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Tasha Miner

Disenchanted by the life of a performer.

April 1, 2009 at 2:09 AM

For the last couple months, I've noticed a complete 180 in my attitude toward my playing.  Here's the comparison:

I used to play hours a day.  Religiously.  I would put forth the maximum effort into my extremely efficient practice sessions.  I progressed rather rapidly, according to my professor.  However, that was only truly evident (in my opinion, my professor disagrees) in my practice room.

Now, after competing and losing, a somewhat disappointing senior recital, facing graduating with my Master's degree in a year, and looking at what my life will be beyond school, I am at a loss.  I don't audition well, my nerves always get the best of me.  I don't compete well, either, for the same reason.  I can't give a solo performance, also due to nerves.

I've discovered that I'm completely disenchanted to the life of being a professional player.  I have an incredible passion for teaching, and would never give that up, nor would I want my abilities to slack and prevent me from doing the absolute best by my students.  I have a large studio, over 30 students, and I'm always very glad to have had a day of teaching.  However, I cannot bring myself to practice like I used to.  I am virtually hitting a wall every time I try.  No matter how hard I work, I can't seem to have anything to show for it that satisfies my standards and capabilities.  It's very upsetting.

The only silver lining I see?  I want to get out of this funk and get back to the practice room.  ASAP.

From Jose Correia
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 2:37 AM
I have never been able to practice for more than two hours continuously so in order to practice everything I have to I divide it for example in the morning technique and in the afternoon the piece im working on. Or I practice 2 hours rest and then get back to practice I don't know if it would work for you but for me its
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 3:23 AM

I started reading The Practice Revolution after it was recommended on Buri's blog recently.  It's very thought-provoking and I think it has a lot to say about practicing in general.  The idea from that book that has been especially useful to me right now is that there are many ways to practice and many different practice techniques, and if you are using the wrong technique to address the particular challenge you are facing, your practicing might actually be a waste of time. With this in mind, I've looked back at times when I hit practicing walls, and I think I can formulate some hypotheses about why I did so, what practice techniques I was using inappropriately, and what I might have done differently.

From Tommy Atkinson
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 3:51 AM

I would maybe suggest reevaluating not how you're practicing, but why. It sounds like you've decided you aren't equipped to be a professional performer. Fair enough, but then you have to decide why it is important to practice hard and continue to learn new repertoire and refine your technique. As a fellow mostly-teacher not so much performer at the moment, I can see two reasons to continue to practice really hard and effectively:

1. To demonstrate to your students. You obviously need to be at the top of your personal playing game to demo things to your students. To be able to demonstrate a clean spiccatto, a smooth bow change, an expressive shift, or a range of different vibrato means we have to be in control of our technique to the best of our ability. And especially with advanced students working on difficult repertoire, you want to be able to have the chops to demonstrate without worrying about the technical problems.

2. For personal fulfillment. The last thing we want to become is a burnt-out private teacher. Even if you don't perform regularly, and if your master's recital is the last one you ever give, you still need to be learning repertoire and practicing for your own personal reasons. This keeps you excited about practicing and playing and allows you to explore new pieces, some of which will undoubtedly have great pedagogical uses.

I was in a bit of a practicing slump last semester, as I was teaching full-time and performing very, very part time (wedding gigs and the very occasional orchestral gig). I wasn't putting in the work that I needed to, and it showed in my sight-reading, especially. So, after winter break I decided to work on some music that I had never even looked at before and work it up to a reasonable level by the end of the winter term.  None of it is yet performance-ready, but I am practicing a lot more, and a lot more efficiently simply because I don't have the time I did when I was in school and my playing is improving markedly.

So, choose some pieces that you've always wanted to learn and play through them. Even if you're just casually practicing them, it'll get you thinking about new music and practicing in a new way.

From Tasha Miner
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 11:45 AM

Thanks for the replies, everybody.

I'm not so worried about how I'm practicing.  I know how to practice really efficiently, and I've got a lot of different techniques at my disposal.  I do have a limited amount of time, but I usually see quite an improvement when I get myself to practice.

My problem comes in the performance.  I have 2 different levels it seems.  One is what I'm capable of in practice, the other is what I can do in my performance.  I must agree with my professor that my abilities in performances have gotten better over the years, but I'm frustrated that they generally barely show a glimmer of my standards in the practice rooms.

I get quite nervous, and that is usually what prevents me.  My nerves are varied in symptom, and can range from changing the time of onset to the severity given how much pressure I put on myself.  I shake, I get hot, I get freezing fingers, I get sticky hands, I get all those physical symptoms.  I also get very mental about it, and unuseful thoughts of warning race through my mind as well.  "Oh no, here comes that part you only just got right a couple weeks ago!" and the like.

I hope you all know that I will not let myself become a burnt out private teacher.  I am far too young (burning out should only happen to people who have done this for decades and now should retire =P), dedicated, and passionate.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 1:15 PM

I am not at all at your level but if you can not take the traditional "nerves" it doesn't mean at all you will never play as well as those who can.  Since, people usually always underperform in events, one day you will become so good you will be much better than the level required for an audition you want to play in..  and you will succed magnificiently!  Why do soloists have no fear?  I am not a specialist but believe they had the level of a professional at 10-15 years old so at 20, they were far unfront of the requirements for most things...  With talented people like you, it will maybe just take a little longer, but you will get there! 

Good luck! Anne-Marie

Ps: my teacher told me than in the musical world, many famous composers were thrown out of good music school because they were said they were no good!!!  Music is subjective.  The vienna symphony didn't accept Fritz Kreisler when he applied to play with them and we all know how talented he was...  An audition doesn't mean everything!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 1:26 PM

 In the book, the author addressed something that I hadn't thought about before.  He mentioned practicing "starting a piece."  As in, practice walking out on stage, putting your violin up, and playing the first 5 or 6 measures.  He had a whole list of different things to think about while you were practicing starting--getting a steady tempo was one, not crunching notes, whatever.  First you practiced starting the piece thinking about just one of them until you got that one right, then you tried to put two or more of them together.  By the end you'd practiced starting the piece so often that you were much more likely to start out on the "right foot," and you'd also practiced doing all the things you had to do at the same time, at the start.   Whereas if you relied on actual performance situations to get this much practice starting a piece, it would take you years.  

He also pointed out the role of bad/shaky starts in increasing nerves and the corresponding role of smooth starts in smoothing them out.  I have found this is really true for me.  If I get off to a bad start, it just snowballs and gets worse and worse, and I get more and more nervous.  I'd just never thought about it that way before--that the way you practice (as opposed to just how much) can have an effect on nerves.  

From Tasha Miner
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 1:54 PM


You're too kind!  I'm really not that great...  But thank you for your encouraging thoughts.


I agree that practicing starting helps tremendously.  I will admit, the competition I played the Chaconne in recently was a much better success because I had the opportunity to practice walking out on stage and starting several times, as well as a few play throughs.  It was when I came upon the transition to the D Major section that my nerves totally took over. :(

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 7:45 PM

Your problem cannot be that uncommon, and you have received some good advice.  Perhaps you should discuss with your teacher what strategies to use.  If your teacher cannot suggest any, try asking another teacher.   It sounds from your description as if your problems with performance are way out of proportion compared to your abilities.  This suggests that some part of the issue may well be psychological, and exploring it with a therapist might be of some use.  You might profit from trying to figure out with the help of a professional why you seem to fall apart when you perform or, alternatively, why it appears to you that you do so even though others do not think so (have you ever listened to a recording of one of your performances).

From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 7:50 PM

 You know, it's perfectly okay to be a stellar teacher with students who are happy and productive, and leave it at that. If performing does not nourish you, well, that says a lot. (Maybe it's not what you want to hear, after all this training you've done, leading to this as a career...) I think you're in a far better situation than the person who has the advanced degrees, realizes they don't want to teach and finds that performing opportunities are limited and pay very little $$. Now that's a bind.

Good luck to you! And I'm here to say that the world needs people who are happy to teach, and find it nourishing, to boot. Really, I can't underestimate the importance of this.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 8:51 PM

I agree with Terez and I think I may have said something similar in a previous blog.  I think the need is greater for good teachers than for good performers, and the way teachers can touch lives is a very special thing indeed.  

But I also sympathize with your struggles with nerves; I've struggled with performance anxiety most of my life--it's the biggest reason among several that I never went into music as a career--and it's a burden to have to deal with, even if performance isn't your main activity, and even if you are able to achieve at a reasonably high level in spite of the nerves.

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