William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Setting up your violin practice schedule

Follow these easy steps to organize your violin practice

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick gives you three easy steps to follow to organize your violin practice for maximum efficiency and consequent results.

Released on May 2, 2018

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

So, you want to be a really, really, really good violinist? Well, then you must realize that it won't happen overnight. You will have to address the fact that it will take a lot of practicing for a fairly long period of time to accomplish that goal. So to achieve this, I believe that one has to learn to organize, seriously organize.

I believe that one has to learn how to seriously set goals. I believe that one has to learn how to maximize one's efforts, become efficient by using time efficiently, effectively, wisely. So, to start, why don't we have a look at what Miss DeLay thought was a good practice schedule? As you can see, she noted one hour for basics, one hour for scales or passage work from repertory, one hour for etudes or Paganini. Finally, one hour for concerto and one hour for Bach.

All in all, five hours, resting at least 10 minutes between each hour. So Miss DeLay used hours as a way to organize, but for some this may prove impractical to implement. So why don't we talk about the use of percentages instead of hours to help us maintain the stability we need to achieve our goals.

Why don't we say that 25% of one's time should be dedicated to basics, scales, or both. That 25% of our time should be dedicated to etudes, and 50% of our time should be dedicated to the solo works we are studying. Doing it like this, dividing it up this way can give us a consistent alternative method for beginning the structuring of our work.

And yes, I'm aware that I have reduced Miss DeLay's five hour schedule to four. I do this basically for pre-college students, as their time is a little more limited -- unless, of course, they're homeschooled. Should you wish, however, to follow the five-hour schedule using percentages, simply adjust by using 20%. It's an easy calculation. It's easy math.

In general, as an overview, I believe that practicing needs to be divided into two parts: 50% on development, and 50% on performance. Why don't we explore the developmental side first? So on this developmental side, what we have is one's physical setup, basics, and scales, which comprise 25% of our available time.

Next is etudes, which is set at 25% as well. So first of all, we need to discover or create exercises that will help us to understand how best to address our long-term issues. These exercises could entail ways to improve your vibrato, or how to put your finger on the string, or take your finger off the string, or use your elbow in the left hand or right hand.

These are the kinds of things we would explore in basics, and implement as well through scale study. Oh yes, speaking to scales, at some point it would make sense to practice passage work from repertoire that we are studying, as in doing so we create a model of efficiency by adding time to our solo work practice time. You see what I mean.

Still, under this developmental side would fall etudes. I look at etudes as musical vignettes, short pieces that are used to see if the skills we have learned can be used in a musical setting. So the etudes are not there to learn the skill, but to explore and test how we use the skill. By the way, I do not teach etudes in a vertical ordering -- for example, doing Kreutzer etudes starting from one and going through the book, one after another. I use a skill sheet like this one and study them according to those skills that are indicated. So etude study will take up 25% of our available time.

So now, why don't we go to the performance side? Traditionally this would include Bach and a concerto, but this could be Ysa˙e, one of the solo sonatas, or a violin-piano sonata and a show piece. You get the idea. This work should be divided up into 25% and 25% -- if they're two pieces, of course -- so it would take up roughly 50% of our time.

On this performance side, basically, I consider that we have three areas to work from: Preparatory work, learning processes, and performance work. So let's start with what I mean by preparatory work. For me, this entails the learning of the notes, the rhythms, the fingerings, and the bowings. This preparatory work, or prep work, should be accomplished in a specified, predetermined amount of time. With my students, I aim to have them learn to do this in two to four days, but take into account their age and experience of course, in setting the goal for them.

Do I expect that this work will produce a totally in tune and clean performance? Absolutely not. That's totally out of the question. What I look for is that they know the notes, rhythms, fingerings, and bowings, and that's it, at whatever speed they can accomplish, but hopefully as close to the desired speed as possible, as I want them to understand what it feels like, especially when they start to slow it down, because we want it to feel the same way. Feel. If I'm playing it fast, I want to play it slow as if I were playing it fast.

So now, I need to address learning...learning processes. Well, what I mean by that is exploring how the things that you do when you play the notes that you've done your preparatory work.

For example, if I were to look at the second theme of Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor, I want to explore just how did I get my third finger to the string? What was the speed with which I got my third finger to the string? What was my elbow...I want to become aware of everything that I did, both in my left hand, my left side, and my right. Did I...How did I make this bowing happen? What exactly did I do with my...with my bow to make that happen? I want to explore all of this. This is that learning process.

If I were doing something like [music], how do I do [music]? What did I do with my left hand to make that happen, to make it clean? This is that learning process. How do I get from here [music] to there? What do I do with my hand? I think you're catching on to what I'm saying. It's how we accomplish the task that we're involved in producing. What things do we have to do to make it happen?

Now we get into performance work. We need to set our goals. Without setting goals, one could aimlessly try to get something better, but not really understand exactly what one should get better. Exactly how much faster it should go. You know, you understand what I'm saying. So one should be able to say that in a week or two weeks, this should happen, or a month, that should happen.

But suppose it doesn't happen? What then? Well, I guess one has to keep moving forward and adjust the goal. There is no shame in not achieving your goal. Just learn from it and keep moving forward. Oh, yes, at the end of every session, you should play through the work or works you've been studying. And yes, don't forget to record them, either audio or audio/video.

So I hope that this discussion adds to the possibilities you have, the ideas you have about organizing your practicing, and that this leads you to even better performances.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Christian Harvey on June 25, 2019 @1:15 am PST
How would you add chamber and orchestra music to the 4-5 hours of practice you are already doing?
William - host, on June 27, 2019 @3:44 pm PST
Hi! One has to be creative and switch out things according to one's priorities... ie Bach switched to Chamber Music etc. Hope that helped! Thanks!!
John Anker * VSM MEMBER * on May 2, 2018 @10:26 am PST
I miss the text transcriptions that usually accompany your videos.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 2, 2018 @11:07 am PST
I am sorry John, we had a delay in the preparation of the transcription, we just got it published above right now. I am glad to know you make good use of it!

Thanks again
manutabora * VSM MEMBER * on May 2, 2018 @5:57 am PST
I'd love to have a copy of Mr. Fitzpatrick's skill sheet for etudes. Is it possible to make that available? - Never mind, I just took a screen shot. Thanks!
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 2, 2018 @10:59 am PST
Of course! You can either find the link under the video above ("View Etude list" link) or click directly the link below:

William - host, on May 2, 2018 @11:02 am PST
Hi! Glad you took a screen shot! If you wish as well go to https://www.virtualsheetmusic.com/downloadsstatics/extras/EtudeStudy2017.pdf ... Have a great day!
manutabora * VSM MEMBER * on May 2, 2018 @12:34 pm PST
Great, this is even better than my screenshot. Thanks!
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 2, 2018 @2:27 pm PST
You are most than welcome! Any time!
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