As this year winds down to a close, I wanted to write a short series of posts about the things I discovered in 2020 that helped me with my violin practice.
Some of these are just live-and-learn situations (which could have probably been solved easily with a teacher’s input) and some are somewhat obvious. But here they are!
So, since February 2020, I have only missed 3 days of practice – and once because it was out of my hands to play that day. The year before, I struggled quite a bit to make practice a consistent thing. While working from home was also a big factor in giving me some extra time (not having to commute to office), I also think that structuring my practice played a huge part in practice success.
About a year ago, I began to write out a practice plan at the beginning of each week. I called this a Fiddle Focus as it allowed me to think through what exercises and tunes I wanted to approach, and in what order I’d practice them in.
I know it sounds like such a simple thing, but once I started structuring my practice in this way, I found it easier to just sit down and actually practice. Gone were the days of saying – Well, I guess I’ll try this song today. And maybe this one… I always knew exactly what I was going to focus on.
Each time I practiced, I was consistently going over the same material, rather than just randomly pulling tunes from a book. I feel like this has been another factor in helping me improve my sound because I’m working on the same songs for weeks, sometimes even months if I feel it’s required.
I also started to see my own learning patterns the longer I worked with songs. For example, I recognize now that the first week or so of learning a tune will often be shaky and uncertain sounding. Then, comes a time that I sound a little better, but don’t quite have it memorized yet. After about two to four weeks, I usually have a tune memorized, and I’m working on playing it slowly. After that, I generally start adding the backing track if there is one, and try to play it up to full speed over time.
So I now recognize the stages of my knowing and playing a song a lot better now that I consistently focus on the same song for as many weeks as it takes before I feel comfortable in moving on. Even then, I sometimes work on a song a week or two more, despite feeling like I’ve “got it.”
These are all things that came out of setting up a consistent and structured practice routine and writing out a practice plan.
I still keep a practice plan, but I’ve found it tends to be the same tunes and exercises with very little change. Every now and then, I’ll “graduate” from a song and move on to the next in a book. But that can take weeks or months of practice. Maybe this sounds really slow – sometimes it feels very slow – but I feel the overall progress I make in doing this is much better than my previous slap-dash approach.
I don’t write out a new practice plan every week anymore, and allow myself more flexibility to change things out through the middle of the week if I want. But every day I practice, I sit down to the Focus page and work through it as if I’d written a new one every week. And every weekend, I take time to reflect on my progress and determine whether it’s time to try something new or continue working on polishing what I know.
Tip Summarized: Write out a practice plan each week and follow it. Discover your own patterns of learning and mastering music through consistent practice.