No two top-level players practice exactly the same way, but there are many practice techniques common to excellent musicians. Want to join their ranks? Here are five high-performance habits that will help anyone take their skills to the next level. The sooner you adopt these habits–and consistently keep them–the faster your playing will improve.

1. Work on Violin Scales

Violin ScalesEvery top-level player understands the importance of working on violin scales. Some of the greatest violinists of all time worked on scales for half of their practice time–even if that meant playing scales for hours on end. Thankfully, you don’t have to practice scales for hours to benefit from them.

Violin scales are so beneficial because they are simple enough to allow you to focus on crucial fundamentals. When you aren’t distracted with the notes in a tricky piece, you’re able to really improve basics like good hand position, tone, and intonation. Even if just for five minutes a day, playing scales with good technique will develop muscle memory and improve your playing on the difficult pieces.

Here is a good resource to download violin scales to practice.

2. Work on Etudes

Violin ScalesAn etude is a musical composition intended mainly for the practice of some specific technique. Etudes are designed to present difficult patterns and techniques outside the context of a performance piece. Think of an etude as a workout to prepare you for techniques you will apply later. Most top-level players are working through an etude book at all times.

Here are some examples of etude works arranged in order of difficulty, from easier to more difficult. Most great players have worked through them all.

  1. Wohlfahrt
  2. Kayser
  3. Mazas
  4. Sitt
  5. Kreutzer

If you’re not regularly practicing etudes, you’re missing out on a great tool for rapid improvement.

3. Practice Hard and Smart

There is no substitute for putting in the time. However, equally important (if not more important) is making your practice quality practice. There are no shortcuts when it comes to improvement, no magic “fabulous player” pills (or we would all buy them!). It takes consistent hard work to see consistent improvement. If you’re putting in the time, however, at least make sure you’re getting the most from every hour of practice.

4. Perform for Others

Music is meant to be shared, and there’s nothing like performing to improve your playing. Something about the joy of playing for others can bring out expression and emotion you didn’t know you were capable of. Even if you think you aren’t any good, there is always someone that would appreciate your music.

Start small. Begin by playing for a close friend or family member, then increase the number of people you include. The more you play for people, the more opportunities will pop up. Knowing you’re going to be performing can also be a strong motivator to practice consistently and effectively.

5. Use Quality Tools

caseIn no profession or hobby can you get very far without good tools. An instrument and bow are the tools you use to make music. Buy the highest-quality instrument and bow you can afford, as the quality of your instrument and bow dramatically affect your sound. In turn, the quality of sound your instrument produces will affect your inspiration and satisfaction as you practice and perform.

Top-level players do a great deal of shopping around for the perfect instrument, and typically upgrade their instruments many times as they improve. Each time they improve their instrument, they get the same feeling of exhilaration and inspiration that you do (just with a much higher price tag attached).

If you are interested in checking out some of our recommendations of instruments, check out our Superior Violins store.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Give Up

Never forget that learning an instrument is a marathon, not a sprint. You will have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks. Top musicians have them too, but they never give up, and they never stop applying these five techniques.

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23 replies
  1. celticfiddler
    celticfiddler says:

    The image under #2 (from Mazas) brought back memories of my favorite teacher, Robert Semon (now deceased), who was a student of the late, great Carl Flesch.

  2. Will
    Will says:

    I do one other thing. Sight reading has become part of my practice. I have a lot of sheet music so… I sight read something new each week. For this I pick out a piece that is slightly under my present competence level and try to play it at performance speed first time.

  3. Cynthia Tuck
    Cynthia Tuck says:

    Thanks Michael for the scales and etudes. This post is very beneficial. I’mean wondering though if there are scales and etudes out there that are just a bit simpler for a very beginner student?

  4. Richard Kovacik
    Richard Kovacik says:

    As always, such good direction went right out a bought Wohlfahrt Etudes book as suggested. Immediately added new challenges and life to my practice. Thank you Michael.

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