Discoveries, Motivation, and Exhaustion: The Violympics Trials, Days 2 & 3

May 7, 2020, 12:21 AM · DAY 2

It’s Day 2 of Nathan Cole's Violympics Trials, in which I've been learning to play the challenging Violympic Theme by Nathan Cole.

It's all a free a lead-in to Nathan's 12-week paid Violympics program (click here if you are interested in that.)

I have learned three things thus far:

First, my hand frame needs a lot of work and that Nathan Cole’s pinky video is genius. I may have sent it to all of my students with the instruction to watch it and do the exercises. Seriously. Go watch it, do it, and then be very, very patient with yourself as you over-analyze every single motion you make on the instrument for the rest of the day.

Second, that after a day of drilling old-finger shifts into my students, practicing new-finger (expressive) shifts is really hard, feels wrong, but sounds pretty great. Worth exploring more.

Third, I am really bad at counting to ten. I appreciate, very much, that the daily practice assignments not only include detailed instructions, break things down by topic and strategy, but also include a set number of repetitions. Clearly, I have not practiced anything ten times for a very long time, because my brain spaces out and loses count after about 4. Then I have to remind myself what I am practicing and why and continue.

I love the part of Nathan’s philosophy that you are practicing TO perform and that therefore, there should be no wasted sounds in your practice. Everything you do either sounds how you want it in performance, or is getting you to your performance sound.

I deliberately have performance on the back burner in my career, for various reasons, the first of which being that I absolutely adore teaching, but that is showing up in my practicing in some not so great ways. There’s a lack of efficiency and consistency. I’ve gotten into the habit of allowing myself to be sloppy in my practicing. Too often, I am tired, unfocused, and let just playing something that's not for my students be enough. There are some days where it’s a victory if I simply open the case for myself. I’m learning though, that if I really want to improve my playing, I need to find the energy and time to step it up. I guess I've come to the right place.


I am excessively tired today. I had conference calls and online lessons from 11 am - 8 pm EST, which meant that I missed watching today’s live session. It also meant that I was completely exhausted and not in a good mental state when I started watching the replay at 9:27 pm EST, and playing shortly after 10 pm. I also hate night practice in general, and only do it when I absolutely have to. Like tonight.

Claire practicing

I’d like to take this a moment to thank my husband and my landlords for listening to me play all the three-octave-minor arpeggios at 11 pm, and for not asking me to use a mute or throwing me out of the house.

Something I’ve learned over the years is to accept where I am. It’s not worth forcing the work or forcing positivity. And after a long day of teaching, and feeling extremely hungry, I was not feeling particularly positive or enthusiastic about watching 45 minutes worth of tutorial videos, and then practicing.

So I didn’t. I took care of my immediate health needs, both physical and mental, first. I made dinner and drank some water. I let myself walk around the apartment so my eyes could do something besides look at a screen and so my ears could have a break. I complained a bit (okay, maybe a lot) and told my husband I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

And then, I pulled out my very ragged grad school hoodie (#PeabodyProud), made a cup of tea, and sat down to work. I set the intention of being gentle with myself, knowing that my energy level and attention span were very low. Whenever I found my focus wandering, I let it, then reminded myself what I needed to be doing, and came back.

Today’s assignments were intense and detailed, including work on shifting, doublestops, trills, and hand frame. It was a lot, and I’m planning on reviewing it in the morning at a more reasonable hour for practicing - and with coffee.

Once I accepted that I was going to do the work and that failure was not an option (sometimes being competitive is a useful trait), I managed to get into something resembling a zone. And for a little bit, it did feel like grad school again - practicing late at night because failure was not an option, drinking tea to stay awake, swearing profusely when I missed the note at the top of an arpeggio…

I said in my previous post that I wanted to rediscover the violinist part of me. I think I’m starting to. It is hard. Finding the time and energy requires sacrificing some other things, but knowing that part of my day is dedicated to MY playing is already causing a shift in how I feel. I didn't realize just how much I missed the violinist who was excited about her own playing, whose internal drive to learn and improve bordered on desperation, and who thrived on community (okay, and a bit of competition).

I'm a little too tired right now to say that I'm "excited" about my playing, but having this time and this commitment to my own playing this week is a lifeline for me, and I'm grateful for that.

* * *

If you are interested in signing up for Nathan Cole's Violympics, a 12-week program that starts in late May, click here to sign up. Signing up through link partially benefits

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