Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Does positive thinking help your violin playing?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: February 21, 2014 at 8:53 PM [UTC]

This week we had two rather different blogs, right in a row, related to the power of positive thought. Karin Rile wrote thoughtfully about the concept of "Cockeyed Optimism," questioning the popular notion that positive thinking always yields positive results and reminding us of the difference between complacent fantasizing and active goal-setting.

Heather Broadbent also wrote a list of positive thinking strategies to help with performing.

It would seem to me that the power -- or lack of power -- that comes from positive thinking depends very much on where an individual stands. For example, sometimes a person is beaten down by the rigor of music training. If you have truly walked that path, chances are that you have put yourself before teachers who are demanding and detail-oriented, you have likely taken auditions, received criticism and responded to it. You have practiced in a way that you demand much of yourself, and you have spent countless hours aimed at highly-focused self-improvement. If that is where you stand, then you may just be standing right on that fine line between success and depression -- in other words, you may need a good dose of positive thinking to temper your self-criticism.

However, if you have not put in this kind of work, you may actually need a kick in the keister rather than a tutorial on positive thinking! Sometimes a good look into the abyss can be motivating, "I sound awful now and the recital is in two weeks, I have to practice!"

That said, it's still possible to assess your deficiencies realistically, then go about concrete goals in a positive way. "I can master this scale in two weeks" is different from "I can be the next Heifetz"!

Do you find positive thinking to be helpful, or not, when it comes to your violin progress at this stage?

From Paul Deck
Posted on February 21, 2014 at 11:05 PM
I'm not sure "positive thinking" is defined that well though. Is it "positive thinking" if I imagine how a phrase should be before playing it? I don't really think of that so much as positive thinking as just paying attention to what I am doing and focusing on the outcome rather than just the nuts and bolts of how I will get there.
Posted on February 22, 2014 at 12:14 AM
think about the music not about being positive
From marjory lange
Posted on February 22, 2014 at 1:03 AM
I agree that 'positive thinking' may need a few tweaks for clarity; however, I know from years of experience that NEGATIVE thinking is apt to produce negative results. Say "I can't" often enough and it comes true.
Posted on February 22, 2014 at 6:31 AM
Being technically efficient is the same thing as thinking positive about your next note, therefore..... "positive thinking". Does thinking positive help? bet it does!
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on February 22, 2014 at 8:55 AM
Positive thinking and being self-critical (the constructive sort) are not necessarily incompatible. The former can be an attitude or a strategy and the latter is steps be taken to execute the strategy.

Positive thinking to me means having confidence and having the odacity to hope, whatever happens. It is different from blind wishful thinking in that to sustain this positive attutude, one must constantantly evaluate the situation and modify one's effort and expectation to maximizing achievable results. Blind wishful thinking only leads to defeat. In this sense, positive thinking is more likely to get what we want than otherwise. Like they say, you are always right if you think you can, or if you think you can't.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on February 22, 2014 at 8:42 PM
The great example of positive thinking for me was set by a story about Thomas Edison, who had just tried the umpteenth filament material for his lamp, without success. When people asked him if these repeated failures did not depress him, he said: "Failures? I've just collected valuable information on how not to make a filament lamp!" (my paraphrase).
In a masterclass I had the good fortune to attend, Midori advised her --brilliant-- student to familiarize himself thoroughly with anything and everything that might go wrong during performance, so that he would not be put off by those things.
I had a not-so-good performance lately. Putting those two examples together, I may say I have collected a lot of valuable data..
From elise stanley
Posted on February 23, 2014 at 9:43 AM
I think it depends a lot on your personal traits. If you are apt to be self-critical and expect everything to go wrong, then yes I can imagine that positive thinking will really help.

However, if you are like me, an admitted Pollyanna, who doesn't exactly think she can do anything (I'm well aware I can not) but has this bouncy positive expectation that it will all turn out right in the end, well, then you may need the "Power of Negative Thinking"!

Posted on February 23, 2014 at 8:54 PM
I had to put on my "left brain cap" to answer this question and I went with, "No, it does not help." The reason behind this comment is that you can't play games with yourself. You have to practice and mentally prepare yourself for the fact that only correct repetition and good practice discipline will improve your playing.
When I first started out, as a beginner, I dressed up, lit a candle, I turned off the phone, propped up a mirror and set up my music stand it the nicest part of the house. This got me in a frame of mind to visualize myself as a violinist. Now that I am beyond beginner status, the only routine I follow is to be awake, to gulp down some coffee, grab my +150 readers and make sure I am facing my music stand before 9:00 AM ready to practice. Sometimes I practice one measure at a time and reward myself with the promise of breakfast.
I do picture or visualize the piece of music sounding better and better like the recording and I do visualize swimming hard laps to get easier in the pool. It is work. The reward is intrinsic.

Posted on February 24, 2014 at 8:37 PM
Yes, and yet a resounding no. I've definitely struggled with the ups and downs of my own playing, and have at (admittedly numerous) points thought, "This is too hard" or, "There's just no way I'll ever be able to play this" in regards to a new concerto, for example. That line of thought has done me exactly zero favors, because instead of wanting to work through the piece bit by bit, I allow myself to become overwhelmed and defeated and just throw my hands up and find a new concerto. In that respect yes, positive thinking can certainly help, but then again, so does knowing and admitting your own limitations (in other words, knowing when to push through and when to throw in the towel).

I recently had to quit the violin for two years out of the 20 I've been playing due to a low back injury, and picking it back up over the past year was an immesurably frustrating, often-depressing experience. My technique was sloppy, my fingers were slow, and my endurance was a joke: I'd gone from three hour practice sessions down to twenty minutes at best, which then required a two hour break due to excruciating pain. I was honestly afraid I would never be able to play again, and started beating myself up over my perceived failures; again, using some positive thought helped my attitude immensely (instead focusing on what I COULD do, rather than all the things I couldn't) and allowed me to clear my head and actually get some work done. If I thought I couldn't have done it and continually told myself that, I wouldn't be playing in an orchestra, teaching lessons, and playing duets now.

However, much like a lot of others have mentioned, positive thinking is not a substitute for hard work, devoted practice, and the ability to look critically at your own playing and acknowledge when it's not as good as it could or should be. Being confident in your own playing is extremely important, but so is being self-aware - and especially to have the maturity to admit when you're not at your best, and consequently make wholehearted attempts to fix it. Hoping that a performance goes well and actively preparing to ensure that it does are two very different things, and while both have a place in learning and performing the violin, in my opinion the latter is more important.

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