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  • Writer's pictureCorey Gemmell

Who wants to practise the violin anyway?

There is no question that learning to play the violin, which is truly a life-long pursuit of learning, is very fulfilling. It can offer a lifetime of satisfaction that is deeper and more meaningful than the instant hit or gratification of some more shallow short-term activities. It is increasingly obvious that society as a whole has steered into a direction that favours brief sound and video experiences with instant responses. Social media is the greatest example of this trend. While there is no question that these types of brief exchanges can be fun and enjoyable, they often lack the meaning and depth that can be found in immersing oneself in an art form such as studying the violin, one that is hundreds of years old and crosses all national boundaries.

And yet…after an initial rush of excitement as the case is opened, maybe for the first time, and the first sounds are coaxed from the inert wood and hair that until moments earlier was wrapped in a velvet cocoon, there is a slump. I have said it. Even the most dedicated, die-hard student must admit in their innermost heart that at some point it gets to be more like work. Isn’t this supposed to be fun? Why pay all this money for an instrument, lessons, music, etc. and then find yourself working?

While I cannot answer to your own personal valuation of learning to play the violin I can certainly speak to the method(s) of practising that can contribute to a healthier mental, and maybe even physical, approach.

The number one question from parents; “how long should my child be practicing every day?” Good question. One possible formula might be approximately 15-20 minutes per grade. So, a Grade 8 Violin student might be expected to settle in for 2 hours of violin practising. This discussion is often followed by eye rolling and in subsequent weeks it often devolves into bribes (the parents, not me) and threats, intimidation on both sides, in fact all the tactics that would make a hostage negotiator proud.

It doesn’t need to play out this way. The most important factor in improving is not the number of hours spent on the violin in a day. It is the frequency. Who wants to settle in and do anything for 2 solid hours? We barely tolerate waiting for microwave popcorn at 2 minutes! Our microwave society certainly is less tolerant of long-term commitments than ever before. It is ironic that in the time of Bach the average life expectancy was 25-30 years while in Canada it is currently just shy of 82 years and yet a violin student in the time of Bach likely put in far more time on the violin without the cajoling and bargaining in a Faustian deal that present day students engage in with parents. All while having more than 3 times the lifetime to invest in oneself. But I digress.

Try practising in short bursts throughout the day. 15 or 20 minutes can be found at numerous times throughout the day. Get up in the morning, knock off some scales. Lunch break; have a go at a study. Finish your school, grab your snack and work on a few lines of a concerto, or a few bars, or a shift, whatever. Finish your homework, pick up the fiddle and turn to another movement, another piece, practice some sight reading. By the time the day is over you will have accumulated quite a tally of violin time and more importantly you will have gone no more than a couple of hours without engaging your muscles and muscle memory and imprinting on them the patterns and behaviours necessary to mastering your instrument. Your body will also thank you for not putting your muscles through the pain and discomfort of doing the same thing for hours on end without a break. Your brain will also thank you for keeping alert and enjoying the violin for that short time rather than staring at the clock and wondering when the 2 hours will be up.

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