Every time a new violin student arrives to enroll in a course, the usual question pops up: How much should I practice violin? Sometimes I would like to answer that unless he is a gifted genius, the normal thing is to start at 5 years old and more or less at 25 years old he will be able to get precise and extremely decent sounds out of him, that is, his son will learn in 20 years although it suits him but perhaps that answer would be discouraging.
There’s an old joke about a tourist asking a taxi driver how to get to the Palace of Fine Arts? And he replies by practicing, practicing and practicing.
Every violin student at any stage asks “Am I practicing enough”?
In an interview, Rubinstein argued that no one should have to practice more than 4 hours a day. He explained that if more than this time was required to solve studies, then something was not being done well.
Violinist Nathan Milstein once asked his teacher Leopold Auer how many hours a day he had to practice. Auer replied if you do it only with your fingers, you will have to practice all day, but if you do it also with your mind you will only have to do it for 1 hour and a half.
Even Jascha Heifetz stated that he never believed in practicing too much and he considered too much practice to be just as bad as too little practice. He affirmed that he practiced daily for no more than three hours and on Sundays he never picked up the violin.
When it comes to understanding experience and performance expertise, Dr. Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson is perhaps the world’s foremost authority. His research deliberate practice is the basis of the 10,000 hour rule that practicing an average of 3 to 4 hours a day would take us approximately 10 years to achieve an expert level of high performance in any domain. But in the case of violin musicians it takes between 5 to 25 years to reach elite international levels.
Deliberate practice means that there is a specific type of practice that facilitates the achievement or reaching of a certain level of elite performance. And then there is the other type of practice that most of us are familiar with, irrational or thoughtless practice.
Have you ever watched a lawyer, athlete, doctor, dancer, cartoonist, painter, programmer, musician or any other activity in general practice? If you analyze well you will realize that most obey the following patterns:
In the case of music this is when we limit ourselves to repeating the same thing over and over again almost mechanically. Be it a specific passage, a lesson, or a study. A repetition that becomes meaningless. In other activities it is the same.
Here we can execute a piece from beginning to end, using memory, but without listening carefully to what we are doing, it is a kind of well-learned speech or an argument that someone uses to sell something, or as when we were children we memorized the tables of multiplication or some historical passage or formula without really knowing what it consists of.
Then there’s the combined approach which is where we play a piece from the beginning until suddenly we hear something we don’t like, and we repeat it again from the beginning changing that passage over and over again until it sounds better and we start over again. piece from beginning to end again, until discovering another passage that we do not like. So we’re really playing on autopilot and like a broken record.
These three forms become three problems because:
They are a waste of time since learning becomes unproductive or even null. You can be practicing for hours, days and weeks and no significant improvement appears, since you can also be reinforcing bad habits, or vices in the technique, undesirable sounds, that is, you can be perfecting the error. And because of the constant repetition, habit makes it more difficult to clean these vices or bad habits in the execution and more work time will need to be added to eliminate these undesirable tendencies.
Insecurity grows. Practicing without thinking lowers confidence, since a part of us tells us that we really don’t know how to solve certain passages in a work. And this creates an uncertainty in the depths of our consciousness that will be reflected at the time of interpretation. We will have a deficiency, not knowing how to identify the key technical or mechanical factors, which are necessary for the good performance and perfection that a work requires.
It makes studying boring, practicing without thinking. We have all had perhaps well-intentioned parents and teachers who recommended hours of study or even left us with excessive repetitive tasks, which kept us busy all day, but at the same time limited our capacity for wonder and the desire to learn something new. We are used to measuring success in units of practice or work time. When what we needed was to achieve knowledge through intellectual development coupled with the capacity for wonder that stimulates the desire to learn more and more.
So what is the alternative? Deliberate or conscious practice is a systematic and structured activity more akin to the scientific method. Instead of meaningless trial and error, it is an active and reflective process at the same time, which raises different hypotheses to seek solutions to clearly defined problems, until finding the applicable laws in each study.
Deliberate practice tends to be slow and consists of, yes, repeating the small, very specific sections that need to be corrected and improved, discarding the constant repetition of passages that are already correct.
It also implies the monitoring of our performance, in real time either mentally and at the moment or with the help of recordings. And after thoughtful analysis look for new ways to improve. This means being attentive and very aware of our movements and what is happening, so that you can identify yourself where the mistakes are. To cite a few examples: was the first high note too loud, or too soft? Was the phrasing of the notes correct, the diction and the nuances? Was the bow attack enough or does it need to be longer or shorter, or more intense or less light? Did the movements I did get the most production with the least effort?
This sounds like a lot of extra work, and yes it is, but it’s mental work; which wonderfully develops the intellect in such a way that it becomes more and more perceptive and makes it easier to do. And not only does the violin apply to our instrument, but later it expands in each of our other activities.
Keep the sessions of deliberate practice limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused, well concentrated, maybe 10-30 minutes at first and gradually work your way up to 1-2 hours until we reach our target 4 hours a day.
Study time is also essential. Keep track of times during the day when you have the most energy. Either the first hours of the morning or just before lunch. Try to do your studies during these naturally productive periods, when you are able to focus and think more clearly. And after studying try to rest your body and mind, with other activities or a nap.
I don’t trust your memory. Track your progress, use a practice notebook, plan your practice and write down what you discover during your sessions. Have clear ideas of what you want to achieve, for example whether it is sometimes the sound you want to produce, or the phrasing at a particular point, or the movement of specific articulation, intonation, tuning etc. Be relentless in this quest to find ever better solutions. When you encounter an obstacle or stumble, after discovering the solution, write it down. This will serve you for future reference.
Find another address. When things don’t go well or we can’t fix certain technical problems then we have to go in a different direction. Either seek help with other opinions or observe other executions or approach our teachers to find the solution. But always define the problem, analyze it, identify solutions, test possible solutions and select the most effective one, and keep monitoring what you have learned.
Always have a goal and after reaching it have another, never lose sight of the goal.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about perfecting violin technique, improving your game, becoming a better writer, improving your skills in sports or exercise, becoming more effective in other activities. Remember that time is short, it goes fast, take advantage of it! Since life is short, start practicing now! Its 10,000 hours, but yes, with Deliberate Practice.
I started Music4Kids with a simple goal in mind: To provide valuable information to guiding parents who want to raise musically inclined kids.Click to read on