These are fifteen steps to more productive practice shared in my pedagogy course. When this was shared with me, it was attributed to Sally O’Reilly.
- Examine the score away from the violin.
- Form a musical and imaginative interpretative concept of the goal toward which you will work.
- In order to save time, instead of reading through, take the first eight or twelve measures. Examine carefully for phrasing, type of bow stroke(s) to be used, accents, fingering, and individual problems of the left and right hands.
- Repeat this section slowly at least twenty-five times, with all these things included, plus mental concentration. Practice fast passages slowly with vibrato to preserve vitality of sound. Practice melodic passages non-vibrato for accuracy, then with vibrato on every note.
- Practice the entire piece in small sections in this manner. Every time you stumble, examine whether the mistake was caused by a special technical difficulty or whether you slipped a cog in cognition.
- If you find a special difficulty within a passage, determine whether the problem is in the left hand or right are, or both! Isolate it for even more intense work. Master the special difficulty before going back to practice the section as a whole.
- NEVER LET REPETITION BECOME MECHANICAL. IF YOU ARE TIRED, STOP FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES OR SO.
- Every time you begin practicing any section, go over it for accuracy at a slow speed.
- Work with the metronome to increase speed gradually, never leaving a speed until it is perfect. Be willing to practice difficult right arm passages on open strings. Practice slurred passages in separate bows and fast detache passages slurred.
- Remember that the object and inevitable result of practice is the establishment of a habit of playing a certain thing in a certain way.
- Do not establish a wrong habit.
- Even when working slowly and carefully, keep in mind the elements of mood and feeling.
- The playing of music on the violin is a very complex function, including as it does the spiritual, the intellectual, the emotional, the imaginative, and the physical powers of the player. This complexity must be practiced.
- Budget time, and work on schedule.
- NEVER practice more than two hours at a time. Galamian insisted on 50 minutes of practice followed by a 10 minute break.
The Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin by J.S. Bach are probably the most widely known works for solo violin in the repertoire, however, other composers also wrote solo works for violin. Among the baroque composers contributing to this repertoire were:
- Heinrich Ignatz Franz von Biber – Passacaglia at end of Rosary Sonatas (Performance on Youtube by Hirschfeld)
- Georg Phillipp Telemann – 12 Fantasies
- George Frederic Handel – Allegro in G Major HWV 407
The performance practices for Rosary sonatas by Biber are not known because no information about this has survived. We know Biber wrote these sontatas to represent the life of Jesus Christ. It is a collection of 15 sonatas for violin and basso continuo. We do not know if all of these sonatas were intended to be performed at one recital or if they would be performed in a series of concerts. They were written in approximately 1670. It should also be mentioned that this is the largest collection of scordatura for the violin. (Scordatura is alternate tuning of the instrument.) Biber used this technique to create different sonorities of the violin to represent the joyous, sorrowful and glorious parts of the life of Jesus Christ. The Passacaglia, for violin alone, is the last movement of Sonata No. 15.
The Twelve Fantasies for violin by Telemann are very approachable for students not yet ready for the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. Their movements are based upon the structure of the Sonata de Chiesa like the Sonatas of Bach, but they are shorter in length. Each work begins with a slow movement, has a second movement which is fast, a third movement which is slow, and a final movement that is fast. Ornamentation is similar to that of the Bach works, as well. Telemann was aware of the Bach works so it is possible he wrote these in this style.
The Allegro in G Major by Handel is one of several single movement works by Handel. This is the only one that is unaccompanied. This can be considered more of a novelty than a work included in the standard repertoire for violin.
In order to teach Long Long Ago in Suzuki volume 1, I believe that students need a number of prerequisites:
- Knowledge of all fingers on A and E string. Should have experimented with playing known songs on lower strings.
- Ability to learn songs by rote.
- Ability to use good tone with longer and smoother bow strokes
- Ability to hear “up”, “down” and “same” when playing pitches and scales.
Steps to teaching:
- Start by teaching the “RIBBET” (first finger E on the D string). Teacher will play the third section of the song and student will play “RIBBET” parts.
- Teach the “E Down the scale” RIBBET “D Down the scale” section.
- Show the student this section will repeat. The first is a big frog, the second a small frog.
- Show the C# B A ending on the second and fourth lines. Have student play that ending. That is the “Far A Way” ending.
- Teach the A part. A AB C CD E the add F# E C.
- Show the “E Down the scale, D Down the scale” ending without the frog for the first part.
- Show the “E Down the scale Far A Way” ending.
- Put the sections together:
- A section – No Frog
- A section – Far A Way
- Big Frog – Little Frog
- A section – Far Away
As students begin to learn positions above first position on the violin, viola, and cello, they need to be able to name the notes across the strings in these positions.
I have created a worksheet to help students work on their note naming into the positions. Students should have a basis in the chromatic notes of the fingerboard. I suggest that more advanced student name both enharmonic spellings for common notes.
Violin Fingering Chart (to 4th position)
Teachers may feel free to reuse this.
Recently, I have been working on playing better in higher positions across the strings, only to come to the realization that to play better in the higher positions, you must have an understanding of the fingerboard geography in the parallel lower position.
For instance, when in sixth positions on the A string, you are playing the same notes with the same fingers as in second position on the E string. Seventh position and third position are also parallel in this manner. When playing pieces in the lower register of the instrument but in these high positions, you should check to see how much of it can be practiced in the corresponding lower parallel position. The parallel for fifth position is first position, but you must play with 4th fingers.
When doing extensive position work, even numbered positions are particularly tricky for violinists and violists. The way we learn to read music may be the reason for this difficulty. Second, fourth, and sixth positions require that the notes on spaces in the staff are on fingers 1 and 3 and notes on lines of the staff are on fingers 2 and 4. In first position, the opposite is true. Third position and fifth position are easier positions to read because they follow the first position rule.
Practicing the lower positions allows the hand to be more comfortably. Once the fingerings are learned, it will be easier to apply this to the higher position with the somewhat more compact finger spacing and arm placement for high positions. Changing to a higher position and moving down a string is not a problem if the fingering has been put into muscle memory by the hand in the lower position.
In the Fiorillo Caprice No. 22, there are large sections that can be practiced in the lower positions in order to check for understanding. Once the written fingerings have been mastered in third and second positions, they may be taken up to seventh and sixth position.
Go to IMSLP for the Fiorillo Caprices for Violin.
Many Suzuki violin teachers use box violins to help students learn how to hold the in instrument before they get the real thing. It’s very nice to be able to learn to hold an instrument on your shoulder without being worried about dropping it. There are some box violins that you can buy from music stores, but I prefer to make my own. Some teachers like to have the students make them, but I prefer to just get it done so the family doesn’t have to round up the supplies.
Items you will need:
- 1 small box (I use fruit snacks from the Dollar Tree)
- 1 paint stick
- wrapping paper
- 1 file rubber band
- scotch tape
- packing tape
- sponge (synthetic ones from the dollar store won’t get hard)
- Wrap the box of goodies with wrappong paper. Put the seam in the middle of the box. It will be covered with a paint stick.
- tape the end with packing tape so they are not easily torn.
- Place the paint stick over the seam in the wrapping paper.
- Tape the paint stick to the box with packing tape.
- Attach the rubber band on the box violin and put the sponge on the bottom.
I also choose to make bows for my students. To make the bow, I get an 18 inch piece of dowel rod and tape a clothespin to it with masking tape. These are a very nice way to teach students how to hold bows without having a real bow.
When you plan a recital, you need to do a lot of work before the recital has begun for it to be successful.
- Select a time and date that will work for you. Hopefully, you will have a calendar far enough in advance that your students will be able to make it, too!
- Find a location. Churches are usually glad to rent space. If you find this is problematic, raise money by charging a recital fee or partnering with other organizations.
- Select music. whether this is for 40 students playing solos or for a group recital, selecting proper pieces is very important. It takes time to make sure pieces are leveled appropriately and put in an order that will make sense at the recital.
- Create a written program. Having a written program helps the program go smoothly and allows your audience a chance to know what is going on with the recital. Keep the program handy and give one to accompanists and other helpers so they know the order. These are also good keepsakes for your students.
- Plan a staging area. Make sure students know where to uncase and be before the show.
- Have a rehearsal. For individual recitals, this can be done throughout the week or before the show so students have a few run-throughs with the accompanist. For group recitals, even a short rehearsal before the program can be helpful in getting students oriented. I schedule what time each student should arrive, tune them and put them on stage for Suzuki group recitals. If they know their pieces, not much rehearsal is necessary.
- Plan for food. What better way to reward students than having a few goodies after a recital. I like bottled water and non-messy cookies! (Things you can take away with a napkin are best!)
- Make a getaway plan. I always give myself time to clean up and break down after an event. It’s very important to leave the facility neat and not lose anything.
At the beginning of the school year, the private music teacher has a lot of work to do. Not only do we have to coordinate calendars with orchestras and other groups we play with, but we also have to create events for our own studio and groups.
This year, I had to coordinate schedules for all of the following:
- 40+ private students to take lessons each week
- group classes
- individual and group recitals
- use of space at two private schools and one church
- rehearsals and performances for my new community orchestra
- rehearsals and performances for the civic orchestra I play with
All of these responsibilities add up to a lot! It’s an amazing journey to get all of the kinks worked out of a schedule like this. I find it very helpful to have a Google calendar to share with ensemble members. I also like having it all on one planner. I find it helps keep me organized when I can look at an actual calendar. Filling in all the dates takes a lot of time, but is well worth it.
Recitals are an important part of development on the violin. Not only do they allow a musician to prepare a piece to a high level, but they also allow the student to perform for others. I do not believe that we should study the violin if we never perform for others.
Recitals should be character building, however, it should should not be a time where a student falls on their face. If there is any chance of that, a difference piece should be selected. One bad experience on stage can lead to years of agony when preparing for recitals. I try to make sure all students are successful in their endeavors of playing solos in front of others.
With older students, you should be especially cautious. I try to pick pieces that will build tone or technique, but not overextend a student. Older students may work for up to a year on a solo piece. These are pieces that increase their understanding of the instrument. Smaller pieces should be kept while playing large ones in order to allow backups for recital time.
An expectation of having to play in a recital is one of the most motivating things for young instrumentalist. If your students don’t perform in front of each other each semester, I urge you to make it a tradition. It is worth the time and energy it takes to prepare for such events.
When preparing students for individual recitals, I think it is important to pick a piece they are familiar with at least one month before the recital. They should have plenty of opportunities to polish the piece before performing it in front of others. Some of the ways I like to prepare are letting the student perform it independently in lessons as many times as they can before the recital. I also like to play harmony parts on my violin. I have found playing with the students too often does not allow them to learn to play independently enough for recitals.
Some teacher suggest 100 polished performances of a piece before the recital. I do not completely agree with this, but I think stressing several polished performances over a number of weeks is best. I think extracting the preview spots is also a good idea.
Another idea is to have a coloring page with several small spaces for them to color each time they have a polished performance of the piece. Maybe they could perform it for 30 people before the recital. (Neighbors, pastors, friends, relatives, teachers, principals, or whoever.)