Violin & Cello practice tips you would love
Easy & Effective cello and violin practice tips.
We all would agree that practice is important in our cello and violin learning journey. You might be just a practice away from a new breakthrough or setting new milestone on your violin or cello journey.
Why this is important? Many students started the cello and violin lessons in hope of improving their playing. Let’s be frank, strings music lessons aren’t cheap. So to ensure that you get the most values out of your lessons, you would need to PRACTICE. We will discuss on how to create a long lasting practice habits as well as how to practice effectively.
This complete guide for violin and cello practicing tips includes the following chapters:
How to make your practice routine more effective. Quality of practice is more important.
Tools to help
Things or tools that would help your practice. Including Metronome, Practice Diary, Tuner, and references on where to get music sheets.
Violin or Cello Lessons
Why getting a teacher is a good idea and actually saves you more than learning it by yourself.
Is this you?
The common mistakes or misconception by beginner student is that when first started, they are very excited and motivated. This is why we sign up for classes, getting a hold of a very nice violin or cello. We can easily do 2 hours of practice a day, consistently for a week or 2.
However, after some time, says a month, when we don’t see ourselves playing as the YouTuber like the piano guys or Lindsey Stirling, the practice dies down; and sooner or later we give up on the goal to become a better violinist or cellist.
In fact, this happens all the time not just when we are picking up new music skills. e.g. starting on a diet, reading a book, or improving family/friend relationships.
If this is you, and you are hoping to get some practical tips on changing the situation, then you are on the right page.
What progress is really like?
Firstly, let’s have a clearer idea of what is expected in the journey while learning an instrument.
Plateau of Latent Potential
We often expect learning progress to be linear. However, the result of our effort is often delayed. This can result in a “Valley of disappointment” (shown in the chart) where students feel discouraged after putting in weeks of hard work without experiencing any results.
However, please understand that this work was not wasted. It was simply being stored. It is not until much later that the fun value that you put in can be seen. BUT if you stop the practices and give up at this stage, the effort will then be “wasted”.
To put things into perspective, if you go to the gym 3 days in a row, you’re still out of shape. If you are learning a new language for an hour for a week, you still aren’t able to master that language. And the pitfall is this: We make a few changes, but the results never seem to come quickly and we slide back to our previous routines.
The practice that you do daily might seem to make little to no difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be obvious.
Forget about Goals and Focus on System
Goals are about the results you want to achieve and systems are about the processes that lead to those results.
As a music student, your goal probably is to learn your favourite song. Your system however is how often you practice, how effective are those practices and how you breakdown and tackle the tempo, dynamics articulation and bowing, etc.
2 steps you should cultivate:
- Decide that you want to be a violinist or cellist.
- Prove it to yourself with small improvement.
Instead of feeling discouraged that you are not able to play the song as good as The Piano Guys or Lindsey Stirling. See if you have improved on your intonation. If you are able to control the bow better. If you are able to catch the tempo better. Do this consistently and before you realise, you would be able to play your dream song on the violin or cello already.
4 Laws of Behaviour Change (In Practice Context)
In the book of <<Atomic Habits>> by James Clear, he define the process of building a habit can be divided into 4 simple steps and that is Cue, Craving, Response and Reward; in a form of neurological feedback loop (keeps repeating). And the author actually shift this 4 process into 4 laws of behaviour for creating good habits and breaking bad habits. They are:
- How can I make it Obvious?
- How can I make it Attractive?
- How can I make it Easy?
- How can I make it Satisfying?
Due to copyright limitation, I will not talk in details about the respective behaviours but I will put these concept into useful and practical suggestion for my cello and violin students. (By the way, I highly recommend you to get a hold of this book and apply the concept, it will change your life!)
So the following steps are practical and useful tips that answer one main question:
How can I make my violin/cello practice Obvious, Attractive, Easy and Satisfying?
First thing first, start with having an intention to practice. Sounds obvious but there are way too many students just have the hope of playing well without having the thought or intention to start improving. Or they try to form the practice habits by leaving it up to chance and hope that we will “just remember to do it” or feel motivated at the right time.
So instead of telling yourself: “I am going to practice cello tomorrow”
Tell yourself “I am going to practice cello for [30mins] at [6pm], in the [study room]”
Alright, I know at this stage, there will be some of you thinking that this is very impractical! Because their schedules are tight up with other unforeseeable commitments. e.g. I am not sure if I am available at 6pm because i might need to OT, I might need to talk to my father or mother in law etc.
Which is very understandable. So instead of putting a time, you can create something call habit stacking formula and it looks like this:
After I [finish my shower in the evening], I will practice cello for [30mins], in the [study room].
You can simply replace the first [ ] with any CURRENT Habits that you do daily or consistently.
Side note: I love playing the song (as music background that I intend to practice afterwards while I am showering, for 2 reasons. It sets the motivation high, and it helps set the goal on what to focus on for the next practice.
Note: When and where you choose to insert your cello practice into your daily routine can make a huge difference!
If you’re trying to add cello practice in your evening routine but evening are chaotic and your spouse are watching Netflix in the living room, then that may be the wrong place and time (pssst… this is why we highly encourage couples to take up new music instruments together).
So before creating that statement, please consider when you are most likely to be successful and avoid the time that you’re likely to be occupied with something else in the long term.
Say Out Loud
This idea is very simple, take the statement that you just formed above and says it out loud to your friends or family. By simply doing so, it raises the level of awareness from a non-conscious habit to a more conscious level. Your family members might even remind you to practice.
Trust me, it seems like a small difference. But the commitment level to follow through will be much higher, and the likelihood of your practicing will increase a few folds!
For someone that is currently living alone like me, another way that I personally use is to simply post it on Instagram story after I have done the habit that I wish to cultivate.
Many of the actions that we take each day are shaped not by a purposeful drive and choice but by the most obvious options. DO NOT over-rely solely on your motivation.
One key concept here is our behaviour is not defined by the object in the environment but by our relationship to them. e.g. For one person, a chair could be where she binge-watching Netflix and eats a packet of potato chips after work. For someone else, the same chair could be where she practices the cello after dinner to after dinner.
So redesign a space and make the cues to make your cello practice habits more obvious.
Some suggestion includes:
- Place your violin and cello in the middle of your living room/or bedroom, or somewhere obvious!
- Mark the song that you wish to learn as your favourite list. (or plays it as background music while you’re working)
- Create a more conducive space to practice. If possible create a space solely for your violin/cello practice. (I know Singapore’s home is normally limited by space, so it need not be a specific room. Just divide one small activity zone will help.)
- Remove any distractions. E.g. ask your spouse to take care of the kids for the next 15mins. remove the laptop that reminds you of Netflix. put away Phone that reminds you of Facebook/Instagram,. (Set it to flight mode if you are using it for video recording, which is a very effective way to spot mistakes that you are playing as a 3rd party view. We will discuss this in detail in the following chapter).
- Get a sturdy music stands of your favorite colours. (Sounds ridiculous, but it really makes your practice routine happier)
Make Your Practice Attractive
Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings. You can do so by simply reframing your mindset to highlight the benefit instead of the drawback.
Instead of thinking “harrr….. need to practice violin again. It might be disturbing my neighbours. the song is too difficult..”
Shift it to “It’s time to be one step closer to my dream song” or “its time to become better so I could impress others with my improvement”
Another key concept is to create a motivation ritual, which is to do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit. Some practical suggestions will be looking at the tutorial video or youtube video of the song that you wish to improve on right before your practice session.
The more attractive it is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.
Just Be Right Most Of The Time
Every day, we will have a number of moments that you have choices to make which eventually deliver an outsized impact. For example, the decision that you make between watching Netflix or Plays Cello after work will eventually determine if your cello skills improve?
When given 2 similar options, it is human nature to follow the one that requires the least amount of work! This is why you realize you are checking your phone or watching youtube/Netflix most of the time. Because the effort required is minimal.
Duhhhhhh.. BUT why is this important? Because I want you to understand the following 2 key concepts.
You just needs to win MOST of the time.
i. The good news is this: You don’t need to win all the time. But just need to win MOST of the time.
This means that even if you made a few “bad decision”, but most of the time you are still taking the right choice towards becoming someone you want to be, in long run you will still achieve that dream!
In fact, personally I finds that making a few “bad decisions” do help me focus more when I am performing “right decision”.
ii. Researcher estimate that around 50% of our daily actions are done out of habit. But the effect is so much more substantial because that habits that you completed in just few seconds can also shape the actions that you take for the next few mins or even hours.
Think about it, it seems to be easier to continue what you are already doing that to start doing something different. That is if you are holding a cello and looking at the music sheet, you are more likely to practice for the next 10mins (compared to when you are lying on the bed).
So to combine this 2, I want you to do this simple act. Taking the previous commitment statement that I made:
After I [finish my shower in the evening], I will practice cello for [30mins], in the [study room].
After showering, you will have a “decisive moment” to practice cello or not. Simply just grab your violin or cello, and watch a video of the song that you intend to practice. Then only ask yourself do I feel like practicing? By doing this consistently, it will increase the likelihood of practicing by a lot.
How to stop procrastinating using the 5 – minutes rule.
Even when you know you should start small, it’s easy to start too big. When you dream about making a change, excitement inevitably takes over and you end up trying to do too much too soon.
So for students that still find it challenging to practice their instrument for 30mins a day. I would encourage you to just make it so simple that you can complete it in 5 mins. e.g. instead of practicing the whole piece. Just practice a major scale. Or just practice your finger routine.
By now, a lot of students will be questioning the effectiveness of this act. Because it seems like a trick because you know that the real goal can only be accomplished if you do more than 5 minutes, so it may feel like you’re trying to fool yourself.
But the truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved. The fact that you show up to perform that act, it will soon become the ritual at the beginning of your practice routine.
So remember, instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis.
Focus on Small Improvement
Mastering a your violin/cello start with repetition, not perfection.
Wondering why does your cello or violin teacher keep asking you to repeat the same phrases or music piece over and over again?
To play a song smoothly requires a lot of subconscious muscle movement (wrist movement when changing bow direction, elbow angle while crossing strings, ears listening to the intonation, left hand fingers press at the correct dot…) which only can be accomplished by lots and lots and lots and lots…. of repetition.
And like what it seems, it is daunting. It is challenging.
So next time if you are getting frustrated and wondering why you are not able to play the song nicely. Shift the mindset and think of what small achievement you have made today.
It can be:
I manage to plays semiquaver more fluidly.
I realise I manage to play finger 4 (pinky) more firmly.
My vibrato sounds more vibrant now.
What you should do now?
By summarising all the points stated above, you can start by doing the following:
1. Create a commitment statement on where and when you going to practice.
2. Share that statement to your friend or family or the best of all, your teacher.
3. Find a conducive corner as your practice place, visualize yourself practicing there.
4. Place your cello/violin there together with the music stand.
5. Shift your mindset to make practicing more attractive by focusing on the benefits.
6. On the day that you don’t “feel like practicing”, just go to the corner, hug your instrument and watch a violinist or cellist video. (NOT MOST OF THE TIME)
7. If you still find it hard, then just make practice routine as short as 5 mins.
8. Reward yourself after every practice by focusing on the small improvements you have made. (If after some time you still finds that your skills don’t improve at all, we will then need to look at the effectiveness of the practice. )
Let’s Learn Together!
Music Mood aims to help adult students to learn their cello and violin better. This is why we are trying to create a community that is encouraging and helps each other to grow. Start chatting with us to find out how to make your learning process better.
Good tips for music learners.
Glad that you find it useful Choon Ho. 🙂 Let us know if you have applied some of the techniques shared here.
Thank you for sharing! Useful tips!
That’s great Greentea! Hope you apply it to your cello practice routine in Singapore!
thanks for the reading, it is really enriching. The 5 mins rule works! Helps me to practise more diligently:))
Glad you find it useful Yu Ting! Keep up the practice and we are looking forward to seeing you at the upcoming cello classes!
Very interesting thoughts succinctly described. Applicable to other aspects of life. Well done!
Awesome Esther! Indeed, the habits here can easily be applied to other aspects of life! Enjoy your cello practices and looking forward to seeing you at the cello classes!
These r good techniques Teacher Jayden!
I like the five minute rule
Hey Joana, that’s great! You can apply it to many other aspects of life when forming a new habit on top of your violin practice routine.
Glad you find it useful Lim En. Keep up your cello practice and guide your sister with her violin practices ya. Looking forward to our next cello and violin lessons in Singapore.
Enjoyed the reading and find it motivating!! I guess it is time to make my cello practice obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.
Glad you enjoyed it Lyn! Go for it! I can’t wait to see your improvement in our next cello lessons and workshops!
Great and useful article to motivate my intention to resume back my cello practicing
Let’s do it! waiting for you on our next adult cello lessons!
Wow… I might actually start practicing now
Jia you for your cello practices Akash!
Good read. A shift in the mindset goes a long way in helping achieve ones goals.
Glad you find this ready useful. Let us know if you have applied the tips here in your cello practice routine 🙂