Corona Virus Shut Down – how to keep practising

This post is directed to caregivers and students in our Class 3-5 string programme.

Well…that happened. This is a unique situation for a performance music programme; we are unable to meet face to face and I can’t even provide maintenance and meetings about the instruments. As we transition to isolation, the good news is that practice is a great way to provide structure to your day at home. The recommendation of at least 5 days a week along with daily listening to the recordings stays the same. If you don’t have access to the recordings, please let me know and I will arrange something.

If you can, it is fantastic to sit and support with your child when they are practising. Not only can you keep them on track, but you can learn about the instrument and provide valuable feedback. Practice is an exercise in delayed gratification and can be hard to get to but once you are there, it is very absorbing.

Tips for enjoying practice

Just so you know, we focus on tone, posture, rhythm, fingerings and bow directions in our method. This quality time with your child will help them grow as a player. Some guidelines are;

  1. if it is feeling just too hard, make it easier by chunking it smaller, playing it slower or plucking it. Even plucking an open string and listening to the resonance is a fantastic use of practice time. We can all do that.
  2. practice should never make you frustrated. If it is frustrating, it is too hard
  3. repetition is the way we learn things. If you repeat things really mindfully, it stops being ‘repetitive’ and becomes fascinating. Sometimes you need to repeat things carefully ten times before you see an improvement in your playing. You may develop some kind of system at home to help with repetition. Some people have a string with ten balls on it. You move a ball across with each repetion.

Structuring your practice time

To add structure to your practice at home, a standard practice session is chunked into four sections; tonalization, review, working piece and preview/fun.

  1. Tonalization is where we check our posture, tuning and tone production, trying every practice session to produce a more beautiful sound than the last. A tonalization can be descending D Major scale, or even just playing open strings, plucked and with the bow.
  2. Review is when we play what we already know. We twinkle with all of the variations and play through all of our songs. We need to notice spots which don’t work quite right and put aside some time to work on them in the next section.
  3. The working piece is when we practice all of our ‘boxes.’ A box is a section in the music which you find hard. This should be focused and snappy and not get frustrating.
  4. Finally, we have preview/fun where we get to play what we want. You could play your preview pieces again, or listen to the recording and use your ears to work out new songs. This is the heart of the Suzuki Method; using your own agency to work out songs on your own, with the teacher as guide. If you learn the song slightly incorrectly, you have still developed your listening skills and concentration, and your teacher will correct the errors in a jiffy!

How to tune your instrument

It is really essential that your instrument is precisely in tune when you practise it. This is equally true for violin, viola or cello, or any other instrument for that matter. A ukulele needs to be in tune to sound nice too! Below is a good video about how to tune. Please watch it together. It is important to learn how to tune your instrument because it aids musicianship, ear training, allows you to play your instrument in tune and makes it possible to practise anywhere without an adult around. One word of warning; please don’t tune your strings higher than the pitch it is intended for. The strings will break and you will have no replacement for the whole duration of the lock down. Instrument string names are as follows (from thinnest to fattest strings)

Violin E-A-D-G, Viola A-D-G-C, Cello A-D-G-C. I like Boss Tuner and can be found on the Play Store and App Store. It can play your reference tone too.

Listening

Please keep listening to the recordings daily. If you do not have access to them, please let me know by emailing me! If you put the CD on shuffle for an hour a day in the home, that would be fantastic because the only way we learn repertoire in this programme is by repeated listening to the tracks.

Another awesome way to take in some classical music right now is by subscribing to Digital Concert Hall; the Berlin Philharmonic’s channel. If you enter the voucher code BERLINPHIL by the 31st of March, you get free access. You can read more here. I highly recommend you take this up because you can see one of the world’s best orchestras performing whole symphonic programmes. I found all of the old concerts from the 60s and 70s especially interesting.

Thank you

If you get practice done during this break, listen to tracks and learn to tune your instruments, we will be able to slot straight back into routine when we get back to school. It would be a real pity if the instruments stayed in their cases through this and this is a real opportunity to upskill on all of the music that we know already. If you have any questions about anything, please let me know and I’ll try to help out.