Simon Hewitt Jones is the Director of ViolinSchool.
Metronomes, mirrors and tuners are fantastic tools for a violinist.
Metronomes can help you to keep time. Mirrors can help you to see whether your bow is straight. And tuners - not least the all-singing, all-dancing digital tuners that are now available as smartphones - make it easy.
Just follow the device, no? If you can play in time with the metronome, then you've got it right!
Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
What happens when we look at a tuner or a mirror is that we get a visual cue for what is actually a physical or aural skill. In the case of a metronome, or a tuner that can also generate pitches, it can be a visual or an aural cue (or both).
Instinctively, we use those cues to make sure that our physical motions are correct.
We start off with the best of intentions... "I'm going to play this passage slowly for 10 minutes, making sure that every note is in tune". And, eyes glued to the tuner, you do exactly that - correcting mistakes as you go.
Magically, once you've repeated it several times, the passage is starting to sound in tune! You do it again the next day, and it's even better! And by the third day, it's really consistent -- all the pitches are ringing true! Sorted!!
With your confidence rising, it's time to go and play it to your teacher (or to do a mock performance for your pet cat, or whatever!).
But this time, the tuner isn't switched on. It's a performance, after all.
"OH NOOOOooooooooo! It's gone out of tune again! It's soooo out of tune! But why? I practised it for ages!!"
In this example, our conscientious, well-intentioned violinist has unfortunately spent 10 minutes fixing (and then consolidating) precisely the wrong problem.
Instead of making the physical motion really accurate, then practising it until it's 100% reliable, the violinist has been practising the physical motion only when there's a visual cue to rely on!
If you always practise intonation whilst looking at a tuner, you'll get really good at playing in tune with a tuner...
If you always practise rhythm whilst looking at and listening to a metronome, you'll get really good at playing in time with a metronome...
And if you always practise keeping a straight bow whilst looking in a mirror, you'll have a really good bow technique... when you're looking in a mirror!
There are many aspects to good violin practice, but one of the most important is to make sure that you're tackling the right problem in the first place! It doesn't matter how conscientious your practice is if you're not doing the right things.
In the practice section of ViolinSchool's online learning programs, we go into detail about both the strategy and structure of your practice, to make sure that you're never falling into a trap like this. Once you've got a clear roadmap for what you need to do, you'll make much better progress. You can integrate scales and technical exercises effectively into your practice, and soon you'll be thrilled at the results you see!