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Copyright Notice

No part of this report may be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever, electronic, or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any informational storage or retrieval system
without expressed written, dated and signed permission from the author. All copyrights are
reserved.

Copyright 2016 Eddy Chen Violin

www.eddychenviolin.com
www.youtube.com/c/eddychenviolin

Contents
1 Introduction

2 Quality vs. Quantity

3 The
3.1
3.2
3.3

6
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7
7

Ultimate Practice Formula


The importance of Setting Specific Goals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Eliminating Mindless Repetition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Shortcut the process by learning from others . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

4 Best Practice Strategies


4.1 Slow Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.2 Immersion - focus on one technical aspect at a time
4.3 Small Chunking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.4 Recording yourself and getting lessons . . . . . . . .
4.5 Performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
4.6 Visualization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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5 Setting the Right Goals


5.1 80/20 Principle . . . . . . . .
5.2 Different Areas of Goals . . .
1 Technique-building . . . .
2 Repertoire-building . . . .
3 Musicality/Interpretation
4 Performance Experience .
5 Ensemble Experience . . .
5.3 Prioritizing the Right Goals .

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6 What good practice should feel like


15
6.1 Distractions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
6.2 Flow State - The Final Piece of Goal-setting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
7 Motivation

17

8 One Final Word - Have Fun

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Introduction

Jascha Heifetz, legendary violinist, practiced less than three hours a day. And wait, it gets better.
He doesnt practice on Sundays.
Are you telling me that 3 hours a day is all that is required to become one of the worlds best
violinists (For the remainder of this Ebook, feel free to replace the word violinist for whichever
musical instrument you play)?
On the other end of the spectrum, I know musicians that practiced 5-6 hours every single day for
years upon end. Improvement was painstakingly slow, confidence was undermined, and tragically
some of these musicians ended up burning out and quitting.
What is the reason behind such a discrepancy? Is it a question of talent? Or having access to
the best violin teachers? Both are legitimate reasons, but the primary reason why some violinists
improve aster than others is the quality of their practice.
Good practice is an art form in and of itself. In fact, Ive had the privilege of watching world-class
musicians practice before, and it is always mesmerizing.
In this Ebook, I describe in depth how to achieve quality practice.
And when it comes to practice... quality trumps quantity , anyday.

Quality vs. Quantity

Most of us do not practice effectively. We get distracted and waste time. Bad practice gives us the
illusion that we are improving. We assume that by putting in the hours, we are being productive.
The worst part is that when we fail to achieve our desired standard, we think more practice is
the answer. So we force ourselves to do more, and more, and more.
Until one day we injure ourselves, or have a mental breakdown.
No, Im not joking. The amount of physical injuries and emotional breakdowns I saw in my 4 years
doing music in university is enough proof. I myself experienced something similar, and had to take
a year off.
So then, what makes good quality practice?
I have written this guide in order to share with you most of what I know on the topic of deep
quality practice. I talk about strategies, mindsets, frameworks, routines and psychology.
If at any time you feel overwhelmed, just stick to these three main rules.
1. Slow Practice
2. Calm yet Focused Concentration (Flow State)
3. Listen and seek Feedback (from good teachers)
And without further ado...

The Ultimate Practice Formula

This is the ultimate formula I use to achieve success in any area. It applies as much to mastering
the violin as to finding love, losing weight or learning a new language.
The formula involves 4 steps. Here it is:
1. Clearly define your goal or purpose.
2. Choose a strategy and EXECUTE it.
3. Notice the results. Change strategy if needed.
4. Model and learn from those that are already successful/skilled to cut short the learning time.

3.1

The importance of Setting Specific Goals

Having clear goals is the foundation of effective practice. The more specific it is, the better.
Take for example the following two goals.
"Im going to master this piece of music" versus "Im going to aim to play this piece through with
accurate intonation and rhythm three times in a row by the end of todays practice session".
The problem with the first goal is that it is way to vague. How will you know if you have mastered
the piece? On the other hand, the second goal is much more specific. The focus is intonation,
speed/rhythm and consistency. With those clear targets in mind, we can pick our strategy.
When it comes to being specific, you want to keep the following in mind:
Clearly define what it is you are focusing on. Dont just think good sound, think good tonal
resonance, or even contact, or minimal scratchy noise between bow changes.
Make it measurable. For intonation, know whether you are sharp or flat. If its tone, know
whether you are using too much or not enough bow speed/weight etc.
Give yourself a time limit. Time limits or deadlines force us to focus our attention, Just think
of how 99% of students always leave their homework assignments to the night before the due
date. Given too long or vague of a deadline, we will naturally become distracted.
6

3.2

Eliminating Mindless Repetition

The beauty of keeping a clear, specific goal in mind is that we eliminate mindless repetition.
Mindless repetition is one of the worst habits one can develop during practice. Practice makes
permanent, not perfect. If you repeat something the wrong way over and over again, you will soon
have learnt a bad habit. Unlearning such a bad habit is much harder than learning a new, correct
habit.
Having a specific goal eliminates mindless repetition, because we can see very clearly if we have
succeeded in meeting our criteria. It also focuses our senses so we are actually aware of how we are
playing. Otherwise, far too often do we not pay full attention to the sound we are actually making.
For example, John is trying to learn a difficult passage. It doesnt sound quite right, so he repeats it
over and over again, trying to get the feel of the shifts and string crossings. After a few repetition,
he vaguely feels satisfied and continues onto the next passage. After one month, he feels that he
has tried his best, but the end result is that his piece still sounds inaccurate and sloppy.
Sarah, no the other hand, pauses every time she encounters a difficult passage. She identifies the
problem area and the aspects that re lacking, such as intonation and clarity. She then focuses on
just the few notes that are causing the problem, trying to practice it in different ways. After each
attempt, she listens very carefully and specifically identifies what needs to be changed (i.e. the A
was flat and the third finger was too late to lift). Very soon, the passage begins to sound clear and
in tune. She proceeds to repeat it a few times to consolidate until it feels natural and then moves
on to tackle the next difficult passage.

3.3

Shortcut the process by learning from others

As I said earlier, learning a skill or achieving success involves picking a specific goal, execute a
strategy and then re-evaluate based on the results you are getting.
However, it i sometimes hard to know what goal to pick (discussed below), what strategies are
more effective and whether you should change strategies or persevere (some techniques require a
long learning period and thus requires patience even when it seems like you are getting no results).
You can figure these things out yourself, but learning from a teacher will cut your learning time
down significantly. It is therefore your responsibility to find a good teacher to guide you.
Likewise, watching great violinists perform, listening to recordings and learning from books and
other resources are great ways to speed up your progress dramatically.
The aim is to eliminate wasted time, as time is your most precious resource.

Best Practice Strategies

Many practice strategies are specifically relevant to the problem it is intended to solve. One of
the traits of a great teacher is the ability to not just diagnose a problem, but to quickly provide a
solution - be it an exercise, change in finger position, or shift in mindset.
However, there are some broader best practices for practicing. To fully appreciate how these
strategies work, you may first want to grasp a basic understanding of how the human mind learns
skills. In order to prevent this Ebook from becoming too lengthy, I have supplemented this information in a video.
Click HERE to learn about the 4 stages of Skill-Learning

4.1

Slow Practice

When practicing something in performance tempo, your mind does not have time to process all
the individual movements, positions and sounds. By slowing difficult passages down - sometimes
to less than 50% of the performance tempo, we allow ourselves time to consciously execute each
of the movements correctly. As these movements are repeatedly executed correctly (conscious
competence), they begin to feel easy and natura (unconscious competence).
At this point, take the tempo up a notch. Resist the temptation to raise the speed up too much
and lose precision and control. If done correctly, you should feel a sense of ease and grace when
eventually playing up to speed.
In regards to slow practice, violinist Hilary Hahn once wrote an excellent article explaining slow
practice. To summarize it, there are three types of slow practice.
1. Everything is played as if in slow motion. Take all the time that is necessary for your mind
to register every detail (what position you are in, the spaces between fingers, the angle of
fingers, the amount of bow used, the distance of hair from bridge, etc.). It is important to
note that with slow practice, you want to be using the movements that are applicable for the
fast tempo. For example, if you are practicing a sautille passage slowly, dont use half bow
detache.
2. Play slowly, but make fast transitions. In other words, you play the note slowly so your mind
has time to think, but you make the changes and transitions quickly (often the difficult bit).
These transitions especially include shifts and string crossings.

3. Play slowly, but with all your musical and phrasing intentions clearly expressed even at the
slow tempo. Be detailed and think about the vibrato, bow speed, dynamic and articulation
you want for each note.

4.2

Immersion - focus on one technical aspect at a time

On your journey of learning the violin, you will learn a lot of useful nuggets of information. The
trap is to try and implement all of these tips at the same time. Trying to improve all areas
of your playing at the same time will result in mental overwhelm. Instead, you must choose to
temporarily focus primarily on improving one aspect of your playing, while putting the other areas
under maintenance mode.
This is called Immersion. Studies have shown, for example, that doing a one month immersion
of 5 hours a day (150 hours total) of learning and speaking a new language (such as being thrown
into a foreign country) will produce far better results than 3 hours once a week, spread out over the
entire year (150 hours total). In order to pick what to focus on, refer to the section 80/20 principle.

4.3

Small Chunking

Small chunking works by breaking down complicated passages or movements into its individual
components. It is like zooming in with a microscope. Then, we can give each of these movements
our full conscious attention and master them individually. Afterwards, it becomes much easier to
piece it all together. When small chunking, it helps to keep in mind the previous and following
chunks to understand how this chunk fits in contextually.
Funnily enough, the famous DOTTED RHYTHM practice method is a form of small chunking.
By playing a straight passage in dotted rhythms (turning quavers into a dotted quaver followed by
a semiquaver, or vice versa), you are effectively grouping the notes into pairs. Each pair is executed
in quick succession and time is given for the minde to prepare the next pair.
The same applies to ACCENT PRACTICE, which also accustoms the mind to grouping a passage
of notes into different arranged groups, or chunks. Accent practice refers to accenting every 1 in
n notes. For example, you may want to accent the first note of every four semiquavers, then repeat
the passage accenting every second semiquaver, then third, then fourth.
Finally, a really great way of utilizing small chunking is to practice a chunk until it is perfect and
then add one note at a time, until you play the whole passage as a unit.

4.4

Recording yourself and getting lessons

Have you ever though you sounded amazing, but then recorded yourself, only to listen back and be
severely shocked?
One of the benefits of recording yourself is so you can pick up on mistakes you were unaware of while
practicing (unconscious incompetence). Likewise, having a good teacher is probably the quickest

way to find out where your mistakes are. It is not enough to just look out for the mistakes you are
aware of, because you also have to take the mistakes you are NOT aware of into account.

4.5

Performance

Performing is great because it is the ultimate test for what truly has entered the stage of unconscious
competence. How often is it that we think we can play something only to have the pressure of a
live audience reveal tensions and weaknesses.

4.6

Visualization

Research shows that visualization training is effective, especially when combined with real-life practice. My belief is that visualization forces you to become consciously aware of the goal or end
product you are trying to achieve. Likewise, doing mental practice forces you to use your conscious
awareness.

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5.1

Setting the Right Goals


80/20 Principle

So lets delve deeper. How does one set the right goals?
Those who study productivity will have heard of the Pareto Law. Also known as the 80/20 law,
the law basically states that in many events, 80% of a businesss revenue comes from 20% of its
customers, or 80% of fruit may come from 20% of the trees planted.
The exactitude of the number 80% is not important. The point is that not all efforts produce
equal returns. The same applies to violin practice. Our job is to focus on practicing the things
that will give us disproportionate returns. Likewise, we have to be careful at all times to not be
distracted and end up practicing the many things that only give a marginal return for effort.
An obvious example would be a violinist that spends hours practicing left hand pizzicato versus a
violinist that spends the same amount of time practicing bow control and tone production. The
first violinist will get very good at a technique that is barely used in violin repertoire, whereas the
second violinist will have better tone, something which benefits all of your playing in general.
So unless you are performing a piece with left hand pizzicato and can already do everything
else in the piece, it is probably not worth your time to completely focus just on left hand pizzicato.
This may seem like a blatant example, but how often is it that we priorities the wrong things.
Take the following examples:
1. John suffers from performance anxiety and often plays like a nervous wreck on stage, even
though he sounds fine in a practice room. However, instead of practicing performing frequently
in order to desensitize himself to stage nerves, John believes he can compensate for nerves
by thoroughly over-practicing his pieces. He ends up spending double the amount of time he
needs to learn each piece just so he can feel comfortable playing it on stage.
2. Sarah has very good intonation, but it is not quite perfect. However, the rhythm of her
Mozart Concerto is not very accurate. Instead of focusing on the rhythm, however, Sarah
feels more comfortable practicing what she is good at. She continues to try and perfect he
final 1% of her intonation accuracy and procrastinates on fixing her rhythm.
Furthermore, we can break down our goals and purposes into differen areas.

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5.2

Different Areas of Goals

It is also very important to know that your practice goals will differ depending on your larger,
mid/long-term goals. In general, you goals can fall under five categories.

Technique-building
This refers to the time in your practice focused on building fundamental violin technique. It typically
involves scales, exercises, etudes and an awareness of your physical sensation and movements in
correlation to the sound being produced.

Repertoire-building
This is the part of your practice dedicated to learning a piece of music. It consists of learning a
completely new piece of music and preparing it until it is ready for performance (Often includes
memorizing the piece of music).
During this period of your practice, you want to focus on aspects such as:
Intonation
Rhythm
Tempo
Dynamics
Bow Distribution
Clarity
Articulation
Shifts
String Crossings
Vibrato

Musicality/Interpretation
This section is really an extension of repertoire-building, but I decided to add it as a separate
category, because it emphasizes the interpretational aspects of performing a piece. While repertoirebuilding focuses on practicing a piece of music until it is accurate and correct, this section of
practice focuses more on the subjective side of music i.e. Style, personal expression, etc.
This section should normally be included with the repertoire-building phase, as the two often go
hand in hand. However, sometimes it is useful to separate the musical aspects from the technical.
Likewise, this section also includes hands-off action such as listening to recordings.
Things to focus on here include:
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Phrasing
Style
Articulation
Vibrato
Character
Contrast
Narritive/Sotry-telling
Listening to recordings
Studying the Score

Performance Experience
As the name implies, performance practice refers to performing the piece/program in whole (or in
large sections). This may be in front of an actual audience, or it can just be done by yourself (But
playing as if you were performing). Watch this video for more about performance practice.

Ensemble Experience
The last one refers to time spend in rehearsals - either in orchestra or in chamber music. The latter
is especially important in developing a mature, nuanced musicianship. Learning to lead, follow
and blend with other musicians is a hugely beneficial skill to have. Likewise, ensemble playing
emphasizes different aspects of music - most notably, rhythm, balancing dynamics and the blending
of tone and articulation.

It is important to note that these areas refer more to the state of your mental awareness, as opposed
to the exact piece of music that you are playing.
For example, you could work on your vibrato technique in a violin concerto and that would still be
technique-building practice. Likewise, you can play a scale musically from beginning to end with
flare and that would resemble more of a performance practice.
This is why some musicians will say they never do scales, despite having great technique, because
these musicians are able to practice their technique in their pieces. However, this can run the risk
of making the piece of music dry and unpleasant.
It is important to keep in mind these broader areas of focus so you can become a well-balanced
musician. Someone who focuses primarily on learning new pieces (repertoire-focused) will not have
invested enough time to learning how to actually play their instrument effortlessly and will therefore
struggle more and more as the pieces they try to learn become harder. Alternatively, someone who
focuses too much on technique may learn the technique out of musical-context and will lack the
understanding of how to apply these technical tools in a musical context.
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5.3

Prioritizing the Right Goals

This is why there is no such thing as the perfect practice routine. We must choose what area we
focus on depending on our needs. The time we spend on each area should be depending on the
progress required, as opposed to some arbitrary number.
For example, if your technique is causing you to have difficulty in learning new pieces, you may need
to prioritize technical goals for a while. It is not uncommon for violinists to go through periods
where they dedicate a majority of their practice to technique and scales.
Alternatively, if you have a performance next week, the last thing you want to do is spend all your
time on technique. ideally, you will be polishing off your repertoire-building and be well into your
performance-practice and musicality-building phases (as well as ensemble rehearsals if performing
with other musicians).
In general, you have to judge what to prioritize depending on:
1. Identifying bottle-neck areas that are holding you back - weaknesses that will most drastically
improve your general playing if fixed. Often, what needs work on the most is the thing you
are most resistant to fixing e.g. that one nasty bad habit that is so hard to change.
2. Your schedule and needs - whether you are preparing for a competition/concert, or if you
have a lot of spare time without pressure.
3. Try to set your goals so they are challenging, but not too difficult. The ideal difficulty of goals
allows you to hit the flow state (see below).
Famous violin pedagogues such as Carl Flesch and Ivan Galamian have recommended rough splits
of 40% technique, 40% repertoire (& interpretation), and 20% performing/ensamble.

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What good practice should feel


like

The above information is meant as a guideline - they present ideas for you to think about. However,
they are by no means meant to be a dogmatic, strict set of rules to religiously follow. I believe good
practice is intuitive. It should be fluid, constantly adapting to the feedback you are getting during
your practice. The irony is that if you are spending too much conscious energy thinking about
how to practice, not enough attention is left for the actual problems you are trying to practice!
Therefore, it is important to learn to recognize the feeling of doing deep, quality practice. Some
people call this feeling being in the flow state, mindfulness, or deliberate practice. Whatever
the name, most of us have experienced this sensation before. here are some telltale signs.
1. An expression of rapt attention.
2. Silences in practice when you are thinking and analyzing your playing.
3. Calm, effortless focus and concentration, where hours can feel like minutes and minutes can
feel like hours.
4. A deep enjoyment (even if the task is difficult and involves some struggling).
5. A feeling that all the worries of your daily life temporary fade away, as all of your consciousness
is focused on the task at hand.

6.1

Distractions

Needless to say, to enter this space of deep concentration, you want to remove all distractions. Even
if you dont pick up the phone or check your messages, the very act of having your phone go off,
or Facebook open nearby, will deplete your willpower as you try to block those distractions out.
Save yourself the mental struggle by just removing them completely from your surroundings while
you are practicing (I always try to practice with my phone on silent, facing down, so I do not get
distracted by messages).

6.2

Flow State - The Final Piece of Goal-setting

Its interesting, because most of the literature out there on the topic of accelerated learning and
peak performance say the same thing about how to enter this Flow State. In fact, this final piece
15

of information completes the goal-setting idea presented earlier.


Research shows that we learn best when we challenge ourselves to the edges of our abilities. By
choosing a goal that demands all of our full attention to achieve, we learn to engage our full
undivided attention. These are also the goals that provide the most sense of satisfaction and
confidence upon success.
Working on goals that are too easy will induce a feeling of boredom and our mind will quickly become
distracted. The completion of these goals will also not provide us the same sense of enjoyment.
Conversely, setting goals that are to high and outside your comfort zone will provide too much
anxiety. Trying to practice a piece of music that is too hard, for example, will often just lead to
frustration and panicked attempts that more often than not will create bad playing habits.
Therefore, if you are feeling distracted or frustrated, first ask yourself - what goals am I giving
myself right now? Then check whether these are appropriate goals that are challenging you to the
furthest of your abilities, but not too far beyond.

Two excellent books to read on the topic of getting this sweet spot of flow state are:
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

16

Motivation

There are many tactics we can discuss about learning to motivate yourself to practice. However,
at the end of the day, the only way to gain self-sustaining motivation is to learn to enter the flow
state during practice. Flow state is the epitome of intrinsic, process-orientated motivation. We are
not practicing because our parents or teachers told us to. We do not need to rely on an upcoming
competition to practice. We practice because we love the feeling of applying 100% of our focus on
the process of overcoming technical and musical challenges. The journey becomes more important
than the destination.
The reason why flow state is self-sustaining is because the moment we improve, we are forced to
increase the level of challenge - otherwise, we fall out of flow state and enter boredom. Likewise,
if we encounter a challenge that is too difficult, we are forced to improve the level of our skill, as to
rid ourselves of anxiety. Thus, the point of reaching flow state is never static and it is, by definition,
impossible to become stagnant.

17

One Final Word - Have Fun

Lastly, I want to re-iterate that while good practice should be challenging, it should also be enjoyable. Stressing out and getting frustrated for not improving does not help. It only servers to provide
more mental and emotional distraction. It is a paradox, because often we stress out because we
really want to get better faster, but that very stress will often just hinder our progress! However, it
is equally dangerous to misinterpret this as a license to be lazy and take it easy. If you ever find
yourself getting too stressed out over practice - try this analogy. Think of practice as a game.
The game has serious rules. These are the rules of Violin Playing. Playing with a straight bow
with good contact is a rule for making good tone. Your job is to learn and practice these rules. The
game has challenging levels. These represent goals. As you progress in the game, the boss fights
get harder and harder. likewise, as your violin playing improves, you or your teacher should set
more challenging goals.
But at the end of the day, its a game and you play it to have fun. The same applies to violin. We
must never forget that we practice because we enjoy playing the violin and making music.

18