[This post was written by one of my fellow Internet friends, Kimberley Fraser! Thought I'd give some fresh voices to the blog this summer, especially while I'm away at teacher training this weekend!]
Finding an effective and efficient practice routine can be challenging. We are all different when it comes to finding a plan that works, no one way works for everyone. But of course the best way to keep playing is to make it fun!
The violin is one of the most awkward instruments to play. The more you work with it, the more natural it will feel over time. Approach playing like a child would. When I was a beginner, I remember that quite a bit of my practice time was spent simply playing, more so than practicing individual techniques. I didn’t always focus on whether or not I was in tune or if I missed a few notes. This is not to say you shouldn’t worry about technique at all. But it is very important to set aside time just for playing and not to constantly focus on making everything perfect. Just playing for the sake of playing can be just as valuable practice as working on a particular technique.
Separate and isolate.
It can be frustrating when things don’t come together at once. Even though you might work on improving your bow hold, improving your intonation and learning a new tune all at the same, it is nearly impossible to concentrate on everything at once. Work on your bow hold by just playing open strings. Separate that as it’s own technique for a while before trying to integrate your fingering. Once you feel you are getting the hang of it, see if you can keep the new grip when you play a scale. Likewise, when you are working on intonation, don’t worry if you are holding the bow perfectly or working in suggested bowings. Keep your focus on your fingering. Separating and isolating new techniques helps you integrate them later.
Play along with recordings.
Playing with recordings to accompany you gives a different sense of the music than if you were to just play on your own. It is also a lot of fun. It takes the focus away from sounds you make that you might believe are either out of tune, or not as clear, and helps you internalize the music in a different way. If you don’t have access to a live accompanist to play with, playing with a recording is the next best thing. Play along even if you don’t know all the notes to the tune. There is some great software available to slow tracks down. I like to use the Amazing Slow Downer
Learn on your own.
Venture out and learn something that your teacher didn’t give you. Try learning a new tune that catches your ear, even if it is fast and in a difficult key (a slow downing program would be a useful tool for this). Sound out a new scale in a difficult key like F major or E major. You internalize things in a different way when you figure out on your own how they work. Don’t shy away from new things that sound challenging just because someone hasn’t shown you. You may surprise yourself.
Find a buddy.
Having a buddy for any new challenge helps you stay motivated. If you don’t know anyone to play music with, try and find an organization in your area that you can join such as a fiddle club, a session or a strathspeys and reel society. Fiddle camps are also a great way to meet other players at a variety of levels. Also, If you’ve had the chance to play in front of someone, you understand that it feel like an entirely different experience than playing for just yourself. It is a different type of practice and very valuable.
These are some easy ways to change up your practice routine and help you stay motivated. It is easy to get in a rut of playing the same tunes and practicing the same way all the time. The best way to improve is to keep it enjoyable, and sometimes that means trying something new. Please feel free to share your experiences here.
Kimberley Fraser is an online fiddle teacher. Kimberley emphasizes the traditional method of learning by ear. Her goal is to teach the student how to become self-sufficient at learning music through relying on developed listening skills. Kimberley has a Bachelors of Music from Berklee College of music, where she majored in violin performance and a minor in jazz piano from St Francis Xavier University where she majored in Celtic studies.
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