Mental Practice: How To Practice Violin Without the Instrument
In Robert Gerle’s book, The Art of Practicing the Violin, he encourages students to also spend time also practicing without the violin. Robert Gerle recounts living in Paris post-WWI while waiting for his American visa. Because he had no heat, his room was so cold that he was forced to stay in bed all day.
During that time, he mentally practiced his violin music under the covers without even picking up his instrument. He discovered that he could practice his repertoire and even learn new music by mentally practicing. And by the time performances came around, everything always went smoothly.
As someone who spends a lot of time on trains or commutes to places where I can’t always carry my violin, I’ve found mental work to be a valuable resource for violin practice. I’ve discovered that there was so much I could accomplish during the lag time.
I often use mental practice to memorize music. Sometimes I will mentally run through music with and without the music in small sections, occasionally quizzing myself on what comes next.
And everyone has different ways of learning and retaining information. Audio learners may find it helpful to play the recordings repeatedly while visual people may want to form a picture of the score or positions the fingerboard.
I’ve found mental practice valuable for violin intonation as well. Practicing for intonation helps to develop your inner ear. I like to hear the notes in my head and to sometimes sing them aloud if I’m alone. If I’m able to mentally land in tune, then chances are I’ll be able to do it on the violin as well.
It’s also useful for practicing shifts. Even without the violin, I can mentally practice difficult shifts, hearing the notes in my head, analyzing hand position, angle of the fingers, and position of the left arm.
There are many ways to mentally practice rhythms. You can practice with or without the metronome. You can set the metronome to the off-beats to focus on making the notes perfectly even. You can tap, clap, stomp, or just hear the rhythms in your inner drum. You can also practice hearing steady quarter, eighth, or sixteenth notes in your head while you mentally run through a passage.
It is important not to ignore bow arm work when mentally practicing violin. You can think about string crossing positions, speed of bow, bow distribution, or even analyze appropriate bowings for passages in your head.
While mental practice should not act as a substitute for physical practice, it can be a valuable supplement for removing mental blocks. Once you are able to perfectly run through violin passages in your head, it will go a long way by the time the performance rolls around.