How to effectively practice - focus on one thing at a time or everything at once?

September 10, 2017, 6:09 AM · I just had my first lesson with a teacher (been teaching myself for a few years...I know not a great idea, but I have extensive classical training in another instrument, so I was able to get by.)

Anyway, there is a very long list of things I need to work on, including:

Bow pressure
Consistent bow speed
Straight bowing
Keeping elbow aligned with wrist
Not hitting other strings
Less tension in left hand
More curved left fingers
Placing left hand fingers ahead of time (for faster passages)

When I practiced this with my teacher during the lesson, I had a hard time focusing on all things and I feel like I ended up sounding way worse than normal. Should I focus on one thing at a time so it's not so overwhelming, or is it better to try to integrate all these things at the same time during practice (although it seems kind of overwhelming and impossible at this time)?

Thanks for any advice and encouragement!

Replies (6)

Edited: September 10, 2017, 6:34 AM · Perfect!! Your tasks are already organized. The first five are right hand the the last four are left hand. Divide and conquer.

Work on the first first five with all four open strings (yes, really) and then with all four strings stopped with your third finger (e.g., D on the A string) so they resonate with open strings -- that is an indication of both tone and intonation. (On your G string you can stop with your first finger and that will resonate with the open A.) You can practice your scales in patterns -- four note groupings, broken thirds, etc., to build your facility.

For the last four you want a basic etude that involves moving your bow back and forth such as you will find in Wohlfahrt aplenty. Also you can practice 2-octave scales in the keys of G, A, and Bb for starters. Not sure how much shifting you've done, that's why I don't recommend other keys.

Tension is complicated. Watch your form in a mirror. Tension in your right arm can translate to the left. Remember you don't have to drill your fingers halfway through the fingerboard to make a stop. Experiment with just how much it actually takes (see Nathan Cole's video on that subject).

By the way all the stuff you listed is stuff you work on pretty much forever unless you're a pro. So, I say "welcome to the club."

Edited: September 10, 2017, 7:45 AM · In my opinion, the teacher should be giving you simplified exercises targetting the techniques. You cannot possibly work on all this at once. In my opinion, the teacher shpuld introduce these in a structured and well timed way depending on how much the student has internalized from previous lessons (challenges are good, overwhelmung is not so good). As a beginner, one cannot incorporate the role that each of these techniques play in an ensemble of techniques.
September 10, 2017, 7:45 AM · I think it depends on the student and the situation. Is the purpose of the lesson to give a new student a "wake up" experience about their playing? Is it a very talented and aware student who can absorb a lot of information, or a mediocre one that can only process one thing at a time (if that...)?

I remember about 20 years ago hearing James Buswell bragging that when a student started with him at New England Conservatory, he would "turn the firehose on." But he didn't say what he did after the student had been taking lessons for a while. Did he give the student a soaking at every lesson? I don't know.

September 10, 2017, 8:34 AM · I'm a beginner too, but with no experience with other instruments and can't read music (now I can but slowly). With my previous teacher, I had to do almost everything correctly otherwise I can't move on. Then when something new gets introduced... Everything falls apart and I get really stuck. One hour lesson for half a nursery rhyme *cries

It would help a lot if I can memorize pieces so instead of looking at the music sheet which I struggle to read and causes me to mess up in other aspects, I can focus on looking at my finger positioning and bowing. I am very bad at memorizing though *more crying. Is being able to memorize a piece key to playing it well?

For other teachers out there, do you also teach body movement? On top of C. Q.'s list, my teacher requires it.

OP's list is nicely organized. I'll start making my own too before I forget them. Adding body posture to it: relaxed shoulders especially the left, feet alignment, weight on the left foot, and body movement while playing. Also violin placement on the left hand and left elbow alignment. Sooooooo many things! In due time we shall conquer them all!! =D

September 10, 2017, 1:00 PM · Weight on the left foot? Is it important because I've never had a single teacher requiring that.
September 10, 2017, 1:00 PM · Thanks for all the responses!

Paul - I really like the idea of practicing on open strings. I'm already practicing with lots of scales, but the open strings will help to eliminate some variables at least when practicing the bow arm. I will try all your other suggestions as well.

Tammuz - My teacher is definitely giving me scales and etudes to focus on some of these. I think maybe since I'm an adult learner with a musical background, she felt comfortable giving me all of these items at once. While I do feel a little overwhelmed if I think about it too much, it is probably more of a challenge then just completely overwhelming.

Scott - I don't know how much talent I have, but I'm definitely aware and determined. Also probably ingrained a lot of bad habits during my self-teaching years, so my teacher probably wants to reverse those as quickly as possible (or at least make me aware that those are bad habits not to continue!)

John C - I do think memorizing a piece helps to play it well. I'm not great at memorizing either and I can't really "play by ear," so this is a struggle for me, too. Yes, we can do it in due time! :)

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