It’s that time again where most of you are starting to think "I’ve got my first violin/piano/cello lesson coming up soon…argh! I’d better do some practice!" You have just had a very long holiday and maybe you are wondering where to start.
After a long break from playing you will probably find your fingers will not do what you knew they could do last year, when you had just done your exam and were in ‘super-player’ mode. Be patient! All that technique will come back if you get yourself back in to regular practice.
Here are some pointers to get you started. Maybe you can think of some more. Add them to the comments at the end of this post!
- Decide how many days you are going to practise per week and for how long ~ Ideally, you should practise every day. This can be a bit of a challenge when you have other activities to fit your practice around but do the best you can. You should be able to come up with a plan in which you practise at least 5 days per week. This is an absolute minimum if you want to progress quickly. The length of practice usually depends on the level you are at. The higher the level, the more practice you need to do. The rule of thumb here is that your practice should be 1 1/2 times the length of your lesson. So, if you have a 30 minute lesson you should practise for a minimum of 45 minutes, five times per week.
- Work out which days you can practise and when ~ Try to space your practice times out over the week rather than leaving it all to the couple of days before your lesson. (If you practise 5-6 time per week you won’t do that anyway!) You can split your time up so that you do some before school and some after. Or try some when you get home from school and some after your evening meal. You may be able to do extra on the weekend if you don’t have too much homework or other commitments.
- Practise as soon as you can after your lesson ~ This is a good habit to get into. It helps you to reinforce the things you have learnt in your lesson and you will be more likely to remember them and do them. You could also write down the most important things.
- Structure your practice time ~ There is a saying that says "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail". This is very true regarding music practice, especially if you want to do an exam. Make a list of all the items you need to include in your practice time, eg scales, arpeggios, exercises, all your pieces. Assuming you have decided to practise six times per week, you can now divide all the items up into the six practice times, making sure each item is covered at least three times per week. You will find if you do this that you will make considerable progress and quite quickly.
- Be considerate of your muscles! ~ When you first start back into practice you will probably find you can’t hold the violin up for as long as you used to, or your fingers get sore more quickly, or your arms ache. This is normal! Any athlete who is getting back into training has the same problem because what is involved is not just playing but using muscles that have had a long rest! So, don’t go at it till your fingers are dropping off. Instead, do as much as you can, take a break, and then come back and do a bit more. You have to build up some stamina before you can get back to what you were doing at the end of last year.