Maximize your Practice with a Timer

When I returned to violin lessons after a 15-year hiatus, my teacher suggested a 
way to use a timer that revolutionized my practice. Before, I might have set a 
timer for the entire length of practice -- let’s say thirty minutes. Being a 
perfectionist, I might spend a full twenty minutes practicing my scales and feel 
dissatisfied with my progress, then I’d spend the remaining ten minutes working 
on another piece or etude. 

My teacher suggested I break up my practice into shorter segments and assign a 
specific exercise to each chunk of time. For example: 
• four minutes for scales 
• three minutes for etude 
• five minutes each on challenging sections or other pieces. 

He told me to reset the timer after each short assignment. When the timer 
dinged, I would congratulate myself for completing that assignment, take a 
breather and go on to the next timed excerpt. I was able to cover a lot more material at each practice session. Having less time for each activity helped me focus better. My frustration levels dropped considerably because I couldn’t spend more time trying to perfect one particular exercise. Since practicing felt easier with these timed activities, it was less of a challenge for me to begin my practice each day. 

In my own practice, I only use a timer, but I have a lot of success using a 
stopwatch while teaching lessons. 

Here are some suggestions on how to incorporate both a stopwatch and a timer 
into your home practice. Try them all and see what works best for you and your 

Reminder:  Please set a specific “goal” with your child for each assignment. For 
example, instead of saying “Play your scale for two minutes” you could say “When 
playing your scale, use a full bow with beautiful tone from frog to tip” or “Please 
focus on your pitch; make sure your low second fingers touch first finger on the A 
and E strings.” 

• Time how long it takes your child to play a tricky part five times with the 
correct bowing. Record that time and see if you can get the same time or 
even a better time at the next practice session. 
• Time how long it takes to make ten beautiful circles. 
After using the stopwatch for the first day, you can use that time on the 
following days. 
• Record how long it takes for your child to name all the first position 
notes from flash cards. This will be your base time. Next time, try to match 
that time or aim to do even better the next day. 

• Set a short amount of time for each assignment. 

No more than 4 – 5 minutes for each chunk (Book 3 and above) or 1 - 3 minutes (Books 1 and 2) for any short practice chunk. (ex. Bow exercises, hard spots, scales, or an excerpt from a new piece or polishing piece) 
• Set a goal for your entire practice. Start with a short length of time (ex. 10 
minutes) and gradually increase the length of practice each day. 
• Use a fun productivity app like Forest or Flora to turn your practice time 
into a game.