A quick question for my fellow adult beginners: how is your confidence level? Are you doing ok? Yes? Great. You can skip this blog.
Or, did you say, no? Really? Oh dear. Well, guess what? I think I’ve found a way for you to get over that lack of confidence hump.
If you’re like me, you’ve been spending a long time – perhaps years – playing violin by yourself in your bedroom, living room, dining room, bathroom, (I hope not the bathroom. . .) and other lonely rooms. Every now and then you wonder what is going on. You’re wondering if you’ll ever get it. If you’ll ever be at a level where you can actually play with others.
Now, if you’ve got a teacher showing you the way, you probably played in some recitals along with the kids your teacher has as students. Perhaps even with some other adults at those recitals, and perhaps you’ve even participated in a few adult soirees where it’s just the adult students playing violin for each other. That’s great.
And, perhaps, you’ve done what I do – go out and play in open mic shows at local pubs where the vast majority of musicians are in their late teens and early twenties, singing about broken hearts, and broken hearts, and more broken hearts. Well, if you’ve played at those shows, that’s wonderful. God knows those kids need to hear a little Minuet 1 by Bach to get over their angst and blues, right?
But that’s all solo stuff. It’s great, but there is an important step you need to take right now. You need to get out there – really get out there – without your teacher, without your fellow students, without anyone who really knows you, and to play with other string players.
If you’re like me, you may have convinced yourself that that day will come somewhere down the road. Certainly not today or tomorrow! After all, you need to wait until you’re really comfortable with a violin/fiddle, until your intonation is perfect, until you can play without thinking about your elbows, thumbs, pinky, bow direction, and so forth. At that point you’ll certainly be able to step into that enigmatic arena and show the world you’re ready. Until then, you’ll continue to play music for your dresser, or the tree in your yard, your dining room chairs, or bathroom sink. (Please don’t play for the sink. OK?) The never-ending-rehearsal will continue until the magic strikes. Well, don’t do that. I learned this from a serendipitous experience.
Now, first things first. Here in Portland, the land of eternal rain, a person can get a little stir crazy with the grey sky, rain, wet pavement, rain, puddles, and more rain. So, I went a little bonkers on Amazon and bought about half a dozen silly t-shirts with drawings of violins and silly sayings like, “Be calm and play a violin”, “May the strings be with you”, and nonsense like that. I even made one with my own photo saying, “The Well Aging Fiddler.” Why not, right? I mean, you gotta do something with all this endless rain.
Anyway, I was wearing one of these t-shirts during a yoga class, and one of my yoga buddies commented on it. Then she asked if I’d ever been in a community string class. I hadn’t and she suggested I join one that was starting the next evening. So, before I could talk myself out of going, I signed up for the class.
I didn’t let myself overthink the whole situation. I just jumped right in, and that’s another thing we need to avoid. We need to stop thinking so much because it can get us into some real trouble. Now, in one context, it’s wise to step back and think about situations. Wear a helmet when you ride a bike. Put on your seatbelt. Carry an umbrella in the rain. (As a side note - a lot of people in Portland never carry umbrellas. Indeed, they are vehemently anti-umbrella. They also get very wet, wearing t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops in 40-degree weather. Believe me, the rumors are true. Some things around here are genuinely weird.) Oh, and don’t do drugs.
That’s all common sense, and I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the fear of putting yourself out there and just letting it happen. Don’t think too much! You know the television show, Monk? The show about a detective who overthought everything? Subsequently, he was afraid of his own life. You should watch it. Let’s face it, we all have a little bit of Monk inside of us. Don’t be Monk. Play your violin with others!
So, I went to the class with my fiddle. Was I nervous? Sure. Did I have some doubts? Absolutely. Did I make mistakes? Yep. But I also had a great time. We sat in a circle of 15 adults and fiddles, working on one song as we learned it by ear for an hour and a half. Our teacher broke it down into sections and we went over and over and over that song. While we were playing, I didn’t have time to think how I was doing. I didn’t have time to wonder what others thought of my playing. I just dove in and let it rip.
When the evening was over, I was exhausted, but I felt great. I can do this. Sure, I don’t have it down 100%, but I’ll tell you, buckaroo, I ain’t all that bad. So, I’m going back next week and I’m doing it again. Why? Because I had fun, and wasn't that the point of all of this in the first place? So, to keep things rolling, I’ve also signed up for an adult chamber music class. Who knows? Perhaps some day I'll take a chamber group with me to an open mic show. I'll invite you to come when that happens. Better still - join us and play along.
So, in the end, it’s kind of like getting in a swimming pool from the shallow end. The water feels cold, and the deeper you get, the more uncomfortable it is. Plus, there is that moment – that crucial moment – when you have to commit to falling all the way into the water no matter what. So, you do it, and once you’re under the water, you wonder what all the fuss was about. The same is true for playing violin with others.
Find a group, jump in, focus, and have fun!
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