaks with practicing, as I don't like to miss even one day a week!

February 15, 2020, 4:52 AM · Anita, I want to wish you good luck on your new musical journey. While keeping your mind on your ultimate goal of playing professionally, I urge you to enjoy each step along the way. I really liked your statement about ". . . to be able to express and communicate on the violin. To make beauty." If you can keep that as your main goal you can make a wonderful life in music.

That should be the goal of every music student but unfortunately that sometimes gets lost along the way as they try to progress from milestone to milestone.

Please keep us posted about your progress and whether you do get into that music school!

February 15, 2020, 11:17 AM · Anita, which exercises, etudes, and concertos are you working on? The entirety of both concertos, or just one movement from each? If you were to run through everything "straight" without stopping, at tempo, how long would it take?
February 15, 2020, 8:33 PM · I second the idea of a practice journal so you can keep track. My personal way is that the hardest of hardest spots can be practiced 2xday (both pieces), the second tier rotating every other day. The On the days that you go deep dive on some stuff, gloss over the rest (i.e. run or play through slowly so you don't loose it). Work in running larger sections every few days, and as you get closer run more and larger sections and deep dive less. performance practice towards the end. Adjust "basic regimen" - for example on days that you do a lot of double stop work in your rep, maybe leave that out of your basics. On days that you run double stops section in practice, go ahead and include in your basic regimen. Hope I'm making sense? In terms of how much you are practicing - I would be careful with these extreme hours...injuries are prevalent - 4 out of 5 string players will have them. If you record yourself every day several times, you can practice less, but get more done. It's more about training the ears than training the hands, although I agree some motor training is of course required :) Above, enjoy the journey, the journey is what it is all about.
February 17, 2020, 6:06 AM · Sorry to have taken a few days to reply! I had a lot of things to take care of. :)

The two pieces I'm working on are not a crime scene (um...hopefully!), but instead two very standard bachelor audition pieces: Mozart 4 and the Mendelssohn.

I don't do the 4-6 hours all at once!! I do take breaks here and there, and even usually a big break in the middle for lunch or a walk. Otherwise, I can't focus very well. If I find myself not being able to concentrate, I'll stop. I can tell I'm really focusing because practicing and copyediting (which also requires an intense amount of mental focus) are the two activities during which I can sense when my brain's blood sugar balance is tipping and I need a snack! hehe. Luckily, the place where I practice not only has a kitchen where I can make tea or warm up food, but I also live about 4 minutes away by foot. This allows me to effectively break up my practicing whenever I need - go home and make a hot meal, change out my laundry, etc. I switch tasks regularly for my poor brain to survive the day.

I like the idea of a practice journal...is there an example anywhere of a format/template, to anyone's knowledge? I didn't take notes all throughout school because I couldn't stand them to be messy or imperfect...yeah. I'm that kind. Sigh. Trying to break that life-habit, but I haven't done a journal because of how anal I get about things. A template might make this idea more feasible!

I have been doing open string work, bow hand exercises, scales, arpeggios...then a collection of Schradieck, Sevcik, Kreutzer, Dont...but we aren't working through any book of etudes (besides the two Ss...) in particular. They are more randomly assigned. It's one thing I wish we would be a bit more formal about, my teacher and I.

I don't think I just "play through" my pieces. (In fact, I have yet to run through either of them in their entirety...) I do a lot of detailed work. But I don't know that I do it very well. Or, rather, I often don't really know HOW to improve what is lacking. I've gotten little clues here and there, but it is certainly still developing...

Also, I am aware that what I play for the audition has to be rather...flawless. I am doing my best to think about everything - every note, every position, shift, how it feels when it's centered, how it feels when it's out of tune or when a run doesn't work, how to release my thumbs at all times, how to not have tension here and there, what to do with my bow and why!! These are really all new things. So many new things. So, it's slow. I don't know that it's only a problem of efficiency - I think it might be slow simply because I have so much to learn at once, so it's all progressing, but not very quickly. I don't know. I don't want to stress myself out with the idea of being super-efficient, because, truth be told, I'm not efficient in most areas of life. Or fast. I'm a slow person in spirit (and body. I win no races... ;) But I also don't want to be doing all this "work" and find out at the end that I wasn't doing enough of what I needed to be doing.

(Pamela, wow! I'm so impressed by how thought-out your practice blocks are! I'll file that away and see if I can adapt your idea for myself...)

Thanks, all for the ideas about repertoire vs. warm-up/exercises. I'll try shifting that and doing less of that for a while. I think that's a good idea.

Thank you, David. :) I will certainly update as things occur! I am very much enjoying the journey. I try not to get frustrated with myself, but enjoy what I can do now AND look forward to being able to give more and more of myself, one day coming. Onward and upward. Deeper in.

February 17, 2020, 8:33 AM · And I forgot to mention, re. the possibility of injury...yes, I know that’s a real danger. I was injured before, had to do the whole gamut of hand doctors and physical therapy and tendon scraping and no playing for months and months...so I’m very careful. I don’t ignore any signs! But, since my first lesson with my new teacher last year, in which she adjusted my setup (removed my shoulder rest), I haven’t had any playing-related pain! Woot! Even with long hours and performances in which I was very nervous. It helped free up my shoulder, as using a shoulder rest does for many other people... (Plug for...what’s the opposite of dogmatism? Cat-matism?)

So far, so good. But I am aware and careful.

February 17, 2020, 8:44 AM · Something I have found helpful is to put passages I want to clean up into Musescore. I can then print out a page or two and use it as an etude. I find having a nice clean page that doesn't have any eraser marks and alterations less distracting. It is also easier to access and focus on since I do not have to fumble through a bunch of pages. There are times I have only a couple of minutes and having this front and center helps. When the page gets cluttered with check marks and such, I print out another fresh copy.
February 17, 2020, 10:57 AM · I recommend an iOS app called "Modacity" for practice-journaling. However, if you don't need charts and graphs, a spreadsheet works just fine.

When I was doing spreadsheets, I would note time, piece, measure numbers (or other marker of location) and a brief notation of what I focused on. The practice journal is there to help you ensure that you balance your practice across the material and items to get done.

I would not try to perfect measure by measure, which tends to lead us down a rabbit hole and leads to too much disconnection across segments. I would focus on something -- possibly across an entire practice session or significant chunk of a session -- and try to get that thing right. I'd double-check that work the next practice session to make sure it sticks.

For instance, it might be that a day is an intonation focus day and you are going to be hyper-attuned to intonation in, say, your Mozart. I'd do scales in D major. I'd do intonation exercises in D major (Simon Fischer's "Basics" contain good ones). I'd do your Sevcik and Schradieck but only the bits in D major or its relative minor. Then I'd play one movement without vibrato. I'd record it. Sit down with the recording and the music (possibly a copy of the music that you can mark up temporarily) and mark every spot where intonation is a problem. Think about WHY it's out of tune not just the fact that it is; if you can video yourself rather than just doing an audio recording, the video will be helpful. Prioritize those spots. Now work through the spots methodically in order of priority. Figure out what exercise you can make of each spot that will stabilize the intonation -- what you do will depend on the root cause of the intonation issue. (Not pre-hearing the pitch? Hand frame out of place? Difficult shift? Bad fingering? Strange coordination issue with right hand? Anticipating a stretch/contraction a few notes down that is causing a miscalculation earlier?)

Maybe another day is articulation day. Again, tackle that with focused exercises, know where the spots are and hit those spots in priority order, etc. You don't always need to record; you may already have a good idea of what spots you want to go after.

Your brain doesn't actually have the bandwidth to track every single thing all the time. Control one variable very tightly, and build upon the layers that are created.

February 18, 2020, 9:53 PM · I know I'm incredibly biased, but you might want to try the Practizma Practice Journal. Available at practizma.com and a handful of retailers listed on the site. Good luck - it sounds like you are doing lots of good stuff.
Edited: February 19, 2020, 1:08 PM · Susanna - I'm not the OP, but journals help me quite a lot - depending on how it is laid out. Is there a website that might provide a sample page? I'm intrigued. Thanks!
February 21, 2020, 10:03 AM · Catherine - I have sample pages and some info on the layout on the journal page of my website - copy this link into your browser:


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