Practice Tips


Stuck in a practice rut?

Or overwhelmed by it all?

Try starting a habit of playing just 5 minutes a day.

If you’re like me and would rather lay around than do anything “productive” try the five minute rule. Especially when the mountain of work seems intimidating.

I am a major procrastinator and through college would put off practicing to prepare for recitals/concerts, or even the next lesson (“oh my gosh, is it already tomorrow?!?” is a thought all too familiar to me. And I am a little embarrassed to admit it so publicly but I want to try to help others.) While in college, it's like I thought, if I couldn't do 3 hours each day, it wasn't good enough. As a professional, my goal is 20 minutes a day of focus, centered practice. Much more manageable and less intimidating than my former self imposed mountainous practice schedule and I'm more likely to practice much longer because I have a healthy relationship with the habit of practicing. And if my days get crazy, I know I can fit in my small bite sized goal and then get back to other things that are gnawing at me, and not feel any guilt towards my instrument. 

I started a 5 minute plan with a few of my students a while back and it goes like this:

Make yourself do the thing for 5 minutes.

Every day. No compromising… (ok, fine, you’ve left town for a week and can’t bring your violin with you to Italy [a. So jealous. b. Special circumstance. c. Bring a piece of music to study to keep your head in the game, or make a point to visit a museum and do some learning about music d. Have fun!]) The idea is that it is a manageable goal and everyday you contribute a little more to your muscle memory.

With my students of the string family, this plan usually includes:

  1. 1 open string exercise to warm up the right arm
  2. 1 or 2 2-3 octave scales and accompanying major or minor arpeggio with rhythm of choice to keep some monotony at bay.
  3. If there’s any time left (I time them to promise is will be at 5 minutes and no longer) some chromatic or shifting work or double stops and then a bit of easy sight reading.

Quite seriously, on normal days put down the phone with (insert social media or game of choice) and play your instrument for at least 5 minutes. You might feel better about yourself, feel less guilt towards your instrument, and you can honestly tell your teacher you made an attempt every day (teachers usually love it when you can play scales - especially in tune).

Here’s a link to a psychological write up to the benefits of a 5 minute plan. 

Stop comparing yourself to others

Seriously, don't do it.

As musicians in a modern digital age, it is really easy to pop on over to a search of a song and find young children playing the same song, but way faster and more in tune than you thought was possible.

Don't compare your journey to theirs. They might already have 5 more years of practice under their belts than you do, but maybe you have more to offer in terms of interpretation, life experience, and drive.

Dedicate some space for practice

Both physically and mentally.

If you don't have a music stand, Get one. Right now, I mean it. If you have to lean over the edge of the dinner table or your bed to see your music, I'm just going to say it: Ain't nobody got time for that. My back just aches thinking about it. No wonder you haven't been practicing.

I love Manhasset Stands. If you're looking for a recommendation from a professional musician and teacher with over 20 years of playing violin and messing around with stupid wire stands, I am your girl. Manhassets are made in America (so amazing since not much these days is) and they are built to last. I have one that my dad found used on a curb on his way home from work one day when I was in high school and that thing endured years of heavy books and is still going strong, almost 20 years later. I am not at all paid by Manhasset to say this either. They just make a quality stand. That, I do have time for.

Have a little 3 foot bubble of floor space that is free and clear, that is dedicated to practice. Have it easily set up for practice. If it isn't easy, you won't do it.

You can even set your instrument out, ready to go if it's out of the way of traffic, pets, and kids. Beware of friends, too. They try to be cool and can accidentally break stuff. Cello stands are great for cellos. String Swing makes a great little violin anchor that can be attached to a stand or a wall. I use the mic stand one all the time when teaching. I wish I had two so my students could put their violins somewhere when not in use.

A good wide shelf will hold a violin easily too. Just make sure the shelf is clean and won't scratch your instrument.

One bit of warning about leaving an instrument out: fluctuations in temperature and humidity might make the pegs pop more often than when the instrument is left in a case. For this reason, do not store an instrument near a heater or ac vent, and windows can be more drafty - leading to pegs slipping. If it comes to be a problem find a more stable place to stash it, or keep it in a case with a humidifier (for winter time).

Get a practice buddy.

If you're starting out as a beginner, it can be extra great having other people to commiserate to about crazy new muscles you didn't know you had and are all of a sudden aching, or test each other on note reading. More advanced students can work towards chamber group practices (super fun!).

Schedule regular practices throughout the week.

At least 5 minutes

(more if you're supposed to be taking this more seriously) EVERYDAY. I had a teacher in middle school that "joked" that we only have to practice on the days we planned on eating. Looking back, knowing what routine will do for success,  I don't think he was joking after all.

Make a game out of practicing.

Practice Roulette

On some little slips of paper, write down various songs that you know you should work on and pieces you love to play, toss in a couple of scales and a reward slip for a piece of chocolate. Toss them all into a hat or grab bag and let luck take you on your musical journey. You then HAVE to do whatever you pulled out as the luck of the draw. Spinner wheels from board games can fill the same role. 

Want to level up your practicing?

Try a don't break the chain challenge.

Bullet journals are great places to keep track of how many days in a row you've been practicing.

Create a logbook and hold yourself accountable to your free time.

Do you actually have "no time to practice" or do you get lost in Facebook or Instagram vortexes? Be aware and live your life, don't just watch other people's lives go by and wish you had something awesome going on.

"Practice only on the days you plan on eating."

Set an alarm

If you need the added motivation for the time that you will most likely to have time top follow through with practicing. Set the alarm sound (because we're in a fancy modern age that can do this) as the piece that got you inspired to play in the first place, or the next piece you'd love to learn some day. Make that some day a little closer by practicing towards it, TODAY!!!

Get out there and make some noise!