Lost on the proper way to practice

September 15, 2017, 1:08 AM · So I know that you need to practice slow and consistency is good but I feel like I'm very inefficient with my practice. If you have several trouble passages in a concerto, are you supposed to go over them slow and perfect them all everyday? I feel like if you focus on one then focus on another the next day you're going to lose what you did on the first passage. Right now, it takes me one practice session just to work on my concerto because I just keep doing slow practice and gradually upping the tempo but I'm afraid to lose what I did if I skip that passage the next day. Am I going about this all wrong?

Replies (13)

September 15, 2017, 2:20 AM · I can't relate to your problem. Muscle memory is a thing, but so is muscle conditioning.

When I am stuck, i stop and go practice scales, trying to incorporate some elements of the music I am trying to play. Eventually, I manage to go through the hard passage flawlessly. It might take a few days.

And no, once a passage is mastered, I usually do not forget it so soon (neither should you, imo).

This being said, I don't play violin for living, so my "good enough" can differ from yours.

Edited: September 15, 2017, 4:20 AM · Maybe your concerto is too hard of a piece for you? Did your teacher assign it to you, or did you choose it for yourself? Also when you do slow practice to bring up the tempo of something gradually, you want to take very short sections. A few measures is better than half a page.

I have never had Bruno's experience where a hard passage in a concerto smooths itself out by going and practicing scales for a few days. If your teacher tells you to slow-practice your concerto passages, then that's what you do.

September 15, 2017, 8:12 AM · Wouldn't it be nice if there was funding to find effective practice technique. Well, high school sports has that kind of funding. They found that students learn a physical technique best (quickly with good retention) when they cycle randomly through roughly 3 minute sessions on various motions. So do 3 minutes on 1 difficult short passage, then another, then another. Eventually, cycle back and do them in a different random order. I've done this and it works.

Separately, there is lots of evidence that practicing one thing over and over and over for long periods does not speed learning and can lead to stress injury.

September 15, 2017, 8:26 AM · Funding to find effective practice technique?

I spend most of my lesson time teaching students exactly how to practice. Unfortunately, 99/100 never really utilize these methods. Why? I don't know. They stumble on passage work and for the umpteenth time we go over the series of groups and rhythms and it's fixed in 5 minutes. But they just can't seem to implement it themselves.

Maybe it's like dieting: most of us want to lose a few pounds, and we know exactly what to do. And yet, there we are at 10pm, eating chips in front of the TV.

So I'd narrow it down to this:
-Your teacher must be teaching you an effective method of practicing, both with groups and rhythms and metronome technique. If they don't, ditch them. Life is short and concertos are long and hard.
-YOU have to implement these techniques. And you have to have discipline. Do NOT expect a concerto--any of them--to come easily. If it takes you 10 times to get a passage, fine. If it takes 1000, then that's what it takes. Do not expect the task of learning the violin lightly. Yes, it will be frustrating.
-You must learn your own mind and what it needs to learn and remember. This can be a lifelong pursuit.
We aren't born knowing how to easily master violin concertos. It takes time and experimentation just to figure out how to learn.

September 15, 2017, 10:13 AM · Unless you are old enough or sick enough that your body is becoming unreliable and is failing you, I recommend what worked for me over the years:

When I had a troublesome passage I would practice it until I played it without error 10 times in a row. Then I would put it away until the next day when I would do the same thing again. When I finally got to the point that I could do that the first 10 times at practice sessions I felt I had it "down pat" and would stop worrying about it. I would do this gradually over entire movements of pieces so that finally they were mine and "performance ready."

Another thing I did for the orchestra of which I was CM for 20 years was get the fast passages (especially the high, fast passages) to the point where I could play them comfortably some amount faster than we were going to take them so that I could be relaxed about them during performance.

But for each person, I suspect you have to find what works for you - unless you have a competition or a performance, there is plenty of time to get it right!

Edited: September 15, 2017, 3:33 PM · Sudar, I think Scott pretty much said it. What I might add to it is this:

Dig into each trouble passage to see where the key trouble spot(s) are. It could be a couple of notes and the transition between them. Work on each spot slowly until you nail it at the slower tempo , then move on to the next spot and do the same, and so forth. Take no longer than 10 minutes to work on each such spots, then go back and review them, either during the same or a different practice session on the same day. Try to limit each practice session within 45 minutes.

We are told by brain scientists that, when we are working on a problem, our brain needs the time to process, but if we don't review what we've just learned soon and regularly, our initial "encoding" will not be secured in our memory. Focus on one problem at a time is good, but make sure you don't spend too much time on one issue for too long each time. Work on it for say, 5-10 minutes, move on to the next, then go back as frequently as you can.

Also, check out a recent thread "Ways to work out fast tricky spots", which has a lot of good advices from some violin experts.

September 15, 2017, 9:57 PM · I would say everyone has given great advice. Also, I strongly advise you to take mental breaks when your practice begins to fail because you run out of mental energy. This is also a good way to prevent injury.
September 16, 2017, 8:41 AM · Yixi,
Good point. I sometimes do this with students to both teach them this method, and also to see if something is sticking in their brain:

I'll have a student fix a problem, and then ask a totally irrelevant question, like "what are you having for dinner tonight?" Now their attention is elsewhere and I'll say "let's try that passage again."
It can be very interesting to see whether the passage remains fixed, or reverts back to needing work.

September 16, 2017, 9:07 AM · Hi,

Some of the best slow practice advice that I have found was in a post by Hilary Hahn. Here is the link:


Great advice by one of the greats! Hope it helps you.


Edited: September 17, 2017, 7:06 AM · Here's a tip if you are working on a concert piece. Take excerpts from your concerto and construct your own exercises around passages that you want to work on the most. It works like a charm. You might take long notes, for instance, and divide them into eighths, or sixteenths, or other variations, like slurred or separate bowings,always incorporating that byte, or a variation of it, that you want to master. You can even reverse the process. Also, if a lot of shifting is required, be sure to add those shifts into your hand-crafted exercise. Sometimes you may even come up with a cadenza for your piece! You can take that passage and weave, easily, one, or two pages out of it. That's what they did before method books. They would create their own exercises based on the things they wanted to perform in public.
Edited: September 22, 2017, 5:38 PM · Most people practice too fast and end up messing up the muscle memory (often by as little as a few clicks.) That said, like sprinting, fast twitch muscles are developed with speed work. Over zealously following slow practice may result in the tedium you are experiencing and never practicing fast will lead to messy fast passages. Agreed to many of the above recommendations, but you need to vary your practice until you find what works for your temperament.
September 22, 2017, 5:46 PM · Get lost in practice and you'll never find the way to Carnegie Hall!
September 22, 2017, 7:16 PM · Hahahahahahahah

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