Summer Practice: 14 Ways to UnFAIL

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean that your violin case is allowed to become a dust-bunny magnet. Here are a few different ways you can practice that won’t eat up a lot of time, but that will keep you at least playing. Or thinking. You CAN relax the schedule without falling off the wagon.

1.  Switch roles. I read once that the best way to learn to do something is to teach someone else to do it.  So, if you are a student, try practicing like a teacher.  If you’re a teacher, practice exactly like you want your students to do it.  Sometimes what we say and what we do, regardless of whether we are students or teachers, doesn’t quite match.  Know what I mean?

2.  Come up with several different routines and swap them off. You might try: two-minute drills; choose a single technical or expressive point and follow it through several review pieces; memorizing; play along with the CD; start a music reading program; play scales and experiment with different bow strokes; improve your sound; have a new theme each week, like “hat week,” “animal week,” “alphabet week,” “composer of the week,” etc.; use your imagination.

3.  Review. Review is generally defined as going back through all previous repertoire and making it better than than the last time you played it.  I can’t overemphasize the importance of review.  I could make an entire blog that talked ONLY about review.  Dr. Suzuki did not say, “Raise your ability with a whole bunch of sort-of-learned new pieces.”  He said, “Raise your ability with a piece you can play.”  He also said he could tell what book a student was in simply by listening to how they played Twinkle.  Reviewing with purpose and attention is what makes you a better violinist.   Just as an orchestra is only as good as its weakest player, you only play as well as your weakest review piece.

4.  Do the opposite of what you did during the school year. If you practiced for 15 minutes a day during the school year, try 30 minutes.  Or do it twice a day.  If you practiced once a day during the school year, add a little extra time but do shorter sessions.  Or, my personal favorite, ditch the clock altogether and go til your brain crashes or your bow arm gives out.  You might be surprised at what you are actually capable of doing.

5.  Commit yourself to play something every day. It doesn’t matter what:  Twinkle A, major and minor scales in all 24 keys, riffs from your favorite Hendrix or Metallica songs, whatever.  Just play something.

6.  Commit yourself to listening every day. I have several pieces on my Rhapsody playlist just waiting for their turn.  The more you listen, the easier it is to learn your current pieces, keep review pieces at your fingertips and get motivated to learn more advanced pieces.

7.  Surprise yourself. Write the names of every piece you can play on small slips of paper.  Drop them in a container, mix them up, draw one and play it.  You could do this with individual composers as well, or with techniques that you’re working on.

8.  Surprise someone else. Plan an impromptu performance for someone close to you.  Make it a surprise.  Extra challenge:  book a performance at a local nursing home, group home or homeless shelter.  Extra super-duper challenge: take requests from the audience.

9.  Learn a piece the opposite way you normally would. If you’re stuck to the page, try listening.  Play it in your head, with no instrument.  If you’re aural, use the sheet music.

10.  Adapt a game you enjoy. It could be a board game, a card game or whatever you like.  Extra challenge:  adapt a game like Twister, Hot Cold, Name That Tune or Hide-and-Seek.  Make it fun and remember that games are not only for kids.

11.  Do the Ten Thousand Times exercise. Choose a technique or piece you want to master.  Count the number of days in your summer and divide it by 10,000 to come up with a daily figure.  Then use a stopwatch to see how long it takes you to do it.  For a couple of weeks, budget at least that much time for that task.  It will take less time to do as you get better at it.  [Note: you only get to count the right ones, so make every repetition count in your favor.]

12. Do extra listening. If you don’t listen, start.  I’m not kidding or exaggerating about the kind of spectacular progress you’ll make if you start listening, both to what you’re playing and to how you’re playing it.  I could write a whole blog devoted strictly to the importance of listening, too.

13. Practice verbally. Think out loud.  Your mouth is truly a wondrous thing!  Decide exactly what you are going to do.  Go a step (or half step) at a time.  Don’t leave out any steps.  Say it out loud, loud enough for your brain to register what you said.  Be exact and precise.  Then do what you said.  Then assess it.  Did you really do what you said?  Is there another way to do it?  Can you say it differently?

14. Make a practice contract. In order to gain something of value (greater ability, more satisfaction, etc.) you need to give something of equal value (time) for a specified length of time.  As a bonus for meeting your “terms” you could add a bonus or reward for extra motivation.  (hmmm…this might be good stuff for a future post.)

I’ll be using some of these myself.  If anything, it should be an interesting summer.

Do you have any tried-and-true things you do during the summer to make practicing fun or different?

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