Part III – The Practice Routine

Part I discussed whether or not to warm up.

Part II moved on to what makes a useful warm up.

Part III explores the actual make up of a practice routine and what order to play its components.

Why new routines? These came out of me analyzing my practice for several years and being frustrated with my level of playing. My scales were great! I could play lots of very cool exercises and do some really neat left hand tricks at high speed. But I was no where near ready for an audition or recital.

I was really frustrated! I had put in lots of time. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. So why didn’t my hands have a large repertoire of literature ready to go? For me it came down to blindly honoring the standard formula.

Why didn’t I question the formula? Comfort, familiarity, and ease. It was a routine that felt comfortable since I’d always done it that way. But I’m a music teacher and am usually ‘warmed up’. Why did I bother doing more warm ups?

Most of us use a traditional practice routine consisting of warmups -> exercises -> etudes -> excerpts -> solos.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach and it works well with younger and developing students. It creates a solid routine and plan to cover the needed elements of development. However, as the musical demands intensify on advancing students, it’s time to rethink the approach. Rather than ‘well there’s nothing inherently wrong with it’ we can rebuild the routine to be ‘inherently right’ or at least better!

As with all methods, suggestions, and systems I encourage you to try it out, change it, mold it, tweak it, and truly make it your own. Then it will be much more beneficial to you and your progress.

Definitions

First, let’s define some terms I use.

Superset – In weightlifting a superset is doing two different exercises back to back without rest.

Musical parallel: our brain is freshest at the start of each practice session.

Reverse Pyramid Set – Starting the heaviest weights and working down rather than the commonly used opposite approach. Starting with lighter weights and increasing the weight of each set means your muscles are the most fatigued at the heaviest point of repetitions.

Cell – A tiny unit of musical structure. Much smaller than a phrase and generally even smaller than a motive or motif although in some pieces could be the motive.

Priority Focus – Highly zoomed in focus on one particular weak point. A shift, rhythm, vibrato between two notes, string crossing. The exact weak link from Priority piece #1

Beam + 1 – A group of notes beamed together as part of a beat and adding one note.

The example below shows several ‘beams +1’. The overlapping boxes indicate how to practice each beam+1 and then combine them into a cell, small musical unit, or phrase.

mahler_beamed

Traditional Practice Routine New Option A
(warm up needed)
New Option B
(already warm)
Warmups

Scales, Arpeggios, Shifting work, Bowing / Sevcik

Etudes

Excerpts

Solos

Current ensemble music to practice

Warm ups (could be scales / arpeggios or an easy passage from your current ensemble)

Scales, Arpeggios – relate to current needs

Etude related to High Priorities

High Priority #1

Excerpt A

Priority cell / focus #1 with Priority cell #2 Superset

High Priority #2

Excerpt B

Repetition & Velocity/Speed work*

Other (Jazz, ear training, transcription work)

High Priority #1

Excerpt or Etude

High Priority #2

Excerpts

Repeat above as needed

Scales / Arpeggios with specific focus on a deficiency

Repetition / Velocity work (can do before scales if you like)

Other

Pros Easy for young players to maneuver through skill acquisition and literature Utilize beginning / mentally freshest part of practice session for most difficult tasks

Alternates tasks to reduce boredom and stay focused

Supersets between two spots to keep brain focused / recharge muscles / give certain fingers a break

—>
Cons Saves most challenging literature for the end when we are mentally and physically fatigued

*Doing ‘warmups’, velocity and repetitions last can use fatigue to our advantage. As we are mentally drained this is a good time for repetition work that requires minimal mental horsepower. Physically, our muscles may be too tired to be tense so we can use that to keep our technique relaxed as we work up speed and velocity.

Other Options

Alternating Days

This plan is often needed when you have a lot of music to prepare – as college students do. These are not listed in practice order.

A

B

Warm Ups

Simple finger exercises

Long bows

Exercises

Shifting

Intonation

Sevcik

Double-Stops

Vibrato

Zimmerman Bowing

Coordination / Speed / Velocity

Solos / Literature

Bach Suite

Gavotte

Flight of the Bumble Bee

Czardas

Humoresque

Concerto

Bach Suite (different one)

You can put a priority excerpt / solo on both days

Excerpts

Mahler

Otello

Kije

Ginastera

Pulcinella

Mozart 35

Beethoven 5 – II & III

Don Juan

Mozart 40, 41

Brahms 2

Ein Heldenleben

Etudes

Storch-Hrabe

Sevcik

Slama

Other

Sight Reading

Transcribing

Jazz

Practice Menu Mix & Match / À la carte

Each session choose from each category.

Warm Ups

Exercises

Etudes

Excerpts

Solos

Other

‘Rondo’ Form Practicing

A B A C A etc

Putting the most difficult piece / high priority 1st, 3rd, 5th and working on other categories 2nd, 4th, etc.

Conclusion

If you’re putting in the work but not seeing results, remember the adage, “If you keep doing what you’re doing you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”

Experiment with your routine. Mix it up. Try something new. Do everything in reverse order. Try a random order. Take notes on what works and what doesn’t work so you can create something that produces the results you want.

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