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28 May 2024

Marbles in a Jar - practice technique

I remember many years ago reading a biography about a famous violin player who talked about this method for preparing solidly for performance. I remember the method so clearly, but have unfortunately forgotten the violinist to attribute this to. It requires a jar, and 10 marbles.

Choosing a particular section to work on (chunking) – he would focus on this part to play through. If he got the section completely correct, one marble would go in the jar. If he got the section completely correct again, another marble would go in the jar… then another. If he played the section and made even a small mistake, ALL the marbles would be taken out of the jar and he would start again from zero. The aim was to get 10 marbles in the jar.

A few very important things to keep in mind if trying this method:

1. Make sure the chunk you have chosen and speed you are playing at is one where you can manage to play perfectly without it being too difficult (or you will end up wanting to throw your violin out the window in frustration!). Set yourself up to work and concentrate hard, but succeed in the end!

2. I recommend starting out with 5 marbles in a jar.

3. You have to be very honest with yourself here… don’t let yourself get away with that mistake!

4. I love to use this method with my students… but with small chocolates instead of marbles. If they get to 5 chocolates in the jar, they get to choose which one they would like to have at the end. It’s amazing how a little extra motivation like this can focus the mind and make a previously unplayable section very carefully practised in!

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