How to get more done in less time?

February 10, 2021, 10:01 AM · Does anyone have any tips on how to incorporate more into my practice time, or how to get through material faster?

Ideally, I would like to have more practice time so that I could be able to practice everything slowly and as many times as I need, however due to my busy schedule, some days this is not possible.

I find that when I am practicing my scales for instance, I will end up playing them for an hour or two without even realizing, until I am satisfied, but then that leaves me with limited time to work on etudes and repertoire.

I have tried "rushing through" but then I feel like I wasted my practice time.

Do you think it is better to spend the time perfecting my scales, even if sometimes at the expense of other parts of my practice routine?

Replies (16)

February 10, 2021, 10:23 AM · It's not clear to me that you are setting goals for your practice. For example, with scales, my normal routine is to choose a single key, do 1, then 2, 4, 8, 16 per bow, then arpeggios 1 bow per octave, then 2 then 3 or 4, then on to double stops.

However, if I notice my fluency in my scales is off, I make that a priority and might work up slowly and do 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12,16 per bow, and when I get to 16, I might start low on the metronome and kick it up if I can play relaxed and in tune, so I'm now aiming to see how fast I can get before tension or other issues come in. If I identify particular issues like tension on shifting, then I can slow back down and just isolate shifts, or whatever it is.

Arpeggios might have their own work. I choose to allocate my time by what needs the most work, what I feel least comfy in, and how much total time I have, so if I need to go really in-depth on some aspect, I keep in mind how much time I have and prioritize that element, and if I go in-depth on one thing, then I don't do so on the others, unless I want to just make a day of scales and arpeggios, which once in a while is not a bad idea.

All this is a complicated way of saying that you need to budget your time according to the time you have, you need to not work yourself to exhaustion on one thing, you need to have particular goals behind the work you do (I need to clean up the shifts or my intonation is off on a particular string, or after shifting, or up in the highest position) so that you can only put energy in on what needs it, and you need to deprioritize what doesn't need the work.

If you come to in the midst of playing and don't know why you are doing whatever you happen to be doing, then you need to set the violin down and think it out before picking it back up. You have to "be there" the whole time you practice.

February 10, 2021, 10:39 AM · Thanks for all the good advice Christian!

I do set goals for myself, for instance, "today I'm going to work on intonation in descending scale shifts" but I have an issue realizing when I've accomplished enough for one day/session without being an over-obsessing perfectionist.

February 10, 2021, 11:51 AM · In that case, I think you just have to budget your time and be somewhat firm with your boundaries. Another thing is to rotate the order of the work you do. Start with a warmup sometimes, and sometimes without a warmup. Put scales and arpeggios at the front of your practice sessions. Other times, start with pieces or etudes. When you put scales towards the end of your practice day, you might find that it forces you to be more efficient with them.

After all, we don't always have the luxury of performing totally warmed-up. I find it helpful to think of myself as working on an issue over a longer period of time, and that little bits of practice add up over time more than doing a single really heavy session. My understanding of the research on learning is that having a variety of practiced techniques in a session is the way to go (although I still think that going really in-depth is useful). Studies on cramming for tests show that much less is retained over the long term than by students that space their studying out over longer periods.

February 10, 2021, 2:56 PM · I decide beforehand what I will practice and I divide the practice time into segments, each of which is planned in terms of which piece or scale or etude I will work on and has a goal which I may or may not meet such as to clean up bowing on a section of a piece. I have more things to work on than available time each day so I make a chart and rotate tasks each day. The segments are 15 to 30 minutes in length (usually 3 segments of 20 minutes) and have a short break of maybe 5 minutes in between in which I walk around a bit and relax.
February 10, 2021, 3:19 PM · Figure out how much time you want to spend, and divide it up into a schedule. Have categories for difficult parts, and focus on those. Try not to waste too much time with parts you can already do well, but do enough to maintain proficiency. Also, trust the cumulative effect of frequent or daily practice! Don't feel like you need to spend time each day to be perfect- that doesn't last, but the skills you build up over time through frequent, consistent practice do!
February 10, 2021, 7:53 PM · It's easy to zone out playing scales or studies. In addition to the "rotation schedules" proposed by Christian and others, you could have goals for improvement. "My first-inversion arpeggios always sound scratchy when I go from the D string to the A string" or "I always overshift that minor third" or whatever. Don't just hope for incremental (glacial) improvement by doing them over and over. Listen to yourself so that you know what is wrong with your scales or arpeggios so that you can improve exactly that aspect by setting your own customized study targeting that.
February 10, 2021, 9:31 PM · There are a few things you could try to make the most of your time.

You might write out a plan for your practice time. Given a limited timeframe, decide how much time you want to allot to each task. If you’re finding that it’s hard to keep track of the time, set a timer for each section. After you finish practicing, you can review your lesson plan. Think about what worked and what didn’t. You can adjust the next day’s plan if your time allotments weren’t right.

Another thing that can be useful if you aren’t getting a sense of what you’re accomplishing is to mark off items on your list for each day. It can be very reassuring to look back and see the different small goals you’ve met throughout the session.

The complicating factor is that learning doesn’t progress in a constant fashion. Sometimes it’s necessary to process information and technique for a while before an advancement can occur. Make plans to give yourself more structure in your practicing, but don’t ignore the human element.

February 10, 2021, 9:43 PM · Lydia Leong had a great post about efficient practice a while back: http://www.violinist.com/blog/lwl/20141/15383/
February 10, 2021, 10:43 PM · Have a look at Robert Gerle's book "The Art of Practicing The Violin" Isolate trouble spots and patterns and practice those. Use the rotation others have mentioned to apply those abstracted and abbreviated practice methods to different areas one after another.
February 10, 2021, 11:40 PM · If you tend to lose track of time in a practice session, I'd suggest planning divisions of what you're going to practice, using the Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer, Don't work on a thing any more when the timer goes off. I'd suggest that you set the timer for no more than 20 minutes. Personally, I'd prefer five or ten minutes, rotating between two to four different things in 20-minute chunks (put a brief break between chunks). Changing tasks forces your brain to wake up and pay attention.
February 11, 2021, 2:49 AM · Hi Lydia,
I’m a Pomodorian too.
Cheers,
Buri
February 11, 2021, 6:23 AM · Whenever I structure a few hours of practice, I do roughly 30 minutes on, 10 minutes off, and I use a kitchen timer. If someone prefers 20/10, I won't argue.
Edited: February 11, 2021, 9:50 AM · One thing that has not yet been mentioned: The geometry of learning curve. Goethe said it like this: All beginning is easy and the highest peaks are climbed the least often (translation mine; the German original sounds much more elegant). Meaning that crossing those last few percent to the summit of perfection are very hard and time consuming to overcome.

In order to be able to work within a predetermined schedule you need to be willing to leave good enough alone rather than wasting time on those percents that are missing (it is only for a day, remember that!). If you happen to have no success during your allotted time: So much more reason to stop and try again at another (hopefully better) time.

February 11, 2021, 4:04 PM · You might be spending too much time and energy on the technical phase of your practice time; warm-ups, exercises, scales, etudes,... More than an hour (for me) than that, can do more harm than good, like over-dosing on a medicine or vitamin. Time to move on to the main event--working on real music.
Then the more general question, "how to get more done in less time"; we live in an era of multiple electronic distractions. If you go to a big library you will see that the collected of works of Mozart, Bach, Haydn,.. Walter Scott, Dickens, etc, is Huge. How did they do that? My flippant answer is "No Television"
So,-- the solution is to try to focus on only one thing at a time. At age __ that is getting a lot harder for me.
February 11, 2021, 6:56 PM · Thanks everyone for all the great replies so far and helpful tips! I actually did try using the Pomodoro technique and being very strict with myself about my time today. I may have not "mastered" everything I wanted completely, but I was able to make decent progress in various aspects of my playing, and not spend the entire time just drilling technical stuff like scales.
February 13, 2021, 7:51 PM · Greetings,
Paul’s post above alludes to my comment here I think. After some thought, I am not convinced you are going to completely solve the problem by focusing on time management , although that is crucial too.
I think the crux of your problem may be the default error of virtually all violinists at some p@oint in their life: when we are practicing we repeat things over and over and think that is solving the problem. Not so. The only way to practice is to listen -really carefully- to one passage, one scale or whatever and isolate -the exact problem.- Is it one shift, a rough string crossing or what? It is not good enough to say the third octave is out of tune. Rather specify exactly which note is out of tune , is it sharp or flat and correct it. It may not be possible to fix it straight away but make a mental note of the problem and where it is.
If we don’t practice in this way thenour practice becomes a time consuming, relentless play through within two or three sessions. See Atomic Habits- an important read for violinsts.
How to solve your problem? Brutal I’m afraid....
Record yourself everyday for the next month and evaluate the extent to which you are actually ‘practicing.’
Then get into the habit or recording most of, but not all the time.
Cheers,
Buri


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