Summer Practice: 14 Ways to UnFAIL

June 10, 2010

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?


Summer Practice Schedule FAIL: What To Do

May 13, 2010

A recent article by Erin Doland reminded me that summer is fast approaching.

Do you have the same problems I do with summer practicing?  Shhh! I’m not supposed to admit that as a teacher, but … news flash!  The whole practice organization problem doesn’t necessarily go *POOF* and disappear when you hit “Song of the Wind” or the Fiocco “Allegro” or Mozart’s fifth violin concerto (Suzuki Book 9) or a Master’s degree.  Case in point: nearly every summer, I make this detailed plan with many things to investigate, work on, drill and perfect, and tons of questions to research.  And a few days into it, I miss a day.  Or two. Or thirty.  It’s OK, though.  I’ve got Plenty of Time.  August is still a long time out.

Um.  Sure.  Too bad the audition committee doesn’t see it that way.

Even though I am “supposed” to know better, I encounter the exact same issues that any other student does.  The art of practicing is a balance among several skills, including listening, discernment, planning, implementation, and time management.  None of us is perfect; therefore none of us has the perfect balance of these skills.  The problem happens when one or more parts of the balancing act go awry and we run out of time or motivation to repair or restart it.  Some students find themselves experiencing icky mental issues like feelings of panic, depression, or worthlessness.  They take their failure personally, instead of assessing the Plan.  In my case, judging by the amount of Serious or Epic practice FAIL over the years that resulted in rejected auditions, if I took it all personally and decided I was a worthless person because of it, I’d likely be in a mental institution.  There will be other auditions.  I will do a better job preparing next time.

A wonderful benefit about summer is that you can be more relaxed or a little less intense with the scheduling.  It’s one thing to be relaxed to the point of not having a set schedule — I have tried this before, but it is a little too relaxed for me — but it’s another entirely to fall off the wagon.

Erin writes, “…eventually your organizing system will fall apart. How you respond when this happens, however, will determine how much anxiety, stress, and clutter paralysis you will feel.”  I hope Erin won’t mind if I share her ideas with you, substituting the word “practice” or its variant when she mentions clutter and adding my own observations and comments in brackets.

Remember these four things when you are dealing with practice schedule FAIL:

Keep Things in Perspective:

  • Failure only happens if you never recover. You only fail when you give up entirely and abandon all practicing for the rest of your life. You’re not failing; you’re learning.
  • Being organized takes practice.  Don’t expect professional practicing results without years of practice.
  • Who cares?!  Unless your health or welfare are at risk, not practicing is not the worst thing in the world.  Watch 30 minutes of the national news to help put things in perspective.
  • Embrace the mess.  Since you will eventually get off your bum and get back to practicing, take a day (or seven) and enjoy the chaos.  Let go of the stress.

Find Motivation:

  • Determine why you want to practice.  If you don’t know why you want to practice, you’re going to struggle with every attempt you make to stay on track.  [You must have a goal.  It is non-negotiable.  And the discipline to build a habit.  Practice is a habit, a learned behavior.  If you don’t know why you’re practicing, why are you wasting time on it?]
  • Ask for help. Call a friend. Call your teacher.  [Call a different teacher. Look at online message boards and violin student groups.  Join a newsgroup or mailing list.  There are as many options available as there are excuses.]
  • Plan a performance. Nothing gets me moving faster than knowing there will be people coming to hear me play.  [Or having a performance planned for me, such as an orchestra concert.  Many people come just as much to watch as they do to listen.]
  • Acknowledge that you’re procrastinating.  Simply admitting to yourself that you’re avoiding a task can help get you motivated to change.
  • Plan your entire schedule using a single piece as your “project” focus.  Pull out your calendar, determine the scope of your project, create action items, and block off time each day to reach your goal.  Being specific (and realistic) about what you will want to accomplish helps to alleviate the overwhelming Cloud of Doom and realize you can get things back to normal.

Get Started:

  • No excuses.  Follow your project plan and just do it.
  • There isn’t an easy way.  You will have to do the work.  However, the end result is definitely worth it.


  • Create a routine.  If you don’t have a chart of your daily practice routines and responsibilities, now is the time to establish one or evaluate your old one.  [If your plan isn’t working for you, change it.  Take away your excuses.  Aside from basic physics, there are no absolutes in violin practice.  Whatever works for you is the right way, even if it doesn’t work for anyone else.  Your teacher will be able to tell if it’s working by the amount of progress you’re making.]
  • Try a weekly plan.  One of the easiest ways to practice and keep from stressing out about what you need to do is make a weekly plan that spreads your tasks out so you can see how what you do today affects what’s on the schedule for tomorrow.  [Remember to schedule a regular day off once a week or so.  Your body and brain will thank you.]
  • Declutter your time and your practice space.  [The less you have to do, or feel like you have to get done, the more time you can spend concentrating and listening to yourself.]  The less stuff you need to practice with makes less you have to clean, organize, store, and maintain.  [Minimum equipment is preferable, but make sure that whatever you have available is stuff that you actually use.]
  • Enjoy the calm.  [Way too often, we focus on the failures.  Regurgitating mistakes tends to make the average person cranky.  Focus instead on the positives.]  Take some time to reflect on how different you feel when you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something. Remembering this feeling, and enjoying your time with the violin, are great motivators to keep you on course in the future.

Here’s hoping that your summer is filled with happy, relaxing, joyful, positive progress!

Awesome Search Terms, Vol. 3

April 9, 2010

This week’s edition of Awesome Search Terms deals with a couple of left hand questions.

1. “teaching fingering violin preschooler”

I’m not convinced that teachers can actually “teach” fingering.  Preschoolers typically learn by listening, copying and doing.  Thus, most preschool students (any age student, for that matter) will “learn” fingering on their own by using aural and muscle memory.  The teacher or practice parent helps with finger (i.e., pitch) adjustments, until the student can consistently do it himself.  Usually, the easiest way to do this is to physically move their finger to the proper location and make sure that they hear the difference in pitch.  It’s a good “cause and effect” lesson.  Many teachers advocate using fingering tapes to help with “teaching fingering.”  The tapes are a good tool, but are intended primarily for non-violinist parents, who usually need a visual for the correct placement.  For older students, tapes are meant to be used for memory training, at which time they are removed.  Fingering tapes can cause more difficulties for some students than they solve.   It can also be difficult psychologically to remove the tapes later.  I use them on an as-needed basis and with extreme caution. For the vast majority of my own students,  I have had better luck leaving the tapes off.  But this is a personal preference.

2.  “biggest mistakes when learning major violin scales”

There are several things I think are helpful to keep in mind.  First, know your intervals. In a major scale, the interval pattern is always the same. It has been this way since the beginning of the major scale.  Our current laws of physics and acoustics say that it will never change. Another way to say this: know your half-steps and whole steps and where they fall in the scale.  Or: know exactly where your fingertips are close together and where there is a space between them.  The pattern is: whole step, whole step, half step, whole, whole, whole, half.  Or: space, space, touch, space, space, space, touch.  Always.

Second, use your ears.  Scales are the best, easiest tool we have to help us learn how to play in tune.  Yes, they can be boring.  I’d agree that they are definitely not as much fun as playing pieces.  But because of their relative simplicity, it becomes easier to focus and listen carefully, without a bunch of extraneous notes to distract you.  Look at the notes before you play them.  Sing them, preferably out loud, while placing your fingers without the bow.  Do not give yourself an opportunity to make a mistake.  If you do fluff a note…

Fix it immediately. Always play scales with complete attention.  The more you play flat-out wrong notes or wishy-washy notes, the more your ears and fingers think they are actually correct.  Which makes them really really hard to fix.  Don’t play wrong notes over and over.

Fourth, start at a slow tempo and use different bowing patterns.  Playing slowly helps you develop finger dexterity and precise intonation.  It also helps you develop solid bow skills.  When your tone is warmed up, try adding different bowing patterns, like slurred or hooked groupings, to help you build speed without actually going faster.

Five, review scales on a regular basis. Some teachers (or scale books) focus on a different scale each lesson.  Others recommend a different scale each day.  There are other ways of making them easy and fun to do.  The important thing is to do them, maybe even if your teacher hasn’t assigned any.  They will help you develop confidence and security in your playing in a way that merely playing through regular pieces cannot.

The Ultimate Reward

April 5, 2010

I am constantly amazed at how much personal finance and fitness are related to violin playing and practicing. Case in point: one recent bloggy gem called The Fat Nutritionist.

Now, I am most definitely not a health freak. Never have been. Never will be. In fact, my motto is “Please pass the cookies.” But alas, I am the mother of an almost-kindergartner and he is active with a capital A.  I’d like to see him grow up, and it’s not fair to either of us (or The Dad) if I were to kick off early. So being healthy has become a higher priority than it used to be. I started making purposeful tracks in that direction earlier this year. They are small tracks, but tracks nonetheless. Now, if I could just refrain from injuring myself…

So, back to my new internet nutrition guru. I like her. She says I can have cookies. She writes:

“There is a body of research showing that humans acting under the threat of punishment or the promise of reward do sub-par work.  Whether that work is solving puzzles or learning information or exercising and eating well, the fact that an external, overriding consequence is actually the driving force behind the behaviour — rather than one’s own intrinsic desire — means that that behaviour is not actually free. It is coerced and manipulated and induced. And going through the motions in order to reach the carrot or escape the stick actually takes something away from the benefit of those motions.

“Exercising to lose weight makes fitness not as fun or useful. Eating to lose weight makes nutrition not as fun or useful. And, when things are not fun (meaning, intrinsically rewarding), it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will stop doing them, rendering your time “on the wagon” pretty much a loss. Because you’ll lose whatever long-term, intrinsic benefits might have come from doing those things voluntarily.”

Yes. I eat and exercise to be healthy. But the thing is, way down deep, I don’t want to exercise. Or eat right. I didn’t really want to quit smoking, either. If I have a choice between broccoli and cookies, there really isn’t a choice. The Cookie wins, hands down, mentally. Even if I choose to eat the broccoli immediately. I also like to sit and read, preferably with a box of cookies within walking distance. It’s hard to read while I’m walking, running, bending, twisting or doing crunches. So I exercise and have modified my eating habits because The People Who Know All About Being Healthy tell me that there are long-term benefits, like living to see my grandchildren or not having to stop on each step to catch my breath. If I don’t do it now, I might not be around to see my Eric graduate from high school.

Many violin students practice religiously, but are using the same “carrot or stick” system. Think about it for a second. Very few students practice for the thrill and fun of learning. They (or should I say we?) practice to avoid punishment (the loss of some privilege usually), or to gain a reward (stickers, food, privileges, etc.).  I know many more people who read voraciously because they enjoy reading, than people who practice because they love discovering and making music. The best motivation, as TFN says, comes from inside.   All learning should be like this — unforced, born of natural curiosity, not graded or scaled, at one’s own pace. For the fun of it. This is what Suzuki-style learning is all about.

My new friend has zeroed in on something else perhaps more critical than our mode or method of learning. It is a cardinal rule of life: if it’s not fun, you won’t do it. And if you’re not doing it because YOU want to do it, you’re not going to gain much from doing it, no matter how fun you try to make it. I get it.  May I have a cookie, now?

Anyone else want to push the reset button? I know I do. I want to want to practice. So how do I get there? How do I change my mindset without feeling like I’m being deprived or sacrificing?

Reader question: How do you “reset” when you realize that you are either trying to avoid punishment or you’re in it just for a reward? Does it even matter? Or does it bother you to catch yourself thinking like that?

Every Second Counts: Practicing is as Simple as 1-2-3

April 2, 2010

When I was a beginning violin student, my teacher said to practice 30 minutes a day. So, I practiced 30 minutes a day. By the time I hit junior high, he said I should be practicing 90 minutes to two hours a day. And I did, without question.  I came back  able to play what was assigned (for the most part), so I guess all my string teachers assumed that I must be working diligently at home and doing something right. I don’t believe it ever occurred to them that I didn’t really understand what they were asking me to work on. And it never, in all that time and for decades afterward, occurred to me that I could do it differently. All I cared about was getting to the next piece; I paid little attention to tone or musicality. As long as it was in tune, bowed correctly and memorized, it was good enough for me. Until grad school. My teachers in college had different ideas about what constituted acceptable performance. And so,  I reassessed a few things, including my practice routine. Considering that teaching excellent practice technique and habits is the primary job of a violin teacher, it has taken me a ridiculously long time to learn to practice. In the end I have concluded that practicing is as simple as 1-2-3: one point, two minutes, three times.

If you want to solve an algebraic equation, you use a formula that breaks down the problem into tiny pieces that are, by themselves, easy to solve. After you solve the little parts, you can plug all the parts back into the formula, do the appropriate operations to come up with an answer. If you’ve followed the order of the formula and shown your work, your answer will either be correct or you’ll have enough information to figure out where the mistake is.  A good practice “formula” is very similar to a math formula. It can be broken down into very small parts, each of which contains enough information to determine if you’re on the right track, or you need to try something different to get the result you’re looking for.

“One point practice” means that you can reduce a tricky spot to its smallest possible components. Then choose one of those things, decide what you want to do with it and work only on that one thing. Be very specific and detailed about what you are working on. Even the most difficult music can be learned this way, so can you imagine what this kind of practice can do for beginner music? I’ll expand on this in a future post.

Take that one point and work on it with complete focus two minutes. Then stop for a few seconds and rest. If you can’t quite do two minutes, try one minute, or ninety seconds. Run a stopwatch to find the baseline for your natural attention span, and go from there. It might only be ten seconds, and that is perfectly OK. You work with what you have, and train it. Two minutes can be a goal to reach, or a starting point for developing superior concentration skills.

The ideal way to accomplish your goal for that one point is to do it three times. This is how the brain is programmed, how we teach it to remember all the details and minutiae of excellent playing. The short periods of intense focus give your brain and muscles “data” to use. The rest periods allow your brain to process what you just worked on and permanently encode it in your muscle memory.

If the goal of practicing is to play something better than when you started, this is a good method for getting some serious work done in a short period of time. It can be rigged to work over an entire practice session, whether you practice fifteen minutes or two hours a day.  The 1-2-3 practice formula – one point, two minutes, three times – may bring the results you’ve been after.

More Awesome Search Terms

March 31, 2010

Today, I have another installment of Awesome Search Terms.

First up: hugging your violin.

I hug my violin a lot. It’s not that I don’t get enough attention from my DH or my DS, because I do. It feels natural and normal to hug the violin while I’m relaxing between entrances during an orchestra rehearsal, or while I’m listening to a student play. The term “hugging” is often used with preschoolers to describe how we want them to hold the violin. It introduces and reinforces the concept of roundedness. Form in violin playing is all about the perception of round, even though nothing is actually round. How’s that for oxymoronic? Think about it: can you hug your child with stiff arms? I can’t. You can’t play a violin with stiff arms either. Everything is soft, flexible, rounded — the violin hold, the bow hold, the approach to and departure from the string, the bow stroke, the sound, phrasing…everything. The violin must be hugged and loved in order for it to sing, just like you.

Next: violin practice mistake corrects itself.

Sounds kind of like a news headline, doesn’t it? “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” Heh. It might be news if it actually happened. Mistake correction is not magical, but we’ve all had experiences where mistakes appear to correct themselves with no help. The terms we usually associate with this are “fluke” or “coincidence”.  Mistakes “correct themselves” because you did something different, whether you realize it or not. Something changed, which caused the mistake to go away. Not being aware of mistakes in the first place will sometimes lead a student to believe that they only happen once in a while and correct themselves without effort. You have to realize you made a mistake in the first place before you can address it. Your teacher probably spends at least half of your lesson helping you hear and correct mistakes. In home practice, pay attention to what you’re doing. Listen carefully and with focus. Chances are that if it doesn’t sound right, or feel right, it probably isn’t.

And then there’s this one: playing violin pieces too fast too soon.

If you don’t hear the mistakes, they have an unfortunate tendency to snowball into bigger ones. Before you know it, you’re in way over your head and you have to slow down, stop, or even backtrack to get back ON track.  I don’t necessarily think there is such a thing as “too fast” or “too soon”. Either you can play it at the appropriate tempo or you can’t. There isn’t much in between. The same holds true for “too soon”. Who says it’s too soon? If you can play it correctly and musically, I say yay! Add it to the review list and move on to something newer.  One of my teachers had a saying he used for shifting, but it’s very applicable here: fast and clean is good. It can be fast, but if it’s not clean, it’s not correct.  If you try to cheat or hide it, it comes back to haunt you in the Mistake Snowball. The other problem is that if you try to play a passage too fast too soon, you are setting yourself up for major discouragement. Yes, you can use it as a measurement for how far you still need to go before you reach your goal — sometimes it’s fun to play it until you crash and burn — but many students simply get discouraged and give up. The two absolute worst things you can do are one, whine about it, or two,  give up and try to play the next piece in the book.  If you didn’t fix the mistake in the easier piece, it won’t sound any better in the new one. You’ll never have to worry about whether you’re playing a piece too fast too soon unless you stop reviewing old pieces, or lose sight of the reason why review is important.

Finally, a couple of equipment-related terms: “wolf eliminator” and  “gadget violin attach to bridge to play i…”

I love how WordPress cuts off the term so I have to guess what the searcher meant. It kind of reminds me of Wile E. Coyote shooting off the cliff and the whistle you hear until he hits the bottom. [plop][giggle]

Where was I? Oh, yeah. A wolf eliminator is a small piece of metal that reduces or eliminates “wolf tones.” On a violin (any bowed string instrument, actually), these annoying creatures are strange variations in pitch, usually in the upper reaches of the violin’s G string. They often sound like a howl, hence the name. A true wolf tone will not disappear after changing the string or all the other stuff you can do. So, you can attach a wolf eliminator to the string between the bridge and tailpiece. And voila, no more icky sounds.

There are only three gadgets I know of that attach to a violin bridge. The most common, a mute, attaches to the top of the bridge and dampens some of the vibration. Mutes are made of metal, plastic, rubber or composite and come in various sizes and shapes, to provide different ways of engineering the quality of the sound. The second would be an electronic tuner. Some tuners are silent, meaning they clip to the bridge and measure the vibration but don’t give you a tuning tone. I don’t know much about them because I use my ears and physical memory of the exact frequency vibration of each string to help me tune. The third gadget would be a pick-up, which allows you to plug the violin into an amp or preamp to amplify the sound. Some pick-ups clip on to the side of the bridge; others are built in to the bridge or tailpiece. A clip-on pick-up will easily convert your acoustic gig to electric without damaging your instrument, and you’ll still be able to use it for everything else.

Fast Versus Slow, or How to Avoid Mistakes

May 1, 2008

Of all the times I really needed a scanner, this would be it, so I could illustrate my points using actual musical examples. It’s on the purchase budget for this year, though.

Fast practice leads to mistakes. Playing a piece fast, mistakes and all, simply reinforces whatever mistakes a student has learned into the piece. However, practicing a piece slowly, mistakes and all, does exactly the same thing. On the surface it sounds like a no-win situation — doesn’t matter what you do, or try to do, it’s wrong. If the goal of practice is to make whatever you’re practicing easy, how does it become easier if it’s always hard and it never feels like it’s getting easier? That’s the $64K question! Luckily, the answer is pretty simple. So how do we avoid mistakes?

1) Listen to the piece.
2) Separate the hands
3) Break the spot into individual pieces and remove the fluff
4) Think slow, play fast

First, you absolutely must have an accurate idea of what the spot is supposed to sound like, and/or what you want it to sound like at performance tempo. Then you reduce the spot you’re working to its individual components. For most students, it just won’t happen unless you know what it’s supposed to sound like and you make it easy to work on. Start by separating the hands. Pianists do this all the time — work on left hand stuff, then switch to right hand. Violinists can do this too. Intonation is generally a left hand issue; whereas bowing is the domain of the right hand. For example, say the passage has intonation issues combined with an intricate bowing. These things are worked on separately, then when everything is more comfortable, the hands are put back together.

In order for the brain to have time to process all the bits of information it is given, it is very beneficial to break down the practice material into its smallest possible components, and add rests to the music for practice purposes. Sometimes, I like to call it “thinking space” or “decision time”. Practicing this way will drastically reduce the amount of clock time that a student has to spend practicing. It will also drastically reduce the number of mistakes that get “learned” into the piece. I think this procedure is most helpful when it’s done at some sort of tempo, or assigning each bit of the spot a preset amount of time. Musicians would probably understand this better as “keeping a beat.” The most common ways to reduce a spot are to remove the bowing, add space (rests) between each note in the spot, and change/substitute the rhythm of the spot.

Removing the bowing means just that. Take out all slurs, hooks or other phrasing indicators that are done with the bow. You’ll then have a pattern of single pitches, unencumbered by a bowing or phrasing pattern, that will be easier to practice. If you add space between each of those pitches, you have programmed time for your brain to fully focus and process the muscle memory instructions that are necessary for each pitch in the sequence. If you feel it is a particularly difficult spot, you can add as much time as you need, but try to keep it in a set meter (keep a beat). If you have trouble with this, a metronome can be useful (but it shouldn’t be relied on or overused. Use it only until you are secure in counting). Another way to do this is to change the rhythm or substitute another rhythm pattern for the one on the page. It accomplishes the same thing that adding rests does, but it also changes the focus to something else so it makes the original point of practice seem less difficult. For example, you could take a string of pitches and practice them using the “Twinkle A” rhythm pattern (aka, Mississippi Stop Stop).

All these things are easy enough to do, but the tricky part is to play each note in the sequence, no matter how you’ve broken it down, at performance tempo and using the same technique that you would if you were playing it as written. An easy catch phrase for this might be: “Think slow, play fast”. If you try to play the edited spot with sluggish motions, just because you’ve “slowed” it down, when you try to play it faster you’ll likely have a train wreck on your hands. This happens because you have (unintentionally) trained yourself to be sluggish. If you want the bow to move fast, if you want fingers to move fast, you have to train them to do it. They don’t do it automatically just because you want them to or think they should.

If I was a betting person, I’d put money on this method of practice. It works. If you’re dissatisfied or frustrated with your progress, give it a try. I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.