You have all heard, I am sure, the familiar phrase “Practice makes perfect.” This is true! However, there is a myriad of ways to effect perfection from your practice, and it is crucial that musicians utilize as many effective, efficient practice techniques as possible. Learning to practice well is a long, sometimes painful process fraught with frustrating trials and errors, but if one’s approach is positive, attentive, and objective, then this process can be accelerated!
Unfortunately, I can not speak for all string players (not even cellists!), as our exploits in the practice room are intensely personal, but rather I can only offer my own tips and lessons-learned in hopes that they may be of some assistance to other frustrated practicers out there!
I recently found myself in the precarious position of having to learn and memorize Shostakovich Concerto in Eb in an alarmingly short amount of time. Oddly enough I am glad to have had this experience, distressing though it was, because this extreme situation necessitated extreme measures in the practice room, and in fact brought about a significant change in my practice techniques. The first lesson I learned was that especially when learning something new, make it your mission to never play it wrong. Of course mistakes are inevitable, but making them enough times will negate your practicing entirely. Therefore, take special care to activate your mind and analyze every physical aspect as you are making the first steps in learning a new piece. Mental engagement and analysis will assist the acceleration of the muscle memory process, which can take a very long time if executed blindly, as it requires repetition. If your first five repetitions are correct, you have increased by a tremendous amount your chances of accuracy on the sixth, seventh, eight…This also means going as s l o w l y as is necessary to ensure accuracy. A great test in patience more mental discipline than most of us would care to exercise on a daily basis, but it will shorten the learning process.
Please let me know if this is helpful to you, and if so I will post a Part Two shortly!