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Six Great Practice Tips From An Internationally-Renowned Baroque Violinist

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Rachel Podger
Rachel Podger is an internationally-recognized master baroque violinist and winner of the 2014 BBC Music Magazine Award.  She has performed with a large number of leading international ensembles, and is Director of the Brecon Baroque Festival.

 

In a May, 2014 interview with Pauline Harding of The Strad, Podger shared some of the secrets of her own practice routine.  Here are five of her practice tips:

  1. Listen to your body. How you feel is an important consideration.  If you’re tired from running around all day (or all week), be patient and give yourself some leeway.  Allow yourself to go a bit slower during practice sessions when you’re tired or not feeling well. Trying to do too much or go too quickly at times when you’re not at your best can lead you into bad habits that are hard to break down the road.
  2. Be sure to warm up. Don’t immediately jump into a difficult piece.  Your mind and hands need time to adjust and warm up.  Give yourself about 20 minutes for an effective warm up.  You should start by playing scales and arpeggios.  Move from this to a good study.
  3. Add to your creativity by improvising.  This is especially important for Baroque pieces, which were written so that artists could complement bass lines with creative improvisation.  Begin by playing the bass line, then, keeping that line in mind, begin elaborating with improvisations.  The act of improvising can provide a sense of creative freedom that will liberate your performance over the long run.
  4. Remember that you are your best teacher.  The best performance comes from inside, from your confidence in your growing abilities, and a clear sense of where you want to go with the music.  That doesn’t mean you don’t need good teachers who will help you hone your practical skills, but clarifying your own sense of the music—and how you can best realize the composer’s intentions—is an essential ingredient of every strong performance. Build a clear musical intention into every practice session.
  5. Increase your musical endurance.  Just like a marathon runner needs to build up his endurance through increasingly longer runs, musicians need to build up their stamina for longer and more effective practice sessions.  Get into the habit of practicing entire pieces from beginning to end.  You can motivate yourself by imagining you’re playing in front of a large audience.  You should also make it a habit to play separate passages over and over until you get them right.

 

The best practice sessions are those which begin with high but reasonable expectations.  Know your limits, then strive to expand them.  Remember that success is its own reward—the harder you practice, the better you’ll play, and the better you play, the more motivated you’ll be to practice even harder.