This October marks three years since I bought my prized violin and began lessons. What an exciting and wonderful three years this has been! I’ve been blessed with an amazing teacher, a very supportive family, and encouraging friends to help on this musical journey.
Throughout the past year, I’ve jotted down in my little lesson book various things I’ve learned along my musical journey. I believe that many of these small lessons can also be applied to everyday life. Here I shall share them with you.
1: Slow and smooth is better than fast and sloppy.
My teacher always tells me, “Faith, slow down!” I’m one of many people who have a tendancy to rush into things, and some things simply can’t be rushed. If you can’t play something properly at a slow pace, how would you ever play it properly at a fast pace?
2: Only fix a few problems at a time.
When I am disappointed by how my music sounds, I sometimes want to fix all the problems at once. But I never can, and that leaves me even more disappointed. The key here is to focus on only one or two problems at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
3: Do something enjoyable before practice or during break to lighten your mood.
This is a great way to make sure practice doesn’t bog you down. My sister is wonderful for this. During breaks we’ll talk or laugh together. Having a little fun really helps you keep a positive attitude.
4: Frustration and discouragement are never helpful–especially in music.
There are times when hard work ends up making me so annoyed. And when I’m frustrated, I make even more mistakes in my music. Take a break from practice. A short, not-frustrated practice is better than a long, frustrated practice.
5: There’s no “best way” to practice
Every song is different. Music has such glorious variety. In each song you have to focus on different things. There’s no perfect style of practice or right way to practice. You have to think, before every song, what would work best for learning that particular song.
6: Don’t forget your stretches
If you are serious about music, hand and wrist stretches hold great importance. The health of your own body shouldn’t be underestimated. Sometimes my hands have hurt because I’ve forgotten my stretches, and then I can hardly play at all.
7: It’s okay to take a break.
I sometimes tell myself, “I need to finish my hour of practice!” and I ignore that my hand needs to rest. So I must remember that when my muscles are weary and by brain is tired, it is okay to rest. Yehovah created us to need rest from our labors. Once I was so mentally exhausted that I took a break from violin for an entire month. And that is okay. Breaks are healthy and necessary, whether one minute long or one month long. Chances are, problems will be so much smaller when you return.
8: Be content with being just a little better, not a lot better.
Progress often comes very slowly. Enjoy every little bit of progress instead of wishing you had a lot more. Every small improvement helps toward big improvements. Eventually you’ll look back over three years and see that you’ve improved a lot.
9: Expectations and dreams are fun and helpful, as long as you know that they might not come true.
Expectations and dreams are what make life delightful. But please don’t think that all
the of your expectations and dreams will come true, or you will become very disappointed. Rejoice in those that do come to fruition, and don’t get too disappointed by the ones that don’t come true.
10: Use the teacher’s lenses.
When practicing, it is important to consider what the teacher would think. Would he/she say that I shouldn’t hurry or say that I should speed up? Such thoughts help you know what you should focus on, and help you and your teacher stay united in your goals. So imagine that you’re at lesson, and do your best. This applies to all of life–we need to have the mind of our heavenly Teacher, and focus on His priorities.
11: Don’t lose sight of where you’ve come from.
When we struggle to get better, we often think only about what needs to be accomplished, and not about what already has been accomplished. Sometimes I watch a video of my violin playing three years ago to remind me of how much I’ve improved. It is very helpful to think of such things, especially at times when I’m disappointed.
12: Schedule your practices, and stick to it!
Typically I schedule my practices in the afternoon. And if I’m disciplined, then I don’t have to have it lingering over my head for the rest of the day. And if I have an errand planned in the afternoon, I make sure I schedule morning practice time so that I can be gone all afternoon without having to worry about it. Schedule and discipline are the core for successful practice.
13: Dynamics often seem to be the least important, but they give such vitality to a song.
Dynamics are there for a reason, but often I just ignore them. I need to remember that dynamics give life to a song. Life is full of dynamics. Embrace them.
14: Don’t get overwhelmed by how hard a song is, because the next song is likely harder.
Saying, “It’s too hard” will never accomplish anything. Learning music is always hard. You must learn how to work through the difficulties, and not be overwhelmed by them. Keep practicing smartly, and later you will look back at the “hard” song and say, “That is easy now!”
12: If your music isn’t sounding right, figure out what is wrong before continuing.
Don’t just keep playing a difficult song again and again, hoping that during one of the repetitions it will sound better. Focus on what is wrong, and how to fix it, then try again. Getting better always starts with recognizing where your problems are.
13: Learning an instrument is always hard, but always worth it.
When I started violin, I had no idea how hard it would be. But even when it is difficult, it is worth it. The longer I play, the more I am certain that those who choose to practice diligently don’t regret the hard work.
14: Don’t loose sight of why you began.
So many students quit lessons after only a year or less because when difficulties come, they loose sight of why they wanted to play an instrument in the first place. They forget their goals, or decide that those goals aren’t important to them anymore. When I hit difficulties, I remember why I wanted to start violin–to play beautiful music for my King and for others. That’s why I started, and it’s why I’ll continue.
15: Ask for help.
So often during practice, I want to be independent. But often I am reminded that I can’t do things all by myself. There are difficult times when I need support from my teacher or family. There are times when I need to pray to Yehovah. And He answers. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help.
16: Determine your priorities.
If you have only one hour to practice, don’t spend 30 minutes on the easy song and 30 minutes on the hard song. Instead, do 15 minutes on the easy song and 45 minutes on the hard song. Or 20 and 40, depending on the situation. Focus on what needs your attention the most. Managing your time is of utmost importance.
17: It’s a journey.
Sometimes I loose sight of the fact that music is a never-ending process. I will always be making mistakes, always improving, always learning. The key is to enjoy the musical journey, not rush it.
18: Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do.
Instead of thinking, I can’t play that song well, think, I can improve my pitch in this measure or I can ask my teacher for advice on that chord. Focus on the things that you can accomplish, not on the things that you are currently unable to attain. Then, by small daily accomplishments, you will eventually reach those previously unattainable goals.
19: Unity is key.
All music can be wrapped up in one word: unity. Everything must work together, especially with the violin. The arms, fingers, bow, and mind must coordinate at the same precise moment to make rhythmic music. Likewise, when things or people work together, great things are accomplished.
20: When you’ve done your best, know that it is your best, even if you still don’t like it.
Sometimes I work for an hour on a song and still don’t like the sound of it. But I tell myself, “I practiced as well as I could.” When you do your best, that is something to be proud of, whether it sounds amazing or not. Take joy in what you did accomplish–a job well-done.
21: It is better to do one line well than the entire song poorly.
My teacher often reminds me of this during our lessons. She just wants one line done well. Then once you have that one line down well, you can work on the second line, etc.
22: Try difficult things. Stretch yourself.
If something looks difficult, it might not be as difficult as you think. Just try it, and you might be surprised. Test your limits and see how much you are able to do. By stretching yourself and experimenting, you may reach your dreams.
23: Think big!
Music is not about just getting all the notes right, it’s about making something beautiful. So add an extra decrescendo to the song, or add staccato to a section, or some slightly different fingering if it makes the song better for you. Don’t let the black and white of the paper jail you in. Think of ways to make the song yours. (There are, of course, some times when the teacher wants you to follow the exact instructions, but in everyday playing, you can have fun!)
24: Think of the prize ahead!
Sometimes practices can seem rather unrewarding, but that isn’t true. There is always some sort of reward. Either it’s a smile on the teacher’s face when you said, “I practiced every day!”, or it’s a concert, or it’s simply the satisfaction of playing better. Think of the prize ahead, and the struggles won’t seem so bad.
25 : Don’t look at music as only notes.
Often, during practice, we get lost in the minutia of A, B, C, quarter notes, half notes, etc. and lose sight of the fact that music isn’t only notes. Music has the power to touch hearts. Music can be a tool of the Holy Spirit to break chains (literally for Paul and Silas in Acts 16) and change lives. Pray that the glorious beauty that Yehovah has placed in music will shine through you and your instrument!