V.com weekend vote: Do you prefer to play difficult, or easily do-able music?

May 22, 2022, 1:15 PM · I definitely go through phases in my practicing and music-making where I crave the challenge of something difficult; then other times I'd simply like to enjoy the skills I have and play something that is comfortably do-able.

Of course, the thresholds of "difficult" and "doable" will be different for every player. The "doable" music for someone who plays in the New York Philharmonic might be the "difficult" music for a college student or dedicated amateur musician. The "doable" music for a college student might be extremely challenging for someone who has been playing only for a few years.

difficult and doable

At any stage, music can feel "difficult" if it is new and not easily sight-readable, or if it has techniques that are challenging, like fancy bowings, double-stops, fast passages, awkward fingerings, dissonance, complex counting, difficult keys, etc. This can be exciting and invigorating, if you are feeling motivated and if your efforts lead to incremental progress. On the other hand, if the challenge is too daunting, it can be frustrating and discouraging. "I'll never learn this!"

Ironically, something might be "easily do-able" simply because you've already done it - it is well-learned and ready to go. Recently a fellow musician described a certain piece as being "hard to learn, easy to play." That may sound crazy, but it can be very true! After you've worked very hard on certain pieces, they can stay with you and remain "easy" to play - especially if you revisit them frequently. Playing the "easily do-able" can be a real virtue in this way, keeping your chops up by moving your mind and fingers through music that you play well, and continuing to improve it. (We Suzuki teachers call it "review"!)

So within those parameters of your own playing and progress, what is your inclination, at the moment? Do you wish to enjoy and improve on the do-able, or to push your limits with something that feels more difficult and challenging? What are the things that motivate you to try the "difficult"? What benefits do you derive from playing the "easily do-able"? Please participate in the vote, then share your thoughts on finding the balance between "difficult" and "do-able."

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Replies

May 22, 2022 at 07:15 PM · Musicians that prefer to play "Easily do-able" are just lazy.

May 22, 2022 at 07:50 PM · I don’t agree at all that preferring to play accessible music means one is lazy.

The vast majority of violinists in the world as well as on this forum are amateurs. The root of “amateur” comes from the Latin word for love. Amateurs do what they do because they love it.

If an amateur violinist finds pleasure in one kind of music and not in another, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing the kind of music that brings one joy.

May 22, 2022 at 08:11 PM · A friend who plays Nel Cor and Last Rose of Summer on the viola considers the Bach Air and Massenet’s Meditation to be extremely difficult pieces. The notes are easy and he can dash them off but the music is daunting.

There is no easy.

I once suggested that you could audition an orchestra musician by asking him or her to play Silent Night in 1st position. Try it sometime! Very few can do this beautifully.

May 22, 2022 at 08:23 PM · My favorite is the difficult that has become easily doable. I have a number of Bach suite movements that are like that now. They were challenging to learn and memorize but I love being able to just pick up my viola and play them.

For me the key is a mix: a small helping of something difficult, a medium helping of something easy and the largest helping of something that I can play pretty well but needs polishing. If there’s too much easy music I get bored and if it’s too difficult I get tired and discouraged.

May 22, 2022 at 08:40 PM · as an amateur I like to work on difficult music, but I only perform music i can really play well. sometimes it's both, as some orchestra parts are kind of difficult, but I still want to play them really well. that's cool because then you're really working on something towards a result that counts.

May 22, 2022 at 08:47 PM · I love to sight read challenging music but I have a few "rules" for sight reading. I'm not required to play the double stops or ornaments.

I start thinking about other things if the music is not very challenging - so easy to lose my place. The focus required to play more challenging music keeps me alert and listening. So important, especially in chamber music.

May 22, 2022 at 09:55 PM · I voted "Difficult," which had 45% at the time I voted. But I don't like to fill up a whole practice session with only difficult material - or, more precisely, material so difficult that it leaves me exhausted. Violin-playing is a decidedly athletic activity - and it's mentally taxing as well.

I like to have something in each session that gets me a little out of my comfort zone and then intersperse these episodes by reviewing material I've already mastered. Likewise, in my initial daily warm-ups, which take about 20 minutes before I play any repertoire, or even scales, I avoid exhausting the bow arm or left hand fingers with long stretches of Schradieck or Sevcik finger gymnastics but, instead, intersperse these concentrated drills with a few minutes at a time of vibrato exercises to relax and open up the hands.

May 22, 2022 at 10:49 PM · Professional violinist and teacher here - something I work on constantly with myself and my students is finding a balance between music that will show off my students' already-developed skills in performance and material that will challenge them to grow musically and technically. It's always a balance. I think that when it comes to performance, it's an intelligent musician (not a lazy one) who knows their own strengths and abilities and chooses repertoire that shows them off well.

May 23, 2022 at 07:00 PM · I voted "difficult" but that isn't really it, I like challenging, interesting music to learn so that I grow as a player. To play, I like music that has sophistication and is familiar so I can just enjoy making music.

May 24, 2022 at 02:15 PM · It seems I'm one of the lazy musicians.

I generally don't attempt music that's difficult. I play the violin for pleasure – not so I can challenge myself, or anything like that.

But then, I'm just an amateur.

:P

May 24, 2022 at 10:29 PM · Perhaps one should define 'difficult' and 'easy'? One piece is technically difficult but musically easy whereas the next one is vice versa - but we have become programmed to only think of technical challenge as difficult. I once heard an advanced student play a signature concerto movement perfectly - that is technically - but it was as musical as a washing machine.

I voted for difficult because I love a challenge, however humble that may be at my stage of playing.

May 26, 2022 at 11:57 PM · I voted "difficult" because I like a challenge. On the other hand, if I'm playing with a less advanced person I'll opt for a simpler piece, because playing together is more fun than playing alone. And while the other person is playing the simple tune, I can add a harmony or obligato. Doing this well without overwhelming the other player is a challenge in itself - and when it works the result is beautiful music from the two of us, regardless of our skill levels.

May 28, 2022 at 08:20 PM · Challenges lead to progress, while playing what we find "easy" is the best way not to regress.

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