Please feel free to share. “The Little Drummer Boy Project”
For a long time I've followed the same approach to every new piece: transcribe a piece or fragments to a music notation software, loop one or two measures and play over them until I get the intonation right. I'm not very happy with this and I think is time to change the way I practice. There is a massive difference between playing alone and playing with an audio. Now I wonder if it would be useful to do it without the audio and just using my ears, or loop a measure with some silences at the end so I can listen and repeat instead of playing over the audio.
What do you think would be more effective? How do you personally approach a piece?
I'm playing etudes in third and fifth position so intonation is tricky for me I play double-stops with open strings every it seems useful, but I don't think this option is available when playing in fifth position.
And I'm also considering the use of drones, but I'm not sure which note should I pick for the drone.
That gets to be a complicated question, because it's quite different for different songs.
The biggest differentiator is whether I know the song well. If I do, I tend to pick it out by ear. If I write it down (in Musescore, for me personally), it's so I don't have to worry about forgetting what I picked out. Music I have from another source can be useful that way, too.
One note: I don't really play what's written. I play how I know the song goes (I'm normally playing the vocal line). Real music would have to be transcribed with dozens of weird constructions involving 32nd and 64th notes to get things to be the same duration as the song was actually done. Most sheet music is only a reasonable approximation.
One of the better bits of advice my teacher has given me is to play the song slowly enough that you always know what you're going to do next. That may involve fancier techniques like shifting, but it can also be simpler stuff like going from one note to an awkward next note. The idea is that you are looking a few notes ahead, and planning how you're going to play things before you get there. By giving yourself enough time to think about the problem properly, you come up with good answers, and all of your practice time is spent practicing the right thing, instead of hurried mistakes.
The music notation software is great for this, because you can just change the tempo, and it will play at whatever speed you want. It also gives you a feeling of accomplishment when you boost the speed as the previous speed becomes easy enough to be a bit boring.
If I'm trying to learn a piece I don't know at all (and my teacher has given me several of those), I put the whole thing in Musescore and listen to it there, or try to find it on Youtube and find a version I like. I don't have any problem following the pitches in sheet music, but if I don't know what the song is supposed to sound like, I don't do at all well with the duration parts. That's partly laziness on my part - when I was in band in high school, I had that skill. It just has 40+ years of rust on it.
Once I know it tolerably well, then I start practicing it the way I described for songs I know. One difference - the songs I know well I can play in my head to know how a phrase goes. Songs that I'm hearing for the first time, I don't know that well (and usually don't want to listen to them day in and day out to get to know them that well.) So I'll break the music up into phrases, and practice those. A "phrase" has no set length (it may even start or end in the middle of a measure). It's just a chunk of music that makes sense to me personally as a unit. It's usually 7-8 measures at most, because I can't remember much more than that. But after listening to and trying to play it 8 or 10 times, I get to where I know what that phrase should sound like, and (if I'm doing it right and doing it slowly), I've made decisions that I'm happy with about how to play it (at least fingering, hopefully also bowing). That doesn't mean I'm to the point where I can play it at speed, perfectly, but it means I "know" it. I can then practice it along with other phrases so I have more of the full song, or I can start working on another phrase.
One thing I've found that is true for a lot of songs is that phrases are repeated. There's usually 1-4 notes between two phrases, so I think of them as links (i.e. a few notes that link the two phrases.) So I might think of a song something like this: "The A phrase, then the first link, then the B phrase then a link that does the first repeat. At the end of the B phrase the second time, it goes into the C phrase, the third link, then the A phrase again". I have to learn 3 phrases, and 3 links. Each of the phrases is a short piece of music (to me), so it's not too painful to learn, and mastering them one after another gives me a sense of progress.
My intonation in 3rd and 5th positions (and lots of others, as well) is not perfect, but I've decided to take a Buddhist approach to it. I notice that the note is off, but I don't worry about it too much or stop and try to correct it. If my subconscious has been told that that was the wrong note, it will do things different next time, and it's a LOT better at learning how to hit the right note than my conscious mind is. (After all, it's the part where "muscle memory" happens.)
One exercise that might help that is to play scales. There's a "master pattern" that you can use to play a scale anywhere on the fingerboard. With time, your fingers will learn that the intervals between where the fingers go will get smaller as you go up the fingerboard, but this gives them more practice in those specific spots.
Play the starting note of the scale (to practice 3rd position, you'd play C, G, or D on the G, D, or A strings, respectively. Play the second note of the scale with your middle finger, the third with your ring finger, and the 3rd note with your pinky. Then go one string up and play the same pattern (2 half steps, 2 more, then 1 half step). If you go to a third string, the pattern will shift slightly, it will be 2 halfsteps, 1 halfstep, 2 halfsteps, and the same on the 4th string (if applicable).
You can also just play the first 4 notes of the scale to practice the finger spacing on the E string.
That pattern will work anywhere on the fingerboard (if you don't use the 1st finger, it will even work in 1st position). At first, you'll tend to be sharp, but that's one of the beauties of a scale - it's a song you know really, really well. 🙂
Hope some of this helps
here are the 7 patterns on good ol' Mel Bay's Violin Wall Chart, on the upper right. I've got one on (where else) my wall.
"Striving to attain Mediocrity"
@charles: I'm not following you on the 'master scale pattern'. there are 7 possible closed finger patterns over 4 strings for the major scale, which of course would include all the modes of the major scale.
Ah, I forgot to specify. That's for the major scale, Dorian mode. I haven't gotten that much into any of the other modes yet, so I didn't think to specify them.
@LizaA: in answer to your question "How do YOU practice? I often practice to backgrounds.
eg: sometimes I put on this piece and play along with Joe (I've posted this before) Flying in a Blue Dream by Joe Satriani.
it is mostly in C Lydian which is a G maj scale, so the basics are easy. we all prolly know the G maj scale.
"Striving to attain Mediocrity"
Away from the violin stretching
Tune, first by ear, then checked with a tuning app
Slow open strings, looking to warmup and get the 'tone', using all the bow
On the A, open, B,C#,D,C#,B,open... slow at first, progressing to about 60bpm, using all the bow
String crossings, B on the A, F# on the D, D on the A, back a forth, slowly at first, progressively faster. Looking for clean crossings. Then some of the crossings in the pieces we are working on.
Scales, first with an app called Scales Practice then without, a few times each for 2 octave C,G,D,A,E (majors, we will soon be getting to minors). Then 2 octave arpeggios for the same.
Then whatever pieces we are working on. First all the way through (no stopping) then what ever measure(s) that are giving issues.
Wind down with scales or open strings or crossings that are giving me issues....
Away from Violin stretching...
That all takes 45-90 minutes (usually with 2-3 5 minute breaks). I try to do it at least twice a day...
Since I am home shored, the violin sits on the dining room table, many times during the day I'll pick it up and rip through a scale or two... As the dining room sits between my office and the bathroom and the fact I am old and drink lots of liquids.. Well, I do that a lot 🙂
On days I don't have the time, scales at least....
The best thing I ever did was download the app called scales practice. After about two weeks my teacher was amazed at my improved inotation.. He has since downloaded it and uses it (he play about 10 instruments, so, as he says, he needs it).
To play a wrong note is insignificant; To play without passion is inexcusable. - Ludwig van Beethoven
My journey began on Aug 3 2017
@JamesRSmithJr I think we use the same app!
Is that the one you use?
How do I practice.
I feel hardly able to realistically answer....but it usually goes like this....
Tune... Gmajor Scale.
Then I start playing tunes while I watch the tuner to see a lot more green than red.
If I am learning a new song, I play the piece from sheet just to see how complicated it is... if necessary I make notes on the sheet and practice some of the Lesser know to me notes.
Then often I get distracted and play known songs... and often a few days go by.
I have to change my attitude, discipline and heart towards playing. I am playing for myself and I want to hear good things so I often play what I know....
so I know hanging out in my comfort zone is NOT going to get me anywhere.
On a great note ....I plan to play tonight. 🙂
Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato
So last night I just stared at my violin, for like ages before I picked it up and thought, oh good grief, just get going and just play....I had laid out my scales and kept thinking, I should, but I can't - I felt like I hit a BRICK WALL, I know practice makes perfect but I am sick of scales. I am not too sure I understand them, and I realize there is an importance level in there, but why, why why do mine sound so awful????....and boring.
Tried to watch a couple vids about "perfect practice" got even more bored and totally distracted....after watching Top 10 mistakes left handed violinists make and realizing that I am not left handed....enough already....
So after a chat with the dog and a cup of coffee (not a good idea at 9pm) - I was thinking about how much fun it was attending a fiddle jam camp couple of weeks ago, even tho I couldn't join in with anything as I didn't have any sheet music.
So I am trying to commit to memory 1 little tune a week. I started last night with tennessee waltz. I am not starting with sheet music, as I think that I am too reliant on it, I watched a video, learnt the dumbed down version, maybe this is the way to commit to memory - NOT start with sheet music? I'm not sure, but it got me playing.
About an hour later I was back to my perky little self, envisioning playing along with a bunch of other people, and not being the only person chopping....and I'm eager to run through it again tonight, found one for Old Joe? and trying to find couple of other songs to add to my little collection.
Maybe its silly, but I thought I'd add a little list to my pin board and cross them off as I learn them...additions are very welcome as its all still a bit new to me...
Mimi, Hang in there, we all go through those periods that we get discouraged with our playing, I remember just starting and looked forward to practiceing when someone on this forum wrote the had considered taking the strings off there fiddle and using it for an Olympic hammer throw! And I thought I'll never think about that well never say never I have considered it several times since then. Gotta run I'll finish this when I get caught up again. Mark
Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.
I have seriously considered quiting but after reflection I went back to practiceing and overcame the issues I was having. That said at one time I hated scale thought why? I'll just play the songs I like and be done with scales, I have had to rethink my ideas of scales and now I like them to do them, to challenge my self to play in tune and really hear the pitches as you learn the finger patterns then playing in Flats (piano players love to play in Flats my piano player she loves to play in 4 Flats says it natural, I tell her she's sick!!) or reaching up to the second or third octave to play a break becomes much easier, for me anyway. Research show 3 minutes of practicing a skill with good consecration shows to be very effective in learning a skill I was doing this myself and then read the article that showed research back it up. Try using drones to help guide you and incorporate rythums into your scale practice such as short, short, long or patterns like playing 1,3,2,4,3,5,4,6,8,7,8 then reverse go back down the scale make it musical and always practice making the Absolute best tone you can make at all times. I found out this is extremely important always play with your best sound always listening to try to improve it. Do this for 3 minutes then move on to a tune or another exercise of your choice. Most of all have fun that's why we play.
The Fiddle is a long term apprenticeship not an overnight accomplishment.
Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.
Awe thanks Mark, I was beating myself up over scales for sure - but I think I'll just maybe do 1 little scale every few days, and maybe I can get it to sound right. I got into a pickle for sure...
Hi... I’m new here.
I would like to offer a couple things.
First, it seems most of you are much more advanced than me. I’ve been playing for only a few months and I am still working on best practice habits. I am taking lessons and my teacher is guiding me.
I would like to address scales. IMHO scales are extremely important. They lay the foundation for fingering, intonation. They help with switching and shifting. I don’t spend a ton of time on them in practice, but 5 min a day is good.
Also, maybe I am nïeve, but I LOVE playing, including practice. I love my violin! It is everything to me. Violin practice is something I look forward to every day.
I hope I never lose my love for music and violin!
- Pete -
I think you've got the right attitude towards practice. As you noticed, there are a bunch of like minded folks here when it comes to playing violin 🙂
Scales are VERY important to practice. Scales teach us where all the notes are related to specific keys. I'm struggling with learning finger positions in upper positions and scales are helping quite a bit.
I also look forward to my daily practice. Now that I've retired I can now schedule a period of the day when I try to practice. Usually around 1:30-2:00 PM to near 4:00PM. (I'd go longer if I didn't have a farm and have to take care of the animals before dark comes!)
Keep up the passion:)
Bob in Lone Oak, Texas
Hey thanks @bob
Yeah I never miss a day of practice.
Here is my normal routine:
- warm up with scales and arpeggios
- work some exercises with fingering and bowing
- work on specific pieces (from my lesson book) specifically what my teacher is working with me on
- rework the fingering exercises
- listen to a favorite professional violinist
That’s how I practice. It’s about 45 min to an hour each day. I love every minute.
- Pete -