Printer-friendly version

Multi-tasking..........not a gift for all women!

August 12, 2009 at 10:32 PM

“Can you not feel the music?” says my teacher. Well, no, not really. I’m too busy trying to focus on the notes, intonation, phrasing, dynamics, posture, stance, feet (who thinks of their feet whilst playing???), breathing, right arm – lift a little bit on the beginning of that first passage but then let the weight bear down throughout the next 2, don’t grip the bow, left arm – loose, flexible fingers, not too fast though. AND I consider myself a neophyte at this instrument. I can’t imagine the millions of other things you need to think of when you reach professional playing.

The question comes up almost every lesson though and I do understand she is trying to help me but sometimes I just want to break my violin in half when she says that because I try very hard (well, I think I do) to remember all those things listed above as well as the hundred other things I haven’t listed and the new technique I’m trying to learn. Regardless of how frustrating that is for me (and I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for her to listen to me play) I realize I focus too much on the structure of my music – on what I can see and getting all of it (or trying to) perfect therefore leaving those listening with a feeling of………….emptiness??? or incomplete??? I’m trying to think of the word for it is all. 

I know what she is saying – I’ve listened to music where the feeling just isn’t there and yet the music itself is perfect. It doesn’t sound right, afterall, music is a form of self expression. 
Does it ever get easier – I mean after this inchoate stage, does it come naturally? Well, I hope so. For now though, no violin breaking. I’ll just add it to my list of things to remember.

From Fernando Almeida
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 4:33 AM

Yeah, I totally sympathize with you! You know, I was practicing a (student) concerto for some time, and only weeks after I knew it entirely by heart (having overcome most of the technical problems) I started noticing the real music in it. I mean, when practicing I was already trying to form prhases and so, but only after a long time I managed to "feel" the music, as you say. I'm not a model for anyone, though.

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 8:38 AM

I'm the exact same way.  Playing music has never elicited powerful images in my brain much to my teachers' chagrin.  I had one teacher who told me to think of a color that described a particular passage I just played and I told her I was drawing a complete blank.  Mental imagry never helped.

Over the years I have always mulled over this.  When I was a young and impressionable teenager I worried for awhile that I was somehow musically broken.  Like my inability to imagine things while playing was somehow hindering my progress. 

But now I don't really feel that that is the case.  After much self examination I realized that I'm not really a multitasker (despite being a woman) and music is one of those things for me that will absorb my focus completely.  If I'm playing a piece I tend to automatically shut out all extraneous distractions (phone ringing, people talking, etc...).  Now I find it kind of refreshing.  It's one of the few things I do that I concentrate so completely on.  Even when I'm watching a movie I like, I have a tendency to answer a text message or look up when someone enters the room.  I think that for my brain, conjuring up images of idyllic pastoral scenes just falls under the extraneous distraction category.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 11:53 AM

Yes, I know what you mean...  However, studies have showed that women are better in multitasking than men lol (hope it doesn't mean each task is less perfect though!)

But they are good violinists of all genders so yes, multitask men have to exist too!!!

However, yes it is hard and we can't hide (I think I'm right about this, tell me if not) than when people reach professionnal level, they are many things they don't focus on like maniacs since it is sort of automatised like instinctive. Thus a good player can probably allow his her mind to fucus more on things like expressions dynamics bow divisions than a student who struggle to not tap the feet, have a nice straight wrist, vibrato ok, keep a straight bow...


From Jennifer Chen
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 1:46 PM

My teacher says the same, he wants to hear "the music", even to a beginner who only had three lessons like me. He doesn't care about inntonation, he doesn's care if you got the wrong note, he doesn't care if your bowing is wrong. When you present the piece to him, he wants "music". He wants you to "feel" the music, feel you're playing a piece of music. Not concentrating on getting everything (techniques) perfect.

I can understand it is hard to "play music" when you have to worry about all these things, but I think techniques are the things while you practice at thome, breaking the music into phrases and pieces, practice it over and over again for perfect techniques.

But when you done practicing, you play the whole thing, as a piece of music. Then, you stop worry about little mistakes, accidents, rather concentrating on how you want the music to sound. Like as if you're singing a song. And I think actually trying to sing the piece of music helps you "feel the music".

From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 2:50 PM

For me it helps to listen to the music away from my violin.  Not just on a recording but singing, or in my head, or moving or dancing to it.  Then when i get back on the instrument I already have that there with me, to plug in as my focus allows or better yet (though it doesn't always work this way) to be the overarching idea that all the technique serves.

From Jim Fields
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 2:45 PM

I joke about this all the time with my teacher. Psychological studies have shown that the human mind can ony track up to 4 variables at once (here's a link to an article if anybody cares). For me that's usually intonation, fingering, bowing and phrasing. Unfortunately there's no room for anything else. I'll be playing along and keeping things together and suddenly a stray thought will pop into my head (usually it's something like "I have to remember to buy cat litter on the way home") and it will all go to hell.

From Anna Meyer
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 3:22 PM

Wow,,those are surely cirycumstances which I know. I feel the music best when I am not concentrating on the technique. I only do that though after I´ve gotten the technique done or well on it´s way. Then I let go of concentrating on technique and start to "feel" the piece. It´s then that I play with expression and really feel the music.

To answer your question: It is possible :) It can just take a whooolllee lot of time and patience and frustration and tada the list goes but eventually it´s achieved.

From Kim Vawter
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 4:11 PM

I am thinking about all this stuff! It is not automatic for me yet.--Yes--at my last lesson we talk about this all the time.

Thinking too much.

I was told to let go of these things--clear your mind and concentrate on one thing. In otherwords stop thinking and just do it.

Take down the pictures, close the curtains, paint the room green--No distractions-no thinking about the dogs operation tomorrow, supper tonight or running out of gas---whoah!

Women? Multi-task? It never ends-

I give myself permission to stop.

From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 4:42 PM

I'm kinda like Jim.  I'll be paying attention to all the little details, and I'll try to tell myself to "relax".  That's what I get all the time from my instructor.  "Relax", he says,"Your bowing arm is way too stiff." 

So I go through the piece, thinking of my fingering, timing, counting, slurring or not slurring, shifting positions in a smooth manner, etc., while I mentally tell myself to 'relax', and after about 5 minutes or so, the 'relax' mantra starts to work and my mind goes all 'gooey' because it actually does what I'm telling it to, and suddenly everything goes sour.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on August 14, 2009 at 3:46 AM

About the music vs technique, a wonderful accompanist once told me I did my mistakes when I though too much.  Then happened a place where I always buged with a fast trill (my teacher hoplessly explained it in 1000 different ways... and in vain) it was a reflex problem I think!!!  However, the accompanist said, "you see, you don't know what you are doing". So I said laughing "But you just said I though too much???  or you want me to think or you don't but pls not the two at the same time!!!"

This is like when we say that in violin, we must force without beeing contracted....  How contradictory is music!!!  I think you must think without thinking (a bit like if you were in a trans or meditating for the best results IMHO)  I often find that masters look like if they do meditation while playing... Am I the only weird to find this?

Interesting topic,


From Casey Jefferson
Posted on August 14, 2009 at 3:56 AM

I find playing any instrument should be the opposite. You'll have to listen to the music and find out what's wrong with the sound, then you correct it from there.

For example, you heard very stiff sound in your music, you immediately know it's your bowing. When thing sound too monotonous, then adjust the bowing speed/pressure to give a litte more contrast in dynamics and tone color. If anything sound out of tune, listen *which note* sound out of tune, so you'll track down which finger is causing the problem all the time.

I can imagine, if you focus on everything too much, while not listening everything in a whole, you won't see the big picture. Imagine you're painting a picture - focusing on everything but not looking at the big picture, you might be able to paint fanstastic buildings, trees, flowers, sky, but if you back off a few steps, you might find out sky is too bright overall although they look awesome on their own, buildings are too small , flowers are in the wrong place, trees doesn't match the whole mood.

I'm not a fantastic player, but I always listen to what I play, and I find I learn a lot faster by listening than by observing everything I do all at once. When you want something from your music, you'll immediately change it, very often, unconciously. If you're not hearing what you're playing, you won't even know what you're doing.

From Tess Z
Posted on August 14, 2009 at 5:40 AM

The cat litter thing happens to me all the time!  I wonder my teacher must think I never practice because I can be so scattered and unfocused at my lessons because I'm trying so hard to play well.   The more mistakes I make the more nervous I become. The problems are quadrupled because my brain is thinking in 20 directions at once and yet, in the midst of the anxiety over missing a shift I happen to think about whether I scooped the cat box that morning and now I have lost my place completely in the piece I was playing. 

I hope my teacher is reading this blog. 8^)

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on August 18, 2009 at 10:40 AM

 Multitasking doesn't really exist.  Some people can switch back and forth very quickly between different tasks, making it look like multitasking (others, like me, not so much).

I think it can help to isolate the different things that you are working on, while practicing, so that they start to become habit.  The book, "The Practice Revolution" talks a little about this.  The author says, for example, play the passage just focusing on the intonation until you are happy with that, then play the passage just focusing on tempo, then just focusing on dynamics, etc.  Over time each of these things will become more ingrained in the unconscious and you won't have to think about each one while performing.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine