V.com weekend vote: Have you ever taken a hiatus from violin practice and playing?

April 24, 2021, 9:58 PM · This week violinist Hilary Hahn revealed something that really made me think: "Between September 2019 and December 2020, I took a total of a year off from practicing," she wrote Monday on her Facebook page. "Didn’t touch the violin, for lots of different reasons, all of them valid."

Hilary Hahn
Violinist Hilary Hahn. Photo by Dana van Leeuwen.

To put this in context, Hilary had just finished a 100-day practice challenge, a very public endeavor in which she posted tips and excerpts from her practice every day and also encouraged others to join her in the challenge. She said, "I had a unique goal: to build back to touring shape from a starting point that was far from it."

Before Monday, she had not stated publicly that she had taken a hiatus from violin practice, although she had been on a sabbatical from performing during that time. She added that "I don’t advise taking long periods of time away from the instrument without a very good reason and a solid plan for returning; it’s really risky." She said that in the past, she had "taken enough time away from the violin during planned and unplanned breaks, with therapeutic supervision during my rebuilding phases, that I know exactly how to restart without injuring myself."

Of course, few people have spent the sheer amount of time practicing and performing as Hilary has during her long and devoted career, which started in childhood. It really is inspiring and informative to see the videos that document her "100 Days of Practice" and return to the instrument on her Instagram account, and to read her comments. They vividly portray the fact that daily devotion is not easy, that violin technique takes immense patience and persistence, and that the need for things like slow practice, correction, repetition -- never ends.

But one does not have to be a famous soloist to need (or want) the occasional time off from the instrument. Hilary did not state her reasons and I won't guess, but a serious musician (professional or amateur) might need time off because of things like injury, family obligations, burnout, the need for time to pursue other interests, education, other work, etc. And after taking that time off, it's important to "build back" in a thoughtful and consistent way, as Hilary mentions, to avoid injury.

Personally, I've not taken more than a few months where I "haven't touched" the violin (like when I had my kids!) - but I've certainly had periods of greater and lesser intensity in my practice. I have taught a number of adults who were coming back to the instrument after a multi-decade hiatus, and it's always a thrill to see them renew their devotion to practice and grow their skills. Depending on how much they played before and their consistency of practice, those skills can really come back and flourish.

What is your situation? Have you ever taken time completely off from the violin? How long was that period of time? What was the reason? Did you have any trouble getting back to the instrument? Please participate in the vote, and then share your thoughts in the comments.

Replies

April 25, 2021 at 04:34 AM · I believe mine was just over 8 months. It happened last year just after the pandamemic started. I was on furlough from work for 10 weeks where I was practising 3 or 4 hours each day and making good progress. I had a couple of online (zoom) lessons with my teacher at the time which helped, but around July/August time I decided to step away which was a hard decision for me, but I had filled my day to day with so much music stuff, I was burnt out. Putting too much pressure on myself to achieve my aspirations. So I put both the violin and viola away in their cases and that is where they stayed until around February of this year. I must say, I've enjoyed a lot more since I started again. I still have the same aspirations, but I'm being a lot more relaxed about it now because I know what happens if I don't

April 25, 2021 at 04:45 AM · Looking back I typically refer to my seeing aside playing as 20 years, since depending on how you look at it, it was between 19 and 22 years. I stopped when I was in college not majoring in music. I came back by picking up with exercises on my own that I had played before,and then after a few months took up lessons.

20 years on and I continue to study, learn and advance. Slower than as a kid and with different challenges, but it is great when I realize that I can now play for pleasure music that was out of my reach before.

April 25, 2021 at 04:53 AM · I began to study voice at one point and put away my instruments for about 15 years. Then I realized that playing chamber music would be an interesting way to spend my later years so I picked up violin and viola again. I'm having a grand time.

April 25, 2021 at 05:11 AM · yes, out of necessity, I could not afford bow rehair and worked out that it would be cheaper to get one of these plastic keyboard things. I have not played piano since school, everything had gone and I had to start again at the beginning. Scales are coming along ok but pieces are uncoordinated. Not sure when I will switch back.

April 25, 2021 at 07:30 AM · The longest period I had without touching the violín at all was between 2 and 3 months, due to an injury, wich I had multiple times. Is always hard to go back in the game, the "last saved point". I can't imagine a whole year without the violín and the return after that...

April 25, 2021 at 07:42 AM · Several breaks of between 3 and 6 months, all because of non-playing-related injuries. (Sprained wrist from a biking accident, broken hand from another biking accident, rotator cuff strain from home repair work, whiplash from a car accident.)

April 25, 2021 at 10:15 AM · I gave up the violin when I was at school, but returned briefly when I was thirty. Then my career intervened and I forgot all about it till I entered retirement. So I didn't exactly purposefully take a hiatus, but gave up, then changed my mind.

Now I only miss practising when a big project such as moving house is on the cards, and when I did that, I only stopped for 2 or 3 weeks. I hope my fiddle will be a constant in my life from now on.

Both times that I returned to the violin, I remembered a great deal from my school lessons and it felt like 'riding a bike'. But when I was thirty, my return was also extremely painful, and my fingers and wrists really ached.

When I was 60, I had no such trouble, and can only put that down to the fact that I'd done a lot of touch-typing in the later interval - my thesis, and lots of unpublished novels. It surprised me.

April 25, 2021 at 01:40 PM · Age 13 to 56, 43 years, with the only exception that I did pick up the violin briefly to try to encourage my son to not give up his lessons (he did anyway), but it was not 'playing.

The fascinating thing was that when I picked it up again in 2008 I simply could not put it down and practiced 3-5 hours virtually every day (I have log books) for 5 years. I had a teacher at the time that said 'If you play so much how come you're so bad?'

The reason I believe was that I no longer had a 'violin playing' function in my brain. While I could delude myself that I was playing great, if I recorded it I could be as much as a full tone ouf of tune (and that was in 3rd position). Thus, the hardest thing to recover was the ability to actually hear what I was playing and not the music that was in my head. That went on for at least 10 years with diminishing disparities. I had umpteen teachers during that time but, in retrospect, none of them fully grasped the anomaly. If they had they would surely have given me listening exercises with recording so that I could hear the problem and fix it.

I am a bit embarassed now to think of all the lessons where I was under the delusion that I was doing a good job.

I'm going to guess that I was not the only returner that had this problem and perhaps adult-teachers here might look out for this 'listening/imagining' disparity in their returners..

On the positive side, the hand-bowing coordination was still quite good and the musicality was, if anything much improves. I suppose these factors enhanced the delusion that the intonation was likewise.

April 25, 2021 at 01:46 PM · I've had more than one break of several months. A couple of times that was due to injury; more often it was because one of the other instruments I play--usually guitar, mandolin, banjo, or ukulele(!)--took priority for a while. In fact I'm on a uke tangent right now.

I was 52 when I picked up violin in the first place, so even during the periods when it's my de facto primary instrument it's obviously not in a classical setting anyway.

April 25, 2021 at 03:29 PM · The violin was not my first instrument. Until I was 50, my only real breaks were due to concentrating on my career while raising children. When my youngest turned 5, I bought my first violin and I haven't taken a break since. That's 14 years now. I don't believe I ever will, unless forced to. There's too much to learn, too much music to play, and who knows how long I'll be able to do it.

April 25, 2021 at 05:03 PM · I have never done a voluntary sabbatical. But I have had several breaks of multiple months for medical or physical reasons, or loss of confidence or motivation, and a time of re-training for the non-music day job.

A short vacation of one or two days can be surprisingly helpful. Yesterday (Saturday) I did 8 hours of hard playing. Today I might do only a short warm-up session. If you are studying one of those hard concertos that is a little too difficult for you, it is ok to put it on the shelf for several months, let it marinate in the back of the brain for awhile. Serious singers performing a lead opera role will not do a strenuous practice session the same day, or the day before, or the day after.

I have read that Paganini and Kreisler did not practice very much in the second half of their careers. Heifetz continued to practice after he completely retired from performing.

April 25, 2021 at 06:24 PM · I've never taken a hiatus, but I've had periods when I was practicing less than daily. One of those was when I got a day job as a software engineer that I loved, and found very absorbing. At one point, when the company was going through a slow period, I asked to take a week off without pay, and my goal was to do some serious practicing - back to basics. It was then I learned exactly how physical the violin truly is. My ribs were sore! Now, due to illness, days and sometimes weeks go by when I don't practice, but since it feeds my soul, I try not to let it go for too long. Since 1999, when I got a new violin, I have loved the instrument itself too much to leave it alone for long.

April 25, 2021 at 07:16 PM · Work life got in the way. I took a high travel job that solidified my position in the world of Supply-Chain-Management but coming home on Friday/Saturday only to leave again on Sunday/Monday week-after-week made it impossible to keep playing. After about four years of that, I got a regular job in the field that did not take me out on the road. Some months in I pulled out my violin, got fresh strings and a tune-up by my friend and luthier Karin Menzel and I've been playing ever since.

From my perspective I now play better, more attention to intonation because I no longer had an orchestra schedule to meet, just me and the music I chose to play.

Years later, serendipity in the form of the kid across the street I started teaching and enjoy the instrument that much more.

Now a day without the violin leaves me missing it a lot.

April 25, 2021 at 10:18 PM · Like other posters, work was the main thing that intervened. I’ve had one long hiatus of around 3 years, from when I was 30. This coincided with a change of career - shifting from being a violinist and violin teacher to an English teacher. That was a really absorbing time: back to Uni, assignments, then getting a great job at a great school and learning the craft of classroom English teaching, which is very different from one on one violin teaching and conducting school orchestras!

During that time I honestly didn’t think about violin even once - didn’t even cross my mind. Which was really weird and in retrospect, shocked me. I had played since I was 6 years old and barely a day ever went past that I hadn’t practiced or had a concert.

Then I found interest again through non-classical opportunities: a pop band and a jazz fusion ensemble. I got back into it hard again, played professionally on the side, with English teaching happening full time still. I was very motivated and was loving the blend.

Then after a few more years I again progressed/shifted careers, moving into higher education - as a speechwriter/ comms person, so this again required an immersion in that new life.

Long story short, I’ve stopped playing when other areas of my life have required all my attention and have been really engaging.

I’m still on that second break, but this time I’m obviously still thinking about it! The added factor this time is recurring injuries: wrists and back. I think getting my body up for it again will be much more difficult next time, as I’m mid 40s with some ongoing aches and pains.

April 26, 2021 at 12:46 AM · My longest time off was just over a year - and it was after a big move (from the US to Australia) and a devastating audition failure that killed my confidence. I was in a new country where I knew only my husband and his (non musical) family and I was just crushed, put the violin in a closet and cried.

April 26, 2021 at 01:47 AM · Of my three violin pauses the first two were due to military service which is mandatory in Switzerland. No choice. I was allowed to go home most weekends (from Saturday early afternoon to Sunday midnight). But I was tired and the time on weekends passed so quickly that I did not take out the instrument at all.

The last hiatus, this time voluntary, was a few years ago when my wife and I spent three months in France vacationing.

Unlike many people I always found my violin groove again quite quickly after pauses of this length. I am lucky that way I guess.

April 26, 2021 at 03:22 AM · Nearly 20 years hiatus due to immigration, started everything anew, schooling, career, etc. But when I picked the violin again in my early 40s I found a really tough teacher who has been teaching mostly young prodigies, but she treated me with the same standard she demanded of more professional-oriented students. For this I am forever grateful. I am definitely playing at the level I never thought I could. I still take periodic hiatus. They are a kind of reset, and with slow and focused practice, especially daily scales, I don’t feel getting back to shape was such a daunting thing after all.

April 26, 2021 at 09:33 AM · I chose for over 40 years to use the skills and abilities I had, to play and enjoy myself, without challenging myself to extend those skills and abilities. So I stopped "practicing" but I did not stop playing. Does this count as a hiatus? In retirement from my day job I am now practicing to extend my skills and that is good - but perhaps I will choose again to stop practicing and focus only on playing.

April 27, 2021 at 12:30 AM · For a couple of years while at school, I played violin only in the school orchestra and school junior orchestra, because I was studying viola (that's cheating, I suppose!). But there was a period of two to three years later, when I didn't practise, and didn't play regularly either (I think I only went to one concert during that time, too).

April 28, 2021 at 03:47 AM · Not playing violin because you're playing viola doesn't count!

I did not play my violin at all between May 2004 and March 2006, between April 2008 and September 2010, between December 2010 and August 2013, and between April 2014 and February 2018 -- and that's only the times I went more than a year without playing violin. But I've been mainly a violist since 2001, so they're not breaks at all...

April 28, 2021 at 04:06 AM · I took violin lessons from ages 5-18. After high school, I stopped practicing regularly for the next 24 years. Perhaps 3 or 4 times a year during this period, I would take my violin out and fiddle around for 15-20 minutes, but that was it. I took up "regular" practice again in 2011 to learn on my own and at my own pace. I put quotes around regular because I would go through periods when I practiced every day and other periods when I didn't touch the violin for weeks. I joined a local community orchestra in 2014 and that has motivated me to keep practicing (except for the past year for obvious reasons).

April 28, 2021 at 09:35 PM · I had public school group lessons from ages 9-17. Couldn't afford lessons in college, so didn't pick it up again until I was 30. By that time, I had a long commute, and then I started reproducing, so quit again after a couple of years. My kids started taking lessons when I was in my mid-late 30s, and I'd play along with them. When they got too old to be willing to have me play along, I pretty much stopped until they left for college. Finally found a really good teacher at age 63, and am slowly correcting a lifetime of poorly-learned technique. It's very satisfying.

April 29, 2021 at 11:20 PM · COVID has done me in. No more orchestra, no more bluegrass jams... I've tried Zooming once or twice but it just doesn't cut it. Plus my life has gone nuts lately and it's hard enough to keep up with the things that can't be put aside, let alone squeeze in some music time. My wife, who putters with cello a bit, was going to try to get into the latest COVID Cello Project. We dusted off her cello and went to tune it, and as she was bringing the A string up to pitch it broke at the peg. We got a replacement string, and I tried tuning it - and it broke as well, in the same place. Maybe someone is trying to tell us something.

April 30, 2021 at 12:54 AM · I have been using the virus lay-off to practice a little more than usual. I have been astounded to learn that some fully professional musicians are not doing that, they are letting the depression pull them down.

Reading some of these stories reminds me of an issue that I used to bring up whenever possible at faculty meetings at the college. A lot of students achieve good intermediate to advanced violin skills in the K--12 years. Most will (wisely) choose a non-music major; the instrument gets abandoned for decades or forever and we loose a lot of people that could have continued at the amateur to semi-pro level. What is needed is a college music minor with the emphasis on performance instead of academics. A very few schools do that. None of the public universities in my state do that.

April 30, 2021 at 02:51 PM · Interesting idea about the "performance minor", Joel. An opportunity like that could have had a pretty significant influence on where I went to college, if it had been a possibility.

One thing to point about re Hillary Hahn's hiatus versus the hiatuses many of us have taken: I am sure she carefully considered the consequences of any break before she took it--probably consulting with mentors, colleagues, and possibly doctors. Those of us who took breaks due to "life getting too busy" did so with no attention to the consequences. Apples and oranges.

May 1, 2021 at 03:18 PM · Interesting timing for this subject. I'm just now wrapping up a 3-month hiatus from practicing, aiming to re-start tomorrow evening, May 2, or by mid-week, the 5th, if Plan A doesn't work out.

The break was partly to get a jump on spring cleaning and partly to get a break from the heavy practicing I'd done since late 2015. Although my time off wasn't nearly as long as Hilary Hahn's hiatus, I know from past experience that getting back into the routine, even after only 2 weeks, takes some adjustment. While I can recapture the core items right away -- bowing, scales, shifts, double-stops -- I limit myself to about 20 minutes the first 5 days or so. Then I increase the time incrementally till about Day 10. By then, the left-hand fingertips are re-toughened enough to withstand longer sessions. After 10 days, I can practice and play up to 3 hours a day, depending on other demands on me; but I can definitely hit 90 minutes a day -- more than enough to stay in good form.

May 1, 2021 at 04:00 PM · I have taken time off and it is always good, as Hillary said, to have a solid plan for returning. I really enjoyed the Instagram posts from Hillary and was so glad she shared them!

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