“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones” Confucius
We all know that when faced with a big task, we should try to break the task down into smaller pieces. Playing the violin, and more specifically, learning to play a new piece on the violin is certainly classed as a big task, which should be broken into smaller sections to learn effectively. This blog is about how you can make your own practice more effective by altering a few habits. Let’s face it: we all want to be playing rather than practising. How often do we play though the whole piece where we should be breaking down short sections? I think we have all been there at some point.
Let’s hope that after reading this, you will have some fresh inspiration to rejuvenate the way you practise, ready for some great progress on the pieces you love to play.
Let us first think about all the separate steps that are involved in learning a new piece:
Learning a new piece involves steps such as:
• Sight reading
• Deciding on fingering and which positions to play in
• Deciding on the bowing: do I play separate bows or slur notes
• Deciding on style: Am I going to play this piece in a classical or romantic style for instance
• Deciding on phrasing and articulation (staccato or legato)
• Deciding on dynamics and other performance directions
Whilst using the steps outlined here will break up the piece into smaller steps, each of these steps may involve taking yet further, smaller steps.
When we learn a new piece of music, most players begin by learning the notes. This involves sight reading: the skill of playing at sight, without practice. There are ways to make sight reading easier, such as identifying the key the music is written in, as well as its time signature.
Then we need to decide on the fingering: which position am I going to play in and why? This may involve decisions about style and period of the music, as well as the player’s technical ability to play certain fingerings.
Then the bowing technique comes into play: am I going to use separate bows, or slurred notes? Do I play the bowings suggested by the editor, or am I going to alter the bowing, and if so, why? Where are my string crossings? How am I going to make my performance expressive: will I play loud or soft, staccato or legato, do I play accents and other performance markings, such as trills and other ornaments. How will I shape the phrasing of this piece?
These and many more questions may be asked before finally arriving at a decision as to how to play the piece.
You can probably imagine that if you played the piece through from the beginning to the end, there would have been very little time for musings such as the above.
And just by considering all the points mentioned above, you are already practising the piece and achieving so much.
Rest assured, you don’t have to make all the decisions on your own, unless you are a professional musician. Even in that case you would probably be aware of the different traditions your pieces can be played in and you would probably at some have had a teacher who would have made you aware of the many different options for playing this particular piece of music.
Your teacher is there to guide you, so help you make choices which are right for your individual playing level and playing style. Thanks to the Internet, good teachers are now only a few clicks away.
At the Pro-Am Strings Violin School, we have a new series of videos on Youtube: “Break it Down and Practise Together.” Check our channel today: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBKrdpkA_Jo9gXe2XmqHhFA