A very good place to start. Are you hearing Julie Andrews singing in your head yet? I’m wrapping my head around this new year and who I want to be, what I am going to do to get there and taking a lot of my own advice that I am constantly giving to students.
- Practice everyday, or at least on the days you eat. Your biggest key to improvement is creating small habits that are consistently happening each day. If you are not currently practicing, commit to doing it for two minutes each day. Just two. It may sound silly, but the biggest obstacle in starting something new is just starting. Too often we focus on the finish of where we want to be whether that’s the performance of a concerto, or just practicing an hour each day. Focus on the start. Get out your practice journal, pencil, and music. Rosin the bow, stand tall, and start with the first few measures. Two minutes. Two minutes will turn into five minutes, which will turn into fifteen, and so on. The hardest part is creating a new habit. Just start.
- For advanced students, I love the advice I was given from another accomplished violinist. Pull out the Kreutzer Etudes and play all of them within two weeks. This is an endeavor that will broadly challenge many different techniques, bowings, fingerings, and skill. It will likely be painful and not especially enjoyable, but it is a powerful exercise to clear away cobwebs and build up your endurance.
- Pick a piece you love and one you don’t love. It’s easy to spend time on that piece you love, but you’ll learn more in the mastery of the piece you do not love. Do you know why you don’t love it? Dig deeper, find the redeeming qualities, and recognize what the music has to teach you. It’s kind of like meeting new people. Sometimes our dearest friends are the ones we weren’t immediately drawn to. Sometimes it is the people that are the most different from us on the outside that are the most connected to our souls. Music and its discovery has so much to teach us.
- Enjoy the journey! We won’t be experts at any new thing, ever. Celebrate the doing, the effort, and the attitude that you bring to your goals. Enjoy the process of becoming.
As I practiced today, mindful of these words of advice, I realized just how much practicing has to teach me about my life, my values, and how I approach all the things I face each day. Progress comes line upon line, measure by measure, phrase by phrase. I can see the beauty in recognizing my bow needs to slow a bit between double stops or changes; the variance of my vibrato between dynamics and pressure. A softer word with my children creates a more beautiful cadence and atmosphere. It is all connected. Whatever your goals are this year, celebrate the process of learning and becoming. Start where you are, with what you have. Just start.