How To *Actually* Start Seeing Progress With The Violin
Perhaps you can relate to the following statement: "No matter how much I practice, I just don't seem to be getting any better!". Is this you? If so, let me share some of the reasons you may not be progressing in the ways you expect, and how to start seeing significant positive results with the violin.
I know how frustrating it can be to feel as though you are dedicating your time and energy to learning something new, only to find that you are not progressing in the way you'd hoped. It can be easy to compare ourselves to others and think, "Why can't I sound like that?", or even just wonder why you have been stuck on the same piece of music for what feels like forever. It's important to keep in mind, though, that everyone learns at their own pace, and each individual is on a unique musical journey of their own, not to be compared with what you are doing and experiencing.
That being said, there are some legitimate roadblocks that could be not only hindering your progress, but altogether sabotaging it.
Spending too much time playing
As counterintuitive as it may sound, too much playing of your instrument can negatively impact your ability to improve. Even if you are regularly playing your violin for eight hours a day, if you're not practicing, meaning efficient and intentional work, all of that time spent could be leading to things like reinforcing bad habits, technique issues, and much more.
Work smarter, not harder
Be intentional and selective about the things you choose to practice, and really go all in with those few things. Don't tire yourself out by playing anything and everything, Instead, save your energy and efforts by working with small chunks, and playing through sections slowly and deliberately. If you are repeating a specific section, be consistent with your repetitions - know your bow direction, finger pattern, etc., so you may become intimately familiar with the material you are studying. After all, that is what learning any subject is really all about!
Focusing on the wrong things
All too often I see aspiring violinists and fiddle players make the mistake of "practicing" the areas within their music that don't really need work, in an attempt to put off the spots that do. It is tempting to begin a practice session by jumping straight into the things that are sounding good already, because it's fun to play the easy parts, isn't it? While we should be proud of the pieces of music we can play well, only focusing on those places will not get us far. Hilary Hahn didn't become Hilary Hahn by just playing the fun bits, after all!
Practice the things you're not good at, rather than the things you know you can do well already
If you can challenge yourself to fight your instincts and dive straight into the areas within your music you know you are struggling with, you will see instant improvement, so long as you are working through these areas properly (see my first point). Something that can help to make this a little easier is if you mark (with brackets, circles, stars, etc.) the areas in your sheet music that need special attention. I am a huge fan of colored pencils, as the bright colors guide your eye straight to the places that need work, without you having to waste time searching for that one measure you worked on the previous day. Plus, it is very rewarding when you finally get to pull out the eraser once you've mastered a particular section and it is no longer in need of attention!
Not having a clear goal
If you enter into a practice session without a clear end goal, you are setting yourself up for a highly disorganized and unproductive experience. You will find yourself chasing your tail, perhaps getting distracted, and most certainly becoming frustrated when you realize forty-five minutes have passed and you haven't made improvements in any area.
Know what you'd like to accomplish so you can make it easier to achieve
If you'd like to yield real results from your practice sessions, map out a plan for yourself before you even pick up your instrument. Everyone learns differently, so for you this might mean having a color-coded practice chart with a specific and detailed routine to follow each day, or it could be something more simple, like having the notes you took during your private lesson with an outline of the items you should be working on in front of you. Whatever your learning style, make sure you set a specific and realistic goal for the practice session, and take care to stick to the task of achieving that goal in the time you have set aside.
So, now it's in your hands. Remember that it is entirely up to you how you much progress you make with your instrument. Not your teacher, not your family member, not even your neighbor who bangs on the wall when you play. If you can commit to changing the way you approach the violin and start developing healthy practice habits, you will undoubtedly reach new heights and unlock potential you may not have even realized you had within you. So, stop telling yourself why you can't, and start giving yourself reasons why you will. The violin is not for the faint of heart, but if you've already made it this far, why not see how much farther you can go?
If you'd like to see more on this topic, watch the video below, where I delve into each of the tips I've mentioned in this article!