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The Gold Standard: 10 tips for Effective Practice

Practising violin

I have noticed in my violin studio that new students sometimes have very little idea how to go about practising violin. In this blog, I will give a few hints and tips, which should hopefully help teachers as well as students get the most out of their practice, as both teachers and students share the same goal of making the student progress as fast as possible on the instrument.

When we first set off on our musical journey, there are a great number of new skills to master. By practising, we learn to hold the instrument in the correct way, learn to play the first notes and begin to make a good sound.

To develop this initial skill, we need to strengthen certain muscle groups, which we use in everyday life, but which are not necessarily developed well enough for the techniques we need on our instrument.

Whilst a good teacher gives the impression that the student goes from one fun piece to the next, the student is really taking on board techniques, which will develop their playing beyond their current playing level. At the same time laying the foundations for new techniques, which will follow in the medium and long term. More difficult techniques should build on what has gone before. Good teachers will have analysed many different techniques and playing certain repertoire in a certain order can develop these techniques as a logical progression.

However, every player is unique and one player may have a slightly different posture and playing style from the next. Teachers therefore will need to have extensive knowledge and experience, not only of how to approach each individual technique, but also how to match the techniques with each individual student’s learning style as well as with their preferred repertoire.

Unfortunately, sometimes, bad habits set in that will need to be rectified. Teachers may set specific exercises to encourage a more relaxed bow hold for instance, or to help strengthen fingers that are weak.

Most teachers will go to great length to explain to their students how certain techniques will need to be learned. It is of the utmost importance that students follow these instructions carefully. At times, it may be challenging for the student to be patient when the teacher tells them to be patient and to work hard when the teacher tells them to work hard. Progress always comes in leaps, and very often students will take two steps forward and one step back. Trust is key here, as good teachers know what they are doing and will not be fazed by some regression at times.

The old adage of “Practice makes Perfect” would, in relation to music practice, be better put as “Practice makes Permanent”, as practice can enhance as well as damage playing. If you make a mistake in your playing a few times over, you will find that you get very good at this mistake!

It is absolutely vital that practice -as opposed to playing for fun- is a task that requires concentration and determination. It is a real skill to be able to practise productively, a skill that may not come naturally for everyone, but a skill that can be taught and learned.

How then, do we go about practising effectively? For my own pupils, I have written the Gold Standard of Music Practice and I will share it with you here.

I sincerely hope that this will help progress your playing. Whilst there is a lot of hard work involved, playing better will hopefully enhance your enjoyment of music making. After all, that’s what it is all about.