Inspiring Players to Pratice their Art
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
As my teenage contemporaries redecorated random homes with vast strands of bathroom tissue, I was cloistered away fervently practicing my violin five hours each day. My mother never once had to remind me to practice.
Musicians advocate that practice is of utmost importance in the development of any player. Jascha Heifetz, possibly the 20th Century's most amazing violinist, said, "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it."
For something that is so crucial to musicians, it is surprising that so many players resist it. Telling a child to practice can be like asking him/her to eat brussels sprouts or to clean his/her room. As a violin teacher, I deal with the dreaded "P" word every week. (This also applies to adults!)
What's so terrible about practicing?
The common complaint is "I don't have any time to practice." Really, in the end it's not a matter of having a "full plate." The amazing players who practice every day are not working with 28-hours a day. Students who practice regularly have simply made practicing a priority. These dedicated individuals enjoy practicing and its benefits so much that they sacrifice other activities to make time for their playing.
This doesn't mean you have to give your right arm as an offering to the merciless practice gods. You may get a bit less time on the tv or computer, or maybe you have to ignore the ringing phone until you're done. A nip and tuck here and there can add up to a lot of previously unavailable time.
The key to enjoyable practicing is inspiration. For example, when a musician feels inspired by a favourite song or role model s/he is compelled to practice. Inspiration frequently emerges while attending a live concert and meeting a famous musician. Just ask anyone who's seen a famous musician play live in concert.
Perhaps the materials you're working with are too dry for your tastes? Maybe you're not being challenged enough? Discuss any inspirations or lack thereof with your teacher or another musician to get you back on track.
Many players also thrive on setting and meeting goals, such as to play with an advanced group, to learn a challenging piece, or to perform well in festival or an upcoming concert. My best music making has come from feeling inspired and by achieving personal aspirations.
Each summer I ask my students to set goals for the following fall and also for 1 year, 5 year and 10-year. Their responses are impressive; more than half aspire to teach violin someday and most others just want to be more confident players and to play for pay!
My job as teacher is to help the students make their goals a reality. We create appropriate time-lines for the goals, including check-points to make sure the players' actions are aligned with their end goal.
For example, if a student's goal is to master a concerto, we make sure they've have outlined the steps to learning the piece along with the technique and skills required required. "I'll practice these exercizes for two months, and by December I will be starting on 5th position."
Sometimes this practice involves excercizes, scales and theory, but other times it's as simple as completing a book or gaining more confidence through public performance. By setting up check-points at comfortable intervals to make sure you are on the right track and to make the overall goal seem less daunting.
And besides, life is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the journey to meeting your goal and once you get there you'll have plenty more road ahead to explore.
Goals Can Change
I've always got a list of short to long-term goals for myself, ranging from one-week, one-month, six-month, and 1, 2, 5, 10-year goals. Sometimes the goals change, which is okay because I am constantly learning and growing. What was important to me 10 years ago may not be a big deal to me now. The important thing
Everything we work for has reward. Just as brussels sprouts contribute to physical health, practice contributes to better musicianship. However, musicianship just isn't tangible to 5-year-olds.
Thus, teachers and parents are prompted to offer fun incentives for practice. Kids are rewarded with stickers, ice cream coupons and other treats. My students can earn"Fiddlebucks" for their practicing, which can be used to purchase trinkets and toys.
These programs work for most children, but even stickers can become passé after a while. Children should be encouraged to aspire to higher goals, thus setting higher rewards. As my students progress, they curb their spending to save Fiddlebucks for long-term rewards, like lunch with the teacher, which takes over a year to earn.
How to Practice
Though students understand the benefits and rewards of practice, many do not know exactly *how* to practice. Each teacher has particular requirements and expectations, but generally my "start/focus/playtime" routine works best.
The student stretches and warms-up with long, clear tones, then scales and arpeggios, and finally a warm-up piece or exercise.
Here the student works on new and challenging pieces, paying close attention to detail and correcting mistakes but also focusing on his/her strengths. Focus allows the player to make improvements and build confidence simultaneously.
Saving the best for last, Playtime is when the student reviews favourite songs and has some fun. Tasks such as playing with the radio (ear training in disguise), recording yourself, composition and improvising are all enjoyable assignments that can motivate a player. The fun ideas are endless.
Sometimes I assign "violin homework" to students of all ages. The assignments vary from "draw a picture of your violin," to "play a concert for your family" and"write a report about your favourite or a famous violinist." Interestingly all the children love these special assignments and become increasingly inspired and motivated to practice.
For example, one of my students e-mailed Natalie MacMaster for an essay project and was encouraged by Natalie, herself, to "play the fiddle each day." The Cape Breton Canadian fiddler said, "it really does make things better."
I don't know how many times I've heard, "I meant to practice, but it slipped my mind." Consistency is the most important step to enjoying successful practice. The truth is that practice is best done and easiest when done consistently. The more we practice, the more we are inspired to practice.
Have a hard time with consistency? I'm sure you still manage to eat and sleep every day, so you'll find a way to get the practice in if it works around one of those schedules! Play just after waking or right before bedtime. Eat your lunch halfway between your warm-up and pieces. When you make it a routine it's harder to leave out of your day and you'll actually get it done!
Imagine, no more guilty lessons!
Sometimes it's not possible to play every day, but it does make a tremendous difference. For players just starting a consistent routine it's best to do two shorter practices rather than one long one. Going at it full steam can tire a player out and make them less inclined to want to do it again. You'll be left with more energy after a couple of shorter practices and will gradually lengthen them.
It is of utmost importance that parents or spouses of aspiring musicians provide encouragement for the player. Never poke fun at sour notes or say things like, "if you don't practice we'll take away your lessons." Through thick and thin the family's job is to support the player as they master their art.
For students who still find it difficult to keep a practice routine I suggest they opt out of washing dinner dishes and serenade the dishwashers each night. It's amazing how quickly they jump to it when they know there is no more dishwashing! There are countless other "perks" (excuses to get out of work) to practice that can be sorted out with your family.
I spent my formative years either grounded or due for a grounding due to the occasional landscaping mummification. However, in the 542 times I was grounded, my kind mother never took away my violin. I could be heard playing my violin sadly from my bedroom prison cell: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen."
And I loved it.
Comments for Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Hi Rhiannon, I enjoyed your piece about practising. Keep up the good work. Best wishes,
- Jay, Fremantle, Western Australia, www.HeifetzPhotography.com.au