Balancing Act

November 29, 2006 at 02:50 AM · I'm 23, 1.5 years out of school, and facing a quarter life crisis!!! (or so it seems) A little background before everything:

~I started violin in the 4th grade (when it was offered in school)

~Once in high school, I was super involved in everything - youth orchestras, regular orchestras, pit orchestras, varsity swimming, you name it.

~Went to school for 4 years, majored in music ed.

NOW, I'm a music teacher in my second year, teaching what I love. I just have so many things I'd like to do, but want to balance it all and have a life. Here's what I'd LIKE to do, in the present, ideally:

~Work a full work day - til about 4 daily

~Train for a marathon

~Practice my violin (it's been about 2 years since I've actually played - any suggestion on Grade 5 pieces?)

~And on top of it - spend time with my new hubby (which I want to do!). I don't want to put him on the back burner.

~Get enough sleep! I simply do not function without at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I need advice on how one might suggest to balance this without burning out or going insane. Also, in order to effectively progress and not remain static in my playing, how many hours would you suggest to practice daily with my life? Has anyone else every faced this point in their lives?

Replies (24)

November 29, 2006 at 04:29 AM · You are just a young puppy! Alas, the balancing act never stops! Here are my last 2 days back from Thanksgiving: (Husband, also a violinist, is out of state, closing on the sale of our house).

Monday-taught 8 classes beginning at 7:45 a.m, had technology session during prep time (ate lunch while driving between schools); had staff meeting until 4:30 p.m.; picked up my 2 daughters from preschool, was home for 15 minutes; went to kindermusik class; at 6:30 p.m. finally could go buy a new laser printer toner cartridge that decided to die on Sunday night when I needed to print; ate dinner with grandma at the nearby pizza buffet; finally got home at 8:30 p.m.; got kids ready for bed, got clothes ready for tomorrow, got to sit down at 10 p.m.

Tuesday-up at 5 a.m. before kids to get my stuff ready, print stuff for school, etc. Kids up at 6, out the door at 6:45 a.m. At 10 a.m. I receive call that my 3 yr olds nose is a green faucet and I must pick her up; I actually had a break at this point, so I used my prep/lunch to get her back home where grandma is on the last day of her visit; back to the middle school for some less than stellar behavior that resulted in a couple of detentions; in-between classes I had to call the doctor, find my own sub, make sub plans; after school, I got grandma and began 80 mile drive to get her to the airport. Half way to airport, my left front tire starts vibrating severely; make it to airport; get grandma off; call triple A (get the gold card)-fortunately, lug nuts are just loose from tire rotation; leave airport and drive 80 miles back home; arrive about 9:30 p.m. Kids get on jammies, watch Rudolph to unwind, in bed at 10:15 p.m., only about 2 hours too late.

Tomorrow is teach 2 Suzuki classes with sick kid in tow, then go home and wait for doctor's appointment. Most teachers have rather insane schedules. Some days are great and others are stinky (see above). I did get to hear all the songs from Rudolph sung by a 3 & 4 yr old (on pitch) while driving on I-75. And since it is nearly midnight, I should probably go to bed, so it can all start over again.

November 29, 2006 at 05:17 AM · Time sharing also implies compromise, and some sacrifice. So, to be a high-performer/achiever, you have to have discipline and realize you aren't a machine.

Balancing all those things means you will want to set priorities, then compromise. For instance, it seems a daily thing to train for a marathon, so the violin may get every other day--or vica versa based on your priorities.

Likewise, you could schedule 30 minutes a day, or even 15 violin, as you do this balancing act. It really is all up to you to follow your heart, and follow through.

Visualization is also important if you intend on balancing a lot of things--seeing yourself succeeding in balancing everything, more importantly--feeling yourself succeeding in balancing everything. Also health, rest, and nutrition.

And finally, flexibility and reflexibility. Stay focused on your priorities and when things get in the way don't panic, and when they do, reflex back into your programs.

hope this helps. al

November 29, 2006 at 08:41 AM · Hi Carolyn,

take the same principles you use for the marathon-training (strain - supercompensation - success - strain etc.) for your violin-training. You know, you worked hard on a passage, but you can't rule it, until you give it up. Some days later you play it as if there had never been a problem. Schedule both: I'm no marathon-pope (2 so far), but I use to run 3 times/week without exception (just illness & thunderbolt) and a 4th time optionally. 2 longer distances in a controlled tempo (around 130 bpm) on Saturday and Sunday morning, and 1 (maybe 2) short "blood-sweet-and-tears"-runs in the middle of the week (cross country, 4x4 km in high speed, 60 min. tempo runs). You can easily integrate it in your week without almost any lost. The days between are the supercompensation days, your body needs to recover and transform the strain.

Schedule your week the same way for the violin: the brain needs its time to transcribe, it's no bad idea to partition your pensum. Define some Musts (scales, double stops, bowing exercises etc.), even if it's just 30 minutes, practise at least these exercises rotatory high concentrated(Monday: scales. Tuesday: bowings etc.). Same with your pieces and etudes: divide it into sections of similar difficulties (double stop trouble, bowings etc.) and practise them rotary as well. Works fine for me, but that means nothing for sure. Find your own way of focussed practising, you'll find a lot of good informations here on or here. You can reach a lot even if you just practise 1 1/2 hours per day, but absolutely disciplined and steadily.

Once you've started your marathon-training you'll see, there're many great analogies between running and practising ("Slow training wins the fast race.", "Don't worry about the part of your body, that hurts at the beginning. Sooner or later another part will hurt you worse." etc.).

Good luck!

P.S.: Once you run longer distances and your body needs some energy supply, I gonna send you the recipe of the PERFECT POWER BAR, consisting of different nuts, honey, cinnamon, cardamom etc.. You are like Batman after eating it.

November 29, 2006 at 03:02 PM · Try writing out some measurable goals for the violin. If you know that you want to play a certain piece by a certain time, it's easier to figure out what sort of time committment is involved. Repeat this process with the other stuff you want to do and your day will shape up by itself. Make sure you leave some time on the weekends just to hang out and do whatever you want with your new husband!

November 29, 2006 at 03:49 PM · I'm quite a bit older than you, and I concur, these issues never go away, they just intensify. I now have a husband, two children, a full-time job, and have just started to try to play violin and viola semi-seriously again.

My experience (which may be different from yours) is that the list you posted is unrealistic, and that if you are serious about not burning out/going insane, and about getting 8 hours of sleep a night, something is going to have to give. I think it's better to be honest about that and make the decision with no regrets.

In my case, I stopped playing violin for over 7 years, just before my (now 7-yo) daughter was born. I barely took it out of the case for those years. Did that make it harder now? Yes. Did that make it impossible? No. Now that my kids are a little more independent (my younger child is 3.5) I feel like I have at least a little time to devote to the violin without going insane/burning out/whatever.

If I were in your situation (and again, I'm not you, so this is just my perspective), I'd scale back on the running. Sure, keep running for fitness and sanity but I think training for a marathon is too hard core for someone with the kind of work, music, and family goals you (and I) have. In my case, the *only* way I can fit exercise into my life is to: 1. have some equipment in my basement so I don't have to deal with gym membership/scheduling hassles. I just walk down the stairs and work out. In fact, I walk briskly up and down the basement stairs repeatedly and call that part of my workout; and 2. fit exercise into the daily routine without having it be separate, set-aside time. So, I walk my daughter to school every morning. We talk, we get exercise that way. I take the stairs to my office at work (6 floors). Stuff like that--no scheduling or setting aside time involved. I'm not running any marathons anytime soon, but for now, I feel like it's enough.

November 29, 2006 at 04:11 PM · i think it is doable since you do not have kids yet and if your husband loves your list of plans as much as you do, which means, at times, both of you have to accept and be happy with your rather ambitious interests taking priority.

i know men who love to be followers, like puppies:) and some others who cannot stand to be second bananas:(

wouldn't it be nice after you run 2 hours and walk into a kitchen with grocery done, meal prepared...then violins tuned, bow rosined... and then dishes washed, garbage taken out and massaging hands waiting for order?

November 29, 2006 at 04:36 PM · There's an excellent book called "Art and Fear." It is a small book (100 pages or so) written over 8 years by two MFA graduates who are fine artists (not musicians). They write about why people quit making art, especially after graduating from college, and why you should continue your art. I'd really recommend it!

For me, forming a chamber music group that performed was the only satisfying way of starting practicing again.

I tried a violin competition (just for fun ;) ), but that just wore me out. I tried practicing on my own, but I found that to be uninteresting. I didn't find the community orchestras challenging enough and wanted to be able to hear myself.

Pick people to play with first on their character, second on their willingness to improve, and third on their ability.

The hardest thing to do is change a person. If a person is willing to improve, they will eventually become a strong player.

November 29, 2006 at 04:57 PM · Carolyn, I think Mischa made some really good points about helping you sift your priorities and set goals--that's so important.

Denis Waitley is a wonderful 'winners' coach if you can find any of his works. And on the emotional side, consider Leo Buscaglia's "Love" to put you in touch with the emotional components of pushing yourself.

Richard Bach's "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" has important meanings too--in not letting others define your goals. Though I'm a Bach fan, I realize it isn't for everyone. Hmm, actually a Bach fan in more than one way! neat...

I'm a lot older than you, and have found that all the above really doesn't address the obstacles in 'the real adult' world, but give you alot of strategies for continued success in an interpretive sense?...

Kick it Carolyn!. al

November 29, 2006 at 05:20 PM · Ah, the time-management dilemma! Allow me to recommend a good book on topic - How to get control of your time and your life, by Alan Lakein. It has a lot of helpful things in it for this kind of dilemma.

Good luck.


November 29, 2006 at 07:55 PM · Mischa,

Can I have the recipe for the Perfect Power Bar too? Don't hold out on us - I'm sure there are many on this board who could use such a thing...!

November 29, 2006 at 08:27 PM · Carolyn,

I'm not much older than you and feel the same way as you. There's so much I'd like to do with my life, but I'm finding that I have to chose my priorities and let go of some things. I have to say that I agree with Karen. When I first read your post, it felt a bit unrealistic to me just because each one of the things on your list takes a lot of time and from experience, I've found that I just can't seem to get to everything on my list. However, if you're really determined, there are ways to make your goals a little easier by killing 2 or 3 birds with one stone. For example, I wanted to be getting some exercise each day, but was not regularly finding time to go swim or run in my busy schedule. But, I have an 80 pound dog (2 years old) who has a lot of energy to burn and is not subtle in demanding my attention and I want to spend quality time with my husband, so I combine all three things and go for two daily walks with my dog and husband at the start and end of each day. It may not be quite like a good workout, but it's some activity and I'm getting time with my family. If you can find ways to combine some of your goals, it could help. Maybe your husband will train with you for example, or maybe you can always plan to have 1 meal a day together since you have to eat anyway. Just don't waste it in front of the television since that's not really quality time together.


November 30, 2006 at 04:53 AM · Well put Laura! I like this idea of killing two birds with one stone. Violin playing is so intense and requires quite a bit of solitude (or time exclusively with the instrument) when one practices or works. I think even if someone is married to a musician, these issues come up.

I don't think we violinists are the only ones with this problem though. I'd rather have the issue from this standpoint than working a factory job where I'm forced to stay late hours and be unhappy. Of course even then, if I really wanted to make family time, I'd find a way (I just might have to compromise on sleep =( )


November 30, 2006 at 05:30 PM · Hi Jesse,

give me some time to find my big analog dictionary-book, then I'll send it to you via pm. I tried to translate it with an online dictionary, but it didn't work. Must have missed in English, when we had cooking ("Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are standing at the stove..."). Gimme one day!

Well - did I missed something? She doesn't want to win neither the Boston-Marathon ("Train for a marathon") nor the Tchaikovsky-competition ("it's been about 2 years since I've actually played"). She's home at 4 pm and there're no kids (yet). She just married, so it's in dubio pro hubby, anyway.

She wanted to hear pragmatic answers, not the blues. Isn't the time effort to train for a marathon a joke against the time effort of having kids? There must be some members here, who do sports regularly, have a job, spend time with family or friends, sleep long and practise violin. What are their dirty time-management-tricks?

November 30, 2006 at 06:15 PM · I simply know this: Using the whole person concept, it can be, but not necessarily, important to give attention to one's competing ambitions, even if they have to be strewn along for a greater period of time. That is what time-sharing is about.

At 45--oops 46, it took a lot longer, but I have all my wantuitiveness in tact because I learned to time share well. Life takes away from one's ambitions soon enough in my mind, without bartering with the piper.

I've been in some 'extremely' stressful situations, and had I not been selfish enough to timeshare and keep myself growing, I simply would not be learning violin today.

Carolyn, you are a good candidate for Dennis Waitley "winners" training. I took it as a young person, and it has seen helped me alot--though of course not perfectly.

And navigating winner's stress is what sets one apart. The same stress is present for winning as quitting--it's just in another coat. While it can be easy to become rudderless, that self-knowledge too, is part of winning.

For some, including myself, it is a recipe of life that includes many elements rather than a single objective. I 'think' it was Malcolm Forbes who made a list of a hundred things that inspired him, then spent his life realizing them.

You will also find many bumps along the way, that can and do set you back and cause you to refocus, and maybe even reorganize your priorities and ambitions. So being realistic in time sharing, really does mean what I said earlier about 'reflexing'.

Now that you are out of school, it is a good point to get introspective with yourself about where you want to go, how to get there, new directions, revisiting old directions as you seem to be doing, and starting towards those goals.

Whether you create the entire dinner or just focus on the appetizer in your life really is up to only you. And as you get older, you'll be better equipped to say things like, well--that was ok, but I'd rather....., and not feel like you were letting go of something. But, I personally think at this stage, it's too early to do that. Moreover, you'll discover other things along the way that compete for your attention beyond family and 'the givens'...

And being a woman, I tend to think that your life will unfold over the next few years in an adult reality that will allow you to really know where 'you' are coming from. So a little patience with yourself may be in order as well.

You should in the meantime, let go of nothing, manage nearly everything, learn to multi-task and merge as someone (I think maybe Mischa) pointed out, and get to know yourself as a mature independent woman for awhile, even if you are a newlywed.

Just being a newlywed alone will cause both of you to jump through enough hoops. It seems important if you have goals, to learn to let them jump with you as you adjust--him too.

There are women's stories in my mountains, that have cool meanings for you. Lee Smith, Sharyn McCrumb, Denise Giardina to mention a few, all have been selfish enough to juggle goals and winning in their own ways.

Be a winner--always keep growing. al

November 30, 2006 at 09:20 PM · Thanks all for the support and advice. As far as marathoning, my goal is to finish (without dying!!!) and train for that in baby steps. Then I can go back to a normal workout routine. I've recently started practicing again and it has been a great release for me at home, while still getting to spend time with my husband, who is currently in the middle of pursuing his doctorate in physics! There are many things I want to do before kids come along... but I know violin will most DEFINITELY stay. :)

November 30, 2006 at 11:55 PM · Jeeeezzz-I just wrote a book--you'd better win that martathon!. al

December 1, 2006 at 12:31 AM · I'm going to guess that a martathon is a martyr who's in it for the long run.


December 1, 2006 at 01:34 AM · Hi,

A marathon is a great think, the training gives you time in the day to figure out things, to set a schedule, to fix things in your head. also found hat after training I have a lot more energy, so you may be able to cut 30 min of sleep, it is amazing what exercise can do! It also boost your self confidence, so go ahead, with that marathon,violin practice etc, you will find out after a while that every thing fit into place by itself (well almost)

Good luck!

December 1, 2006 at 01:38 AM · Hi,

A marathon is a great think, the training gives you time in the day to figure out things, to set a schedule, to fix things in your head. I also found that after training I have a lot more energy, so you may be able to cut 30 min of sleep, it is amazing what exercise can do! It also boost your self confidence, so go ahead, with that marathon,violin practice etc, you will find out after a while that every thing fit into place by itself (well almost)

Good luck!

December 1, 2006 at 01:46 AM · Ask your husband what he wants. Marital relationship first, other family second, work third, hobbies last. That means, you might not get all you want done in the last two categories, but it will be worth it ten years from now.

December 4, 2006 at 02:02 AM · Your big plus right now is that you don't have children. I believe your goal is obtainable now. You are young, have the energy (you don't know fatigue till pregnancy, nursing and no sleep), and you do not have children. Get those eight hours of sleep--early to bed--get up early and do your run first thing--5:00 a.m.--plan your day while your have a great breakfast--go to work--come home at 4:00 and practice to wind down--at least one and a half hours--have dinner with husband and you still have a few hours left before bed. ---from a mother of five (all still at home), a teacher who also gets home at 4:00, practices her violin for at least an hour and a half, sometimes 2, cooks dinner, exercises 4 times a week and has other hobbies as well. Its possible but you have to be disciplined and have great health--I always said if me or the children were the sick type we could never keep the schedule we do. God has blessed us!

December 4, 2006 at 03:44 AM · 1. get up early work out

2. go home take care of self/hubby

3. practice

4. take care of family life

5 sleep

have date nights and a healthy you=happy you :D

December 4, 2006 at 09:01 AM · Over a year ago I posted here asking for advice on productive practice if one only has one hour a day

People gave really useful advice, that really helped me advance despite the limited time. Buri's advice became my fundamental routine (still is).

I'd agree with Karen about exercise. I know too many people who never use their expensive gym membership (and then feel bad about it!)- we just have some weights at home. And my 41-year-old advice about marathons would be: save your joints! You'll need them when you're 80.

December 4, 2006 at 05:18 PM · Caroline - glad you said it could work out with even a BIG family!! Kids aren't on the way any time soon, and date nights are a definite must - we plan to have at least one designated "date night" a week so we don't become bored of life or of each other. And practicing is getting better, I just need to stick to it.

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