Practising for Busy People

Me at Carnegie Hall

As many of you know, I am both a violinist and a software engineer. I have a Masters degree in violin performance and have played in 20 countries, and a couple years ago I did a programming bootcamp and have been working for 2 years as a software engineer. In my holidays I go on tours (Carnegie Hall last year, Paris this summer) so I have to keep up a high standard of violin playing while also holding down a 9–5 job. So here are my tips for keeping in good musical shape with a busy lifestyle!

1. What to practice?
 I take notes on my phone during rehearsal of tricky passages that need
 work. Then when I start practising, I have a hit list so I don’t faff around wondering what to do.
2. Intonation
I’ve used The Tuning CD extensively myself and with my orchestra. It plays overtones so you can really precisely determine your intonation — incredibly eye-opening, depressing at first, but ultimately very cathartic.
3. Rhythm
 I also practice frequently with a metronome and it’s something I highly
 recommend. Also if you think you’re playing in time, try recording yourself
 and play along. Metronomes are especially useful in 3/4 and slow 6/8 as
 those are difficult time signatures to keep in tempo.
4. Tracking practice
 I use a very fancy Paperblanks journal with a nice pen to record every day
 my start/end times, what I’ve covered, and what I’ve learned. Every month I
 read over what I’ve accomplished that month and set goals for the next
 month (including number of hours to practice). It’s important to have a
 plan with practising so you can tell if you’re being effective.
5. Recording
 Recording oneself is SO useful! A smartphone has a plenty good microphone,
 and you can hear so much more when you’re not busy playing. I suggest
 especially before practising rhythm/intonation to record yourself as a
 baseline comparison and then when you’ve finished practising.
6. How much to practice
 I set monthly goals based on what’s realistic with my work schedule. While
 practising is about much more than just time, you can’t have good practice
 if you don’t carve out the time to begin with. It’s a lot less than the 4
 hours/day I used to practice as a student but I’ve also become much more
 effective so I get more done in less time. That being said, 15 minutes a
 day is infinitely better than no minutes a day, especially if you have a
 goal and are focused and disciplined. 15 minutes/day 5 days a week is 5
 hours a month!
7. Resources
 The Bulletproof Musician blog/podcast has interesting ideas on practising –
 check out the interview with Catherine Cho on how improving a sense of pulse.
Modacity is a practice app built by a French horn player. Built in recording capacity and lots of oher great features.
The Tuning CD — Spotify
The Tuning CD — Apple Music

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