New students faced with a 15 to 20 minute daily practice assignment may wonder how they’ll ever fill that much time. It’s easily (and painlessly) done if broken into small sections. Follow these steps and you’ll find that the time will fly by; you may end up spending a half-hour or more without even noticing. A minimum range of time for each step is provided; there is no maximum!
1) Warm-up (2 minutes): Hold the violin and bow as you’ve been shown, and check all your hand and finger positions. Play a single note with whole bows down and up to check if your bow is going straight, right thumb is flexed, pinky is round and perched on top of the bow. Listen to your tone. Play a simple scale to check left hand position and finger placement on strings. If you have a scale to play in your assignment, do it now.
2) Polishing up pieces you’ve already begun learning (5-8 minutes): Note problem areas as identified in your lesson and written in your notebook. Go over the steps shown in your lesson to make corrections. Isolate the problem areas and play just those parts of the piece 3-4 times or until you feel you’ve made the correction. Then play the whole piece, without stopping, at least twice. If the assignment was to memorize your piece, break it into sections until you can play all of it without looking at the music.
3) Steps for learning new pieces:
A. (2-3 minutes) First, look at the music without playing it. Identify note lengths and rhythm patterns by tapping or clapping the rhythm before playing the piece. Then, identify the notes themselves: which string are they on? What fingers will you be using? What kinds of patterns do you see in the dot-to-dot line made by the notes: ascending, descending, jumping around, etc.? Are there slurs, staccato notes, accents, or dynamics to follow?
For more advanced students: What is the key signature – or, what are the sharps and flats? What fingerings will you need to use on each string to match the key signature? (i.e. high/low second fingers, low first finger, high third finger etc.) Are there shifts into higher positions? Find the shortest notes in the piece (sixteenths or eighths) and determine a practice tempo such that these notes are playable for you at sight-reading speed. Note any marked bowings.
B. (5-8 minutes) Play through the piece 1-2 times. Listen as you play to see if the notes make sense or sound right. This is your first opportunity to check for proper intonation (in-tune notes) and rhythm patterns. If something sounds odd, go back to step A to find and correct the problem. Note places where you have questions or difficulties to go over at your next lesson. After learning rhythms and notes, make sure bowings and dynamics are correct. Gradually start to play the piece faster (up to performance tempo) as you become familiar with it.
If you complete each of these steps, you will have spent 14 to 21 minutes practicing! There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
For a compelling article on the importance of practice QUANTITY, please read “10K Hours“.