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Have you heard the saying that it is better to play one piece of music really well than 100 mediocrely?

Sadly to say, as much as I want to play one piece very well, I wind up adding more pieces to my practice and afraid that this is not in my best interest to play "really well".  So many wonderful pieces of music, and so little time!  I am on my own here without an instructor, so it is up to me to decide what to spend my limited time on.  In addition, my interests are in several genres of music.

At the moment I am practicing 2 Suzuki pieces, 4 Irish fiddle tunes, 2 old-time fiddle tunes along with a Kreutzer etude and Beth’s finger and vibrato exercises.  I tend to add a few other tunes to this every day, as the mood strikes.  Is this too much?  Or am I on the right track?

My problem is I see myself not stopping there but only adding to it, I keep discovering more music that I want to play and practice.  This has become exceedingly difficult to narrow my repertoire for the sake of quality playing.  Does anyone else have this struggle?  What are your suggestions to “editing out”?    


7 Responses
Posted: January 24, 2012
Last Comment: January 25, 2012

Dick Stanley
Posted: January 25, 2012
Thanks for the advice about moving on then circling back. I was beginning to think I had to "master" Mary Had A Little Lamb before I could try something more interesting. Heh.

Beth Blackerby
Posted: January 25, 2012
Your brilliant colleagues here have give you wonderful advice, and I agree with all of them. I can say from both experience as a player and as a teacher, that our level of playing elevates to a much higher degree when we dig hard into pieces and sticking with them. I know that I've learned a piece, and that I am a better player, when I feel the distance between my first time playing the piece and my most polished performance are miles a part. 

Playing through pieces, and moving on to the "next" is most valuable for becoming good music readers. You are exposing yourself to new rhythmic and melodic patterns at a faster rate, thereby developing excellent reading skills.  So both are important..

Posted: January 25, 2012

Thank you for your responses!  That definitely helps.  I need to have a sit-down and make some decisions and try to stick to it, along with having a few bits that change from week to week.

I also saw in one of Beth's videos (I forget which one it was) about photcopying the pieces you are working on and cutting/pasting (manually!!) the sections that give the most trouble, and just working on them instead of the whole piece.  That will be something else I will implement for older material with that "nagging trouble spot"!

It also helps to know that I can move on to the next piece, that even if I cannot play the current perfectly, my development ongoing will allow me to revisit and hopefully be pleasantly surprised!

I have not been playing scales much, well, I will leave this for a separate post!

Thanks again :)


Posted: January 24, 2012
Ray's suggestion sounds good Jenn, only I would start practice with the scales and technique stuff.....and save the "fun" stuff for later.   I've been in pretty much the same boat as you and it's never easy to pick and choose.  

I've got one piece that I work on continually....say for the past year +....where it's my goal to be able to play this very well and I even have it memorized so I can just pull it up any old where I have a bit of time without having to grab the music.  Every once in awhile I video myself playing it so I can compare how far I'm getting from the last vid...it is encouraging to see/hear improvements...even if you haven't gotten it up to where you'd like it to be. 

Good luck pairing it down Jenn !  It really is best to focus on technique....so that you can play those pieces you like so much more competently...but it "IS" hard to discipline yourself to do it...I know !  ;-)

Posted: January 24, 2012

Hi Jenn A,

How about dividing up your material like this

  • New material
  • Developing material
  • Performance material
  • Technique
  • Musicianship-history, theory, ear training, and sight reading

Have at the most two songs in each of the first three categories and you can change the material every other week.


Posted: January 24, 2012
If you're on your own, I think pacing is a challenge and getting a balance is the key.  There's no point in rushing through pieces too quickly just to get onto the next thing, but equally not to get stuck on one for too long!  It's the challenge of moving on to more difficult pieces which will enable you to then go back and play the 'easier' pieces more fluently.  My advice (without having a teacher to guide you) is to get a piece as good as you think you can at that time then move on.  After a few weeks, circle back and try it again, you will hopefully find you're now playing it better.  From your list, it does look as if you're trying to push yourself a bit hard.  I think most teachers set their students scale exercises, a couple of short pieces from the method book focussing on a particular techinique, a study or two and a 'lighter' piece for enjoyment / reward for getting through the other work!

Pace yourself and enjoy what you're playing rather then try and do too much and disappoint yourself.

Good luck.

Posted: January 24, 2012

Hi Jenn:

Yes, it is preferable to play well than to know the notes of many, many songs but poorly executed. Once, I read a comment from a teacher saying something like this: "It is not a matter of how many songs you know, but how well you play as little as you know."

A few days ago, I came to the same conclusion as you can see in my thread posted on January 20, 2012.

However and in my opinion, we have to combine boring tedious (correction) necessary technique with the fun of playing a piece of music of our preference. Otherwise, if we take away all the fun, learning the violin will be no longer an enjoyable journey. But this is only my opinion.