How do I fall back in love with my violin??

February 11, 2018, 11:08 AM · So I've been seriously thinking about putting away my violin, and I'm not sure what to do. I've been playing for almost 11 years, and the reality is, I'm just not that good. But more to the point, I know exactly the sound I want to get, and I just can't get it. With most music, I can put that aside, and keep working on tone, scales, etc. But with any piece that I really love, it's just too painful, and I end up crying because I'm so frustrated and I just hate my sound. And it's not that I don't practice (although I'm not always consistent) - I've gone through spurts of practicing 4 hours a day, and also taken a couple of 4 month breaks in my mid-teens, but I usually average 1-2 hours a day 6 days a week. Lately though, I haven't been able to make myself get it out - I actually haven't practiced in almost a week at this point. Should I keep playing, or should I just put it away and move on (if I could)? Sometimes I love it more than literally anything else in the world. And then sometimes I hate it because it makes me feel so darn awful. And that's getting kind of excruciating, hence why it's been sitting in it's case for a week.

Replies (19)

Edited: February 11, 2018, 11:46 AM · Ari, do you have a teacher who can help you face-to-face? There are some problems ("brick walls" I call them) that can be very difficult or even impossible for the unassisted student to surmount (I know from experience). In your case it seems to be tone production and a good teacher would take you back to basics and then forwards, taking good care to get all the details right (again, I know from experience). At the beginning, the teacher might play your violin with your bow to check that problems don't lie in that direction.
Edited: February 11, 2018, 11:56 AM · What is it specifically about your sound that you don't like?
February 11, 2018, 11:56 AM · Is it also a "hardware" problem, with violin, bow, strings, etc or more relating to how you rate your own skills?

Is it always the same location where you don't like your sound, or do you also have the opportunity to play in larger rooms?

Edited: February 11, 2018, 12:09 PM · Trevor: I do have a teacher (who's relatively new to me), and she's pretty good about a lot of things and definitely notices that my tone is bothering me, but she doesn't seem to think it's as much of a problem as I do. She also thinks I have some kind of perfect pitch (not sure I agree, but I also often frequently get frustrated when I know an interval is not dead on but can't make my fingers get it right) Maybe I need another opinion?

Lydia: It's a bit muffled/woody and not very resonant. Sometimes I'd even call it fuzzy. It's not open, and it doesn't have any sweetness/richness/darkness, at least compared to what I want.

Michael: It could be partially a hardware issue. I've played around a fair bit with strings/rosin/sound post and bridge placement, and I do think I may have maxed out my violin. I've been looking at other ones for a while though, and I've only found a couple that I like (way out of my price range) which made me think the sound quality issue was more likely to be me. Although, for sure, the larger/more resonant the space, the more I feel okay about my sound.

February 11, 2018, 12:35 PM · In my opinion you need a serious and clever help, whatever it can be (a person, a group, a book, a video).

Don't give up ! .... :)

February 11, 2018, 1:00 PM · The first thing I'd try in your shoes would be a soundpost adjustment.
Edited: February 11, 2018, 8:00 PM · Is it your tone production or musicality that is bothering you? Two different things. How is your vibrato? Can you produce a consistent full sound? Listen to some simple tunes from the Suzuki books, and try to determine what makes them sound better than what you can do. Talk to your teacher about it, and work together in determining what isn’t working.
February 11, 2018, 1:51 PM · Have you heard your violin from a distance, i.e. played by someone else?
Are you very sensitive to all kinds of sound, soft or loud?
Try a ball of cotton-wool in your left ear to soften the high frequencies, or a swimmer's earplug to reduce all frequences?
February 11, 2018, 2:05 PM · My guess is that this is a hardware issue at its core, more than a technique issue, but it's hard to say without hearing you.

Clarity, sweetness, richness, and darkness are more an attribute of what you're playing, I think. An instrument that sounds unfocused needs adjustment or different strings, but it could also just not be very clear as a general trait of the violin. An instrument's timbre, especially a darker sound, can be slightly altered by different strings, but not that dramatically.

Sweetness and richness are both partially the instrument/set-up/strings, and partially you. To draw a sweeter sound, trying using more speed and less pressure. To draw a richer sound, try modifying your vibrato.

Also, if you're using a carbon-fiber bow, this is likely to give your sound something of a brilliant edge, which on some violins can be unpleasant. (This is specific to the interaction of a particular CF bow with a particular violin; even within the same CF bow model there are tonal variations.)

My suggestion is that you ask to try your teacher's violin and bow during your lesson. If you're able to get the sound that you want by doing so, it's time to upgrade.

What repertoire are you playing, and what violin and bow do you currently have?

February 11, 2018, 2:21 PM · Join an orchestra, so you won't be listening to yourself all the time.
February 11, 2018, 2:23 PM · Ari,

Interesting problem. A few suggestions: Have your teacher play your instrument with your bow and listen for the tone twice once close to the teacher and also on the other side of the room. If the teacher can produce the tone you want, then the issue is technical. If not the problem is the instrument itself. Perhaps a tune-up (sound post adjustment, et cetera) will get you a better tone.

The distance question is also important as having the instrument right under your ear can sound different to a listener some distance from the instrument.

Having played for over 40 years I can tell you that frustration is just part of being a violinist. You sound like a perfectionist and if you are one you have to learn to be gentle with yourself and realize that the journey is more important than the destination. None of us will ever achieve perfection. Yet we can have satisfaction and pleasure making progress working towards that goal.

February 11, 2018, 2:39 PM · Find a parking garage with tons of echo and play there. Let me know if this changes your feelings.

I've always found that playing in a small room with the violin is much like playing an electric guitar that's not plugged into an amp.

February 11, 2018, 3:01 PM · I think plenty of good advice has been given here, especially by George and Lydia. I hope you will follow some of it. What Mary Ellen said about your sound post could be true too ... I've noticed big changes in he sound of my violin when I get the soundpost adjusted, which I do seasonally. And that's about the cheapest thing you can have a luthier do, I mean it's a $20 job usually.
Edited: February 11, 2018, 3:34 PM · You've got great advice here. Trevor, Lydia, George and others - most is said and there is not much I could add there.

Just a few personal experiences...
My violins sound is rather on the bright side. It isn't top level (and as a late starter hobbyist I'll never need a top level instrument) but it's pretty good, and was good enough to serve in more gifted hands for decades before I got it. (Actually it was owned by a violin professor on university who used it when he gave lessons or not acting as a soloist, or whenever he didn't want to take any risk for his old italian violin worth a fortune...). What I noticed is:
- In general it doesn't work with CF bows at all.
- It needs a soft stick, and it wasn't easy to find a bow somewhere within my price range that works with it. Either the sound is muffled and somehow boxed and not open at all, or the bow is that soft that it is very hard (at least for someone like me) to get a proper articulation in spiccato or even martele and hings like that. I'm still waiting for the perfect bow, but for the moment I'm happy with a compromise I lately found.
- In which climate to you live? Many violins react very sensitive to climate issues. Mine isn't too picky about temperature changes, but extremely sensitive to a lack of humidity. If it goes below 45% I will know immediately, without using a hygrometer. The sound will become brittle, and below 40% weak and screamy. As long as I use a humidifier inside the violin case (a stretto, but others may do the job as well) and moisture is above the 45%, everything will be allright and both of us will be happy, the violin and I. Took me some time to realize this!
- By reading your post I can feel that you're under pressure quite a bit. When I'm stressed and unbalanced, my tone tends to mirror my own state of mind. I'm sure you play far better than I ever will, and your technique will be superior to mine so it may be easier to compensate this. But though you shouldn't get into a vicious circle of bad sound and bad mood - step back, cool down, relax and breathe. Find confidence into yourself. I'm sure there will be a solution for your problem. Try different things. And even if in the end the only solution turned out to be a new intrument you couldn't afford by now, I can't see any reason for giving up!

Edited: February 11, 2018, 6:36 PM · There is a Simon Fischer DVD "Secrets of Violin Tone Production" that may be of some interest to you. It goes over the variables in bow handling, and basically how to max out the tone of individual notes, given your equiptment, etc.

If you know other players, it might be interesting to try some other people's bows and violins, to see if you are running into limits of your instrument or bow - some variables (darkness of sound, some types of resonance) are much easier with some violins and bows than others - but your teacher can also help you a lot here, and be aware that you may actually sound quite different from ten feet away than to your own ear. Sadly, recording is not really all that useful for the fine adjustments here here, as it is incredibly hard to record a violin sound accurately. Violins that sound radically different to the player sound only subtly different on a commercial recording whose sole purpose is to make clear the differences! But listening to someone else play your violin from a difference, having a third party listen to them, then listen to you, and describe the similarities and differences to you, might help too.

Either way, don't give up! This is a lifetime journey, and the fact that you have a sound you are desperately seeking means you are well underway.

Also, a few potentially simple things to try are contrasting strings or better rosin can also make a difference - I buy half cakes of Andrea A Piacerre, because it lasts forever except it's fragile so buying whole cakes is a waste of money for me. Lots has been written here about strings, and they are very very individual to the instrument (and budget). My experience has been strings can change only about 5% of the sound, though it will seem like more for the first day or two after they go on. Though I will say too much tension on an E string can choke up an instrument on all four strings. I could describe what strings have worked for me if you're curious but it is very individual to instrument, style and budget. Common things like Dominants and Evah Pirazzis are generally solid.

One thing though - have you changed your strings recently? If they are very old (maybe >1 year though it varies), that could also contribute to all kinds of subtle frustrations of sound as you'll get lousy response and be unable to hit some notes in tune.

Edited: February 11, 2018, 6:35 PM · I am a guitarist, not a violinist, but am very intrigued with the instrument and will be picking one up soon. From by experience with the guitar, I would say you need a break, try 30 minutes of practice a day, maybe just 3 times a week, and practice what you know for a while, practice your strengths. You probably sound better than you think!! after a month or so of this cutback, I would find a new teacher, one that you do not know who has a sound you like. First and foremost get your violin set up, and get some different strings. play slow, play simple passages until you get what you are looking for. I pray you find some peace with this, but do not quit or put it away.

-OP

February 11, 2018, 9:16 PM · Do not give up! I have felt something very close to what you describe, and the love you describe for the violin cannot be denied. At the same time your frustration is a symptom of at least one deficiency. There may be something to the hardware/setup suggestions but I think there's more to it. It sounds to me like you might want to slow it down. If you're spending four hours a day and not getting the results you want, you're really spending four hours going in the wrong direction. I would suggest working very deliberately on a small piece you love (e.g. an easy Kreisler piece or a beautiful etude) and see if you can get what you want out of that. Possibly a new teacher is in order. If you don't mind sharing what city you live in people may have suggestions if you choose to go that route.
February 11, 2018, 9:16 PM · Do not give up! I have felt something very close to what you describe, and the love you describe for the violin cannot be denied. At the same time your frustration is a symptom of at least one deficiency. There may be something to the hardware/setup suggestions but I think there's more to it. It sounds to me like you might want to slow it down. If you're spending four hours a day and not getting the results you want, you're really spending four hours going in the wrong direction. I would suggest working very deliberately on a small piece you love (e.g. an easy Kreisler piece or a beautiful etude) and see if you can get what you want out of that. Possibly a new teacher is in order. If you don't mind sharing what city you live in people may have suggestions if you choose to go that route.
February 12, 2018, 9:59 AM · Ari,

I have "goal" pieces that I would like to one day play, but I don't go reading through them anymore, since it ends up being frustrating, and you risk putting some bad habits into music you haven't even started on. I'm not sure what you are playing, or what your practice regimen looks like, but the way to improve your tone is to always be thinking about it - But that doesn't mean obsess to the point that it makes you miserable. If you are putting the correct work in, and if you have a relaxed set-up, it will come, but don't expect it all at once. There are violin soloists that aren't really known for their tone, so some people who have put years in don't get there, probably because their focus has been elsewhere.

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