More Thoughts on Motivation, Part 3: Make a Plan

January 25, 2010

So, how are you coming with finding a piece that motivates you? If you haven’t yet, don’t worry. Keep listening, because at some point one will drop on your head out of nowhere. It might even be something you already listened to, but didn’t care for – that happened to me with the Sibelius concerto. The first time I heard it I disliked it very much. A few years later, something happened and all of the sudden, I couldn’t hear it enough! So keep listening…

Let’s talk for a minute about goals and practice planning. Planning is crucial to making progress with anything you do, whether it’s practicing the violin or cleaning the house. The end goal is to have a clean house, right? Or, in the case of practicing, to be able to play part of a piece better or to do something with more ease than before. Motivation without goals is like a car without gasoline. If you don’t have gas in the car, you’re either walkin’ or you’re stayin’ home. You can be as motivated as you like (“I’m really going to do this!”) but do you know where to start? Neither did I when I started, or when I found my motivational piece. Practicing with a vague idea of what you want to do is wasting time.  It’s going to take you a lot longer to get there.

So, after you decide what motivates you to practice, the next step is to decide what to work on, so that you have a reasonable shot at getting there. Let me say it again: practicing without a plan is a huge waste of time. You’re busy and have many other commitments. So do all other violin students. So an essential part of goal-setting and practice planning is getting the most work done, the most progress made, in the shortest amount of time. Your motivation provides your end goal. Your goal determines what you need to do as well as how to structure your work.

Here are some very general guidelines to help you start developing your own plan. They are not listed in any particular order, but all are generally-accepted components of both Suzuki and traditional practice schedules. The same general principles are used at any book level being studied. However, not every student is necessarily going to be doing everything on this list. If you have any questions, you should check with your teacher before proceeding.

  • Reviewing – play through some or all of your review pieces every day. [Hint: If you’ve already played it, it’s a review piece.] If you have enough pieces, you can set up a plan to cycle through them every few days. The more you review, the easier it becomes to play well.
  • Listening — not to beat a dead horse, but it must be scheduled daily
  • Spots in a future piece, or the next one in sequence, often called a “preview” piece
  • Spots in working piece (the piece you’re currently working on)
  • Memorizing – you already have a head start if you memorize the spots while you’re working on them
  • Tonalization – warming up your violin by focusing on the quality of your sound and intonation
  • Scales, which are essential for:
  1. mastering finger patterns, position changes and smooth shifting
  2. drilling precise intonation and resonance points
  3. mastering smooth string changes, slurs, and new bowing or rhythm patterns

Finally, if you are not practicing daily, you need to find out why. The most common reason is because it’s not fun. However, in order for it to be fun, you have to make it fun by spending quality time with the instrument. Do you practice, daily? Is someone always nagging at you to practice? It is stressful or irritating to have to be reminded?  Now, turn it around: how would you feel if, all of the sudden, practicing became a non-issue? You can choose to practice (without being reminded, told, nagged, etc.) or you can choose not to. There really isn’t any middle ground.

Is there something else you’d rather be spending your time doing? Not everyone truly enjoys playing the violin enough to make the time to get solid on technique and pieces. I think it’s actually very courageous to admit that you don’t like something or that you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, especially when it comes to music, but be forewarned that you’ll probably regret it later if you decide to quit.  Most people do. You might be suited better to other instruments or even other activities. I don’t like to discourage students or even encourage them to quit. But I’m realistic. It doesn’t work for everyone.  Every student I’ve ever known or taught (myself included!) has come to decision time – the time to decide how important the violin is in your life and schedule. If it’s important enough, you’ll make the time and you’ll learn to make the best use of your time as well.