Exam and Practicing Rant

It is the same every year.

Of a handful of students who are highly motivated at the beginning of the year to enrol for exams, there are always one or two who simply do not practice.

When I explain to them at the beginning of the year what it takes to play exams, they nod solemnly and promise they will bring their side.  And then… that gets forgotten over school, hockey, friends, parties, new apps on the smartphones, and so on and so forth.

“I didn’t have time to practice, because…”

Bullshit!  Sorry, kids, there is no such a thing as “no time”.   Every person alive gets the same allotment of time:  24 hours each and every day.  It’s not about time.

It’s about what is important to you.

Of course I don’t want you to stop eating, lose sleep or never have a bath!  That is just silly.

But you can afford to put that smartphone down.  You can afford to reschedule that play date to the weekend.  And you can afford to watch less “CARtoon network”.

You have a test at school?  Guess what: So does everybody else.  Some will study and some won’t. I’ll bet you that if you start revising your work (for the test) from the day you know you are writing it, you’ll have time to study AND to practise.  And what about all the other days, when you are not writing a test?  Why can’t you practise then?

If you always use such a lot of time studying for tests in school that there is no time left to practice, you should not be doing violin at all.  And then I’d like to see your grades, because anyone who studies that hard ought to be a straight A student, no mistakes ever!  Or else, you’re just using those tests to pull the wool over my eyes.  I’m sorry.  Do I look stupid?


You see, kids:

Learning for a test in school is usually an exercise in how fast you can push a certain amount of knowledge (don’t call it a “lot” – it isn’t a “lot”, it’s always bite-sized) into your heads before writing it all out again and forgetting it by the next week.  I’m not saying this is how you should be doing it, but be honest – that’s how most of us study for a school test and even exam.  (With the exception of Maths – ha, caught you!!)

Violin doesn’t work like that.

Violin doesn’t even work like Maths, although that is also a subject you can’t cram overnight. I like to compare Maths to building a house, where you can’t leave holes in the foundation (or in any level of the wall) and hope the whole structure will not collapse.  You have to put every brick in, understand every part.

But violin takes even more than that:

Violin doesn’t only use your brain.  It uses your whole body.

We are working with nerves and muscle groups growing; with posture (the way you hold your violin and bow, which has to be learnt and practised); with fine sensory perception (the touch of your fingertips vs how clearly you can discern intonation); energy output (think:  Yoga or martial arts – violin needs the same kind of energy control) and so on.  Then we’re also working with learning an entirely new language – and not just a language but one that is written differently from every other language you’ve learnt.  Reading music is something that needs to be practised just like you would have to practise speaking French.

So, imagine a farmer.

He wants to plant maize (mielies) and harvest it in June.  (In the northern hemisphere it would be much later in the year.  June is winter, for us.)    So he goes out and buys lots of  seeds, and then… he gets distracted.  There are games to be watched, children need to be taken to their activities, he wants to go out drinking with his mates, there’s a holiday at the sea, and every day there is just such a lot to do with Pokemon Go…  Then suddenly it is end of May and he remembers his maize.  Oh, OOPS!  He runs outside and plants, and irrigates and fertilizes like mad…

Now, Children.  Who of you can answer me this:  Is he going to have a harvest?

Or what about the farmer who buys his seeds and then plants them, and irrigates and fertilizes them well for two months and then forgets them?

Is he going to harvest?

Violin is like that.  You can’t cram for a violin exam!

If you’re planning to cram, tell me at the beginning of the year, then I won’t enter you for exams.  But it is a gross disrespect to everyone around you, your parents who paid for the exam and the books, your teacher who puts in extra effort and sometimes even extra lessons to rescue you little rascal’s skin, the accompanist (I am embarrassed to ask her to accompany you on the piano if you don’t know your pieces!), and even the examiner, to go in and play a lousy performance because you haven’t practised.

So, to all of you who haven’t yet pulled up your socks to your chins with practising:

We have five weeks to the exams.  Five weeks is not enough for a full harvest.  But maybe you can plant a quick crop and farm really intensely; something like spinach (you like spinach, yes?), and harvest at least something.  We are now in injury time.

And when I say, intense, I mean, intense!  You thought you didn’t have time to practise half an hour every day for the whole year?  Well, now we’ll have to make it two hours every day, just to harvest some spinach – just to scrape through the exam.  The real competency has not been learnt; the level has not been gained (you were supposed to gain the level through the year by practising consistently).  But maybe 3 pieces and a set of scales can be prepared intensely enough to sound palatable.

Good luck… you’ll need it.


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