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Commit to Ten

Each goodly thing is hardest to begin. - Edmund Spenser

Sometimes, one of the hardest thing about practicing the violin is to actually start. For most people, procrastination is often the sign of an underlying problem. For a violinist, it can stem from a fear of failure, a feeling of inadequacy, a lack of motivation, and/or discouragement in the face of the amount of work ahead. Playing the violin, or any musical instrument, is a deeply personal experience. At the root of it all is a deep love for music.

Then, after years of hard work, discipline, and sacrifices, it becomes an intrinsic part of who we are. One feels exposed, revealed. The never ending pursuit of perfection combined with accumulating deadlines can often make the climb to the mountain top seem way too steep. Sometimes, it is simply scary because we usually put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves and, for this reason, the violin resting in the case becomes a feared object embodying a large panoply of frustrations and insecurities.

But the funny thing is, once we unleash this monster from its cage, things usually end up not being so bad at all! Once the beast is out and has been cajoled for a while, it starts to show its tamer side.

What’s important is to get the ball rolling, create momentum. So maybe you don’t feel like locking yourself in the practice room for three hours. Maybe you are not in the mood for a whole bunch of long tones, Schradieck exercises, scales, and etudes, followed by endless practice drills of difficult repertoire jam-packed with details.

But what if you simply committed yourself to open the case, take the instrument out, and play something, anything, for ten minutes? Only ten minutes. With the knowledge that you will then be free to walk away or keep playing, as you see fit. Surely ten minutes is manageable, no? Especially if you grant yourself permission to play anything you would like (although do keep in mind that you don’t want to injure yourself by launching into something too demanding without a proper warm-up).

I find that I’m usually successful at fooling myself into practicing a lot more by simply using this trick. For a million reasons, including the ones cited above, it is sometimes just too daunting to even think about practicing! So I will commit to ten minutes. I will commit to walk to my office, open the case, rosin my bow, take out my violin, and play a few long tones for a while. No strings attached! Somehow, playing a few notes, without any expectations, any pressure, shifts my whole perspective. The beast has become my friend again. Slowly my curiosity and inner drive start to kick in. With baby steps, I move on to other exercises and, next thing I know, I’ve started “practicing.”

It’s like jumping into a cold lake on a hot summer day—a little daunting at first but, once you’re in the water, you just want to stay there!

So, what do you think? Can you commit to ten?

In the studio this week: “Play from a place of joy.” “Use efficient finger action.” “Fast passages: make sure you play each. and. every. single. note.” “Make the tempo uniform: play through with metronome, mark any passage that you cannot successfully play at the first try, practice those passages separately, then do tempo/hurdle drills.”


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