With many families in and out on much needed vacations, summer is the perfect time to work on technique. As with other periods, the emphasis is generally on technical work studio-wide (and group classes may emphasize these skills), but repetoire and polish work is still addressed. As always, lessons are tailored to the needs of the student, regardless of period.
Technique generally addresses the way that we play an instrument. We try to be as efficient as possible, using larger muscles and position to avoid injury and get the maximum range of expression and beauty of sound possible. For beginners, this means lots of “games” to work on bow holds, violin position, and address the natural tendencies that might lead to injury or frustration later at a more advanced stage. For more advanced players, technique can be more “nitpicky”, being very specific about tricks and techniques to produce a specific sound or style of playing. Vibrato and shifting work are often in the mix.
Technical work should be done in short periods, with maximum focus. It is usually more effective to practice technique with games or “challenges” as much as possible. Games aren’t just for the little kids! Practice (and lessons) should always conclude with a “cool down”, something fun or silly. Avoid frustration whenever possible! This is a great time to learn how fun trying, at first failing, and progressively improving, can be…really!
This is a “low” phase of playing- less intense practice, possibly a day off or two during the week, and a good solid week of vacation is idea.
With families in “back to school” mode and hopefully back from a somewhat restful summer (for the kids at least?) fall is a great time for new starts…and new songs! While new songs are always in the mix, fall and well into winter is our time to forge ahead on pieces, and continuously keep adding new and interesting music. We spend less time on polishing pieces in lesson, though playing review songs is the perfect antidote to getting frustrated and overwhelmed in practice. Technical work should always happen, especially in isolated practice (“drills”) or on review songs, but focusing on technique while learning notes is usually super overwhelming. Keep focused on one or possibly two skills at a time: for learning a new piece, that’s notes and rhythm!
This is a building and “heavy” time of playing- lots of work, really good, consistent practicing, and for those students in orchestra, lots of orchestra!
With the holidays and various vacations and school activities making winter a fairly busy time for families, winter is a great time to focus on music theory. Add to busy schedules cloudy weather and shorter days, and sometimes practice is a real struggle at the end of the day! Music theory can be almost exclusively learned through games and hands-on activities, most often away from the violin. This can provide a needed “break” from exclusively playing, allowing small learners to spend more time learning skills for violin that doesn’t tax small muscles and short attention spans, and older learners experiment on a new instrument (piano, glockenspiel, and rhythm instruments).
Class time includes more “games” especially if the learner is young, in order to learn pre-reading skills, note identification, early sight singing and ear training, rhythms, and for the very young, numbers and letters in a music setting. Older and more advanced learners benefit from games as well, learning the circle of fifths, harmonies, chords, music history, vocabulary (bring on the French and Italian!), dictation, more advanced sight singing, sight reading, and music structure (for a start). Often when students first begin violin and are very small, they do quite a bit of pre-note reading work as well, because as they develop their attention span and ability to learn how to practice they need some diversions that seem like rewards for their focus. Theory games really are games (despite all the learning happening)!
For older and more advanced students in 30 minute lessons this period is less emphasized, as time is short and there is a lot of playing to be done in order to provide enough material for students to progress during the week. With beginner or smaller students, this period is more emphasized, as with fewer songs under their proverbial belts and pre-reading, we do a lot of work on pre-reading skills. The goal is both to keep the student going over the initial “this is hard!” hump (keep it fun!) and give them enough reading skills to be able to play and learn with some autonomy by mid book one (depending of course, on the student, age, and interests).
This is a “wind down” phase, with the intensity gradually decreasing (especially as other areas of life become more intense) and at a minimum, a week off. Two weeks, or a week off and a week to build back up to regular practice, is ideal.
The spring, before it gets too crazy at school and with summer approaching, is the time we spend learning how to polish and refine pieces. For the most part, this means memorizing and paying strict attention to details. Dynamics, articulations, phrasing, musicality, and performance skills are the primary focus here. For little ones and beginners, this phase is often very basically focused on getting through an entire piece “correctly”, bowing (bending at the waist, which I just noticed is spelled the same way as using a violin bow!? crazy), and playing in front of an audience and with an accompaniment. More advanced students delve in to practice topics, applying technique, musicality, ensemble, and generally the myriad of more advanced performance topics.
We move forward with new pieces in a more specific and measured way (pun intended) during this time.
This is a more intense phase, lots of playing and practice, all culminating in a “big recital” and performance opportunities.