Playing the violin implies two things: the first is to get always better, and the other is to never get out of shape. The former implies playing as much as possible, the latter not going below a bare minimum.
I have explained how long should we play the violin every day in this blog post. Now, we will discuss the importance of the number of sessions during the day or during the week.
Playing the violin every day once is a minimum if you want to make progress. But it is better if you can do two 45-minute sessions instead of a 90-minute one. It is even better if you can do three sessions. Children will benefit from playing two 20-minute sessions instead of a 30-minute one.
Even if we love our instrument, there are times when we want to skip a practice session. Menuhin’s parents used to tell the young boy: “do birds say today, I won’t fly?”. My teacher told me that I should practice only the days I eat. All of that emphasize the importance of regularity in violin playing.
So the more we play, surely the better we get. But the more often we play? How is playing two times a day better than one?
How often should I practice the violin every day?
Learning the violin can be explained physiologically and scientifically. Of course, there is some work done on the muscles and the tendons of the hands and the arm. But this is not the most important part of practicing.
Learning and practicing consist of establishing neuronal connections inside the brain. This is brain work, not as much as a muscular one. It has been described in length in books like Yvan Galamian’s method or even more in Yuri’s Yankelevitch understanding of violin practicing. These are one of the best teachers ever.
You should practice at least 90 minutes a day if you are serious about violin playing. But it is better if you can break down your practicing time into two or three sessions.
So the best way to acquire that particular ability is to forge reflexes: playing associate conscient motions and gestures with unconscious ones. The only way to achieve that is to repeat over and over. How not to get bored? The secret is to repeat throughout the day.
It is better if you can practice two times a day.
- You have your main practicing session of let’s say 60 minutes. This is when you do your most important work.
- You set aside another 30 minutes at least to play the parts or passages that were particularly difficult for you in your main session.
Sometimes, you need to practice more than two times a day.
When you really need to acquire unconscious reflexes and gain effortless technique, you need to breathe your instrument, to make one with it as they say. The best way is to practice more than two times a day: 3, 4, or all the time! But short bursts of playing.
Fast passages or rare techniques can be acquired only through constant repetition. Sviatoslav Richter used to say that he sat down on his piano to play a certain passage every time he passed by it, all day, every day. Igor Oistrakh said that his father, the great David, used to play impressive passages as soon as he got up in the morning, before having a shower and his breakfast.
That’s how our great virtuosos practice: they play all the time without definite boundaries of playing sessions.
How often should I practice the violin every week?
On a weekly basis, there shouldn’t be a day off. It’s as simple as that. Violin practice should occur every day, without exception. When you skip a day, you feel that you need to work harder the next day and that’s not a good experience. You need to work twice for the same result. It is simpler to force oneself and not skip a day.
Play every day of the week without exception. I you feel down, just adjust your routine.
It is recommended to have several routines :
- one routine to acquire technical abilities (such as bow strokes, …),
- one routine to check and maintain our technique (play some etude for maintenance),
- one routine to study new repertoire,
- one routine to maintain our already-known repertoire in case we need it.
That’s how you can adjust the quantity of work you need to produce. When you prepare for exams or concerts, you might need to do all the routines.
If you feel like you’re going to skip a day, still force yourself to do routine #2: just check and maintain your basic technique (scales and bow strokes).
Dedication and regularity are crucial for violin playing. Just play every day.
When can I stop playing the violin?
I will end with a quote from one of the best violinists ever.
If I don’t practice for a day, I notice it. If I don’t practice for two days, the public notices it.Jasha Heifetz
My teacher used to say: violinists never get retired. Violinists are never on vacation. What he meant was that you never get to stop when you want to be a good violinist. He played half of Paganini’s Caprices each day as his routine.
But sometimes, you risk mental exhaustion and you feel you’re going nowhere. A break can be beneficial to rest your body and free up your mind. You can revive your energy and your musical and artistic ideas. You will get a new start and see or feel things you never thought you would in the pieces you already know by heart. You become a better person, a better musician. You are rejuvenated.
So, in those rare instances, taking a real break can be beneficial. Do not stop for a couple of days. Stop for two or three weeks. Even Maxim Vengerov took a sabbatical to come back stronger. When you take your violin back, restart slowly and carefully.
If you want to improve your playing, I have detailed my advice on how to practice effectively. I go into detail about many of the topics we have mentioned here.