When you’re learning any new skill, how often you practice makes a big difference in how quickly you make progress. Many people hold to the traditional idea that to master any artisan skill you need at least 10,000 hours of practice. Yet, many new students wonder exactly how many hours of violin practice to put in per week. And although the answer will vary depending on the level of mastery you want to achieve and how quickly, the method of violin practice you employ is really what dictates your advancement.
Essentially, the way you practice has a bigger influence on your development as a violinist than how many hours you log. Repetition has its place, but new schools of thought are emerging that specify this idea, and actually suggest that mindless practice does not develop the mindset and aptitude of a great performer. Problems with mindless practice include:
When you practice using repetition, you aren’t engaging your entire consciousness. For example, you play through a piece slowly until you come to a portion that you have difficulty with, then you stop, repeat that section until you have it right, proceeding on through the piece. The problem here is that even after practicing for days, you still feel like you haven’t made noticeable strides in improving your technique.
Very little productive learning is established by practicing in this manner. Actually, mindless repetition serves to reinforce the connections in your brain concerning the errors that you want to correct. Basically, you’re practicing the problem over and over. The adage “practice makes perfect” isn’t correct, unless you qualify it by saying “perfect practice makes perfect,” and since the entire reason you’re practicing is to improve, it’s sort of difficult to deliver instant perfection. Remember, whatever you are doing over and over will become permanent.
It Creates Apprehension and Hesitance
Since you know that a particular technique or playing a certain measure is challenging for you, mindless repetition helps establish a mental barrier to excellence. It make you less confident over time. However, when you repeat exercises in a way that reinforces positive performance, you make progress that lasts and that bolsters your confidence.
Think about it like growing a lawn. Rather than trying to remove individual weeds, encourage good growth that will choke out the bad parts. It is much easier to overcome bad habits by strengthening good ones.
Mindless practice is really boring and students tend to disconnect consciously. You have a time limit set and pretty much just go through the motions. Meanwhile, you’re thinking about everything else other than actually playing your violin. This is why many students have performance or audition anxiety. The unconscious mindset used during practice is in direct opposite of the mindset you take to an audition, so you basically freak out because your brain doesn’t have the ability to recall any perfect violin practice.
Deliberate Practice Methods
Knowing that mindless repetition will not strengthen your violin ability, there are some tips you can employ to actually make your practicing sessions highly productive. They include:
- Going slowly—rather than laboring through an entire piece, reduce the tempo and work on deliberately practicing correct smaller sections. And don’t let your mind wander. Actually think about how each note should sound, its duration, and how the measure should flow.
- Evaluation—After you’ve played the section, examine exactly what was wrong with it (if anything), and think about how you can alter your playing to fix it. Recording your practice sessions will help with this.
- Focused Times—again, rather than setting a time of one hour, new students should try to remain focused for at least 20-30 minutes of practice and gradually increase times. The level of concentration you can compel will be your guide, but studies agree that when you practice for longer than two hours per day, the benefits begin to drop off rapidly. So, keep it to around an hour, to an hour-and-a-half max.
- Set Achievable Goals at Each Session—A violin practice notebook will help you keep track of exactly what you need to work on during that session. Remember, staying focused on what you want to “hear” is difficult, so create a goal and work it until you master it. Also, you can include notes about things you discover that work for you.
- Step Back—sometimes you need to step back from a particular issue. Rather than practice harder, be smarter. Brainstorm for a few days about how you can make the piece sound the way you've envisioned, then retry it with a fresh outlook. You’ll be surprised at the difference a few days of contemplation can make.