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The violin, seen from the player's perspective looking down at the strings, the bow, and the fingers on the fingerboard.
Dramatic chipmunk, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Efficient Practicing

The majority of my time as a violin teacher was spent on teaching students how to practice. Teaching new technical elements only took a small portion of the time, and instead the focus was on implementing “mistake free” practicing in order to build a clean muscle memory.

I was not a diligent violin student myself until my mid teens, and as a result I developed practice habits that were time efficient, with the goal being to not get used to making the same mistakes more than once or twice. I am definitely not advocating for spending less time with your instrument, but I do think it is beneficial to think about how your practice time is spent. Doing an hour of efficient practicing can often give much better results than spending two hours on unfocused and sloppy-on-the-details practicing. In fact, the more aimlessly you practice, the better you are getting at your mistakes.

I recommend spending a good amount of time on playing in slow motion, where you have time to observe as you play, and think ahead to the next move or phrase. And when I say slow motion I really mean slooow motion. Many players repeat difficult sections multiple times – e.g. goal could be to get through a small section 10 or 20 times in a row without mistakes. Then expand the section, start a measure earlier and stop a measure later, and do that again slowly, 10 or 20 times without mistakes.

Cellist Wendy Warner told me when we were teenagers that she repeated the same section of a piece, until she got it 100 times in a row without mistakes. By doing this you are simply training your muscle memory, so that you can move beyond the technical difficulty of the music you are playing, and start focusing on how you want to interpret it to an audience.

The first piece of music I remember doing this with was the Mozart A-Major Concerto. I remember the time I spent learning this concerto as a precious time with my violin, slow and calm, which resulted in me feeling like I was in enough control of the music to truly enjoy performing it.

Of course plenty of time with your instrument and with your music will give you the truly special bond necessary to become an accomplished player. But give good consideration to the quality of that time spent, and you will have a more fulfilling and successful experience as an instrumentalist and musician.

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