What is a Practice Journal?

I like to think of a Violin Practice Journal as less of a physical thing, and more as an approach to keeping a record of your practice.

However you choose to keep your journal - notebook, app, word document... or my favourite, old scraps of paper stored in a cardboard box! ...

... what's important is that you have some sort of records of your practice. What you did, in other words.

And, more importantly, why.

Document Your Progress

A practice journal is all about documenting what you've done in the past. But why would you want to do that?

Journalling shows you - in full, inescapable detail - exactly how you've spent your time.

Now, as they say... past performance doesn't necessarily indicate future performance.

But what it does do for you, the violinist, the journaler, is to show you clearly what you did, and why.

Once you know that, and have time to reflect on it, then you can plan ahead to what you're going to do in your next practice session... ... and why!

Benefits of Journalling

Keeping a practice journal can have a number of benefits.

Some are very practical, some are more emotional and motivational. But all of them lead you towards better, more efficient practice.

Here's an overview of some of the things you can expect to see when you begin to keep a practice journal...

Using Time Wisely

Time is one of THE most precious - and finite - resources that we, as human beings, have.

As musicians, we need more time than most to hone our craft, and put in the practice hours that will make our playing as good as we want it to be.

So we must make sure we're using every second wisely!

Making the Most of Limited Time

If your schedule leaves you with limited time for violin practice, you can keep your momentum going by restricting the number of minutes you spend on each task.

This way you'll get through more tasks, and cover more ground in your practice. Your development will be more balanced, because you're making progress in all areas, rather than just one or two.

Over time, as you review your journal, you'll start to notice improvements across the whole of your playing. This will create a virtuous circle, as you'll be motivated to practise even more!

Accountability

"What did I ACTUALLY do?"

If you want to be sure about how you're using your time, journaling is an excellent tool. From your notes, you can see exactly where your time has gone!

If you've used your practice time effectively, you'll see it right there on the page! And if you haven't, you'll see it there too!

Of course we all have days where practice just isn't flowing. That's fine. Note it down in the practice journal, go and have a biscuit, sit by a river and mediate, try again tomorrow.

But at least we know how we've spent our time, and we know that we were clear and deliberate about our decisions.

Daily Habits

Keeping a journal each time you practise doesn't need to take long - a minute or two is more than enough. But the simple act of journalling every time you practise can work wonders for building your regular habits.

A written record of your daily practice creates an extra incentive to keep taking daily action. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously suggested to record an unbroken chain of daily work on a big wall calendar. It can be extremely satisfying to see every day's practice checked off on the calendar!

The opposite is also true; once you get into the habit of keeping a daily record of your practice, it will feel wrong to 'break the chain' by missing a day. You'll be excited and motivated by your progress, and you'll want to keep it going for as long as possible.

These little daily habits are the foundation of achieving your long term goals. You won't necessarily see progress every single day, but the cumulative effect of daily practice over a long period can be extraordinary.

Use your journal to keep yourself accountable on a daily basis, and get yourself into a really good 'daily habit' of violin practice!

Practise Subconsciously... When You're Asleep!

After a detailed piece of practice on something, our subconscious mind gets to work on it - especially whilst we're sleeping.

That's why sometimes you can wake up in the morning, and suddenly have a magical clarity about an issue you were struggling with the previous day. Or, you get to the practice room and find that you can do something that you couldn't do the day before!

However, if you haven't taken clear notes and already set out your priorities for the next day, you might forget the work you did yesterday... you might not even remember to try out the tricky passage you were working on!

But if you DO keep notes, then you can go straight back to yesterday's challenges, and apply whatever amazing solutions your brain has come up with during the night!

Measure It, Plan It

There's an old saying, "what gets measured gets done". It's worth tracking how much time you spend on each task, so that you know you've covered everything adequately.

When you can see exactly which practice tasks helped you to make tangible, measurable improvements, it gives you a much clearer idea about what's working and what isn't.

This makes it easier to decide what to spend your time on next!

When you look at your recent journal entries before planning the next day's tasks, your record of what you did (and for how long), will give you a sense of what you need to do to achieve the next short term goals.

Make a note of what worked, and how long you had to practise it before seeing results. From there, you can start to predict efficient ways of overcoming the next challenges on your list, and building them into your practice plan!

ViolinSchool members can download the Practice Journal templates in the ViolinSchool Library

Structure

Too many people practise in an 'ad hoc' way, without a clear sense of what they're trying to achieve.

It helps if you have a clear goal or objective that you're working towards, such as a concert or exam, but what if you don't?

This is where having a clear framework or structure for your practice can give you immense clarity about how and why you are practising.

Even if you don't have a short term goal to work towards, you can still plan your practice time wisely.

At ViolinSchool, in the absence of any alternative plan, we like to break up practice time into four key areas:

TECHNICALMUSICAL (Repertoire), PERFORMANCE and CREATIVE.

Here's a useful 'practice menu' that explains a bit more about each of these key areas. We find this is a helpful framework of thinking about the different sections of your violin practice, so that you don't overlook anything when planning your daily practice!

ViolinSchool members can download all of our Practice Tools in the ViolinSchool Library

Journalling can help you understand how balanced your practice is. For example, are you spending all your time just playing through pieces? Or spending so much time on technical work that you're not doing any creative, fun stuff?

Of course, people need a different balance to their practice at different stages of learning, so the structure of everyone's violin practice will be different.

But by keeping a note of which TYPES of practice task you do, and for how long, you can keep assessing whether or not your violin practice is balanced, and whether you're focused on the most important tasks... the ones that are most important for YOU, right NOW!

Monitor Patterns

Another really valuable insight you'll gain from keeping a regular practice journal is that you'll start to notice patterns in your practice. This can be positive OR negative!

Ask yourself: What do you see popping up regularly in your journals? Are you always practising the same exercises? Are you seeing the same challenges coming up repeatedly? Do these patterns suggest a technical problem, or some other issue where you need to seek help from a teacher?

Of course, some repetition is good. If you're starting most of your practice sessions with long slow bows or other similar sound production exercises, that's probably a good thing.

And scale routines, for example, are useful for maintaining the fluency of your left hand technique, so it's good to see a regular pattern of scale practice in your journal.

However, if you find that you're often playing the same study or technical exercise over and over again for weeks at a time, then you might be at risk of your practice habits becoming stale (and boring!).

Unnecessary and repetitive tasks are a warning sign... once the creativity disappears from your violin practice, the fun will often disappear too, and practising can become a chore. Don't let that happen!!

Use your judgment - ask yourself if recurring patterns in your practice journal show good habits, or whether you need to mix things up a bit and look for new ideas.

Monitor Changes

Learning the violin well takes a long time, so your goals and priorities are likely to change over the years.

What you're aiming for one month might be totally different a year or two later.

If your approach to violin practice doesn't evolve to support your changing goals and priorities, then you'll hit problems.

And your practice journal provides a great way to monitor - and prevent! - this.

By regularly reassessing your short term goals, you can assess whether you're moving in the right direction for achieving your long term goals.

That's why we encourage you to make a note of everything you've learnt or discovered in your practice journal, as well as using short term goals to clearly map out what you want to achieve in your practice... BEFORE you do it!

Take Some Time To Reflect

Don't get too lost in the detail though. If you're so focused on your short term practice that you never reflect on your long term plans, it's easy to lose focus and momentum.

Every few months, take some time to review your practice journal AWAY from the violin.

Take it to a quiet place where you're not going to be disturbed, and give yourself some time to read and think.

As you reflect on what you've done over the past months, you'll get a feeling for how you're progressing according to your 'big picture' plans.

Your learning and your new discoveries might even send you in a different direction! Perhaps you'll discover a new style of music that you love ... Or suddenly you'll become interested in a different type of ensemble music!

Embrace these changes, and update your approach to practice so that it's congruent with what you want to achieve long term.

Being able to 'zoom' in and out of your short, medium and long term activities is wonderfully helpful for giving you clarity and confidence in how you're spending your time.

Looking back through your journal allows you to see how your day to day practice has fitted into the big picture of what you want to achieve.

Reflect on what worked well and what didn't work well. Use your observations to model what you want to do - or not do - in your future violin practice!

Motivation

Finally, never underestimate the power of motivation.

When you see, from your practice journal, that you're making tangible, clear progress, then you're far more likely to feel enthusiastic and motivated about the journey ahead!

The simple act of looking back through your practice journal and seeing what you've achieved, can be extremely empowering. A small breakthrough or new discovery can fuel your excitement, and keep you looking forward excitedly to your violin practice time!

More Journaling Techniques

Leave it Lying Around!

Unless your home is patrolled by rambunctious pets or wild children, a great way to reduce the 'barrier' to practice is to leave your instrument out of its case, so that it's easily accessible ...

... You're far more likely to pick it up and start to play if you don't have to go through the hassle of getting it out of the case!

Do the same with your practice journal ... leave it near your instrument so that you always remember to fill it in. But also, leave it somewhere accessible during the day so that you can refer to it and reflect on your current work whenever you have a spare moment!

Digital Journaling

Once you've got into the habit of journaling regularly, you can then think about how to improve the process.

If you're able to keep a digital journal, then all sorts of opportunities open up for tagging, categorising, and sorting your notes. Software such as Evernote, Dropbox, or even just a folder of Word documents can be a great way to sort your ideas in an accessible, easily-navigable way.

For some people, this is way too much hassle. But for others, the convenience of a digital device - and the possibility for organising your notes in a creative way - can really help to make learning and practice more efficient.

Just... don't forget to back it up!

Non-Chronological Journaling

If daily journaling doesn't work for you, or you're not yet convinced that it's a necessary thing to do, that's fine... but you can still keep a basic record of what you've done!

Instead of a daily, time-based journal, some people like to keep a page of notes for each piece of music they work on.

You could keep all your notes for violin sonatas in one box, and for violin concertos in another ...

... or maybe you have a folder dedicated to studies and technical exercises...

... or even just use a scale tracker to track which scales you've practised, and how often!

Your Journal, Your Way

Journaling and note keeping can take MANY forms, and it's very important to remember that what works for one person won't necessarily work for another.

Personally, I don't like spending much time on detailed note-keeping about what I've done. I prefer scribbling a quick note to myself, committing it to memory, and dumping it in one of my many cardboard boxes!

Knowing it's there (and knowing roughly which box it's in) is all the peace of mind I need, and if I want to look back on what I've done, I'll just sift through the boxes and explore my past practice sessions.

But plenty of people would hate the way I keep my journal... I know many of our learners carefully type their notes, or keep records of each practice session in a beautiful hand-written notebook!

Ultimately, so long as you're keeping a good record, it doesn't really matter HOW you do it. Your journal just has to be right for you.


Useful Articles

Anne Timberlake: Transform Your Practice: Keeping a Practice Journal

Rob Knopper - What My Practice Journal Looks Like

Real School of Music: How to Use a Practice Journal

Practice Tools

Structured Practice Method

Practice It

Quotes

"what gets measured gets done" - Unknown

Here's Setareh's most recent video, explaining how to warm up the hands and fingers before starting to play. I've found these exercises a really useful way to begin my own violin practice, and I hope you find them useful too!

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Here's an earlier video with similar exercises for posture and breathing. It's soooo important to get your body balanced before you play - everything is easier when your body is flexible and relaxed!

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Our New YouTube Channel

Setareh and I are dedicating the next few weeks to filming the latest series of ViolinSchool videos. As well as the online courses, there'll be video tutorials on our YouTube channel as well.

If you're a regular YouTube user, please click below for our new channel then click SUBSCRIBE (make sure you're logged in to YouTube first)! You'll be notified on YouTube whenever we publish new tutorial videos.

Subscribe to ViolinSchool on YouTube!

More videos coming soon! Enjoy 🙂

1st Position G Minor Arpeggio exercises featuring different note patterns, rhythms, bowings and articulations.

Click here to download it!

Let's practice clapping some rhythms together!

Click here to download it!

Beats Me! 

What is music? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer! … hard to come up with a satisfactory definition. Here’s our best effort, taken from the ViolinSchool Glossary: 

The vast vast majority of music will contain varieties of these three elements: Pitch, Rhythm, and Sound (timbre). And so, when you are practising the violin, you need to be super-duper-hyper aware of all three, developing and honing, developing and honing, then honing some more!  

In Beats Me!, we’re going to look at the fundamental units of rhythm, the units that you’ll find in pretty much every piece you will ever play.   

So, what is rhythm?! Again, let’s consult the ViolinSchool Glossary: 

Sounds good. But, what is pulse? How is it different from rhythm? 

Once we’ve established the pulse, felt the beat, then rhythm can take place within and around it. It’s such a natural, human thing (and a parrot thing, too, it would seem … keen “headbangers” that they are!). When we ‘sense’ the pulse, or ‘feel’ the beat, it makes us react kinaesthetically: we tap our feet, we clap our hands, we nod our heads, we dance! The pulse of music can be super super fast, or super super slow, and everything in between … we call this the ‘tempo’: 


The basic units of rhythm are as follows:  

American Terms --- Whole Note (4 beats); Half Note (2 beats); Quarter Note (1 beat); Eighth Note (½ beat); & Sixteenth Note (¼ of a beat)   

British Terms --- Semibreve (4 beats); Minim (2 beats); Crotchet (1 beat); Quaver (½ a beat); & Semiquaver (¼ of a beat)  


Now we’re clear on the definitions, let’s try clapping or tapping the rhythms in Beats Me!  

Make sure the pulse is really solid and consistent. Start with a slow tempo, and then try it at a faster tempo, and then at an even faster tempo, etc., etc. You can also ‘speak’ the rhythms while you clap/tap, saying out loud “1-2-3-4” … “1-2” … “1” … “half” … “quarter”. 

A great way to strengthen your sense of pulse (and to check you are getting all the rhythms right!) is to use a metronome … Glossary-time! … 

Have fun!

Arpeggio-based note patterns, rhythms, bowings, techniques, and articulation exercises in 1st position G major.

Click here to download it!

Many of our learners have told us that they've now made their way through all thirty of our 5 Minute Workouts and, so, we are delighted to present the next ten, nos. 31-40 (and, oo-er, they're starting to get a bit trickier!) 🙂

ViolinSchool Members - click here to download ALL the 5 Minute Workouts!

Having plenty of variety in your practice is soooo very important. It's tempting to just repeat the same one or two (maybe three!) things every time you practise, day after day, week after week (month after month!). This means that you'll only be focusing on the challenges contained within those few things. And that's why we think it's soooo very important to do something different, something new, every time you practise! This could be a new scale and arpeggio, a new exercise, a new piece of sight-reading, maybe a spot of improvisation, or performing some old repertoire to your cat! Or, you could spend just five minutes on one of our workouts! This way you are guaranteed to be doing something new - finger patterns, bowing patterns, techniques, keys, rhythms, etc. - in every practice session. Loop each line and try (really, really hard!) to improve it with every loop - think about sound, intonation, pulse, rhythm, posture, bow division, etc., etc. - whilst you are looping!

Have a good workout! 🙂

ViolinSchool Members - click here to download ALL the 5 Minute Workouts!

These exercises are brilliant for practising double-stopped sixths! Great for intonation work and for developing a really solid left hand. Who doesn’t want a solid left hand?! 🙂

If you're just getting started on the violin, then learning the G, D, and A major scales (and arpeggios!) is a great place to begin, helping you to develop a really solid hand 'frame'. There's a huge amount of violin music in G, D, and A, with most of the major violin concertos being in one of these keys. This is because - along with our friend the E-string - G, D, and A are the notes of the open strings. Happily, in these one-octave versions that start on an open string, the finger pattern is always the same - 0 1 2 3 0 1 2 3 2 1 0 3 2 1 0 - (beware of the semitone between fingers 2 and 3!). Once this pattern is well and truly in your bones, then try using a fourth finger instead of the second open string - 0 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 0.

Our awesome Two-Finger Scales provide a serious workout for your left hand! Each of these super-shifting-scales will help you get your left hand moving smoothly between different positions - in the key of your choice. The 3rd and 4th fingers of the left hand benefit particularly strongly ... once you get the muscles moving, you'll feel like you've taken your left hand to the gym!

Don't forget to practise slooooooowly and carefully! What goes up slowly is far more likely to make it down again safely! ...

The Two Finger Scales are available in every key for ViolinSchool Members, so you can download the scale pattern that fits your current repertoire. A few minutes of Two Finger Scales, and you'll be ready to play almost anything!

Click here to visit Scale Central and see all of the Two-Finger Scales!

4. Bb Major & Bb Minor – Two-Finger Scales – ViolinSchool

We're pleased to introduce an all-new feature on ViolinSchool.com - Five Minute Workouts!

These great little exercises came about when one of our London learners kept running out of practice time each week because his crazy-busy job in the City of London meant that he barely had any time to practice each day!

He tried to cram in all his practice at the weekend, but it wasn't really working... it's always better to practice 'little and often' rather than in one big chunk. That way you'll remember what you learn much more easily - and you'll be able to build habits more quickly and effectively. So instead, we persuaded him to put aside 5 minutes a day for his practice - literally, just 5 minutes!

To make things as easy as possible, we created a series of '5 minute workouts' so that he didn't have to think about what to practice. Each day, he'd take one of these workouts, and practice it slowly and carefully, either until he got to the end... or until 5 minutes were up!

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Click here to see all the Workouts! >>

Each Workout covers a different skill - different finger patterns, bowing patterns, rhythms, keys, techniques and so on.

Every time you practise, 'loop' each line for about a minute, making it a little bit better each time you repeat it. First of all, play the exercise really slowly, and then gradually speed it up. Try each Workout at different dynamics too.

Whatever you do, always aim to play musically and with a beautiful sound. Have a great workout!

Click here to see all the Workouts! >>

One of the most important skills any violinist can have is knowing how to practise! This one single skill can transform your progress, because if you always know how to improve then you'll always be getting better and better!

A big part of knowing how to practice is being able to create a useful structure for each practice session that you do. A good structure should be a simple, solid framework that you can rely on to help you decide how to plan your time and what do do during that time.

But it should also be flexible. No-one should ever dogmatically add things to their violin practice simply because they think it's 'the right thing to do' or 'because my teacher told me to'. Instead, you need to be creative and switch around the tasks that you do from day to day, week to week -- according to what will help you get closer to your goals... faster AND better!

Introducing... The Practice Menu!

One of our favourite analogies for this is The Practice Menu. Think about how a restaurant would compartmentalise their menu according to different types of food. It's necessary, isn't it? If the chocolate cake was next to the vegetable tart which was nestling between the coffee which was next to the soup... well, you'd just end up confused!

You need a structure that makes sense. And just like with food, where there can be infinite recipes and dishes - just as there are infinite variations in technical exercises and pieces of music for the violin - there are some useful guidelines that are broadly correct whoever and wherever you are.

In most restaurants you'll start with savoury starters and mains, some with sides. A sweet dessert will usually follow the main course. Drinks will often be available on a separate menu. It's clear, it's organised, and it's easy to choose what you'd like.

cake

In your violin practice, try following a similar structure.

First begin with the STARTERS. This is where you get your warm-ups done, but it's also a time for building your technique (for example, practising new techniques that you haven't mastered before) and maintaining (making sure that everything you already know is in really good shape.

Then you can move on to the MAIN COURSE. This is usually the biggest part of your practice - working on repertoire (pieces of music). What you're looking to do in this part of your practice is to analyse and improve the technical and musical issues that will make a big impact on how you play each piece.

When you're having a meal, don't forget the DRINKS! In our analogy, that's the equivalent of performing. Your performance practice is absolutely critical if you're going to get used to playing to other people, but you'd be surprised how often people forget about performance practice entirely. It's also a learnable skill, so with the right training you can eliminate performance anxiety completely. We go into this in great detail in our practice resources and training courses in the ViolinSchool members area.

Finally, don't forget to reward yourself with some DESSERTS! Whether it's composition (creating your own music), improvisation (creating music by playing it in real time!), sight-readingmusic theory or any other musical topic that improves your overall musical experience, make sure you leave time to have some fun! Being really creative in your practice is a great way to stay motivated and make sure that you're always excited about your playing.

In ViolinSchool's online learning programs, we go into great detail about how to approach practice, and to create a structure to your practice time that gets you great results. Our online courses include the How to Practice training and a section dedicated to useful practice resources.

If you'd like to give your practice a boost then check out the benefits of ViolinSchool Membership to see how we can help you to transform your violin playing! We'll also help you to review your learning and put together a personalised practice plan for you when you join!

Would you like a copy of THE PRACTICE MENU?
Just email us at [email protected] and we'll send it to you as a printable PDF! 

When you're learning violin for the first time, it can be difficult to remember which finger goes where. It also takes a long time to think about where to put each finger - especially if you're playing a new piece of music.

A good way around this is to get used to playing scales before you embark upon a piece of music. If you get used to playing a pattern of notes in the form of a scale, then your muscle memory will be stronger, and it will be easier for you to place the notes correctly when you play the piece.

When you're practising a new scale, it can still be really tricky to remember which note goes where. And that's where finger grids become useful! Grids give you a visual reference for each scale pattern. This makes it easier to get to the next note, as you have one less thing to remember! Here's an example of a scale grid in G Major:

You can find more scale grids in the member section at ViolinSchool.com, but you can also create your own! Try drawing four vertical lines (one for each string), and then writing in the notes that you need for the scale you're currently working on.

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