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Eloise Garland

How to Feel Great About Your Playing

January 9, 2011 at 2:14 PM

 There have been so many people lately on the discussion board and who have written in blogs have mentioned 'not feeling good enough' or 'not having the right amount of talent' amongst a number of other negative feelings. Personally, I have always struggled with feelings of not being good enough, especially when I see someone my age or younger playing at a much 'higher standard' as me or they 'have better technique than me' etc etc. 

  But what have I learned about this? It isn't necessarily true. In my eyes those people have better technique or seem to play at a higher standard than me, but they might just have a few differences in technique in comparison. It doesn't mean they are better than me. 

  I've learned this through 'socialising' with people who play the violin through orchestral groups and online. When I was in a youth orchestra, I felt like I was always the one who was behind other people; the only one struggling so to speak. But I quickly learnt that other people thought they were the only ones struggling with the same music. Nobody wanted to admit it though, because they thought it was easy to everyone else. Playing the violin is never easy. It takes a lot to even pick the thing up and get beautiful sounding notes and music out of it. 

  Anyway, this socialising with other people has been a great help to me. It has shown me that I can put my own stamp and personality into playing the instrument. I'm someone who can put my own character into the violin. Some people are better at their technique but maybe don't play the music as passionately or emotionally as it could be. And others are the opposite. I can learn over time to get the great balance between those two. And not only that, I've realised that when I watch people who are 'better' than me in my eyes, what can I do? I don't have to sit there and sulk in my own sorrows; I can go and pick my violin up and work towards playing that well too!


From Julian Stokes
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 3:27 PM

We're all like ducks, serene on the surface but paddling like mad under the water. We see all the other ducks and don't realise they're working just as hard to stay afloat.


From John Cadd
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 5:14 PM

Eloise you have to remember also that you have a great talent for writing. I am listening to Richard Tauber at the moment. Have you played all his tunes? You could make that a speciality. When people cry in the audience you will have them in the palm of your hand. Tauber always makes me cry. Even when I feel happy.

I forgot to mention--They are all on Grooveshark. I have begun paying to make sure the site is safe.


From Juergen L. Hemm
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 7:54 PM

Eloise, in my opinion (and experience) "not feeling good enough" is the one sign that unites all people that strive to be experts in any field - with any chance of success. How often have you heard a self-confident bumbler boast about his achievements - while a seriously successful person struggles to become ever better.

Two things come to mind in that regard. The first is for someone who is just fishing for compliments. The other is the goal that you set for yourself and do not reach. Let's assume you played something without any "obvious" or "objective" mistakes, i.e. you played all the notes, in the right sequence, at the right pitch, at the correct time, with the adequate volume. Does this make a performance to be proud of? It might just have been the soulless and eminently forgettable "execution" of a piece of music like a computer might provide.

Once one gets beyond a certain stage of proficiency and no longer commits the abovementioned "obvious" mistakes, the really hard road only begins. Probably none of the great stars exit the stage with a feeling of complete success every time. Deep down inside, they'll kick themselves for not doing all they might have planned or practiced for this specific concert, but the audience will not have noticed anything and will have experienced a moving concert - since they were not aware of the "mistake" only the performer himself will have noticed.

As you we continue our education, improve or technique and artistical range, our expectations of what constitutes a satisfying performance also rise or change. My advise would be to keep raising the bar for yourself - just a little, so as to inspire and not to frustate - but always, always to count your blessings and to make sure you pat yourself on the back for the things you achieved today (and couldn't do a month ago). To ensure that, I've made it a habit to dig down into my treasure chest of music and play (in every sense of the word) a piece of music that I could only "tackle" a while ago or "mangle" last year.

Ambitious people become their own worst enemy by only focusing on the not yet attainable things instead of those that are already well in hand (and therefore are taken for granted).


From Russell Fallstad
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 11:38 PM

Great thoughts, Eloise--thanks for your post!

It seems to me that the "Classical" violin world has a tradition of building in the "I'm not good enough" attitude, which--at its best--causes us to push ourselves further, but sadly often causes us to get discouraged or down on ourselves or burned out.  

I've noticed this past year playing Rock Violin with The Dueling Fiddlers that the "Rock" world seems to have an attitude difference we with Classical roots could benefit from.  My band was teaching a masterclass on improvisation for a group of students from two classes--rock guitar class and orchestra class.  We asked for a few volunteers who would get up in front of the class and be guinea pigs.  The funny thing was that ALL of the guitarists (who were not super accomplished on their instruments, by the way) raised their hands and wanted to immediately get involved in the public performance.  NONE of the orchestra kids raised their hands and most of them began shrinking in their chairs, fearful of being called on.

So the "Rock" kids made mistakes, laughed it off, and got plenty of experience and grew as musicians that day.  The "Classical" kids managed to avoid what they were so afraid of--playing in public and making a dreaded mistake, but they didn't get any actual hands-on experience unless we pulled them up and forced them to join in.  

I'm all for discipline and standards...but isn't it going a little too far if we are petrified of screwing up?  Where's the fun and flow in that?


From Jo Parker
Posted on January 11, 2011 at 11:16 AM

Eloise, your post is word by word what I have been thinking all along for a VERY LONG TIME!

also at orchestra I always feel I am the one behind everyone else.....I am still relatively new there so I have not talked much to the others but I have found out that all the other violinists have been playing  at the very least 3 years longer than I have or much longer (no wonder they seem to know more than me!).

Russell, you SO RIGHT!  I also would have been the one sinking in my chair scared stiff to join in, and would have missed on in the 'hands on experience' and hence on the opportunity to gain some precious practice/tips!  why do we do this to ourselves????

Last saturday I have done my very first public performance, it was just for a private event, an 'adult learner's event', therefore the audience was a small audience made up solely of adult learners.....I was still SCARED STIFF!  I prepared my piece for four months (it was the Schindler's List Theme and it was difficult for me to prepare it to a decent enough standard as I've only been learning for four years), it took me ages (four years) to 'pluck up' the courage to do this, to perform in public, why??? because I've always been SO scared to 'muck up'/make mistakes!  Surely enough I did 'muck up' and while I was playing I thought I mucked up TERRIBLY and that the piece was horrible!

i had the performance video recorded and when I got back home I watched it.....and actually, the slip/mistake in the middle of the piece was not as horrible as I perceived it and the whole piece was not as 'horrible' as I remembered it, there was lots of positives in there and I could see how much I have improved in playing this piece since I have started learning it and how much I have improved since only 10 months ago in my violin journey when I was at much lower level in my playing!

Now I am asking myself why did I wait 4 years to take this step? what was I so scared of?

I have made the decision I will seek out performanced opportunities very regularly from now on, I really don't care anymore if I 'muck up' , I am sure the more I do it the more I will get used to it and the less the slips will occur, the more I will enjoy it and as a result the more the audience will enjoy my performance too.  Interestingly enough, even though I was so scared that I had palpitations and my hands were shaking like leaves 5 minutes prior to my performance, I had feedback that I looked totally calm to the audience and even in my one minute speech when I presented the piece, they said I sounded totally calm and relaxed!!! (go and figure!)


From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on January 11, 2011 at 9:09 PM

There are a lot of good thoughts here.  I've only been studying violin seriously for just over a year, but I've been playing bluegrass mandolin for 7 years.  And after coming out of a violin lesson where my intonation sucks and my fingers just won't do what I want them to, it's nice to head down to the weekly bluegrass jam.  It's a wonderful social environment.  Everybody just plays and has fun, and if it doesn't come out perfect, well maybe it will next week, and meanwhile we'll try something else that might work better.  And now I'll often set down the mandolin, pick up my violin, and join in with the fiddlers - who, like everyone else at the jam, are friendly and even compliment me on my progress.  That can give me a much-needed boost.

We need more environments like this, where everyone just plays as well as they can and concentrates on having fun rather than picking nits in others' performances.  The ultimate in bluegrass support is known as the "slow pitch jam" (see http://www.slowpitchjam.com), where a few experienced players will gather beginners together and lead them slowly through simple tunes and show them the ropes.  Sometimes that's all it takes to get some of those shy beginners to come out and discover what they can really do.

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