Structuring Practice

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Students and parents often struggle with how to structure practice time.  Occasionally a student will come to a lesson and tell me that they don’t know what to do when they practice.

In general it helps to have one or two intentions for technique development in mind for practice. Here are several examples:  knees and hips over feet, shoulders relaxed, even distribution of weight over feet, evenness in the length of the sides of the waist, bow hand fluid with a bent thumb, left hand fingers hovering over the strings when not in use, Left hand thumb not squeezing, and or Left hand fingers touching the string under the inside corners of fingernails.

Here’s a rough outline of the structure of violin practice.

1. Stretching:  Sometimes we come in from the cold or straight from our desks or parties to our violins.  Get creative. Stretching helps prepare the body and mind for attentive focused practice.

2. Tuning.  Use a tuner.  Tune all the strings with care even if the student is only playing on the A and E strings. The fingered notes will resonate more when in tune if all the strings are in tune.

3. Open strings.  Practice open string exercises.  Try various bow speeds, rhythms, lengths of bow.  Maintain hips and shoulders over feet.  Try to maintain evenness in the lengths of both sides of the waist.  Focus on maintaining a bent thumb on the bow hand and a relaxed hand.  Work on finding ease in the movement of drawing the bow over the strings.

4.  Scale and arpeggio.  This may not apply for brand new violin students.

5. Etudes or Note Reading work. Etudes are generally assigned on an ad hoc basis for Book 1 and 2 students.  By book 3 though, students usually start to work on Etudes which are technique studies.  Many book 1 students start to learn to read music and work on note reading skill and the note reading exercises serve as the Etude.

6. Review pieces.  Play two a day.  Sometimes this comes before step 5.  Players choice! If the student is brand new, then perhaps there are no review pieces, so skip this step.

6. Practice assigned sections of the newest piece.

7.  Fool around.  This is when you try some improvising, play a duet with your brother, make funny sounds or see if toes can finger notes.

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